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 Corinthians 13

Read 2 Corinthians 13.

Paul wrapped up this letter by warning the Corinthians again about his coming visit. He was hopeful, as we saw in earlier chapters, that his visit would be warm and affirming. Yet, he was concerned about how he would be received and whether or not he would have to deal with those who were in sin through church discipline (v. 2b).

Rather than waiting for Paul to arrive and sort the situation out, it would be better if the church examined and corrected itself. So, Paul urged them in verses 5-6 to examine themselves “to see whether you are in the faith.”

If someone is a genuine believer in Christ, certain things will be true. One of those things is dealing properly with sin in his or her life. Genuine Christians sin and may resist dealing with sin for a time, but no genuine Christian will be complacent when there is serious, ongoing sin in their lives over an extended period of time. Anyone who calls himself a Christian but lives in sin for an ongoing length of time is either headed toward God’s discipline in his or her life or not one of God’s children at all. Since the Corinthians were once again tolerating unrepentant sin in their church (v. 2), Paul called them to examine themselves.

There are some Christians who struggle with doubts about their salvation, some for many years. These believers live in a state of continual self-evaluation. Since none of us is perfect, there is always evidence of our sinfulness in our lives. Many Christians overlook all the positive growth and godly character qualities they have developed and focus only on their in struggles. This passage really isn’t for them.

Instead, this passage is for those who are highly confident of their salvation, but display little to know fruit in their lives–no souls saved, no growth in holiness, nothing really but an empty profession of faith. That person is in a dangerous place because their lives show more evidence of unbelief than of genuine faith.

Could that be you? Does your life give evidence that you are a Christian or do you comfort yourself that you are a Christian based only only your profession of faith?

2 Corinthians 6

Read 2 Corinthians 6.

This chapter continues the thread of the past several chapters. Paul commended the ministry of himself and his co-workers to the fickle, loveless (v. 12) Corinthians. Verses 1-2 here in 2 Corinthians 6 wrapped up the discussion from chapter 5 about the importance of the gospel message which Paul and his men preached. Verses 3-10 laid out the reasons why Paul and his associates should be loved and championed by the believers in Corinth. Then, in verses 11-13, Paul directly urged the church in Corinth to give that love and acceptance to him and his coworkers in the gospel.

In verses 14-18 Paul changed the subject to the relationship the church in Corinth should have with unbelievers. This seems like a sudden change in subject, like a driver who unexpectedly made a right hand turn from the left hand turn lane. This is not Paul’s usual style for moving from one topic to another, so it is possible–likely even–that this section is connected to the previous section. Verses 11-12 pleaded for the Corinthians to “open wide your hearts also” to Paul and his associates. Those verses, plus this section, may indicate that Paul feared the church was turning away from his leadership and toward some other kind of spiritual leadership, a leadership that came from “unbelievers.”

Note how verse 16 says, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” Given the strong presence of idolatry in Corinth, it might be that the Corinthians had moved from merely eating food offered to idols (as we saw in 1 Corinthians) and had begun mixing Christ with some of the other religious practices in Corinth.

If that is true and the Corinthians were flirting with idolatry in some way, then how would this passage apply to us today?

First of all, the most common application of this passage–don’t marry an unbeliever–would still apply. Verse 14 laid down a command that would apply across many dimensions of a believer’s life.

But, secondly, consider the phrase, “we are the temple of the living God” (v. 16b). The wording of that verse seems to suggest the entire church as God’s temple, not our individual bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe the church in Corinth had begun accepting unbelievers into membership, treating them as if they were Christians even though they were freely mixing Christianity with idolatry.

Maybe they had begun using the idol temples as places for Christian worship and the unsaved population around them was confused.

Maybe they even began consulting with false teachers from the idol temples, borrowing some of their ideas to mix with the scripture.

These days there are churches that perform secular songs in their worship services. There are churches that recommend books and authors who are “spiritual” but not Christians. These would, in my opinion, be violations of this passage. 1 Corinthians 6, then, teaches us to be careful about how we treat those who don’t explicitly claim to follow Jesus.

We may read books by secular authors but we should never treat any book but God’s word as the authority on any subject. To do that would be placing that book on a level similar to scripture.

We certainly should allow unbelievers to attend our church After all, this is a place where they can hear the gospel and see it lived in our lives. But we should not act as if everyone who attends weekly is automatically a believer.

What is your relationship to unbelievers? The Bible certainly calls us to be in contact with them so as to give the gospel message and live out our faith among them. But be careful about giving them acceptance or an audience that is equal to or greater than the acceptance and authority of Christ himself.

2 Corinthians 3

Read 2 Corinthians 3.

Why is it that when people hear the gospel or read the Bible, some believe but others are unmoved, unchanged? How can someone study the Bible for years without coming to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that he died on behalf of sinners? How can a devout Jewish person read Isaiah 53 without falling to his knees to confess Christ, calling on God to save him?

The answer to these questions is here in 2 Corinthians 3: 14-16: “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

Anyone who knows how to read can read and interpret the Bible properly, but not everyone can believe what the Bible says.

Here in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that this is because we are blind, by nature, to God’s truth in Christ. The reason why people don’t see him in the Bible and come to trust in him is that “a veil covers their hearts” (v. 15). Only the work of the Spirit of God (v. 17) can welcome Jesus and believe the Bible when they encounter his truth.

Then, once we’ve come to know Christ by faith, we can study the Bible’s depiction of Christ clearly without the veil of unbelief over our eyes (vv. 17-18).

This is how we should pray for unbelievers that we’re witnessing to–that God’s spirit would open their spiritual eyes to see the light of Christ in the gospel. It is also why salvation does not depend on how good your presentation skills are or how perfect your arguments for Christianity may be.

Salvation is a spiritual act; it requires the work of God’s Holy Spirit. So ask for the Spirit’s help when you witness, the Spirit’s illumination, conviction of sin, and regeneration in the hearts of those to whom you witness.

1 Thessalonians 3

Read 1 Thessalonians 3.

When someone asks me to pray for someone I don’t know, I usually ask if the person I’m praying for is a Christian.

It is disturbing to me how often the answer I get back is, “I don’t know.” But I’ll leave that for another day.

Often, the answer I get back is something like this: “Oh, I’m not sure. I mean, he says he is, but… I’m not sure.” In that answer, the person asking me to pray is telling me that they don’t see much, if any, fruit of Christianity in the life of the person they’ve asked me to pray for.

A similar situation happens when someone dies and I don’t know the person but I’m asked to do the funeral–which I’m happy to do, by the way. I always ask if the person who died knew the Lord.

Sometimes the answer is, “Yes. He told me he got saved when he was little.” But when I talk with family and friends, there is often no more mention of faith in Christ. The people who knew that person best never remarked on his love for Christ, or his service in the church, or anything that comes naturally to a follower of Christ.

A person becomes a Christian by faith alone. But, that faith is the first evidence of a new birth and, like a newborn baby, new Christians show signs of life. New Christians grow. New Christians eventually show signs of Christian maturity. If there are no signs of spiritual life in a person, that person is unsaved.

If that person showed signs of life for a while, but then they went away never to return, that person is not a Christian.

That’s what Paul was worried about here in 1 Thessalonians 3. Earlier in the book, Paul wrote about how powerfully the gospel had saved and changed the Thessalonians (1:4-5, 8-10, 2:13-14). But, after the initial signs of spiritual life, Paul worried about how they were doing spiritually in his absence. So he sent Timothy (3:2) “to find out about your faith” (v. 5). And what was Paul’s concern? Verse 5 continues by saying, “I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.” The word “vain” means empty. In other words, Paul was afraid that their faith might not have been genuine. He worried that the church might have fallen apart because everyone walked away from Christ.

With the arrival of Timothy came “…good news about your faith and love” (v. 6). So, Paul wrote, “…now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (v. 8).

We say, “Once saved, always saved” and that’s true. You can’t lose your salvation, praise God.

But the Bible says that there are many people who seem to receive Christ but they don’t continue to follow him. They lack “perseverance” which is the theological word we use to describe how every Christian continues in the faith. The Bible talks about this kind of “believer” and tells us that such a person is not a Christian.

You don’t follow Christ to get saved; you follow Christ because you’ve been saved. If you’re not following Christ, then either you were not saved or God’s discipline will come into your life.

We should look differently at and think differently about those people around us who say they are saved but live disobediently to Christ. We should warn them and urge them to consider whether they really know Christ or not. We should pray for them to genuinely come to Christ.

We should also not get complacent about our own faith in Christ. There should be evidence of your walk with Christ somewhere. How much is there? How good is the quality of that evidence?

Acts 17

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

Yesterday we read about Paul’s venture into Greece. While he was there, Paul found people who were ready to receive the gospel and others who were ready to persecute him and his team. As he always did, Paul started presenting the gospel to the Jewish people in every city, then expanded his witness out to the Gentiles (v. 2, 4, 10, 12, 17). Paul went to Athens (vv. 15-34) but not because he was planning to preach the gospel there. Instead, he was waiting there for his teammates Silas and Timothy who were supposed to get there ASAP (v. 15).

While in Athens, Paul did speak to the Jewish people who lived there (v. 17) but he also found a secular audience for his message in the marketplace (v. 17b) and on the hill called Areopagus (v. 19). This passage gives us a glimpse into how Paul presented Christ to Gentile non-believers. Notice that he did not seek common ground with these men; rather, he used their altar “to an unknown God” (v. 23) as a starting point for his message, but quickly moved to direct confrontation by saying they were “ignorant of the very thing you worship” (v. 23b). He told them that the true God, the Creator God, did not reside in manmade structures (v. 24) or need food from human hands (v. 25a). Furthermore, he chided them for thinking that manmade statues had any significance for knowing and worshipping God (v. 29), then he moved to preaching repentance, judgment, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead (vv. 30-31).

Of all the controversial things Paul said, the resurrection of the dead was the one that seemed to create the strongest negative reaction among his listeners (v. 32). This is not at all the only place where people objected to his teaching that Christ rose from the dead. Yet Paul never shied away from teaching that God was invisible, not an idol, or that Christ rose from the dead bodily.

Instead, he went straight to the truths of the Christian faith that would be most controversial. This approach is quite a bit different than the way that many of us talk about God. When we talk about God, we may be tempted to avoid the supernatural and just stick to talking about Jesus and what he can do for you. But the reason that Paul didn’t retreat from the controversial aspects of the gospel is that he knew that believing the gospel required God’s supernatural gift of faith, not a group of secular arguments.

The point for us to emulate here is not to minimize the difficult points of the gospel like the resurrection but to feature them in our presentation of the gospel. When we do that, we are relying on God’s power to save people, not our ability to argue people into assenting that Jesus is the Christ.

Galatians 3

Read Galatians 3.

When God called Abraham in Genesis 3 and made what we call the “Abrahamic Covenant” with him, God promised Abraham, “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

How exactly God intended to fulfill this worldwide covenant promise is not spelled out in Genesis 12. In fact, the Old Testament doesn’t explain it in great detail, though it does give some light on the subject.

Paul quoted Genesis 12:3 here in Galatians 3:8. According to Paul, Genesis 12:3 “announced the gospel in advance” as we read to Galatians 3:8.

But how did God include us Gentiles? Did he do so by making us obedient to the law of Moses? No! Again, according to Galatians 3:8, the promise God made to Abraham was “that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” because Abraham was a man of faith (vv. 6, 9) not a man of the law.

The question Galatians 3 answers is, how can Gentiles be legitimate descendants of Abraham and, thus, partake in God’s promises to Abraham?

Jewish people, of course, physically descended from Abraham, so they are legitimate heirs to the covenant promises of Genesis 12. But how do we Gentiles become heirs?

The answer is through Messiah–Jesus. He descended from Abraham physically. Paul makes a big point about this in verses 16. Genesis 12 promised these blessings to Abraham’s seed (singular) not “seeds.” Paul says that means one person was intended–Jesus. He wrote (again in verse 16), “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” It is our connection to Christ–by faith–that makes us eligible for the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (vv. 26-29), not our obedience to the law (vv. 10-14).

This has implications for what the law means to us as Christians. We no longer need to obey the law–or should obey the law–because Christ unlocked us from the law’s obligations and penalties (vv. 23-25). God’s law reveals to us so much about the character of God and our accountability to him, but it cannot save us or make us holy (vv. 21-22).

Stay away, then, from anyone or any group that says you need Christ PLUS obedience to the law of God or obedience to any other kind of religious ceremony or activity to be saved or sanctified. In Christ we have everything we need–salvation (vv. 8, 11-12) and the Holy Spirit of God (vv. 2-5).

Acts 9

And now, read Acts 9.

We met Saul yesterday and saw how he persecuted the church and, in God’s providence, was used to get the gospel out of Jerusalem and into the rest of Judea and also into Samaria, just as the Lord had commanded in Acts 1:8. Now, in the most unlikely way (humanly, that is), God saved Saul (vv. 1-8) and called him “my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (v. 15b). The man whose persecution stimulated the spread of the gospel to Judea and Samaria would now directly lead the effort to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The focus of Acts in the chapters ahead will begin to move off Peter and the other Apostles and on to Saul (Paul) the Apostle to the Gentiles.

As we read about Saul’s conversion here in Acts 9, we saw the clash of human values and God’s values in how Saul was treated. People value safety and were understandably wary of someone who killed other Christians but suddenly now claimed to be a Christian himself. We see the skepticism and fear in Ananias (vv. 13-14) and in the Jerusalem church where “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple” (v. 26b). How was this skepticism resolved?

First, Ananias believed God by faith when God told him to go to Saul and pray for him (vv. 11-17a). He even called him “Brother Saul,” acknowledging his claim to faith in Christ. Second, Barnabas became Paul’s ambassador when he “took him and brought him to the apostles” (v. 27). Both of these men had to trust that God’s power had actually changed Saul. Because they did trust the life-changing power of the gospel, they were willing to “credit” Saul–trust him as a brother–before there was a long trail of evidence of Saul’s faith.

If we’re going to live for Jesus, there will be times when we have to take similar risks of faith on people. For example, trusting Christ in your life might mean trusting someone else who has wounded based only on their claim to repentance. We become vulnerable to manipulation, embarrassment, or possible betrayal in those situations but this is what God calls us to do. If we trust him, we should trust that he is changing other people. That means giving them our acceptance and trust in advance–like a credit card transaction. Are you facing any uncertainty in your life because you are not certain you should someone who claims to be changed by Christ? God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace call all of his followers to trust others based on their profession of faith and even to forgive others when they fail to be perfect but demonstrate true repentance. Ananias was afraid of Saul, but he trusted the Lord so he called Saul his “brother.” God will help you and me learn to trust others, too–before they deserve it, if our hope and faith is in the Lord.