Chosen for Adoption – Ephesians 1:3-8

Given my own background as an adopted child, it is totally impossible for me to talk about this topic without a flood of emotions and reflections.

We have some fantastic families in our church who have adopted children, having reached out to adopt either across racial categories in our country, or travelling even to remote parts of the earth to bring children home to a better place.

When you are adopted at a very young age and have no memories of any other household, it seems totally normal to be in the only home you’ve ever known. However, at some point you come to learn and know more about your past. In my situation, it never very seriously dawned upon me that anyone else was a parent other than the two people I had always called “mom and dad.”  Being that they were in actuality my biological grandparents, they were older than the parents of my friends. I do remember just one occasion where my mom went with me as a parent chaperon on a school field trip, and I recall looking at her and the other mothers and making note that she was clearly older than the rest. But I never thought upon it more deeply than making a passing observation.

It was not until I was about eight or nine years old (in 3rd grade, I believe) that my parents sat me down one evening and told me my real story. Though I knew my true mother (but never, ever met my actual father), I was not as close to her as many other relatives. And since there was an open strain between she and her mother (my adopted mom), I often did not have a high view of her in those years. Hearing that she was actually my mother was a terrible moment. I came entirely unglued and melted down emotionally for a brief time. But it was truly brief. It did not take long for the reasoning process to enlighten me to the true understanding that I had been the fortunate recipient of great grace and privilege as compared to what might have been. And that appreciation has only grown more deeply over the years.

And so it is for us, spiritually speaking, as we come to understand the wonderful grace we have received in our adoption by God. As Paul writes to the Ephesians, he speaks of praise to the Father, and of how we’ve been blessed in the heavenly realms … and of the riches of a grace lavished on us.

And just as a child has nothing to do with his adoption and only learns of it much later, our spiritual adoption was done for us very early. In fact, it is so early that it predates us, or anyone else! Yep, we were picked out by God before the creation of the world!!  Wow, that is amazing. And surely it supports the view that it is not because we were just so cute that God got all mushy and chose us. As it says in Romans, the situation is better described as on the other end of the spectrum – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

One of the women that I’ve gotten to know a bit over the past year of association with the Kingdom United Fellowship has a very unique and colorful way of expressing the joy of her faith on social media. I have seen her on a couple of occasions write something like, “I’m just God’s special little girl, He loves me so much!”  And I told her once that I thought this was actually good theology!  It is not to say that God loves any of us who are his children more than the others, but that He loves us so much as to have given His best for us when we were at our worst.

Imagine growing up in the finest and most beautiful home in the county, set upon a hillside overlooking the most stunning vistas. Your every need is cared for and met by wonderful parents. And like my story above, you are told one day that you are not actually their biological child. Rather, you learn that your original family lives in poverty and dysfunction, even as your natural father is imprisoned upon death row. Would you not grow to rather quickly have an amazement about the great fortune that has come to you – to be where you are rather than where you might have been?

That illustration does not begin to capture the spiritual grace we have by our divine adoption. There is great health is our possessing a proper identity of our family relationship with the Father, through the Son, sealed by the Spirit. We are blessed … for now, and for eternity.

Ephesians 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.

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Children of God – Romans 8:14-17

We turn over today to the third of our five topics in this series – that of finding an identity by being adopted into the family of God.

This is a deeply personal concept for me, in that it is not just a theological concept, but is also something I have lived in the natural world. Having been an adopted child, I know that it raises a whole variety of identity issues that run the gamut from total weirdness on one hand, to profound gratitude on the other hand.

Over the years of working with children in a whole variety of situations, I have often become very fond of certain kids who have charming characteristics, yet whom I know to be from terribly troubled homes. And a part of me just wanted to adopt them and take them home and provide for them a better life.

Why does adoption happen? You don’t hear about someone being taken from a solid home and family and becoming a part of a dysfunctional household. No, it is always the other direction. There is a story, always either tinged or drenched in sadness, of a child in need who is in poor or even desperate circumstances. Through some advocacy, a family graciously intervenes with an open heart and open door to make the needy child a part of their own household. It is a wonderful thing to do, but it is costly in many ways – certainly in legal fees and concomitant expenses, but also in emotional investment and long-term challenges.

Our adoption by God through the work of Christ was costly in all these ways. Taken from the mess of being born into a sinful family, our adoption gave us an entirely new family identification and standing. It is also a new legal standing, with new benefits and new obligations. When stepping back and seeing what has happened, it should drive us to a deep sense of profound gratitude.

Before our adoption by God, we were living as the children of the evil one who accused us and provided only for our demise. But now being a part of a new family, we have the opportunity to live as an heir of God and co-heir with Christ. And this is exactly how Paul wrote of this in Romans chapter 8 …

8:14 – For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

It is all a matter of living out who you truly are. Yes, there is a gravitational pull toward a foolish, older way of life that has a natural bent. But wisdom informs us that this is personally destructive, that we don’t need to live this way, that we are positionally different than that, and we have a new power within to help us live in a new way that is life indeed. Eternal life, with eternal values. It would be pretty crazy to not strive to live in this better way! It would be the height of foolishness to go back to identification and a lifestyle from which we were previously delivered.

Live like who you are: an adopted child of the King.

Identification with Christ Means Everything – Galatians 2:11-21

The way we should most want to be seen by others is as having our identification “in Christ.”  That is what really counts. All the other things that we may be – racially, socially, professionally, financially, whatever-ly – all of that is rather meaningless compared to being identified with Christ in his death and resurrection.

Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. Circumstances determine which course is wisest. Even Jesus did not speak out on every occasion against everything that he knew was wrong. A modern-day maxim says that one should pick his battles wisely.

In today’s reading, we encounter a historic situation where the Apostle Paul chose to pick a battle – with none other than Peter. Wow! Saints Peter and Paul in a dust-up! Readers of the Scripture seem to more often remember the occasion in the book of Acts where Paul had a serious conflict with another giant of the early church – Barnabas. And look – Barnabas shows up in this passage today. He is on Peter’s side of the equation and standing justly in the firing line also for the verbal tongue-lashing Paul lays on Cephas (Peter).

Antioch was a great church in the earliest days of the worldwide spread of the gospel. There were Jews and Gentiles and all sorts of diversely-gifted people in this local family of faith. If you know the story of Acts, you know that Peter certainly understood that the message of Christ was not an exclusively Jewish truth. It was the Good News of the final work of Christ that had benefit for all peoples, Jewish and Gentile. Peter openly associated with Gentiles in Antioch, that is, until a group from Jerusalem (“from James”) came to be with them. Among these were those who were of a “circumcision group” – meaning that they had not yet accepted the full message of the Gospel of grace abounding, and they were hence still of an opinion that the only way one could be right with God was to believe in Jesus AND still keep the Law.

The stiff, traditional, old-timer, “we’ve never done it that way before” group in the early church were the believers in the church in Jerusalem – very predominately Jewish. Apparently, they also were quite intimidating. I imagine that Peter knew many of them well from the days of following Christ, the passion week, and the resurrection appearances and Day of Pentecost. Even Barnabas was caught up also with Peter in separating themselves off from fellowshipping and eating with the numerous Gentiles populating the church family in Antioch.

For Paul, this was an unacceptable situation that had to be confronted. It was a physical evidence of an insufficient understanding of the work of Christ and the very nature of the Gospel.  This segregation failed to see that the message of the cross was not merely the latest Jewish thing, it was a totally new work of God for all people. In Paul’s mind, what was at stake and what needed to be clearly affirmed was the very issue of justification – that it was a work of grace and not at all a work of the Law.

Some of Paul’s arguments in this passage are difficult to understand, but the essence is that any combination of the Law with belief in Christ was a total mixing of oil and water.

I have always loved verse 20, having memorized it as a young boy as a favorite verse. Paul says he is identified with Christ in his death, being so loved by the Lord that Christ is worthy of Paul’s whole life being dedicated to serving him in faith. And that is the stuff of highest priority and value.

Paul Opposes Cephas – Galatians 2:11-21

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

The Righteousness Prescription – (1 Corinthians 1, Romans 1)

Yesterday I talked about how some people like the feeling of grandiose identity that comes with certain titles. Religious people can be like this, insisting upon being called “pastor” or “reverend” (yuk!).  I only use those terms – especially the “Rev.” title – when absolutely necessary.

Another is the “Doctor” title. I like that one a little bit better, though there is confusion with it, especially with children. I have one of these degrees, but if I insisted upon it being used at church, most of the kids would not understand how to differentiate me from that meanie who puts needles in their arms.

I’m going to use the “doctor” title at the end today, so let me explain a couple things about these degrees. I will sometimes let it stand when someone says I have a Ph.D.  Actually, I do not. But most adults understand that a Doctor of Philosophy is different than being a medical doctor (M.D.).  But I don’t correct people most times, as I allow that Ph.D. to be used generically, rather than specifically – so that people don’t think I work in a hospital. To be even more specific, I don’t actually have a Doctor of Theology either (Th.D.), though what I have is deeply infused with theology. My degree is a D.Min. – Doctor of Ministry. The standard for this is an application of knowledge, versus an original contribution to knowledge. But my degree, when stated out loud (D.Min.) sounds like something from the satanic realm, so I’ll sometimes go generic and just reference my doctorate as in the field of theology (as later today).

All of this has to do with identity. And we’ve been talking for our second of five themes in this series about our identity as saints. And that’s a big deal (see yesterday!).  It beats all doctorate degrees for sure. And we are saints, according to a variety of places in the New Testament (often translated as “holy ones” in the NIV and modern translations, though “saints” in the KJV).

For example, when Paul wrote to the Romans, he referenced them as such …

Romans 1:1,7 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God … To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

And even when writing to the “lifestyle-challenged / holiness-challenged” church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:1-2), he says, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…”

How do you get to be a saint?  Indeed, it is a term that looks toward a future characterization in God’s presence. Though we have it now in a positional sense, we get it fully in the life to come. And the only way to be in God’s presence is to be perfect, to be righteous. And as I’ve spoken and written many times, the ONE THING you need most specifically to be saved is to possess righteousness – the thing you don’t have in Adam, but that you get from Christ.

I am worn out on TV commercials for medications for all sorts of ailments. They show beautiful and happy people enjoying life to its fullest, though you understand from the immediate commentary that they have some serious condition of the heart / skin / liver function, etc.  And there is a medication being promoted that will make it all better … saying, “Ask your doctor if ____ is right for you.”  And then follows a lengthy, low-voice disclaimer (that is FDA mandated, I’m sure) that warns about all the deleterious things that might happen to you if you take this medication … “Some people have found a worsening of conditions. Severe anxiety and suicidal thoughts and actions have followed the use of this medication. Heart attacks, blood clots, strokes and even death have been experienced by some.”

And you wonder if the alleged “cure” is not worse than just living with the disease!

But that is not how it is for the cure of the gospel in identifying with Christ to solve the condemnation of sin from your identification with Adam. The remedy is perfect … oh, not yet in this world; but it surely is in the world to come. And as a doctor of theology, let me prescribe for you the righteousness of Christ and the justification that comes with it.

And if you’ve been on this life-saving medication for even a long time, aren’t you thankful for its benefits?  And don’t you suppose that those around you who are dying without it should be very actively pursued and informed by you who have the prescription for death?  Take righteousness; it cures everything.

It’s a Big Deal to be a Saint (Romans 5:12-21)

You have probably known some people in life who are insistent upon being called by some title that they have. I’ve known some pastors like this who insist upon everyone using that title (something I’ve never really liked or been very comfortable with). And then I have known some people who have honorary doctorates who desire to have that title used when being addressed. All of this strikes me as a human effort to be seen as a big deal.

But what is really a big deal is to be a saint, a holy one of the most high God. And that is an identification of all who have found salvation in Jesus. So how does a justified sinner get to have such an esteemed designation? The answer is here in the second half of Romans 5, where we get several contrasts and similarities between Adam and Christ.

This is not the easiest passage to handle. It is one of those times where Paul is all over the map in the laying out of his thoughts … jumping off onto a couple of rabbit trails. He begins a main thought, but then jumps off onto an excurses or two, then later finishing his earlier idea.

Perhaps to help us through the passage, I can print it out in thematic order, rather than the consecutive verses as in the text. Beginning with Romans 5:12 …

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

5:18 – Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

5:13 – To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. … 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.

5:15 – But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

5:20 – But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us consider a pair of similarities and a pair of contrasts relative to Adam and Christ.

Similarity #1 – It was the work of one man who brought both death and life.

Adam >> committed a sinful act >> led to condemnation and death (a legal decree of judgment)

Jesus >> with a righteous act >> brought justification (a legal act of acquittal – the opposite of condemnation)

Contrast #1 – The work of Adam was disobedience; the work of Christ was obedience.

God said to Adam to stay away from one tree and don’t climb it and eat the fruit, or he would die; and he disobeyed.

God said to Jesus to steadfastly walk toward a “tree” that he would be nailed upon, and that he would die, though his work of sacrifice would bring life; and he obeyed!

All mankind was “in” each … with Adam, you had no choice; but you can choose to be identified with Christ and be “in” him in his obedience upon the tree and gain life thereby. That is AWESOME.

Similarity #2 – Sin abounded in the world both before and after the Law.

Picking up on the thought in verse 12 that sin was in the world from Adam onward, with mankind participating in Adam and henceforth, Paul says that even without the written Law there was sin in the world – lots of it!  It could be argued that though there could not be a condemnation of a person for a law that is not stated, there is no doubt that mankind sinned against God’s verbal commands long before a written Law. Some primary illustrations from the Old Testament record …

–           Cain killed his brother Abel.

–           Noah’s pre-flood world was characterized by pervasive evil.

–           Noah himself sinned grievously after the flood.

–           Abraham was called out of a world and culture characterized by idolatry.

–           Jacob’s family of sons was infamous for their dysfunction.

–           The horrors of the Pharaohs of Egypt led to Moses’ ascension and exodus to the promised land.

Finally, the written law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. That might seem like an odd statement, but it tells us that the purpose of the law was to reveal sin and demonstrate God’s perfect, righteous standard. This would have the benefit of driving man toward God’s mercy.

Contrast #2 – There is no comparison of size or scope between the trespass of sin and the gift of God’s grace through the obedient righteous act of the righteous One who brought righteousness.

Yes, the arguments here are a bit complicated, but in the big picture it is all saying one thing. Yes, sin is really, really big, but grace is so much bigger by comparison. It is like when you think about the massive size of the solar system, but then compare it to our galaxy, and beyond that to realize this is one galaxy of countless thousands in God’s universe.

Indeed, it is a wonderful work of God’s mercy in Christ’s provision to provide for us a new identity in Jesus – that of being a saint through the legal decree of our imputed sins being judged and forgiven, and Christ’s righteousness being applied to our account. It’s a big deal.

The Doctrine of Imputation

Imagine that your great-grandfather had made a terrible business mistake and that it affected the entire family system, down to you even many years later. It was a huge debt, and you have inherited it. There is nothing you could ever do to repay it. The situation is hopeless.

But a generous person of unlimited wealth comes into your life and offers to pay the debt for you. That would indeed be wonderful, and you would surely welcome that to happen.

The institution holding the debt would hear of this and would take the obligation from you and transfer it to the donor to own the debt and provide the payment. And upon making payment, the donor would receive the receipt that would also register in your account as paid in full. There would therefore be no way that any debt judgment could fall upon you, as your account would now contain a “paid in full” designation.

It is difficult to find a human illustration that fully and accurately pictures what Christ has done for our salvation and what it is that we have gained. The first thing that makes this difficult is that there are few ways to communicate the debt of sin that is our identity in Adam. Our illustration falls short, for as we have previously written, it was not just a matter of us inheriting the consequences of another’s failure. We were actually a participatory partner in that sin.

Another impossible piece to illustrate in the payment. Whatever we do to pay off the debt of sin in our own power does not register at all with any value. It is not merely that the debt is too great. Our works and deeds are the wrong “stuff” … as “filthy rags” say the Scriptures. It is like trying to pay a bill with the wrong currency, and there is no way to make an exchange into a currency the bank will accept.

But even with such limitations, I believe there is no better way to present the gospel to someone than to use banking terms. We all understand debits and credits, or assets and liabilities.

One might speak of it this way: Because of sin inherited from Adam, we all have a debt in our spiritual account that we cannot pay. It is too large, and the bank (God) does not accept our payments as legitimate. We need righteousness (perfection), though we cannot earn it and only one person has ever had it – Jesus. But our sin has been taken from our account and put into Christ’s account. He paid the debt with his sacrificial death and our sin was judged and covered (atoned) by his blood payment. However, our account remains empty and still needs the positive credit of righteousness. When we trust and believe that Jesus paid our debt, the righteousness that is in his account and is at the moment of faith transferred to our account. Therefore, when the holy judge looks at us, he does not see our debt (which was removed) nor an empty account lacking a necessary deposit. Rather, he sees a former debt removed and covered by the deposit of Christ’s righteousness – giving us the positive asset that we need to be in right relationship with God.

So three transfers happened: Adam’s sin to our account, our sin to Christ’s account, and Christ’s righteousness to our account. In theology, this is called the doctrine of imputation. This will be the main idea of what we talk about in this second portion of our identity series. This is how we go from being first a sinner in Adam, to now a saint in Jesus Christ through the justification provided.

I have found in my life, as I’m sure many of you have also experienced, that the more you study the great grace of God in salvation, the more you are humbly amazed at just how massive it is. We never fully arrive at understanding the mountainous debt of sin, and yet we never plumb the full depths of God’s marvelous grace. And more fully understanding these identities is the motivating factor behind the decision to work through this particular study and sermon series.

Admitting Our Lostness – (Romans 5:1-12)

I admit it. I’m that guy who never asks for help finding something in a store. Even if I’m having trouble locating an item and a clerk perceives my lost condition and asks to be of assistance, I’ll still not admit I need help and will continue trying to find it on my own!  Is that a little bit crazy?  Probably. But real men don’t ask for help … or directions!

I told the story in church on Sunday that I’m sure I’ve written somewhere else in the thousands of devotionals I’ve written over the years, about how my family visited the Berkeley Springs castle on our way from New Jersey to Texas about 30 years ago. Not wanting to retrace the roads north to 70 and then east to 81, I sought to trust my sense of direction and just southeasterly drive on country roads until I would eventually hit 81-South somewhere in Virginia. (This was long before GPS systems on phones or devices.)  About an hour later, thinking I was surely below Winchester and near to I81, I found myself driving back into Berkeley Springs on another road. I had simply made a wide circuit, thinking I was going straight.

And that is the way a lot of people are: lost without knowing it or admitting it. They think they are driving straight through life, when in fact they are going in circles – often experiencing the same failures over and over.

It is both frustrating and fearful to find oneself in a lost condition in a strange place.

But here’s the great good news that can come even out of the bad news: before one can be found, or seek to be found, or be open to being found, one has to acknowledge that one is lost. And facing the sinful mess we are in because of Adam is a first step toward a solution and finding life.

And again, as we’ve seen in so many of the passages we’ve referenced this week, though very dark statements are made about the sin problem, the answer is in the broader context. And so it is with the primary passage this week from Romans 5 about how we sinned in Adam and a death sentence has passed on to us. But here are some of the preceding verses …

Romans 5:1-2 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Romans 5:6-9 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The situation resultant from Adam and our participation in Adam’s sin was as bad as it could possibly be. Verse 6 shares an additional descriptor to all we’ve highlighted this week. It says were powerless. Totally dark!

Often when there is a heinous crime reported in the newspaper of a murder or severe child abuse, readers will leave remarks like, “Lethal injection would be too nice for this scum!”  The outrage is largely understandable. But let’s not minimize mankind’s rebellion against the perfect Creator-God who put man in a perfect environment. Yet man rebelled. Who would show mercy to anyone so undeserving of it?  The answers is nobody!  But in that condition, at our worst, God showed his great love by sending his own Son to die for us and take the penalty that we deserved, and that justice demanded. This is indeed the greatest love.

2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

We’ll talk tomorrow about exactly how this transaction takes place.

Incurable Spiritual Sepsis – (Romans 1:18—3:30)

Am I the only one, or does it seem like there is a new killer infection that we never really heard much about until recent years … this thing called “sepsis.”  Several of our church family have had to do battle with this over the past couple years, and it is top-drawer nasty!

According to the Sepsis Alliance website (www.sepsis.org), this malady kills about 258,000 Americans each year. The site contains this description …

Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. In other words, it’s your body’s over active and toxic response to an infection.

Your immune system usually works to fight any germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites) to prevent infection. If an infection does occur, your immune system will try to fight it, although you may need help with medication such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics. However, for reasons researchers don’t understand, sometimes the immune system stops fighting the “invaders,” and begins to turn on itself. This is the start of sepsis.

Septic shock is the most severe level and is diagnosed when your blood pressure drops to dangerous levels … on average, approximately 30% of patients diagnosed with severe sepsis do not survive. Up to 50% of survivors suffer from post-sepsis syndrome.

Bad stuff for sure! But there is a sort of “spiritual sepsis” that is even worse. It is completely uncurable by human methods. This infection that is genetically inherited from relationship to Adam is endemic to all people. There is no answer in all of humanity for it. It kills everyone.

This is essentially the argument of Paul over the first three chapters of the book of Romans. It begins in 1:18ff where he writes:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The natural man has no excuse. Creation points to God, yet man rejects Him. Their sin has them in line for God’s wrathful and righteous judgment.

Turning to the second chapter, Paul turns the argument toward two categories of people who were indeed living at a higher ethical standard: moralistic Gentiles and the Jewish people. Whereas their sense of wellbeing and good standing with God was driven by not being as bad as the majority of humanity, neither group could honestly present themselves as free from sin and its consequences – spiritual sepsis.

Paul wraps up his analysis by saying in 3:9-11, “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God…’”

And then the clincher in 3:20 … “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

The problem is a lack of righteousness, a lack of perfection. It is impossible, all is lost. The spiritual sepsis always leads to spiritual septic shock and death. Though the Jews thought the benefits of obeying the law (which none did perfectly) would be a cure, it was not. This was not the actual purpose of the law. The law (God’s perfect standard) was given for the purpose of making sinful mankind aware of his imperfection and lack of righteousness. Therefore, conscious of the lost condition, the sinner would throw himself fully upon God’s grace and trust in the substitutionary atonement of sacrifices – ultimately trusting the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ.

So, in terms of our series, we could say that the purpose of God’s law is to help us see the bad news – to rightly grasp our identity in Adam and in sin, aligning us for judgment. We have to begin at this place. We have to understand the hopeless gravity of the situation, rightly seeing that there is nothing we can do. Only God can save us. And again, that good news is coming soon. But first, we’ll talk about admitting out lost condition … talk to you again tomorrow.

The Bad News is Very Bad

Warning! This is a bit depressing today. Wow, sin really made a big mess!  There’s no way to put lipstick on this pig. But before we can talk about our identity in Christ, we have to start at the beginning and talk about our identity in Adam.

Actually, what I should have done for this series is present a different week number one topic. I really should have started with our original identity: perfectly created in the image of God. We lost that stature due to Adam’s sin (and our participation in that), but we regain identity in Christ (topics to come after we clear the deck of the bad news).

Today we are going to look at a total of six descriptors from the Scriptures that very colorfully present the grave and hopeless condition of identification we possess as condemned sinners in Adam.

Yet even as we examine these titles of our natural condition apart from Christ, you will notice that most of the passages we are going to look at move quickly past the bad news and rapidly forward to a contrast with the good news. Interestingly, we constantly see the great grace of God breaking through, as if it can’t be restrained. Yes, the bad news is bad!! And it needs to be faced for what it is (and too many are unwilling to do this). But the good news is so great that God is ever pointing forward to it, saying essentially, “Run to that; run over there; flee from your sinful condition and embrace the grace that I offer.”

Thinking through the Scriptures and our natural, human condition, six identifiers speak to how seriously awful things are …

  1. Spiritually Dead – Colossians 2:13-14 – When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Dead people just don’t respond to anything. Perhaps the creepiest moment of my life happened when I was about four or five years old. An uncle of my mother had died, and we were at the funeral home at the end of visiting hours. For some reason I can’t imagine, my father told me to go over to the open casket and lift up the arm of Uncle Harry. I did. Harry didn’t respond, though I’ll never forget the rigor mortis feeling! That’ll make an impression on a youngster!

What part of being spiritually dead can’t we understand?  The fact is that we cannot respond to the gospel message apart from a work going on of life-quickening by the Spirit of God. We are spiritually dead due to participation in Adam’s sin. God has to do it all in order for us to respond and have spiritual life.

  1. Separated from God – Ephesians 4:17-19 – So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

The horrors of the African slave trade have oft been told, yet it is impossible to imagine it fully – children captured and taken from families and tribes, brought thousands of miles across an ocean and sold like animals. There was no hope ever of any sort of reunion. After a time, the ways of the former world were largely lost, and a different way of life and survival was adopted.

And so it is for mankind, estranged from the original father, having only some ill-defined sense of conscience and of a right relationship with a creator father. New ways of life were adopted that seemed natural in the surrounding world – as the text speaks of sensuality / impurity / self-centeredness (greed).

The separation of sin was like a vast ocean. There was no way to cross it to get back to God. The only hope was that God the father would come looking for us, though that was never a thought in the front of the natural mind.  The separation was impossible.

  1. Strangers / Aliens – Ephesians 2:11-13,19-20 – Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

I suppose that many of you have had the experience of travelling in a foreign country, where it does not take long to realize that you are a foreigner, totally alien to that place and culture.

When driving in England, it is always weird, because you are on the wrong side of the road. I’ve never been more terrified in my life behind the wheel of a car than in Italy; it is truly an “every man for himself” situation of reckless aggression. Turkey was nearly as bad, as everyone is constantly pushing forward and honking horns at one another.

But the worst situation I’ve ever had was in Prague, in the Czech Republic. I was working my way down to the town center – the site of the protests that helped bring down the Soviet Union, and the place where in 1968 I remember watching the TV news scenes where Russian tanks put down a rebellion. I drove down a one-way street with cars parked on both sides and soon found myself on the square. There, a street officer pulled me over. I had apparently not read signs of “no entrance” because of a street festival taking place (of course, I did not know the language!).  He demanded money to let me be released to go. I gave him what cash I had, which wasn’t much. I’m not sure I was not extorted, but I just wanted to get out of the strange cultural mess I found myself within.

In our natural and sinful condition, we do not have the language skills or connections to understand the gospel. But in God’s grace we’ve been bought into (and brought into) a new citizenship with a new set of relationships and capacities to understand and grow in that truth. But without Jesus bridging that gap, we would have never been able to get there on our own.

  1. Enemies of God – Romans 5:10 – For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

That just sounds so terrible, doesn’t it?  To not just be an enemy of some person who doesn’t like us, but to be an enemy of God!

Colossians 1:21-22 – Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you …

Enemies can be very scary. We in our country have certain enemies in the world who have nuclear powers that could inflict great harm upon us. Some time ago, there was a false alarm in Hawaii that nuclear missiles were incoming, and it set off a terrible panic – as one could imagine.

But to think that our relationship with God was as enemies!!  That He could, and justly should, eliminate us … that is the ultimate fright!  But, all that has changed, as we’ll see in coming weeks!

  1. Slaves to Sin – Romans 6:20-23 – When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A person who is a slave is unable to truly make any choices for himself. The only real choice is to obey, and it is the only choice that is really workable at all. To disobey leads to punishment and pain and loss.

And prior to a life-changing relationship with God, one is a slave to sin. That does not mean that a person is always as bad as they could be or that they do not do good deeds that are driven by a residue of conscience dating back to the image of God in them from creation. But those good deeds do not serve their master, sin … nor the master that they need which is – as put in Romans 6 – the control of righteousness. This leads to a life of holiness – on the road that ends in eternal life with Christ Jesus.

  1. Hopelessly Lost! This is a major picture of the purpose of the coming of Christ. In the gospel accounts are parables about the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son … all illustrating what Jesus came to do! Luke 19:10 – For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.  And in 1 Peter 2:24-25 in says,“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Putting that all together, it is a very bad picture. But it gets better soon!  We’ll talk more about lostness and foundness (just made up that word, like a friend of mine from Tennessee does all the time!). Catch you then.

Introduction to “Identity”

Identity – It’s an important thing to have if you are going to travel anywhere around the world. It indicates who you are, where you are from, along with generating questions about where you are going.

And our identity – the way we see ourselves – has a lot to do with where we’ve come from, what we value, and where we’re going.

People are really into “identity” … as is evident by the popularity of resources such as Ancestry.com. This popular research site is filled with millions upon millions of records that allow people to delve into their family heritage.

You’ve probably seen the commercial for Ancestry.com’s DNA research service where there is this guy who has always thought he was of German heritage, and so he is wearing the German lederhosen. But then he gets his DNA results back and finds out he’s actually 75% Scottish, so he says he traded in his lederhosen for a kilt.  Really?!  That’s not moving up in the world of ethnic fashion!  But I digress.

However, I do understand the interest in finding out who we are and where we’ve come from. I’ll share a bit later in this series about how I was adopted (as we speak of that biblical concept relative to our adoption in Christ); and over the last decade, I’ve used some of these research tools to discover some amazing things (and some troubling things, as every family tree has some sap running through it!).

Probably for many of us, our identity could be uncovered and revealed by a total stranger without even meeting us. All a person would need to do is go through our closets and drawers of logo-covered shirts and jackets, revealing the many teams or organizations with whom we are pleased to be identified.

And people are quick to identify and label other folks; and there are many categories: race, faith, politics, economics, careers … to name a few. But all of these are things of this world. Who really are we in terms of true reality, in terms of eternal status and identification as we are seen in the eyes of our creator?

And that is the essence of what this five-week series is about. The Bible traces our identity by speaking of our family connections, by natural connection to being “in Adam,” but also by faith connection “in Christ.”  Beyond that, the Scriptures give us a vision for serving well in this life, along with the assurance of an eternal future.

I believe that if we take an overarching view of this topic of “Identity” from the big picture view of Scripture, there are five identifiers as to who we are (as believers in Christ) …

  • Identity: We are Condemned Sinners in Adam
  • Identity: We are Justified Saints in Christ
  • Identity: We are Adopted Children by our Father
  • Identity: We are Ambassadors of the King of Kings
  • Identity: We are Joint Heirs with Jesus Christ

Notice here that we are only one thing in Adam: Lost!  But in Christ, we are many things, with many blessings of new identities we could never be on our own. So most of the news in this series is good … actually GREAT!  But it does not start that way, because we have a first identity as a condemned sinner.

Maybe you have at some point heard a person ready to deliver some news say, “So I’ve got some bad news and some good news, what do you want to hear first?”  Usually we choose the bad news so that we can get that out of the way, along with the hope that whatever it is, things are going to get better. And that is how we start out with this “Identity” series – with some really, really, terribly bad news. But it gets better … quickly even. So stay with us!