The Need for Righteousness: Obedience of Faith

Why is Romans first among the letters written in the New Testament?  It doesn’t seem that chronology is the reason.  Galatians and the Corinthian letters were more than likely  written at an earlier date.  However, its placement in the New Testament makes perfect sense.  I have just finished preaching through the last half of Acts surveying the life of Paul.  Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  He was transferred as a prisoner from Jerusalem to Rome.  Jerusalem and Rome are central to the dissemination of the Gospel throughout the first century Jewish and Gentile peoples respectively.  Jews and Gentiles constitute all people.  There is no other category of people.  Either one is a Gentile or a Jew.

Romans reveals God’s nature and eternal purpose for all mankind (Romans 8.38-39), of the Jew first and also of the Greek (cp. Acts 28.17-29).  Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Romans teaches that the incomprehensible power of God to salvation is for everyone who believes (Romans 1.16).

Paul wrote to Christian brothers and sisters in Rome.  Some were Gentiles and some were Jews.  Some of them had been saved and filled with Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Acts tells us that people from Rome were present at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2.10).  Indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they went back to Rome with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul said that the faith of Roman Christians was spoken of throughout the whole world (cf. Romans 1.8).

Romans is written to provide a theological understanding of the fullness of God’s plan of salvation for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.  Romans demonstrates that the plan of salvation is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Romans is filled with close, connected reasoning.  It is so tightly packed, that much is overlooked when simply surveying the book during Bible reading time.  The other danger is becoming too myopic when studying the book. It is a letter that should be read straight through. Individual paragraphs should be read within their context.

Significantly, Paul quoted from the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) when citing the many passages of the Old Testament Scriptures in Romans.  He did so because his audience was primarily a Gentile or Greek-speaking audience.

As already mentioned, Galatians and both letters to the Corinthians were written before Paul wrote Romans.  But the confrontations with the churches of Galatia and Corinth governed the content of those letters.  Romans is a cool, calm statement of the salvation of God for everyone who believes.  It is a universal book for a universal audience.

I am hesitant to say that one must master Romans, because it is impossible to master any book of the Bible.  I would say especially this book.  However, I do think it is important that you know its basic content, memorize portions of it, and know it very well.  For instance, until a Christian studies in detail Romans 5 – 9, I believe that they will struggle immensely with the Christian life.  I do think it is important for you to read Romans many times and meditate on it contents.  Romans, more than any other book of the Bible in my opinion, clarifies one’s understanding of the righteousness of God and the salvation of mankind.  My former pastor and seminary professor would say that instead of you mastering Romans, Romans should master you.

Very important questions will be addressed throughout the book.  Paul may state the questions explicitly, or the questions are implicit derived from factual data in the book.

  • If one is justified freely by faith alone, how can God be just?
  • How does the Gospel relate to the Old Testament Law?
  • How should a Christian view the Law of Moses?
  • What is the Christian’s relationship to the Law?  Does grace give us the right to ignore the Law?  If not, does one need to keep the Law in order to be saved?  Do we need to keep the Law to please God and advance in the Christian life?
  • Since God’s grace abounds even more than our sin, what will keep the moral fabric of our lives in tact?  What incentive does Romans offer to NOT sin?
  • What about Israel?  Has God cast Israel off forever?  Does the Church replace Israel?  Are the promises of God made to Israel fulfilled in Christ?  Will they be fulfilled at a yet future time?

These questions are all answered by Paul in Romans.  Paul calls himself the least of all saints and the chief of sinners.  He is a Pharisee of the Pharisees and yet an apostle to the Gentiles.  God led Paul deliberately through the Old Testament Scriptures.  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught Paul.  Paul paid the price for identifying with our Lord’s teaching and suffering.  Still, his overarching desire was to know Christ and be found in Him.

God breathed out this letter to Paul.  This is called the process of inspiration.  But inspiration is mysterious in so many ways.  God communicated through Paul’s experience, suffering, vocabulary, background, and education.  There are both divine and human aspects to the inspiration of this letter and of all Scripture.  The result is a masterpiece, a foundational document for the whole of Christianity.  How do we approach such a letter?

There are three major sections in the letter according to one of my favorite writers, J. Sidlow Baxter.  Baxter sees a doctrinal section (Chapters 1 – 8), a national section (Chapters 9-11), and a practical section (Chapters 12 – 16).  Some commentators divide the book into five sections dealing with the topics of sin (Chapters 1 – 3), salvation (Chapter 4), sanctification (Chapters 5 – 8), sovereignty (Chapters 9 – 11), and service (Chapters 12 – 16).  This division provides a good, memorable and alliterated outline.  Verses 16 – 17 provide the central thrust and theme of the book.  Paul reasons:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith'” (Romans 1.16-17).

What is revealed in salvation according to Romans 1.17?  The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.  That is, we are growing in our understanding of God’s righteousness as we read and study Romans.  Our faith grows.  We live out of a vibrant and growing faith in the righteousness of God.  This is an eternal quality of life that enables our acts of righteousness through the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.  So the core doctrine in Romans is the righteousness of God.  The outline of the book I am using reflects this.  It is an outline modified from my reading of Romans and several other outlines of the book.

Romans 1.1-15 provide an introduction to the letter.  Verses 16-17 state the theme of the letter.  Then the body of the Letter is divided three major sections:

1.    The Revelation of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 8)

2.    The Vindication of the Righteousness of God (Romans 9 – 11)

3.    The Application of the Righteousness of God (Romans 12 – 16)

Here are the three major sections along with a break-down of their sub-sections:

The Revelation of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 8)

1.    The Need of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 2)

2.    The Gift of the Righteousness of God (Romans 3 – 4)

3.    The Benefits of the Righteousness of God (Romans 5.1 – 11)

4.    The Contrast to the Righteousness of God (Romans 5.12 – 21)

5.    The Demonstration of the Righteousness of God (Romans 6 – 8)

The Vindication of the Righteousness of God (Romans 9 – 11)

1.    Election:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Past (Romans 9)

2.    Rejection:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Present (Romans 10)

3.    Restoration:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Future (Romans 11)

The Application of the Righteousness of God (Romans 12 – 16)

1.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Duties (Romans 12 – 13)

2.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Support (Romans 14)

3.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Obedience (Romans 15)

4.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Fellowship (Romans 16)

While righteousness is the theme of Romans, this theme poses quite a problem for all mankind.  The reason this is true is because we are ungodly and unrighteous people.  Romans 1.18 states that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”  Our problem is that we must be godly and righteous, but we are ungodly and unrighteous.  God has revealed His wrath from Heaven against all mankind for this reason.  Our default position is “condemned already.”

Therefore, Romans is a study on evangelism.  It explains how the ungodly and unrighteous become godly and righteous.  “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1.17).  The Gospel or Good News is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1.16).  It is only by faith that the ungodly and unrighteous become godly and righteous.

Thus, we begin with The Revelation of the Righteousness of God in Romans 1 – 8.  Our first series of messages will key in on our need for righteousness as it is communicated in the first two chapters of the book.  This first study, examines the first seven verses of Romans 1.

Romans 1:1–7 (NKJV) — 1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

These seven opening verses identify who Paul is, what the gospel of God is, and what obedience to the faith is all about.

The Identification of Paul (Romans 1.1)

“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God…” (Romans 1.1)

He is a bondservant of Jesus Christ.

Paul identifies himself as a bondservant or slave of Jesus Christ.  It is a privilege to be a slave of Christ.  While it was a great honor for a man or a woman to be a slave in the household of the Caesar or some other great dignitary at the time, how much more so to be a slave of the One for whom all things were created!  But, as a slave…

He is called to be an apostle.

Apostle literally means sent one.  However, it is used in an official sense in our text.  Paul is called to be an apostle.  Paul was called in the sense that he was invited to be God’s messenger of the gospel.  The understanding of called includes an invitation.

It certainly would have never occurred to Paul to reject this invitation or calling after his experience upon the Damascus Road.  As an apostle, he would witness firsthand the resurrected Christ.  All apostles must do so.  This is one reason why there are no apostles in the Church active today.

Paul brought forth teaching from the Lord Jesus in order to establish the Church.  Again, this apostolic doctrine or teaching was received by Paul firsthand.  It was then ‘enscripturated’.  As a bondservant, Paul lived out his function as an apostle for the sovereign will and purpose of God.  Paul was a bondservant, an apostle, and…

He is separated to the gospel of God.

What is the gospel of God?  It is the good news of God’s salvation for everyone who believes (1.16).  It is the righteousness of God which comes through faith (1.17).  Paul was set apart for communicating the gospel of God.  Paul is a bondservant, an apostle, and he set apart for the gospel of God.

Once you choose to believe on Christ alone for eternal life, you are choosing to become His bondservant or slave.  Once you belong to Him, you are not permitted to choose for yourself in life.  You cannot pick and choose what you will obey in the Scriptures.  The true attitude of a Christian is one of complete devotion (Romans 12.1-2).

The Identification of the Gospel of God (1.2-4)

“…which [this relative pronoun refers to the gospel of God] He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.2-4).

Verse 2 indicates that the gospel of God was promised beforehand through the Old Testament prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The gospel of God also concerns His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Again a connection is made with the Old Testament.  We are told that Jesus Christ was born of the seed of David as the incarnate Son of God (v. 3).  The Holy Spirit powerfully declares Jesus Christ as the Son of God or God the Son through His resurrection from the dead (v. 4).  The gospel’s two necessary components are the death and resurrection of Christ.  

These verses remind us that the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is complex.  He is beyond our ability to explain.  He is fully man as the words “according to the flesh” indicate, but He is also the “Son of God with power.”  He is fully God the Son.  We cannot understand how it is true, but we believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.  He is the son of David and the Son of God.  Born a baby in a manger, Jesus came in the weakness of human flesh.  Raised from the tomb, He broke the power of sin and death.  He died for our sin and was raised for our justification (4.25).

The Scriptures are God’s gift to us, and they all speak of the power of the resurrected Christ.  If we are to benefit from that power we must search the Scriptures.  All Scripture testifies of Jesus Christ.  All Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Jesus said that religious people search the Scriptures because in them they think they have eternal life.  However, they fail to understand that the Scriptures testify of Christ.  They are not willing to come to Christ that they may have life.

John 5.40 does not teach that Son of God is unwilling to give people like this life; therefore, they do not come to Him.  No, Jesus teaches they were not willing to come to Him believing so that they may have life.  God is willing; man is unwilling.  We must search the Scriptures for the resurrected Christ!  See John 5.39-40.

Remember too that the Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is our Lord as v. 3 plainly states.  If Jesus is Lord, we must obey Him.  You are not your own, but you’ve been bought with a price.  You are God’s unique possession.  As such, you must glorify Him in your soul and body, which are His.  This is the Gospel of God according to Romans.  Finally, we seek…

The Identification of Obedience of Faith (Romans 1.5-7)

There are five aspects to our understanding of the phrase “obedience to the faith” in these verses:

Obedience is an expression of God’s grace (1.5).

“Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name…” (Romans 1.5)

Through the resurrected God-Man, Paul and others received both grace and apostleship (v. 5).  Remember that Paul is a bondservant and an apostle set apart for the Gospel of God.  He may only fulfill his work as an apostle by the grace of God.  This grace he received from God.  The apostleship of Paul is an expression of the grace of God.  Paul could not be an apostle apart from the grace of God.  Yet, notice that…

Obedience is an expression of our faith (1.5).

Paul’s grace-enabled apostleship was for obedience to the faith among all nations.  Literally, the phrase in Greek translates “obedience of faith” [see NASB].  Faith is the substance of things men hope for, the evidence of things men cannot see (cp. Hebrews 11.1).  Faith is your personal trust in someone or something.

Obedience is sometimes tied to faith in the Scriptures.  This is because faith submits to its object.  Faith in Christ is giving up the notion that there is another way.  No, He alone is THE Way!  Faith is the realization that God alone gives us righteous and godly lives.  Faith in Romans is submission to the righteousness of God available through His resurrected Son.  Our faith obeys.

Faith is available to all.

Obedience of faith is among all nations.  This fact is not surprising to 21st century Christianity, but it would have been very surprising in the 1st century.  The Gentiles or the nations were considered dogs by the Jews.  But the gospel of God has changed all that.  Paul’s gospel includes the Jews but also every other nation.  He refers to the nations as Gentiles.  He uses the words nations and Gentiles interchangeably.  Thus faith is available to us.  But…

Faith is for His name.

Obedience of faith is among nations for His name.  The name of Jesus Christ must be defined by His perfect character and work.  The name of Jesus Christ is what Paul and all believers live for.  We long to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, and conformation to His death (cp. Philippians 3.10).  Thus, we look forward to our own resurrection from the dead.
 Obedience is a response to God’s call (1.6)

“…among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;” (Romans 1.6)

Paul speaks to all believers in this letter …not just apostles.  We also are the called of Jesus Christ.  We are called in the sense that we too have been invited, and we have come.  We too are obedient just as Paul was.  We too have believed just as Paul did.  Not everyone called will hear, understand, or believe.  But we have.  Many are being called, but few are chosen because few believe.  Many are saying, “Lord, Lord!” but few truly know Him.  The many are not chosen or obedient because they will not believe.

It is important that we obey and believe.  As believers we are urged to cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10.5).  Faith requires obedience.

Obedience is characterized by love and holiness (1.7a).

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1.7).

Verse 7 now brings the letter’s salutation:  To all who are in Rome.  Obviously, Paul speaks of believers.  These believers are characterized as the objects of God’s love and especially set apart for His work.  They are beloved and they are saints.  Love and holiness walk hand in hand when it comes to Christian character.  If we are growing in love, we are growing in holiness.  If there is growth in holiness, there will be growth in love.

Obedience is demonstrated by grace and peace (1.7b).

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1.7)

This verse speaks of two provisions for believers who are loved and set apart.  These provisions come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Again, Christ and and the Father are One in this verse.  They are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-eval (of the same duration – both have always been; there has never been a time when One existed apart from the Other).  The Father is eternal; the Son is eternal; the Spirit is eternal.  Three Persons; one God.

Grace is God’s gift coming to us in many forms.  First, grace is God’s favorable disposition toward the believer and unbeliever alike.  Grace includes all we need in the work He has for us to accomplish.  It is a gift because it is unearned.  God bestows it without partiality to those who believe.  For believers, the grace is God for us; grace is also God in us.  Second, God provides peace.  Peace simply means that all hostility between God and the believer has ceased.  As the hymn writer put it, “It is well with my soul!”

Peace as an objective reality is now a part of our lives.  But the believer may often be unaware of the peace he has.  His condition does not reflect his position.  Nothing can take away the peace of God.  We sin, are chastened, and face great opposition and sickness throughout life.  Peace guards and protects our hearts and minds at all times.  However, we often fail to experience the subjective aspects of this cessation of hostility with God.  But whether or not we experience peace, we have it!

The reason subjective peace is so elusive for us is that we don’t understand that hostility with God has indeed ended.  Peace in its subjective sense is for everyone who works what it good (Romans 2.10).  While we have peace with God, we often find it elusive because of our disobedience, rebellion, and pride.

Unsaved people do not know the way of peace (Romans 3.17).  Peace is a result of being made right with God (Romans 5.1).  But subjectively, believers are often carnally minded.  The Bible calls the carnal mind death.  However, we can be spiritually minded and find life and peace, but only as children of God (Romans 8.6).  The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14.17).

Paul prays that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15.13).  At the end of Romans Paul states that ultimately the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet in a relatively short amount of time (Romans 16.20).

So, obedience stems from the grace of God.  Man responds to God in obedience by relying upon that grace through faith.  Therefore, we are called of Jesus Christ because we have responded to God’s grace through faith.

The obedience we offer by faith is characterized by love and holiness.  We know our obedience stems from grace through faith when it manifests the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in our present lives.

Prayer:  Father, teach us that we are your bondservants purchased with the blood of Your Son.  Convince us that Jesus Christ is both fully man and fully God.  Reveal to us the power of His resurrection in our present lives and in eternity to come.  Give us grace for obedience to the faith.  May we be willing to be set apart so that we might reflect your grace and peace to a world that is lost in darkness and at enmity with you.

Paul’s First Recorded Sermon:  Despising the Gospel (Part 3)

Paul wrote that it is in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1.7).  “By Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13.39).  It is God who justifies.  Man cannot justify himself.  Man will not be justified by the Law:

Romans 3:19–20 (NKJV) — 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Those who despise this should take heed.  Paul quotes Habakkuk 1.5:  “Look among the nations and watch— be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”  The Jews in Habakkuk’s day did not believe that Babylon would carry them into captivity, but it happened.  All men today may believe that the wrath of God will not come upon sinful men, but it will happen.  They will be swept away by God’s judgment – as a broom sweeps away ash from the fireplace – the besom of destruction.

A good, worthwhile sermon will always bring us to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World.  Paul does not disappoint in his first sermon.  Paul’s said in 1 Corinthians 2.2, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  

Paul speaks to both Jews and Gentiles.  He tells them that the Messiah promised in the prophecies has come.  Luke said in his Gospel that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24.47).  Paul is doing just that in this text.  But not without a warning to those despising God’s declaration.

Despising the Declaration of God

What does it mean to despise the declaration of God?  It means at least two things in the mind of Paul.

It Means Despising God’s Forgiveness

This is the core of what people despise.  When they reject this declaration of God, it means they are rejecting the only forgiveness that will ever be offered to them, namely the forgiveness of their sins.  

The theological term propitiation means that God is satisfied ONLY with Christ’s death and sacrifice for the dismissal of your sin.  Jesus Christ satisfied the wrath and justice of God for sin.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself, “and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5.18-19).  There is nothing more important than forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God.

Here it is good to recognize that the theme of forgiveness of sins is an emphasis both in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts.  The Gospel emphasized that Jesus accepted those defined in Judaism as sinners; that is, those outside of Judaism and without hope.  It is written that “[Jesus] sits and eats with sinners.”  The idea of Jesus reaching sinners was particularly scandalous to the Pharisees, for instance.  

But here in Acts, forgiveness of sins is also emphasized.  When Peter preached at Pentecost, many responded by asking, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2.37)  The answer was that they repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name.  Once they did, they received forgiveness of sins and the promised presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Dismissal of sin is aligned with repentance by Luke in Acts:

•”Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3.19).

•”To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3.26).  

•”Him God has exalted to HIs right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5.31).  

But Luke also communicates dismissal of sin as aligned with faith:

•”To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10.43).  

•Our text stresses faith:  “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sin; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13.38-39).   

•The Jerusalem council will conclude in Acts 15.9 that the Holy Spirit makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile.  He purifies all hearts by faith.

All of this to say, that repentance and faith for salvation are inseparable in the Scripture.  God gives His Son for the forgiveness of sins.  Either we despise that fact or delight in it.  Those who despise the gift of God keep going in the direction they’ve been going.  Those who delight in it, turn to Christ and trust in Him alone for eternal life.

It is God’s desire that you embrace the forgiveness of sins offered through Jesus Christ.  If you are reading this, then are you not a sinner before God?  Dear reader, who is it among mankind that does not need a Savior?  And yet while we should delight in this fact, many will despise this message.  But we have the word of this salvation (13.26).  I implore in Christ’s stead, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5.20)!

It Means Despising God’s Once-For-All Sacrifice

Jew or Gentile, American or Kenyan, male or female, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is God’s once-for-ALL sacrifice.  Note my purposeful emphasis on the word of ALL.  There is no distinction.  

It is the same for sin.  The blood of Christ cleanses from ALL sin.  There is no distinction.  If you repent and believe, you shall be forgiven.  The only thing that won’t be forgiven is despising Christ for the final time through the convincing work of His Spirit.  On a human level, one does not know when this final time comes.  That is why today is the day of salvation for you.

•”Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1.18).  

•Christ has made us alive together with Him, having forgiven our trespasses (Colossians 2.13).

•”Your sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 John 2.12).  

God has admonished us.  So when we despise the preaching of Christ, we are in fact despising God’s persuasive efforts through the Spirit-filled preaching of His Word.

Despising the Dissuasion of God

Many are Despising

“They have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?'”  (Romans 10.16; Isaiah 53.1)  Even today we wonder who will believe our witness to Christ.  The offense of the cross is still very much a part of our witness.  If we are faithful to Christ, many will despise our efforts.  To them we are mindless fanatics.

Anyone who will not receive the compassion and mercy of God through the Gospel of His only begotten Son is a despiser of God.  The question we must ask is, “Have we despised the Gospel of the grace of God made available through the work of Christ?”  If so, we are grouped with the many who are in danger.

Many are in Danger

Broad is the path which leads to destruction.  Many are on it.  The temporal judgments of the Babylonian captivity or the Roman destruction of Jerusalem pale in comparison to the judgments which will come upon unbelieving people in eternity to come.  

God has given to us incomprehensible mercy in the redemption of the world through His only begotten Son.  Those who despise this mercy are in great danger.  They will face eternal misery because of the fact that they rejected the Gospel.  

You would think that an awareness of judgment to come would compel men and women to come to Christ in droves.  However, most will not believe.  Still, they must be warned of the danger to come nonetheless:  “He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3.36).  

Philippians 3:8–9 (NKJV) — 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”  Righteousness in Philippians is a gift from God received by my faith or dependence upon Him not by my works of righteousness – which Paul delineates in Philippians 3.1-7.

The unbeliever can hardly believe that salvation is a free gift; the believer struggles as well.  As believers, we acknowledge that salvation is a free gift, why do we marvel when it comes to sanctification by faith or dependence upon the grace of God?  Freedom in Christ includes freedom from law of any kind.  We have been set free from the sin nature still within us; we are also free from the Law.  We now obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Your fleshly obedience will not achieve holiness and sanctification.  It is God who saves; it is God who transforms.  Laws have no dominion over you as long as you are alive to them; die to the law.  

By death we were set free from the law to marry Christ (Romans 7).  All this so that we might bear fruit to God.  Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces more grain” (John 12.24).  Fruit in our lives is produced by the Holy Spirit not the flesh.  The flesh produces only death, decay, and rot.  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15.56).  

What will happen to those who do not trust in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?  How shall we escape the judgment of God if we neglect so great of salvation?  If we despise the Gospel, there will be no mercy for us in eternity.  But mercy is alive with every breath you draw and as long as your heart keeps beating.  Acts 13.41 warns,

Behold you despisers,

Marvel and perish!

For I work a work in your days,

A work which you will by no means believe,

Though one declare it to you.

May God grant that those reading this heed the warning found in the mercy of God.  If you do not, you are bringing down upon yourselves wrath and fiery indignation which belong to all those who despise His appearing.  Behold you despisers, marvel and perish!

Paul’s First Recorded Sermon:  The Word of This Salvation (Part 1)

Paul’s first sermon has at least four themes that seem very important for the reader of Acts 13.  First, the word of this salvation is sent to both Jews and Gentiles (13.26).  Second, there is a purposeful emphasis upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ (13.32-33).  Third, there is great danger in despising the Gospel (13.38-41).  Fourth, conversely there is great delight in receiving it (13.46-48).  

“Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God to you the word of this salvation has been sent” (Acts 13.26).  

We must fulfill the Great Commission, which simply stated  without the participles is to make disciples.  This includes proclamation of the word of salvation through our evangelistic efforts.  Toil, sacrifice, and suffering will pale in comparison to the reaping of souls on the account of God’s faithfulness in and through us.  We should live and die for Christ.

As a pastor, I come before believers each week as God’s ambassador, bringing salvation with me and declaring it to everyone who will come and hear me.  So, to use today’s vernacular:  Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, those among you who respect and reverence God:  To you the word of this salvation has been sent.  First….

What is the word of this salvation?

The word of this salvation is also known as the Gospel or the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

1.The word of this salvation is clearly revealed to us.  God the Father planned it; God the Son provided it; God the Spirit applies it to the souls of men and women.  Salvation is all of God.  You are set free from sin through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the propitiation for our sins through His shed blood and death upon the cross.  His righteousness is worked out in and through us because of His resurrection from the tomb.  Our relationship in Christ provides fulness of life, eternal in its quality.  The word of this salvation is so clearly revealed, a child may accept it and an intellectual adult stumble over it. 

2.The word of this salvation is freely offered to us.  Faith is not a work of man; it is man’s acceptance of the grace of God.  You are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3.24).  It is of faith that it might be according to grace (Romans 4.16).  In the ages to come God will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2.7-9).  The kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 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, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3.4-7).  Salvation is freely offered to us! 

3.The word of this salvation is freely received by us.  The moment the sinner receives the word of this salvation in faith is the moment that that sinner is translated from darkness to light …from the power of Satan to God.  As many as received Jesus Christ, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1.12).  The word of this salvation is in no other name, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4.12).  If you truly receive the word of this salvation, you shall be saved by it.  The word of this salvation is clearly revealed, freely offered, and freely received!

Paul spoke to both Jews and Gentiles in Acts 13.26.  Those of the sons or stock of Abraham, and those who fear God refer to both the Jews and Gentiles respectively.  The Jewish people to whom Paul preached represent those today who feel as if they don’t need the word of this salvation.  They have a heritage after all!  The Gentile people to whom Paul preached represent those today who know they are alienated from God but believe they are beyond the grip of His grace.  

The Legalistic Sinner Needs the Word of This Salvation

We bring salvation to bare upon the lives of many who feel as if they don’t need what God has clearly revealed and freely offered.  It was not until the Jews went out of the synagogue, that the Gentiles begged that the word of this salvation might be preached to them the next Sabbath (Acts 13.42).  

Many religious people align closely with the position of the Jewish people in our text.  People often view salvation as turning over a new leaf.  They do good works and attempt to save themselves, but that is not the word of this salvation!  I have met some very gentle and loving people in my time (some more gentle and loving than many Christians I’ve known), but they share in common with all mankind the fact that they are sinners.  They too are in need of the mercy and grace of God.  We must be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, which from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3.9). 

Legalism is dependence upon your own righteousness in order to reconcile yourself with God.  It is to you that the word of this salvation is sent.  Cease striving and come to Jesus.  He says to the legalistic sinner, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11.28-30).  The legalistic sinner needs the word of this salvation!  But there is a second category of people in our text represented by the eager Gentiles.

The Licentious Sinner Needs the Word of This Salvation

Gentiles were thought of as dogs by the Jewish people.  They were not God’s chosen people and felt as though they were beyond the grip of God’s favor and grace.  The Jewish people should have been an evangelistic people, but they considered the Gentiles to be beyond hope.  Paul changed all of that in our text.  The blood of Jesus Christ has the potential to make all clean.  Anyone who comes to God in Christ will not be turned away.  The only condition is faith.  Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you , he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6.47).

You may have lived a life of great sin, but know right now that it is to you that the word of this salvation is clearly revealed and freely offered.  You must freely receive it by faith.  There are three responses to this salvation epitomized in Acts 13.

•Some will beg to hear more (13.42).

Acts 13:42 (NKJV) — 42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

It is certain that they heard from Paul even before the next Sabbath.  This is the right attitude when it comes to the word of this salvation.  May God fill our church with those who beg to hear more.  Whenever the word of this salvation is sown in your heart, don’t allow it to fall upon hard ground.  Receive the seed of the word and let it bear fruit in good soil!

•Others  will contradict and blaspheme (13.45).

Acts 13:45 (NKJV) — 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.

Not only did the Jews reject the word of this salvation, they bitterly opposed it because of envy.  There will always be opposition to the truth of God.  Don’t allow that to keep you from it.  If they rejected Jesus, Paul, and countless Christians before us, they will certainly reject our feeble efforts with the Gospel.  The unbelief and bitter opposition of many will not deter us.  We know the One in whom we have believed.  He is able to keep that which we have committed to Him until that day (see 2 Timothy 1.12).  

•Many will believe (13.48).

Acts 13:48 (NKJV) — 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

The Gentiles were glad and glorified the Lord.  Those who had been appointed to eternal life believed.  John Calvin argued that the appointing or ordaining of eternal life in this verse must have been of the eternal counsel of God alone.  But the verse is clear:  these Gentiles heard, were glad, and glorified the Lord.  Most importantly, they believed.  From God’s perspective they are elect in Christ before the foundation of the world.  From our perspective they have eternal life because they believed.  

The finite mind cannot understand how God’s sovereign choice and human choice come together.  And yet, they do.  Those who have believed on Christ for eternal life will never be able to boast of their goodness.  God did not choose them because of anything that is within them.  God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world.  Every true believer acknowledges the fact that God looked down on a poor lost sinner and had mercy.  All are saved by the grace of God.  It is always of grace that we are saved through faith.  It is for this reason that we preach the word of this salvation:  Many will believe!

A Search Party You Need to Join

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance… Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:7, 10)

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:12–14)

The Pharisees needed to learn that there is more joy in Heaven and in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents than over the just who need no repentance.   Jesus was not saying that the Pharisees did not need repentance, because they surely did.  He was teaching that God rejoices over those who truly repent and not over those who are hypocritical.  This could include the Pharisees and all Jewish people tempted to think that they are better than the tax collectors and the sinners.  The hypocrisy could creep into the lives of tax collectors and sinners too!

The shepherd and the woman are searching.  The passive elements of the sheep and coin provide a striking illustration that salvation is all of God.  But it must be remembered that in the final sum of things, while all of us go astray …go our own way, all of us must also repent.  Faith and repentance are my responsibility.  Grace and redemption are God’s.  This is how the Christian maintains that salvation begins with God, is all of God, and that God never relinquishes His sovereignty to man.

First, God takes the initiative to seek and save lost sinners.  Second, the salvation of the lost is a cause for great joy.  Third, those who are safe in the fold persist in seeking the lost as instruments in God’s hand.

God’s Initiative in Seeking the Lost

Our heavenly Father is concerned about the lost souls of men.  It is a no-brainer.  We must all conclude that nothing is more valuable than the eternal souls of men from God’s perspective.  He sacrificed His Son for the souls of men.  We will remain lost if the Father does not seek us.  We will not seek Him.  Our goodness is nothing apart from the Lord (Psalm 16.2).  Self-righteousness is a filthy rag before God.  Job asks, “Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that you are righteous” (Job 22.3)?  That’s a great question!  The answer is absolutely not if that righteousness is self-righteousness.  We must have the gift of Christ’s righteousness!

God must seek and find the lost.  Then when He finds us, we must be washed in the blood of the Lamb.  If not, we will incur the wrath and righteous indignation of God throughout all eternity.  But “through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3.22).  That is why God never removes His hand of protection when it comes to those who are already with Him (John 6.47).  Yet He also relentlessly moves upon the hearts of living men and women to breathe life into their eternal souls too.

The woman lit a candle and searched all of the dark recesses of her home.  “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4.6).  The woman swept the floor of her home in order to try to find the coin in any of the debris that had collected.  God will scour the entire surface of the earth through believers willing to testify of His love.  He has empowered us by His Spirit to preach the Gospel!

Celebrating with God When the Lost are Found

The dominant theme that ties together all three parables in Luke 15 is the joy over the lost being found.  The eternal condemnation and misery of the lost finds it root in sin and rebellion.  The eternal salvation and accompanying joy of the found finds it root in grace and repentance.  This is a source of joy for God.  He sent His Son to die for the lost souls of men.  He rejoices when they are found.  His angels rejoice when they are found.  We should rejoice when they are found!  Isaiah writes of the lost of Babylon:  “Hell from beneath is excited about you, to meet you at your coming; it stirs up the dead for you, all the chief ones of the earth; it has raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.  They all shall speak and say to you:  ‘Have you also become as weak as we?  Have you become like us?’” (Isaiah 14.9-10)  Shall not Heaven be just as excited to meet the lost soul when it comes into the presence of God through faith Christ alone!  Hell is working; Heaven is working.  What side are you on?

Pressing On in Seeking the Lost

If we are to have the heart of God, then we must not fight against Him.  If He relentlessly seeks the lost to save, then why shall we listlessly wander among them without compassion?  We know the danger that awaits the unconverted men and women around us.  All like sheep have gone astray …all have gone their own way.  But the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53.6).  The adversary is relentless as he seeks those whom he may devour.  We must be yielded to relentlessly seek those whom God may save through us.  God will press on in seeking the lost; however, I want to be a part of His search party.  What about you?

Winning Souls

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. -Proverbs 11.30

The greatest joy in my life came on a warm Pennsylvania evening in July of 1990.  That is the day that I came to Christ and asked Him to take away my sins and give me the gift of everlasting life.  The subsequent unburdening that occurred will never be rivaled in this life.  But there is something that comes closely to it.  I cannot think of anything that brings as much joy in life as winning souls.

But the interpretation of Proverbs 11.30 has been disputed a bit.  Some see a contrast in the Hebrew.  The Hebrew word ḥāmās (violent) is substituted for the word wise (ḥākām).  The reason the substitution takes place is because the phrase win souls can be translated take souls as in killing or murder.  Therefore, the contrast is between the fruit of the righteous (life-giving) and the violence of the wicked (life-taking).

I think it best to read the verse with the word wise.  The phrase win souls could also mean take souls in the sense of captivating them or influencing them for righteousness.  This would mean that the two thoughts in this Proverb are actually parallel and do not form a contrast (as in the NKJV).  If I am correct in my understanding, then the idea of evangelism would be a legitimate application of the verse.

One Sunday a car had broken down in the alley behind a church in Arizona, and the driver had jacked up the car and crawled underneath to work on the problem. Suddenly, the pastor and congregation heard him scream for help. The jack had slipped, and the car had come down on top of him.

Some ran for a phone to call 911. Several of the men gathered around the large car and strained to lift it off the trapped man. Nurses from the congregation were rounded up and brought to the scene. Somehow the men were able to ease the car’s weight off the man and he was pulled free. The nurses checked him over. He was scratched up and shaken, but otherwise okay.

When this man was in danger, people acted quickly and decisively.  They recognized the urgency to save this man.  They were willing and wise to do so.  We need this attitude with the many at risk of losing life eternally!  Are you willing and wise to win souls?