HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW

Rom. 1:19,20 – For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Mardi Gras pretty much describes the spiritual condition of our world today. It masks itself as a religious holiday, the day before forty days of fasting and penance leading up to Easter. Our culture does its best to stay spiritual, rewriting God in their own image rather than beholding His beauty that is all around us. The Lord has chosen to hide Himself in plain view. What do I mean by that? Paul touched on it in today’s verse. The Lord has revealed Himself (to those who want to see) in creation all around us. His infinite nature can be seen in the immensity and eternal nature of the universe itself, His power is seen in the smallest particle of His creation. Splitting the atom displays a small taste of the power of God seen in nuclear explosions. His beauty is seen in the splendor of sunsets and mountain vistas. His creativity is seen in the diversity of His creatures (sloths, kangaroos, and orangutans). His wisdom is seen in the invention of sound, sight, smell and taste (not to mention ears, noses, eyes, and tastebuds).

He is also hiding Himself in the mystery of redemption. The testimony of hookers, thieves, drug users and dealers as well as bank presidents, businessmen and women, not to forget the professionals from all walks of life experiencing the power of His redeeming love. He is everywhere and so casually ignored by the multitudes.

If Mardi Gras typifies the real condition of our world maybe we should not call it the day that God forgot, but rather a people who have forgotten their God. Here is a quote from my wife quoting John Calvin. I think it pretty much speaks for itself.

“Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a day “that we obscure Christ and wrap him up with our subtleties that he can never be found. For they know precisely what his name is; but we empty him of his power and so exhibit a phantom in his place. Though we profess to believe in Christ, we invent for ourselves a torn, disfigured, emptied of his power, denuded of his office, such as to be a spectacle rather than Christ himself.”

Today begins the Lenten season. I am asking to see Him more clearly in every part of my life; from the trials to the blessings, in His word and in His church. Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord.

PROTESTANT AND PENTECOSTAL #1

PROTESTANT AND PENTECOSTAL #1

 

Rom. 1:16 ¶ For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Our world is in a constant state of change, and regretfully many of these secular changes gradually but steadily affect the church. Regretfully we are losing our moorings, our connection to the heritage of our Christian faith.

Over the past twenty years I have been on a spiritual safari, searching for the reality of God in my life and in His church. This journey inevitably leads me to the past, to the men and women who have gone before us. I find myself drinking from the ancient wells of our fathers. The wells of Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, Matthew Henry and many others keep attracting me and calling me to drink. The more I drink; I am convinced of two things. First, I am a Protestant Christian. The message that birthed Western civilization penned by the Apostle Paul “The just shall live by faith,” and echoed by Martin Luther 15 centuries later is still the foundation of Western Civilization today, the undergirding of His church and the anchor of my soul.

Martin Luther was lost in the snare of human effort and a system of religious works until one day he read those words from Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” Those words brought freedom to his soul and began the revolution that drug Europe from the shadows of the dark ages. The Protestant Reformation had begun.

As a monk, Luther later wrote, he was tormented by the thoughts of damnation for sins, saying that he “hated this God who punched sinners, if not with silent blasphemies at least with huge murmurings. I was indignant against God. As if it were not enough that miserable sinners, eternally ruined by original sin, should be crushed…through the Law of the Ten Commandments…and so I raged with a savaged and confounded conscience.” He therefore turned to the Bible. The Catholic Church had always taught that grace was active, in the sense that it came into force at the Day of Judgment when the righteous would be separated from the damned. As he read Romans 1, Luther became convinced that the grace of which Paul wrote was passive, hence available to everyone. This led to his conclusion that salvation came not through penance and repentance, nor through the intercession of saints and martyrs or the prayers of the church, but by faith alone. It was an entirely new idea. As Luther re-read Romans 1:16-17, he wrote, I felt myself straightaway born afresh and to have entered through the open gates into paradise.” This led to the further belief that the Bible was the sole authority. In 1517, he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg University.

Just like Luther, we are accepted by God not on the basis of our works but by faith in Christ alone. This is the foundation stone of our Christian faith.

Part 1 of 3 days – PROTESTANT AND PENTECOSTAL

FROM FAITH TO FAITH

Rom.1:17 – For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

It could be said that this phrase, from faith to faith, has changed our world at least two times. The first time was the first century when the Apostle Paul was dramatically born again in his famous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Faith was born in the heart of the angry Pharisee. Of course Paul penned the phrase “from faith to faith”. He was saved by faith and his life grew in faith as he followed the Lord. The second time was fifteen hundred years later when the angry Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther was struggling with the concept of the righteousness of God. In a moment of time Luther saw it, he could never be righteous in himself no matter how hard he tried, righteousness was a gift only received by faith. Luther’s life of faith began that day, he began to walk out from “faith to faith”. Here is how Luther explained this phrase himself.

“The words “from faith to faith” therefore signify that the believer grows in faith more and more, so that he who is justified becomes more and more righteous (in his life). This he adds in order that anyone might think that he has already apprehended (Phil.3:13) and so ceases to make progress (in sanctification); for that indeed means that he begins to fall behind. St. Augustine explains the words in his book CONCERNING THE SPIRIT AND THE LETTER like this: “From the faith of those who confess it with his mouth to the faith of those who actually obey it”.

In other words this life starts by faith alone, it grows and matures in us by faith. Christ is formed in us from this seed of faith that was planted. This seed of faith grows into maturity by faith until our lives begin to look more and more like Jesus Himself.

The amazing thing about Luther and the Apostle Paul, the life of faith did not stop with them. Both men were used by the Lord to effect the world. Not only was their immediate world effected, their legacy of “faith to faith” is still touching the world today. So lets get started, its not by works of righteousness which we have done but it is a gift received by grace through faith.

THE EVIL MONK

Rom. 1:16-17 ¶ For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

Luther said that he had an evil monk living inside of him. He actually believed that all of us have an evil monk inside of us. Today, we have progressed, we now have a celebrity preacher living in all of us. Most don’t want to admit it, but all of us have a bent toward religion and being different from everyone else; thus the celebrity preacher is born. All of this changed for Luther the day he was born again and it can also change for each one of us. Not only did that Augustinian monk meet Christ for himself, the protestant reformation was birthed. Luther had been laboring over the phrase “the righteousness of God”. While he was meditating on today’s scripture verse he suddenly saw it. The just shall live by faith. Check out Luther’s own words, he is funny but very powerful.

“Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, with-out having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteous wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”

We actually live or come alive by faith in the work of Christ on the cross. What a liberating message. It is not based on my performance but on the work of Christ. By faith I am viewed as righteous before God and by faith, His life enters into me. We are declared just and made alive by the sudden act of the Spirit in our lives. What a powerful gospel!!!

DISTURBED BY GOD

Rom.1:17 – For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.

Sometimes we have to get really disturbed by the Lord before we can find a lasting peace. I was quite disturbed for over a year before I actually found peace with God. Like everyone else, I thought I had to do something or a bunch of somethings to ever attain to a righteousness that would make me acceptable to our great God. I tried Krishna Consciousness, transcendental meditation, and dabbled with Bahai Faith; after each attempt I felt more and more like a filthy sinner. I still couldn’t shake the carnal pleasures of sin even with my pursuit of righteousness in these religious endeavors. It wasn’t until I saw the purpose of the cross in a moment of time. I saw Jesus as my sin offering, the righteous substitute for me. The moment I believed in His substitutionary work on the cross, peace like a river flooded my soul. Martin Luther also spoke of being disturbed by the pursuit of righteousness. Here’s how he said it.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience..…I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, with-out having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteous wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith…..”

That was it for Luther, he entered the gates of Paradise when he believed these words, “the righteous man shall live by faith”. It wasn’t his religious duties performed as a monk that broke him through, it was faith in the work of Christ.

GOD REVEALED – EVERY MOMENT EVERY DAY

Rom.1:20 – For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

The Lord reveals Himself moment by moment, day by day, in all of our lives. From the infinite nature of the universe, to the intricate detail of a small flower; God’s glory is clearly seen all around us. Fallen man tends to ignore His magnificent display and create some other explanation for creation from their own minds. Paul said that people who ignore God’s shocking display all around us are finally given over to a reprobate mind. God’s glory is on display for all, some ignore it and others create idols in their minds to explain it. Paul says they are without excuse. R.C. Sproles describes this characteristic of fallen man in his comments on today’s passage.

“God has plainly and clearly shown himself to everyone. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen. The Latin word used for “clearly seen” is the root for our English word conspicuous; God has made his self-revelation conspicuous to everyone since the creation of the world. God does not pop a clue into history about his existence every three thousand years or so. Every moment since the dawn of creation God has been manifesting himself through the things that are made. God did not give us a world and just say, “Sit down and begin to think about where that world came from and reason from the cosmos back to God.” We are to do that, but it is more than that. Every second, God is manifesting himself through the things that are made so that his testimony to his nature is plainly evident.”

Creation is a signpost pointing the way to God’s glorious plan for fallen man. Once you are honest about His handiwork all around you, you will be drawn to read the scriptures. It’s in the written word that we see the greatest revelation of God and also see of our fallen condition. How is it with your soul today? Have you made peace with the Creator? This Creator is the same One Who became a man and suffered and died on a cross for your sins. Look to Him today. Call upon His Name. All that call upon His Name will be saved.

YOUR STORY EFFECTS YOUR WORLD

Rom.1:8 – First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.

We often don’t realize how much our faith, our testimony, matters. The people in your “world’ notice, they are always watching you. Paul said that their “world” was watching the Roman Christians. The supernatural difference Christ made in their lives effected everyone who heard their story. It’s no different for you. The change in the lives of those truly converted is undeniable. There has been a shift, a total life change that can’t be ignored. That’s why Paul went on to say in this same chapter “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom.1:16)”. The gospel is the power of God. Embracing the gospel of Christ makes us totally different people. Here is how R.C. Sprole describes today’s verse.

“The word Paul uses for “thanks” is eucharisto, from which the church gets the term Eucharist. The word was used to describe the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. A profound spirit of thanksgiving lay at the heart of the Supper in the primitive Christian church, thanksgiving for what God had wrought in the work of Jesus Christ. Paul conjoins the words universe and cosmos to say that the Roman Christians’ reputation for faith has been broadcast throughout the cosmos, or universe. In a sense Paul is using hyperbole, but it is important to pause and pay attention to his use of the term world, one of many times in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, where it occurs. When we think of the world, we typically have in mind the entire planet. We think of the continents and all the people who live in far-off places. However, when first-century people spoke of the world, they were speaking of the known world, which, in their case, was the Mediterranean world. Therefore, Paul is expressing joy that people throughout the Mediterranean world are talking about the faith of the Roman Christians; their faith had made an impact.”

So maybe you were once an alcoholic, all that has changed. Perhaps you were addicted to pornography or promiscuity, now you are a holy man or woman of God. Whatever your past contained in Christ, it is gone forever. Today your story is being proclaimed throughout your world.

RIGHTEOUSNESS

Rom. 1:16,17 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.

This verse contains the mystery of the gospel. The revelation it contains shook the Roman Empire to its foundation and birthed the Protestant Reformation. In it we see that righteousness is not something we do but it is something we receive as a gift by faith. The message in this verse converted Luther and John Wesley, it is the very power of God to transform sinners into men and women of God. So what is this righteousness of God? It is not easy to describe but is clearly seen in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the only man that ever lived a righteous life. It is this righteousness, the righteous life of the man Jesus, that is credited to me when I believe that His death was payment for my unrighteousness. He died as my substitute and all who believe in Him receive righteousness as a gift by faith. Here is how R. C. Sprole describes it.

“As he was preparing his lectures on Romans and studying this epistle’s first chapter, he (Luther) found a notation from an ancient manuscript of Augustine defining the righteousness of Christ. Augustine said that when Paul speaks of the righteousness of God in Romans 1, it is not the righteousness by which God himself is righteous, but the righteousness that he freely gives to those who put their trust in Christ. For the first time in his life, Martin Luther, whose conscience had been wounded by the burden of the law of God that daily exposed his relentless guilt, understood the gospel of Christ. The doors of paradise swung open and he walked through, and it was from Paul’s teaching on the doctrine of justification by faith alone that Luther stood against the whole world in the sixteenth-century Reformation.”

So maybe you are stuck in the quagmire of trying to do better and be better to please God. Forget it, that is a hopeless treadmill that leaves you exhausted and frustrated. Righteousness is not something that we can perform or work our way up to, we are declared righteous the moment we believe in Christ, it is a gift we receive by faith. From that moment we are not only seen pure by the Lord, He actually begins to live a new life in us.

HE IS RISEN INDEED

Rom.1:4 – who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Jesus made some amazing claims during His ministry on earth. He said “I am the Bread of Life, I am the Resurrection and the Life, before Abraham was I am”. He also said things like “I have power to lay down my life and take it up again” and “if you drink the water that I have to give you will never thirst”. As C.S. Lewis said, “Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Son of God”. According to the Apostle Paul in today’s verse, the resurrection backed up all of these claims. The resurrection was the Father’s great declaration that Jesus Christ was His only begotten Son, there is no other conclusion that can be drawn. Maclaren speaks about God’s declaration in his comments on today’s verse.

“Still further, the Resurrection is God’s solemn ‘Amen’ to the tremendous claims which Christ had made….If the Cross and a nameless grave had been the end, what a reductio ad absurdum that would have been to the claims of Jesus to have ever been with the Father and to be doing always the things that pleased Him. The Resurrection is God’s last and loudest proclamation, ‘This is My beloved Son: hear ye Him.’….The old alternative seems to retain all its sharp points: Either Christ rose again from the dead, or His claims are a series of blasphemous arrogances and His character irremediably stained.”

In the first century, the power of the gospel being preached by the apostles was in the fact that they were eye witnesses, they had seen Christ physically after He had been raised from the dead. As a matter of fact, there were at least five hundred people who had seen Christ after He was risen. That was the power of the Apostle Paul’s words, Christ Himself, not a vision of Christ, appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road. Paul was instantly converted from being a strict Pharisee and a persecutor of the church. There is no other explanation for how the world was turned upside down by those first preachers. In the same way today, our testimony of Christ, when it comes from a personal experience with the Risen One, carries the power of the resurrection. The only conclusion; Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.

DIVINE WORK CALLED FAITH

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Rom. 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

Faith is the supernatural work of God that transforms our lives. It is not generated by will power or out of human nature, it is altogether supernatural. Salvation comes to us by grace through faith, it is a gift from God that enables us to see the truth of the gospel and to be thoroughly changed. This message of faith is what birthed the church in the first century. It is also the message that turned the world on its ear in the 1500’s. Martin Luther’s introductory comments in his commentary on the book of Romans is the famous passage that was used in the conversion of John Wesley. Here is an excerpt from that introduction.

“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. . . . Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performed in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.”

Wesley famously said his heart was strangely warmed as he heard Luther’s words being read in that Moravian Bible Study. Hundreds of thousands were converted and possibly thousands entered the ministry through Wesley’s ministry in the years that followed. As Luther said, “God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all creatures”. Does Luther’s observation describe your life? Has faith in God made you glad and bold and happy? It was the happiness of the Moravians that attracted Wesley and convinced him he had not been born again. Happiness in the soul is the mark of authenticity that flows from the gospel; it can hardly be faked. If your heart is cold and sad look to Jesus. That’s where faith and love reside. Look to Jesus and your heart will be strangely warmed as God’s faith awakens your soul.