On July 27, 2014 I preached on Romans 8:31-39, concluding three weeks of preaching through Romans 8. This sermon focused on Paul’s clear teaching that if God is for us, no one can be against us or bring any charge against us; and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. These are two important points for us to understand.
Last Sunday I preached on Romans 8:18-30, which is the second in a three part series on Romans 8, and part of a larger study through at least Romans 8 and 9 that we will be doing. This message focused on how God’s promises to his people continue to get better and better (a theme begun in the first sermon on Romans 8), showing how God will give us a redeemed creation and redeemed bodies, and how he has also given us the Holy Spirit to intercede in prayer for us because we don’t know how to pray for the things we need to pray for. Because it is the Spirit (who is God) praying for us, we know that his prayers will be answered because he prays God’s perfect will for us.
From here, Paul revisits suffering by assuring us that Christian suffering is not purposeless. It is used to conform us to the image of Christ that we can be his brothers and sisters. Then Paul launches into the goodness of God’s plan that he sets aside some for himself and sees his plan through from predestination to glorification. Since it is God’s work to fulfill his plan on our behalf, we can trust that his plan is unfailing and our salvation is secure.
Here is the link:
On December 8 I preached about the Nicene Creed, more specifically, about the changes we see to the Creed in the Anglican Church in North America Eucharist Liturgy. The “changes” were corrections in the translation to return us to the earliest version of the Nicene Creed as accepted at the Council of Constantinople in 381. I felt that it was important to spend time “in the weeds” on this topic because we say the Creed every week and the changes were noticeable. It was a good opportunity to show how these changes (in particular the removal of the clause “and the Son” from the line saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son”) reflect the original text, and put us in communion with the Orthodox Church, the second largest Christian church in the world. I would encourage taking the time to listen to this explanation, especially if you like Church History. It is roughly 26 minutes long.
On December 15 I preached on Matthew 11:2-11 and talked about the issue of expectations. We are in a season of expectation (Advent) as we await the celebration of Christ’s birth and the return of Christ to bring his final judgment. The passage was about John the Baptist being in prison and questioning whether or not Jesus was really the Messiah- a doubt spurred by John’s expectation that the Messiah would set the prisoners free. He was a prisoner and didn’t want to die in jail so he was wondering what was up with Jesus. But Jesus showed that his purposes are so much bigger and so much better than the expectations and what we would have him do for us. He didn’t come to just free prisoners on earth, but to free us from our imprisonment to sin and give us the right to be sons and daughters of God, living together with him in his eternal kingdom.
I apologize as this sermon was longer than I intended, coming in at about 36 minutes.
On November 17 we had a very special Sunday. Baby Addie was baptized and welcomed into Christ’s family. And we celebrated Jim and Linda Marshall as they set forth to move downstate to be with their daughter and granddaughter. It was a moving and emotional Sunday and the short sermon focused on the sanctity of life, a topic that connected to both the baptism of a child and to a family leaving their lives behind to take care of their grown daughter. Life is sacred to God, and it is at all stages of life.
On November 24 Wally Stansbury preached for me and his subject was Christ the King. He looked at the three-fold office of Christ- Prophet, Priest, and King, as it was Christ the King Sunday. This was a very informative message that is worth your time. It is about 18 minutes long.
Here are my first two sermons from my current sermon series on Ruth. Each sermon in the series deals with one chapter of the book. In chapter 1, we meet Naomi and Ruth, learn of Naomi’s extreme hardship, Ruth’s loyalty and commitment to her mother-in-law, and Naomi’s belief that God has turned against her.
In chapter 2, we meet Boaz, learn that he is a good man, that he shows great kindness to Ruth, that he is a kinsman-redeemer, and that Naomi realizes all of this and realizes that God may yet have good in store for her and Ruth. Each message is about 30 minutes long. I hope you enjoy them.
Here are my sermons for the last two weeks.
On September 22 I preached on 1 Timothy 2:1-8. I talked about the importance of us praying all types of prayer for all types of people. This means that we must be willing to pray intercessions and even thanksgivings for those we consider enemies. And we often find that in so doing, we have a difficult time viewing people as enemies.
On September 29 I preached on Luke 16:19-31. This is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I explained this parable and talked about how the ultimate point Jesus seemed to be making was that the Rich Man didn’t believe the teachings of the faith and thus lived only for himself. This resulted in the Rich Man being sent to hell where he was in anguish and realized that it was too late to repent and live a life of faith. We need to be honest about whether we believe the teachings of the gospel, or if we have given some mental assent to it while living our lives in a way that suggests we don’t really- deep down- believe those teachings much, if at all.
In my last post I wrote about Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In this post I want to follow that up by talking about how the Church has done in this regard, and what the Church’s responsibility is.
To begin, we should read Romans 12:1. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This immediately precedes the verse we talked about last month, and it gives us some insights. Paul appeals to believers to present themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is all part of the same appeal.
I want to apply this, first and foremost, to the Church. If we as God’s people are intended to be holy, then certainly his Bride the Church is intended to be holy as well. In fact, Paul tells us that this is the case in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Paul talks about Jesus’ sacrifice for his Bride as being about presenting her (the Church) to himself (the Judge) in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. It is clear that holiness is the goal.
So let’s talk about how the Church is doing at that. If the call is to not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed, then it seems to me that the Church in the West (America, Canada, Europe, and Australia- West is not a location, but a distinction of what defines the culture) has either missed, ignored, or just flat out failed at this. This doesn’t mean that all individual churches have failed. But as a whole, what people refer to as “The Church,” being that body which people identify with Christianity, has simply not heeded Paul’s call. And it is because of this that we have to see the importance of how holiness and transformation go hand in hand.
Historically, the Church has been called to be and has often served as the conscience of culture. It has kept, or tried to keep society from running amok in all sorts of ungodliness. In America since the 1960s we have seen a Church that strives more to emulate or affirm culture than one that seeks to be the institution which stems the tide of moral decay. The same Church that stood against slavery because it was the right thing to do has become the Church that stands for abortion and opposes the rights of the unborn. It seems that in many ways the Church has looked to culture for guidance and has defined its mission more as being relevant than as being holy.
It seems that the Church believes that it needs to adopt a worldly way and attitude toward sin in order to be relevant. Many churches have adopted the spirit of the age in order to see their attendance grow. Usually it doesn’t work. Just ask The Episcopal Church whether or not this is an effective growth strategy. The Church so wants to be liked, so wants to be seen as hip and cool, that it latches on to what society is already doing. Yet that doesn’t make the Church relevant, it makes it irrelevant. Because the role of the Church is to offer grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope, and transformation all through the forgiveness of sins by Christ’s death, the hope of eternal life through his resurrection, and real transformation through the indwelling power of his Spirit. If we stop offering those things, then we are an irrelevant institution.
The body of Jesus’ teachings was about being holy and obedient to God. When we look for church growth strategies, we often point to The Great Commission. The Great Commission was about evangelizing the world (the last thing he said after an entire ministry about holiness), but people often miss that he ends it with the words “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” Our job as the Church isn’t just about telling people to accept Jesus into their hearts. It is about making disciples who obey all that Jesus commanded.
Church growth is never to come at the expense of holiness. Holiness is our first responsibility. Evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand and are for the purpose of leading people to both forgiveness in Christ and a transformed life of holiness. Growth in numbers isn’t the goal. Growth in Christ is. Therefore, if the Church is to be relevant, it must work towards accomplishing its goal of pursuing Christ and pursuing holiness so that we, the Church, can be presented to Christ as a Bride in all her splendor, spotless and without blemish.
The beauty of scripture is that there is more to it than you will ever uncover in one cursory reading. I am often amazed that as I look at passages that I have preached multiple times, I still see new things in a text that I haven’t seen before. When we consider the depth of the God who created all that exists through the power of his words, and when we look at the complexity of that creation, we shouldn’t be surprised at all by the depth and complexity of his Word. The Bible seems to be a reflection of the intricacy of a God that we will never fully comprehend with our finite minds.
You all likely know that I encourage a brand of thoughtful Christianity. It isn’t that I want us to be cold, detached minds who are afraid of feeling God in the depth of our souls. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I simply don’t want us to let go of the wealth of knowledge of who God is and what he says to us through his Word, especially since the bible tells us multiple times that Jesus is the Word. To know God’s word (the bible) is to know God’s Word (the Son). We all basically know John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But here is what Revelation 19:11-13 says, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” So we see that Jesus is the Word of God. And thus why it is so important for us to develop our minds so that we can apprehend who he is by reading and studying in his word.
One of the most common verses quoted in defense of the development of the mind, and in particular, in defense of thoughtful Christianity is Romans 12:2. Here Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Clearly the mind is important. Apart from Christ, in our mind, we think thoughts contrary to God. We despise him. We intellectually reject him. We think his ways are foolish and naïve. But when we are called by the power of the Holy Spirit and we are given a new heart for God, then Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. As Christians, we are not to conform to the ways and the thinking of the world. We are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
For so long I have seen this verse from Paul as simply challenging us to change our thinking and to be more thoughtful. But there is more to it. This isn’t simply about what we think. It is about what we put in as well as what we put out. Paul isn’t simply saying, “Gather together the right propositional truths about God,” though it is clear that Paul does indeed want us to have a correct propositional understanding about who God is. Paul is challenging us to be different from the world.
Before coming to Christ, we might consume all kinds of ungodly things without a second thought. We fill our minds with lust, greed, envy, hatred, and many other things through what we watch, read, and consume. We fill our minds with Fifty Shades of Grey and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (and much worse things than these). We fill our minds with movies and television shows that ridicule God and mock his character and work in the world. Sadly, as Christians, we are often no different. Before we came to Christ, we were of the world. We were conformed to it because it was our home. But now, in Christ, we are citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world. Instead of being conformed to this world, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
This isn’t about reading books on philosophy and studying apologetics. It isn’t about memorizing the Heidelberg Catechism or Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Of course, those things are actually good and beneficial. But it isn’t what Paul is getting at. Paul is suggesting that if we are going to break free from the world and its ways, then we need to transform our minds by changing what we put into them. If we put sin in, sin will come out. We have to change the very nature of our minds the same way we would change our body chemistry- through changing our diets. Stop indulging sin as a Christian and your mind won’t dwell on sin. Start indulging the things of God and you will find that you dwell on the things of God. Stop building inappropriate and unhealthy relationships and start building a relationship with Christ. Instead of being indwelt by the spirit of the age, seek a great indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
As I said, this verse from Romans 12 is often seen as a defense of building the intellect. But I have come to see so much more in it. It is less about renewing your mind through intellectual activity, and more about renewing your mind by changing what you allow to have your attention. When you make a conscious effort to focus on the things of God instead of the things of the world, you will find the very nature of how you think being transformed. Eventually, through the renewal of your mind, that diet of empty calories of worldly junk won’t satisfy. You will only be satisfied by feasting on that which is honoring of or draws you closer to the Lord.
Paul gives a reason for all this, “That by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” If we are conformed to the ways of the world, we end up with what we are seeing in the mainline Protestant Church in the West. We end up with people who call themselves Christian while engaging in and encouraging every sort of ungodliness, all in the name of Christ. When we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, we stop looking at the world through the lens of earthly concerns and we are able to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. Just think about how much of the Church has lost touch with what is good and holy and right because they want to claim a Christ found nowhere in the bible who will affirm them in their sin instead of the Christ of the bible who died for our sin.
So I encourage you to take Paul’s words seriously. Do not be conformed to this world. Do not continue to pursue a world at odds with God while wearing the name “Christian.” But submit your mind to Christ by guarding what you put into it. If you put evil in, evil will come out. But if you put the things of God in, what do you think will come out? Be transformed through the renewing of your mind. Change what you put into your mind. (For example, what does it say about us when we find things that degrade women entertaining?) Put good things in so that good things come out. Pray for the Spirit of God to renew you. Spend time in the scriptures meditating on the Word. Spend time in prayer, intimately focusing on God and getting to know him. Live a life of daily worship, singing his praises and telling of his glory to everyone. Be transformed by making your mind a dwelling place for God and not a slum of sin.
My father-in-law, Tim, is a good, bible-believing reformed Christian. When he comes Up North we have a good time talking about theology and the bible and other such things. A week ago he sent me an email asking, based on a few passages of scripture, why we should evangelize. After responding to him, Bonnie liked how I answered and suggested that I post both emails here for your consumption. I hope you find it beneficial. To no one’s surprise, my answer is wordy.
I thought of you while reading this morning’s scripture Rom 5.18: ‘…even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.’ This reminds me of John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world…’.
Mathew Henry’s take on Rom 5 v18 is:
There is a free gift come upon all men, that is, it is made and offered promiscuously to all. The salvation wrought is a common salvation; the proposals are general, the tender free; whoever will may come, and take of these waters of life. This free gift is to all believers, upon their believing, unto justification of life. It is not only a justification that frees from death, but that entitles to life. (2.) Many shall be made righteous—many compared with one, or as many as belong to the election of grace, which, though but a few as they are scattered up and down in the world, yet will be a great many when they come all together.
I suspect RC Sproul’s reformed theology would replace ‘all men’ and ‘the world’ with ‘the elect’. The idea being Jesus only died for believers.
I like what RC says: grace is delivered to the elect; justice to everyone else.
So then when asked why should we evangelize, RC’s answer: because He tells us to.
What do you think?
I think Matthew Henry would probably agree with RC Sproul that Jesus died for the elect. But we have to think about the different ways that words are used in different places. Both Jesus and Paul make clear that salvation is not for everyone, so Romans 5:18 isn’t a statement of universal salvation. I know you don’t think it is, but honestly, given the comparison Paul is making, and if we isolate verse 18, that sounds like what Paul is saying- that just as all are guilty through Adam, so all are justified in Christ. Jesus didn’t teach this. If we continue reading past John 3:16, in the next few verses he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” He came that the world might be saved through him. There is a possibility of salvation for all because there is a universal general call by the Spirit. The general call- that the words of the gospel are preached to the ends of the earth- is different from the effectual call. Two people hear the gospel preached at the same time, in the same place, and one rejects it while the other receives it. So the whole world could be saved because the work of the atonement was made available to all. Yet only the elect are saved. Most will hear the gospel, but only some respond to it. Jesus makes this clear in John 6: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Who will be raised up on the last day? All those that the Father has given the Son. What is the sign that they have been given by the Father to the Son? That they look on the Son and believe.
On the issue of why some respond to the gospel and others don’t, Jesus again elaborates in John 8:47, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” All this stuff gets back to why RC and others (myself included) say that Jesus’ death was for the elect. While the general call is offered to all, it is only received by some, and that “some” are those determined by God himself, whom he set aside for himself as a love offering for his Son (See Romans 8:29-30, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”). God predestined some that they would be brothers and sisters of Christ, so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a large family.
Incidentally, when we read John 3:16-18, we also see that justification by faith is not a Pauline doctrine, but a teaching of Jesus himself. “18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
This all brings us back to Romans 5:18. Again, as an isolated verse (and even an isolated passage) it can seem to be teaching universal salvation. Yet Paul doesn’t teach universal salvation anywhere. We have already looked at some of Jesus’ words on the issue. Romans 2:6-8, “He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 3:21-25, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” In these two passages we see both that God has wrath and fury for some, and that some (not all) are saved by faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. So the passage in Romans 5 can’t be speaking of universal salvation (which I know that you know). But it is important in laying this out to get back to your original question.
So, why do we evangelize? The most obvious reason is because Jesus told us to. And I can’t think of a more appropriate reason. Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The command is to make disciples, so it does go beyond simply telling the good news, but also raising people in the faith. And it is a command not a suggestion. But Paul gives us a reason as well, and it comes at the end of a lengthy discussion on God’s sovereign right to choose some for glory and others for destruction (Romans 9). Romans 10:13-17 says, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” So right after Romans 8 and 9, where Paul spells out God’s sovereign plan of election pretty explicitly, he continues with the call to go forth preaching the gospel because it is the only way for people to hear the message. The bible doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit preaches the gospel, but that the Holy Spirit draws those who have heard. God in his sovereign plan has seen fit to make us, his creation, an integral part of his salvific plan. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. How can people call on Jesus if they have never heard of him? So it is our job to make sure that they have.
I suspect that I have said much more than you were asking me to in giving a response. But as those who sit in my church Sunday mornings are aware, I never say anything briefly.
Hope this helps.
This past Sunday New Life celebrated the baptism of Daniel Robert Bridge and Olivia Brooke Bridge. The sermon was used to explain the nature of Anglican baptism by walking through the vows and prayers that are said during the baptismal service. As a Church that does infant baptism, the Anglican liturgy makes clear that the responsibility for the baptized rests in three places: the presenters (parents and godparents), the church community, and God. The presenters make the vows to follow Christ themselves, raise the baptized to know Christ and follow him, and to renounce Satan and evil. The church body vows to provide an environment conducive to the baptized growing up in a loving community of faith where they experience God. Then God himself is invoked to work in the lives of the baptized in order to make conversion a reality as they grow. Through all of this, according to the prayers and responses, it is clear that the work of salvation is not the work of a priest doing the baptizing, but is the work of the Lord as the scriptures tell us, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”
Enjoy the audio and keep the newly baptized in your prayers that they will grow into a life of faith.