Tag Archives: predestination

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.

“He’ll never become a Christian…”

This is part eight of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I love hearing people’s testimonies. A lot of people really surprise me. For example, the below testimony of Brian “Head” Welch:

During his musical career, it would’ve been easy for Christians to dismiss Brian. It would’ve been easy to say something like, “Look at that sinner, he’s too far gone to ever become a Christian.” It would’ve been easy, but it would’ve been sinful. It would’ve been judgemental. Those Christians need to learn something about love and have obviously never taken Eph 2:1-5 to heart. In that passage, Paul is talking to Christians about who they used to be before they were saved. More than anything, those Christians would’ve been dead wrong. Like I said yesterday, God will surprise you! Now, Brian is a Jesus-loving Christian with a powerful testimony!

There’s a multi-century debate among Christians about free will vs. predestination (also called election).
Does God choose who gets saved or does man? This is one of the great dividing lines in Christianity: Calvinism and Arminianism. First and foremost, I’ll say that you can fall on either side of this debate and still love Jesus. Romans 14:1, while talking specifically about food, makes it clear that there are disputable matters; that is, there are certain things that Christians can disagree about. Free-will vs. predestination is a disputable matter.

That being said, I used to be a big advocate of free-will. I believed in choice. I did not want to believe in predestination so I ignored certain Bible verses (like, oh, I don’t know… Rom 8:29-30, Eph 1:3-12, 1 Thess 1:4, 2 Thess 2:13, Matt 22:14, John 13:18, John 15:16, John 15:19, etc.) and logically explained how I would do it if I were God. After reading the predestination chapter in Religion Saves and praying for God to reveal the truth to me, I have completely changed my stance.

(One big thing for me is this:  I’m not concerned with winning theological debates; I want to know and share truth. That only happens if you’re willing to swallow your pride, put aside your personal opinions, and look at what Scripture teaches. Once you know for sure what the truth is though, you should certainly defend it!)

After realizing that God chooses who gets saved and who doesn’t, and knowing that God is a loving God, I’ve realized that you never know who will get saved. Brian was a very, very unlikely candidate. I’ve met plenty of people who changed dramatically after getting saved. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? I’ve seen it first-hand during my deployment.

I now know that God can save anyone, regadless of who they are and regardless of what type of past they have. You just never know who God will choose to save, therefore we must love our neighbors and share the Gospel with all!

(For anyone interested in learning more about free-will vs. predestination, check out the Religion Saves book by Mark Driscoll or watch the sermon below.)

Romans 1:20 and the tribes in Africa

“What about the tribe in Africa that’s never heard of Jesus?” I’ve had a handful of people ask me questions like this and I know a lot of people who have been asked similar questions. “Does a tribe in an isolated part of the world that’s never heard of Jesus go to hell for not accepting Him as their savior? That hardly sounds like a loving God!”

In short, people are only held accountable for what they know. The Bible says in Romans 1:19-20 that creation alone proclaims that it has a Maker. This is called God’s “general revelation.” Indeed, it is hard to look at the stars or a mountain landscape and not feel a sense of grandeur and realize that you are a very, very small speck. Psalm 19:1-6 says that the stars declare and proclaim God’s work; there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. In other words, to some degree all creation reveals that there is a God and it has done so in all places, languages, and times in history.

Paul goes on in Romans 2:14-15 to say that when people who do not have God’s Law meet the requirements of that Law, they are showing that in their heart they know that things are supposed to be a certain way and they are trying to meet those requirements. C.S. Lewis calls this “oughtness” in Mere Christianity. This act alone demonstrates a conviction to do “the right thing” even though people fall short.

Although these African tribes may not know the specific requirements of God through head knowledge and even though they may have never heard the name Jesus, the “Law,” or a feeling of how they ought to behave, is written on their hearts. They know the difference between right and wrong. Thus when these hypothetical tribesmen violate their own understanding of what is right, they condemn themselves. Conversely, when they do what they know to be right, their own conscienes defend them. Their clean conscienses save them or their guilty consciences condemn them.

Some people ask this question out of genuine concern, and some ask this question as an excuse to reject God. Again, from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thig you can do is to remain outside yourself.” His statement makes a lot of sense to me. If I were worried about people getting exposed to acid rain, would it make any sense for me to stay outside in the acid rain because others were unable to go inside? Of course not!

To the non-Christian I would just ask one thing. If, as we stated to start this discussion, you’re only held accountable for what you know, then the only question that remains is this: What will you do with the knowledge you have; will you accept or squander the gift that’s been freely offered to you?

To the Christian I say: What’s keeping you from making sure that everyone knows about the freedom that’s been offered to them?

“Come as you are” 1 Corinthians 1:26

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

Think about what this passage means for just a second. It doesn’t really need to be contextualized for me to make my point, but I’ll go ahead and briefly do so. Paul is writing to the Christians in the city of Corinth (which is a city that was known for many sinful things including its temple with a thousand prostitutes). Paul is really still making introductions and is just starting his letter. He’s reminding the Corinthian church who they were before they became Christians, which likely includes prostitutes, pimps, and customers. (Another great place where Paul discusses pre-Christian living is Ephesians 2:1-4 where he is again writing to Christians.) Paul is reminding the Corinthians that, essentially, they didn’t earn anything. Salvation was not given to them because of intelligence, rank, status, or as a birthright. In other words, they weren’t saved because they were “good enough.”

My point is this, Jesus invites us to Him as we are, not as we should be. He allows us to come to him dirty, not clean; sinful, not righteous because He is the only one who can make us clean and righteous. There are no “dress codes” for us to approach Christ. There are no prerequisites. There is no application process. There are no try-outs. Instead, He came to us and cleansed us. There really are no standards placed upon us for us to become Christians.

In fact, accepting Christ is quite the opposite: it’s admitting that you’ve made a mess of yourself and need help. To accept the grace Christ offers us, we must admit that we’re not good enough and that we need Him to redeem us. Only then, when we give him all our ugly problems, will He set us free.

That’s the beauty of this one, easy-to-glance-over, passage: you don’t have to be a religous super-star to be loved by God. You don’t have to be super-smart. You don’t have to be a high-ranking official. You don’t have to be of noble birth. You just have to accept Jesus.