During our recital of the Apostles’ Creed in Sunday’s worship service, I heard a young woman’s distinguished voice over the rest of the congregation. I thought to myself, “Man, she really believes this creed.” When I spoke to her after the service, I said, “I love the conviction and passion in your voice when you say the Creed. I heard you above everyone else.” Her response was golden; she said, “I love the Creed. I love to say it! It means so much to me.”
I’m with her. I love the Creed. And, I love to join along with my fellow worshippers saying it each week. The Creed holds a special place in my heart, and the hearts of many others, because it ties us together as the people of God and reminds us of the faith that is ours in Christ Jesus. I remember how, as a child, reciting the Creed Sunday after Sunday with men and women, young and old, was an encouragement to my faith. These brothers and sisters – fathers and mothers – shared the faith that I had in the Lord Jesus Christ. What a great reminder that we are the family of God and equals in Christ!
The Creed also helps remind us each week of just what it is that we believe as orthodox Christians. It is a basic summary of the things – things like: God is Trinity; Jesus is fully divine and fully human; the resurrection from the dead; the forgiveness of sins – that every Christian should believe. In addition, the Creed enables us to proclaim to visitors what we believe as a congregation. Chester ARP Church is an Apostles’ Creed congregation.
I pray you love the Creed too. May the Lord bless you and keep you in his grace.
I haven’t written in a while, but since Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I thought I would write a brief piece on the importance of “giving thanks in all circumstances.” The majority of this piece originally appeared our congregation’s November 2014 newsletter.
It won’t be long until we are sitting around a table with our family and friends eating our fill of turkey and pie, swapping stories, and enjoying the company of others. And, we’ll be thankful — thankful for all kinds of things, for the blessings we experience, for everything in our lives.
It’s easy to be thankful for those good things in life, isn’t it? It’s easy to be thankful for the smell of children’s freshly washed hair, for the beauty of the fall foliage, for the love of family and friends, for the memories of loved ones who’ve gone to their heavenly home, and for the many other blessings we experience each and every day. But, it’s not so easy to be thankful for the difficult things, the sad things, the challenging things.
Paul says, though, that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances,” for it is the “will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). That’s a pretty powerful and convicting statement! It is the will of God for us to be thankful in all circumstances — good and bad. Why is this so? The answer is simple. First, giving thanks is a recognition that our God is a good God regardless of whether or not we consider certain circumstances and things in our lives to be a burden or a blessing. And second, giving thanks expresses our unwavering trust in Him and his perfect plan for all things to bring about his glory and our good. His glory and our good is not dependent upon our understanding, but on his goodness.
So, let me encourage you to fulfill the will of God by being thankful for all a things this Thanksgiving season. Be thankful for all the usual good things — faith, family, God’s word, and creation. But also, be thankful for the difficult things in life — daily problems, sufferings, and inadequacies. It is these difficult things that remind us of our need for a Savior and of our dependence upon him.
I recently read an essay by B.B. Warfield, a 19th century Princeton theologian, in which he made the claim that Christianity is the chief among the world’s religions. The reason for this, he said, was that Christianity has the Bible – “the book of the ancient world, the book of the Middle Ages, and…the book of these new days of ours.” He further wrote that the Bible is “mankind’s book. Other books may belong the a people, an age, a stage of human development: this book (the Bible) belongs to all peoples, all ages and all stages of growth, whether of the individual or of the race – unifying them all and welding them into one vitalized and vitalizing whole.”
Now, I know this is not the most popular claim in today’s society, which celebrates religious pluralism, a relativistic view of truth, and the ever-changing value system of tolerance. But, think about it for a minute. Where else can you find the answers to life’s big questions – Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? What is wrong with the world? How does the world get fixed? And, what will ultimately happen to me when I die? – answered in a succinct and hope-filled way? Nowhere. And, what other religious book has the rich, storied, and reliable history of the Bible? None. The Bible we have today is the same as the one that the Jews read before Jesus’ birth, the same as the one Jesus read, and the same as the one that Christians have read throughout history. It has, therefore, shaped the lives of countless men, women, congregations and societies. No other “holy” book can make that claim. The Bible is the book of books.
As Christians, we posses the word of God in the Bible, and I want to encourage you to take full advantage of it. It is the story of God. It is your story. Therefore, read, study, learn, memorize, and thank God for it. May God bless you as he instills his truth in your heart and draws you closer to him as you read and study the book of books.
After a week away and reading through some difficult texts, I’m glad to be back writing. I must say, though, that the text is no less difficult. For me, Romans 9-11 are perhaps the three hardest collection of chapters to understand in the whole Bible. They just don’t sit well with me intellectually, emotionally, or pastorally. They’re hard. But, they’re exceedingly important because (if I understand Paul right, and that’s a big if) God’s faithful fulfillment of his promises to the Gentiles rests on his faithful fulfillment of his promises to Israel.
The ESV Study Bible comments in its explanatory notes on 9:1-11:36,
“Paul has made it clear that God’s saving promises have been fulfilled for the Gentiles. Indeed, the church of Jesus Christ now enjoys the spiritual blessings promised to Israel: the gift of the Spirit (8:9); adoption as God’s children (8:14-17); future glory (8:17,30); election (8:33); and the promise of never being severed from God’s love (8:35-39). Paul now asks in chs. 9-11 whether the promise of God made to ethnic Israel will be fulfilled. If his promises to the Jews remain unfulfilled, how can Gentile Christians be sure that he will fulfill the great promises that conclude ch. 8?”
So, our hope in the salvation of God provides in the gospel through faith rests upon God’s faithfulness to fulfill ALL of his promises, not just those to he made to the Gentiles . He is a great and faithful God who will fulfill all his promises of salvation, and he will fulfill them in the same way — through the finished work of Christ, gospel proclamation, and a faithful response to his grace. Notice the following three sets of verses.
May the Lord bless you as you read (and reread) Romans 9-10. Its tough, but it’s good. Don’t lose heart.
What is there to say about Romans 3 that Paul has not already said? I could attempt to explain the chapter in 500-600 words, or I could simply quote the most glorious passage of all Paul’s Epistles and let him speak for himself. I think that’s what I’ll do.
Romans 3:21-31 (ESV)
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
Now, What do I do?
John Calvin once said, “[M]any are content to have the gospel preached, provided it does not touch them, or make them uncomfortable” (Sermons on Micah). If folks were uncomfortable with Calvin, they certainly would have been uncomfortable with Paul. Paul pulls no punches, and we cannot read Paul’s writings, especially Romans, without being touched or made uncomfortable.
As we said yesterday, Paul’s great concern in Romans is to “explain the theological realities of the Christian gospel and its implications for the living a Christ-honoring life.” And, his purpose for doing so is to see his readers come to Jesus in faith and repentance, confessing him as Lord and living a faithful life that glorifies Christ. In order to do this, we have to come to grips with our sinfulness and with our need for salvation. So, Paul begins there by explaining that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), which I believe he does by dividing all of humanity into one of three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Good (Romans 2:1-11)
In the beginning of chapter 2, I believe that Paul writes generally about people who consider themselves acceptable before God because their lives are characterized by relatively good moral behavior. There is no glaring sin present in their lives. They are considered by many to be good people, to be people who have a good moral compass. They’re generally accepted and held in esteem in the wider culture in which they live. And, they take great pride in their morality. But, their goodness is not good enough. God has been patient with, and kind to, them in order to lead them to repentance; however, they misunderstand this kindness and take advantage of it.
The Bad (Romans 1:18-31)
In the last half of chapter 1, Paul describes people who are simply lawless. They don’t care about God or his laws. He defines them as those who are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, and malice” and as those who not only practice unrighteousness, but encourage others to do so as well. They suppress the truth that God that he wrote on their hearts and exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal men and birds and animals and creeping things.” Therefore, God gave them up to their lustful desires and immoral behaviors.
The Ugly (Romans 2:12-29)
The last group that Paul discusses is the religious. These are folks who have been given the privilege of intimately knowing the righteous requirements of God and of receiving his revelation of himself. Paul specifically addressed the Jews in the Roman congregation and their experience of circumcision. They took pride in their outward adherence to the ceremonies and stated standards of their religion; yet, they ignored the condition of their hearts before God out of which this outward adherence should flow. But, this description can be applied to many folks consider who themselves to be Christians as well.
The Uncomfortable Reality and Gracious Encouragement
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul has effectively placed every one of us into one of these three categories. We naturally line up with one of these three groups. And, therefore, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But, God has the power to save those who have rebelled against him and fallen short of his glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Be encouraged today in Jesus. Run to him, the great Savior of sinners.
What do you say about Romans in a brief format like this? Some of the greatest minds in Christian history have spent years studying and writing on the Epistle. John Murray wrote two immense volumes on it. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote fourteen! And, Sinclair Ferguson once said, after preaching for eighteen months on the book, that eighteen months wasn’t nearly long enough to properly grasp its breadth and depth. Romans is a big book!
The Christian Manifesto
One biblical commentator (John Stott maybe) once called Romans the Christian manifesto. Here’s why: In Romans, Paul, more than anywhere else, explains the theological realities of the Christian gospel and its implications for the living a Christ-honoring life. Verses 1:16-17 set the stage and illustrate this point perfectly.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”
Here, we see three theological realities and their corresponding implications for living the Christian life. I’ll briefly explain by pointing out the reality and its implication.
The Gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.
We are saved by God according to his grace in his power through faith. Now, I know that is a lot to keep straight. Let me try to help you. First, God saves us by his grace. That means that we didn’t do anything to earn our salvation. God freely decided to give it to us. He was not forced to do so, nor did we merit it in anyway. It is a gift that comes to us through the gospel, which is through Jesus Christ himself. Second, it is God’s power that saves us, not our own. He is the one who gives life to the dead, who reconciles his enemies to himself. We are powerless to save ourselves (stay tuned to tomorrow to see why), but God isn’t powerless to save us. And third, we receive our salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is for everyone who believes because faith serves the vehicle through which God communicates and delivers his grace to us.
The Gospel not only unites God with his enemies, it also unites us with our enemies.
Christian salvation is for both the Jews and the Gentiles. These two groups of people were ethnic enemies. But, they had one thing in common: they were sinners before a holy and just God. It’s the gospel that reconciles them to Him. And, it’s the gospel that reconciles them to one another because it tears down the wall of hostility that was built because of religious reasons. If God has reconciled the Jews to himself through Jesus and the Gentiles as well, there is no need to remain separate in order to maintain cleanliness before God. They are all made clean in Christ through faith. Therefore, they are united as children of God.
Faith in the gospel leads to the living of a righteous life.
The righteous shall live by faith. All the days of their lives, they shall trust their God who has cleansed them and reconciled them unto himself and sealed them with His Spirit in the heavenly places. The faithful Christians’ righteousness before God is that of Christ which is credited to them by God through faith. And, it is expressed in a life lived in faith in the Son of God. Therefore, they shall walk in faithful obedience to him and humbly trust his grace-filled promises, not the least of which is found in Romans 8:28 — “For all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
Believe, Love, and Live
Believe the gospel today — God does love you and he sent his Son to reconcile you to himself. Receive it in faith.
Love your fellow Christians — God reconciled you to himself, but he also reconciled you to other Christians. Don’t let worldly divisions, selfish priorities, and deep wounds keep from living in fellowship with other Christians.
Live a faithful life — God saved you in faith. He empowers you to live to his glory in faith. Walk in the ways of truth today as you faithfully follow him.