OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[Aug 17]--Mindset

            I don’t know if it’s something I just naturally have, or if it’s something that the Lord has planted in me in later years, but one of the things I love about Scripture is its perfect balance. I’ve long professed my love for what I call “tension verses,” those verses or passages in which glorious truths are held in tension with each other.
            I think probably the best one of these-and the most important—is faith and works. According to Ephesians 2:8-10, we’re saved by grace through faith [in Christ] for good works. Our position in Christ is eternally secure (based on who Christ is and what he’s done), and there’s absolutely nothing we can do or not do that can change that. But our position will affect our condition (if you’re not sure about what I’m talking about with those terms, see here).
            That’s what Paul is expanding upon here. His main focus isn't telling us how we should live. He’s delving into how our position in Christ affects how we think which will eventually affect how we act. Let me ask a very clarifying question here: Can you please point out to me a command in today’s passage? Look carefully. You won’t find one. All of these—and again, I can’t overemphasize how important this is—are declarative statements,not imperative statements.
            This passage has a series of declarative statements, facts we need to know about how our position in Christ is going to affect us. Here’s a summary, starting with the bad:
            Those without the Spirit:
  • “have their minds set” on what the “flesh” (the sinful desire) wants.
  • are on a road that leads to death
  • has a mindset that’s hostile to God. It’s not loving, and it’s not neutral.
  • cannot submit to God’s way of doing things. It’s not just that they don’t want to, but they cannot do so even if they wanted to.
  • cannot please God
  • do not belong to Christ (which is really the root of all this)
But those who have the Spirit:
  • “have their minds set on what the Spirit desires”
  • have life and peace
  • have the Spirit living inside of them
  • belong to Christ (which really leads to all the rest of this)
  • have the Spirit giving them life right now, and
  • have the promise that the same Spirit who raised our Savior from the dead will likewise raise us up someday

            Quite a contrast, huh? Couldn’t be starker. But there are a couple of points I need to emphasize here. First and foremost, the term used by the NIV (“have their minds set”) can be unintentionally misleading. As the scholars with the NET Bible put it “What is in view here is not primarily preoccupation, however, but worldview. Translations like ‘set their mind on’ could be misunderstood by the typical English reader to refer exclusively to preoccupation.” They also point out that “The Greek term. . . does not refer to one’s mind, but to one’s outlook or mindset."
What Paul is saying is that if we belong to Christ, he'll start to change the way we view things. As we mature in him, sin will look less appealing. And he. . .oh wow. . .he becomes more precious and attractive. And that even filters down into how you see everything else in between. Even supposedly neutral things will take on a somewhat grayer hue compared with your Savior. And this way of thinking and looking at things will filter down into how you act.
Now, do we still fall? If all you had of Scripture was this passage, you might think “Man, I must not be saved after all! Sure, I try to love Jesus, but my mind and my thoughts and my perspective and my speech and my lifestyle. . . how could I be saved with all this mess in my life?” Based on the rest of Scripture, we know that Paul is talking about a general direction of life, not a once-and-for-all change, just like John does in his letter. The man who wrote the book of Romans freely admitted that he wasn’t where he needed to be.
Let me end this on a positive note—really, you don’t get more positive than this. The same Spirit who put breath back into the lungs and started the heart beating again in Jesus’ dead body. . . lives inside you. Right now. And when our Lord returns, this same Spirit will do the same thing to your body that he did to Jesus. So don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Please.

Lord Jesus, I do belong to you, and I do love you, and your Spirit lives inside me to change me from the inside-out, from inside my mind and thoughts and mindset out to my fingers and toes and tongue. But I show that way too little. By your grace, I want to see more evidence of this. Please. 

[Aug 16]—What We Couldn’t Do. . .

Romans 8:1-4

            What’s the magic word in studying Scripture, the one word which I’ve harped on over and over and over, the one word that will save from a host of errors and dangers and half-truths? Context, context, context. We’ve meditated on the glorious truth of verse 1: If we've placed our faith in Christ and have demonstrated this faith by committing ourselves to doing things his way instead of our own, then there is no condemnation for us. But Paul goes on from there.
            Why is there no condemnation for us? Because of what Christ did and because of what the Spirit has done and is doing. Let’s look at it more closely, because this is very important.
            There is no condemnation. . . because Christ Jesus died on the cross and rose again and ascended into Heaven. He paid the penalty for my sin, taking my sin upon his back along with the attendant wrath from the Father. He rose from the dead, to (among other things) display God’s “stamp of approval” on his work. And he left this earth. . . why? So that he could send the Spirit back down to us.
            Now the Spirit, sent by Jesus, is applying Christ’s work in us. He’s God’s instrument (so to speak) in bringing people to faith in Christ. He grants us both the desire and the power to be obedient and pleasing to the Father. When we turn away from his ways, he moves us back into fellowship with himself. All of this is summed up in verse 2. Through Christ “the law of the Spirit”—referring to his power—has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Sin has completely lost its power to condemn us, and through the ongoing work of the Spirit it loses its power to control us as well.
            Then Paul sort of backtracks a bit to what Christ did, or to be more precise to what the Father did through Christ. As was his habit, he presents a “before and after” picture. Before Christ, the Law was all we had. It was a wonderful set of rules; in fact, it was the best set of rules humanity had ever had up to that point. Paul already confessed that the law was (and is) “holy, righteous and good.”     
            But here he says that the law was “powerless” to save us. Now, we need to be very careful here. Paul is crystal clear that the problem was not the law. As Pogo once famously declared, “We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.” He says that the law was powerless to save us because it was “weakened by the flesh,” or “sinful nature” as other translations put it. The problem was not the rules; the problem turned out to be the rule keepers, or more precisely the rule breakers.
            But what the Law could not do, what we could not do because of the love of evil in our hearts. . . God did. He sent his Son in the likeness of sinful humanity in order to be the ultimate sin offering. Paul later says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” No, Jesus never sinned. But he came in the likeness of sinful humanity to be our sin substitute.
            What does it mean that God “condemned sin in the flesh”? When Jesus was on the cross, he experienced the full condemnation of the Father. All the wrath that was due us was poured out on him, and nothing was spared. His righteous anger against our sin was completely satisfied, which is why our Savior could proclaim that “It is finished,” or "paid in full."
            And what’s the result? What’s the ultimate purpose here? This was done “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Here, in this short sentence, we have both our position in Christ and our condition in Christ. As far as God’s court is concerned, the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in me. In other words, as far as God’s court is concerned, I'm fully meeting the righteous requirements of the law. My righteousness is Christ, who not only never sinned but who perfectly fulfilled the Father’s will and always did what pleased him.
            But there’s another half to this verse, which talks about our condition. At first glance, it might seem to contradict what Paul has been saying about salvation through grace. Just four verses above he says flatly that there is no condemnation for anyone who’s in Christ Jesus. But here he says that the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us, “who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” We need to think clearly here. This is not saying that if you don’t walk according to the Spirit that God will “unforgive” you; otherwise, verse one makes no sense. It means that one characteristic of God’s true children is that—in the main course of their lives—they will walk in the Spirit. Remember: Your position in Christ will affect your condition. If there’s no evidence that you’re living in the Spirit then you have no right to assurance that you belong to Christ
            Whew! Do you see why I’ve been just a tad reluctant to tackle this chapter?

Lord Jesus, what I could never do, because of the love of sin in my heart, you did. You took on a human body, took on our sorrows and pains, and took my sin upon your back. I know all this, and I believe it. What I want to see is more evidence of how this is affecting the way I think, talk, and act. By your grace, that’s what we both will see. 

[Aug 15]—None

Romans 8:1

            Well, I’ve finally reached it. This is, without a doubt, my favorite chapter of the entire Bible. It is so packed with meaning. I feel like a first-year art student who’s forced to do 20-page paper on the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper. There’s so much I want to say about this chapter, but so little that I could say that you haven’t heard before, or at least that’s how I feel. Inadequacy doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about this. Oh well, if God could speak through a donkey, then I guess I can do this. Never has this passage applied so much to me personally: “Our competence comes from God.” If I have any competence at all in expounding this chapter, it’s going to have to come from him.
            Paul just got finished relating how he struggles with sin in his personal life, but he ended on a note of triumph, victory, and (sure) hope. First he groaned a moan of frustration sounding like it’s bordering on despair, like a man handcuffed for years to a corpse: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” But then he answers his own question in the most glorious fashion. Who will rescue him from lifelong struggle, with all its too-many losses and too-few wins? It’s not a rhetorical question. There’s a literal answer: Almighty God working through Jesus Christ our Lord. If there was such a thing as exclamation mark in the Greek, I’ve no doubt Paul would’ve put it there.
            In chapter 7, Paul talks as if the “law” of sin (referring to its power via our sinful nature) and the “law” of our better nature are just locked in a lifelong struggle, and it’s almost a tossup as to which one will win on a given day. But there’s an ingredient that Paul doesn’t mention much before now which we need to focus on. What I’m talking about is the effect of the Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer. Paul has mentioned the Spirit exactly once so far in this book, and then in chapter eight with 39 verses he mentions him almost 20 times. Yes, he moves within us to desire to please and love our Father, but he also empowers us as well: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
            But before he gets to the Spirit’s work in us, he needs to make a ringing announcement, the most glorious proclamation made to both lost sinners and Christians who fall: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” None. If you've truly placed your faith and trust in Christ and have turned your life over to him, he'll never condemn you. He might discipline you, as harshly as you need it, and anyone who’s experienced his rod of correction can tell you that it can be pretty rough living under his frown. But in his court of law, where angels don't even dare to look at his face, he's pronounced us not only “not guilty”; in his court, we're declared to be perfectly righteous. He's clothed us with the righteousness of Christ. And in his court, there is no double jeopardy.
            I just want to camp out on that for a moment. Nobody else in this world has this. Buddhists and Hindus don’t have it—Karma has no grace. Muslims certainly don’t have it—Despite the proclamations in the Koran that Allah is merciful and forgiving, he certainly doesn’t demonstrate it. Muslims go through their entire lives never knowing whether they’ve done enough. One slipup and whatever merit they’ve gained before him is lost. Not even the people under the Old Covenant had this. They had to hope and pray that the priest inside the Tabernacle or Temple knew what he was doing, and obey the Law as best they could and hope that was enough: “[If] we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
            When you boil it all down, all the other religions out there are some variation of the "scale" system: Your good deeds go on one side, your bad deeds go on the other side, and if your good deeds outweigh the bad, you're in. If you're looking for grace--not just winking at your "mistakes," but real and permanent forgiveness for real sin both now and forever, there's only one game in town. It's found at the foot of the cross, both for the lost sinner and for the believer who's failed again
            Now, I’m sure that Muslims and Hindus and Orthodox Jews would protest that this proclamation by Paul is a license to sin. As we’ve seen and are going to see, nothing could be further from the truth. Even this chapter--dripping over the edges with grace and mercy and love and God’s promise to never let anything separate us—has plenty to say in response to the charge of antinomianism. But for now, before we get into some pretty deep theology and deal with the Spirit’s work in our lives, let’s turn this over and over in our minds for a while: Take that verse and put yourself in it: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus.”

And here for your enjoyment is "No Condemnation" by Lisa Bevill:

Lord Jesus, I know that this can be a dangerous teaching. But it comes straight from you, so it’s good. And it’s no more dangerous than I let the Enemy make it. Because of who you are and what you’ve done, there is therefore now no condemnation, because I am in you. Thank you seems so inadequate. 

[Aug 14]—Perfection, Part Two

1 Timothy 1:15-17

Today we’re going to examine the other main argument people make in defense of perfectionism, the practical one. Basically it comes down to this: To deny it is to invite antinomianism or despair. “If you don’t believe that you can achieve a goal, then who’s going to strive for it? If you don’t believe that you’re going to have complete victory over sin in this life, then isn’t that a depressing prospect? If Romans 7:14-25 really is a description of Paul’s life as he wrote the Epistle, then what do we have to look forward to in this life besides despair? A constant, life-long striving, a battle in which the best we can hope for is a stalemate (and one in which we frequently lose) doesn’t seem to be a recipe for a victorious attitude. Or won’t it also lead to people just giving up on the pursuit of holiness? Won’t they just throw up their hands and say ‘Well I guess I’ll just go ahead and sin, since I’m never really ever going to win the battle.’?”
Before I need to answer that, I need to address today’s passage and Romans 7 as it relates to Paul’s level of closeness to the Savior. Believe it or not, there are people who admit that Paul confesses himself a sinner, but they still stick to their argument. Dr. Sproul--who agrees with me on this issue--tells an amusing-and-sad story about a disagreement he had with someone about this. This young man had been a Christian for about a year, and sincerely believed--because he'd experienced a “second blessing” of the Holy Spirit--he'd actually attained sinlessness. They went over the passages in Paul’s writings which made it clear that even at Paul's level of spirituality, the apostle didn’t claim to be sinless, and freely confessed to the opposite. The person with whom Dr. Sproul was arguing finally agreed with him that Paul was, in fact, still a sinner, but the young man's reply was “Well, maybe Paul was speaking of his present experience, but he just hadn’t received the second blessing yet.”
            Dr. Sproul was flabbergasted. He asked the young man point blank, “You mean that you, at age nineteen, after one year of Christian faith, have achieved a higher level of obedience to God than the Apostle Paul enjoyed when he was writing the Epistle to the Romans?” And the young man’s answer was an unhesitating “Yes!” All I can say is, if you make the same claims this young man did, then we really have nothing more to discuss. You’re either unbelievably prideful and arrogant and blind to your own sinfulness, to the point of neurosis, or you’re the actual spiritual equivalent--no, the superior--of Paul the apostle. I think you can deduce which is my first guess. Either way, we’re not going to make any headway on this subject.
            But for those of us not superior to Paul the apostle, then we need to deal with these passages. This is my response to the practical argument. First and foremost, I have to teach what the Scripture says. I can’t be worried about the potential consequences if someone abuses the truth. That’s Satan’s main strategy: To take God’s truth and pervert it and have people misuse it. Not to compare my opponents to the heretics who deny the message of salvation, but it’s the same principle. Paul had to write the 6th chapter of Romans to completely refute false teachers and confused believers who conflated his Message with a license to sin. Why did he feel the need to do this? Because he was preaching the truth. As I heard from someone once, if you preach the Message of Christ and you’re accused of handing out a license to sin, you’re in the best of company.
            Or, to take it down a notch, I also hear this when I’ve taught the doctrine of eternal security: That once you’re truly redeemed by the Savior, once you possess eternal life, there’s nothing you can do to “lose it.” This is one of the main arguments they present against it—that if people believe it, then they’ll live however they please, since they know that no matter what they do, they’ll make it to Heaven. My response is the same here: I have to teach what the Bible proclaims, and carefully do it so that there’s as little misunderstanding as possible. But after I’ve done everything I can, the Enemy will still use God’s truth and cause people to misuse it. I can’t let the Enemy’s tactics hold me back from proclaiming what the Lord clearly says, on this or any other issue.
            And to be brutally frank, I can think--right off the top of my head--plenty of counterexamples. There are lots of people who are fighting in a ceaseless struggle into which they enter knowing that they're never going to completely and finally win, and in which they know they're going to sometimes lose some battles. Our government is constantly fighting a war on crime. In a sense, we're never going to win a "war on speeding" or the "war on child abuse." Those thing are never going to be completely eliminated until Jesus returns. Does that mean that those fighting it might as well give up? 
            And to be completely frank, since we’re moving from scriptural to practical arguments, I have to respectfully point out that perfectionism has its practical downsides as well. My first nomination on that would be pride, just like we read concerning the young man above. If you actually believe that you’ve attained a state of sinless perfection, I can’t for the life of me see how you’re not being incredibly prideful. You think that sin in your life is an enemy that you’ve really defeated once and for all? I don’t mean re: your position in Christ, but in your daily living, you see sin in your life as something you’ve finally defeated and don’t need to struggle with anymore? Really?
            Per usual, MacArthur puts it so much better than I can:

Church history is littered with examples of sects and factions who taught various versions of Christian perfectionism. Nearly all these groups have either made utter shipwreck of the faith or been forced to modify their perfectionism to accommodate human imperfection. Every perfectionist inevitably comes face-to-face with clear and abundant empirical evidence that the residue of sin remains in the flesh and troubles even the most spiritual Christians throughout their earthly lives. In order to hang onto perfectionist doctrine, they must redefine sin or diminish the standard of holiness. Too often they do this at the expense of their own consciences. 

            Do you see the problem here, besides pride? Do we spend a lot of time worrying about the Nazis in Hitler’s Germany? Do we keep watch on them as mortal enemies? Do we build up defenses against them, plot out strategies about how to defeat them? Of course not. They’re a defeated foe, and have been for decades now. In every sense of the term, we’re under no threat from Hitler’s Germany, so therefore we don't spend any resources fighting them, right? I'd propose that anyone who actually believes that they—in this life—could ever say of their sinful nature “I have it handled. I have final victory” is fooling themselves. Why would you fight against an enemy that’s no longer a threat? Why waste the energy on it? And if someone fell into that (wrong) line of thinking, wouldn't that be a source of danger, an avenue for the Enemy to gain a foothold of sin in our lives?
            But someone might say “Well, I don’t claim that I have it handled right now. I still have sin in my life that the Spirit’s working on. But maybe possibly hopefully someday I’ll have final victory in it.” I’m sorry, but I think that’s extremely dangerous. How could you ever know? Would you ever feel safe saying that you’ve “arrived”? You might at some point think that your sinful nature is once-and-for-all defeated like the Nazis were, but I for one would never feel comfortable with saying that.
            Let me be up front here. Romans 7:14-25 is my personal testimony as well as Paul’s. I want to do right, to please God more and sin less, ideally pleasing him perfectly and not sinning at all. But I’ve been a Christian for about 30 years, and I can readily confess that I’m not sinless, not by a long shot. Just when I think I have something pretty much handled, the Spirit lovingly tells me either A) No, you really don’t have that sin handled nearly as well as you thought you did, or B) Yes, you’ve got that one handled, but here’s something else you and I need to work on. It’s like the classic whack-a-mole game at the carnival: You hit one down with a hammer, and another one jumps right up. Despite my best intentions, I still end up sinning and hurting my Lord.
            And there’s something else I’ve discovered. I can honestly say that—with all my ups and downs—the direction of my life has been towards Christ instead of away from him. I love him more than I ever have. I’d like to think that I’m making some progress in my pursuit of holiness. But the closer I get to him, the more I see just how far I have to go. As I’ve made (faltering) steps in pursuit of holiness and made any progress at all, that’s when I see the remaining sin in my life more clearly in all its ugliness. It’s been the times in my life when I was less mature and (quite frankly) more prideful and sin-blinded that I saw the sin in my life as not really all that bad (especially when compared to that guy), and basically under control. 
            Let me give another example regarding our sinful nature. Compare it to purity in the water. Let’s say you have water taken from a river, and it’s nasty. It’s filled with impurities, biological and otherwise, and if you drink that mess, the best you can hope for is an upset stomach. So you run it thru a purifier, which removes 99% of the impurities. That leaves about 1%. So you run it thru again, or maybe thru a more stringent sifter, and remove 0.5% of what’s left. And then you run it again, and remove another 0.5%. You see the problem? There’s really no such thing as “pure” water anywhere on earth. No matter how hard we try, we’re always going to have some impurity that’s going to crop up and display itself in our behavior, or at least our thoughts. Look hard enough--or more accurately, let the Spirit examine you thoroughly enough--and you'll find something you need to work on. 
            As I see it, it’s the same way with our level of personal righteousness, how well we really obey and please him. When Christ comes in, he clears out most of the really obvious sins. If someone’s been a believer for a year and they’re still living with their girlfriend or still curse like a sailor (with no attempt to change), then something’s wrong. And then over time, after the Holy Spirit's dealt with obvious ones like blatant sexual immorality or murderous rages, he starts to work on more subtle (but no less deadly) sins like pride or lust or bitterness or ingratitude or a complaining spirit.
            Let me try to be abundantly clear. Nothing that I’ve said in any way condones or excuses any sin. By God’s grace, we need to fight it as a mortal enemy. Love for God and hatred of sin (especially my own) must go hand in hand, and you can claim the former only inasmuch as you display the latter.
            So I’ve got some bad news for you. As long as you’re in this world with an unredeemed human body, you’re going to struggle with your sinful nature, and sometimes you’re going to lose. Those losses should come less and less, and you should grow closer and closer in your relationship with your Savior.
            Finally, as I pointed out a couple of days ago, the passage in Romans, which can be pretty depressing, doesn’t end that way. After bemoaning his ongoing struggle (with some losses) with sin, he asks a question and responds with its glorious answer. Question: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Not just will deliver me, but delivers me now. In all my faults and failures and sins, he delivers me. He's delivered me already from the penalty of sin, and he’s in the process of delivering me—day by day, moment by moment—from the power of sin. And one day, he'll deliver me from the presence of sin, and my struggles will be a distant memory. Wow. Can’t wait. As I’ve heard it put before, I’m not what I’m supposed to be, but thank the Lord I’m not what I used to be, and I’m not what I one day will be.

Father God, Lord Jesus, Spirit of Holiness, you are working as one to do this. Thank you. By your grace, further up and further in. 

[Aug 13]—Perfection

Phil 3:12-14

            Yesterday I made the case that Romans 7:14-25 is talking about Paul’s present experience, as he was writing that epistle. My biggest argument is—I believe—an appeal to Occam’s razor: Paul throughout that passage is using the present tense, not the past. To me, this says that he’s not talking about his life pre-conversion, nor about a time of falling away from faithfulness to the Lord, nor is he talking about a hypothetical person. When he’s talking about a struggle with sin—one which he sometimes loses—he’s talking about his present reality.
            One of the biggest problems some people have with my interpretation actually is rooted in a larger theological divide I have with them. The root issue is not how to interpret that certain passage, but a much more fundamental question: Is it possible for a believer—in this life—to get to a point in his walk with Christ where he’s without sin? My short answer, as best as I can tell from Scripture, is no.
            Like I mentioned, I have dear ones within my own family who disagree with me. I highly respect them, and our disagreements haven’t been rancorous but cordial. I respect them, and they respect me. In short, they believe in perfectionism, the doctrine that it’s possible, in this life, for a believer to attain a level of obedience and closeness to the Lord that they’re sinless. Their arguments are as follows:
First, the main Scripture they present for their case, that I think is their strongest, is 2 Peter 1:3-4:

 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 

            Peter says explicitly that God has given us everything we need for a godly life. I have no excuse for my sin. A nonbeliever doesn’t have what I have, primarily the Holy Spirit within him. I can participate in the divine nature, and I can escape the corruption of the world.
Another passage they point to—and entirely justifiably so—is Romans 6. The main point of that chapter is that we're no longer slaves to sin. He declares unequivocally that “sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” He is not trying to make a case in that chapter that you shouldn’t live a lifestyle controlled by sin. If you’re a believer, you will not do so because you cannot do so.
I totally agree with them that a believer’s lifestyle in general will be marked by greater
and greater obedience. If no one can tell from the general direction of your life that you belong to Christ, then I think you need to reread 1 John, especially these verses. As I’ve forcefully argued before, if someone doesn’t experience a change in the direction of their life, there's real reason to doubt that they’re saved to begin with.
            But I make a huge distinction between 1) a “believer” who doesn’t make any attempt to live a godly life and 2) one who makes a determined effort (utilizing God’s grace like Peter mentioned above) but who falls and fails frequently. They don’t see sin as a sexy ex-girlfriend whose number they keep on their speed dial, hoping they might get together someday if the circumstances are right. They see sin as a mortal enemy who needs to be fought tooth and nail using every resource they have. Person # 2 is still basically living a godly life (meaning oriented towards God and not towards something else), and in a very real sense any believer is participating in the divine nature and has escaped the corruption in the world. If they haven't--if there's no sign of them resisting this corruption at all--then I don't believe this "believer" is truly saved at all. 
            I can explain the verses they put forward, but—quite frankly—I haven’t heard them deal with mine yet. If you don’t accept my interpretation of Romans 7 (which is understandable, considering the language he uses about the person being described), then how about today’s passage? How do you deal with 1 John 1:8-10: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” John says that if you claim to be without sin, then you deceive yourself. My friend, if you claim to be without sin, then that’s the only person you’re really deceiving. I guarantee you that if I asked your spouse or someone who lives with you “Is this person sin-free?” they'd give a very different answer than the one you just gave.
            I’m running a bit long here, so we’ll carry this through to tomorrow. In the meantime, why don’t you make today’s passage your meditation? I think it’s the perfect way to look at your sinful past, your progressively better present, and your glorious future.

Lord Jesus, that’s my prayer. I want to forget what's behind and strain toward what is ahead, pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which the Father called me heavenward in you. By your grace, I’m going to press on to take hold of that for which you took hold of me. Let’s both of us get to work, shall we?

[Aug 12]—Handcuffed To A Corpse

Romans 7:14-25

Now we’ve come to the portion of this chapter which has caused some problems. Vss. 14-25 have caused sharp disagreement not only between Bible-believing theologians; it’s actually caused disagreements between me and beloved family members. What portion of Paul’s life is he talking about? Is this 1) talking about his life before Christ, as a non-Christian, or is it 2) talking about a period in his life when he was a believer but not living obediently and not experiencing the full abundant life of Christ, or is it 3) talking about his life post-conversion, his life right now as he was writing this epistle?
            Let me start out by admitting freely that all three positions have difficulties they have to overcome. I think the weakest among them is the second, that Paul is talking about himself (or a hypothetical believer) who’s not walking in the abundant life of Christ, who’s living a disobedient lifestyle, who knows better, and who’s miserable. If there was ever a period in which Paul was doing this, we certainly don’t know about it, and it would contradict everything we know about him. And he uses the first person pronoun “I” repeatedly, so there’s little reason to think this is some type of hypothetical believer. It’s talking about Paul, either pre- or post-conversion.
Next let me present the strongest case I can for the position which I disagree with, interpretation # 1. I believe that position # 3 is correct, but I have to concede there’s some really strange language he uses for himself as a mature believer. Is it true, for example, that as a believer Paul could refer to himself as “unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin”? He just finished hammering home in the last chapter that we’re no longer slaves to sin. He also calls himself a “prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” and a “wretched man.” Again, does this sound like a believer, especially one who’s walking so closely with the Lord? How can one reconcile this with the view we have of Paul, who was undoubtedly one of the most (if not the most) godly men who walked the earth at that time? If ever there was a man towards one could point and say “That’s someone whose example I need to follow,” a man who’s living the fullness of an abundant life with Christ, it’d be Paul. And if this passage is describing Paul post-conversion, doesn’t that present a really gloomy picture for the rest of us? Also, how can we reconcile this with passages that paint a different picture for the believer, such as 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”?
When someone is making this argument, what it seems to come down to is the question of perfectibility. Is it possible for a Christian—in this life—to be without sin? If it isn’t—if it’s inevitable that we’re going to sin to some degree, doesn’t that excuse or condone sin somewhat? You know, that’s a really great and deep question, and it deserves its own posting, which I think I’ll do tomorrow.
Now let me make the case for the interpretation I agree with, namely # 3: I think that Paul in vss. 14-25 is talking about his present experience as he was writing the book of Romans. Yes, he was one of the most (if not the most) godly men who ever lived, and this still describes who he was as he was writing these words. Here’s my evidence:
1) I just can’t get past the present tense of the passage. In vss. 7-13 he only uses the past tense. Suddenly in these verses he only uses the present tense, over and over and over and over. Someone might argue “Maybe that’s just a convention, and he didn’t really mean the present tense literally.” Not buying it. To my knowledge, if he did that—using the present tense when he meant the past tense here—that would be utterly unique in his writings. In all of his other writings, when he uses present tense, he means present tense, not the past tense.
2) Here’s some points from John MacArthur: “This person desires to obey God's law and hates his sin (vv. 15, 19, 21); he is humble, recognizing that nothing good dwells in his humanness (v. 18); he sees sin in himself, but not as all that is there (vv. 17, 20-22); and he serves Jesus Christ with his mind (v. 25). Paul has already established that none of those attitudes ever describe the unsaved (cf. 1:18-21, 32; 3:10-20).”
3) Romans is a theological treatise, and in this epistle his thoughts are flowing like a river towards a conclusion. He’s already dealt with people pre-conversion, both Jews and Gentiles, in chapters one through three. He’s already moved past that into how we receive Christ (second half of three through five), then confronts the misunderstanding we might have about the Good News being a license to sin (chapter six). For him to go back and start talking about nonbelievers now would really interrupt the flow of his thought process and seem to be out of place.
            That’s why I came up with the title I did. As believers, all of what Paul’s said about us in chapter six is absolutely true, every glorious word of it. We’re dead to sin and alive in Christ. But as believers, we still sin. We still disobey God, and we have even less of an excuse that a non-Christian who a) doesn’t know any better, and b) doesn’t have the Holy Spirit inside him. But vss. 14-25 is the lament of a godly man who soberly realizes that he still falls short of what he needs to be and laments that fact repeatedly. To this man, sin is not a sexy ex-girlfriend he keeps on his speed dial and might consider calling up if the circumstances were right. Sin is what nailed his beloved Savior to a tree, and the fact that he still has to deal with this mess is comparable to having to walk around with a stinking, rotting corpse handcuffed to himself.
            But this passage does not end on a lament. It ends on a note of victory. For right now, he (and every other believer) is chained to this stinking lump of nastiness (not the physical body, but our sinful nature). Question: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” The all-glorious answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Lord Jesus, I really need to have you reexamine my attitude towards sin. It is my mortal enemy, and I need to hate it like you do. Please help. 

[Aug 11]—Hands In The Cookie Jar

Romans 7:7-13

            One of my favorite illustrations regarding our sinful nature that we’re born with comes from Billy Graham. He told the story of a mother who walked out of her kitchen and then walked back in, only to see her toddler son up on the counter and his hand literally in the cookie jar. Upon seeing his mother’s stern face and hearing his (full) name being called out in rebuke, he frantically shakes his head “No!” as if trying to wordlessly convey to her “No! You didn’t really see me with my hand in the cookie jar! It’s not what it looks like!” In other words, this child has learned how to lie before he’s learned how to talk.
Paul is still discussing the believer’s relationship with the Law. We’re no longer bound to the Law as we once were. Through Christ, we died to the Law and now belong to Another.
            In this passage he asks a really pertinent question. We’ve seen in our personal lives that the Law (and any good rule) seems to be counterproductive, since they apparently provoke rebellion. God tells us not to do X, and for some strange reason, we’re attracted to X just because it’s forbidden. So is the Law sinful? Once again, Paul responds with the strongest possible negative in the Greek. It’s not the Law that’s sinful, it’s us.
            Which part of Paul’s life is he talking about in vss. 7-13? Some people say it was when he officially “came of age” at age 13, but my best guess is that it’s describing his childhood. From infancy into early childhood, he didn’t really understand the difference between right and wrong, so he was “alive apart from the law.” Then his parents taught him moral lessons, such as “Do not covet.” “Sin” (which I think is referring to his innate sinful nature) “sprang to life and [he] died.”
It’s not talked about much in the Bible, but I do believe that there’s an “age of accountability,” before which God doesn’t hold us really accountable, and after which we know the difference between right and wrong (and we choose the wrong), and he does hold us accountable. I think that’s what Paul is talking about here.
He takes great pains to emphasize, however, that it’s not the Law or the Commandments which are bad, even though they seemingly produced a bad result. It was intended to bring life (which we’ll get to in a moment), but it supposedly led him into sin. But his final verdict on this is: “[The] law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.”
What does he mean when he says that the Law was intended to bring him life? Well, there are a couple of good explanations. If people really did obey the law, that would mean life for them, even eternal life, just like he says in 2:7-11. Of course, none of us really obey it, at least not to the perfection that God’s nature requires. But it was definitely intended to bring them life: As Moses made his final presentation of the Law, he called upon them to “choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
            But there’s something I want to seriously emphasize for today. The Mosaic Law--which most Christians avoid like a stinky sock--is holy, righteous, and good right now, in the present tense. Just because we’re not under the Old Covenant anymore doesn’t mean that it’s useless. As I’ve tried to hammer home again and again and again, as New Testament Christians we need to include in our study of Scriptures the Old Testament including (or most importantly) the parts that don’t naturally appeal to us the most. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out (probably ad nauseam), Paul said that all—not some, not most, not the parts we like—all Scripture is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That includes the Pentateuch and the Prophets. And quite frankly if there’s a portion of Scripture that your instincts lead you to avoid in your Bible Study, I’d suggest you make a specific effort to focus on it. We’re coming up to a new year, and I have both a 2-year and a 3-year plan to read the entire Bible cover to cover. If you agree with Paul that the Mosaic Law is “holy, righteous and good,” then maybe you need to take a closer look at it.

Father God, all of your word is precious to me, but way too often I don’t show it. I don’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of your mouth. By your grace, I want to demonstrate that. 

[Aug 10]—Second Marriages

Romans 7:1-6

            Paul is continuing in his explanation of our salvation, and he wants to make extra clear what our relationship with the Mosaic Law should be. To the Jews in his audience, the notion that the Lord’s people are no longer obligated to keep the Law of Moses was difficult—if not impossible--to swallow. Keep in mind that the very first major controversy in the Church, which led to the first official Church Council, was over the issue of whether or not Gentiles should be expected to keep the Law.
            The book of Romans is Paul’s magnum opus on the issue of our salvation. Paul didn’t start the church in Romans, so he needed to make certain that its members were clear about the essentials of salvation with a minimum of misunderstanding. This is why it reads more like a theological treatise than a letter written to close friends.  And in order to truly comprehend our salvation, we need to deal with our relationship to the Law as believers this side of the Cross.
            Today’s passage addresses it. He compares it to a marriage. Under the Law (and in most cultures and societies) a woman is bound to her husband only as long as they’re both alive. That’s why when I took Joy as my wife, my vows were officially in effect “as long as we both shall live.” Other say “until death parts us.” When Joy and I have gone through tough times in our marriage, we reaffirm our commitment to each other by saying “Nothing but the grave, baby!”
            Of course there have been exceptions, but in most circumstances women are expected to only be faithful to their husband as long he lives. Once he’s dead, she’s free to marry another, and most people wouldn’t think any less of her, much less condemn her.
            Under the Old Covenant (instituted and formalized under Moses at Mount Sinai), God’s people were “married” to the Law. They were obligated to be obedient to it, and this was the only way they could express commitment to the Lord. If someone in Israel said, “I believe in the Lord and I'm dedicated to serving him faithfully, but I don’t think I’m obligated to keep the Sabbath or abstain from pork,” that wouldn’t make any sense. To reiterate: The only way an Israelite could be counted as faithful to the Lord was by obeying the Torah. If they disobeyed the Torah, the Lord counted that as being unfaithful to himself, and as we saw in the book of Hosea, he considered it spiritual adultery, and made his servant marry into heartbreak just to show Israel how serious he (the Lord) took this.
            But (there’s that small but beautiful word again) something changed. Christ came, and what we could never do in relation to the Law, he did. He fulfilled all its requirements in perfect obedience, and the “marriage” to the Law was severed. The interesting thing here is that in Paul’s example, it’s not the Law that died, but us. We died to the Law when we received Christ. But the principle applies: Marriage only is binding as long as both parties are still alive.
            But we need to be careful here, as always. As discussed before, the particular applications of the Law were specific to the Old Covenant, such as circumcision, the dietary laws, the laws that caused physical separation, the animal sacrifices, the Sabbath, etc. The principles behind the applications (e.g., love the Lord and hate sin with everything you have, people are made in God’s image and are more important than things, etc.) are timeless. They don’t change any more than God does.
            This is what Paul is talking about in vs. 6: “[By] dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” We aren’t law-less, people without the law. God wrote down his laws on stone, and the people disobeyed (to put it mildly). Under the New Covenant, he writes his law (the principles, not necessarily the same applications) on our hearts. We’re no longer “married” to the Law. We died to it, and now we belong to Another.

Lord Jesus, I belong to you. In your love, you’ve sought me out, paid for me with your own blood, and have claimed me forever as your own. By your grace, I want to show that.

[Aug 09]—Universal Slavery

Romans 6:15-23

            We just skipped a really important portion of Romans (6:1-14), and the reason I did so is because we discussed that passage last year when we talked about soteriology. Of course, this should surprise no one, since Romans is the most complete theological treatise on the subject. Just to summarize: Christ has done some things for you, and once you place your faith in Christ, those truths will never change: You died with Christ, you rose with Christ, and therefore you cannot live the way you used to. Paul doesn't mean that you shouldn't live in sin any longer, although that would be true too. No, he’s saying that because of what Christ has done, if you are a true believer in Christ, you will not be able to live like you once did. Notice the indicative mood: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Your part is to demonstrate this truth. Notice the imperative mood: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” Those are what you are expected—by his empowering grace—to do. I have some further thoughts on this here and here
            He starts out the passage once again with a question and answer. You can just see Paul getting angrier and angrier as he visualizes his opponents (or confused Christians) asking “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” And once again he gives the exact same answer he’s given to similar questions: Me genoito, the strongest possible negative in the Greek language. The very thought that God’s message of salvation by grace through faith could lead someone to ask a question like that apparently set his teeth on edge.
            On a side note, I’ve heard it said that Paul and James were fellow warriors standing back-to-back fighting enemies on opposite sides: Paul was fighting legalism (i.e., adding anything to the Good News of Jesus), and James was fighting antinomianism. There is truth in that picture, since they definitely had different emphases. But we need to be careful here. Again, the very idea that a Christian could ever come to a conclusion that he can continue a lifestyle of sin-- instead of progressing in Christlikeness--was something Paul fought just as stridently as James did, as we’ve seen time and time and time again here in Romans.
            Anyway, back to the passage. In answer to the foolish question he asked at the beginning of today’s passage. Here’s my summary of his answer: “Everybody’s a slave to somebody.” You don’t get to choose whether you’re a slave or not. You’re going to be a slave to one of two “masters,” and your only choice is which “master” you’re going to obey.
            One “master” is sin. If you choose it as your master, then it pays certain wages: Ever increasing depravity which ultimately and inevitably leads to death. If you’ve seen my presentation of “one verse evangelism,” then you know that “death” in the Bible is talking about separation. We use the same type of verbiage when we tell an estranged relative “You’re dead to me.” Physical death is being separated from your body. But ultimately (and inevitably) sin leads to spiritual death, being separated from God—in this life, and leading into eternity.
            The only alternative is the “master” Righteousness. Now’s a good place for me to explain why I keep putting the term “master” in quotes, and it’s an important point. Paul says in vs. 19 “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.” I think the reason he inserts this is because using the term “slavery” for our relationship with Christ can be a little misleading if we’re not careful. Slavery—back in Paul's day up to and including modern times—had a connotation of a harsh taskmaster who beats the ones who are enslaved. No one wants to be a slave in the normal sense of the word. Jesus specifically said that he no longer calls us servants but his friends.
            Now to be sure, using the term “slavery” in regards to the other side is entirely appropriate. The harshest plantation owner of the Antebellum South--the cruelest, most inhumane, most monstrous slave owner who ever lived in the history of mankind--was a mere piker compared to the Enemy of our souls.
            But there are some ways in which the illustration (slavery) fits for this side of salvation. Like a slave, you’ve been bought and paid for. You belong to him. This means that when he tells you to do something, you do it. And with both masters, there are results from our service. Once again, the illustration isn’t perfect (which Paul admits): We really don’t earn “wages” from our “master” in the sense of getting what we deserve. What he gives us is a gift (vs. 23). But being “slaves” or “servants” of God-- in stark contrast to the alternative--does lead to some really wonderful benefits: increasing holiness and eternal life.
            This really calls for careful thought and reading. He’s not really commanding us to take Christ as our “master.” He uses the indicative, not the imperative, mood in vss. 17-18: “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” This echoes what he said back in vs. 14: “Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
            So what is his command to us? What’s the point here? It’s the same type of command he gave back in vss. 1-14: You have been set free by Christ. You are no longer a slave to sin. Live like it. “Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.” You don’t belong to sin anymore, and you certainly don’t belong to yourself. You belong to him. This will show up to some degree in your life if you really belong to Christ. That’s a given. But way too often someone looking at us from the outside could be confused as to whom we’re serving. We need to change that. More and more, we need to demonstrate that we belong to the One who bled and died for us.

Lord Jesus, it’s really understandable if people get confused about to whom I belong, based on how I act. Way too often I don’t act like I belong to you. But I do. Please help me to show it. 

[Aug 08]—In This Case, Two Heads Are Definitely NOT Better Than One

Romans 5:12-21

            I know, I know. We just looked this passage a couple of weeks ago when we discussed the issue of homosexuality a couple of weeks ago. But I was using that passage to look at homosexuality as it relates to the common defense of “Well, God made me this way.” It’s really a deep passage that deals with a lot more than that.
            This passage chapter could be placed under the heading: “Two Heads, Two Destinies.”
            As I’ve talked about before, being an American comes with so many advantages, but it can skew our understanding of Scripture. We’re very big on the rights and well-being of the individual. Unlike most cultures and societies in history, we couldn’t care less who your great-great-granddaddy was, whether he was a street sweeper or a nobleman. Each person is expected to make it on their own merits, and it shouldn’t matter where you came from. At least that’s the theory. It’s something we’re proud of, and for the most part I think it’s a good thing.
            But where I think we mess up is that we go so far in this direction that we neglect this sometimes inconvenient truth: Where you came from does affect your circumstances in the here and now.  If you pretend like it doesn’t—which tends to be an affliction of the young and/or na├»ve—then this truth doesn’t go away; it merely hides in the background and will affect you without you even knowing it.
            So here we have the first “man,” Adam (whose name literally is “The Man”). He was the prototype of the new race called human beings. All people come from him and his wife, so we’re made in his image, sort of the same way that Adam was made in God’s image. As we discussed re: homosexuality, in some mysterious way, when Adam sinned, he gained a propensity to sin (disobey God) which he passed down to us. It specifically says he sinned, “and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Not most—all.
            This is the point where we have to shed our thinking (somewhat) as Americans with our notions of individualism. And this is where my title for this passage comes into play. By “head” here I don’t mean “person in charge,” although Jesus certainly is that. By the term, as applied to both Adam and Jesus, I’m referring to the sense as in “source.” Think of the “head” of a river, where the river actually starts.
            It’s a really good illustration. What if you dumped toxic waste at the head of a river? What would be the condition of the water downstream? Obviously what happens at the head affects everything else.
            In the same way, Adam’s sin affects all of his children. This is what vss. 13-14 are talking about. Even though the generations between Adam and Moses didn’t have the Torah in written form (so none of them disobeyed it), they still were affected. How could this be? How could sin affect them when they didn’t have the Mosaic Law to disobey? Remember, all people everywhere have both the outer witness (creation) and the inner witness (a sense of morality), and we’ve all disobeyed the witnesses God’s already placed before us. General revelation is enough to condemn us, and thus is enough for sin to affect us.
            But thank the Lord, there’s more than one Head of a race here. All of us are Adam’s kin and thus under the power of sin, with all that entails. Enter Jesus. He's the Second Adam. He's the Head of the new race. Adam was tested and failed, and thus brought condemnation and death onto everyone further along his line. But Jesus came, without sin, was tested and succeeded brilliantly. Everything that Adam was supposed to be, Jesus was and is.
            What are the effects of this new Head’s person and work? What does he give all of his “children”?

1)      Justification instead of condemnation
2)      Grace (undeserved favor) instead of judgment
3)      Righteousness (his own) instead of sinfulness
4)      Life instead of death

He ends on an explanation about the real purpose of the Law. It was there “so that the
trespass might increase.” He’ll explain this more in chapter seven, but the main reason (or at least one of them) he gave us the Law was to show us our utter moral bankruptcy before him. But where our sin increased, his grace increased “all the more.” We could never “outsin” his grace. No matter what we did or didn’t do, his grace more than makes up for it, turning mortal enemies of God into beloved children.

Yes, Lord Jesus, your grace more than covers my sin. You do more than reconcile your enemies to yourself. You give abundantly more than we could ever dream of. Thank you. 

[Aug 07]—“How Much More. . .”

Romans 5:9-11

            It’s really important to pay close attention to “connecting words,” since they really help us understand what a biblical author is trying to say. Like I mentioned before, one of the most significant words in the English language is the little three-letter “but”: We were lost, spiritually dead, under God’s just wrath, etc., but . . .
            Here’s another small package with a lot of meaning hiding inside of it: “How much more. . .”
            Let’s review from yesterday. We were not just good people who need a tweaking or a better set of instructions. Our sin made us mortal enemies of God, and as I mentioned before, in any war between God and, well, anyone, the outcome’s not in doubt.
            So Christ died for us, his enemies.
            This is where it’s important to pay attention, since the payoff for doing so is incredible comfort. Paul is arguing from lesser to greater. We were his sworn enemies, John Hinkley Jr’s to him, and Christ died for us. The two parties were reconciled. The peace treaty, signed in Jesus’ blood, was signed and sealed and put into effect.
            Paul’s point is that since then, things have only gotten better: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”  
            Christ didn’t stay dead. Three days in that tomb was enough, thank you. He walked out of that grave, and. . .this is really important. . .ascended into Heaven to a hero’s welcome and to sit at the Father’s right hand. And what’s he doing there? Still bleeding for our sins? NO! That’s past him forever. But one of the things he is doing up there is pleading our case before the Father. Hopefully as we mature in Christ we’re going to sin less and less, “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”
            This is why it’s so important that Jesus not only died (which paid for our sin and which justified) but that he rose. Paul mentioned in the last verse of chapter 4 that he “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” What does that mean? Once again quoting MacArthur, it means that “The resurrection provided proof that God had accepted the sacrifice of His Son and would be able to be just and yet justify the ungodly.” In other words, the Resurrection placed God’s “stamp of approval” on Jesus’ sacrifice, certifying before all creation that all of our sins were completely paid for, that his wrath was satisfied.
            You see, because of the Resurrection and Ascension, we know that now we’re more than just “not enemies.” We’ve moved waaaaaay past that stage. We’re now his children, his heirs, co-heirs with Christ. Through Christ the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
            That’s why Paul says what he says in the last verse in today’s passage: “Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Of course, this isn’t “boasting” in the normal sense of the word, as if we did anything to merit this; that’s why the NET Bible translates it as “rejoice,” and the NASB renders it as “exult.”
            This is about as far past “not enemy” as you can possibly get. He’s our loving Father now. If he strikes us, it’s because it’s what we need, not because for the sake of punishment, at least in the sense of giving us what we deserve.
            The reason I’m emphasizing this so much is first and foremost because Paul is doing so. But I think there’s more here than just explaining the Good News to lost people. Jerry Bridges says that we need to “preach the Gospel to ourselves every day.” We need to remind ourselves that our relationship with God is still completely based on what Christ did and is doing, with no mixture of our performance involved. It’s not 90% Jesus and 10% us; it’s not even 99% Jesus and 1% us. There’s not a smidgeon, not a molecule of our performance to either boast about or fear regarding failure. If there was, then we could fall into either prideful self-boasting or fear of failure, that we could commit “that sin” and end up losing our salvation.
            It’s all Jesus. Rejoice in him. Exult in him.

Lord Jesus, it is all about you. “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling.”

“Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.”