When we speak of spiritual discipline we are talking about the shape or the form or the normal way of life of a Christian. It is my goal in this series of blogs to help us know more of what our everday perspective and activity should be as followers of Jesus.
Mat 20:26-28 "It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
1 Pet 2:16 "Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God."
Serving is a big topic. It is closely connected to the very purpose for which we were made as humans, to serve or glorify God. When we do not do that we are serving something or someone else, but we are always serving.
What is it to serve? From ancient kings who had handmaidens to fan them with palm branches to the hip hop artist or pop singer or movie star on the front of a magazine...people have thought the goal in life or the good life is to be a person where you are served.
The Bible teaches that there is only one who is to be served and that is God alone. The way of life for a Christian is to be a way of service. This is the way Jesus taught us and the way in which will truly satisfy us. When we are not actively serving God, either in our everyday operational perspective or not practically do anything to contribute to God's kingdom...then we are in danger.
We are not to serve God as though he needs us to or the job will not get done (Acts 17:25). We are to serve because that is what we were made to do and we are most satisfied as humans when we are serving Jesus rather than serving anyone or anything else.
This does not necessarily mean where you go to church or what you do at church...but it is your perspective. Whether the world is yours to be taken and used at your disposal or whether it is something you join in praise to God with and use to profit the gospel.
Human beings are meant to serve and worship Jesus and his church. What are you currently committed to doing for Jesus' church? Who each day are you making it your goal to serve? If you are serving God what is your motive? Why are you serving? What is it to serve?
God is to be at the forefront of our heart and devotion and if he is we will easily lapse into serving something else and we will end up miserable for it. So make it your daily discipline to serve Jesus. If you haven't done something outside of your normal way of life to serve God do that htis week and start making a habit of it. Walk through each day with an attitude of service. If you don't contribute your time, talents or treasure to Jesus' church, start doing that. In everything it is not people you are serving but the Lord God who is pleased with the discipilne of service. And when he is pleased we are ushered into the life of praise are intended for.
There is a lifestyle unique to being a Christian which takes time, education, and development to grow in...especially when you live in a land where concrete, cars, computers, and cell phones rule the land. Last week we looked at the discipline of rest, it is funny how much of the inventions of our age are actually tools to help us work harder. This week's discipline focuses on the individual's need to be alone sometimes.
Matthew 6:6 "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Matthew 14:13 "Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself."
Sometimes life can just seem to be noise and you can't drown it out no matter how hard you try. Jesus here teaches us the important of getting away and getting alone and getting with God. Interesting things happen to you when you get alone with no distractions.
In the summer of 1998 I traipsed around Europe by myself for two weeks with a backpack and my surfboard and my surfboard stuffed with Bibles to give away to people I got in conversations with about the gospel. When I was in Portugal it was easy because lots of people there knew English. When I was in Spain it was very difficult because hardly anyone spoke English and I was traveling to all these obscure little towns on the coast where there was supposed to be good surf.
I remember there was a period of time when I didn't speak for over three days. I remember being in my room in this hostel and wondering if I could still even talk and so I spoke a few words just to make sure I still could. Someone when you don't talk and you are buy yourself and you don't fill up the time watching movies, tv, or listening to music...something happens. You start to think and the voice of God becomes much louder when you open up his book and read or bend down your knees to pray. Several things were clarified for me on that trip...my calling to be a preacher, that I loved Amy and wanted to marry her one day, and that Europe desperately needs the gospel.
Solitude isn't easy. We are surrounded by people and things so much of the time. You may even be a loner and not really spend time with people that much but you are still always in the presence of something. Solitude is different. It is designated time to get away and be alone. Sometimes for days at a time, sometimes for a day sometimes for a few hours.
Jonathan Edwards knew about the discipline of solitude. Sometimes he would leave and walk out the front door and tell his wife Sarah he was going to go take a walk to "contemplate divine things" and be alone. Often, I will go down to the southern part of the Sunset Cliffs here in San Diego, just to clear my head. Down there it doesn't even seem like you are in the city. It just makes it easier to tell my God about all the things that are bothering me and to look to Jesus and strengthen myself in the grace of his cross.
If you haven't done so recently, let me encourage you to just get away for awhile and go be by yourself. When I was in seminary they took us up to big bear for a weekend. We didn't know what to expect, but the first night we showed up they handed us a sleeping bag and a flashlight and told us to take our Bible and go get lost and not to come back until afternoon the next day. I was like "what!" Maybe you need to do that, or maybe you just for a little while you need to go to a place of different surroundings and not take anything or anybody with you and be alone in solitude. Walk with Jesus, folllow him and do that and may God minister to and build up your soul.
This week we look at the biblical discipline of rest. This is a discipline I have not been good at and lately I have been spending more time trying to work on, learn it and develop it in my life. Here is what I have been learning...
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God;
Exodus 20:11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Hebrews 4:9-11,14 There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest...[through the] great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.
For some, rest is not difficult for you. You are like professional resters. You sleep in, play most the day, and regularly dismiss anything difficult or challenging that might enter your mind. So some of you need to learn about the discipline of work! :) But some of those practices are actually good things that those who work hard and sometimes work too much need to learn.
What is rest? The wikipedia lord says it is to relax or take time off, lesiure, a period of relative inactivity to allow recovery and growth. The Bible's definition is "Sabbath," a solemn day of ceasing from work and focusing on or worshipping God. The problem comes when we think we need rest from God. We never need rest away from him, he is the source of rest. He rested on the seventh day after creating the universe in six, not because he was tired, but to give us a universal (pre-fall, pre-covenant) example to follow.
I think rest plays itself out in two main way, one on the individual level and one on the community level. First the individual level. Every human needs a day to stop his normal way of life activities and to sort of take spiritual inventory and spiritual leisure. For me, much of my work as a Pastor is a build up to Sunday. So I take Monday off. I begin my Monday by trying to stop and think in the morning about how I am doing spiritually in my walk with Christ and try to just sort of take a step back and enjoy God without any distraction or worries about time.
I have learned this is not easy. So I picked up a book I have been reading through called "The Hard Work of Rest." It really is a discipline to rest because things enter my head so easily that can disrupt that spirit of rest and relaxation. So now, Monday morning I turn off my cell phone and computer and hide them for the day, not to be touched until Tuesday morning.
I have learned that rest takes work, I have to guard my mind and not allow myself to think about any of the things which have to do with my normal way of life. So, since I am a pastor...yes and sorry everyone, there is one day a week when my goal is not to think about you and that is because I love you too much to allow myself to get burnt out on being a pastor. :)
Lastly, I am learning that it is important for me to go do something fun, like surfing or going to a movie or reading a new book...doing something which I enjoy and am not able to do everyday. With all of these things in place, I am able to wake up early Tuesday morning and feel refreshed and ready for the next week.
As for the community level, we are intended and made by God to worship and enjoy him together...essentially to rest in him together. Yes, all rest involves work of some kind and it is a lot of work to get the family together to go to church and put on a church service. But like the individual level, it is a different way of worship then our normal everyday communion with God. And it is rest together because of the effect it has in our souls. That is why the Sabbath is so important, why Hebrews 10:25 says "not to neglect assembling ourselves together." The human being is made to worship God with other human beings, at least one day a week.
At the risk of sounding condescending or condemning...I think I have witnessed a somewhat odd thing about Sunday worship for Christians in San Diego. Sunday it seems for some is a dispensible thing, like one will come to church if they feel like it or if there is something else going on or if you don't have to work. Now, I am not saying you can never go on vacation, I think vacations are a great application of the biblical principle of rest. The point is that the normal weekly life is for a Christian to be at church every Sunday.
Sunday is supposed to be a very important day for Christians together. As a body, when one person is not there they are missed and in a sense several other people's worship is decreased because part of the family was missing. When I don't see some of you guys on Sunday I am saddened and worried for you and hope everything is okay. Church is family, we are a family...so let us be a family of people who make a commitment together to be together on Sundays, even if it means turning down other things or potentially good jobs and not making other plans on Sunday, all because we love Jesus, our God and savior and we really love each other.
Rest is an important spiritual discipline. To steal some of St. Augustine's words, "we are restless until we rest." We need spiritual rest. Rest on the individual level and rest on the communal level. Real rest in Jesus Christ. Much love to you all.
- Pastor Duane
For many how one is to live as a Christian in this world is a huge question mark. The result is often a compartmentalization, where your Christian self fits into Sunday mornings and the rest of the week is a different story. In a picture of what the regular Christian life looks like, this is a discipline God intendes to be regular fixture.
1. Faith and Financies are Connected
Matthew 6:20-21 "...lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
The normal cultural conception is to think that what you do with your money has nothing to do with God. But Jesus in this passage puts money (treasure) at the heart mankind's pursuit and desire of heaven and happiness.
2. Wealth is not our Security
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
For most of us who live in the U.S. having enough money, i.e. "financial stability" is the goal or source of one's security. Here, Jesus puts our security not in our money but in our trusting the heavenly Father, that He is the Father and that He does care for us and will care for us.
3. We are Stewards of our Possessions not Owners
"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein."
The main cultural tendency is to think that money is ours, because we work to earn it, and thus the things we buy are ours because we used the money we worked for to buy them. The Bible here teaches that everything is his and that how we work and how we buy is a stewardship of God's work and wages. We are to work hard and spend wisely so that God will be pleased with what we have done with his labor and his money.
4. Possessions are Eternal not Temporal
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."
Cultural tends to value certain items very highly: expensive cars, TV's, clothes, etc. Jesus says here that all those things will lose their value so we should seek after the treasure which lasts, the treasures of heaven...the things which glorify God.
5. Give Rather than Accumulate
"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, â€˜It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
2 Corinthians 9:6-7
"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
Culture tends to emphasize that what you get is what makes you happy. New things. New experiences. But the Bible's perspective that it is much more enjoyable to give to a person(s). Giving is the Bible's main paradigm for how we are to look at our money, we are to be a giving people.
Some may have been burned by churches that seemed like they were only after your money and sadly sometimes that may be the case. However, the biblical guidline is not dependent on select indivudals abuses but on God. Giving in the Old Testament was a tithe or ten percent, which can be a good guidline for us today in how much you regularly support Jesus church and mission.
Jim Elliot the famous missionary said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." If you want to know how you are doing on these things just take a look at your checkbook or think about what Jesus would see if he looked as well. Praise God for his grace which changes us and grows us up into him who is our perfect head.
May God continue to bless The Resolved Church as we attempt to treasure Jesus and His mission together by realizing that faith and financies are connected, that wealth is not our security, that we we are stewards and not owners of our money and things, that we are first and foremost to seek eternal possesions not temporary ones, and lastly, that we are to be a giving people.
Thanks to Gary Warkentin for those great insights and that consise theology of money. As many of you know we are entering our make it or break it year with the church plant. So I encourage all of you to invite whoever you can think of to come and partner with us in the plant together. In addition, if you can think of any individuals who do not live in San Diego but would like to help support the church financially, I am sending our a support letter to several of our family and friends and you are welcome to send it out as well. CLICK HERE to read and/or print our the letter.
Much love to you all,
There are many spiritual disciplines God makes available to us as means for growing, stabilizing, and delighting us in a pursuit of his glory. I am expounding on 9 of them, one each week.
For many how one is to live as a Christian in this world is a huge question mark. The result is often a compartmentalization, where your Christian self fits into Sunday mornings and the rest of the week is a different story. I want to help us all have a picture of what the regular Christian life is to look like.
3. Walking in Prayer
Phillippians 4:6 "â€¦in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
1 Thessalonians 5:17 "Pray without ceasing."
Prayer is a big subject. For those who do not know God, it seems a crutch for those who are weak. For those who know God, it is currency of the relationship. We speak to God in prayer and he speaks to us in His Word, the Bible. How do you pray? Do you ever feel like you want pray but when you go to pray you are not quite sure what to say? It is easy to pray in crisis when you have a direct immediate need, but how about regular every day prayer life?
I don't think there are any set ways you are supposed to pray every time. In fact I think God provides a myriad of ways so that we will not get stuck in religious duty in our prayer life. So here is a smattering of things that can help stimulate your prayer life on any given day.
You can try and start theologically from the top down, acknowledging and thanking God of who he is and what he has done in history and in your life. You can pray through certain doctrines of the Bible, like God's sovereignty or justification. You can pray the prayers of the Bible, there a ton in the Psalms and New Testament letters. Or you can begin with yourself and how you are feeling and communicate to God what is on your heart and mind.
I find that it is a totally different experience to pray outloud. This often enables you to be much more focused and engaged while you pray. In addition, sometimes the posture of your body can greatly enhance or effect your prayer. So try kneeling sometimes while you pray or laying prostrate, face down on the ground. In this way you communicate a humility and acknowledgement of who you are talking to.
Often times some patterns or tools can be helpful. The Lord's prayer is an excellent prayer to pray either word for word or as a pattern. As a pattern, you begin with acknowledging God as Father and speak of his perfections, then you pray for his work to be done in your heart and in the heart of others here on earth, then you pray for help for the particular day and recognize your great spiritual need which is greater than the need for food, then you think of sins you may have recently committed and confess them and ask for forgiveness, then you pray for spiritual protection against evil particularly praying for areas of sin you have fallen in some time before.
Another pattern people have used is the five finger prayer. For you thumb you pray for your friends and family (because your thumb is your tallest finger), for your forefinger you pray for your pastor and teachers (because they point you in the right direction), for your middle finger you pray for the political government (because they are the tallest), for your ring finger you pray for the weak and needy and those who don't know Jesus (because it is the weakest finger), and lastly for the pinky you pray for yourself (because you and your pinky are the smallest). Some people use acronymns like A.C.T.S. and follow that pattern of (A)doration (C)onfession (T)hanksgiving (S)upplication. Others use prayer lists. Personally, I have a list of names on a piece of paper that I pray through every day.
Prayer is important, it aligns our heart with God. We need it because we are very prone to go astray. In prayer we can make requests but we need beware not to treat God as some cosmic vending machine and get upset if he doesn't answer the way we want. It has been said, God always answers, sometimes his answer is yes, yes and here is more, sometimes no, or sometimes no, not yet.
I've read a lot of books on prayer. Some are written with the intent to ignite a passion. Some are written with the intent of communicating the practical need. The best book I have found is "Prayer" by Richard Foster. In it Foster surveys all the different types and ways of Christian praying. If you are interested in becoming a better prayerer I'd encourage you to check that out and to just spend more and more time praying. Jesus said his house is to be a house of prayer. Let us be that house.
Psa 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psa 77:12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
In our day and age, most of us, when we hear the word "meditation," automatically think of eastern meditation, where the goal is to empty your mind in attempt to gain relaxation and tranquility.
Here is an excerpt from the Upanishad, "OM! This syllable is the whole world...
the past, the present, the future - everything is just the word OM...For truly everything here is Brahman, this self, Atman, is Brahman...Meditate as OM. The wise man should surrender his words to his mind and this he should surrender to the knowing self and the knowing self he should surrender to the great self and that he should surrender to the peaceful self."
Many taking this to heart use the practice of chanting in a low voice the word "om" and try to empty their mind of everything bothering them, everything that is anything and to just be at one with everything.
The Bible encourages and even commands us to meditate (Josh 1:8) but this is not what is meant by biblical meditation. The word for meditate, here in both of these passages is the Hebrew word, hagut. The word can be connected with things like whispers and moans...especially when it is used of animals like a cow who make noises as they chew the cud, swallow it, regurgitate it and chew it some more. When connected with the word of God, to meditate is to ponder, to take in, to think about, and make plans in accordance with.
Such meditation is far different than the eastern concept. Christian meditation is not an attempt to empty one's mind and recognize one's connection with the world, but rather to fill one's mind with the things of God and his word. It is to take theology deep into the heart, to think about God and think about the cross and think about the gospel...over and over and over again. It is to have your thoughts transformed and shaped outlook of Scripture.
Our minds our already empty enough, we don't need to empty them any more, we need to fill them and teach them to think right. Don't get me wrong, not everything eastern is bad, just misplaced. Making moans or whispering words can be a great tool.
For hundreds of years many Godly Christians have used "breath prayers" to meditate, where in short whispers, you repeat the same prayer over and over again. You can make up your own, use one that is in the Bible, or use one developed by the saints. Often I use the Jesus Prayer. It goes like this, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." My dad used to use it when I was growing up, he just didn't know it had a name and he shortened it a little bit to "Jesus help!" Or some just mutter the word, "cross" over and over again. The practice is good it's just that there is much better stuff to meditate with than the word, OM.
Another practice, which is a gift God gives to some is the ability to speak in tongues. Not other languages, but a language unknown to yourself, and known only by God and possibly angels. By using the gift of tongues you can communicate the emotions of your heart which you are unable to put into words, and God hears and understands. If you don't know if you have this gift you can try in the privacy of your prayer and meditation and see if it feels comfortable, if it doesn't you probably don't have the gift. If it does feel comfortable and profitable than use it and enjoy it.
Meditation is meant to be a part of the Christian life. If you don't meditate it is easy for the state of your heart to just go unchecked. So I encourage you, meditate on the Lord regularly and you will be blessed.
disciplines God makes available to us as means for growing, stabilizing, and delighting us in a pursuit of his glory. I am going to expound on 7 of them, one each week. We begin with the role of the Bible in our lives.
1. Walking in the Word
Joshua 1:8 "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."
Psalm 1:1-2 "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night."
Matthew 4:4 "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."
God intends that every person who is a follower of Jesus would be reading the Bible at least twice a day, in the morning and at night. Jesus says reading the Bible is more important than even eating and most eat at least three times a day. By having a devotional reading time in the evening you prepare your mindset for the morning and by having a devotional reading time in the morning you prepare yourself for the day and it's challenges. This does not take long and can be the most valuable 5-10 minutes that you spend in your entire day. Here are some helpful things I do.
Try reading through a book of the Bible. In the morning I am currently reading through the Psalms. The Psalms are great because you read words from a real person, honest about his struggles and hardship, and yet you always read of his persistent resolve to pursue and glorify God. In the evening, Amy and I read together and we just finished 1st & 2nd Corinthians not long ago. If you are married or have children, you should spend some time each day reading the Bible together.
Try reading a chapter in the morning and then re-read that chapter again at night and see how much you remembered throughout the day. When you read something in the morning try and jot down on a piece of paper something that really stuck out to you, or if you don't have paper, just make a mental note of it and try think about it several times during the day. For example, yesterday I read Psalm 56 in the morning, the last verse of Psalm 56 says, "You have delivered my soul from death, yes my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life." So all through the day I kept praying, God help me to walk in the light of life. When I was watering our lawn, I stood there with the water hose and thought, God help me to walk in the light of life. When in the evening Amy and I sat down to watch some TV, I thought, God help me to walk in the light of life.
Try reading the text from the previous week's Sunday sermon and contemplating what the words mean and how they might apply to your life. I practice this often, not just because I am the one preaching but it is good to always be learning and growing in your knowledge of God's Word. So if you have time to get some study aids and look a few words up or read something theology book related to a subject in the text, this can be a great aid in your attempt to become one who walks in God's Word.
Walking in the Word means always having the words of the Bible on our mind. In order to do that you need to read the Bible. If you are not a good reader, don't be discouraged, like everything, just practice and you will get better and better. In ancient Mesopotamia people were into worshipping idols made of metal or gold, gods they could see. One of the biggest things which made the people of God distinct was that their God was not a God you could see but one who revealed himself through words in a book. This is the reason why the ancient people of God were often known as "the people of the book." That is our identity as Christians, we are to be a people of the book, not just because it is the source for our beliefs but because it is our way of life.
May God enrich you all as you spend time reading the Bible this week.
I've been thinking about Saint Augustine because there is this rock and roll group named Band of Horses and they have a song called "Saint Augustine." It's a stellar song. But are familiar with who Saint Augustine is?
There are times in one's life when you must dig your heels in. Like a football linebacker you must put your helmet on, put your head down, and dig in and push forward. Saint Augustine did that and left a legacy on the face of Christianity that will never be erased. It began with his conversion into the gospel of Jesus Christ and he was continually fuelled by that resolve.
Here is what he wrote, "During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which is was...How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose!...You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outline all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves...O Lord my God, my light, my wealth, and my salvation...The soul of men shall hope under the shadow of Thy wings; they shall be made drunk with the fullness of Thy house; and of the torrents of Thy pleasures Thou wilt give them to drink; for in Thee is the fountain of life and in Thy light shall we see the light. Give me a man in love, he knows what I mean. Give me one who yearns; give me one who is hungry; give me one far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of eternal country. Give me that sort of man, he knows what I mean. But if I speak to a cold man, he just does not know what I am talking about..."
May God grant salvations like that in our hearts and in the hearts of the people we are befriending in this city. Any may God grant us the tenacity to follow through with commitments to the gospel which are becoming to the name by which Jesus calls us, saints. For the glory of Christ...
- Pastor Duane
Audio & Manuscripts
Listen Read A Man, A Mission and a Calling - selected texts
Listen Read The Resolved Church Must Die - Mark 8:34-38
Listen Read The Resolved Church Must Live - Mark 8:35
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
May 22nd, 2005
"Justification by Faith"
Tonight we come to what is considered by many to be the most important verse in the whole Bible. Romans 3:26 competes a being one of the most important but it very well may be this verse.
If any of you have heard the story of Martin Luther of the 16th century or maybe you've seen the movie, "Luther" then this is the text which ignited his sole and set the Reformation in motion.
Martin Luther later said the doctrine here in this verse is the one by which the church stands or falls. I'll take it one step further and say it's the doctrine by which you will stand or fall.
Let's read the text and pray over it.
Okay, to start off our approach to the third week on this two verses let's rehearse in our minds what we've learned so far about the book of Romans leading up to this point.
Romans a book about God, how God is made to look great. How God is glorious and humans are not. How God is glorious in saving humans through Jesus Christ. We've been spending few weeks in verses 16-17 of the first chapter. This is the last verse of the introduction where Paul is making his thesis for the entire book. So, the subject of vs.17 is what Paul, the human author, will be arguing for the entire book.
Verse 16 is all about the word "gospel." So far we have learned this about the gospel...
The Gospel is Jesus. Jesus' person, Jesus' work, and Jesus' message concerning himself. We have learned the Gospel is sufficiently powerful for future salvation. We have learned the gospel is powerful because it can keep believers believing until that salvation. And we have learned the result of the gospel is that we will not be shamed.
Last week we focused on both the universal and particular aspects of the gospel. As the universal gospel is it for all or any who believe. As the particular gospel, it saves particular peoples, like Jews and Gentiles and those within their ethnicities.
We learned that Jews are significant because they point to the fact that ultimately it's God who does some choosing. God chooses a Jewish messiah and God chooses to save all kinds of people through that messiah. God chooses to bring glory to himself by doing things this way. So we ended last week by saying that ultimately salvation, through and through has to do with God's sovereign choice or pleasure.
The Question Being Answered
That brings us to verse 17, which begins with "for" (one of those important connective words). Theology is built on the word "for." So "for" here says to us that what Paul is about to tells us is how believing in the gospel is powerful to salvation.
Paul's answer here in verse 17 is "justification by faith." If you wanted to pose this sermon as a question you could say it's meant to answer the question, "How can believing in the gospel actually save a believer?"
So let us re-read verse 17 (read twice). "For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed by faith for faith as it is writtenâ€¦"
Okay. We're going to be rigorous. That's what it means to be exegetical. To rigorously read out the meaning word by word. First we looked at the word "For" now "the righteousness of God." And right away we have a problem.
This is a puzzling phrase, "the righteousness of God." It's puzzling because for the most part we are in large detached from a concern for the righteousness of God. We don't really care a whole lot of whether or not God looks righteous or not. For most that's not even on their radar unless they are attacking God or saying he doesn't exist because bad things happen. But most are not even concerned with how right God is in his being...how deep the fountain of his justice flows from.
This verse was the gateway for Luther into paradise because he understood the hell of the phrase the righteousness of God requires. God's righteousness is perfection, utter holiness and any departure is an extreme offense and malignment.
Today I believe we as Christians in the last couple decades at least, have so emphasized the love of God (which doesn't even show up until the 5th chapter of Romans) that we have ended up sacrificing the righteousness of God. At the expense of the righteousness of God we have made up a loving God who no longer cares about his honor and his glory and his holy just and right character.
Now I want us to enter into paradiseâ€¦that this verse would be a freedom and a joy to us. But I don't think that can happen unless we have a fear for the righteousness of God.
"Righteousness of God"
So my plan tonight, to be straight with you, is to scare you. Before we can even begin to understand this verse and the astounding claim it makes we MUST understand the righteousness of God. We must know that our souls hang over the pit of hell and we live our lives in the face of a God who is angry. Yesâ€¦God is angry with us. We are as Jonathan Edwards saidâ€¦"sinners in the hands of an angry God" if God is truly a righteous and true God.
Our concern at The Resolved Church is to be God-centered in everything. His glory is our #1 concern. We refuse to shy away from the hell-fire and brimstone truths of Scripture which uphold and honor the glory of God. We believe the more we make of God and the less we make of ourselves the more we will truly be satisfied.
All week I thought about how I might communicate the righteousness of God to you. I thought about explaining how all peoples of the earth have a sense of right and wrongâ€¦and that it flows out of God.
But that just seemed so detached. Felt just philosophical. I thought about talking about sin. About defining it and how it is an infraction upon God's glory offending an infinite being and thus deserving an infinite response. I thought about talking on how sin is a stench in God's nostrils that he detests and that is gross and heinous. But Paul is going to spend the next two chapters talking about that.
So what have decided to do is turn to a very descriptive passage in Scripture which demonstrates how holy and upright God is and what he requires. So turn to Isaiah chapter 6. The picture of God in Isaiah 6 is one of a perfect and holy, righteous being.
Before we read this I want to say some things about the word "righteousness" then hopefully we will be able to read this passage and see the connection between it and the righteousness of God in Romans.
The word "righteousness" in Romans in reference to God is a term of perfection. The word in the Greek original that we translate as "righteousness" in English is, "dikaiosune." Dikaiosune is the same thing justice. We just don't have a word for it English. We don't have a justiceness. That's not a word, so instead we say righteousness. It is a term describing the state or character of a person. It is a legal term. The picture is one of a courtroom. One of a judge and a guilty party.
The title of today's sermon is justification by faith and its concern is justice. What is just or right. How can one be right before God? What we are talking about is a concern of one's standing. When we say justification what we are saying is righteousification. But that isn't a word either.
So just get this. Whenever we see the word righteousness of God we should think of standing. Right standing before a right God.
Okay so Isaiah 6. The picture of God. His rightness or holiness or perfectionâ€¦ Let's read Isaiah 6:1-7. God is righteous. Friends, family.... know God is righteous. And be scared for your soul like Isaiah.
God is righteous and that brings us to Romans 1:17 and why Luther hated it and why if we have a view of God's righteousness this verse will seem very problematic and very puzzling.
So let me read Romans 1:17 again paraphrased in a wrong way but in the way that Luther first saw it and in the way that we should first see it if we are at all concerned about the righteousness of God. "For in it the righteousness of God is made known to humans so that by doing works of faith and works of faith and works of faith we will live eternally."
Do you see it? Why martin Luther hated this verse? Because when he read it he understood that God was righteous and requires righteousness and when he read the word faith he read acts of faith. Thus no matter how much faith he acted out there was no peace in his soul because he understood the righteousness of God.
Now I pray that in this moment God would allow us to enter paradise. I want to show you that gate that Luther discovered and the one I pray that my soul would know. Luther beat and beat and beat upon this text. Listen to his own account.
"I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1 [:17], "In it the righteousness of God is revealed," that had stood in my way. For I hated that word "righteousness of God," which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!" Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, â€˜He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. (Martin Luther: Selections, pp. 11-12)."
Look at our verse with me, Romans 1:17. If we understand that the righteousness of God here in Romans as saying that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, that's the righteousness of God shown in Isaiah 6...then this verse cannot make any sense because when the righteousness of God is unveiled everybody dies, because like Isaiah and his people, we too are all unclean sinners...so woe (that's a death curse) woe unto us. But the gospel is about how God saves. So then we ask what righteousness of God is being referred to?
Let's look at two words in hopes that we might discover it.
By Faith Revealed
Luther says he gave heed to the context. What comes before and what comes after the word "righteousness." What do you see? He noticed two words, "by faith." The question is in which way the righteousness of God is revealed? Is it revealed in a way that we see the righteousness of God or is it something else?
Lets look at these two words. When we look at the word "by," what we are looking at is means. That was last week's sermon. Salvation is the goal and there is a certain way or means by which God saves. This verse, this week is the "how." How God actually does it. The answer is by faith.
The English here is frustrating. Luther studied this in the Greek text, the language the New Testament was originally written in, and in fact he translated the whole Greek New Testament into English.
What Luther saw in the Greek is that the word faith and the word believe here are the same Greek word. Believe is the verb. Faith is the noun. "Pistos" and "pisteou." We just don't have an English word like faithing.
So faithing or believing becomes the means (remember last week we talked about means and ends). The word "by" indicates means. Or as Jonathan Edwards say the thing "fit" for the communication of God's righteousness to the believer. The thing which is fitting or fits.
Justification or righteousness by faith is the fitting thing. This is the gospel. That God gives us righteousness! HIS! And he gives it to us. Freely! No work!
This is where this text hits us. Where the words "by faith" hit us (the context Luther referred to).
Because we as a people, as human beings are programmed to do works. But we cannot do any one thing or do enough things to get God's righteousness. Which is why Isaiah 64:6 says, "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." The gospel as that righteousness is alien to us and God gives it to people despite their hatred of Him and His glory.
Ahh. It is paradise. All that God is. His holiness and perfection becomes our through the gospel. Through Jesus we are made right with God. And it does not just end thereâ€¦
It would be very easy for us to form a theology at this point that pictures Christianity as this thing in which one believes and they get righteousness and you put it in your back pocket for a rainy day.
But the Bible will not allow us to do that. It won't let us because of two things more that Paul says here in verse 17.
One, "from faith to faith" and two, "the just/righteous will live by faith."
Look at the phrase from faith to faith. Now remember verse 16 with me, that the gospel is the power of God unto salvationâ€¦now put that next to faith to faith. What this tells us is that what happens is that the gospel (Jesus) is powerful to save me because the righteousness of God is not only given by faith but itself gives faith.
The gospel keeps believers believing! From faith to faith to faith. This is the "will live" of the quote from Habakkuk, "the just will live by faith." It's the second reason I spoke of. Will live is future. That future salvation of verse 16, unto salvation.
The gospel is the righteousness of God given and lived out by faith today, tomorrow and into glory. The quote from Habakkuk is sort of an extra umph of support.
In Habakkuk, righteousness belongs to the person. The righteous man will live. Thus we understand the righteousness of God in view here is one given to man.
So those are the two reasons why Scripture will not allow considering faith as something that solely occurred in the past. One, faith is for faith. And two, true faith is the one that keep giving one faith so that one may live...and will live and live forever.
I want to conclude tonight in a couple ways. First I want to summarize and then I want to leave you with some charges.
So first a summary. The title of this sermon is "Justification By Faith." It is the answer to the question: how can believing in the gospel can save a believer?"
Here is the answer of Romans 1:17. Believing in the gospel, in Jesus and his work, saves believers because through that believing God gives his perfect righteousness to unrighteous human beings freely. It is freely, not on the basis of anything humans do. And the righteousness God gives is a righteousness that keeps giving faith. And that continued faith will enable a person to live unto salvation from the justice or righteousness of God whose anger will be unleashed against all unrighteousness.
Now there may be lingering questionsâ€¦perhaps about the righteousness of God unleashed against those who do not receive his gift of righteousness through faith. Or maybe how Jesus and his work is sufficient grounds for God to give us righteousness.
But that is where we are going. We'll deal with them in up and coming weeks. Chapters 2-3 are about our unrighteousness and God's wrath and chapters 4-5 are about Christ righteousness being given to us.
So I will just let Paul explain those things when we get there.
Since faith is the only way we get the righteousness God requires I want to tell you to have it. Simply put faith is a trust or reliance or a confidence or a sufficiency. It's a charge to believe in the gospel. 2 Timothy 3:16 says God's word is sufficient for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. So I want to pray that it does it's work and grants us that which it calls us to.
The gospel is our only hope. To simply believe is sufficient. So accept the truth of God's word. Feel the weight and the fear and the importance of God's righteousness. Then apply it to your life. At every turn, every problem, every day live in light of God's righteousness and that righteousness that given to you.
Believers are justified by faith. So give up on trying to earn righteousness. Our righteous works are as Isaiah saysâ€¦filthy rags. Put no confidence in your works and quit trying to impress God, you only reap wrath for yourself.
Give up thinking you can be a good Christian. There is no such thing. We stand over the pit of hell and with only the righteousness of God we will be delivered. Let us put all our hope all our faith in the righteousness of God as it is revealed in the gospel of Christ.
Let us rejoice in justification. Love that term with a holy fear. Love Christ and the gospel. May your justification be your food and your delight for everyday. Trust in the righteousness of God alone for everything.
Preach to your sinful soul the gospel the gospel the gospel. Look forward to a salvation. Have faith to live live and live unto a day when we will see God seated on the throne and will not respond with a plead of death but will plead the righteousness of God and live.
Oh let us enter into paradise daily through the righteousness of God. Let's pray.