“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“There is no better test of our spiritual state and condition than our missionary zeal, our concern for lost souls. That is always the thing that divides people who are just theoretical and intellectual Christians from those who have a living and a vital spiritual life.”
-Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – God’s Sovereign Purpose, Romans 9:1-33
One of the most iconic songs to come out the 80’s, was Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life
We need a hero. That should go without saying. The world we live in is a mess. War. Terrorism. Murder. Microagressions. Racism. Bias.
When we live in a world where there’s a battle over whether #blacklivesmatter or #policelivesmatter is more important or necessary (by the way, both are!), you know you have problems. But what kind of hero do we need?
That all depends on our predicament.
Some might say we simply need a good example to follow. That we have it within our own capability to come up with the solution to the problems of this life. The British poet W.H. Auden living in New York in the 1930’s-40’s recounts that he left his Christian upbringing and was a secular humanist; basically believing that man could be educated and put into a better environment in order to make the the world a better place. He held this view until one day when he went into a movie house in 1939. He went in to watch a German movie reel on the invasion of Poland. He was frightened when the people in the audience got wrapped up into the movie and started to yell “Kill them” whenever the Poles were portrayed on screen.
He had thought that if we had the right education, right cultural setting, we would move beyond the barbarism and inhumanity of the chaos and calamity around us. But this one incident shattered that. Because of his worldview, he couldn’t admit to himself how bad the world was. Without sin, he couldn’t account for what he had just seen, and was without hope (education, enlightenment, reason had failed). He didn’t have the resources to meet what he saw. He returned to his Christian roots and found hope for what he encountered. (Check out this great write up over at First Things).
On the other side of the world, not in a movie theater, but in a
extermination concentration camp, there was another man observing and suffering the same atrocities that riled up the crowd in the movie theater in New York – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Observing the cruelty and inhumanity around him, he could have thought that the problem is other people. If we could simply get rid of the “other”, the world would be alright (funny how that’s the very same thought that animates all totalitarian regimes and “ethnic cleansing” campaigns). Instead, he reasoned and concluded the following:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)
Auden and Solzhenitsyn were confronted with the fact that the world is the way that it is because we are the way that we are. And having the right upbringing, credentials, education or experiences won’t solve it. We need more than an example (the view of Human ability and the Myth of Human Progress; also called Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism in theological circles).
But neither will it do any good to simply get rid of the problem people, because there is no clean cut separation (the view of Human eradication and “cleansing”; Pride, Arrogance, and Superiority). All of us are both victims and victimizers of our world, environment, and other people.
The picture Paul paints of our predicament is one of human solidarity with the original man – Adam. As Adam went, so did all humanity – his posterity. Our problem is more than the cumulative total of our individual actions and certainly greater than just “them” over there.
We need a hero. And he’s got to be larger than life – at least the life as we now currently know it.
This is Paul’s whole point in Romans 5:12-21. Paul is contrasting two men who represent two humanities: the merely human, and the more human than human.
Just as in Adam all are in sin and under it’s rule and reign, are transgressors of the law of God, and contribute to the problems in the world by thinking of themselves as greater than God the Creator of all, so then many can come into a state of mercy, grace, and renewal in Christ.
Jesus Christ comes to not merely reverse the work and effects of the “first man”, Adam, but He comes as the “last man” or the “second Adam”, to not merely put things back together again, but to make it better than ever before. There is a progressive nature to Christ’s work that doesn’t just repair what is broken, but makes it utterly beautiful instead of miserable.
Jesus Christ lived the life not only we should have lived, but Adam should have as well. And now that He has done it, we don’t have to be only enslaved to sin, even if we still feel it’s effects (death, destruction, and dysfunction). There is a new way to live, by the larger than life hero, Jesus Christ.
How then should we respond?
Faith in Christ, not ourselves. The way of the human race is to trust in our own instincts, abilities, and progress. Christianity cuts that off at it’s root. We don’t have the resources to get ourselves out of our own problems – the same heart that got us into it all won’t get us out of it, at all. But because of Christ’s work in living, dying, and rising again, we don’t have to. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through faith,” (Romans 3:23-24). We live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us; not ourselves.
Repent of Sin. Our contribution to the misery of the world is still something we deal with. We need to repent of the bad things we do and the good things we don’t do. But we do so not to earn, achieve, or merit God’s favor, but because our fundamental identity has shifted. Repentance could be described as simply “aligning our thoughts, actions, and habits with the new life of Christ He gives us by His Spirit.” It’s not about “dos” and “donts”, but becoming more “who we are” and “who we are meant to be” in Christ.
Work for renewal. Just as repentance is taking on the characteristics of our new identity in Christ (in union with Him), we can and should actively work to make the world around us, in our respective spheres of influence, look and act more and more like the world it will be one day. Jesus is not just doing a work in us – “Taking the evil out the people/[so that] then they’ll be acting right.” (Tupac, Changes) – but through us, to redeem all things to Himself.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)
How can you partner with Him in making your little corner of His world reflect His image, His truth, His beauty, and His goodness?
“[Some mortals] say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” – C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
How do you know God loves you, really? When life and everything around you gives evidence of sin and suffering, what basis do we really have for continuing on?
This past week at Christ Church Mansfield, I endeavored to show from Romans 5:1-11 that there is a way to break through without breaking down in the midst of our sin and suffering, our chaos and catastrophes, or our flaws and failures.
It’s only by gaining gospel resiliency by looking ahead, looking around, and looking back, that we can have confidence to keep moving forward, knowing that with God, the war is over. Now we can fight the battle of living by faith.
Here are six practical signs that you actually are rejoicing in the gospel, even in the midst of sin and suffering:
- Regularly meditate and enjoy the Gospel. You study God’s Word in such a way as to better see (understand) and savor (enjoy) who God is and what He has done for you. Over the years, I have found it helpful to have a plan for reading through and studying the Bible. I even put together a sample plan for our church, which you can download here if you’d like. But there are some great reading plans available elsewhere: YouVersion, He Reads Truth or She Reads Truth, as well as the ESV Bible app. Another great resource to help you navigate the Bible with a “gospel lens” is the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible.
- Interpret and process your life through the lens of the Gospel. What is most true of you is not your feelings, emotions, reactions, or circumstances of your life, but rather the Word of God regarding you in light of the Gospel. When you mess up (and you will), or when “life” happens to you (which it will), start to process it all not by saying, “What a mess I made there. How could God love me?” but “God loves me, despite me. Despite my flaws and failings, despite my record, yes, even now, God still loves me. I am far worse than I think, but also more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope!” That’s the beauty of the Gospel!
- Repent of Sin and Walk in Newness of Life. Sin is both the bad things you do (commission) and good things you don’t do (omission), but, and perhaps, more disturbingly, anything other than God you boast in. We can make a “mini god” out of anything, and more times than not, we make one in our image and likeness. We are to repent of that tendency to find value, worth, significance and strength in anything we can do or make for ourselves, and instead, willingly and joyfully strive after obedience (“newness of life”), out of love and gratitude, not guilt or fear. Don’t doubt God’s love when you discover more character flaws – draw closer to Him! Remember the two aspects of the gospel: You are worse off than you think, but more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope! (In case you are wondering, yes, the repetition is purposeful. The Gospel leaks out of us, so we have to, in the words of Martin Luther, beat it back in there continually!) Here are some great resources that have helped me get this over the years:
- Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
- Repentance by C. John Miller
- How People Change by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane
- We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale
- Stop Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands. When we sin, or when we suffer, the tendency is to “do something about it”. Miroslav Volf paints the picture vividly in his masterful book, Exclusion and Embrace when he says that our instincts when we have been hurt, harmed, or wronged is to reach either for a shield (self-protection) or sword (others’-destruction). Instead, we are to let the open arms of the God-man, Jesus Christ, on the cross welcome us “in” to the happy life of God Himself. Don’t quiet your conscience when you’ve messed up, discover you’re a wreck, and rediscover that you are a failure with reference to your performance or your circumstances. Hold tightly to God’s love for you in the Gospel, even as you let go and stop clinging to your own performance, record, or anything you can do to take matters into your own hands.
- Embrace Self-Forgetfulness When Faced with Criticism. Take criticism well, letting it illumine and inform the areas of your life where you can repent and live out a new obedience. (And yes, that is another reference to a Tim Keller book that has had a huge impact on me in regards to this – right now it’s $1.99 on Kindle, or $4.69 in paperback).
- Worship Your Way Through It. The only way we can break through without breaking down is by focusing your eyes on Jesus. See and savor Him as your highest, greatest, and most enjoyable reward. Nothing – not even death, let alone failure, fear or frustration – can intimidate you out of holding onto Jesus above all else. Sing with the saints:
Look and see our God
And celebrate the power of the cross
And the empty grave
And now we’re free
Let the Redeemed
Lift up your heads
O look and see our God!
(“Look and See” by The Village Church)
There’s a reason why God has to save anyone by grace, and grace alone, and not anything we can do.
The apostle Paul uses two “heroes” from the OT to prove this point in Romans 4, Abraham and David. He shows through their lives that even they were made right – justified – through God’s act of grace, not their efforts and achievements. They lived by faith and stood on grace, because only God can “make beauty out of ugly things” (U2), or in Paul’s words, “God justifies the ungodly.”
The good news of the gospel is that grace and life comes to screw-ups and failures. In other words, God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished
“God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished.” – Chris Gensheer
“Not only am I completely incapable of making God love me more, I’m equally incapable of making him love me less.” – Scotty Smith
“An idol is pursuing something you want, but don’t possess; your boast is holding on to something you have, but don’t want to lose.” – Chris Gensheer
“To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.” – Chris Gensheer
“I’m much more interested in grace because I’m really depending on it.” – Bono
“Grace makes beauty our of ugly things.” – Bono
Christ Church Mansfield exists to love God, connect people, serve the city, and reach the world with the transforming power of the Gospel in Mansfield, Arlington, Midlothian, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Fort Worth and Dallas TX, and beyond.
Member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Southwest Church Planting Network, and The Gospel Coalition.
Skeptics, curious, misfits, and mavericks welcome!
For more go to http://www.christchurchmansfield.com
Recently, while preparing to preach on Romans 4 at Christ Church Mansfield, I came to this verse and had a new found sense of awe and wonder at the gospel:
“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:3b (quoting Genesis 15:6)
This word, “counted” (or in the NIV, “credited”) is a financial term, used in accounting. It means to calculate, sum up, to “do the math” and see what’s there.
If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another. Just think about the way bank overdraft fees work. You over spent and under saved, and now you have a DEBIT or OVERDRAFT to your account. But in the event that you receive more money, your account receives SUFFICIENT funds status and is “in the black”, or “right” again. But if it’s the bank that gives it to you, it’s a CREDIT to your account.
To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.
But that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me. I’m not an accountant, and while I appreciate receiving into my bank account, there was another way of thinking about this that struck me as more significant.
Let me explain.
As a parent I have the wonderful privilege of receiving all kinds of “art” projects form my children. The one’s that are especially meaningful are the ones where my children try to depict our family, or me in particular.
Now if you were to come over and look at our refrigerator and all you see are a bunch of explosions of crayons, markers, and glitter glue, you would say, “Uh, that’s interesting.”
But to me, that fridge is the Kimball Art Museum and those are masterpieces of beauty!
You see a wreck; I see a work of art.
Why? Why hasn’t “family art projects” become an installation somewhere in the world?
Because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
To you, they’re a mess.
But to the father, they’re credited to the child as Masterpiece.
And this is a picture of the gospel.
If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another. To “credit” something is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.
Just like Abraham, we, in faith, receive from God the Father not merely forgiveness, but righteousness and justification — the state and process of being “good” and “in the right” again. Not because we are so special, but because He is.
It is because of His sheer act and work of grace that we are brought into the family of God.
Our mess becomes a Masterpiece in His eyes and His hands alone. This is the essence of grace, and like the man sang:
Or before U2, there was this:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
– Psalm 51:7-12 (ESV)
“Grace” by U2 (unofficial video)
Two weeks ago, I preached and unpacked Romans 3:19-31and the two greatest words possibly in all the Bible, but definitely in Romans so far:
One secular writer has said that “… the problem with justifying my own existence…is not that I’m such a bad person, but that I could be, and that I should far better than I really am.” In Romans 1-2, Paul has established that every single person does understand – through conscience – that they ought to be living in a certain way, and yet no one does it. Everyone is struggling for righteousness, and no one is getting it.
This is where we get the two greatest words in the Bible, “but now”. But now in the Gospel there is a new reality, a new possibility, a new way to be righteous, to be “good again” (Kite Runner).
The “but now” of the gospel is more than mere forgiveness, it’s justification. Instead of saying, “You may go”, justification says, “You may come!”
The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:
60. Q. How are you righteous before God?
A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace,God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me.
All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart.
This is the essence of faith in Christ.
Part of the sermon series Romans: Unlocking the Gospel | Unleashing the Power at Christ Church Mansfield, from Lead Pastor Chris Gensheer. For more content or to know more about the ministry of Christ Church, go to http://www.christchurchmansfield.com.
The central problem of not only Romans 3:1-20, but everything we’ve covered so far in Romans can be described in two words found in v. 9 – that we are “Under Sin”
To be “under” something is to be in a position/condition that compels you, influences you in certain ways. “Under the influence of…something” is “impaired” and therefore “unable” to drive responsibly. But it also means to be “subject to”, to be “acted upon” and “constrained” – to be “under someone’s authority”. Sin is not just impairment and inability, but also slavery.
The witness of the Bible is that everyone is enslaved by and therefore, in a position of being influenced by sin to such an extent that no one is righteous before God on their own.
Paul strings along several passages, mostly from the Psalms, but one from Isaiah 59, that shows us what this slavery to sin compels us/influences us to do: “Turn away from” God with a “Runaway Heart”
“Seeks” – speaks to our aspirations and motivations. You seek out what you most want. And Psalm 14:1-3, quoted in Romans 3, says that “There is no one who seeks God…All have turned away.”
Sin warps our desires, because it infests our hearts. Remember, we are “worshipping creatures” (Romans 1), and if we are not worshipping the Creator, we are worshipping some aspect of His creation, and that is when “our foolish hearts are darkened” and our thinking/understanding/reasoning spirals downward in futility. When we worship something that has “eyes but cannot see”, we lose our ability to see, interpret, understand; when we worship something that has “ears but do not hear”, we lose our ability to discern what’s going on around us; when we worship something that has a heart of stone, our hearts become less responsible. We will resemble what we revere – what we most want, what we seek – and it will either be for our ruin (if not God) or our restoration (if God alone).
The righteousness we need is not one we can achieve by works of the Law, but only one we can receive by grace, through faith in the only One who perfectly lived up to the Law’s demands.
“The way the truth and the life” (John 14) comes to the wayward, the liars, and the destroyers.
Part of the sermon series Romans: Unlocking the Gospel | Unleashing the Power at Christ Church Mansfield, from Lead Pastor Chris Gensheer. For more content or to know more about the ministry of Christ Church, go to http://www.christchurchmansfield.com .
Came across this quote in my study this week on Romans 1:16-32, and thought it particularly helpful in thinking about God’s wrath as it relates to the gospel and “all ungodliness and unrighteousness”.
Pippert here is extremely helpful in seeing how we have no problem with the concept of “wrath” when it comes to “unrighteousness” – predominately effecting life in the “horizontal” dimension (e.g. injustice, wrongdoing; against “neighbor”). But if we live in a world created by a “higher power”/Supreme Being/Creator, should we then not be surprised that there is a wrath provoked by our genuine neglect or lack of regard for said Creator (i.e. “ungodliness”; ingratitude, unresponsiveness, arrogance toward, etc)?
Here’s the quote and the question to ponder is:
“Why would we have a problem with God’s wrath against all sin and it’s effects, if we have any problem with sin’s effects in the form of cruelty, wrongdoing and injustice throughout the world?”
“We tend to be taken aback by the thought that God could be angry. how can a deity who is perfect and loving ever be angry?…We take pride in our tolerance of the excesses of others. So what is God’s problem?… But love detests what destroys the beloved. Real love stands against the deception, the lie, the sin that destroys. Nearly a century ago the theologian E.H. Glifford wrote: ‘Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.’…
“The fact is that anger and love are inseparably bound in human experience. And if I, a flawed and sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? If God were not angry over how we are destroying ourselves, then he wouldn’t be good and he certainly wouldn’t be loving. Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference…. How can a good God forgive bad people without compromising himself? Does he just play fast and loose with the facts? ‘Oh, never mind…boys will be boys’. Try telling that to a survivor of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia or to someone who lost an entire family in Rwanda…No. To be truly good one has to be outraged by evil and implacably hostile to injustice.”
– Rebecca Pippert, Hope Has It’s Reasons (100-01)