Romans 9:1-13 – God’s Sovereign Prerogative

1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen. 

– Romans 9:1-5 NKJV

Paul is grieved over the unbelief and spiritual danger of the nation of Israel in general. The New Covenant was specifically promised to the nation of Israel, though it was foretold to include Gentiles as well. But the situation in Paul’s day was that the majority of Jews had rejected the Jewish Messiah and the New Covenant in Him. In these verses Paul expresses his desire for their salvation and rehearses the reason why the promises are for Israelites first and foremost. Continue reading “Romans 9:1-13 – God’s Sovereign Prerogative”

Adopted & Indwelt (Galatians 3:26 & 4:6)

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. …And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6 – Context

Galatians 3:23-24

23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 

The Law of Moses revealed sin, but did not provide a lasting and thorough means of justification. It is true that people could receive cleansing from the breaking of certain aspects of the Law by offering the proscribed sacrifices at the temple. And there was a general cleansing that happened once a year during the Day of Atonement. But these did not cover every sin and they had to be offered again and again. 

So, from the Law people understood that sin offended God, and they knew they had no way to fully and finally deal with it. But in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him, we can receive full and complete forgiveness for all sin. He died once, and is now sitting at the right hand of God presenting that sacrifice on behalf of those who trust Him. We always have access to the throne of grace, and can come boldly to receive mercy and grace through faith in Christ Jesus. 

Continue reading “Adopted & Indwelt (Galatians 3:26 & 4:6)”

The Right to Become God’s Children (John 1:12)

John 1:12

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name…

John 1:12 – Context

John 1:9-10

9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 

Jesus Christ came into the world as a light. He came to reveal God to the entire world. He did not merely come for the nation of Israel, but for men from all nations. This is because He is the Creator of all mankind. 

3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 

– John 1:3 NKJV

The Gospel of John was written at a time when most Christians were Gentiles. And these Christians (both Jew and Gentile) suffered persecution from unbelieving Jews as well as the Romans. This is one of the reasons John begins His Gospel with this universal perspective. He wants to make it clear that the Jewish Messiah is not merely for Jews, but for all of mankind. 

We see evidence for this as we read through John’s Gospel. In chapter 3 we find one of the most famous verses in the Bible. To us it sounds so commonplace. But to a first-century Jew, it would have sounded unthinkable.

16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

– John 3:16 NKJV

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Washed & Renewed (Titus 3:5)

Titus 3:5

…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…

titus 3:5 – Context

Titus 3:1-3

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 

Paul had just written in Titus 2:11-14 that the grace of God leads men away from sin and towards righteousness and godliness. Paul here continues to urge Titus to live righteously in the sight of all men. God has not called us to be rebellious and contentious. In the past, Christians were sinful like all other men, but God redeemed us to be a people who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

Titus 3:4

4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 

Previously in Titus 2:11 Paul stated that the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to the world. He makes it clear that the result of receiving and submitting to this grace is a holy life. Jesus came to make us into a godly people. He came to set His people free from slavery to sin so that they can live righteous lives to His glory. 

Paul now mentions the grace of God again, but this time he wants to go back and focus on how we first received that grace. The result of God’s grace in a person’s life is holiness. But where does this reception of grace begin, and how does it take place?

Titus 3:5

5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 

Before mentioning how grace is received, Paul wants it to be clear that God’s grace is the cause of salvation, not our righteousness. We do not receive the grace of God by works of righteousness which we have done. If we merited God’s mercy and grace it would no longer be called mercy and grace. The fact that we did not deserve salvation is the reason that it is called mercy and grace, kindness and love. So here Paul makes it abundantly clear that the cause of salvation is nothing other than the mercy of God. 

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Born of Water & Spirit (John 3:5)

John 3:5

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:5 – Context

John 3:1-2

1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 

Nicodemus was a sincere and God fearing man. A leader and teacher among the Jews. He knew what was happening in Israel. He was aware of the Messianic hopes people had that Christ would come and free the Jews from Roman occupation and bring in the new age of God’s kingdom. He was aware that John the Baptist had come baptizing in the Jordan River calling the nation to repentance. 

The Israelites had been exiled into Babylon centuries before, and though many had returned, many had not. The Jews were in the land again, but they were not in control of the land. For this reason the people of Israel were still waiting for the promises of the prophets to be fulfilled which stated that God would bring them back from captivity, and establish His kingdom among them which would extend its borders to every part of the earth. 

Nicodemus would have understood the significance of John baptizing in the Jordan River. It was in that place that the Israelites first entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua in order to conquer it. And so it was a fitting place for the prophecy of Isaiah to begin its fulfilment. Isaiah 11 speaks of the return from exile and the establishing of the kingdom through the “root of Jesse.” Through the coming of this king, the meek would be shown mercy and the wicked suffer wrath, and even the Gentiles would seek after Him. Isaiah speaks of this return from exile as a second exodus in the following verses:

11 It shall come to pass in that day That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. … 16 There will be a highway for the remnant of His people Who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt. 

– Isaiah 11:11, 16 NKJV 

This prophecy would have been familiar to Nicodemus, and he would have understood, as most in Israel did, that John was preparing a highway not only for the remnant, but also for the great king! This was John’s public testimony to the religious leaders of the Jews found in the first chapter of John.

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” … 23 He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.” … 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” … 33 “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.‘ 34 “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” 

– John 1:20, 23, 26-27, 33-34 NKJV

Nicodemus desired to learn more about this man whom John had testified about. Not only had John testified about Jesus, but the miracles which Jesus performed confirmed that God was doing something among His people through this Nazarene. So Nicodemus went to find out more.

John 3:3

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus immediately begins to tell Nicodemus about the kingdom of God that had now arrived in Israel. And Jesus tells him how to get involved in it. But this would not have been an easy word for Nicodemus to accept. It is hard to imagine that he couldn’t understand the implications of what Jesus was saying, but it seems he tried hard to avoid those implications.

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When You Believed

There is a common teaching in evangelical circles that a person receives the Holy Spirit the very first moment they believe in Christ. Many have never questioned this belief. But when asked for a verse that teaches such a doctrine, Ephesians 1:13 is usually the first mentioned. I am sure there are others, but this verse is the strongest proof text I know of for the doctrine. So let’s briefly consider what it is teaching.

Eph 1:13

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 

Many think that this verse teaches that the moment one believes they automatically receive the Holy Spirit. But actually it does not, as other verses show.

Acts 11:17

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

In this verse Peter says the Apostles received the Holy Spirit “when they believed.” But we know that though they believed in the Gospels, they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until Pentecost. So the term “when we believe” does not mean the moment we believed, but as a result of our faith.

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Psalm 25:6-8

Psalm 25:6-8

Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, For they are from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord; Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.

The psalmist asks God to magnify his mercy by forgetting the psalmist’s sins & remembering His own mercy and goodness instead. God is by no means required to do this. In fact, in most people God magnifies His justice & wrath as Romans 9:22-23 teaches. God’s wrath is right and just, but our earnest request to Him is that in His wrath He would remember mercy for His name’s sake (Hab. 3:2). It is foolish to imagine we will receive anything from God by appealing to our goodness, but when we appeal to His goodness we can have confidence that we will receive the mercy we are pleading for.

The psalmist recognizes his sinfulness before a holy God. We too must approach God in humility and honesty. But when we despair because of our corrupt humanity we must hope in & magnify God’s mercy. We don’t only ask Him to remember His mercy and forget our sin, we also must magnify God’s mercy by setting our hope on His goodness which is greater than our sinfulness. His mercy is our only hope, there is nothing in our nature or heart that can give us hope; all is fallen & corrupt. He is our hope, righteousness & salvation.

But we should also magnify God’s mercy by learning His ways as in vs 8. We know we are sinners but trust that God in His goodness will lead us in paths of righteous for His name’s sake (Ps. 23:3). In view of God’s mercy we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). One who does not turn away from sin has not set their hope on God’s mercy, but they have deceived themselves into thinking that God can be mocked (Gal. 6:3). Those who have truly trusted in the kind forgiveness of God will reveal it in their lives by hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Mat. 5:6).

Search Me O God!

“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

An old Methodist Catechism has this question and answer in one section:

“Q: Can we turn our own heart to believe the gospel, and love it?

A: No, we must pray for grace to turn our heart.”

I am convinced by observing my own heart that this truth doesn’t only apply to turning our hearts to believe and love the gospel, but turning our hearts to do any good at all. Jesus said that apart from him we can do nothing. What he meant was that we could do nothing truly good or of eternal value apart from him. We all do many things apart from Christ, and those things are of no value in the kingdom of God. Sadly, these Christ-less acts hinder the advancement of God’s kingdom.

This command to “guard our hearts” is one of those things I am fully convinced I cannot do without Christ. I know I can be ever so diligent to watch my heart, but within a few hours I stray into earthly thinking, planning and walking. I’m not here talking about sinful transgression; I’m talking about living and seeking to do good without a full and desperate dependence on my Maker, which I guess is the very source of all transgression. I find that my “heart is more deceitful than anything else,” and I can’t understand it (Jeremiah 17:9). I am persuaded that  the statement, “Unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain” could faithfully be changed to, “Unless the Lord watches over my heart, I, the watchman stay alert in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

We know that God expects His commands to be fully obeyed (Ps119:4) so we must guard our hearts. but there is only one way I know how to do it. I must cry out by the Holy Spirit at various times of the day, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalms 39:23-24).

Guard your heart by recognizing that only He can guard your heart. Don’t imagine that you can navigate through the deceptive corruption that is called your “heart.” Call upon God to save you from yourself and your “wisdom,” your “righteousness,” and your “sincerity.” Don’t cry out once or twice and then coast along self-deceived; cry out without ceasing, “God save me! God help me! God lead me!”

“Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Faith vs. Works, According to Paul

Galatians 2:15-16

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

James 2:18-24

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” -and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Sprinter Crossing the Finish Line
Continue reading “Faith vs. Works, According to Paul”

Saving Faith According to James

Galatians 2:15-16

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Romans 3:28

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

James 2:18-24

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” -and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

When we read these passages side by side they seem to offer conflicting views on how we are justified (i.e. forgiven and accepted by God; considered members of God’s people in good-standing). Paul in the books of Galatians and Romans seems to make it clear that we are accepted by God because of our faith alone, apart from anything we do. But James says with equal clarity that we are “justified by works and not by faith alone.” Knowing whether we are right with God or not, is a very important bit of information to have. So this is something we must wrestle with until we understand what James and Paul are trying to tell us.
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