The Abundance of Everything

We certainly love God for who He is, but we also love God for what He gives.  It’s never advisable to think only in terms of the abstract in theology.  It may sound pious to say that we simply love God for who He is and not what He gives, but such piety will not stand in the face of Scripture.  We arPsalm 103.3e grateful daily for all of God’s benefits.  We serve Him with joy and gladness for the abundance of everything (Deuteronomy 28.47).

Who He Is

God is merciful, gracious, and steadfast.  The extension of God’s mercy teaches us that we deserve nothing but His wrath.  The extension of His grace indicates that He watches over us and delights in giving us good gifts we will never deserve.  His steadfastness helps us to realize that He will always be present and never neglect us.  The mercy, grace, and steadfastness of the LORD are realities which spur active service.

What He Gives

The response and worship of God’s children ought to be personal, committed, and continual.  David writes, “Bless the LORD, O my soul” (Psalm 103.1).  We owe a debt that we cannot possibly pay.  Even if we are struggling to make ends meet, we are better off.  The richest of men who know nothing of God’s gifts live is spiritual squalor.  This drives commitment to obey the LORD’s primary command:  Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He forgives, heals redeems, crowns, and satisfies.  Therefore we continually bless and praise Him.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:

Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103.1-5

We are reluctant to bless the LORD because it doesn’t feel genuine.  The reason this is true is that we fail to remind ourselves of His character and all His daily benefits.  There is no greater joy for the Christian to be genuinely and continually committed to his God.  Be thankful for who He is and what He gives.

Depression and Suffering

depressed-216x300Reformed Theology has spent much time and effort with practical counseling.  Among these counselors is Dr. David Powlison.  Here is a talk he gave at RTS.  Well worth an hour and a half of your time.  You don’t have to agree with RT to profit.  Here are the notes I took while listening:

William Styron in Darkness Visible:  Depression used to be known as melancholia.  Depression describes an economic decline or a rut in the road.  Depression is a true wimp of a word for such a major problem.  Adolf Meyer first assigned the term depression to what was formerly known as melancholia.  The term leaves little trace of malevolence and horrible intensity of what one goes through in such a dreadful and raging experience.  

People like simple explanations and definitive solutions, but depression eludes such a reductionist formula.

Armand Nicolai, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard

    

  • Biological problems can effect mood.  But there are many other causes for depression that are not biological.
  • What goes on neurologically with depression?  Does depression cause neurological changes or is there a biological problem that causes depression (chicken or egg).  Nicolai says that it cannot be known.  Depression is not always biologically determined.

Joseph Glenn Mullin – Prozac Backlash (Harvard professor)

    

  • Antidepressants are less effective and more dangerous if you use them over a long period of time.
  • Placebo effect – 2/3 as effective as the real drugs.
  • 75% of those receiving medication could receive much less than they are taking.

Stephen Hyman (Harvard professor)

   

  • Psychiatrists cannot give people what they really need – meaning, purpose, and relationships.

Christian make the same error.  Is depression sinful?  Is there a place where Scripture reproves sorrow, anguish, and despair?  Does it call these things sin?  The wisdom books gives voice to this experience.  It is an experience of suffering.  The Gospel addresses what is wrong with us (sin) and what is wrong in the world (suffering).

Many of the psalms address this human condition of anguish, heart-ache, and sorrow.  

”Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Immorality is unruliness.  But depression belongs to the fainthearted and the weak.  Sinfulness can be tangled up with suffering, however.  We can fail and experience anguish and guilt.  This is a proper feeling if you’re accurately gauging true offenses.

There is a normal sorrow at betrayal and the destruction of some temporal hope.  But that can lead to suicide and other warped thinking.  It can reveal that we made an idol out of something or someone on this earth.

Depression is hard and messy with not simple explanation or fix.  Job felt great turmoil and great grief.  His sorrow and anguish attended his pursuit of the living God.  He was presumptuous and God corrected him.  There are many causes that are external and internal that lead us into temptation.

The Bible does not weigh all the factors and give you a comprehensive analysis or full explanation.  The Bible doesn’t attempt to give a scientific answer.  The complexity of depression eludes such a cut and dry method of diagnosis.

  • Psalm 31 – sorrow, grief, abandoned, forsaken, despised, desperate; I commit my spirit into your hands
  • Psalm 32 – my body is wasting away
  • Psalm 34 – many afflictions, all my troubles, all my fears – you fill in the details; what are your fears and troubles
  • Psalm 35 – bereavement to my soul
  • Psalm 38 – sick, in pain, crushed, burning, utterly weak
  • Psalm 40 – evils surround me, evils overcome me, my heart fails me
  • Psalm 42-43 – Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Why are you disquieted within me?

Go through whatever you have to in life in order to get to Jesus.

Psalm 25 – 

It’s ironic that David dealt treacherously without cause (Bathsheba and Uriah).  People dealt with him treacherously and without cause as well.  “Lord, when you think about me, remember Yourself.”  
Read Psalm 25 carefully.

Many do not see God in their struggle.  Many do not see their sin and idolatry.  Along with the struggle, you must see God’s invitation out of it.  Psalm 25 has three things that many sufferers do not have:

  1. No awareness of sinfulness
  2. No Lord – therefore not teaching on mercy and love
  3. No faith with any kind of substance to it

However, their are a number of things that tugs at the sufferer in the person:

  1. Acute sensitivity to the beauty of creation
  2. Camaraderie and fellowship with other believers; pleasure
  3. Great valuing of Christian friends
  4. Impulse to get straightened out spiritually – can be unformed but the longing or sense is there
  5. Responsive to the candor of another
  6. Awareness of weakness and essential need

Eight Questions Creating Direct Linkages into Ministry:

  1. Do I need help?  We need awareness that we need it.  One gives it and another receives it.  God gives it through believers.
  2. Do I trust you?  It’s hard to trust people.  But God is to be trusted.  The only one who is truly trustworthy is God.
  3. Will I be honest with you?
  4. Do you understand me?  Have you gotten enough into my life that you truly understand what I’m going through.  God understands us for certain.  God is merciful and filled with lovingkindness.  He is willing to teach sinners to walk in His ways.  Christ both suffered and gives aid to those who suffer.
  5. Will the person listen?
  6. Will the person take to heart what you are saying?
  7. Will the person act?  Faith must move to love.  Small obediences …one step at a time.  What is the next right step right now?
  8. Will I persevere?  Will one thing lead to the next thing?  

L

Live in a dark hole or a wide world?  You can move from one to another through Jesus Christ.  It’s more than feeling better.  It’s about getting to Jesus Christ.  God gives us His Word and lends us His ears in Psalm 25 (Bonhoeffer).  The Holy Spirit blesses fruitful sowing of the Word of God – careful listening and good questions.

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.

Cultivating Faith – Part 7

Cultivating a Life of Faith: A Man of Daily Commitment

Genesis 17.1-27

Our failures and setbacks in the Christian life may be reduced to this one sentence: We forget who God is and what He is able to do when it comes to keeping His promises.  Genesis 17 is yet another reaffirmation of the formal covenant cut in Genesis 15 and first introduced in Genesis 12.  The theme of the chapter seems to point up the fact that those who cultivate faith must do so by daily committing themselves to Almighty God, His governing title in this passage.  There are at least four godly motives for daily commitment in the chapter.

God is Powerful (Genesis 17.1-3).

Ten years went by from the time the Covenant was given to Abraham at the beginning of Genesis 12 to the birth of Ishmael in Genesis 16. Thirteen more years go by from Ishmael’s birth to God’s reaffirmation of the covenant in Genesis 17.  The formal statement and ratification of the covenant is in Genesis 15.  Is it any wonder that Abraham becomes a man who cultivated great faith in Almighty God?  God is not concerned with how we think it should be done or when we think it should be done.  He is Almighty God!  His manner and timing are perfect.

He is Almighty God in the sense that He is strong and powerful. God brings blessing our way on the basis of His omnipotence.  This same title for God appears in Psalm 68.14.  This verse states that “the Almighty scattered kings” in the many peaks of Bashan.  God reminds Abraham that He is strong and powerful enough to deliver on His promises.  “The Almighty …is excellent in power” (Job 37.23)!

Therefore, God reaffirms the covenant with Abraham by pointing to His own character, specifically His power. Then, God tells Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless in the light of what the Almighty can and will do.  God clearly tells Abraham that He will multiply him exceedingly (Genesis 17.2), and all Abraham can do is fall on his face before God continues speaking.  This leads to verse four and our second motive for daily commitment…

God is Faithful (Genesis 17.4-5).

Sometimes people refer to the covenant under consideration as Abraham’s Covenant. But God states that it is His agreement with Abraham.  It is His covenant with Abraham.  God also reminds him that he will be a father of many nations.  Nothing depends upon Abraham.  If it did, it would have failed.  Great is God’s faithfulness not our own faithfulness!

So God changes Abram’s name (exalted father) to Abraham, which means “father of the multitude.” Abraham had to be on his face thinking, “What multitude?”  He didn’t have an heir.  Maybe he thought God meant Ishmael.  It is rather difficult and humiliating to have a name that you cannot live up to!

We have to constantly recommit our lives to God. God commits Himself to us once, and then keeps His commitment.  God doesn’t have faith in us; we have faith in God.  Cultivating a life of faith means daily commitment and recommitment.  And God is faithful still through it all.

Sometimes I’m an embarrassment to God. Yet He loves me, and I love Him back.  I’m an embarrassment to God when I blame Him instead of praising Him for my trials.  I’m an embarrassment to Him when I refuse to joyfully suffer shame for His name.  But I’m still a child of the King!

Cultivating a live of faith takes daily commitment in our pursuit to glorify such a faithful God. Greater glory comes His way when I praise Him in my struggles.  I cannot grow weary in well-doing.  I might not see my reward in this life, but I will in the life to come.  I have faith that that is so, because my faith is rightly placed in such a faithful God!  God is powerful and faithful.  Those are two great motivations for daily commitment to Him, but there is a third in Genesis 17…

God is Purposeful (Genesis 17.6-14)

We have a restatement of the covenant in these verses. We are told that it is God’s covenant (Genesis 17.7), it is everlasting, and it is with Abraham and all his descendants.  Genesis 17.8 says that the land of Canaan would be an everlasting possession as well.  We know that God is talking about the land that stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates by comparing this passage with Genesis 15.

Even though the covenant God made with Abraham is unconditional, there is a sign of the covenant, namely circumcision. This is Abraham and Israel’s part in the matter.  God is purposeful in that He gives Abraham a task to perform.  All male infants were to be circumcised at eight days after birth.  Everyone born in his house, servant or son, must be circumcised.  Refusal meant that they had shattered the sign of God’s covenant.

Circumcision should be viewed as a sign of acceptance when it came to God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham. It is a spiritual sign and a national sign.  Fathers in Abraham’s family demonstrated faith in the covenant by circumcising their sons, but the covenant would continue in spite of individual disobedience.  Women were covered under the patriarchal system of that time and were not circumcised.  But the Jewish people through time would prove that they lost sight of the significance of circumcision:

For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God (Romans 2.25-29).

The heart always mattered to God. It still matters today.  Some Christians today believe that baptism replaced circumcision.  Thus, they believe that they should baptize their infants.  But baptism is a person’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, an outward sign of inward faith in the Gospel.  Obviously, infants cannot make such a decision, nor can fathers make it for them.  One should have no problem with child dedication in the church, but one should not use the form of baptism.  Belief in Christ precedes baptism.  If the baptism doesn’t happen, the person is still saved (e.g., thief on the cross).

God has done it all. I see God asking Abraham to respond to God’s covenant with the sign of circumcision.  I see God giving Abraham this task for a two-fold purpose.  First, circumcision signified God separating a people apart from the world to Himself.  Second, by occupying Himself with God’s command, Abraham distances himself from the world by drawing closer to God.

There are times that I get up in the morning and I just want to stay in bed. Life is too hard.  Even encouragement from others doesn’t help.  All I know at these times is to put one foot in front of the other and do what God tells me to do.  I have a purpose …a job to do.  God tells me so in His Word.  I might not be able to make sense of everything, but I can put one foot in front of the other and do what God called me to do!  God is powerful, faithful, and purposeful.  There is a fourth and final motive for daily commitment to God in Genesis 17…

God is Merciful (Genesis 17.15-27)

God changes Sarai’s name (“my princess”) to Sarah (“a princess”). I don’t know why it was changed like this.  The Bible doesn’t say.  But the Lord said that He would bless her and give Abraham a son by her.  She would be the mother of nations and kings.

This promise had to be wonderful for Sarah to think about in future days. God knew why Sarah did what she did with Hagar.  But God forgave her and reaffirmed His promise.  Sarah couldn’t do anything to thwart God’s faithfulness.  That is mercy; that is motivating mercy.  There is no need for you to pay for your sins; Christ has already paid for them.  Why are you still on the bench?  Why are you still watching and not working?

God is tender and compassionate. He is forgiving; therefore, nations and kings will issue forth from Sarah.  He has great and mighty things in store for us as well.  His mercy is manifested in Ishmael too.

The Bible says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old?  And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  Why did Abraham laugh?  If we say that he laughed for joy at what God was going to do (John Calvin’s view), then what do we do with v. 18:  “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”  And then we ask, “Why did God correct Abraham in verse 19?”  No, it seems that Abraham just cannot believe what he was hearing.  He struggled with his faith in God.

Remember, Abraham thought Eliezer should be the heir. Now he offers Ishmael as a suggestion to God, as if God needed Abraham’s help!  No, God would keep His Word and fulfill the covenant His way.  It is going to be Isaac born to Sarah in one year’s time.  If Abraham thought it strange for someone as old as himself to be a father, imagine how he felt at having sons at over 135 with Keturah, his second wife!

God then told Abraham what He had already revealed to Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid. Ishmael would be blessed and multiply exceedingly.  Interestingly, he would have 12 sons that became princes.  His descendants would also become a great nation.  The Arabic people are the people of this promise of God.  It is easy for us to forget that in our modern climate.  They are numerous and great as a people.

The Arabic people have brought much good and much blessing into the world. But the covenant is established with Isaac and his descendants not with Ishmael and his.  There is not racial inferiority in this passage.  That would come later as a result of sin.  God simply chose Isaac and not Ishmael.  Thus, the faith of Abraham is tested once again.

When the LORD had finished talking with Abraham, He departs. Abraham is silent.  But his faith took the form of action.  Abraham took Ishmael, all born in his house, and all male servants and circumcised them that very same day.  He did what God told him to do.  He was 99 when he himself was circumcised.  Ishmael was 13.

Abraham struggled to cultivate a life of faith in God. But his struggles were short-lived.  He came around quick.  His victories in his walk with God earned him a part in Hebrews 11 as a man who still epitomizes faith.  Romans 4.21 says that he was fully convinced that what God had promised God was also able to perform (Romans 4.21).  We, too, must be fully convinced and daily committed to the promises of God!

Blessings come with great regularity in our lives when we believe God and then obey God. Do not neglect the strength and grace God gives to you in order to overcome what seems impossible in your life.  Abraham’s example should teach all of us that nothing stands in the way of God’s purpose and plan for us – not even ourselves.  God asks us to simply believe.  When we do, He will greatly bless our lives!  He motivates our daily commitment through His almighty power, great faithfulness, purposeful calling, and wonderful mercy!