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When Paul talks about justification by faith, he normally contrasts it with justification by works. But elsewhere in Paul, “by faith” is contrasted with “by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is speaking of two different “walks,” but can the same contrast apply to justification? Does it make sense to say that we are justified by faith rather than by sight?
It would seem so. Justification by sight would be something like this: God makes it publicly evident that some individual stands in the right before Him. That public justification will occur at the last day, and so the future justification is a justification “by sight” – just as we will see face to face in the eschaton.
For now, though, our standing with God is not public and obvious. When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was not obvious that He stood righteous before the Father. When Jesus hung on a Roman cross, it was not evident that He was in the right with the Creator. So too, when we share in His sufferings, there is no indisputable proof that we have been declared right in God’s court. The world might be excused for thinking the opposite, that, if there is a God, He cannot be the Father and Savior of a people so beleaguered. And we ourselves are tempted to doubt our right standing.
Justification by faith means knowing that God favors us, counts us as righteous covenant partners, even when all the empirical symptoms indicate the opposite.
Reminded me of something I preached on justification by in 2000 or 1999:
First of all, we all have been taught that justification is a legal declaration. But it is hard to understand how our belief corresponds to a declaration on God’s part that we can’t hear or experience. Perhaps understanding how Jesus was justified will help. When we are marked out by God by the gift of faith we are joined to Christ by that faith. At that point, the verdict God declared about Jesus applies to us because we belong to Jesus. The declared verdict was almost two thousand years ago. We share that status when we share in Christ by faith.
God tells us in many ways that we belong to Jesus: By arranging providence so that we are baptized into his Kingdom; by showing us we are his family in feeding us at his table in the Lord’s Supper as a Father feeds his children; by enabling us through the power of the Holy Spirit to declare that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead; by summoning us to corporate worship as his army under his command and care; and by many other means.
Let all those things give you confidence in knowing that Christ’s status as acceptable to the Father—as a friend of God’s much more than Abraham was—is yours as well. Your sins are already dealt with so God now forgives them freely for the sake of Christ. He took your curse and condemnation and God receives you as having the status of his own beloved son.
Secondly, this might help us understand that, even though we have, in substance, our entire salvation in Jesus Christ, we really are still waiting for it to be revealed. Right now, we look and feel like the wicked around us. We too get cancer and deal with old age, and have our children get sick, and struggle with finances, just like all the unbelievers around us. We too are under the general curse that was imposed on the sinful human race.
But one day, we will experience for ourselves the declaration that we are righteous in God’s sight through Jesus our Lord in a new way. Just as Jesus was declared righteous—justified—in his resurrection, so in our resurrection we too will be personally justified. That’s why now justification is by faith. We must believe that we have status with God as his friends even though we don’t see much difference between how we are treated and how God treats his enemies. But then we will see with our own eyes as we are reborn from the grave in the image and glory of the resurrected Jesus Christ our Lord!
Thirdly, if we understand that we have this status and yet God has not seen fit to yet reveal it as he will at the Final Judgment–that last courtroom scene which will end human history–then we might be able to understand some of the frustration we feel. Living by faith means living by hope for what we do not yet see. And, as Paul writes in Romans 8.25, “if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” If you are dissatisfied with your present life, maybe you should not be discouraged by that fact, but realize that the reason you are dissatisfied is that God has promised to bring you into something better–something you will not just hope in or trust him for, but that you will actually experience for yourself. Your resurrection in glory, when you see Jesus face to face and reflect his image as a mirror, will be God’s public declaration that he accepts you. You have status with him and you will see it then with your own transfigured eyes.
26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,
“‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.’
34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’
35 Therefore he says also in another psalm,
“‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’
36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything 39 from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:
41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”
A great deal could be said about this passage, but I won’t be saying it. If I was preaching through Acts I would want to expound on each paragraph here. But on this Easter Sunday I am preaching a topical sermon rather than so much an expositional sermon—the topic, obviously, being the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
But while we won’t look at every detail of this passage this morning, please notice the prevailing theme in this declaration that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Notice that Paul does not talk about any general promise of the resurrection, but singles out promises made to and through King David.
Briefly put, resurrection here and elsewhere is a act by which one is declared or made a king. It is a coronation, an installation to office. And it is not for himself alone that Jesus was raised, but for all those connected to him. Remember Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesians that they would come to know
what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
When we who believe confess that Jesus is Lord we are saying something about not just Jesus, but about ourselves as well. The confession that “Jesus is Lord” is something like saying, “My daddy owns this place,” or “My father just got elected President.” But to say it right we need a more traditional picture. To say Jesus is Lord is to say, “my older brother is the king so I am royalty.”
“Jesus is Lord,” is appealed to as the basic statement of faith in a couple of Paul’s letter. But those aren’t just words. Believers are supposed to believe something when they say them. Paul gives us not only words but the meaning in Romans 10.9: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
When you confess that Jesus is Lord, you are referring to a royal office to which he attained by the resurrection of the dead.
1. VINDICATION & AUTHORITY.
And that means both vindication and authority. Justification and the power of judgment are both included in the new status God gives us through our union with Christ by faith alone. Daniel saw a vision of one like the Son of Man given a throne and an angel interpreted that the saints, after being persecuted, would be given a verdict in their favor. Now that is translated in our Bibles as given a favorable verdict. Being delivered from oppressors and given dominion was God’s declaration over his people—“Not Guilty.” This promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who suffered the ultimate persecution and curse and was publicly shown to be in the right by his resurrection.
But Daniel’s vision also shows that the verdict is embodied in a new kingdom. And this is even included in the words describing the justification of the saints. The Aramaic states that the saints will be “given judgment.” It could be taken to mean not only that they would be declared righteous, but that they themselves would be given the power of judgment. In fact, in Revelation 20 that vision is referred to again when the saints are said to be given rule over the earth. That is what we have in Christ’s resurrection—righteousness and royal reign. We here today, farmers and mothers and teachers and students and children and others all rule in Christ.
Think about what a complete vindication this is for us. Adam and Eve were put over creation. They were, if you will, placed at the top of the world (There were four world-rivers that came from the Garden of Eden and water runs downhill). They were not yet as powerful as they could be. They were to take dominion over creation. Yet they never fulfilled their royal charter. Instead of trusting God to deliver to them all good things at their proper time, they believed that God was holding them down and sided with the Serpent’s slanders against God.
As a result of their disobedience, these heirs to the throne of the world became slaves rather than king and queen. They became slaves to creation and had to work by sweat in order to get their food. They became slaves to sin and from that point it became natural for them to sin. Finally, they became slaves to death and ultimate judgment, destined for eternal punishment rather than for royalty.
And now all that is reversed. The sentence of condemnation has been overturned because there is now no condemnation in Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Thus Paul contrasts Adam and Christ in this way—Romans 5.17: If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. You would expect Paul to say that once death reigned so now life reigns. But that is not what he says. Rather, he states that once death reigned and now we reign.
Our vindication is not simply some prisoner being released from his cell to pursue a life of no concern to the court. Our justification, due to God’s gracious sending of his Son and his faithful work, is more like a law student who was put in prison but then released and given a place on the Supreme Court.
Now what does it mean that we, normal human beings to all appearances, have been given a royal office in Christ. Well first of all it means we are no longer slaves to sin. And it establishes us in a mandate that, just as Adam and Eve were to subdue creation, so we are to subdue sin in the parts of our selves where it resides.
That is why the Gospel not only promises life in Christ but it also makes demands on us. In fact, our status as Christians means that the Bible can severely reprove us and challenge us to live holy lives. When an emperor sets up a king over a territory, that king has much freedom and authority, but he is supposed to obey the one who gave him that authority. In fact, because he acts as the emperor’s representative, it is a terrible thing for him to act in a wicked way.
Thus our authority in the resurrected Christ gives us power for and demands of us holy living. Paul after saying in Romans five that now we reign in life rather than death reigning in sin, tells us in Romans 6 that we must use this authority to live lives pleasing to God. He writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And he goes on: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
So Christ’s resurrection mean that we, who are united to Christ by faith, can live new lives to God. And that’s exactly what Paul goes on to command Christians to do.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Easter is our declaration of independence from sin. We have, in Christ, been brought into a new creation. And just as Adam and Eve were told to take dominion in the first creation, so we are told to use the new authority we have in Christ by his resurrection.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
3. CORPORATE WORSHIP & PRAYER.
But our resurrection authority which we have in Christ means more than simply the power of a holy life on the part of each one of us. It means that together we have access to God’s very throne. Indeed we are God’s councilors who have access to his throne room. We have this because Jesus offered himself up to the Father and the Father received him publicly by raising him from the dead.
Thus, those of us who have been raised with Christ have access to his very throne in public worship. And in prayer we have the king’s ear.
The resurrection was an act of worship. Think of the sacrificial system. The sacrificial animal is slain and its blood is displayed to God on the altar. That was Jesus on Good Friday. He was killed and his blood poured out on the ground for our sins. But then the animal is transformed and goes up to God, if you will, as smoke. That is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus in a cloud. That’s why, in Revelation 4 and 5, we see a vision from the perspective of heaven in which Jesus suddenly appears before the throne as a Lamb that had been slain.
So just as the saints under the Old Covenant had worshiped God through that process of slaying an animal and offering it up to God, so Jesus climactically fulfills such worship with his own ultimate act of worship, offering his very self to God. The resurrection is God’s acceptance of Christ and we see as a result, in Revelation 5, that the saints are renewed in worship together. They sing a new song. Because we are united to Christ we are accepted in him. And these saints, incidentally, are described as wearing crowns. They have throne room access because they are royalty.
Thus we can worship God with boldness because we have an advocate raised for us to God’s presence. We can be Royal council members because we have been raised in Christ.
4. PRIVILEGE THAT MUST NOT BE REJECTED.
All of this must be received by faith. We did not see Jesus raised. We have to believe God’s Word. We have not yet been raised from the dead. We must trust in God’s gospel promises. We walk by faith and not by sight.
And that means that we must be careful to respond to the what we have heard. If we believe our eyes rather than our ears we might think God’s vindication is not worth having, that holy living is not really possible, and that corporate worship is only as important as the good feelings that result from it.
But none of that is true. Rather, the Easter story is true. God really did raise Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection proves and makes possible the fact that all things will work together to good for those who love God. We are kings
I recently heard of a missionary pastor in a pagan land whose church shared the Gospel with a young woman. Now she is in a bind. She may lose her husband and children because he has embraced the good news that God sent His Son to die for our sins and be raised for our justification. Loyalty to Christ will cost her more than any of us have ever had to suffer.
How can she be faithful to Christ in those circumstances? Because she really believes that God has provided blessing for her that are more than she could ever ask or think. Because she really believes that God raised Jesus her Lord from the dead.
God has given His Son up for us and has exalted us in him. In Christ we have resurrection. In Christ we are raised as kings. In Christ we have justification. In Christ we have sanctification. In Christ we have access to His presence. Everyday we need to learn a little bit more how much we should value what God has given to us. Everyday we need to live in a manner that is appropriate for those who have been raised in Christ.
Back in seminary I took the course on the Westminster Confession taught by Dr. David Calhoun. One of our assignments was to pick a chapter from the Confession and write a sermon on the content of it. This is what I turned in. Got an A. (Sadly, I was always better in my theology classes than in my exegesis classes.)
The sermon is only on the first two of these:
The URL for direct download:
But I now see a third point covered by the concept of adoption. It means we are heirs and thus are moving forward to an inheritance. We are gaining wisdom.
Adoption is a rich word to describe how God has reconciled believers to himself.
By the way, if I haven’t been loud enough about this yet, you can subscribe to my podcast.
I speculated why a son who sleeps in harvest is said to cause “shame” rather than poverty or hunger.
Now that I’m attempting to memorize Proverbs 10, I think my answer is probably not the message of Proverbs.
Here is the verse in context:
The proverbs of Solomon.
A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
but righteousness delivers from death.
The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
He who gathers in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.
Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.
These proverbs start with the basic contrast between wisdom and foolishness in terms of parents. Then it correlates two pairs of options: righteousness and wickedness and diligence and slothfulness.
These are related because if one is not willing to work to provide and to save, then one will have to rob and defraud.
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
but righteousness delivers from death.
The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
With these four lines Solomon reminds us of Chapter 1 where he addressed the temptation to join a gang of robbers. The contrast between the righteous and the wicked is introduces in terms of provision and production. One can work or one can plunder.
So the son causes shame because he is likely to enter a life of crime.
LIFE AND RULE THAT (WILL) FAR SURPASS DEATH AND SLAVERY: Romans 5.12-21
I’m sure all of us have heard the horrible news about the earthquake and the tsunami that has devastated Japan. When we hear about these awful and death-dealing natural disasters, as Christians we are reminded of the sin of Adam and how God cursed the ground in response to that sin. Our text today promises us that the curse on the earth is not the last word. Hear the word of the Lord.
You may be seated.
The passage I read starts with a “therefore”
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man…
Why “therefore”? Paul is making an observation based on the statement he has just made. So look at the preceding verses and see how they lead Paul into this discussion of Adam and Christ.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Now this passage is deceptively familiar, but remember Paul is not talking about a conversion experience you or I had. He is summing up the human races downward spiral of sin which he started describing in Romans 1.18ff when he wrote:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…
And he goes on to describe human culture, both Gentile and Jewish, as it descends from sin to sin. It was in the middle of that awful history that Jesus came and appeased the wrath of God and provided atonement for sin… “while we were still weak” “while we were still sinners” “Christ died for us”
And that means that now, since Christ has died for us to reconcile us to God, now much more “shall we be saved by his life”
So Paul now says, “Therefore” because what he has said means that Jesus’ victory is mightier than Adam’s defeat. Jesus’ salvation is mightier than Adam’s misery. The human race’s spiral into sin started with Adam and Jesus is going to far far outshine Adam’s darkness. So we read.:
sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
From Adam and Eve onward sin has been a fact in human existence. We grow into it spontaneously. And we live in a world suffering under the curse of death because of sin. As Paul writes later in his letter to the Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We see this futility in food shortages and natural disasters. We see it in hurricanes and flu outbreaks. Just the other night I watched a special about the influenza outbreak of 1918. I had never heard of that because there was seemingly an effort to forget it happened. But we lost more people to influenza that year than died in World War I. In fact, if you graph the life expectancy of Americans over the years you see it plunges down and then comes back up due to this flu epidemic. The curse on the world is real.
And we see it most directly in the universal fact of death.
— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Adam and Christ are alike in that they both were covenant representatives whose actions affected the entire world. Paul points out that Adam was himself a kind of prophetic image of Jesus.
But Paul also writes about how the giving of the Law to Israel intensified sin. Paul here is building on something he wrote in Romans 3, “through the law comes knowledge of sin” and by “knowledge” I suspect he means intimate acquaintance, not simply intellectual knowledge. The law, Paul writes, rather than alleviating sin, intensified it.
Think about Adam and Eve. They were in a special garden sanctuary, in the land of Eden, where they used their privileged position to transgress God’s boundaries. People sinned after that, but it wasn’t until Moses that God again set up a special sanctuary. The Tabernacle plans were given with the Law from Mount Sinai. As a result, Israel was enabled to commit transgression just like Adam did.
Paul makes it clear, by the way, that when he writes “sin is not counted where there is no law,” that he means it is not counted as much. He is being intentionally hyperbolic. As he writes just below, “the law came in to increase the trespass.” It did not create trespass but it increased it. The Law intensified sin and guilt.
But why give the Law if it is only going to increase trespass? Paul deals with that issue in more detail later in Romans, but he gives a short answer here if we read a little further. But first he contrasts Adam and Jesus:
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
So here is the basic claim. From Jesus salvation as a free gift is going to spread and grow to leave a far greater mark on human history than Adam’s sin. It may not look like it yet. We may wonder how God is going to convert billions of people, but make no mistake that God’s long term agenda is to see the work of Christ produce results that far outstrip the horrible results of Adam’s sin.
And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
Now here is another parallelism. Not only does Paul compare Adam and Jesus, he also compares the sin of Adam to the sins that led Jesus to the cross. He contrasts “judgment following one trespass,” with “the free gift following many trespasses.” Adam’s sin brought condemnation. You would think that the many more sins would bring even greater condemnation. After all, that is what those sins deserved.
But it all turns out to have been God’s plan for grace and salvation! God was creating a Judgment Day not in order to condemn humanity further, but to deal with sin in a way that provides salvation. As Paul writes in Romans 8,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
When Israel rejected Jesus and chose Barabbas so that Jesus would be crucified, that climactic crime–the culmination of many transgressions in Israel’s history–turned out to be part of God’s plan for mercy. As Paul writes in Romans 11
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Nations, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Now the timing of this is debatable but I want you to see that it is clear that Israel’s sin of unbelief, which resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus, was part of God’s plan to provide atonement.
For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
So all this sin—all the trespass that was intensified by the giving of the Law to Israel, was all part of God’s plan to provide the means for judging sin. Jesus came in the fullness of time to stand in the place of the world and pay the penalty for sin.
That’s why over and over in Romans Paul deals with people who are outraged by his message and mock him saying “Let us do evil that good may come” Remember these words from Romans 3:
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
You see, God had promised to bring salvation to the world through Israel and told Israel to be faithful to the covenant. Yet we find now that God used their unfaithfulness to keeps his promise to bring salvation to the whole world, Jesus and Gentile alike—to anyone who will place their faith in Jesus. So now we have a free gift that is greater than the condemnation resulting from Adam’s trespass. And it is a gift that, amazingly, was brought about through many trespasses.
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Did you catch that? Paul writes that “death reigned” and you would expect him to say that now “life will reign” But he doesn’t. He says that “death reigned” and now WE REIGN: “much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life.”
This is the promise of Daniel 7. The Son of Man (Son of Adam) is vindicated and that means the saints are given the kingdom. Adam was given dominion but then reduced himself and us to slavery to sin. So now Jesus exalts us as rulers with him over the cosmos. Paul is telling his readers that the prophecy of Daniel is already true. It has been fulfilled.
Now maybe you don’t feel like a ruler. But that’s because you’re not looking with the eyes of faith. When God called Abraham he said he did so in order to give him a position of authority. In Genesis 18 we read, “The Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…” And what follows is the story of how Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah. The reason why we pray is because we are kings and queens. We are God’s counselors. We have access to God’s throne room.
But we can trust that there will be other tangible growing blessings as well as the Faith spreads. If we compare our world to the world of Paul’s day, in terms of disease and natural disasters I think we can see some pretty favorable changes. Maybe we’ll lose some ground in the near future, but God’s kingdom will not be stopped. That is what Paul tells us in Romans.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Now Paul has already made it clear that only believers benefit from Jesus work, but the point here is that he expects more believers than not. If it frustrates you that we don’t see more of these conversions in our own time, that is good. Pray for them. Work on being used to bring them about. We are given these great descriptions of what God expects and promises to bring about eventually in order to make us impatient to see them now. We should be motivated to share the Gospel.
And so Paul sums up.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul wrote at the beginning of Romans that he was called and “received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” Romans is a book about the Great Commission. God is not content with a small remnant. He loves us but he wants us to be the seed of something much bigger. He has a vision of the whole world being more dramatically affected by the death and resurrection of Jesus than it was by the fall of Adam.
Remember his words through Isaiah the prophet in chapter 49 of that book:
Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
and my recompense with my God.”
And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
A sermon on Ephesians 4.1-7
I may have told you all before about a friend of mine who was a ruling elder in a Presbyterian Church. They received as new members a mother and adult son who had recently come to affirm the Reformed Faith as the proper expression of the Gospel according to the Scriptures.
It turned out that the young man had actually had the opportunity to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. He was a student in a Bible college and he started to listen to a radio program on Reformed Theology. As he became convinced of what he was hearing, his brothers in Christ who taught and ran the college expelled him from school and refused to give him his transcripts. His years of studying and the money he paid to do so were all stolen from him, all in the name of Jesus.
So like Paul, this young man had suffered for the Gospel.
But all did not go well with this young man and his mother as time went by at their new Presbyterian Church. My friend noticed that they hadn’t been in Church for a while. After some visitation, the elders discovered that the young man had decided that this Church was too compromised for him to attend. What made him think so? Well, real Gospel preaching means that the pastor always presents sermons that first present the Law and its requirements. Then, after showing how the Law condemns and we can never be good enough, the preacher presents the Gospel of how Jesus died in our place.
Now, I know the pastor did in fact preach the Bible and did preach the Gospel. But because he did not follow that precise pattern in every sermon, this young man viewed the Church as unworthy of his attendance, and he simply stopped going on Sunday orany other day. Not only did he cease attending that particular church, but also in the name of faithfulness to the Gospel, he stopped worshiping at any church because one couldn’t be found that was faithful enough for him.
That’s one story. Here is another.
I’m at a conference for people from Reformed and Presbyterian Churches. I meet a man who lives in the same state that I do. He tells me he’d like to get me to visit his and a few other families to lead in some sort of worship. They have been praying for some help in planting a Reformed Church in their area.
Oh, I’m sorry that there’s not one there yet, I say. Where do you go to Church now?
Well, it turns out, they don’t go to Church at all. They are not members of any church in the area because there are no Reformed or Presbyterian Churches. That is this man’s application of the Gospel as he understands it–that he and his wife and children “worship” in their home without being members of a local congregation or gathering every Lord’s Day to worship at one.
So the practical result of these families allegiance to the Gospel in all its purity is a refusal to attend public worship in Church.
It was only a few months later that our congregation was visited by a family I had never met before. They introduced themselves as Christians and ones who embraced the doctrines of the Reformation. I discovered later that they had visited many times but also dropped out of sight for months or years at a time.
Where did they go to Church, I asked? Well, normally they don’t. They just worship in their living room with Daddy giving a message to his wife and children.
So again we have a man refusing to associate and lead his family in membership of another church. We have a man refusing to worship with the Church in the name of a correct understanding of the Gospel.
You and I were called by the Gospel. In Baptism, in our hearing of the Gospel preached by one another and by representatives, in our regular participation in public worship, in our regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we are being drawn by the good news, the Gospel, that Jesus is Lord.
And the Gospel does not entail the kind of behavior that is often perpertrated in the name of the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel is often opposed to the kind of behavior that is displayed in the name of the Gospel.
The Gospel is our calling with which we have been called. It is the voice of the Lord. And it calls us to one hope, as Paul says in verse 4. What is that hope? Paul stated it early on in his letter to the Ephesians, back in chapter 1 he wrote that God made “known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” That’s the purpose, that’s the plan, and that’s our hope. And the fact that God is accomplishing this plan in what Jesus has done–that’s the Gospel.
So when Paul talks about what Jesus has done in coming among us incarnate as a Human and suffering and dying and rising again and ascending into heaven, he continues to present us with the fact that God has brought us together in unity. Ephesians 2.13 and following:
now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
And so with that description of what Christ has done for us and in us by the Spirit inhabiting us as one dwelling place, Paul then speaks of the Gospel that he has been called to proclaim to the nations. Ephesians 3.6-10:
This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
That’s the Gospel that calls us. Paul says he’s been given the mystery and he says that he has been given the Gospel. Plainly the mystery is the Gospel. The Gospel calls us to reconciliation in Christ by the Spirit. Thus, to walk in a manner worthy of that call–to live the way the Gospel deserves–entails that we walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”
Last week I pointed out that to be delivered from sin is to be graciously placed on a new path, a new walk. Paul has begun here to list the specific route we must take. He told us earlier, back in chapter 2 about this walk in vague terms.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Well, good works can mean anything. And depending on our circumstances, we need to be open-minded about what those good works might entail. But Paul has some more specific ideas in mind, ideas based on the content of his Gospel.
The Gospel entails reconciliation between God and man and between man in man and the end to the divisions that were put in place in the Law of Moses. Before Christ came, only the Israelites could take part in Passover, only the Levites could approach the furnishing of the Tabernacle, only the priests could bring offerings to the alter and enter the Holy Place, and only the high priest could go beyond the holy place to enter the Holy of Holies. There were barriers between God and man that were simultaneously also divisions between different groups of people.
But now the dividing wall has been broken down. When Christ died on the cross the veil in the Temple was ripped in two from top to bottom. Reconciliation was declared. And that reconciliation, that bond of Peace, which is Jesus through the Spirit, demands specific sorts of good works.
Jesus Christ has made us one so we must adopt a manner of living that allows us to live as one. Look at verse 2. Living as one with sinners means we’re going to have to be humble. Living as one with sinners means we need to learn to be gentle. Living as one with sinners entails a need for patience. Living as one with sinners demands that we be willing to bear other’s weaknesses out of love.
The Call of the Gospel demands that we eagerly pursue these things—that we are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.
Why should we pursue these things? Notice that the idea is not that we’re trying to attain to a unity and bond of peace but that we already have them and we want to grow in them rather than try to weaken in them. Because we are one we need to live as one. That’s called going from the indicative to the imperative—from statements about who you are and what you have to statements about what you now must do and how you now must live.
We have this bond of unity we have because we are all under one Lord—as Paul states in verse 5—which makes us one kingdom united by his rule and under his protection. Paul has stressed the Lordship of Christ already. For example, in chapter 1, verse 20 and following, he states that God not only raised him from the dead but also enthroned him at his right hand in heaven and put all things under his feet. In chapter 2, he states that all of us who believe—irrespective of where we’re from, or what color we are, or anything else—are enthroned with Christ. Our exaltation is through faith and nothing else.
Now, if we remember that Christ is a title designating Jesus as God’s promised King in the line of David, it makes sense that the rule of Jesus entails the unity of his people no matter what nation or culture they are from. Thus, Paul writes the Romans in Chapter 10, verse 12: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call upon Him.”
The one faith we share is trust and allegiance to one king. We have more in common with Iraqi Christians than we have with our own nonchristian family members. That’s what Paul is saying here. If Jesus is God’s king, then all other dominions and rulers and other sources of identity must take, at most, second place.
That’s one reason why Paul speaks of baptism as something that breaks you off from your old identity in your nation and family and culture of your birth and puts you in a new family—the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. First Corinthians 12.12-13:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks—slaves or free.
And Galatians 3.27-29:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Now that sounds real mysterious but it can at least partially be understood in a commonsense way: Baptism is a ritual that officially entrusts us to the governance and royal protection of King Jesus. It enrolls us in his entourage. It therefore at least relativizes all our other relationships. Our primary loyalty must be to our King Jesus and our identity must be found in our relationship to him.
We belong to Jesus. Let nothing else obscure that most basic fact. We are a congregation that belongs to God through Christ Jesus. We are his. He is ours. God loves us. God saved us. God sent his son to die and live for us. God’s son now reigns in the heavens and we are his royal court.
We belong to King Jesus. That is the Gospel. That’s a dangerous thing to teach and proclaim. Paul has again reminded the Ephesians that he is a prisoner of the Lord. Both Caesar and the synagogue rulers have a problem with Paul’s declaration that Jesus is Lord and Christ and that nothing else can matter. They want Caesar-worship or circumcision to matter more.
And we face that trial in ways that are just as important, even if the consequences we suffer are rather trivial in comparison to what Paul faced in his day.
I think of our school children. If you compare the time they spend gathered corporately with the body of Christ in worship or discipleship to the time they spend through out the week as members of classes and teams I think it must be very easy to forget that their identity comes first from Christ and not from their peers and teachers. It is very easy to make Christianity simply a support for another group identity, whether that of the member of the class of some year, or a band member, or a member of the football team, or anything else. Paul reminds us to zealously pursue a corporate identity as a church—a unity that requires love and suffering on behalf of one another.
We face that trial in other ways. It is very easy to forget about the members of one’s congregation and allow one’s relatives to be the only people you spend time with. You’re not doing anything spiteful by doing so. It comes naturally to all of us. But you know there may be people in town or in this church who are new and have little family around and Paul is telling you that you need to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit. If you’re not proactive in hospitality and in befriending new people, that unity will be weakened rather than maintained.
Zeal for the Gospel should not result in schism and infighting and holier-than-thou attitudes, nor should it result in apathy for others in the congregation while you get most of your affirmation from other relationships. We need to pray for strength to eagerly work toward maintaining the unity of the Spirit in Christ.
We all serve one Master. For his sake let us love one another.
Christian life and ministry as an athletic contest, race, and exercise of trust.There’s a third thing I want you to see here. Look at verse 7. Here’s Paul’s assessment of his service. A lot of people would have looked at Paul and said, ‘You know, Paul, you’re a brilliant man. You’re an educated man. You’re a tremendous orator, you’re a great writer. You had so much potential. You have wasted your life. You have just thrown your life down the tubes, because look at you: you started these churches, and…let’s see…let’s look at the church in Corinth. (Yeah, that’s a great success!) And let’s look at all the squabbling going on in the Christian churches, and let’s look at all the pagan opposition and persecution against your teaching. Why, you’ve just wasted your life!’
And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Oh, no! I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.’ That’s his three-fold assessment of his service, and we see his picturing again the Christian life and ministry as an athletic contest, a race, an exercise of trust. He’s been engaged in this good fight, this good contest, this good match against Satan and against the powers and principalities; against the world, and the flesh, and the devil; and against Jewish and pagan opposition and violence; against religious error and persecution; and he has been faithful to keep fighting that fight. Paul sees that as a life that was worth it.
And then he says that he’s been running the race. It’s the picture of a long-distance run, and in that race he has had one holy passion. He has had his eye on crossing the line, and the prize of the glory of God through the salvation of sinners.
And he says, “I have kept the faith.” In the ancient games, you remember, those who participated in the games had to vow, they had to pledge that they would play by the rules. There was an oath of loyalty, and it’s as if Paul is saying, ‘I’ve fought the fight, I ran the race, and I was faithful to my pledge of loyalty. I kept the faith. I defended and proclaimed the true gospel. I continued to live in trust of the promises of God. [I added this emphasis -MH]
Now, why does Paul say that to Timothy? Because he knows that the world is going to say to Timothy that Timothy’s labors are in vain. And the Apostle Paul wants to say back to Timothy, ‘Living life like I have lived it is not a wasted life. This is what you ought to aspire to. You ought to aspire to fighting the good fight, and finish the course, and keeping the faith. That’s what you ought to aspire to.
Another great sermon (except that I think Paul was a pretty lousy orator, at least compared to other public leaders)