The Road: From Romans to the Gospel

Part 4

Every December, I am given a gift… and it’s probably not what you think.

It’s the Starbucks tumbler.

So, here’s the deal. If you purchase the tumbler for $40 (okay, take a moment and regather yourself), then all during the month of January you get “free” coffee in the tumbler.  You see? Totally worth it.

This is the 3rd year that I’ve been blessed by my wife to get the tumbler… and let’s just say, I’ve learned some things along the way.

In year one, I saw the tumbler as my opportunity to stick it to the man.  That’s right.  Like a high school football player at a Chinese buffet, my job was to get my money’s worth (and then some).  So, I was getting up to three giant tumblers of Starbucks dark roast a day… and it was glorious.

Or so I thought.

About a week in, I started having difficulty sleeping (hmmm, go figure).  I started getting heart palpitations.  I wonder why this is happening? I asked myself. And it was in that feeling of caffeine-induced sickness that I made an important discovery:

You can easily misuse a good thing.  You can misuse it so much that it makes you sick.This is exactly how the Apostle Paul sees the Old Testament use of The Law.

Basically, God gave the Israelites The Law so that they wouldn’t die (that was nice). Let me explain:

#1 If a Holy God was going to live in the midst of the people, they had to be holy too.  The Law was meant to show them what holiness for humans looks like.

#2 Then, knowing humans couldn’t do it perfectly because of sin, God gave them a sacrificial system.  Since death is the penalty for sin, God made a way for animals to die on behalf of the people (and thus setting up how to understand what Christ would accomplish).

#3 Why did God do all of this? Because God wanted them to live.  He wanted a relationship with them.  The Law wasn’t an end in itself – the relationship was.

Paul believes that the big problem with the Jewish people is that they’ve been misusing a good thing.  And it’s making them sick.

Romans 9:30-32: What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.  Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.

This might be a good time to ask a question: if it’s by faith that we are saved, how exactly do you put your faith in Jesus?

Paul says…

Romans 10:9: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Remember, God’s end game is relationship.  In any relationship, you not only have to believe that you love someone, but you have to say it too.  For example, I can believe that I love my kids… or my wife… but if I never say it, they may not know.

So, if you believe it and say it, you are saved by grace through faith.

This is meant to give us peace.  I hear from people all the time (many of whom are long time Christians), who ask: How do I know that I’m saved?  Well, this is how you know.

Salvation is a process.  It’s a lifelong journey that leads to believing and declaring.  But it’s also a moment.  A moment where we say yes to Jesus with our own lips.  In church today I think we often assume everyone’s had their moment.  Have you?

Just in case, here’s a prayer that you can pray to make sure:

Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for my sin. I believe you are Lord of all.  I put my faith, my trust, my hope, my whole life, in you.  Amen.

Now that will give you heart palpitations… in a good way.

So, let’s add that marker to our journey on the road:

Marker #4: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Marker #3: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Marker #2: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Marker #1 on the Roman Road: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What does this mean for your relationship with God this week?

Pray to God about your relationship.  Are you living in the freedom of grace?  What would your life look like if you believed, heart and soul, that Jesus loves you, has forgiven you, and wants you to truly live?

If you want to hear more on this, you can listen to Part 4 of the sermon series.

The Road: From Romans to the Gospel

Part 3

Recently, I had to take a trip to the ER.

That morning I had a procedure to remove a piece of my scalp due to a runaway mole. The dermatologist said it was caused by sun damage from when I was a kid. (Thanks for the sunscreen, mom. But it was the 1970’s, I guess I should be thankful I wasn’t lathered in canola oil for a “healthy” tan).

Anyway, that evening as I lay down to go to sleep, I started bleeding profusely from the wound.  So, I applied pressure and had my wife drive me to the ER, to make sure no stitches popped out.  Upon arrival, the receptionist asked, “How are you doing?”

Choking back a sarcastic response, I said, “I’m fine, just bleeding from the head.”

[No laughter or sign of amusement]

“Would you like some gauze?” she asked.

“Ummm… yes,” I replied. She handed me a handful of folded gauze and asked me to have a seat.

It reminded me of the waiting room scene in Beetlejuice.  You know, where the snorkeler has a shark still attached to his leg, and is just handed a number like he’s at the deli counter?  That’s how I felt. Bleeding from the head – no problem.

An hour later a doctor finally saw me.  The wound had stopped bleeding and created a scab. After examining it, he said, “It looks like everything’s fine, but leave that scab so the wound can heal underneath.” After my initial frustration that he couldn’t determine the cause of bleeding (it must have been some kind of dark magic I suppose), a thought occurred to me… Jesus (yes, really).

The blood that heals the wound. This is what Jesus did on the cross. His blood covers over our wounds of sin and heals them.  Did you know that the word atonement means to cover over? And because of that we are justified (made right with God).

Romans 5:1: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But what Jesus did on the cross may not even be the most shocking part. It may be this…

According to Jewish thought in the time of Paul, there were 3 categories of people:

#1 The Righteous

These people follow the obligation of the Law. This would be the Pharisee category.

#2 The Good

These would be righteous people who also were generous to the poor.  For example, they might pay the temple tax on their behalf.

#3 The Ungodly

All non-Jewish people. It was believed that because they did not follow the Law, they were never made clean or forgiven through sacrifice. They are the condemned… the criminals in God’s eyes.

Now the crazy part…

Romans 5:6-8: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The good news of the gospel is that salvation is not dependent upon our ability to be faithful, Law-abiding, good, or righteous.  It’s not dependent on our attendance pattern at church, our giving, or our knowledge of the Bible.  It’s not even about our works of faith.  It’s about what God has done before we ever knew we needed it.

A very popular megachurch pastor tweeted recently: “If you want to change your heart, you must first change your habits.”

With all due respect… that’s not the gospel.  Our hearts are not changed by what we do, but by what God does.

A better tweet would be:

If you want to change your habits, God must first change your heart. Click to Tweet

Jesus doesn’t just hand us some gauze and say, “Stop the bleeding.”  He bleeds for us, so we don’t have to. His blood covers over our wounds and heals us.

Marker #3: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Marker #2: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Marker #1 on the Roman Road: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What does this mean for your relationship with God this week?

Pray to God about your relationship.  Are you living in the freedom of grace?  What would your life look like if you believed, heart and soul, that Jesus loves you, has forgiven you, and wants you to truly live?

If you want to hear more on this, you can listen to Part 3 of the sermon series.

Hurricanes, floods, and Joel Osteen

Where is God in all this?

Is God punishing us?

It’s only natural that our thoughts would eventually go there.  Even as I write, Hurricane Irma (now a Category 4) is poised to make landfall in Florida in less than two days.  And after all the destruction in Houston just a couple weeks ago… it feels like something has gone terribly wrong.

Well, is it God?

It’s certainly possible, but let’s take this one step at a time.

 

#1 We know we live in a sin-broken world.

When sin entered the world through human free will, it caused a crack in the foundation of creation itself.  Like a pitcher of water, if you put just one drop of ink into it, it will ruin the whole thing.  It can’t be made clean again.  It needs new water.  As a result…

It’s decaying:  “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).

It’s volatile: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8).

God doesn’t need to be the cause of hurricanes.  Low-pressure systems and warm ocean waters cause hurricanes.  And, they are getting more frequent and more intense because of the earth’s continued decay.

But God let’s it happen. Yes, that’s true.  But God also promises that He is actively working toward it’s redemption and restoration.  “For God so loved the world, he gave is only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Doesn’t God punish sin?  Of course.  Otherwise He wouldn’t be a just God.  And if He weren’t a just God, we couldn’t say God is good.  But we have been rescued from this punishment.  Jesus took our punishment for sin… it’s paid in full.

 

#2 God’s M.O. is to rescue.

I know, I know.  There’s the Flood.  There’s the Plagues.  There are droughts… famines… all natural disasters directly caused by God in order to punish wickedness. What do we do with that?

Well, for one thing, that was all before Jesus.  

The Old Testament covenant between human beings and God was fatally flawed… it depended upon human faithfulness. But, the new covenant is based on Jesus’ faithfulness. In Hebrews 8:9, 12, God says, “[When] they did not remain faithful to my covenant, I turned away from them… [But now] I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

God is the God of rescue.  If you read the Bible cover-to-cover, the single most distinguishing feature of God is that He rescues human beings.

Here is just a quick rundown:

  • God creates paradise… we sin and turn from God: paradise lost.
  • Humanity becomes so wicked, God floods the earth… God rescues part of it, then promises He won’t flood the earth again.
  • The Hebrews are in slavery in Egypt… God rescues them and makes a covenant that now that they are free, He will continue to be their God if they can live life God’s way.
  • They can’t… so God spends the rest of the Old Testament using judges, prophets, kings, even foreigners, to continually rescue His covenant people.
  • Then, God starts promising a better way… Salvation through a Savior.  God sends His only Son to die in place of all human beings.  His only request: we must believe that He did it.
  • This frees humanity to follow Jesus, and share their experience of rescue to everyone in the world.

#3 How should we respond?

I didn’t think I would ever say this, but: poor Joel Osteen.  He was beat up for not opening Lakewood Church for flood victims.  Listen, I don’t endorse everything the guy says or does, but he was definitely unfairly targeted.  I do think, however, that the underlying reason he was targeted is actually (potentially) a good one.

People instinctively know to look to God’s people for rescue.  

I didn’t hear any stories about atheists not doing more to help.  I didn’t hear any stories about mosques or temples or kingdom halls that didn’t open to shelter people.  I know, Lakewood is a giant structure, but I think it’s more than that.  When the going gets tough, people look to Jesus-followers for help.

The rescued must become the rescuers.

We should pray, we should prepare, and we should rescue.  The world is waiting and watching and hoping for our help. But not just for hurricanes.

The truth is, everybody has a flood.  Whether it’s spiritual, physical, or both, our job is to help with the rescue efforts.  We must do everything we can to bring everyone to safety.

Where is God in all this?  God is working through us. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

No, I don’t believe God is punishing us through hurricanes.  But God lets them happen.  Even though I don’t know why, I know that my job as a follower of Jesus is very, very clear.

What about you?

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