Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
I've been thinking. I was asked recently what I thought about Calvinism. My first thought is I really don't care too much for labels. But, we live in a world of labels. I'm a Christian. That's a label. I'm a Southern Baptist. That's a label. If I move back to Kentucky, I'll be a Kentucky Baptist. That's a label. So I guess we can't really get away from labels. Still, I prefer to focus less on labels and more on Jesus and His Word. Besides, John Calvin would cringe if he knew his name was being used as a label.
Salvation, as revealed in God's Word and delivered to us by the apostles and prophets is a mystery we don't fully understand. Paul writes about this mystery, "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things" (Ephesians 3:1-10). John speaks of a time yet future when, "the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets" (Revelation 10:7).
So what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, when it comes to salvation, it means the plans and purposes of God are far beyond anything my fallen finite mind can fully comprehend. Consider this in light of what Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers. "Rather, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him'" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
When it comes to the mystery of salvation we must remember, the Bible is replete with passages that speak of God's sovereignty. Furthermore, it is replete with passages that speak of personal responsibility. Where these two streams of thought meet is beyond me. This is part of the mystery of salvation none of us will fully comprehend this side of glory. And we may not fully comprehend it on the other side of glory either. After all, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
The bottom line is this: I don't fully understand the mystery of salvation and you don't either. It boggles my mind--even as a 46 year-old, seminary trained theologian of rare inability. But this much I do know, as a 10-year-old little boy, I prayed to receive Jesus and Jesus saved me. I didn't fully understand it all then and I certainly don't now. But I believed what the Bible taught, in, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). Since that time I have come to believe the words of Jesus, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you" (John 15:16). And therein lies the mystery. So, let's not get wrapped up in labels. Let us do what the Bible says. Let us make our own calling and election sure (see 2 Peter 1:10) and let us proclaim the gospel so that others may hear and be saved (see Matthew 28:16-20). A final word of caution: When contemplating the mysteries of God, always err on the side of sovereignty.
In my latest video blog installment I discuss the so called Prosperity Gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Colossians 2:6-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-12.
Continuing my thought from my previous video blog about the Gospel, this installment answers the question, "Why the Gospel?" The text is Romans 1:14-23.
Today I began a new endeavor which I plan to practice fairly regularly and that is making video posts as part of my blog. I am calling it my Fight for Joy! video blog, for the lack of a better name and description. I hope you enjoy and learn from this first post. If you follow me on Facebook they will also be posted there, probably before they are posted here. The text is 2 Corinthians 4:7-18.
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”(Jude 3). I just returned from another outstanding annual meeting of the Pre-Trib Study Group (www.pre-trib.org). The meeting took place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. This was my fourth opportunity to attend, having also attended in 2007, 2008, and 2011. The conference did not disappoint, proving once again to be Christ exalting, biblically focused, and academically stimulating.
Several papers were presented by various scholars around a common theme: Contending for the Faith in the Last Days. Dr. Thomas Ice began the conference with a paper on, “What Does the New Testament Teach about End-Time Apostasy?” Mike Gendron (www.proclaimingthegospel.org) presented a paper giving an overview of “Roman Catholicism’s Drift into Apostasy.” Tom McMahon (www.thebereancall.org) presented a paper on, “Psychology in the Church,” which to me, was the best paper presented at the conference. The so called church growth movement was discussed by the Monday evening banquet speaker, Paul Smith, where he discussed the church growth movement and how it was used to change the church’s focus from theology to sociology. Several other papers were presented, all focusing on end-time apostasy in the church.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). When I think about the America in which my precious little boy is growing up, I shudder. In fact, I almost get sick to my stomach. I literally fear for his spiritual safety. There is a war raging and everything godly is in its crosshairs—particularly as it relates to the family. The Bible refers to this conflict as a struggle against all things evil. It is a war with far greater consequences than any man-fought battle. No believer is exempt from this war. We are either part of the solution or part of the problem. There is no in between. There are no sidelines. There is no break. Your options are battle stations, battle stations, battle stations or “shipwreck in regard to your faith” (1 Tim.1:18). The war is to extend God’s kingdom and destroy the kingdom of Satan and sin. But it appears the church is losing the battle, at least in America.
America is in a spiritual and moral freefall. To use aviation speak, we are in a graveyard spiral. We think we’re flying straight and level when in reality we are in a tailspin quickly approaching our demise. Just look around you. The clash between a biblical worldview and every other worldview is reaching a lethal level. A satanic anti-Christian spirit is growing increasingly hostile towards true believers. The family is under attack. There is a movement afoot to radically redefine marriage to accommodate the homosexual agenda. The thing that frightens me is the true church seems silent on this issue while the pseudo-church embraces and even promotes this lifestyle and agenda as something godly. Those who do speak up are quickly demonized as bigots, liars, and hateful fear mongers. It sort of makes one wonder how they’d label Jesus, especially since they often build a straw-man argument that He never taught on such matters. It has gotten so bad that the lines between scripture and reality have blurred to the point most so called Christians can’t or won’t even take a biblical stand on the matter.
“For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited to him as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:3-5). Paul’s letter to the Romans has been rightly called The Constitution of Christianity. Indeed, it is the greatest of all the letters of Paul. Its theology is, on the one hand, profound beyond comprehension. But on the other hand, the Holy Spirit gladly guides the believer into the truth that is Romans. The entire letter can be summed up with the phrase, “Righteousness from Heaven.” Paul meticulously demonstrates the utter sinfulness of mankind concluding beyond any doubt, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE” (Rom. 3:10). Such a universal condition results in the need for divine righteousness. In other words, if I want to see God I must have the righteousness of Christ credited to my account. Such is only possible through faith.
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to Him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Romans 4 is a pivotal chapter in establishing righteousness through faith alone in Christ alone. There is a mystery here. This should not be taken as something unusual, as elsewhere Paul describes the entire body of revealed doctrine as, “the mystery of faith” (1 Tim. 3:9). Paul is not saying that our faith is recognized to be righteous. If that were the case one would have reason to boast before God. Righteousness credited to us happens outside of us. The phrase, “it was credited to him,” is in the passive voice meaning God does the work, not me. In other words, this righteousness is imputed not imparted. Remember, imputed means to set to one’s account. God has imputed, or set to my account, the righteousness of God. There is no works-righteousness here, as it is totally the work of God brought about through faith in Christ alone. This is the method for obtaining this righteousness—believe God! Otherwise, we receive what is due: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). But if we come through faith, we receive “the free gift of God” (Rom. 6:23b), which is the righteousness of Christ. This is the miracle of faith that results in certain blessings bestowed on the one who believes. First of all, our sins are forgiven—they are sent away. Secondly, they are covered. In fact, they are covered so completely there’s no chance of their ever being uncovered. Finally, miracle of miracle of miracles, the righteousness of Christ is credited to the account of the one believing the Gospel.
So, this raises an important question. Do you possess, by way of imputation, the righteousness of Christ? Your answer to this question is crucial as it concerns matters of eternity—where you will spend it. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It doesn’t matter how good one might be or think they are as the Bible also teaches even the good things we do are marred by sin. Isaiah wrote, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). Remember, Paul has already demonstrated the utter sinfulness of all mankind—you included. This is why we need righteousness from heaven. And the amazing thing is this: although it cost God everything to make this possible, for you and me, it is free! This is what Christ came to do—to fulfill a righteousness and die a death that would remove all your sins and my sins and become for us a perfect righteousness. He offers you this righteousness today as a free gift. It is yours for the asking—simply believe the Gospel. “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT” (Rom. 4:8).
“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:21-23). I have the privilege of pastoring a wonderful congregation of believers. We are slowly working our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have already answered the question, why the Gospel (see Rom. 1:18). We have thoroughly enmeshed ourselves in the goodness of God (see Rom. 2:4). Next we are coming to chapter three where Paul discusses a glorious imputation. Imputation is a legal term that is used in a variety of ways in Scripture. It appears some forty times in the New Testament, ten times in Romans, alone. The word means, “to set to one’s account.” For example, in Philemon 18 Paul admonishes Philemon to charge (impute) to his account any debts Onesimus may have incurred. Theologically speaking, there are three great imputations in Scripture. First of all, there is the imputation of Adam’s sin to me. “Through one man sin entered into the world” (Rom. 5:12). Because Adam sinned, all are sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Secondly, there is the imputation of my sin to Jesus. This happened at the Cross. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Finally, there is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to all those who believe. This is a glorious imputation that God brings about in the life of all believers—those who through faith believe the Gospel. It occurs at the very moment of salvation when God imputes to the sinner what is not actually his—the righteousness of God—“Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).
Paul describes this righteousness of God as that which is apart from the Law. In other words, the Law cannot save us. The Bible says through the Law all are accountable to God. Furthermore, it is through the Law we have the knowledge of sin. For this reason, at the final judgment the Law will close the mouth of the unbeliever (see Rom. 3:19-20). But thanks be to God for the glorious imputation of His righteousness. The Bible says the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel—“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17). Both Romans 1:17 and 3:22 speak of this imputed righteousness as coming through faith in Jesus. This is the essence of God’s plan of salvation. It is a salvation that is offered “apart from the Law.” In other words, you can’t earn this salvation. It can only be obtained as a gift and it comes through faith in Jesus. Although this is the fulfillment of the New Covenant, this isn’t some new way of saving people but is in perfect agreement with God’s work in times past. This is what is meant by the phrase, “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom. 3:21b). In other words, God has always been in the salvation by grace through faith business. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament through the faith of Abraham. In fact, Paul mentions this in the next chapter, “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). “Credited” here is that glorious imputation about which I write. And this imputation comes by way of Jesus: “But now apart form the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested” (Rom. 3:21a). It has been manifested in Jesus!
Romans 3:23 declares, “All have sinned.” All here would include you and me. It includes every person who has ever lived from Adam onward. The exception is, of course, Jesus—“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). And it is this Jesus who, although “He knew no sin [He became] sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). We do not earn this righteousness by faith but we receive it through faith. Think about it. Because Adam sinned you and I are sinners—sorry, it doesn’t matter how good you might think you are because you are still a sinner by nature. But God has taken your sins and imputed them to Christ. Through faith you can have Christ’s righteousness imputed to you. This is the essence of the Gospel message and is the message I believe and proclaim. You don’t have to remain in your sin. You can experience freedom. You can be changed. You can have the righteousness of Christ. You can choose life! If you haven’t done this, what are you waiting for? “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). In my last article I sought to answer the question, why the gospel? In this article I want to consider the gospel in light of the goodness of God. All Christians would agree that God is good. In fact, most of us would sum up our belief in the goodness of God with the statement, “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” I’m not sure where that statement originated. But it is clearly biblically and theologically sound. But have you ever paused to consider why God is good? Furthermore, have you ever considered how we ought to respond to the goodness of God? God is definitely good. In fact, the Bible teaches He is good to everyone—believer and unbeliever alike (see Matthew 5:45). God’s goodness is a wonderful reality and is demonstrated through the riches of His grace, forbearance, and patience toward us. The question is, how ought we to respond to His goodness?
The Bible teaches there are two possible responses to God’s goodness. These responses can be described as willful responses in that each requires an exercise of the will. In other words, when faced with the wonderful reality of God’s goodness a decision is required from us—how will I respond? The first response is alluded to in the first few words of Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness?” Kindness here is the Greek word chrestotes, which appears some ten times in the New Testament and each time means goodness, kindness, or gentleness. Paul says God is good and because of His goodness we are asked, “Do you think lightly of His kindness?” The phrase, “think lightly of” is translated from the Greek word, kataphroneo, and means to despise, disdain, think little or nothing of, to scorn. So one possible response to God’s goodness is to scorn it, that is, to reject it. There are many today who scorn the goodness of God. In so doing, they reject the gospel, and as a result, Paul says, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Obviously, it is a serious thing to reject the goodness of God. Another possible response to the goodness of God—one much more desirable if you ask me—is to receive or embrace His goodness. We do this through repentance. In other words, I repent of my sins and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hosea 3:5 says, “How great is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You.” So to reject God’s goodness is to “[store] up wrath” (Rom. 2:5), and to receive His goodness through repentance is to “[store up goodness]” (Hos. 3:5). This repentance works itself out through perseverance in doing good and results in “glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:7). This is the Word of the Lord!
This brings us back to our original question. How ought we to respond to God’s goodness? To put it another way, how will you respond to God’s goodness? Will you reject it or receive it? Will you continue in your sin or repent, believe in and obey the Gospel? Paul concludes his thought here with a summation of God’s righteous judgment towards everyone: “For there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11). The Greek word translated partiality here means to judge things on the basis of external or pre-conceived notions. Some Jews wrongly believed God showed partiality towards the Jews. Some today—both Jews and non-Jews—believe God will somehow show them partiality in terms of judgment. However, Paul makes it clear this will not be the case. God is not partial. He is no respecter of persons. His judgment will be righteous and just. The only way to escape God’s judgment is to respond right now to His goodness by repenting of your sins, embracing, believing in and obeying the Gospel. If one fails to meet God’s conditions by rejecting and scorning His goodness, only judgment remains.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18-19). I would imagine most Christians know the basic definition of the Gospel—the good news about Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Paul defined the Gospel in his first letter to the Corinthian believers when he wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). But I wonder how many Christians would be able to articulate the primary reason behind the Gospel. In other words, why did God give us the Gospel? Most, I am sure, would answer with some reference to the love of God. John 3:16 reminds us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” However, Paul reminds us of the primary reason for the Gospel. In his letter to the Romans—a letter that has been rightly hailed as the Constitution of Christianity—he declares the revelation of the wrath of God is the primary reason for the Gospel. In other words, Paul underscores the utter sinfulness of mankind, the fact all are without excuse and deserving judgment, and how desperately we all need the righteousness that only God can provide. So perhaps we should begin our Gospel presentations with God’s wrath rather than God’s love. After all, the Bible does say those who have not believed the Gospel, “[have] been judged already” (John 3:18). Could you imagine sharing the Gospel with someone by saying, “Did you know God’s wrath is right now being revealed against your ungodliness?” Think about it? How can we convince others they need to be saved unless we first answer the question saved from what?
Once we answer the question, “saved from what,” only then are we ready to present the Gospel. The Gospel, according to Paul, is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The Greek word for “power” here is “dynamis,” from which we get an English word, “dynamite.” The word means inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature. The power of the Gospel is what God uses to deliver people from His wrath. It rescues people from the ultimate penalty of their sin—eternal separation from God and eternal punishment. Clearly, to believe the Gospel is to be rescued from all spiritual dangers. It is no wonder the Bible presents the proclamation of the Gospel as the obligation of all believers. In fact, Paul reminds us we are not only obligated to proclaim the Gospel but should all be eager to share the Gospel with every person (see Rom. 1:14-15). Such a message seems foolish to the world. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). But it is this foolish message that has the inherent power to produce the righteousness of God within a person’s heart. It is this foolish message that once embraced by faith results in “salvation to everyone who believes.” This is the Word of the Lord!
Saving faith consists of three fundamentals. First of all there is the mind—what we might call mental assent to the Gospel. In other words, one hears and understands the Gospel and the truth about Jesus Christ. This is the witness of Ephesians 1:13. Secondly, there is the emotional aspect. It is here one embraces the truthfulness of the Gospel with sorrow over sin and joy over God’s mercy and grace—“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom. 15:13). Finally, there is volition which speaks of the will or desire. It is here that one submits his or her will to Christ and trusts in Him alone as the only hope of salvation thus resulting not only in salvation but also in genuine repentance and authentic obedience of the one being saved. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord” (Rom. 10:9). This is not a simple acknowledgement that He is God and the Lord of all. Even the demons acknowledge as much. This is the deep personal conviction—without reservation—that Jesus is Lord. Since Jesus is Lord, the saved person endeavors to bring every aspect of his or her life under His Lordship. Therefore, when one believes the Gospel sin is repented of, Christ alone is trusted for salvation and faith is evidenced through submission to Him as Lord. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
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