Category Archives: Bible

Posts that focus on one Bible verse or passage in great detail.

Romans 9: Magnifying the God of the Earth

For a class this semester I have to choose a passage from either Romans or Hebrews to study in depth. I wanted a “difficult” passage because those are the most fun for me to study so I chose everyone’s favorite chapter: Romans 9. You read that right. I decided to dive deep into Romans 9 for this project and have already started to love this passage. I wanted to share three things I’ve already seen thus far.

  1. Paul’s imitation of Christ
  2. God’s definition of injustice
  3. God’s sovereignty in human history

Paul’s Imitation of Christ: Romans 9:3 contains some very surprising words: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” To be honest, I’ve always thought this was a little over-the-top. Surely Paul is exaggerating, right? Surely Paul would never even consider being “accursed and cut off” from God, right? But this week I remembered something incredible. The words of Christ on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34; see also Psalm 22:1). Where Paul wished himself accursed and cut off from God, Christ actually was accursed and cut off from God the Father. Paul is merely imitating Christ in his desire to see others come to know the Father. They both desired to share Christ with others so much that they were willing to suffer for it.

God’s definition of injustice: After recalling the story of God choosing to love Jacob and hate Esau before either had been born (Rm. 9:13), the next verse asks this question: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” (Romans 9:14) When we read this, we assume the “injustice” is that God hated Esau. But, in the context of the passage, this is completely wrong. Look at verses 14-16 and pay attention to the words I have made bold:

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Notice anything? The injustice is not that God hated Esau. The injustice is that God loved Jacob! Think about it for a minute. What is justice? Merriam-Webster defines justice as: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” The key word there is merited: merited rewards or punishments. Justice is giving people exactly what they deserve. Because we’ve already established—in Romans, no less—that everyone has committed rebellion against God (Rom. 3:23) we know that everyone deserves eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Justice would be giving us our merited punishments. Injustice would be giving us grace, forgiveness, love, and eternal life. God’s grace to sinners is the ultimate act of injustice, but He has the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and compassion on whom He will have compassion. Why? Because He’s God! J

God’s sovereignty in human history: Take a look at this list of historical people in Israel’s history:

  • Abraham
  • Sarah
  • Isaac
  • Rebekah
  • Jacob
  • Esau
  • Moses
  • Pharaoh
  • David
  • Daniel
  • Hosea
  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Malachi
  • Amos
  • Joel
  • Jesus Christ

Believe it or not, all of those people are mentioned, quoted, or alluded to in Romans 9. Just verses 4 & 5 contain all of this: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)” That is a ton of Jewish history and Paul was writing to Jews, which makes me think that he understood that they would understand many of these references.

So what’s my point? My point is that Romans 9 rapidly and succinctly traces almost all of Jewish history from Abraham to Jesus. In the context of a discussion about God’s sovereignty, and when we think about God’s sovereignty, I think it’s important to remember that God has been around a lot longer than us and He has guided all of human history for His purposes. If we view human history as being guided by God, we suddenly get a much larger view of who God is and how His purposes span centuries and even millennia.

Romans 9 is a humbling passage and I look forward to sitting under it, learning from it, and growing as a result.

Romans 8: Bridging the Gap Between My Failures and God’s Grace

Romans 8

Before we get started, here are four things you need to know…

  • I attend Colossae, where I currently serve as an intern.
  • We are preaching our way through Romans. We focus on the ‘big thoughts’ of the letter instead of diving into the subtle nuances of each verse or phrase.
  • The pastors and interns gather weekly for a sermon prep meeting (my pastor has written about on his blog here, here, and here).
  • At Home Depot, I usually spend about 2 hours alone stocking the shelves before the store opens at 6. During this time, I’ve started listening to the Romans section that we’ll discuss in our next sermon prep meeting. For example, if we’re meeting to discuss chapter 6, I’ll listen to 5-7 to get the feel for what the letter said before the passage, what the passage says, and what the next passage says. I feel like this helps me think about the passage in the larger context of the entire letter of Romans. Also, I’ll listen to it mostly in the English Standard Version, but will listen to the New American Standard Bible, the New Living Translation, the New International Version, and sometimes the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I feel like this helps me see it from multiple perspectives and forces me to actively listen because each one is subtly different.

Okay, now that we’re all caught up…

For the last few weeks I’ve been obsessing a little bit about Romans 6-8. I used to think I loved Romans 8, but not compared to how much I love it now. You see, in Romans 6, we’re taught that we who have died to sin (Rom. 6:6) are now alive to God (Rom. 6:11). Furthermore, we are now slaves to Christ (Rom. 6:18) and follow a path and process that leads to eternal life (Rom. 6:22). In the same way that a woman is no longer legally married to a man after he dies but can freely remarry, we are remarried to Christ so we can bring glory to God (Rom. 7:4).

The only problem is our death to sin is a spiritual reality that has not yet been physically manifested; that doesn’t happen until after our physical death and resurrection (Rom. 8:23). We’re stuck in an in-between state; the check has been written but it hasn’t been cashed yet. This is why we still sin (Rom. 7:14-15); because there is a tension that exists within us (Rom. 7:25).

But!!! Even though we make mistakes, there is no condemnation for Christians (Rom. 8:1) because Jesus condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). We may be influenced by the flesh (Rom. 7:20), but we are not dominated by the flesh (Rom. 6:6; 8:11). This means we battle the flesh by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 7:13) because we have been adopted (Rom. 8:16). We have a new identity that isn’t determined by our actions or even our failures but who God says we are. The fact that we are part of God’s family means that we are heirs with Christ and will be glorified with Christ, but we will also suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17).

However!!! The suffering we endure in this life pales in comparison to the glory awaiting us (Rom. 8:18) and we wait patiently to meet the Father who has adopted us because we understand that it will be worth the wait (Rom. 8:25). This is the check that has been written but is not yet cashed. In fact, the Holy Spirit helps us (Rom. 8:26) as we continue to be transformed to look more and more like Christ so that, when we ‘go home,’ we’ll fit in the family of God (Rom. 8:29).

In fact!!! Because Christ is on our side, no one and nothing in all creation (Rom. 8:38-39) can stand against us (Rom. 8:33). We have been irrevocably adopted by God; He chose us before the creation of the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).

So here’s what I’m realizing. Chapter 7 spends about 17 verses talking about our failures and our inability to be perfect. But this is bookended by Romans 6 & 8 where God spends almost 70 verses assuring us that we are free from sin (Rom. 6:7), and are now slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18); that we have a new identity and belong to Christ (Rom. 7:4); that we face no condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 33-34); that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26) and that even Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34)! Romans 9 continues this line of thought by explaining that God’s choice cannot be revoked by any mortal (Rom. 9:16).

So, my question for Christians is this: why do you let your failures haunt you and condemn you if God does not? The whole ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ idea applies to you, too! If God is for you, how can you be against yourself?

Who will condemn you? You? Christ Jesus is interceding for us. Will you condemn yourself? Do you really think your guilt outweighs the power of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ interceding on our behalf? Do we think our failures revoke God’s choice to adopt us? Who do we think we are? God? If God is for us, who can be against us? Our failures don’t define us in God’s eyes; Christ’s finished work and resurrection define us. God doesn’t look at our failures; He looks at our new identity as His slaves/children (seems weird to us, but that’s what the text says; think of us as adopted slaves).

During Christmas time, all these thoughts swimming around in my head help me appreciate the lengths to which Christ was willing to go to make sure that I could be adopted into God’s family. I praise God that, despite my failures, He chose to adopt me. I praise Christ because He chose to come and bridge the gap between sinfulness and God’s mercy. I praise the Spirit for helping me as I await the redemption of my body. God was willing to bridge the gap so that I could be adopted into His family; for that I am eternally grateful.

Themes in Proverbs

While taking a class with Professor Carl Laney, I ran across an excellent list of “Themes in Proverbs.” This is his list but I thought it was worth sharing. He starts by saying “The individual proverbs are not generally grouped together topically or in a thematic series. They are quite mixed and any one chapter may contain a great variety of topics. Some of the more important themes and topics in Proverbs include the following: Continue reading Themes in Proverbs

The revealed life

Colossians 3  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot of time in this passage and I want to finish by looking at verse 4. This passage has covered the believer’s past (being raised with Christ), their present (being hidden with Christ), and naturally concludes with the future promise of being revealed with Christ in glory. All these verbs (being raised, hidden, and revealed) are written in the passive voice because from start to finish, our salvation is not dependent upon ourselves, but upon the perfect, completed work of Christ. This reality should shatter all pride in our accomplishments and relieve any fear of failure on our part because none of it depends upon us.

This passage concludes the same way as all human history: Christ being revealed in glory. But the unbelievable part is that we will be revealed with Him. If the reader were puzzled by the preceding description of their life being hidden with Christ for the present, this verse describes the future revelation of Christ with their life. For the Christian, their life is hidden with Christ today, and will be revealed with Christ in the future. The wording here describes a personal connection and shared destiny with Christ: “and you with Him” (Col. 3:4). If believers share Christ’s destiny through being raised with Christ and by having their lives hidden with Christ, then we finally find out what that destiny actually is: “you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

Here we have the answer to every “why” question in the Christian life. Why yearn for the things above? Why focus intently upon the things above and not the things upon the earth? Why have we died? Why does it matter that our life is hidden with Christ? And, in light of the rest of Colossians 3, why should we put to death the earthly members within us? Why should we put on the new man? Why should we strive to honor Christ in public as well as private? Not because it will be easy—quite the opposite, in fact—but because it will be worth it. Currently, Christ is seated at God’s right hand; one day, we will appear with Him in glory (see also, Romans 8:17b). The natural response to such a gracious gift is gratitude, thanksgiving, and obedience. Thus, the instructions in the rest of Colossians are not a duty, but a delight. If we understand the free gift we’ve been given—a gift that redeems our past, directs our present, and secures our future—we will strive, with every fiber of our being, to bring glory to God.

Related Posts:

The hidden life

In chapter 2 of Colossians, Paul sets forth a defensive strategy for the Colossians: resist captivity (Col. 2:8-15), resist judgment and disqualification (Col. 2:16-19), and resist the elemental spirits of the world and false religions (Col. 2:20-23). Colossians 3:1-4 serves as a transition-point before Paul teaches how to go on the offensive by mortifying the flesh (Col. 3:5) and putting on the new self (Col. 3:12). This passage has some very profound implications for Christian living, and one thing that really grips me is the security that we have in Christ.

For example, Col. 3:1 says that Christ is seated. The sitting position signifies the completion of Christ’s work. This contrast between Jesus and the Levitical priests is demonstrated in Hebrews 10:11-14: the priests stand because their work is never finished; Jesus offered one perfect sacrifice—Himself—and is now seated. His work is done, there are no questions about it; His sacrifice was accepted and Christ now enjoys a seated position of honor because He has earned it. Christians never need to question whether or not they are saved because they did not save themselves. As previously discussed, we have been raised by Christ and with Christ and now share His destiny. His work is completed and He is now seated in a position of honor and glory. Christ would have the seat pulled out from under Him—marking an incomplete sacrifice for sins and unfinished work—before a Christian would lose their salvation.

Another amazing statement is found in Colossians 3:3: “…you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The Greek word for “hidden” here (krupto) is the root of the English word “encrypt;” in the same way that encrypted data is considered safe, so the Christian’s life is safe because it is ‘encrypted’ with Christ. Through Paul’s use of the perfect tense, we know that this “hiddenness” occurred in the past—presumably at the time of our salvation—and has ongoing effects. In the same way that someone in the witness protection program is safe because they are hidden, so the Christian’s salvation is secure because it is hidden with Christ.

Accept Jesus into your heart


I can’t tell you how many times—especially growing up in the Bible Belt—I heard that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart. Over the last few years, and especially lately, I’ve been convicted of a couple problems with that phrase.

  1. We don’t “accept” Jesus, He redeems and then accepts us.
  2. Jesus doesn’t enter our heart, the Holy Spirit does.
  3. I don’t invited Jesus into my life, He invites me into His.

First, there is nothing more arrogant than for us to assume that Jesus must earn or receive our “acceptance.” The truth is, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). In fact, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” Romans 8:8). The truth is, you are either in the flesh or in the Spirit (Romans 8:5). There’s a direct contrast between the two, so to tell someone—anyone—that they have the capability to accept something to which they are hostile is foolish. It would be like telling the darkness to accept the light or a decaying corpse to accept life. It cannot. The miraculous truth is that God accepts us because of the finished work of Christ. The only option we have is to bow down in humble worship and gratitude because we have been accepted (Colossians 1:13-14).

Second, Jesus doesn’t enter your heart. I have two big, big problems with this claim. Of greatest concern is that it doesn’t say this anywhere in the Bible. Sure, Jesus is “with us always (Matthew 28:20),” but no where in the Bible does it say that Jesus lives “in our heart.” Actually, the Scriptures tell us that after resurrecting, Jesus physically ascended up to heaven (Acts 1:9) and is seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; Revelation 4:2, 9-10, 5:1, 7, etc.). Jesus is not in your heart, Jesus is seated on a throne. Why is this important? Because it shows that Jesus’ work is finished (John 19:30). The other reason I dislike this phrase is because it doesn’t make any sense. As Christians, don’t we believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? How, then, does He fit in our hearts? Sounds absurd right? That’s because it is. Once again, Jesus is seated on a throne. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, not Jesus (Romans 8:9-11—now, I realize that in vs. 10 of that passage it says “if Christ is in you” but vs. 11 clarifies this by describing the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” The idea here is that, because of the 3-in-1 nature of the Trinity, there is some overlap with regards to who is your heart, but the specific role of dwelling within believers falls to the Holy Spirit. See John 16:4-15 for further clarification.).

Finally, something my pastor has been saying recently that has really resounded with me is this: “When I became a Christian I didn’t invite Jesus into my life, He invited me into His.” Jesus doesn’t join your life, your plans, and your purposes. You join Jesus’ life, plans, and purposes. The point is simply that you do not attach Jesus to what you already have going on as though He’s a simple accessory to be added to your wardrobe. Instead, we reorient our entire lives around Him. Jesus becomes our True North. Instead of living for ourselves, we lay down our old lives and live for Christ.

Podfasting

Podfasting |pód-fãs-ting| Noun – Abstaining from mega-church podcasts so as to hear more clearly the voice of the Holy Spirit

I’m not a fan of New Years resolutions, but the first day of this month I decided to try an experiment. I stopped listening to podcasts. I felt like I was hearing too many voices; I was subscribed to 4 podcasts, would look at 5 others to see if I was interested in what they were preaching on that week, and had Wayne Grudem’s entire Systematic Theology podcast series completely un-listened to. All told, I had over 500 unplayed podcasts and they were piling up way faster than I could listen to them.

I had been getting so much teaching so rapidly for so long that for several months I felt as though I needed to start digesting all that I was eating. I started to feel like a theological-chipmonk who was stuffing his cheeks without ever actually digesting anything.

Add to that an ongoing seminary education and I was getting more than enough head knowledge. Knowledge wasn’t the problem; obedience was. I felt like I was focusing on all head with no heart; all information with no transformation; all data with no devotion. So I stopped listening to podcasts for (at least the first month of) 2012.

I feel like it’s been very, very helpful. I hear God’s voice more clearly and feel closer to Him as a result of narrowing my input to just His Word–the Bible–and whatever else my coursework brings my way. For my Greek class, I’m translating substantial (or at least substantial to me) passages and really mediating on them as much as I can. I feel like I’ve been able to focus on the voice of the Holy Spirit instead trying to hear Him in the midst of a cacaphony of mega-church pastors. Instead of filling “empty time” (i.e. my drive to work or the time I walk the dog) with a podcast, I’m now using it to think about the Bible verses I translated that day, how to apply a passage of Scripture I read, and catching a quick prayer. It’s been good and I think it’s becoming more and more necessary in our day of celebrity pastors.

So here’s the challenge: for the next 30 days, stop listening to whatever it is that you use to fill your “empty time.” Maybe it’s music, maybe you call people on the phone, or maybe you’re like me and you listen to podcasts, but stop! Instead, try to focus more specifically on the Bible and use that “empty time” as an opportunity to meditate on God’s Word and pray to your Father. You won’t regret it.

Would you go?

If I’m completely honest with myself, I have two expectations:

  1. God desires me to be “successful” in my service to Him.
  2. If I obey His leading, He will make me wildly “successful” in my ministry.

As Americans, it would be unthinkable for us to say something like, “God has called me to a small, obscure ministry that will never bear much fruit; instead, I’ll actually pour my life into just a few guys and then one or two of them will have ministries that far exceed anything I ever could have accomplished.” Of course, if you really think about it, isn’t that what Christ did? Didn’t He just focus on 12 men who took His message much farther than He ever did? Interesting… but I digress, back to my two expectations.

It’s easy for us to think that God will be so amazed by our passionate devotion that He’ll have no choice but to make us the main catalyst for the next Great Awakening! But as I’ve been reading through the Prophets, I see something a little different happening. To understand what I mean, take a look at the “commissioning” of some of the prophets.

Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 6:8-12)

Do you see what just happened? Isaiah answered God’s call and God told him to go preach to a people that would absolutely refuse to listen. Isaiah asked how long he is supposed to do this, and God tells him to keep preaching until the entire land is a desolate waste! That hardly sounds like the modern promise that God has a wonderful plan for your life. Let’s look at how cheerful Jeremiah’s commissioning is, I’ll just underline the parts that I want to emphasize.

The Call of Jeremiah

14 Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. 16And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. 17 But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18 And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, forI am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:14-19)

We see the same thing: Jeremiah is sent to fail. God doesn’t say something like, “Go to my people and save them from disaster.” Instead, he says “My people will be destroyed and I want you to spend your days calling them to repent. They’ll never do it, but that’s not your responsibility.” The same thing happens with Ezekiel.

Ezekiel’s Call

4 And [God] said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ezekiel 3:4-7)

God tells Ezekial, “Although I could send you to a foreign nation, and although they would listen to you and worship me, I’ve called you to the house of Israel. They will reject you.” And don’t forget what God tells Hosea: “Marry a prostitute so she can cheat on you and have other men’s children. I will use this as an example to show Israel how they have cheated on me” (Hosea 1:2).

Do you see what’s wrong with my original two expectations? They’re completely wrong! If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that those two expectations are really just a spiritual-sounding twist on the American dream. So here’s the question that is haunting me (and I want to share with you so you’ll be haunted too): If you knew that God was not calling you to a successful ministry would you still go? The thing is, if I’m honest, I’ve created a formula that goes something like this:

God’s calling + my obedience = ministry success

But the truth is, as we’ve seen, God doesn’t call anyone to be successful, He doesn’t owe anyone success, nor does He promise anyone success. God calls us to faithful obedience, no matter what. We aren’t called to success, we’re called to obedience. I pray that God will give me the courage to obey Him unconditionally. So here’s my question for you: Would you go?

You gotta serve somebody

One thing I’ve noticed while reading different translations of the Bible is how different one of Paul’s introductions often sounds despite the fact that the translation committees are all using (mostly) the same Greek manuscripts. Normally, Paul introduces himself as an Apostle (2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, and 2 Timothy 1:1). But elsewhere, in Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, and Titus 1:1, Paul introduces himself with a different Greek word: doulos (pronounced “do-loss”). This is also the word the authors used to describe themselves in James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1, and is even used to refer to all Christians in Revelation 1:1.

What I find interesting is that this word usually has two different translations:  bondservant or servant. In the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, and King James Version all use the word “servant” or “bond-servant” and then they usually put “slave” somewhere at the bottom of the page as a footnote.) These are all considered fairly conservative translations. Yet in two of our more liberal translations, the New Living Translation and The Message, we find the word doulos translated a little accurately. They use the word “slave.” (The lesser-known Lexham English Bible also uses the word “slave.”)

So which is is? What are Paul, James, Peter, Jude, John, and all Christians? Are we servants or are we slaves? In The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans, R. C. Sproul helpfully writes:

In the Greek text, the word that the apostle uses is doulos which is not properly translated ‘servant’. A servant in the ancient world was a hired employee, a person who could come and go at will, who could resign from one job and seek employment elsewhere if so inclined. But a doulos was a slave owned by a kyrios, a master or a lord. Frequently in the New Testament this type of imagery is used to portray the relationship between Christ and his people: ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price.’ Christians are those who belong to Christ. He is our Lord, he is our kyrios, he is our Master.
Paul will explain in the book of Romans that man, out of Christ, is in bondage to sin and a slave to his own evil impulses, inclinations and desires. This is man’s natural condition in the fallen state. Yet Paul wrote elsewhere that where the Spirit of the Lord is, where the Spirit of the kyrios is, where the Spirit of the Master is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). How are these truths to be reconciled?
Paul had learned that man is only free when he becomes a slave to Christ. Outwith Christ, he is a slave to sin; but when enslaved to Christ, he knows the royal liberation that only Christ can bring. Paul, in citing his own credentials, regards as his highest virtue that he is a slave of Jesus Christ.

In John 8:34, Jesus says that whoever sins is a slave to sin. Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John all knew that the only way to become free from sin was to become slave to Christ (John 8:36). That’s why Paul the “slave” mentions that he is free in 1 Corinthians 9:1. As Bob Dylan once sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The only question you can answer is who you’ll serve. Will it be a harsh taskmaster bent on your destruction? Or will it be a kind, gentle Lord?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus in Matthew 11:28–30.

He’ll forgive me…

In an article called Why Doesn’t Anybody Talk About Sin?, Scot McKnight shares a rather disturbing story. I say disturbing because it sounds far too familiar…

One day after I spoke at a church, a college student approached me and began telling me about her roommate, and I’m guessing you know someone like both of these young women. First, she told me her roommate had slept with more than one guy that semester; that her roommate got drunk most Saturday nights; that her roommate was very active in a Bible study; and that she was also in a worship band.

I asked, “Does your roommate consider herself a Christian?” The young woman responded: “Of course she’s a Christian.”

I was perhaps more bothered by that last response than by the actions of the roommate. For this person talking to me, the issue wasn’t Christian-or-not, but why I would even ask such a question.

Her final words to me were, “God forgives, you know.” Her tone wasn’t a tone of gratitude for God’s grace but presumption of God’s grace. I was troubled as much by her attitude as I am by what I see as a trend among our culture: Sin is falling into grace and disappearing from our concerns.

There you have it: When we don’t see the gravity of sin, we won’t be reliant upon God for the grace of sanctification and transformation, and holiness won’t be our aim in life. So, let’s look at what sin is, where sin wants to take us and what sin does to us.

I have a good friend whose wife divorced him a few years ago. I’ll never forget the story of her telling him she wanted the divorce. After she broke the news to him, he asked her what she thought God would think of her actions. Her response: “I think he’ll forgive me.”

The college student’s tone was a presumption of God’s grace, my friend’s ex-wife presumed on God’s grace, and in Romans we read a harsh correction against such a presumptuous, ungrateful attitude.

Or do you presume onthe riches of his kindness andforbearance andpatience,not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? – Romans 2:4

Wow, talk about painful! Here’s how the Message phrases it…

Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. – Romans 2:4, Message

But before we cast the first stone, let’s face it, we’ve all—at one time or another—sinned with the assumption that God was going to forgive us. Maybe it wasn’t a divorce, but I think we’re all guilty here. I’ve done it. I knew that my actions were sinful and yet I just assumed God would forgive me for my actions. I look back at these actions with deep regret and embarrassment, but they are on my long list of failures.

That verse in Romans serves as a good reminder that God’s mercy isn’t meant to give me a license to sin against Him. It would be like me cheating on Connie and then, if she forgave me, viewing that as a free pass to keep on cheating on her. “She’ll forgive me.” In the Old Testament, God often compares His relationship with Israel to a marriage. In Ephesians 5, we’re told that Christ is the Groom and the Church is the bride. Thus, willfully sinning against God is no worse than repeatedly cheating on a spouse; in fact I’d say it’s actually far worse. God’s grace is not a free pass for rebellion.

No, God’s kindness is meant to lead me to repentance. Instead of literally destroying us for our rebellion, God gives us yet another chance; not to keep on sinning, but to repent! Repentance is about turning away from one thing, and moving towards something else. God lavishes his rich, undeserved grace on us so that we may turn away from our sins and run to Him.