Romans 9

Today read Romans 9.

For a letter written to the church at Rome, the book of Romans has a lot of Jewish themes in it. The chapters we’ve already read talked about Jews and Gentiles explicitly, as well as discussing the Law of Moses repeatedly.

Scholars have wondered why there is so much about Judaism and the Jewish people in this letter. Some have speculated that the church at Rome was actually a divided church–a Jewish congregation and a Gentile congregation. Perhaps moving the church toward unity was one of Paul’s goals in writing this letter. Maybe he was laying a foundation for attempting unification when he came to Rome in person.

That’s all speculation. What is clear is that chapters 9 through 11 or Romans will address the unbelief of the nation of Israel as a whole. Today’s reading, obviously, began that discussion; however, Paul came to the discussion about Israel indirectly here in chapter 9. His true intent was to talk about election. Israel, in this chapter at least, was brought up here as an object lesson in election.

In verses 1-5 Paul discussed the many spiritual privileges that Israel as a nation had. Despite those privileges, they did not receive their Christ when he came which gave Paul great sorrow and anguish (vv. 1-2). The problem of Israel’s unbelief, however, was not a failure of God’s word (v. 6). Rather, their unbelief was the result of God’s direct, merciful choice in election (vv. 15-18). In verses 7-13, Paul demonstrated that Israel’s own history showed that God worked through election. Only Isaac was chosen between Abraham’s two sons (vv. 7-9), then only Jacob and not Esau was chosen (vv. 10-13).

From a human perspective, divine election feels unjust. Paul anticipated the objection of injustice in v. 14 and he answered it by telling us that we’re looking at it the wrong way. It is just for God to punish us all; if he chooses to have mercy on some, that is his right as the creator (vv. 15-18). If the President pardons a convicted murderer, he has not been unjust to every other murderer. He’s been merciful to one; the constitution gives him that right and he may exercise it as often or as rarely as he wants by whatever criteria he chooses.

In a much greater way God, the one who created us all and the one against whom all of our sins were committed, has the absolute right to save everybody or nobody or some number of people in between all or none.

The reason we have a problem with election is not because it is unjust. Rather, we have an authority problem (vv. 20-23). The doctrine of election strains our human limits and tempts us think that we know better than God does. But his ways are wiser than ours and his will is beyond our comprehension. Like everything else in the Christian life, we have to humble ourselves and trust God.

One thing that is often overlooked when discussing election is this: without election, nobody would be saved. We think the opposite; we think that, if salvation were available to anyone and everyone, then most people would get saved. But we forget that salvation requires a miraculous spiritual act–the act of opening blind eyes, turning hard hearts, humbling our pride and causing us to come to God in repentance. These are unnatural–impossible, actually–for sinners.

Election exists, in part, so that Christ’s death and resurrection were not in vain. Before Christ came and died, God determined that his death would matter by choosing people and predetermining that Christ’s death would be applied to them. Election shows us that God is more gracious than we realize, making certain to save some according to his mercy.

I hope this causes your heart feel gratitude for his grace in your life and humbled that he chose you, not because of anything you’ve done but just because he chose to love you.

Romans 8

Read Romans 8.

In the previous chapters we were taught much about the Law and its relationship to humanity. On Friday, in chapter 7, we learned that God’s Law is great and holy; our problems with it are not with IT but with ourselves: “…the Law is spiritual but I am unspiritual” Paul wrote, “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14). As Christians, we are torn by our mental and spiritual desires to obey God’s law (7:21-22, 25b) and our sin nature which rebels against God’s holy commands and makes us subject to death (7:16-20, 25c).

What is the remedy for this spiritual dilemma?

Romans 8:1: “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are “in Christ Jesus” therefore the condemnation of the law has been removed from us. That removal took place through the atonement of Christ for our sins (vv. 2-3). The result of his atonement is that you are not guilty before God because God has credited to you the righteous life Jesus lived (his “active obedience”) and the atoning death Christ died (his “passive obedience”). Verse 3b-4 says that in these words, “And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 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.”

Did you notice that phrase, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us….” If you are in Christ, you’ve kept the law fully. The law has no beef with you because Christ has fulfilled it all on your behalf. He’s met every standard spelled out there and paid every penalty for your failures (and mine).

Many Christians live with a feeling of defeat. We beat ourselves up for our sin struggles and our failures. If that’s you, please take heart today. If you’re in Christ, it’s all good. Jesus has done all that you will ever need to cancel the law’s condemnation over your life and to declare you perfect in the sight of God. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” so stop condemning yourself and live in the freedom of complete forgiveness!

Romans 6

Read Romans 6.

In Romans 5, which we read yesterday, the Scriptures taught that the law produced sin and sin produced death (5:12-14). Sin was, in fact, multiplied by the law (v. 20) but the grace of Jesus also became more abundant where sin increased (vv. 20b-21).

Today in chapter 6, Paul raised the question, “Should we sin more so that there will be more grace?” (v. 1). Verse 2 quickly answered that question with a strong, NO!, then the rest of the chapter went on to explain why. Spiritually, we have been buried with Christ and raised to new life with him (vv. 2-4). Our new life in Christ has freed us from the power of sin (vv. 5-7). On that basis, we should consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (vv. 8-11) and, therefore, not allow sin to reign in our bodies (vv. 12-15).

Verse 15 asked a similar question to verse 1. Both the question in verse 1 and the question in verse 15 raised the possibility of us sinning. Verse 1 wondered if we should sin since sin makes grace more abundant. Verse 15 asks if we should sin because we’re not under the law but under grace. The implication of verse 15’s question seems to be, “If grace covers us, shouldn’t we just sin as freely as we want to?”

Paul’s answer again was, “No” because sin enslaves us while righteousness, which God saved us for, frees us (vv. 15-18). In verses 19-23, we were reminded that sin is deeply destructive. We quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” when we give the gospel but this verse comes in the context of teaching us Christians about sin and death, new life and freedom. There’s no problem with quoting Romans 6:23 in evangelism, but we should also quote it to ourselves when we are tempted. Though we still desire sin, the scripture reminds us that there is no “benefit” to us when we sin (v. 21). We are now ashamed of the sins we’ve committed in the past and the consequences of them brought death (vv. 21b, 23). On the other hand, when we choose to do what is righteous as slaves to God, then the “benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (v. 22b).

Sin appeals to us because it lies to us. If offers pleasure without showing us the price tag and the pain that follows it. It is true that Jesus’ grace is sufficient to cover any and all of our sins, but that salvation does not remove the consequences of those sins. The consequences of sin are death and pain and shame while the consequences of a righteous life are all positive–holiness and eternal life. When we understand the truth about sin and the power of Christ’s salvation, we see why making righteous choices in our lives is better in every way than trying to get the pleasures offered to us by sin.

Today you may face moments of temptation to sin. Keep this passage in mind. Christ liberated us from sin not to spoil our fun but to keep us from the death and pain and destruction that sin costs. So trust God’s word and choose to live righteously. You can do it because you have been raised with Christ.

Romans 5

Read Romans 5

Romans 4 told us that people are declared righteous by faith and that righteousness was secured by Jesus Christ. Today in chapter 5, verse 1 told us that the result of being declared righteous by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The next several verses went on to describe the future (v. 2b, 9-11) and present results of God’s grace to us in Christ (vv. 3-5).

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation.

It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15–2x, 16–2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15–2x, 17, 20, 21), of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21).

The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ–and that his grace which saved us is available to save others.

Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ–not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.

Romans 4

Read Romans chapter 4.

Romans 3, which we read yesterday, considered the central idea of Christianity–that reconciliation with God comes as a gift from God. It is not earned by those who work for it or deserved by living a righteous life. It is a gift received by faith when a person believes in the good news.

If you’ve received the gift of salvation in Christ, God is just as much your God as he was the God of Abraham, David and others.

Here in Romans 4, Paul goes into more detail about that truth.

Paul demonstrated from the Old Testament scriptures that Abraham was given righteousness by faith (vv. 1-3) and so was David (vv. 6-8). But–wait a minute–both David and Abraham were circumcised. That was a physical, permanent mark that they were under a special covenant with God. We Gentiles don’t have that mark–OK, some Gentile men are circumcised, but not as a religious act. So chapter 4 here anticipates the objection of Jewish people that they have a special relationship with God because they have a special covenant with God symbolized and applied to them by circumcision.

Paul points out in this chapter that Abraham was declared righteous by faith before he was circumcised (vv. 9-12; see Gen 15:6, 17:9-27). Our connection to Abraham spiritually, then, was by faith not by the covenant of circumcision (vv. 16-17). Just as Abraham believed God’s promises at multiple points in his life (vv. 18-22) we must believe God’s promises are applied to us through faith in Jesus (vv. 24-25).

When God declared that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” that was said for our benefit as well as his (vv. 22-23), to show us that it was not obedience to some religious or moral code but faith that gave Abraham a righteous standing before God.

What about you?

Are you reading these chapters in scripture and this devotional to try to get some greater recognition from God? If so, you’re missing the point. There is nothing you can do to earn any favor it all with God. That’s true before you become a Christian and after. The death and resurrection of Jesus did everything that was necessary to give you all of God’s favor that you could ever have (vv. 24-25).

Learning and obeying God’s word are how we grow in the grace God has given us, not how we get more grace or deserve his favor. Whatever you are doing as a Christian–learning God’s word, praying, serving God, giving–keep it up, but do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it to earn God’s favor; that’s actually displeasing to him. Do it because you love him and want to grow to be more like him.

Romans 3

Read Romans 3.

On Friday we read in Romans 2 that God is just as angry with self-righteous Jews as he is with the rest of the world (Rom 1). Here in chapter 3, he acknowledged that God used the Jewish race to deliver God’s word (vv. 1-2) and to illustrate God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people (vv. 3-8). The bottom line, however, is that Jewish people have no greater status before God than anyone else (v. 9). Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners deserving the wrath of God (vv. 10-19) and unable to earn God’s favor on their own (v. 20).

Having demonstrated the guilt of humanity and our inability to save ourselves, the passage turned to the good news that is at the core of our faith as Christians. Although (and because!) we could not earn righteousness with God on our own, God gives righteousness to those who believe him for it (v. 21). God does this for any sinner who believes (v. 22a), Jew or Gentile (v. 22b-23a). He is able to do this without compromising his justice because the penalty for every sin was paid for in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26).

The reason why neither you nor I can take pride in our own morality or our own spirituality is that we have not earned and could not earn any righteous favor with God (v. 27). This puts Gentiles like us on the same level with the Jewish people; God is our God just as he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, or whomever else you want to name. Think about the implications of this. Do you think God was more willing to answer David’s prayers than yours because David was a man after God’s heart? Think again; David was guilty as a sinner and needed Christ to atone for his sins just like you and I do. Every advantage that God offers to his people is offered to you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.

The problems you and I have spiritually are not due to insufficient grace from God. They are not due to our lack of effort. Have you ever thought something like this, “If I only spent more time in prayer (or Bible memorization, or whatever), then God would love me more and work more powerfully in my life”? If so, please understand–there is nothing you can do to make God like you or love you more. You don’t get more grace from him by doing more good works. It isn’t like a vending machine where you put in more dollars and are able to buy more bags of chips. Everything you could ever need as a Christian, all the spiritual life and spiritual power you desire is available to you right now in Jesus Christ.

Believe it and live like it is true; that’s what you and I need to change.

2 Thessalonians 1

Read 2 Thessalonians 1.

In yesterday’s reading we read about the end of humanity as we know it. We learned there in 1 Thessalonians 5 that most of the human race will be caught utterly unprepared when the “day of the Lord” comes in judgment. Here in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul continued that theme.

The passage began with Paul’s usual greeting to the church (vv. 1-4) and a transitional statement saying that all the ways in which the faith of the Thessalonians was growing (vv. 3-4) was evidence that they would be included in God’s kingdom (v. 5).

At the end of verse 5 Paul noted that it is this kingdom, the kingdom of God, “for which you are suffering.” That phrase both indicates the circumstances the Thessalonians were facing and prepares us for the next few verses which tell us what God will do about it.

According to verse 6, “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Although all of us were once enemies of God and opponents to his kingdom, God in grace saved from the penalty that we deserved for our sins. That salvation made us “worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5b) but also put us on the other side of the rest of humanity which is still at war with God and resisting Christ’s kingdom. That is why believers are persecuted–both back then in Thessalonica and around the world today.

Here, though, God promised that suffering would not be the fate of believers forever. Instead, God will execute justice someday in the future. That justice will give relief to his children who are suffering but deliver judgment to those who reject him and oppose him. And when will this judgment happen? Verse 7 says it will happen “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” In other words, the “day of the Lord” which we read about yesterday in 1 Thessalonians 5 will begin when Christ returns as described here in 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10.

Christians debate about the timing of these events and this is not the place to address that debate. What we should take away from 2 Thessalonians 1 is the promise that God’s judgment is coming when Jesus returns. On that day there will be justice–eternal punishment for those who are not in Christ (v. 9) but salvation for those of us who are in Christ. Our salvation is not based on our goodness but based on the fact that Christ died in our place, taking God’s punishment for sin for us.

But what do we do while we wait for that day of the Lord? Verses 11-12 tell us. Paul prayed for these believers that “God may make you worthy of his calling.” This prayer was for God to form real righteousness in these believers to match the status of righteousness that he declared them to be in Christ. That “real righteousness” was described in verse 11b as God bringing “to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.”

Like all believers, the Thessalonians wanted to grow in grace. They wanted to serve God and become like him. Paul prayed for them that, until Jesus comes, they would be growing in God’s grace to become godly men and women. The result of that growth was described in verse 12: “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What Paul described in this passage is what God is doing and wants to do in the lives of every believer. It is why I teach God’s word, shepherd his people, and write these devotionals. May God continue to change us and grow us until Christ returns to finally save us.

BTW: this is how we should pray for each other, too. Not that we would have health, happiness, and prosperity but that God would keep working in us to make us “worthy of his calling.”

Matthew 1

Welcome to 27in52, a daily Bible reading plan. Today is Day 1 of the plan, even though it is day 6 of 2020.

Read Matthew 1 today.

When I was growing up in the church and in a Christian school, I heard preachers occasionally say that someone was “on the shelf.”

This phrase was used to describe a Christian who had sinned in such a way that God would not use him or her again. Usually the sin the preacher had in mind was either divorce or adultery but I’m sure murder would be included and maybe other sins, too.

The implication of this “on the shelf” language was that some sins were so bad that God would never use that sinner again. God wouldn’t “throw you away” because you’re always saved once you’ve been saved. But God will put you away where you can’t do any good for him and hopefully won’t do any damage.

What garbage!

Here in Matthew 1, we have a record of the genealogy of Jesus. It is a record of many people we know nothing about and a few that we know a lot about from the Old Testament. But, in addition to being a list of names, Matthew 1 is a record of God’s grace. Several people on this list would be put “on the shelf” by self-righteous people and preachers but God used them still.

  • Abraham (1:2)? He believed God but he also impregnated his wife’s servant to help God out. A lot of believers would put him “on the shelf.”
  • Jacob (1:2)? He stole his brother’s birthright and deceived his father to steal his brother’s blessing. Put him on the shelf.
  • David and Bathsheba (v. 6)? Mentioning their names together reminds you that their relationship started in adultery. David also murdered Bathsheba’s husband so he had multiple reasons to be “on the shelf.”

I could go on, but you get the point. Some sins disqualify people from serving as elders or deacons but nobody who is in Christ is ever “on the shelf.” God can and will use you if you trust in him, even if you aren’t qualified for an official biblical office of service.

This chapter is more than a genealogy–it is a record of the grace of God. Every person listed in this chapter, except for Jesus himself, was a sinner and no sinner is truly worthy of serving or being used by God. But God is so gracious and so powerful that he chooses sinners that others would put on the shelf for his purposes and his glory.

Have you concluded that God can’t or won’t use you because of your past sins? Do you have present struggles that feel make you unusable for God?

Put those thoughts out of your mind. If murderers and polygamists and adulterers and other kinds of sinners can be part of the genealogical line of Jesus Christ, then any and every sinner can be forgiven and used by God to glorify him.

2 Chronicles 34, Psalms 148-150

Read 2 Chronicles 34 and Psalms 148-150 today. This devotional is about Psalm 149.

I don’t get too excited when someone does what he or she has agreed to do. When I go to a store that carries an item I need and the item is there for me to buy, I don’t jump for joy all the way to the cash register. Of course they have it; why wouldn’t they? It bothers me when they run out of something I usually buy there, but it doesn’t thrill me when they have what I expect them to have. When someone meets our expectations, we may be thankful but we’re not especially impressed.

All of us have consistently failed to meet God’s expectations. The very best of us morally is far below what God created us to be morally and expects us to be. God in his grace redeemed us from the fall, but that doesn’t make our fallenness irrelevant or acceptable. If God were like us, he would not be impressed when we do what is right; he’d think, “That’s what you’re supposed to do; too bad you’ve failed me so many other times, though.”

Yet, that is not how God is. Psalm 149:4 says, “For the Lord takes delight in his people….” That’s a pretty astounding statement. Despite all the ways in which the people of God, either Israel or us, have failed him, yet God still looks on us with delight.

That delight is, of course, because of the perfect merits of Christ that he applied to us by faith. This is alluded to in verse 4b: “…he crowns the humble with victory.” It is our humility, expressed in repentance and faith, that causes God to delight in us. If you’re in Christ, do you believe that God delights in you? Do you understand that he is not frustrated or angry when you sin; that sin has been paid in full by Christ. And, God isn’t like an emotionally detached father who says, “Impress me;” Instead, he tells looks on us with delight, not because of who we are or what we’ve done but because Christ, his beloved one, did everything that was necessary to give God that delight.

Don’t live today under the burden or weight of guilt; understand that, because of Christ’s perfect life and his sacrifice, God is delighted with you. Your progress in becoming holy may be slow and frustrating to us at times, but nothing can separate you from God’s love and delight. Let this truth fuel you today as you live for him.

2 Chronicles 25 and Proverbs 30

Read 2 Chronicles 25 and Proverbs 30 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 30.

This chapter was authored by “Agur” (v. 1a) We don’t know who he is, nor does anyone recognize “Ithiel” (v. 1b), the man to whom Agur wrote.

Agur’s words in this chapter, though, show us a man who is yearning for God. He told us in verse 3 that he had not “attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.” Consequently, he was “weary” (v.1c) and lacked understanding (v. 2).

In verse 4 he described the one he is looking for. Only God can gather up the wind in his hands and wrap up the waters in a cloak. Only he “has established all the ends of the earth” (v. 4d). All of this, and the parallelism that we find in poetry like these Proverbs, leads us to conclude that the one “who has gone up to heaven and come down” is also a reference to God. It is interesting, isn’t it, that when he asks God’s name he also asks, “what is the name of his son?” The phrase “who has gone up to heaven and come down” and “what is the name of his son” foreshadow the coming of Christ, whose birth we celebrate on Monday.

Verses 5-9 describe Agur’s life after he found God. He treasured the “flawless” nature of God’s word, it’s completeness (v. 6) and how he protects all who trust him (v. 5b). Instead of sin and wealth, Agur longed for God to protect him from sin (v. 8a) and from the false self-sufficiency that would come from wealth.

Although we are material beings and, therefore, need stuff to survive, what we need more than anything is God’s self-revelation and sustaining grace. Agur’s words remind us that we have nothing apart from God and that knowing him brings joy and satisfaction. These are important lessons at any time in our lives but as we give and receive gifts this Christmas, may the Lord cause us to yearn for him and find our satisfaction in his flawless words, including the “Word” incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ.