FALLING SHORT

Rom. 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

What is your definition of sin? For some people everything goes unless you hurt someone else. For others, it’s some kind of religious list. I’ll never forget what I found in the pulpit in our first church. It was some kind of list of rules that was concocted by the church who had used the building before us. There were things in there about swimming with members of the opposite sex and certain clothing that shouldn’t be worn. Then there was the Hindu book called Nectar of Devotion that was some sort of list of Hindu rules. The ones that got me were the ones about women not going to the temple when they were “at that time of the month” or the other one that forbade passing gas in the temple. Religion can get really complicated. Here is my definition of sin; sin is what you do when God Himself is not enough for you. Here is how John Piper describes it.

“It also follows that sin is the suicidal exchange of the glory of God for the broken cisterns of created things. Paul said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23). Sinning is a “falling short” of the glory of God. But the Greek word for “falling short” (husterountai) means “lack.” The idea is not that you shot an arrow at God’s glory and the arrow fell short, but that you could have had it as a treasure, but you don’t. You have chosen something else instead. This is confirmed in Romans 1:23 where people “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image.” That is the deepest problem with sin: it is a suicidal exchange of infinite value and beauty for some fleeting, inferior substitute. This is the great insult.”

So what have you replaced God with? Is it like the woman at the well that tried to find her satisfaction in another man’s arms? Or is it like the Pharisees that found their joy from the respect of other men? Maybe politics is your thing, like Simon the Zealot who wanted power in the political realm. Then there is the rich young ruler, his joy was caught up in his possessions. The bottom line is this, only when you taste the sweetest of all joys will you be able to be freed from the foolish pleasures and attractions of this world. Then you will not “fall short”, you will be right in the middle of His glory.

SEEKERS

Rom. 3:10,11 – as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;

THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;

Its interesting if you think about the reasons many people are spiritual or have a belief in God. For some its a desire to live right, for others it may be some sort of insurance policy to avoid hell. Then there are those who are all about the benefits the Bible promises; folks will pray and attend church for financial favor, marital bliss, or for the sake of the children. Of course there are those who are in health crisis or financial drama who look to heaven as their way out. The funny thing about this endless list, they are all things that the Lord will do for us but none are a reason for us to become spiritual. Notice what Paul says in this verse, “There is none that seeks God”. Did you see what the Lord is looking for? He is longing to have people who seek Him just for the pleasure of knowing Him. All of those other things are the things He does for those who love Him. Here is how R.C. Sproul describes this passage.

“We see people searching for the things that we know can be found only in Christ, but we make the gratuitous assumption that because they are seeking the benefits of God, they must therefore be seeking God. That is the very dilemma of fallen creatures: we want the things that only God can give us, but we do not want him. We want peace but not the Prince of Peace. We want purpose but not the sovereign purposes decreed by God. We want meaning found in ourselves but not in his rule over us. We see desperate people, and we assume they are seeking for God, but they are not seeking for God….. No one seeks after God. How desperately was Paul searching for God while on his way to Damascus to destroy the followers of Jesus? He was no more searching for God than I was when God stopped me in my path one night and brought me sovereignly to himself. I knew then that I did not come to Christ because I was seeking him. I came to Christ because he sought me.”

That is the whole message of Paul in the book of Romans. We are saved by grace through faith. It happened suddenly in Paul’s life, he went from a dogmatic Pharisee to a lover by one touch of God’s amazing grace.

ATTENDING YOUR OWN FUNERAL

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (Romans 6:4 NLT)

When I was a child, I loved to read about the adventures of Tom Sawyer. One of the stories that stood out to me was the time a funeral was held for Tom, he had been missing and assumed dead. The funny thing about the story was that Tom was not really dead, and he attended his own funeral. That day ended with a combination of being loved and being punished, no one knew quite how to respond when they found out Tom was not dead after all. I was recently thinking about my own funeral, the one that I attended myself, back in the summer of 1973. I had recently given my life to Christ. It had taken place after being witnessed to by some “Jesus freaks” out on the lakefront of Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans. Shortly after that “Jesus freak” encounter, I found myself back at the lakefront, this time I was coming to be buried.
You see, baptism is a burial service, not much different from other funerals you may have attended. People gather together and sing some songs to the Lord, the preacher reads some scripture, prayers and comments about the deceased are made, and then you proceed to the graveside. The only real difference is that the dead person at a baptism is still breathing. I’ll never forget the evening I was baptized. My new Christian friends gathered to pay their last respects and the gathering crowd of mocking party animals assembled hoping to have a good time at my expense. I wasn’t aware of very much, I was caught up in the moment. You see, I was leaving behind my old life, I really had died. My life of foolish, sensual pleasure was over, a new life was about to start. You see, there was another guest, an invisible guest, at my funeral that night. Jesus was there, watching the proceedings. He was rejoicing with the angels at my new life, He was speaking to me about things to come. As I was dunked into the dark waters of Lake Ponchartrain that night, I knew my life would never be the same. I had some sense of the past events of my life passing through my mind, like a video on super fast forward. Everything I used to be was gone, all things had become new. The Christians on the bank rejoiced, the party animals shouted profanities, and Jesus and the angels shouted for joy. As I climbed the steps at the edge of the Lake, I was beginning my new life. I had left one party and joined another, but this new one will never end.
I kind of know how Tom felt that day. People act different when you are walking around after your funeral. Your earthly friends want to keep their distance, but your spiritual friends begin to embrace you. They know what you are going through, after all, they attended their funerals too.

REJOICE WITH TREMBLING #2

Rom.3:18 – “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

“This fear is a gracious habit or principle planted by God in the soul, whereby the soul is kept under an holy awe of the eye of God, and from thence is inclined to perform and do what pleaseth him, and to shun and avoid whatsoever he forbids and hates.”

John Flavel – puritan Pastor who lived from 1628-1691 who died in jail, imprisoned for his faith.

Yesterday we began to look at this powerful statement from a pastor from the 1600’s. We will continue today.

Flavel also said that the fear of God causes an inclination in us to do the things that are pleasing to God.  In Hebrews 11:7 the Bible says that Noah was moved with fear to prepare an ark.  Noah was inclined to obey the Lord because of a Godly fear that came upon Him.  This fear produces not only obedience but like David said a delight.  “I delight to do your will oh God.”  Psalm 40:8

Finally, Flavel said that this fear causes us to avoid behavior that is displeasing to the Lord.  Job was described as one who feared God and turned away from evil.  When we come to Christ, and experience the reality of God in our souls, we have this tendency to flee from evil.  Our heart is changed, we are not attracted to the disgusting practices of the world, and we are strangely attracted to Christ.

David spoke of this strange joy in Psalm 2:11.  He said serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.  When the incredible, holy majesty of God comes upon us we are stricken with two things.  We are overwhelmed by His attributes.  We are struck by His holiness, kindness, grace, power, love, justice, sovereignty, and power.  We tremble before this awesome God.  Secondly, we are strangely affected by the joy of heaven.  This supernatural joy fills our souls and overwhelms us.  We begin to rejoice, every part of our being begins to rejoice.  The joy of the Lord becomes ours, our joy is made full.  If you long for happiness, it is available to you.  It is available not in the pleasures of this world, but at the Father’s right hand, pleasures forevermore.

Maybe you have never really experienced this kind of intimacy with God. Try it, after all Solomon said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Maybe its time to get started.

REJOICE WITH TREMBLING #1

Rom.3:18 – “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

“This fear is a gracious habit or principle planted by God in the soul, whereby the soul is kept under an holy awe of the eye of God, and from thence is inclined to perform and do what pleaseth him, and to shun and avoid whatsoever he forbids and hates.”

John Flavel – puritan Pastor who lived from 1628-1691 who died in jail, imprisoned for his faith.

In Romans 3:18 Paul quotes Psalm 36:1 saying “There is no fear of God before his eyes.”  We live in a generation that takes the things of God for granted and has no fear of God anywhere to be found.  Obviously, the lost people have no knowledge of God and cannot respect the Lord.  However, the church is in a different situation all together.  The fear of God is also absent from our congregations today.  I think often about the sorry spiritual condition the supposed Body of Christ is in and I have come to some conclusions.  Apparently, we have been lulled to sleep with a message about the blessings of God in this life and self help messages causing us to lose our moorings.  Christianity is about more than careers, houses, ministries and everything else than has been the focus of “church” for too long.  The normal message today is about success, vision, purpose, church growth, marriage and other topics that pertain to this life.  Where is the preaching about Christ and His Kingdom? I thought Jesus taught His kingdom is not of this world. It is touching His kingdom by faith and drawing close to the King that produces the fear of the Lord in us.

As we reflect on the words of John Flavel, we are reminded of the difference of the church in 1600 to the church of 2000.  Flavel said that the fear of God is planted supernaturally in our soul.  Natural man is afraid of a lot of things, but the fear of God is nowhere to be found.  As we call upon the Lord, and hunger after Him our heart is filled with the fear and majesty of Almighty God. This fear is strangely associated with joy. That’s why David said to “Rejoice with trembling” in the second Psalm. Seek first His kingdom and the rest of our lives will be sorted out.

Continued tomorrow…

EVERY DAY

Matt.28:20 – Mounce – teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you all the days, to the end of the age.

I love the Bible. It is amazingly new each time you read it. In today’s verse in the Mounce NT we see an amazing promise. He is not only with us always, He specifically said “all of the days”. There is not a day of your life that He is not with you. If you are His, He was with you from your mother’s womb until you take your last breath of air. He was with you when you almost had a life ending car wreck, He was with you you were out in sin doing stupid death defying antics, He was with you the day you got saved, and He is with you still. He is there when all hope seems lost with your finances, He is with you when the blessings abound, He is with you in sickness and in health. There is nothing you can dream of that you will face by yourself. Here is how A. B. Simpson describes this promise.

“He comes to us each day with a new blessing. Every morning, day by day, He walks with us with a love that never tires and a blessing that never grows old. And He is with us “all the days;” it is a ceaseless abiding. There is no day so dark, so commonplace, so uninteresting that we do not find Him there. Often, no doubt, He is unrecognized, as He was on the way to Emmaus, until we realize how our hearts have been warmed, our love stirred, our Bible so strangely vivified, with every promise seeming to speak to us with heavenly reality and power. It is the Lord!

God grant that His living presence may be made more real to us henceforth. Whether we have the consciousness and evidence-as they had a few glorious times in those 40 days-or whether we go forth into the coming days as they did most of their days to walk by simple faith and in simple duty, let us know this fact always, that He is with us….”

You may say I know He is there, it just doesn’t seem like it. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in, turn to Him in worship and before you know it this promise will burn in your heart, “I am with you all of the days”!

GIVING GLORY TO GOD  

Rom. 4:20,21 – He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

Have you ever seen the athlete after a victory or an actor after receiving an award smugly saying they are giving glory to God? What does giving glory to God really mean? We can learn this from the life of Abraham, he grew strong in faith giving glory to God. Our faith is connected to God’s promises. Taking Him at His word is how Abraham honored the Lord. All his circumstances; old age and barren wife said that God’s promise to have a son would never come true. Abraham decided to hold on to God’s promise no matter what things looked like. How was he able to do that? Abraham had encountered God. He knew God was real. He had left his homeland and his family because of that God encounter many years before. He had a conviction deep in his soul planted there by God that God’s word would come to pass, no matter what. Here is how Matthew Henry describes Abraham’s faith.

“He was strong in faith, giving glory to God, he was strengthened in faith, his faith got ground by exercise. Though weak faith shall not be rejected, the bruised reed not broken, the smoking flax not quenched, yet strong faith shall be commended and honored. The strength of his faith appeared in the victory it won over his fears. And hereby he gave glory to God; for, as unbelief dishonors God by making him a liar, so faith honors God by setting to its seal that he is true. Abraham’s faith gave God the glory of his wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and especially of his faithfulness, resting upon the word that he had spoken. Among men we say, “He that trusts another, gives him credit, and honors him by taking his word;” thus Abraham gave glory to God by trusting him. We never hear our Lord Jesus commending any thing so much as great faith: therefore God gives honor to faith, great faith, because faith, great faith, gives honor to God. He was fully persuaded that what God had promised he was able to perform…”

Like the scriptures says, as time went on Abraham grew stronger. How was he doing that? He lived a life of giving glory to God. If you are facing obstacles to God’s promises in your life it’s time to get stronger. Glorify God by staying with His word. His promises are sure and will suddenly come to pass.

WRITTEN IN YOUR HEART

Rom.2:14,15 – Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.

According to this verse Paul believed and taught that all mankind, Jews and gentiles alike, had something of God’s law in our hearts. Even after the fall there remains in all of us something of God’s moral code written within us. Because of our fallen nature we don’t have the capacity to follow our conscience, nevertheless it remains a constant reminder that we were created in the image of God. This is why humans from all ages have tried to create a religious system based on their version of the moral code written inside of all of us. From Buddhism to Islam, humans have created intricate systems of some sort of law based on this inner moral code. Sadly, no religion has the power to enable us to overcome our fallen nature. Only the gospel that provides a new heart within all that believe has the capacity to live this life that we all long to attain to. Here is how Albert Barnes describes this law written in our heart.

“The revealed Law of God was written on tables of stone, and then recorded in the books of the Old Testament. This law the Gentiles did not possess, but, to a certain extent, the same requirements were written on their hearts. Though not revealed to them as to the Jews, yet they had obtained the knowledge of them by the tight of nature. The word ” hearts” here denotes the mind itself, as it does also frequently in the Sacred Scriptures; not the heart, as the seat of the affections. It does not mean that they loved or even approved of the Law, but that they had knowledge of it; and that that knowledge was deeply engraved on their minds.”

The changed heart shows the superiority of Christianity over Judaism as well as all other religions or religious codes. Our nature is dramatically changed by the new birth, in Christ we can finally begin to live the way we know we should. Paul shows that all of us are sinners in need of a Savior. Only Christ has they ability not only to forgive us but dramatically change who we are.

RAISED BECAUSE ?

Rom.4:25 – He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

This is one of those verses that I couldn’t quite understand for many years. The NASB is helpful in this verse, it brings out the fact that Jesus was raised “because of” our justification. We have an understanding of the importance of the cross, understanding the resurrection is also critical. According to this verse Jesus was raised because man had been justified, declared righteous, by the sacrificial death of Jesus. When Jesus was raised from the dead all of His sons and daughters were raised with Him. The resurrection was God’s declaration that man had been redeemed. Here is how the ESV Study Bible describes it.

“Both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessary for forgiveness of sins and justification, raised for our justification. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, it was a demonstration that he accepted Christ’s suffering and death as full payment for sin, and that the Father’s favor, no longer his wrath against sin, was directed toward Christ, and through Christ toward those who believe. Since Paul sees Christians as united with Christ in his death and resurrection, God’s approval of Christ at the resurrection results in God’s approval also of all who are united to Christ, and in this way results in their justification.”

Adam Clarke took it a little farther. He says that this is a title to eternal life in the bliss of fellowship with the Lord in heaven. Here is how Clarke describes this verse.

“He was raised that we might have the fullest assurance that the death of Christ had accomplished the end for which it took place; our reconciliation to God, and giving us a title to that eternal life, into which he has entered, and taken with him our human nature, as the first-fruits of the resurrection of mankind.”

What an amazing verse, we are not only forgiven for our sins by faith, we are connected to the life of the risen Savior. I was crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, raised from the dead with Christ, and I am seated in heavenly places with Christ. This is the point of Paul’s preaching in the book of Romans. We have touched the other world by faith, not only touched it, we have entered into the kingdom by faith in Christ.

CIRCUMCISED INDEED

Rom.4:12- And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Circumstances and situations change, people in the world don’t. One of the issues Paul faced throughout his ministry was people believing that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Circumcision was the mark of Jewishness and in Paul’s world was the evidence of being right with God. One of the first things to happen to a non Jew who was converting to Judaism was circumcision. As the church began to grow significantly in the gentile world in those days this belief was creating a firestorm. To the Jew, circumcision proved you were approved by God. Thousands of gentiles who were saved in Paul’s ministry had not followed suit, they believed they were saved by grace through faith and circumcision was not even a consideration for them.

In today’s world we deal with similar issues with water baptism. Many churches believe and teach that Christians baptize their children as infants guaranteeing their Christian faith. Others think baptism is the magic formula, you know “once you are wet you are set”. Water baptism is something that happens after conversion. Actually Abraham’s testimony was just like that. Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness to him several years before he was circumcised. So circumcision was given as a sign of Abraham’s faith, he was circumcised after he believed in the Lord. Here is how Martin Luther describes this passage.

“These words tell us that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Afterwards he received circumcision as a seal (of his justification). All this God did in order that we may know that throughout the world all those who followed Abraham’s faith shall be his children. In this way (by faith) also the Jews will become his children, namely, if besides the circumcision of the flesh, they receive also the circumcision of the heart. According to the flesh they already are his children, but they must become also his spiritual children, in order that they may be Abraham’s children not only according to the flesh, but also according to the spirit.”

Abraham was praying for a family, he got way more than he bargained for. He was promised that all the nations of the earth would be his heirs. He had no way of understanding the ramifications of that promise. He became the biological father of the nation of Israel. He also became the father of this new spiritual race of humans who came to the Lord by grace through faith. Through the gospel all the nations and ethnic groups of the world are becoming sons and daughters of Abraham through faith in Christ Jesus.