You Cannot Do What God Has Done

Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”  But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to imagebring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach)… (Romans 10.5-8)

The end and goal of the law is a righteous standing before God by faith. Christ is that end and goal. Moses wrote about the righteousness which is of the Law in Leviticus 18.5. You just have to do the Law and live by the Law in order to have the righteousness of God. The problem is that no one does. But the Law had another component:

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deuteronomy 30.11-14)

Moses emphasizes the heart in this passage. Loving obedience comes from a trusting heart. Pleasing God is not beyond Israel’s reach according to Moses. God required faith. Israel cannot think that they can ascend into heaven and bring Christ down to earth to save His people. Israel cannot think that they are good enough to raise up Christ the Messiah from the dead. God had already done these things. They just needed to accept them in their heart. The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.

Faith in Romans – Part 12

“Knowing this …we believe …reckon …present …obeyed” (Romans 6.6, 8, 11, 13, 17).

These five verbs within Romans 6 demonstrate the process by which we have power over sin as children of God.  This is the process by which we bear fruit to holiness for the glory of God.  Unfortunately, we often circumvent this biblical process.  So, faith is an inseparable part of this process of overcoming sin.

  1. There is something we must know.  That is, we must be well-acquainted with a very important fact.  Our old man was crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin (Romans 6.6).  Those who die are freed from sin!
  2. There is something we must believe.  Romans 6.8 says that “if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”  We shall live with Him in Heaven, but that is not what this passage is emphasizing.  We shall live with Him now on earth.  We must believe that the resurrected Christ lives in and through us in the present (see Galatians 2.20).  This is eternal life:  to know Christ and believe that He will grant us resurrection power to live a life well-pleasing to God because of our dependence upon His Son.
  3. There is something we must reckon.  We have the righteousness of Christ and power over sin.  Therefore, we must count that as true and start living an eternal quality of life.  This is an imputed reality.  But for all of it’s potential, I must count it as such.  If we have a million dollars in the bank and never use our debit card, who is responsible for such foolishness?  We are!  Bank on it.  You are indeed dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus!  Live out the life that you have …or don’t and keep spinning your wheels.
  4. There is something we must present.  Present is used in the sense of dedicating for service.  We must present ourselves to God as being alive from the dead.  That is, we must dedicate ourselves to His service.  What does this look like (see Romans 6.12-14)?  It’s a life of righteousness to God.  We behave in a Christlike way because we are no longer law-driveromans_6_11_by_blugi-d38zf5on but grace-driven.
  5. There is something we must obey.  Now, we have reached the step of obedience.  Know, believe, reckon, and present all lay the foundation for obedience.  Christians go from one extreme to the other.  They usually begin with obedience, but it is an obedience that is self-reliant and flesh-driven.  They have returned to self-righteousness.  This is sin leading to death.  However, if we know that we are crucified with Christ, depend upon His life at work in and through us, appropriate that life for our own by counting this to be true, and dedicate ourselves to the service of God, only then is our obedience Spirit-filled.  This allows us to demonstrate the righteousness of Christ in the things we think, do, and say.  Thus, we glorify God and not self.  This is “obedience leading to righteousness” (Romans 6.16).

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 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!

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despising the Declaration of God

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

It Means Despising God’s Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despising the Dissuasion of God

Many are Despising

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

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

Many are in Danger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold you despisers,

Marvel and perish!

For I work a work in your days,

A work which you will by no means believe,

Though one declare it to you.

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

Universal Propitiation

Dr. Mark Minnick has preached a three-part series on the universal nature of Christ’s propitiatory work rooted in 1 John 2.2.  I finished listening to the series of three messages.  You may find them here.  Below are my notes as I listened.  

What does it mean when God says He gave His only begotten Son (John 3.16)?  Among other things,  it means that He did so to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4.10).  We did not love God, but He loved us.  Let us look at this word propitiation.

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 2.1-2).  

What is the work of propitiation?  Propitiating is a verb.  It is a work of a priest.  No one can do this work for himself.  Propitiation is the turning away or adverting of wrath.  Why is this work necessary?  The answer is revealed from Genesis to Revelation.  

We have all been wearing away our days under the righteous wrath of God.  The whole human race continues to live under the righteous wrath of God.  Everyone dies.  It is the penalty for the guilt of our sin.  

You must never think of God as the pages of a law-book.  He is not impassive.  He is justly swollen with wrath against iniquity and those transgressing His law.  We must have a mediator.  Jesus Christ was sent to be the propitiation not merely to be the propitiator.  The propitiator and the propitiation are one.  Jesus is the Priest and the Lamb of God.  He turns away the wrath of God for me.  

Who are the recipients of propitiation (John 3.16; 1 John 2.2)?  The world or the whole world are recipients according to the Scriptures.  The magnitude of God’s grace is demonstrated in the fact that the whole world becomes the beneficiaries of propitiation.  

How is the sovereignty of God applied to the salvation of men?  There is a debate over for whom Christ actually died.  Some believe that He died only for His elect.  The Calvinist TULIP structure affirms this view of the atonement.  That Christ only died for the elect is deemed limited atonement.  Thus, the Calvinist believes that the “world” referenced in John 3.16 is limited to the world of believers.  

Limited atonement proponents argue 1 John 2.2 in the following way:  “He Himself is the propitiation for our [Jewish elect believers] sins, and no for ours only but also for the whole world [of Gentile elect believers].”  

Let’s go through some Scriptures that influence thinking on this point.  

Leviticus 16.15-17, 21-22, 34 and the Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is celebrated even to this day.  Aaron, the high priest, was commanded to offer two goats on the day of atonement.  

16:15-17

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.  There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.

16.21-22, 34

Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. ….This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Even though the language is universal in Leviticus 16, there is limitation.  The limitation is that Israel was an elect nation.  Yom Kippur was only for the elect.  When you think about the universality, you must account for this particularity.  Even so, what is apparent is that the atonement was made for people who were not all true believers and never would be.  

What percentage of the people of Israel partook of the efficacious benefits of the atonement?  Hard to say, but it was quite obvious that it was not the majority.  The Messiah is the substance of the shadow of animal sacrifice.  The typology that the Messiah was the fulfillment of was for people that would never truly be Christ’s own.  The blood of goats never truly took away sin.  It atoned for them or covered them.  

OT believers had their sins covered, then the wrath of God passed over the sin of those covered by the blood.  Where did that wrath eventually fall?  The blood of Christ (Romans 3.25).  God could pass over their sins because of a yet future day.  Whose sins were effectually covered in Israel?  How many discovered that their sins were covered when they entered Heaven?  Not the majority.  Yet the atonement was for the sins of all the house of Israel.  It is universal on one level, but only effectual on another level.  OT believers must have faith just as NT believers must have faith.

Isaiah 53.4-6, 11-12 and the Suffering Servant

53.4-6

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Every Jewish believer who read this passage assumed it was talking about him.  Many times we witness and use this passage and are fully confident it applies to any and everyone we witness to.  If you just read the Bible, you would not come to the conclusion that this passage is limited to a select group of people.  

53.11-12

There is more definiteness in verses 11-12:

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Thus, in Isaiah we see the two levels of atonement:  1) all are atoned for, but 2) only some are actually justified.  

Part 2

My little children, these things I write to you (the possibility of having unbroken fellowship with the Lord), so that you may not sin (not to be careless and sin). And if anyone sins (it will happen), we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  John addresses these two verses to believers, but applies it to the whole world.  This is quite a motivation for us as believers as we evangelize.  

To review, Jesus Christ is Priest and Lamb – the propitiator and propitiation for sin.  It is not only the Father’s wrath that must be satisfied, but the Son’s and the Spirit’s as well.  You and I are infuriated when decisions made by politicians which spread iniquity throughout our land.  Multiply that exponentially as God watches His creation fail to give Him glory and multiply iniquity upon iniquity!

The only sacrifice that could possibly satisfy the wrath of God is the sacrifice of the Son of God.  He offered this sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  Did Jesus offer Himself for every individual or for the elect alone?  He did give Himself for the elect or the believing, but did He do so exclusively?  Those who believe that Christ sacrificed Himself for the elect alone are those who embrace a fully Calvinistic position.  

Most Calvinistic believers prefer the term definite atonement (effectual or particular).  Their concern is that if Christ came and offered Himself an atonement for all, then hypothetically all might reject that atonement.  If this be the case, then His atonement would have been in vain.  But if you take the position that His atone was effectual at the precise moment it was made, it doesn’t mean those people were saved.  But at that moment they are the redeemed.  All of this is confirmed by their future belief.  Thus, there is certainty and definiteness regarding the atonement.  But it leaves open the question of whether or not anyone would accept it this atonement in the future at all.  

Most seminaries begin with a systematic framework of theology.  Very few approach the Scripture with a first-time mentality.  As much as possible, we exposit a passage within its context and the larger context of all of Scripture.  Biblically, who are the beneficiaries of the atonement?  We must have larger passages analyzed in their fulness and allow NT writers to tell us what to do with those passages.

Typologically, on one level the atonement was made for all.  On another, it was secured by the faith of believers.  That is the way sinners approach God in every age, regardless of whether or not they are elect.  Efficacy is conditioned upon faith.  You cannot conclude otherwise unless it is introduced by someone defending a tight system.  And yet people on both sides are desirous of defending the character and integrity of God and His Word.

Atonement is for all, but it’s efficacy is only for those who believe.  God is justified in allowing some to enter Heaven because the covering would be efficacious until Jesus became the final satisfying propitiation.  

Romans 9.3-8 

For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen [kinsman from Abraham] according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

There is a distinction between spiritual and physical Israel.  Some are children of God and others are children of the flesh.  They are not all children because they are descendants of Abraham (the seed of Abraham).  What causes those distinctions?  The children of the promise are counted as the seed (9.8-9).  They are children of God as a consequence of their believing response to the promise (see Romans 10).  Secondly, God makes promises and some believe them; others reject them.  Actually, the majority did not become Abraham’s children.  They were Abraham’s sperma (natural descendants) not children of the promise.  

Romans 9.10-13

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

So how do you explain that the election stands for some and not for others?  First, the promise is either believed or not believed.  According to Hebrews 11, Sarah herself had to believe that promise or Isaac would never have been born.  On the other side, we have God’s election.  Isaac and Esau represent that “before eternity sovereign choice” of God.  Thus we see irreconcilable doctrines (from a human perspective) of divine sovereignty in election and human responsibility in salvation.  God’s promise before it is received and rejected; God’s choice before one is capable to do good or bad.

Acts 3.17-26 

“Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you (settles who the Prophet is in Deuteronomy 18).  And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, [exactly what Paul says in Romans 9] saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed [sperma – physical descendants not tekna (true children)] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ To you first, (Israel) God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”

There is no distinction between the resurrection and the atonement and who it is for.  This is the proclamation of this great truth – how to preach it.  We’ve looked at OT type …now OT prophecy.

Isaiah 53.5 ff.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked— but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an [guilt] offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

Who are those people for whom He made sacrifice of Himself?  All of OT Israel.  Nothing in the passage makes a distinction like the one Paul makes in Romans 9.  All Israelites went astray and the Lord cause all the sins of OT Israel to fall upon Messiah.  

“My people do not consider (understand)” (Isaiah 1.3).  The expression is to the totality of the sinful nation and not just to elect among Israel (see Isaiah 1.5).  

We assume that the Ethiopian eunuch was a Gentile.  

Acts 8.31-35

And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

It is assumed Philip expounded these verses to the eunuch and included him in their reference!  We don’t know for sure he was a Gentile, but he was at least a God-fearer.  Either way, Philip applies the passage to him as an individual.  

Philip is justified in applying this passage to the eunuch even if he is a Gentile.  How do we know this?  Philip said that he could be baptized if he believed.  How could he say this?

Romans 10.8-13

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The eunuch must believe and confess.  But Paul gives the content in Romans 10 to show how not all Israel received atonement effectually but potentially.  God’s promises are to be believed.  This is the human level of responsibility.  All Israel could be saved if they confessed with their mouths and believed in their hearts (actually anybody could).  

Romans 10.14-17 

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” [Isaiah 52] But they have not all obeyed [believed] the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Election is God’s determining will.  Belief is human response to prophets and preachers.  We are justified in saying to anyone that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  If you believe this, you are saved!  Preach it the way Peter preached it.  God sent Him to you in order to turn everyone of you away from his/her iniquities.  All you must do is simply believe it.  If you, you are one of the elect.

Part 3

John 3.16 paralleled with 1 John 4.9-10

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

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

This is the love of God – that He sent/gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world.  Propitiation is priest specific.  It took place in the OT tabernacle and temple.  Finally it took place upon the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the work of averting the wrath of God …satisfying the wrath of God.  

The wrath of God is manifested against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in their unrighteousness.  God’s wrath is against all the world (Romans 1-2 ).  How do we satisfy it?  That wrath has been satisfied on the cross (Romans 3).  How is it that for people for whom the wrath of God has been satisfied (accomplished fact) still abide under the wrath of God?  

People are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2.3).  Those who do not believe are condemned already and the wrath of God abides upon them (John 3.36).  The elect are the ones once by nature children of wrath until they believe.  How do you explain that the wrath of God rest upon the elect?  OT typology helps answer that question.

Leviticus 16.15-17 

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil (in the Holy of Holies), do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat (the propitiatory; the place of propitiation).  So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.

It is clear that the propitiation/atonement was made for all the assembly of Israel and for all their sins (even the sin of unbelief).  The atonement was national in its scope.  But for whom it was, for whom was it efficacious?  Who was actually and reality no longer the object of God’s wrath?  Abraham ad David are examples in Romans 4.  

Romans 4.5-8

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered (they have been atoned for); Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”  The vast of majority of Israel could not say this as a personal reality even though the atonement was made for all of them.  When did it become true for people like David?  They believed (see v. 5).  

The atonement was made for the whole assembly and for all their sins, but only the one who believes (like David and Abraham) realizes the blessing of it.  

1.The atonement is national in its scope.

2.The atonement is effectual when the individual believes.

3.The reality of the atonement (Christ’s sacrifice) operates in the same way.  

Isaiah 53 is the reality of which the goat in Leviticus 16 was the type (prophetically speaking of Christ).

Isaiah 53.5-6

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray (each and everyone of us not certain types of mankind); we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah speaks of what Christ would do 7 centuries after the fact.  Christ would bear in Himself all the iniquities/transgressions of every single one of us.  

1.Christ’s propitiation was universal in its scope.

2.How can this be and yet some are not saved.  First, not all are elect (Romans 9).  Second, all had the truth preached to them.  However, they did not all heed it (Romans 10).

Romans 10.16 

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report (that the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all)?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Romans 9 is the divine level – God’s election in eternity past (which we cannot apprehend).  Romans 10 is the human level – propitiation is effectual when one believes.  If they don’t believe, it is not effectual.  

1 John 2.2 is the breadth of the grace of God – the propitiation of our sins and the sins of the whole world.  Nothing is effectual until you believe.

Romans 3.10-18 seals the coffin on EVERYBODY.  

Romans 3.19-26 

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Propitiation and redemption come when you believe.  It’s talking about your faith.  

Jesus Christ paid the ransom for you (everyone of you).  I need not say that He propitiated the wrath of God if you’re one of the elect.  I may say what the Scripture says:  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Born a child of wrath, thank God Almighty, I’m a child of the King!