Living out the Gospel

We’re very thankful that so many of you have tracked with us during this sermon series. This past Sunday we concluded by talking about being “raised to life.” At the conclusion of the service, 12 people made the decision to re-commit to following Jesus.

So what now? We might be tempted to “move on,” so to speak, to move past the seemingly simplistic message of the gospel and onto bigger and better things.

And we would be wrong.

My friend Jared finds an analogy in a beloved film:

“In the 1982 film Annie, the titular orphan is swept out of the vile clutches of Miss Hannigan at the inner city orphanage, where she and her friends spent their “hard knock life” mired in menial tasks, and delivered into the gleaming mansion of the billionaire Mr. Warbucks. When she first arrives, she is mesmerized by its size and beauty, and by the scores of cheerful servants. Her hostess asks, “Well, Annie, what would you like to do first?” Annie misunderstands. She says she’d probably like to start by washing the windows, and then she’ll move on to scrub the floors. She’s thinking she needs to get to work. The hostess just wants to know what fun thing she’d like to start her new life doing.

Annie has not realized she is not an orphan any more.

Christian, you are a Christian. You have a new identity. You are in Christ, and Christ is in you. Let your doing emerge from your being. It will not work the other way around.”[1]

If we are not careful, we can make this mistake—we can assume the gospel to be something elementary, something that grants us access into the Father’s house but once we’re there, it’s back to scrubbing and mopping and trying to keep up appearances.

Paul meant something very significant when he told the religious moralists in Galatia that “the righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11). To those in Rome Paul says that “the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:5).

Martin Luther used to call this simul iustus et peccator—that we are “simultaneously saints and sinners.” To live as a Christian is to live out of both of these identities. Let me explain.

HUMILITY: THE LIFE OF A SINNER

The gospel first of all inspires humility, because we know that ruined sinners cannot save themselves on their own merits. So to understand ourselves as sinners, we might see the following applications:

  • Gospel-motivated humility helps us from feeling superior over others, because we recognize our common struggles with sin.
  • Gospel-motivated humility prevents us from dismissing others as being unworthy of God’s love, or dismissing them as “hard cases” who will never darken the doors of our church.
  • Humility provokes us to forgive others because the debt of sin has already been taken care of by the blood of Jesus.
  • Humility means relating to others with true authenticity and transparency, as we are no longer preoccupied with polishing our reputations.
  • Recognizing the pervasive and personal nature of sin helps us grieve the suffering and evil we see in our world, and greet it with tears rather than merely clenched fists.

 

CONFIDENCE: THE LIFE OF A SAINT

As “saints,” we can have confidence, knowing that while we are sinners, we are growing in the power of God’s indwelling Spirit to conform to the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:29). This process cannot be completed in this life, but at Christ’s return we shall be indescribably changed into something new and pure (1 John 3:1-5).

Therefore, our identity as saints helps us in the following ways:

  • Joyful confidence provokes us to pursue God as Father rather than fear him as Judge (Galatians 4:6).
  • Confidence helps us recognize that even when we struggle with sin, Jesus serves as our advocate (Rom 8:1; 1 John 2:1).
  • Confidence prevents us from feelings of inferiority, because we know that our worth comes not from our own efforts but through the finished work of Jesus. We therefore have no basis for comparing ourselves to others.
  • Confidence in Christ’s accomplishment gives us the courage to share the gospel boldly even to those who are hostile, because we know that our reputations are secure in Jesus regardless of what others may think.
  • Confidence in God’s Kingdom helps us avoid placing too much of our hope in human governments, and to rightly see the city as a mission field and not a source of earthly comfort.

We need the gospel. We need it every hour of every day of our lives. While we have not hesitated to offer invitations and encourage prayerful decisions, the gospel is a message that cannot be reduced to an “altar call” or a “sinner’s prayer.” The gospel is life. Without it we slide so easily back into a lifestyle of self-indulgence or self-righteousness, both of which lead to moral and spiritual death.

So it’s with confidence that I say to each person reading this, that to believe the gospel is to accept an invitation into a larger world and into a thriving, believing community that seeks to worship God and live out his mission in the present world, even as we await its restoration. You’re needed here, you know.

Welcome to the family.

 

[1] http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2010/10/gospel-according-to-annie.html

Advertisements

Will my body last forever? (1 Corinthians 15:35-58)

Will our bodies last forever? The answer that Christianity offers is a resounding “yes.” The resurrection of Jesus promises that someday we, too, will rise from the grave. This is no metaphor. The resurrection is not some symbol of a “spiritual” reality. No; the resurrection teaches that just as Christ was physically raised in the center of human history, so too will our own bodies be physically raised at the end of human history—and the beginning of the eternal Kingdom.

This is what Paul had in mind when he addressed the church in Corinth:

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-48)

We might point out that even for Paul, he was a bit fuzzy on the details. Our bodies are eternal, he said, but in verses 42 and following he indicates that the resurrected body won’t quite be like the one we have now.

This is what separates resurrection from mere resuscitation. Resuscitation merely means to bring back from the dead, only to die again later; resurrection means that the body is somehow changed into something immortal. So no, young people, Jesus wasn’t a zombie. His flesh was not merely resuscitated, he was resurrected. He had become something else entirely.

And so will we.

THE ETERNAL BODY

This raises (no pun intended) all sorts of odd, though practical questions:

  • How old will our bodies be? Will infants be older? Will our grandparents be younger?
  • Will I still have the scar from my caesarian section, or from where I fell off the swing-set as a kid?
  • If I have tattoos, will my resurrected body have tattoos?
  • If I’m overweight, will my resurrected body be slimmer?
  • Since my resurrected body is “imperishable,” will I still need to eat, drink, sleep, etc.?
  • If the Christian hope is physical resurrection, is it therefore wrong for Christians to get cremated?
  • If I donate a kidney, who gets the kidney back on the day of resurrection?

If you strain too hard on some of these questions, you’ll go absolutely nuts. But you wouldn’t be the first. St. Augustine actually addressed some of these concerns in his book The City of God, which was written around the time that Rome was being sacked by the Visigoths (ca. 409 A.D.). While Rome was under siege, some had to turn to the ghastly necessity of cannibalism to stave off hunger. This raised an important theological question: if Jerry’s body is now inside the bellies and nourishing the bodies of me and my family, what happens on the day of resurrection? This isn’t that far removed from our question about the kidney, above. Augustine basically said that we needn’t worry; if God can form man from the dust, surely he can re-form him from the dust after we’re gone. Interestingly, in the medieval period there were woodcuts (pieces of art) produced depicting scenes of the resurrection, and in those scenes there are dogs and wild animals literally vomiting up the severed limbs of resurrected humans. The message was clear—though pretty gross—resurrection means we become restored.

Our modern era has so sanitized and domesticated death that thinking about these types of things must seem…well, unthinkable. But surely they make us pause and wonder just how exactly God intends to pull this off. And again, the Bible doesn’t give us every detail, but we might look to Jesus—that is, the resurrected Jesus—for some clues as to what this resurrected body might be like:

  • Jesus’ body was the same age. That is, when he came back, he looked the same as he did when he died. True, many of his disciples were somehow kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:16), but this may have been the intervention of the Spirit rather than a facet of Jesus’ actual body.
  • Jesus still had the scars of crucifixion. Some writers of the early church believed that martyrs would still bear their wounds after the resurrection, only now they would be marks of courage and glory. I often wonder if our cultural standards of beauty will still apply in the resurrected kingdom of God…
  • Jesus ate. Jesus ate some broiled fish with his disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:42). Revelation describes the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:1-9). I could be wrong, but a dinner party would be awfully lame if we couldn’t dig in.
  • Jesus’ body had supernatural abilities. After the crucifixion, the disciples gathered in the upper room with the door locked, but Jesus somehow came right in without even knocking. Apparently the resurrection body isn’t bound by the traditional limits of time and space.

Though I don’t know that we should count on every detail (I don’t know that we’ll all be 30-year-olds, for example), but Jesus’ body helps us see what our bodies might be like in the glorified future.

DEATH WORKING BACKWARD

The greatest consequence, of course, is that the curse of death will finally be lifted:

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)

Paul here alludes to Isaiah 25:8 and God’s promise to “swallow up death forever.” In C.S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia series, Aslan—the lion who represents Jesus—allows himself to be sacrificed by the White Witch. Yet when the children run to find his body, they find only the resurrected Aslan. Susan asks, “What does it all mean?” Aslan replied:

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back….She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Outside of Lewis’ fantasy world, we know that it’s more than just “magic”—it’s the very power of God. The resurrection comes with the promise that the spell will one day be lifted. The resurrection is the promise of death working backwards.

Oh, dear Christian, think what this means. You’re going to see your little boy again. You’re going to see your mother. Your father. Your wife. Your friend. It’s not some metaphor. It’s not some wish. And it’s not some ghostly fantasy about sitting in the clouds playing a harp. You will feel the grass beneath your feet as you run and not grow weary. You will feel the wind against your face as it blows through the wild lilies and the heather. You will hear the songs of birds as it joins the laughter of friends. And you will feel the tears on your face as you finally stand before the king of the entire universe and know that finally—finally—you’ve come home, and the years of ruin behind you slip from memory as your heart awakens to a world that seems simultaneously so fresh and wild and alive and yet as familiar and faithful as an old friend.

Until then we, the church, join our voices together to sing these songs of redemption, these songs of freedom, these songs of hope, shuffling along with the throngs of others who limp their way toward the gates of the undying. Until then, oh Lord.

Until then.

 

 

Positively Worldly (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)

There’s an old hymn that goes something like this:

“This world is not my home,
I’m just a-passing through;
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue
The Savior beckons me
From heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home
in this world anymore.”

It’s beautiful. It’s eloquent.

And it’s completely wrong.

If you grew up in traditional church culture, then it might be quite difficult to come to understand that Heaven is not your true home. You and I were made for earth. Christianity has traditionally emphasized that when Christ’s followers die, they join him in heaven, much like Jesus telling the thief crucified next to him that “today you will be with me in paradise.” But the Bible tells us that at the end of all human history, there is a “new heaven and a new earth,” and God’s holy city descends “like a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2). Our truest, lasting destiny is therefore God’s restored earth.

So when Paul writes to the people of Corinth, he emphasizes that the resurrection of Jesus has profound implications for life here and now. See, the people of Corinth might have been willing to accept the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, but the idea that they, too, would be raised from the dead seemed altogether absurd. But Paul says, no; you need to really think through what this means for you—for us—and how resurrection hope saturates every arid place in our lives.

FAITH IN CHRIST (15:12-19)

First, Paul emphasizes that the faith cannot be untangled from the message of the resurrection. If Christ has been raised, then it follows that we, too, will also experience this event:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

If Christian faith is based on preference, emotion, or social benefit, then we might be tempted to conceal our faith in the presence of others, or reserve our faith for Sunday mornings or major holidays. But if our faith is anchored in the historical reality of the resurrection, then it means we live for a deeper story—a true story—a story that overturns the lesser stories of pleasure and power that dominate our social landscapes and news cycles.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE (15:20-28)

Second, Paul emphasizes that this event points us toward a greater future:

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Jesus reverses the curse of Adam, the curse of death that dangles above our heads like a sword waiting to fall. The Christian hope, as we’ve mentioned, is bodily resurrection. Paul therefore seeks to cultivate a sense of anticipation, a waiting sense of wonder, at this future event.

Why would this matter? Because in an era when believers experienced social shame for following Jesus, it was good to cling to the hope of a greater and brighter future ahead of them. The same is true for us. In our own land of death, our eyes ache for a more enchanting vision of what lies ahead.

LOVE FOR THE WORLD (15:29-34)

Finally, Paul suggests that this faith and hope manifests itself in love for the world:

29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Faith. Hope. Love. These three virtues awaken in the presence of the risen Savior.

The historian Jaroslav Pelikan once said that if “the resurrection never happened, then nothing else matters. And if the resurrection is true, then nothing else matters.” If there is nothing to hope for, if there is no future beyond the grave, then this life is all we have. But if there is a future to look toward, then this life takes on renewed significance.

This is what it means to be “positively worldly.” The resurrection challenges us to love the world, or—more accurately—to love the world as it is beginning to be. Our hope is not merely to escape the world, but to be resurrected within it, to see the borders of Eden expand to fill all of creation with restored goodness and beauty.

The seasons provide something of an audiovisual display of this hope-filled promise (perhaps that’s even why Paul will—in tomorrow’s passage—appeal to the image of a seed and a plant). In Spring we see Winter pull back her icy curtain to reveal the abundance of wildflowers that decorate a world of green. Winter isn’t about death, you see, but dormancy. The opening of each flower reminds us that Paradise hasn’t been lost forever. And some day,–someday so achingly soon—we, too, will experience this resurrecting power in our every cell and every limb. Until then we find faith, find hope, find love in the reality of the empty tomb, and the anticipation of the Savior’s return. In the same breath as we sing Christos Anesti, we also say, Maranatha—Christ has risen; come quickly, Lord Jesus.

 

The gospel according to Snopes (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

I want you to consider two different stories:

  • In 1793, a meteor struck the area currently known as Chambersburg. The rock fragment—mostly iron—was roughly the size of a Volkswagen, and the impact could be heard from as far as 100 miles away. All official records of the incident have been lost, but we can piece together details based on one or two journals from what appear to be local residents of the time.
  • In 1993, a meteor struck downtown Chambersburg. Well over a hundred witnesses saw it, including many member of our own congregation such as Lyle Geiger, Larry Goldman, and Sherry Libby.

You’ve probably seen through my transparent illustration to know that neither story is true, but if you had to rate their relative believability, which one seems more plausible? Or, maybe we should ask the question a different way: which story would you have an easier time verifying—or discrediting?

Naturally, you’d choose the second as the more “testable” tale. You might first go to the web to search for articles from the time period to confirm the events.  You might chase down the witnesses we’ve named to see if they confirm or deny the details. And if they can’t back it up—or, more significantly, if these “witnesses” are just fictional characters (they’re not, by the way), then you have all the more reason to doubt my story.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SNOPES

logo-snopesOf course, the internet abounds with all sorts of stories and rumors. So many that it’s hard to always know what’s true and what’s not—or what lies in the foggy space between.  Thankfully the internet is self-correcting, at least to a degree. Ever heard of the website “Snopes?”  The folks who write for Snopes.com have done the world a great service in evaluating many of the claims you read about online. So if you ever encounter a rumor you just can’t make up your mind on, you can check with Snopes to see if it’s true.  Cigarettes linked to cancer? True.  Eating bacon regularly gives you six-pack abs? False.  Pastor Chris Wiles irresistible to women? Kind of a grey area.

See how that works?

Here’s what I’m getting at, with both the Chambersburg meteor story and the Snopes reference: Christianity is built not on the basis of human experience, but on the basis of historical fact. This is the basis of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

See, many religions base their teachings on some abstract, personal experience. Mohammad, Joseph Smith, Gautama Buddha—these men each formed a religion based on some persona encounter they had with the divine.  Now, who am I to judge whether these men really did or did not have such an experience?

Christianity is way different. In Christianity, we have Paul saying, Look, these things really happened. Jesus came back from the dead. People saw him. Don’t believe me? Ask James. Ask Peter. Sure, they didn’t have Snopes to fall back on, but they could at least name names.

NO LONGER SAFELY SECULAR

Stop and think about this for just a moment. In today’s world, we tend to evaluate religious belief based on its personal or social impact. Some have committed acts of violence in the name of Christianity, we might object, So what makes Christianity any better than any other religion out there?

That’s a whole discussion in itself, but let’s start by saying, We’re asking the wrong question. The greatest measuring stick is not “Is Christianity good?” but “Is Christianity true?” Because we can squabble over what we truly define as “good;” there’s little room for interpretation as to whether Jesus rose from the dead.

Don’t you see what that means? Suddenly the world isn’t as safely secular as we thought it was. The resurrection—the stark, historic reality of the resurrection—shatters my credulity.  If I choose to reject the Christian gospel, it can’t possibly be due to a lack of evidence.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us confronted with the spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally subversive reality of the empty tomb, a barren cross, and a risen Lord. Jesus saves. Paul’s life was changed forever, yours can as well. Join us this week as we explore what this resurrection means for us.

 

Just Put it on my Account – Philemon

This week we give you an extra bonus devotional, and it is one I wrote about three years ago in our series called “cross words.”  But it fits well with this gospel message discussion we are having right now. This is not a “didactic” passage — meaning it is not a time where Paul is teaching truth to the readers. Rather, it is a personal letter that has the truth in it as an illustration of the topic at hand this past week: imputed righteousness … or declared righteousness.

Have you ever wanted someone to do something, all the while realizing that it is indeed going to cost them some money to make it happen? Perhaps it is a scenario where you know something is good for them, or perhaps it is simply the right thing to do – though you are not sure they will quite see it the same way as you do? You hope so, but you’re not quite sure how they will react when you present it to them. In that you have a high view of them, you expect that it will be well-received, but you can’t quite be positive. So, to make sure that the proper deed will be accomplished, while asking and challenging the person to be responsible and take the high ground position, even with its costs, you finish off your request by saying, “If you won’t pay for it, I will.”

That is what is happening in this personal letter from the Apostle Paul to a fellow named Philemon. This recipient of the letter – an apparently wealthy individual who lived in Colossae and was a part of the church of the Colossians – had a slave named Onesimus who had run away. In the course of God’s sovereignly-directed events, Onesimus comes into contact with Paul, is converted to the faith, and is now being sent back to his owner Philemon.

There is not time now to talk about the issue of slavery in the Roman Empire. Understand that it was not exactly like slavery in American history, and in fact more than half of the population were slaves. Owners and slaves were in the same church together, and Paul did not write to upset these conventions. Though we might picture it more like indentured servitude, it was a crime to do as Onesimus had done.

So Paul writes to implore Philemon to accept him back. Paul speaks of the great benefit he has received from Onesimus, and he tells the owner that he will now not only have a better worker, he will be welcoming back a brother in Christ.

The reason I shared this passage with you yet again is because of verse 18 – If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  Paul is saying to Philemon that if it is a matter of not accepting him back because of financial loss, that the owner should charge the loss to Paul’s account and he would make good on the debt. This is an example of imputation – the placing of a debt to another’s account, and the consequent transfer of credit that frees the person from the pending execution if the debt is not paid.

So here is the illustration. We had debt on our account. That debt was taken from us and put to Christ’s account and paid for. Coming back to our spiritual account is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We call this “imputation.”  It is the credit that we need that we cannot get by our deeds. It is what the gospel is all about.

Philemon 1:1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

God REALLY Likes Remembrances – Exodus 12, Luke 22

<I am sorry to have apparently dated this wrong when writing and scheduling it. It was supposed to have come out to you a day earlier — on Good Friday, not Saturday morning.>

I always say that I am not much of a sentimentalist. Fortunately for me, neither is my wife to a large extent. We did make a big deal of kid birthdays, and with five boys growing up, realize that it adds up to over three months’ worth of celebrations … lots of ice cream cakes! But we’ve never been much for anniversaries, Valentine’s Day or that sort of thing.

At the same time, I am very quick to remember dates of big things in our lives: loved ones who died, or anniversaries of relocation events, life crises and job changes, etc.

I wouldn’t call God a sentimentalist, but he was interested in remembrances of big events in the history of the nation of Israel. God understands the human capacity to forget important things and events, especially those of great significance where the Lord was involved in a big way to demonstrate His love and His plan.

The children of Israel (meaning the family of Jacob) went to Egypt at the time of Joseph serving the Pharoah, numbering about 75 people. Over the next roughly 400 years, the work of Joseph was forgotten in Egypt and the Israelites had become a slave people of perhaps up to two million.

The miraculous events through the ministry of Moses served to make their escape from bondage possible, marking their birth as a nation. All of this happened with the event of the Passover, with the blood of the sacrificial lamb applied to the doorframes of their homes … all of this with significance not just for that day, but for every day from that day forward … and not just for Israel, but stretching 3500 years later and all of the way to us today on this Good Friday of 2016 …

Exodus 12:1 – The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

The principle of innocent blood being shed to cover for the sin of another dated all of the way back to the first human sin and the animal sacrifice for coverings. Sacrifices were a part of the entire Old Testament history of the patriarchs and the Jewish people. But the perfect and final sacrifice for sin had to be of the same substance as humanity, yet perfect. Only one person qualified, and God orchestrated the events of that human sacrifice to take place on the observance of the Passover from 1500 years prior …

Luke 22:7 – Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.

10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”

13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

There is nothing more important for us than to understand what God has done in great grace to save mankind. He has had a plan (it says in Scripture) since before the beginning of the world. That plan of redemption has been intricately and beautifully interwoven and worked out over all of time. The gospel message of which we have been speaking in this series is the exposition as to how we may be connected to God’s eternal grace in Christ.

So, a review as to how it all comes together …

God said through Moses: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

Jesus said to the disciples during the Passover dinner: “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Paul said to the Corinthians: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

And I say to you: “See you tonight at 7:00.”

The Dirty Shirt – Romans 4:13-25

The Dirty Shirt Skit is something that I have done over the past three decades at various times and places, modifying it a bit here and there. I think it so clearly pictures in a humorous sketch exactly what the gospel message of imputed righteousness is all about.

I first did this on the beach in Scarborough, England in the late 80s while leading a high school music team summer mission trip. We were working with a British evangelist and running what was essentially a VBS on the beach at a hot vacation spot in England (as hot as a beach vacation spot can be along the North Sea — at the same latitude as Labrador!). We had kids running down the beach to get water from the North Sea in their plastic buckets, etc.scarborough england

The skit idea is that a fellow receives an invitation from the royal palace for a personal visit with the King (and of course in England this means more than in the USA). The fellow, who is dressed in a filthy shirt, is excited and takes his invite to the palace door. There a guard throws him out in a variety of ways, showing him the fine print of the invitation that says that a clean, white shirt is required. So the man begins to do everything he can to clean his shirt (with the kids helping). Though improved, it is still not perfectly white, and the guard throws him out over and over. Eventually, coming to the palace gate in exasperation, holding the paper invite and the large tube the invite was in, the guard points out to the man some more fine print at the bottom that says that a clean white shirt is provided with the invitation. He takes off his old shirt and puts on the new, and is immediately welcomed into the palace to meet the king.

We are the man invited to know God, the dirty shirt is our sin, we cannot ourselves clean away the dirt, the clean shirt is the righteousness of Christ, and when we replace our sin with his perfection, we can have acceptance in God’s presence.

As we continue to the second half of Romans 4, Paul takes on another issue that the Jews in particular leaned upon as being God’s special people, obedience to the Law of Moses…

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

Remember that the Law of Moses did not come until 400-500 years after Abraham, long after the principle of imputed righteousness through faith was established. And again, remember that the Law is not really about how to get right with God, it is not something to depend upon; its purpose is to bring wrath, as it is the perfect standard to show a person his sinfulness.
Without it “there is no transgression.”  For example, without the perfect law would be like a society without any rules, or like a road with no speed limits.

And here comes the principle: the promise of hope and righteousness is entered into by faith, be it Jews or Gentiles. This makes Abraham not only the physical father of the Jews, but more broadly the spiritual father of all who will trust in God’s promise …

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

This idea of bringing dead things to life is now talked about on several levels. Of course it relates to us having spiritual life that comes to us through faith, bringing life to the death that we had because of the curse of Adam’s sin.

But as well, it is illustrated in what God did in bringing life through Abraham and Sarah.  The child of promise (Isaac), the one through whom would come the redeemer Jesus Christ, would be born when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah age 90.

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

That would take a lot of faith, wouldn’t it? But Abraham had a promise; it was from God; he couldn’t see it, but he believed it without wavering in faith.

And again, this principle is bigger than just the story of Abraham and Sarah; it is for all of us, for all people of all time…

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

We celebrate this great truth in the commemorations of the days ahead.

Salvation Has Always Been the Same – Romans 4:1-12

There was a Bible and theology professor at my college who was idiosyncratic to the max. He was famous for certain repeated expressions that were delivered with great pound-the-pulpit fashion in a fit of passionate verbiage. Often these rants seemed to be fully into the “rabbit trail” category relative to the topic at hand, and students would often sigh and drop their note-taking pens at that point until the verbal fit passed.

But over time, I came to understand that the best material that Dr. McGahey had to offer was the stuff that sent him into a theological rage about explaining the genuine truths of Scripture. I learned more from him than from any other prof at either Philadelphia College of Bible or Dallas Theological Seminary. Personally and privately, he was among the gentlest and godliest people I’ve ever known. He was extraordinarily kind to me and to Diana as well , and in fact we asked him to officiate our wedding in 1977. He is with the Lord now, having heard the Father say to him, “Well done James, you got more theology correct than anyone else down there!”

One of his famous lines he oft repeated was this: “Salvation has always been the same, it has always been grace through faith; but the content of faith has changed from dispensation to dispensation (meaning from one age to another in God’s dealings with mankind).”

A central passage to this understanding is our text today in Romans 4, looking back at the faith of Abraham and declaring that it was his faith in God’s promise that saved him, not any deeds that he performed.

4:1 — What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 

This verse 3 is a quote from Genesis 15 and the story of Abraham’s life. He had been given a promise from God that his name would be great, that he would be the father of a great nation, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (which would be in Jesus – not that he understood that at the time). And as we wrote about this yesterday, the only problem was that he had no offspring, and time was not on his side. In baseball terms, it was about the 20th inning of the game.

Abraham had nothing to rest in for hope or confidence, other than the promise of God. But he believed that promise, and as it says in both of these passages: “It was credited to him as righteousness.”   In other words, he was given — credited (a banking term) — at that moment of faith and belief the stuff he needed for salvation … righteousness.

Paul writes more about this, saying that the principle is a timeless one; it was not just a one-time thing for Abraham. David had the same experience ….

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.

Wages are not given as a gift, but are earned. Faith is another matter; it is about what comes as a gift …

5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” 

This is from Psalm 32, one of David’s penitential Psalms extoling God’s gracious forgiveness for his great sin.

So, who can experience this blessing of credited righteousness?  Is it a thing for the Jewish people, the nation that came from Abraham? Or is it for everyone?

9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.

This issue of circumcision was a big thing for the Jewish people, and if righteousness — having what was needed to be right with God — was only for them, it would surely be tied to that issue.  But Paul asks …………

10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!

The distinctive mark of circumcision was not given until a number of years later than this crediting of righteousness to Abraham, after Isaac was born (so this was at least 13 years, and probably a few more). So, the issue of salvation was certainly apart from this ritual. Rather, the mark was a sign of a relationship with God, but was not the action that made the relationship.

11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

So declared or imputed righteousness was not something just for the Jews, it was for any who would fully trust in God’s promises and revelation of truth.

I attempted to illustrate this concept on Sunday with the two teenage girls I called up front. To recount the event for those who missed it, I told both of them that if they would trust me, I would reward them with a candy prize, even though it may seem nonsensical.

I told the first girl to leave the room, circle through the back hallway and come into the auditorium and return to the stage from the opposite side. And as soon as she walked out the door, I pulled candy and a receipt for the purchase of it out of my pocket and showed the second girl … then telling her to run and catch the first one.

As they both came back to the stage, they both were rewarded for trusting me in faith that I would do what I said I would do. The second girl had more reason to believe, for she had seen the payment and evidence of the reward, whereas the first girl went only on a promise.

Girl number one was like Abraham — the content of faith being a promise. Girl number two is like a person in the church age (our time after the work of Christ), seeing the payment and the evidence of the reward. The content of our faith involves belief in the payment of Christ and the proof of life — the receipt — in the resurrection of Christ.

See, salvation has always been the same – grace through faith; but the content of faith has changed. But really, how difficult is it to believe and trust in such a good and gracious God who has done it all for us?

Wait for it, Wait for it – Genesis 15:1-21

I don’t like waiting for things, and I don’t like making people wait for anything either. A period of waiting causes one to doubt whether something is really going to happen or not. Like, I’m still waiting for that Baltimore Orioles scout who saw me pitch four shutout innings against Rutgers 41 years ago to give me a call like he promised. I’m beginning to doubt if it’s ever going to happen, and I’m fearing I might have lost a few miles per hour on my fastball.

This week we are going to talk about someone who did a lot of waiting, and about a God who is not opposed to making his people wait. Our focus is upon Abraham as illustrative of the theme of declared or imputed righteousness.

To understand our primary passage of focus in Romans 4, we need to recall the background story of the man who is often seen as the ultimate paragon of faith — Abram, or as he was to be known, Abraham.

On most fronts, Abram’s life was going pretty well in Ur and Harran where he lived with varied extended family. There were no children for he and Sarah, but the rest of life was marked by success in material things and the accoutrements of life. We don’t know much of the nature of his faith prior to God’s selection of him, though we know he came from an idolatrous family. He may well have been that himself early in life, but God called him and continued to call him. And God’s calling is generally not much oriented to what a person offers, but is rather according to God’s pleasure in choosing whom he is going to use. It’s a grace thing for sure.

Abram was called (actually first at an earlier time when living in Ur), and the record tells us that he acknowledged God and obeyed, even though it meant a change from everything he knew as familiar.

Genesis 12:1 — The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

This 12th chapter of Genesis gives us what we speak of as the Abrahamic Covenant. God made three promises: that Abram’s name would be great, that he would make a great nation of him, and that all the earth would be blessed through him.

Cool!  So, you would think that at ages 75 and 65 (Sarah) that God would get right to work on that building a family thing, right? No time to lose, that’s for sure! But then another 11 years go by, and no family. Now we are in Genesis 15 …

15:1 — After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

With no children, the custom of the day would be for the primary household servant to gain the estate as his own, in this case a guy named Eleazer. Here is an example where the original language in Hebrew throws in a play on words that has a ring of humor to it. The words for “household servant” and “son-heir” sound much alike and rhyme. It would be like saying, “this hired dude I’m paying now is going to be the retired dude who is paid ALL my stuff when I’m gone.”

But God said that this would not be so, rather it would be someone of his own posterity. Man, if it took extra faith 11 years earlier, it took 11 more years of faith to believe it now. But Abraham in verse six did believe, and it was put to his credit as righteousness — the “stuff” that is needed to be eternally in right relationship with God.

But Abram still heard no babies crying. He was wandering around with his sheep as a nomad, living in tents, with God telling him that he was going to inherit all of the land around him. So you can understand why, even while believing, Abraham would request an affirmation of his faith.

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

The act of cutting sacrifices into pieces and halving them was a means of verifying a covenant. Those making the promise would walk between the pieces of the carcasses, symbolizing that if they broke the covenant, they would end up like the chopped-up beasts. They were essentially saying that they were staking their lives, their everything, to the oath being made. And the torch of fire passing through was God giving his word to Abram.

The other details had to have been a mixed bag of blessing for Abram. Great things were going to happen, but he himself was not going to life to see most of it. God’s plans would not find fulfillment for generations … for centuries. And in terms of the universal promises that Christ would fulfill, it would be millennia; and honestly, that continues to today in the ongoing building of the church and Christ’s kingdom.

Yes, the life of faith has a lot of waiting. And the fact is that not everything about God’s promise to any of his people is ever fulfilled fully on this earth. God’s plans and God’s program are so much bigger, and to be a part of it at all is a greatest of blessings for us.

And the way that we are a part of it is by grace through faith. It was true for Abraham, for Moses, for David, for Peter and Paul, and for all of us today. Our faith is in the merit of a reality beyond this world, but by believing and trusting in it, that merit is applied to our spiritual account.

Equal Opportunity Sinners – Romans 3:21-31

You’ll be glad to know that I have not spent a lot of time standing trial before a judge. I’ve had to testify a few times, and that is creepy enough. But there is really only once that I chose to go before a judge to plead about an accusation against me — about a speeding ticket.

It happened in Virginia on an occasion when I was at a Free Church pastors event in the Culpepper area. I had made some sort of wrong turn and found myself on an isolated road that went through what is known in that area as The Wilderness. It is a dense tangle of trees and brush, most famous because of a horrifically brutal Civil War battle fought in that region.

I was driving along trying to figure out where I was. There was nothing but thick forests on either side for miles, but suddenly I went around a turn and into an open area with schools on both sides of the road … and a policeman pointing a speed gun at me. There was no warning that I could see. I was amazed at how quickly it all transpired. After getting my paperwork, I went back to see if there were any signs along the roadway, and there was just one that was overgrown by trees and brush and hardly visible at all.

The judge was unimpressed with my story. I told him the circumstances and that I was not in any hurry or seeking to speed beyond any reasonable standard, never expecting a school zone to suddenly appear. He basically told me that he understood I had no intent to break the law and how I would be unfamiliar with the road, but the fact was that I had done so. Guilty!

Probably most people who go before a judge for small items like traffic violations do so with the hope that there will be some measure of leniency, and often there is. Your history, like a driving record, is considered. And perhaps if your overall goodness far exceeds the accused failure, the judge might let you go. At least you hope so.

And that is how most folks naturally think about what it will be like at the end of their lives when they stand before God. They know they are not perfect, and their hope is that He will agree that they have been clearly more virtuous and moral than the relatively scant accumulation of wrongdoing.

But that is not good enough. Perfection is needed. As we wrote previously, the need is to possess this stuff called “righteousness.” And the problem is that we don’t have it; and worse yet, we can’t get it or earn it on our own. It has to come from somewhere, someone, else.

The Jewish people in Paul’s time believed the same folly that frankly a majority of people essentially believe today: that by keeping the Law (the Jewish belief) or by living a very good and largely moral life (Gentile belief), one can expect to be OK with God in the end.

But the Scriptures teach that we all — Jews, Gentiles, whoever — are equal opportunity sinners; we have all failed and are in need of righteousness. That is the bad news. But the good news (the gospel) is that there is a righteousness that is out there. It was anticipated in the Old Testament Scriptures; it was revealed in Jesus Christ; it is preached as the gospel by Paul and the New Testament writers; and it is available through faith to those who will believe in this truth and trust in Jesus Christ.

3:21 – But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

It is all about gaining righteousness through faith. We call this “declared righteous,” which is essentially what justification is.  We also speak of it in terms of “imputed righteousness.”  This is a great topic … the BEST topic. And that is what we are going to speak about all of this week.