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.

God’s Resort

“Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually” (Psalm 71.3).

Shame, escape, the plea for deliverance, refuge, rock, and fortress are all very clear indicators in this psalm.  If we linger over these words, they help us to understand the background of this Psalm.  All these definitive descriptors and we are still only three verses into the Psalm.  It is quite obvious that the psalmist is experiencing great upheaval and persecution from “the hand of the wicked, …unrighteous, and cruel man” (71.4).

However, the psalmist has experience in his relationship with God.  He has trusted and hoped in God from his youth (71.5).  Something has happened to him that has caused people to look upon him as a “wonder” or an astonishment (71.7).  This same idea is expressed in Isaiah’s Suffering Servant passage.  “Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man…” (Isaiah 52.14).  So, the psalmist pleads for the Lord to keep hold of him in his old age …to not forsake him when his strength fails (71.9).

The deepest hurt for him was the people saying that God had forsaken him (71.11).  It is very difficult to live a truly altruistic life and have people say that God has left you.  So he cries out to God to come near and help him (7.12) …to confound and consume his adversaries (71.13).

The psalmist clings in hope to God continually.  He cannot do anything else (71.14).  He will go in the strength of the Lord God (71.16).  Old and gray-headed, the only thing he cannot endure is the thought of God forsaking him (71.18).  He knows that even great and severe trouble shall give way to revival (71.20).  He will praise the Lord for deliverance and talk of the Lord’s righteousness all the day long (71.24).  But his adversaries who caused such deep hurt in his life will be confounded and brought to shame (71.25).

But I’d like to back up and linger upon verse 3:  “Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually.”

God has been gracious to us.  We probably haven’t had too many occasions where we have prayed like the psalmist has here.  But we have to realize that God alone is our strong refuge.  We may resort to Him continually.  There isn’t anything or anyone in this world that is able to stand in His place.  Look carefully at Psalm 71.3:

Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually.

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Mark of God’s Mercy

First, this refuge is a mark of God’s mercy.  Think about the word refuge and all that it entails.  The Lord is my strong refuge.  The Lord is my strong refuge.  He is mine, and He is strong.  Beyond this, I may resort to this refuge continually.  There is never a time when I cannot find all that I need in Him.  I shut the door on everyone who seeks to rob me of peace and safety and find my strong refuge in Him.  Nothing can be brought against us as children of God – at least nothing that God does not allow.  Then when He allows it, He graciously provides a refuge to which we may resort continually.

Amazing!  Don’t even think we deserve this privilege.  That God would provide each of us a refuge like this is amazing access.  It is a sure indicator of His mercy.  We are certainly undeserving.  We can identify with David who prayed, “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?  Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?  Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144.3-4).

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Manifestation of God’s Comfort

Second, this refuge is a manifestation of God’s comfort.  A refuge is a place of comfort and security.  You are assured of the fact that not only will you be safe, but you will find comfort and relief.  All can stand against you but if you find a refuge in God, you find comfort, wisdom, and strength to face the storms brewing on the horizon.  God is a faithful anchor amidst a faithless sea of humanity.  “Hide yourself …until the indignation is past” (Isaiah 26.20).

Life robs us of temporal comfort and joy so that we might find eternal comfort and joy.  God’s refuge is not only far more compelling to those seeking it, but far more satisfying than anything else they’ve been offered.  It takes a long time for some of us to learn this.

Think about this prayer as a whole:  Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually.  Now ask yourself if you pray like this.  I’m quite convinced that many believers do not have continual refuge in the LORD because they never ask for it.  Many are too busy building their own places of refuge.  These shanties cannot stand when trouble comes.  Some hide in the pursuit of pleasure or popularity or behind the veneer of a false profession, or underneath the cover of a zeal God will not own.  We should genuinely seek God as our strong refuge …the place where we resort continually.  There are two reasons why we should do this (apart from the fact that the Bible advocates it; I take that for granted).

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Wise Choice

First, it’s the smart thing to do; it’s the wise choice.  When you think of just the little things that consume Christians in our country, it is frightening to think of a future filled with real and persistent persecution!  As a church, we must be taught to fail in our own strength.  It is the most merciful thing God can do in order to teach us to resort to Him continually.

When God is our refuge, there is always hope even in the most miserable situations here on earth.  Believers who resort to God during these times find that out.  They are truly wise.  We must conclude that it is the height of foolishness to ignore the refuge we’ve been given in God.  Let us go to Him continually.  Let us rely upon His omnipotent arm instead of our feeble attempts to deliver ourselves.  Jeremiah wrote, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD …Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD” (Jeremiah 17.5, 7).

It really is a no-brainer as they say.  Fire and brimstone is already coming upon the face of Sodom.  It’s time to flee to our strong refuge; to resort in Him continually.

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Loyal Choice

Second, it’s the loyal thing to do.  Loyalty matters to God.  When you look for a refuge in anyone or anything else, God will not put up with it for long.  He is a jealous God …He has perfect jealousy.  The psalmist was loyal to God because he experienced the all-sufficiency of God in his weakness.

Only God has the power to protect you.  Only God loves you enough to provide you with what you need instead of what you want.  If we don’t read and study verses like Psalm 71.3, it would never occur to us to pray as the psalmist did.  You discover who God is and what He wants to do for you by studying the Psalms.  Until you know God’s character, you’ll never really understand why people are willing to forsake everything and everyone else in order to serve Him.

The wonderful thing about God’s character is that as we discover Him together, we will conclude that He indeed is our refuge through all generations (Psalm 90.1).  When we flee to Him, we find comfort and security even in the midst of great chaos.

Conclusion:  We ought to have great pity upon those who still struggle to find a strong Refuge to whom they may resort.  If they think that their their troubles are burdensome now, just think of the terror that awaits them in Hell after they die!  People who fight against God will one day find that they fight against the Creator of all.  But if they pursue a relationship with God, they will have a peace that protects and keep their hearts for this life and the life to come.

Yet I hasten to add that those of us who have made the LORD a refuge and dwelling place may be assured that “no evil shall befall” us (Psalm 91.9-10).  “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18.10).  When we pray, let us ask that God be a strong refuge, to which we may resort continually (Psalm 71.3).

Cultivating Faith – Part 5

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Patience (Genesis 15.1-21)

Have you ever struggled with what you know to be the promise of God, but it doesn’t seem to be a present reality?  As Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “No doubt the trouble is with you!”  God provided Abraham with a great promise in Genesis 12, but he was struggling with present reality by the time we reach Genesis 15.

After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir (Genesis 15.1-3).

Abraham is fearful and wondering what happened to the promise of God.  God responds by telling him that He is his shield, his exceedingly great reward.  God is both the protector and fulfiller of promises.  However from Abraham’s perspective, the proof is in the pudding.  There is no son …no natural heir.  Perhaps Eliezer is to be heir, but that cannot be because he is a servant and not a son.  Perhaps Abraham should adopt his faithful servant to be a faithful son.  But God will have none of this.

God mercifully reiterated the promise He had made earlier.  It will not be an adopted servant but an actual son as an answer to the promise God made.  God used the stars of heaven as an object lesson (Genesis 15.4-5).  This will be the number of Abraham’s actual descendants.

How does Abraham respond to this?  “And [Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15.6).  Abraham’s belief or faith is the key in this verse.  He trusted in God.  This has been and always will be the way of deliverance, whether it comes to the deliverance of a man’s eternal soul or deliverance from agonizing adversity.

When did Abraham believe to the saving of his soul?  It was when God called him out of Ur in Genesis 12.  The writer of Hebrews speaks:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.8-10).

Abraham is not circumcised until Genesis 17.  He is 99 in that chapter of Scripture.  This is several years after his actual conversion.  Circumcision is a sign of Abraham’s faith, but it is not the basis of his justification.  The same could be said about Christian baptism.  Baptism is a sign of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it does not justify anyone.  Paul said, in Romans 4.9-12:

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

Just as Abraham, we are justified by faith in the gift of God.  The gift of God is the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.  Faith is not a work of man; faith is man’s acceptance of the work of God.  Romans 4.3 clearly tells us that Abraham believed God and that that belief was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.  As we work backwards in Romans 4, we find that Abraham was not justified by works or else he would have something about which he could boast (see Romans 4.2).  Therefore faith is not a work of man but acceptance of the free grace of God.  Faith is not work but resting in God’s work.

Man has always been saved by grace through faith.  If faith is a work, then man would be justified by works.  However man is justified by faith not works.

[Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4.20-22).

Galatians 3.6 adds that Abraham believed God and that his belief was accounted to him for righteousness.  That is why only those who believe are truly sons of Abraham.

Salvation is offered by God; it is all of His grace.  Faith is man receiving the free gift of God.  The believer trusts or rests in the work of Another not in himself or in his own work.  I don’t believe God causes men to believe; however, I do believe God grants to mankind the avenue of faith.  We take it or leave it.  This understanding of faith means that when I meet God before His throne, I will have no one to blame but myself for rejecting His gracious avenue of faith.  The time for faith is alway when you cannot see.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1).

Abraham believed God.  He looked for a Savior to come.  We believe God and look back to a Savior who has already come.  Abraham and New Testament believers are saved the same way:  By grace alone through faith alone!

The context of Genesis 15 indicates that Abraham’s faith must be in the promise of God.  This faith is cultivated and strengthened by yet another revelation of God:

And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it (Genesis 15.7-8)?

Abraham desired confirmation or a sign.  God does not rebuke Abraham for this.  As a matter of fact God provides a sign for him and for many saints in the Scripture.  These signs strengthen the faith of believers.  Gideon (Judges 6) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20.8) are examples of believers strengthened by the signs God granted them.

Ahaz (Isaiah 7) is an example of a sanctimonious king who snubbed God’s prophet by saying, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord” (Isaiah 7.12)!  But the Lord gave him a sign anyway.  When the sign was rejected, Ahaz expressed unbelief.  There is irony here for those who carefully follow this thread of thought.

Abraham asks for a sign, but he expresses faith in doing so.  He is longing to see the promise God made him fulfilled.  So God graciously replies:

And [God] said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

This seems strange until you understand that God condescended to the practice of men who cut a covenant but literally cutting an animal in half.  Both parties involved in the covenant would pass between the halves of the animal in order to confirm their agreement.  But God alone walks between the halves of animals:

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites (Genesis 15.12-21).

God appears as a smoking furnace or oven and a burning lamp or torch passing between the halves and cutting the covenant with Abraham unconditionally.  God had Abraham set things up and protect the slaughtered animals from vultures, but He alone passed through the halves.  God is pictured as a smoking oven and burning torch to symbolize His great power and holiness (cp. Exodus 19.18; Isaiah 6).

Abraham fell into a deep sleep before this unfolded.  It is the same kind of sleep Adam fell into when Eve was created in Genesis 2.21.  Great darkness overwhelmed Abraham.  The darkness filled him with horror.  God is a God to be feared, a consuming fire.  Abraham was overwhelmed by the powerful and holy God!

God promised and foretold many things in Genesis 15.  But still Abraham is looking toward an uncertain future at the end of this covenant.  The promise remains elusive to him; it is not a present reality.  God is cultivating a life of faith within him.

We have a lot in common with Abraham when it comes to cultivating a life of faith.  We look toward the future even as he did.  We look for a continuing city …for Heaven and a bright and glorious reign.  But this is not a present reality.  Yet we patiently wait as we cultivate a life of faith.  How do we patiently abide in Him and in His promises?  God has given us nothing less than His powerful and holy presence.  He dwells in each of us, affirming that His revealed Word is completely true.  Paul wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5.1).

Do not fear or be discouraged when the promises of God do not seem to be a present reality in your life.  Simply believe.  Abraham patiently endured and then he obtained the promise (see Hebrews 6.15).  We must patiently endure until the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6.9).  Cultivate a life of faith by imitating those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6.12)!  The patient cultivate a life of faith!

Cultivating Faith – Part 4

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Courage (Genesis 14.1-24)

The Courage of a Rescuer (Genesis 14.1-16)

Every Adventure Story Has a Villain (14.1-11)

Every good adventure story has a villain, a victim, and the courage of a victor.  There is also a catalyst, circumstance and/or event that sets everything in motion.  Look beyond the names that are difficult to pronounce in the opening of Genesis 14, and you will find four kings invading Sodom, Gomorrah, and other cities.  The invasion was successful and the defeated kings served Chedorlaomer and the other victors for twelve years before they finally rebelled in the thirteenth year.

Genesis 14.5-11 describes the rebellion.  This rebellion led to the second battle described in the chapter.  The kings are back in the Valley of Siddim – four against five.  The rebels are put down decidedly.  It is at this point that we remember that Lot is dwelling in the land of one of the defeated rebel kings.  All the goods and provisions of Sodom are taken.

The large epic battle between the kings is a macrocosm of the situation.  It’s one thing to talk about general sweeping movements (like in the miserable days of the Judges); quite another to talk about how specific people and families are affected (viz., Ruth and Naomi against the bleakness of the day of Judges).  We speak excitedly about the War on Terrorism.  However, a day like Patriot Day in America, marking the terrorist attack in New York, is a great and poignant day of grief for individual families of those who died on September 11, 2001 or those families of soldiers who died in combat since that time.  We marvel at an earthquake, but the victims have had their lives completely changed.  While every adventure story has a villain…

Every Adventure Story Has a Victim (14.12)

“They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed” (Genesis 14.12).  This is the same Lot who chose poorly because he was occupied too much with this present world and too little with things above.  At first blush, we might just think that he is simply getting what he deserves.  But the courage of a rescuer has uncommon valor and is decisive in this particular story.

Every Story Has a Victor (14.13-16)

One of Lot’s family escaped and reported to Abraham what had happened.  Abraham responded by arming 318 of his trained servants to enter the fray because it involved his family.  This is true patriotism.  He armed servants born in his own house.  These men were very loyal to Abraham, and he cared for them.  Genesis 17 tells us that both son and slave would receive the sign of circumcision in Abraham’s house.  There were 318 of them.  If you add the individual digits in the number 318 (3+1+8), they equal 12.  That means absolutely nothing.  There were simply 318 of them!  But one thing is absolutely certain:  Abraham cared about them but was willing to sacrifice them and himself to get Lot back.

The fact that the text says Abraham and his men pursued the victorious kings and their vanquished victims as far as Dan actually means as far as Laish.  Moses simply updated the name under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Abraham attacked by night with a divided force and won the victory.  He brought back his nephew Lot, Lot’s goods, and the women and the people of Lot’s family.  This is evidence of Abraham’s good character.  He was a sacrificial, compassionate, and courageous man.  In him we see the courage of a rescuer, but we also witness…

The Communion of the Righteous (14.17-24)

The King of Salem and Godly Righteousness (14.17-20)

Apparently, the kings came out to meet Abraham when he returned from the battle.  Two are singled out in our text:  Melchizedek, the King of Salem and the King of Sodom.  Both form a definitive contrast between godly righteousness and ungodly perversion.  The King of Salem, Melchizedek, brought Abraham bread and wine, something for which Abraham and his men would have been grateful after a long, arduous journey.

Melchizedek is not only identified as a king but also a priest.  The fact that he received a tithe from Abraham speaks of his superior position to Abraham.  This is an abrupt and brief scene is Genesis.  The next time he is mentioned is in Psalm 110:4.  But it is Hebrews 7 that gives us the most information about this mysterious figure.  Who is he?

1.Is he Christ pre-incarnate?

2.Is he an actual historic person who typifies Christ?

3.Is he a Canaanite priest?

Personally, I am comfortable saying that he was an actual historic person who typified Jesus Christ.  He couldn’t be a Canaanite priest if he worships God Most High.  Hebrews 7.3 says that he was “made like the Son of God” not that he was the son of God.  Whoever he was, he was an important type of the Lord Jesus Christ and maybe even a Christophany.

Hebrews 7.2 says he was the king of righteousness and the king of peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy (recorded that is), and having neither a birthday or a date of death recorded in the Scripture.  He typifies the righteousness and the peace of Jesus Christ.  Jesus holds the scepter of righteousness and has made the King of Righteousness through His blood on the cross.  Jesus is actually Prophet, Priest, and King.

The King of Salem came forth to honor Abraham with bread and wine.  I can hardly say that without reminding believers of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.  We feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ our righteousness and our peace.

Why did Melchizedek bless Abraham?  He actually blessed both Abraham and the God of Abraham.  Abraham was the willing instrument of the omnipotent God Most High who had delivered Abram’s enemies in his hand.  All God’s children are blessed when God Himself is blessed.  The fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham indicates that we too ought to bless those who bless God.

Abraham gave a tithe of all to Melchizedek (Genesis 14.20).  This is not just remuneration for the bread and wine.  It appears to be something more.  He acknowledged that Melchizedek was God’s man.  As priest, he blessed Abraham and served as some kind of mediator (if just in prayer) on Abraham’s behalf.  “Every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5.1).

Therefore, Abraham gave Melchizedek tithes because this priest was somehow God’s representative.  Abraham certainly respected Melchizedek because this king of righteousness respected God.  Those who serve at the altar, ought to live of the altar.  Those who minister to us of their spiritual things, should receive our joyful gratitude and our temporal things.  So Abraham risked his life to save Lot and received the treasure gained in his conflict.  Yet he gave to Melchizedek the portion due to God, namely a tithe.

It is a blessed practice to give at least 10% of one’s income regularly as a Christian.  We give back to God not so that we will get a tax break …not so that God will bless us with prosperity …not so that we will no longer feel guilty …not to pull our own weight as a part of our local church.  We give as an act of gratitude and worship (see 2 Corinthians 8-9).

Abraham gave a tithe of all.  It all belonged to God.  Faithful givers learn that when they give sacrificially to God, the rest of the money He brings our way is sufficient.  If we have more, we spend more on stuff we do not need.  It’s not really an act of sacrifice for western believers to give 10% to God.  It can be an act of worship.

Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4).  Melchizedek was a priest for a time; Jesus a priest forever.  The Levitical priests ministered for a time; Jesus forever.  Melchizedek is the shadow; Christ the substance.

Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever (Hebrews 7.23-28).

Jesus is our great High Priest.  He is both propitiator and propitiation.  He not only deserves a portion of our income, but our bodies and souls as a living sacrifice to God.  Paul would later write, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12.1).

But while the King of Salem provides communion for the godly righteousness.  The King of Sodom represents ungodly perversion.

The King of Sodom and Ungodly Perversion (14.21-24)

Abraham refused gifts from the King of Sodom.  He didn’t want to be obligated to the wicked king.  Abraham’s motivation in the warfare was the good of his family and the glory of God.  He didn’t go to war in order to be rich or grab at power.  This something that the King of Sodom couldn’t possibly understand.  The gifts of the ungodly people around us have the potential to pervert our way.  They always have deadly strings attached.

If you were not careful in reading the Scripture, you might think that the King of Sodom offered more than the King of Salem.  The riches of battle versus bread and wine?  That doesn’t sound like a good deal in this present world.  But Abraham looked for a continuing city.  He was cultivating a life of faith that sees beyond today.  That takes courage.

Receive from Sodom and you’re going to be indebted to Sodom.  If you’re indebted to Sodom, you are a slave of Sodom.  You are unable to make choices for yourself.  Be wary of making decisions that give people control of your life.  Christians belong in the hands of God.  God alone has control over us.

If we are to cultivate a life of faith, we must look at the daily mercy we receive as guidance to God.  Focus not on the gifts He bestows upon us, but on the Giver Himself.  Remember that God brings the blessing of rain upon the just and the unjust.  But only the righteous are emboldened to fight for a victory that is already theirs by faith.

Ungodly perversion awaits those who choose treasure over righteousness and peace.  True victory in our lives simply gives us the opportunity to glorify the God who provides it.  Choosing to cultivate a life of faith means a life filled with unlikely choices from the world’s perspective.  But choices for the glory of God will yield a life of great gratitude and take great courage.

Cultivating Faith (Part 3)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Self-Denial

The story of Abraham and Lot is a story of two roads which diverge.  It is a story filled with choices.  While the eternal destination of both men is the same, the ways in which they lived on this earth become a stark contrast.

As we enter Genesis 13, both men led their families side-by-side with unity of purpose.  As long as the interests of both men aligned, they maintained unity.  But a point came when their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together (Genesis 13.6).  The result was strife leading to separation.  The separation became necessary in order to promote stability and peace.  The diverging directions of both men teach us some very important principles.

It is possible to trace the choices of both Abraham and Lot under two main headings.  Both men represent diverging philosophies of could be termed as separation and infiltration.  Abraham separates from the world (Sodom and Gomorrah); Lot infiltrates the world – slouching toward Gomorrah to borrow Judge Robert H. Bork’s title from his 1996 book.  First, Abraham represents the choice of separation…

Choosing to separate leads to the path toward God (Genesis 13.1-9).

“Please separate from me …they separated from each other …the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him” (13.8, 11, 14).

The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.

“If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will take the left” (13.9).

Abraham knew well the wisdom of his descendant Solomon who wrote, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17.14).  Once water is released, the breach widens as the water erodes it away.  It moves so rapidly that there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Therefore, stop contention before it starts.  Once it begins, you’ll never know when or how it will stop.

Abraham desired peace with Lot.  That governed the choice he made.  So we have his words, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Genesis 13.8).  Abraham was a peacemaker not a peacekeeper.  The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.  Our endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace necessarily separates us from the world to God.  If our family and friends choose the path to Gomorrah, they will be walking a different path.  But make no mistake:  They have left the narrow way for the broad road.

The path to God leads away from self-assertion and toward self-denial.

It should be clear that Abraham is the elder and Lot the younger.  Abraham the uncle and Lot the nephew.  Abraham was called out of Ur, and Lot came along for the ride and the blessings.  Wouldn’t you think that as soon as Abraham gave Lot the choice of the left or right that Lot would have deferred to his uncle out of respect?  Shouldn’t he submit to Abraham and not the other way around?  Abraham could have asserted his rights, but he practiced self-denial.

People in the world lord their authority over others.  This is the way it is and the way it will be with unbelieving people.  But as Jesus said, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.26-28).

The path to God leads away from self-assertion toward self-denial.  How can there be strife if one party denies self and assumes the role of a perpetual servant?  How can the self-assertive and the self-denying walk the same path?

The path to God leads away from greed and toward generosity.  

Abraham should possess at least as much as Lot if not more than Lot.  But Abraham was a sieve.  He simply allowed wealth to flow in and out.  Abraham gave; Lot took.  Abraham knew that the plain of the Jordan was fertile, lush land.  He simply deferred to Lot.

Faith reasons that God will take care of us and fight for us.  So if a man demands my cloak, I’ll give it to him along with my tunic also.  If he demands I walk with him one mile, I’ll walk the one and then another mile as well.  If it is within our power to meet a need, we should meet that need.

But greed leads to spiritual deadness.  The heart set on things below is more concerned with the comforts of this life.  Pure and undefiled religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1.27).  It is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

A choice to cultivate a life of faith means a choice to separate, which leads us along the path toward God.  Lot chose differently and serves as a warning to us…

Choosing to infiltrate leads to the path toward Gomorrah (Genesis 13.10-18).

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

“Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan …Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan …Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom …They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom” (13.10-12; 14.12).

We can’t be sure when Lot placed his faith in the God of Abraham.  We know that when Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, he is a righteous man.  Perhaps his conversion is a result of the problems caused by this divergent path that he took toward Gomorrah.  But believer or not, he took the path away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

We don’t know for certain, but it does seem that Lot has no problem with separating from Abraham.  Such separation would expose him to the temptations of Gomorrah.  He would be able to infiltrate that world, and gratify his desires.  Perhaps greed and ambition were two of the top desires for him.

Lot saw comfort in the well-watered plains of the Jordan.  The text tells us that the fertile land resembled the Garden of Eden itself.  Worldliness includes a fixation on the temporal and comfort that we desire right now in this temporal life.  Covetousness and a desire to fulfill temporal desires govern the heart of a person slouching toward Gomorrah.  We will learn that Lot gets a position as a judge and leader in Sodom.  His temporal desire far outpaced eternal interests.  The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the spiritual and toward the physical.

  • The days of Lot are characterized as days when “they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built” (Luke 17.28).
  • “On the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17.29).
  • “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17.32).
  • ‘The LORD turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, and made them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and “delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2.6-8).

Lot certainly came to understand what the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were like.  Their sin was out in the open for all to see.  The Bible is right:  “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15.33).  Lot left Abraham and moved toward Gomorrah with little or no regret that we can determine from the text.

We lose so much when we sacrifice spiritual benefit for physical comfort.  We endanger our churches, families, and ourselves when we make this exchange.  We fail to feed on the Word of God and grab at the crust of bread we find in the world.  That crust of bread is a counterfeit form of life.  We need to be brought to repentance when living for this world.  God is merciful enough to do it.

Guard against a love for this world.  You must separate from it not infiltrate it if you are to cultivate a life of faith.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2.15-15).

Lot’s love for the world led to choices that nullified his testimony within it.  Lot only had the world for a little while.  In the end it was all taken away from him.  If you live for the present arrangement of things, then your life will be empty.

Cultivate a life of faith through a compassionate, self-denying spirit.  Look to the Holy Spirit.  Be grateful to God because He has enabled you to sacrifice your own interests for the interests of others.

  • Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12.10).
  • Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.4-5).

Follow the faith of Abraham.  Walk the path to God instead of slouching toward the destruction of Gomorrah!

Cultivating Faith Series (Part 1)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man Set Apart 

Abraham lived roughly 2000 years before the time of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He lived in a world that spiraled down out of control plummeting into the depths of idolatry.  Abraham’s father Terah dwelt on the eastern side of the Euphrates River.  He raised his family in an atmosphere of idolatry.  They all served other gods (cf. Joshua 24.2).  And yet, God set Abraham apart from the wickedness of idolatry to Himself and for His glory.  God chose to preserve truth and the revelation of Himself in the earthly family of one man named Abraham.  So God called Abraham, and he had to choose to leave his country and all his familiar surroundings to occupy a land that God would show him in the future.

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

Get out of your country,

From your family

And from your father’s house,

To a land that I will show you. 

(Genesis 12.1)

Set Apart from the World

God has not called me to leave the idolatrous state of California for some earthly location that He will determine at a later date.  He hasn’t called me to leave my family or all that is familiar here in this great place.  But He has set me apart from earthly things in Christ.

  • He demands that I set my mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3.2).
  • “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5.19).
  • Even so, God commands me not to love the world or the things in it (1 John 2.15).
  • “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes in Romans 12.2.
  • “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4.4).
  • We must “come out from among” the idolaters in the world “and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6.17).
  • “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6.14).
  • We must confess with those who have cultivated a life of faith before us that we too are strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11.13).

We are very comfortable in the world in which we live.  I’d say a bit too comfortable.  We should be grateful for the freedoms and comforts that we have.  We must use these as tools to reach the lost with the Gospel.  But if our world collapses and we suffer, we shall be able to strengthen and encourage one another to continue in the faith.  Is it not true that we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14.22)?

As with Abraham, we must hold onto the things of this world loosely.  The good things of life cannot keep us.  The evil will not divert us.  We desire a better, that is, a heavenly country just as Abraham did.  God has prepared a city for us (Hebrews 11.16).

“Forget your own people …your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him” (Psalm 45.10-11).  It is in this sense that we are set apart from the world.  While some of us must be more involved with the day-to-day activity of this world, we are not of it.  Prepositions are important.  We must separate ourselves from this world or be prepared to suffer the misery coming upon it.  This is the first step in the cultivation of faith.  But separation is not all negative.  We are set apart from the world in order to be…

Set Apart to God 

Abraham’s call to leave his family and country seems pretty drastic until you consider verses 2-3 of Genesis 12.  The LORD also revealed to Abraham the following:

I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

(Genesis 12.2-3)

Notice the five-fold repetition of the word blessing in these two verses.  The focus of Abraham’s call away from everything and everyone he knows is the fact that God had something much better in mind for him.  Abraham would be blessed and also be a source of blessing for all the families of the earth.

At the end of Abraham’s life, when he is well-advanced in age, the Bible says that “the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things” (Genesis 24.1).  Abraham’s servant reveals that the LORD had blessed his master greatly, he had become great (Genesis 24.35).  So, Abraham had been blessed with abundance in the temporal life he lived.

But it was the spiritual and eternal benefits that Abraham possessed at the end of his life which were far greater.  His faith in the revelation of God was accounted for righteousness.  He was justified before God.  All of these material and eternal blessings were communicated to his family as well.  People were encouraged and built up because of Abraham’s “follow-ship”.  Follow-ship is imperative when it comes to leadership.  Because Abraham obeyed God’s call to come out of Ur to Canaan, he was able to be a blessing to so many, even to all the families of the earth.  Every person will be blessed or cursed according to whether or not he or she accepts or rejects the promised Seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Leave the world behind!  Sever all ties that bind you to it.  If you do this for Christ’s sake, you will have lost your life as far as this world is concerned.  You are dead with Christ, but you are alive to God.  You might not have the abundance of Abraham when it comes to material and temporal wealth, but you will have gained your soul and incomprehensible, daily benefits.

Christians are sensitive to sin and even the moments that we live detached from God wear us down.  We mourn over these times, and yet in spite of the mourning, we are and shall be truly blessed.  We have forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God in the Beloved One.  We are blessed with the one who cultivated a life of faith so long ago.

But not only are we blessed in Christ; we are a source of blessing to all around us.  As parents, employers, friends, and associates, we relate to other people.  We graciously promote the true joy of life in Christ with all connected to us.

Within the church and within our country, we exemplify the life of light.  Our own follow-ship becomes leadership of a godly sort.  Our prayer on the behalf of others, will it not prevail if we are godly, fervent, and righteous?  What if we simply lead one person to Christ, will that not be more than all this world could offer them or us?  Won’t that one person be eternally grateful to us for God mercifully allowing us to communicate the glorious Gospel of reconciliation?  When you think about it, all truly is vanity when compared to the eternal blessings of a life truly abiding in Christ.

Set Apart for Faith that Works

Abraham obeyed God. “Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him” (Genesis 12.4).  He didn’t hesitate.  Lot, his nephew, went with him.  But one wonders about the opinion of many others in his family.  How many thought Abraham was crazy to leave Ur and later Haran?  Imagine people asking him, “Well, where are you going?”  How does he answer?  “I don’t know where I’m going.  I just need to leave.”  When he finally leaves, how many feared for him?  But Abraham didn’t worry about the comforts of home, family, and friends.  He desired the blessing of God above all.  He believed God.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  (Hebrews 11.8-10)

Abraham is surely the prototype for us when it comes to the cultivation of faith and obedience.  If we leave this world behind for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s, we gain so much more than we could ever hope for.  Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15.18-19).

I cannot see Heaven, but I have entered my Promised Land nonetheless.  I move through life enjoying the quality of eternal life while waiting for the appearance of my Eternal King and His eternal city.  This is why we “consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18).  Our obedience is fueled by our dependence upon the eternal life Christ gives.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Some of us are way too comfortable in this world.

Jesus said that if we are, then perhaps we’ve come to Him but we don’t hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and our own life also.  If that be the case, we cannot be His disciples (Luke 14.26).

How do we hate these people, when we are commanded not even to hate our enemies?  The answer is that Jesus is using figurative language.  He means that any connection or affection that we have in this world which is more important than faith in Him is the forsaking of Him.

Our love for Christ must so overshadow our earthly ties that we act as if hate those closest to us in comparison.  We sacrifice all without hesitation for the cause of Christ.  Forsake all and follow Him!  This leads to your own personal blessing and makes you a source of blessing for others.

Some of us are determined to live for the world to come.

Just remember that Abraham’s father and brother went as far as Haran, but no further.  God renews the call while Abraham is in Haran with them, but Terah dies there.  Nahor, his brother, wasn’t willing to journey any further with Abraham.  Abraham took only Sarah and his nephew Lot.  While we don’t know about the specific reasons or even the spiritual state of Abraham’s family in Haran, they didn’t go with Abraham to the Promised Land.

A promise remains of entering God’s rest, let us fear lest any of us seem to have come short of it.

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.  For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them (2 Peter 2:20–21).

Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

We are not of those who draw back.  We are determined to follow in faith, to cultivate faith.  We are set apart from the world to God for faith that works!

Paul’s First Recorded Sermon:  Delighting in the Gospel (Part 4)

“Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us:  I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'” [This is a quotation from Isaiah 49.6.]

“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” (Acts 13.46-48).

The majority of people disdain the Gospel and outright reject it.  Yet there are those who delight in the Gospel and gratefully receive it.  John 7 says that Jesus secretly went up to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem.  The Jews wondered where He was because He had yet to make Himself know.  Many voices could be overheard in the crowd during the festival.  Some thought Jesus to be good and others thought Him to be a deceiver (John 7.12).  It’s still that way today.

Paul and Barnabas will enter a synagogue in Iconium and preach the Gospel in Acts 14.  This will lead to a great multitude of Jews and Greeks believing the Gospel.  But there will be unbelieving Jews stirring up the Gentiles and poisoning their minds against Paul and Barnabas.  That will divide the city.  Part side with the unbelieving Jews and part with the apostles (Acts 14.1-4).  Some despise the Gospel and some delight in it.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household'” (Matthew 10.34-36).

Many Jewish people are rejecting the Gospel when Paul preaches, but many Gentiles are receiving it.  Paul is now turning to those Gentiles, and they shall become the great preoccupation of his earthly ministry.  Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles.

I personally delight in the Gospel.  And if a local church delights in the Gospel, then at least three conditions will follow from the text above.

If a local church delights in the Gospel, the believers there must defend the Gospel through adversity.

Acts 13.44 states that almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.  But the Jews who had despised the Gospel the week before saw the multitudes and were filled with envy.  This led them to contradict, blaspheme, and oppose the things Paul preached (Acts 13.45).  They despised the Gospel, but that wasn’t enough in their minds.  They had to bitterly oppose it as well.  As a matter of fact, Paul said that the Word was first preached to these Jews because that’s what God commanded – to the Jew first.  But they rejected it, and notice the end of Acts 13.46:  They judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life!  Therefore, the offer was extended to the Gentiles.  The Gentiles had the opportunity to delight in that which the Jews despised.

A local church must delight in and defend the Gospel through all kinds of adversity.  If we make the Gospel the main driving force in our churches, most will despise and reject its message in our particular day and age.  But none of these things should move us.

However, if we should get a big crowd of people, be sure that many will be filled with envy and bitterness over it.  If sinners flock to our church, we will almost certainly have bitter saints complain that they are making it uncomfortable.  There will also be people who contradict and blaspheme the preacher, a lot more people than those who already do.

People often despise the Word and work hard to put it away from their minds.  How do we know this is the case?  Look at the actions of people in churches.  Be a fruit inspector.  There is a lack of spiritual fruit, the lack of the fruit of the Spirit.  It is difficult when a person attends a local church but does not value the salvation the blood of Christ purchased for them.  The hard, apathetic, and dull spirit of many in churches today means that the pastor must effectively turn away from those who will not hear the Word, and turn to those who will.  We see this often in our ministries with high turnover.  Any church that preaches hard against sin and for the Savior will face adversity.

As a pastor, how thankful I am for those who delight in the Gospel and are willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me to defend it.  I will minister to everyone God sends to our church as long as they allow me.  My mentor in ministry taught me that by example.  But it’s a deep heart-ache to realize that some despise the Gospel, harden themselves to it, and hang around the church anyway.  They simply warm the pews and cause problems.

But I am thankful for those who delight in and defend the Gospel through adversity.  I know they appreciate my labor in the Lord and that encourages me when facing the adversity caused by despisers.  One of my greatest encouragers is my precious wife.  You’d think I walked on water like Peter if you had only her perspective!  But everyone certainly knows she only sees the best in me.

If a local church delights in the Gospel, the believers there must declare it with authority.

If we tell a lost and dying world that we declare the Gospel because Jesus Christ commanded us to do so, that won’t carry a whole lot of weight with them.  It is certainly true that He did command us so, and that His name carries great authority.  We are to be witnesses to Christ (Acts 1.8)!

It’s the same with Paul in Acts 13.  Paul had no authority from the Jews’ perspective in this text.  So, Paul went to the Old Testament, the Word of God.  Why do you think he did that?  It was because the Old Testament carried a great weight of authority from their perspective.

Paul quoted Isaiah 49.6:  Indeed [God the Father] says [to God the Son], ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”  Amen to that!

The Isaiah passage has the Father speaking to the Son.  He will not only restore the preserved ones of Israel, He will be a light to the Gentiles and salvation to the ends of the earth.  There’s the authority!  It’s found in the Old Testament, namely the Word of God!

I preach the Gospel because it is the offer of eternal life from God Himself to every man, woman, and child.  The Gospel alone saves because it is the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is a light to the whole world around me.  He is given for salvation to the ends of the earth.  He saves from the wrath of God which abides upon all mankind who are outside of Christ.

All are commanded to believe on Christ’s finished work alone.  We must declare the Gospel which delights the triune God.  We are not ashamed of the Gospel!  We are not ashamed of our God!  We are not ashamed of our bright and glorious hope!  If the self-righteous reject it for their own stinking religion, we will continue to proclaim it.  If the sinners revel in their supposed freedom to do whatever they feel like doing, we will continue to proclaim it.  Jesus still saves!  If any local church truly delights in the Gospel, then that church must declare it with authority!

If a church delights in the Gospel, it must delight in its acceptance.

Notice again the wording of Acts 13:48 (without being distracted by the end of the verse, if possible):  “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.”  They were glad!  Why do you think they were glad?  It was because the Gentiles knew that they were condemned in their sin, but now believed that Jesus was the only way out!  Thus they glorified the word of the Lord!

From God’s perspective, they had been appointed to eternal life in Christ before the foundation of the world.  From the human perspective, they simply believed.  I don’t understand how divine sovereignty and human responsibility come together, but I delight in it!

I delight in the fact that the worst of the worst can turn and believe on Christ alone for eternal life!  I hope to see more and more conversions in the future.  I expect that there will always be despisers, but I thank God for ‘delighters’!

The love of God compels us.  The grace of God empowers us.  Let us all come together for the sake of the Gospel and do the work of ministry!  But let us not think that a church which allows sin and legalism to run rampant will ever delight in the acceptance of the Gospel.  Both marginalize the Gospel and breed a despising spirit.  Both the legalist and the licentious believer have bound themselves to sin that they have been freed from.  Both groups minimize the Gospel.  One is holier than thou and the other freer than thou (borrowed from Dr. David Potter).  A church which tolerates legalism and licentiousness is well-nigh useless and powerless because of this.  May God grant that our churches be sin-killing, Gospel preaching churches!  Many will despise that, but some will delight in it!

There are many terrible consequences in despising the Gospel.  Many in churches today call themselves Christians but are not.  They pass judgement daily upon themselves.  They are unworthy of eternal life.  They have no humility only self-righteousness before God.  Perhaps you have utter contempt for the preaching of the Word of God.  Perhaps you stare at the love of God with apathy and bitterness.  Are you willing to continue on in your lackluster state?  Are you willing to live each day under the wrathful eye of God feeling the full weight of the condemnation you deserve?  I would beg of you to come to Christ …come to the Cross …find the blood of our Lord and Savior to be sufficient to cleanse away all your sin!

There are many terrific consequences in delighting in the Gospel.  The great consequence of believing is the change in your quality of life.  It is eternal in its value.  You are freed from legalism and sinful living.  But this delight must give way to the glory of God.  You brought nothing to the table.  Deflect all praise and glory to Him today.  Immerse yourself in His Word and consider it more necessary than physical food!  Be reverent and grateful.  Hear the Word of God by receiving it and doing it.  Open up your mouth wide and let God fill it (see Psalm 81.10).  Let each Sunday bring you into conformity with Christ.  Allow your Savior to transform you and lift you to higher ground through the faithful preaching of your pastor!  Don’t defend yourself; defend the glory of God and delight in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!