The Seine River running through Paris

The Seine River running through Paris

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Daily Bread for Nov 25, Rom 4-7

Today's readings are Rom 4-7

We see, in Rom 4:1-12, that faith was always God's method of making His children righteous. God declared Abraham righteous (justified) by faith, not by works or the law. The promise that faith carries with it is that those who believe will be joint-heirs of the kingdom (Rom 4:13-25). 

Rom 5 tells us this justification by faith reconciles us to God. Thus, we see the vital importance of justification. Without it, there is no reconciliation. Justification and reconciliation are made possible by Jesus taking on flesh and undoing the work done by Adam. Adam was an imperfect representative of mankind. Through him, death came. Jesus is the second Adam. This time, unlike Adam who failed, He is the perfect representative for mankind. Not only is He perfect and sinless, He takes the punishment for our sin, allowing God to declare us righteous. In this, life comes in and through Him.
God gave us the law to expose our sin. He then gave His Son to pay for those sins. Those who recognize this and repent can be thankful for the law, seeing it as an act of grace. Without the law revealing our sin, Christ paying for it and our repenting of it, we would die in our sin. 

Believers have a new life in Christ. Rom 6 teaches we are still slaves but now to righteousness instead of sin. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, we are able to die to sin. We should understand, though, that this occurs because we are now united with Christ, joined with Him. While our union with Him is a guarantee of eternal life, as we will soon see, our earthly life can still be a struggle. Our death to sin calls for us to be resolute in avoiding it. "Some participation is required" (Rom 6:12-14). 

The need for some participation becomes clear in Rom 7 where we see that avoiding sin is a battle. Our hearts long to be sin-free but our flesh continually draws us into it. Paul describes his own struggle with sin, repeatedly confessing that he does what he doesn't want to do. Rom 7 is a remarkable parallel to Rom 6 which tells us we are dead to sin while 7 details the ongoing struggle with sin. In Rom 7:17-20, "Paul is not trying to escape responsibility for his sin, but rather putting his finger on the real culprit - indwelling sin" as The Expositor's Bible Commentary says. 
"Paul claims Full responsibility for his sin subsequent to salvation in Rom 7:24-25, confessing his inability to maintain his righteousness on his own.
He needs help, as we will see in the next chapter.

Rom 6-7, taken together as they must be, become a picture of the process of sanctification. God sees us as righteous and just (sanctified), even as we are being made so, day by day. He sees the completed work of Christ in us because we are spiritually united to Him even though we are not yet perfected in our flesh. This union is the assurance of our eternal destiny that God would "count us as saved" even as He is saving and perfecting us. This guarantee of salvation even as salvation is being worked out in us is a beautiful and comforting example of the “already and not yet,” the idea that God sees His completed work in us even as it is being completed.

Daily Bread for Nov 24, Rom 1-3

Today's readings are Rom 1-3

Paul wrote Romans around 56-57 AD without ever having been to Rome. He had heard about the church there and looked forward to visiting but wanted to minister to them via this letter until he had a chance to go to them in person. We know Paul was considering a trip to Spain. Biblical historians disagree on whether he made it there or not. Paul may have been trying to establish a base in Rome from which he could explore Western Europe.

In any case, the letter is a cohesive theological treatise on the nuts and bolts of our salvation. It lays out, in explicit detail, that the righteousness of God and justification (God's declaration of our righteousness) are available by faith in Christ. It is foundational to our belief and a theological cornerstone of Christianity. It is worthy of scrutiny and can be challenging to read objectively. But, an objective reading is rewarded with a rich theology and an accompanied awe of our glorious God.

We see the central theme of the letter in 1:16-17, “The righteous shall live by faith in God.” Justification occurs by faith alone. This comes to us by the hand of God and cannot be earned. God's wrath will be poured out on all who are not declared righteous (justified). Those who are not justified are those who have rejected Jesus as Lord and Savior. Note, God does not doom these people, their rejection of Christ does (Rom 1:21-32). So, by God’s grace, some are saved. By their conscious rejection of Him and His Son, others are doomed.

In Rom 2:1-11, we see that everyone will be judged, Jew and Gentile. God's judgment is just and moral. The only ones who are in right-standing before God are those who have received salvation by faith. These people will be spared God's wrath. Those who are not saved will suffer His wrath (Rom 2;12-29).

Rom 3:1-18 follows this by explicitly stating that all have sinned and are worthy of God's wrath. Only those who believe are justified (Rom 3:19-30). This justification comes freely but exclusively by God's grace, His free and unmerited favor. This is possible because the sacrifice of Jesus's life on the cross has justly dealt with the sin of those who believe in Him.

Justification is a doctrine that is not typically taught in many churches today. But, it is one of the foundational elements of our faith. Without God's declaration of our righteousness, we remain doomed by the law. When God justifies us, our status before Him changes from being owned by sin and condemned to being held by God and free. All this happens by His grace through faith. 

Justification is an essential element of our salvation. You may compare justification to the sentencing from a judge in a courtroom. You stand before him and have been declared guilty of your actions. The judge passes sentence but then declares you free. Without the judge’s declaration, you suffer the consequences of your actions. With it, you are spared the punishment for your guilt. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Daily Bread for Nov 23, Acts 27-28

Today's readings are Acts 27-28

As a Roman citizen, Paul has appealed to Caesar regarding his arrest and imprisonment and is being taken by ship to Rome for a hearing. Along the way, the boat encounters a fierce storm resulting in the loss of all its cargo and tackle, leaving it helpless and drifting with all aboard in danger of starving (Acts 27). Paul prophesies that none of them will die. The boat shipwrecks on Malta with no loss of life. 

While on Malta, Paul is miraculously healed of a poisonous snake bite (Acts 28). Paul then begins to pray for the healing of many on the island, and God heals them. Upon Paul's departure, still in custody of Roman Centurions, the people of the island honor Paul and care for Him. Apparently, they can see the hand of God moving in and through Paul. One has to wonder whether the Centurions do and what testimony they will carry with them once the party arrives in Rome. Indeed, the supernatural events during the trip have established Paul’s credentials as a man uniquely enabled by God.

However, instead of providing more detail, Acts ends abruptly. Paul is in Rome, preaching the gospel. Tradition has it that Paul was released and may have ministered in the west. Later, when Nero persecuted the Christians, Paul was arrested again, imprisoned and martyred. Between the end of Acts and Paul's martyrdom, he finished the Pauline Epistles starting with Colossians.

Acts role in the biblical narrative is not to trace the entire history of the new church, but to portray the foundational teachings and spread of the gospel in those first crucial years of its infancy. The scope of Acts takes us from that first sermon in Jerusalem (Act 2:14-36) through the identifying of the early theological/doctrinal struggles of the growing movement to the establishment of a strong, mutually supportive network of churches that will eventually influence the entire world. Along the way, we see God preserving the church, protecting it and refining it through oppression and suffering. While many read Acts paying close attention to the miracles, signs and wonders, few see that the overall narrative is one of a fledgling church that is rejected by the world. Its members are people that are persecuted and imprisoned at nearly every turn.

While others are mentioned, Paul is prominently featured in Acts. Objectively speaking, Paul, by the time he gets to Rome, is an abject failure. He's been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, rejected accused, maligned and thrown out of nearly every town he visited. Converts have been relatively few in each location and opposition has been great everywhere except Berea (Acts 17:1-15).

Then, abandoned by most of his followers, Paul will eventually die in prison. Even though there are precious few believers compared to the number of people who hear Paul, the Epistles make it clear that those converts will witness to others and the others to even more. Eventually, enduring churches will arise and grow in nearly all the cities Paul visited. The growth of the churches is apparently not the result of Paul's efforts but by the presence and power of the Spirit of God changing hearts and transforming lives one person at a time.

Paul has been willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel. He is content, allowing God to produce results even when none are apparent. Paul does what he is charged to do, speak the truth and leave the rest up to God. God uses Paul's faithfulness to help establish His church on earth and prepare His children for heaven. 

To be fully appreciated, the Book of Acts must be taken in its entirety not divided up into small pieces and used to support out-of-context ideas and perceptions. Viewed as a whole, we see God's hand moving sovereignly and providentially to establish, protect, preserve and prosper His church. The overall narrative makes it clear that nothing will destroy the church, that God will use all that opposes the church to make it stronger. Acts also shows us that nothing will stop the truth of God's word from going forward.

Daily Bread for Nov 22, Acts 24-26

Today's readings are Acts 24-26

In Acts 24, Paul is falsely accused. His accusers are twisting the truth to make his actions look like something they are not. Paul uses his knowledge of the judicial system to not only assert his innocence but to preach the gospel to Felix, the Roman governor. Despite there being no formal charges, Paul remains in custody. He uses his time to share the gospel, never lamenting his situation but using it to honor God in how he endures it.

Paul winds up in front of King Agrippa (Acts 25-26). Yet again, he preaches the gospel. Both the king and the governor agree Paul is innocent and should be set free. But, instead of demanding his freedom, Paul takes the opportunity to appeal to Caesar, gaining a trip to Rome, the place he originally wanted to go. It’s becoming clear that the gospel is more precious to Paul than his personal freedom or rights.

Take careful notice of Paul's conduct throughout these ordeals. He remains respectful of the authorities, but he is keenly aware of how the system works. His arguments are not bombastic or tinged with anger. Paul expertly navigates through his imprisonment and trials, using them as opportunities to speak of Christ. He asserts his rights as a Roman citizen only for the sake of the gospel, never to establish equality, never for self-promotion, never for self-preservation, always with humility and respect. Paul is "wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove." 

In an age where personal freedom and all forms of expression are placed in high priority, sacrificing either of those for the sake of proclaiming the truth of the Bible is frequently seen as narrow-minded and, in some cases, bigoted. While modern-day repercussions can be intimidating and difficult to endure, In Paul’s day, they could be deadly. Paul was willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of the gospel. Are we?

Daily Bread for Nov 21, Acts 21-23

Today's readings are Acts 21-23

Acts 21:4 can be challenging. Luke seems to infer that the disciples at Tyre were, through the Spirit, telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. However, what we've seen, from the beginning of Paul's journey back to Jerusalem that Paul is highly motivated, by the Spirit, to return regardless of prophetic warnings that he would suffer once he got there. Paul has been prophesied over and has, himself, admitted his time in Jerusalem would be most difficult. Either hearing from others that Paul was in danger, or by receiving a divine prophecy through the Spirit, some supporters in Tyre try to dissuade Paul from going. This is not the Spirit now telling Paul not to go. These are people who love Paul who, upon learning through the Spirit what will happen to him, imploring him not to go. Yet, Paul remains resolute (Acts 21:5-6). The closer he gets to Jerusalem, the more precise the warnings become, thoroughly preparing Paul for what is to come. The prophesied warnings were never given to dissuade him but to gird him for what was to come.

When Paul arrives, everything plays out just as he had been told and has anticipated (Act 21:27-22:29). The net result is Paul is taken to see the provincial governor, Felix in Act 23. Paul, quite clearly in trouble, will do what he always does, share the gospel. This is what he came to Jerusalem to do. Through divine providence, he will do it with the highest authorities in the land. 

It's important to understand that Paul was not blind-sided by his ordeal in Jerusalem. God prepared him for it every step of the way. Likewise, we should not be blind-sided by trials and ordeals. God not only prepares us for them but has meaning and purpose for them. Like Paul, the way we handle them, if we face them with faith, will give us an opportunity to share the gospel or put it on display for all to see!