Life In Christ

Romans 7:4 “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”

Much of what the Bible says is revolutionary. There are statements, not just shocking to us, but to every generation that ever lived. Jesus spoke to his disciples saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24

Perhaps the strongest drive within the human body is the drive for survival. Yet we hear Jesus say, if we try to save our lives we will lose them. Life, according to Jesus, is found in death. On another occasion He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” ( John 12:24) The death Jesus is speaking of is the death that takes place when we come to Christ. Elsewhere, Paul speaks of us being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). The old life, lived for self and sinful pleasure, is laid down when we come to Christ and we begin to live with a new-found desire to please God. I spent 18 years of my life without Christ, during that time I never once considered if my behavior was pleasing to the Lord. Since the time of meeting Christ, pleasing Him has been my first priority. My old life died the day I met Christ. The benefits of that death are what Paul is speaking of here. He declares,

Romans 7:6 “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”

Three amazing things happen when we die to the self life and live to please the Lord. First, we are released from the power sin holds over us. We were held captive by it because we saw sin as a means to a happy and full life. When we came to Christ, we realized the destructive nature of sin. When this happened, we began to be repulsed by the very things we once lived for. Solomon wrote, ” . . . the fear of the Lord is to hate evil . . .” (Proverbs 8:13), meaning, when we seek to please God, we will begin to despise sin. Second, death to the self-life will result in bearing fruit to God. The height of life is described by Paul as the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is born when we leave behind the desire to put ourselves first, and we seek to live for the glory of God. Finally, Paul speaks of our serving in the Spirit. The one who leaves the ‘me first,’ sinful life behind, replacing it with seeking to live well pleasing to Jesus, will find a an enabling from the Lord to serve Him.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Ezra 1- Is That Possible?
Ezra 2- Incoming Call

Freedom In Christ

Romans 6:1
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Paul boldly declares, because of the manifold grace of God, it is unreasonable for a Christian to continue living in sin. He explains why we should put our old lives behind us, and also gives practical steps on how that is to be accomplished. Notice, he explains what happened to us when we received Jesus Christ. Declaring, we were buried with Him through baptism into death.

We have seen, over and over, as we journey through the Bible, the result of receiving Christ is life. We become the partakers of eternal life as we follow Christ; we begin to experience abundant life. Here, Paul speaks of another truth. In addition to being made alive, he explains that coming to Christ also involves dying. The life lived for self, in pursuit of sin, and driven by fleshly desires, is crucified when we receive Christ. Paul declares, since we died to sin, it is unreasonable for us to live in sin. After laying down the doctrinal aspect of this truth, Paul gives some practical insights in how to lay sin aside, and live a righteous life.

He writes, “Reckon yourself dead Indeed to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:11) The word reckon is a thinking word, meaning to consider. Since you are dead to sin, consider yourself dead to sin. Treat sin the way a dead man treats food. It is no long driving him. Dieting is difficult, it seems the moment we decide not to eat something, it is the moment we find ourselves surrounded by it. Our senses step into hyper mode, and we can smell sweets from a mile away. The battle rages within us, like a soldier fighting off an enemy invasion. We battle against the sights, smells, and memories of the delicacies we are trying to avoid. But truth be told, the moment we die, that battle will be over. Dead men don’t diet, they don’t need to, because the cravings of the flesh are gone. In the same way, if we consider that we are dead to sin, it is something of the past life, then we have taken the first step toward overcoming it’s hold on our lives.

Next Paul writes, “don’t let sin reign in your life.” Reign means to rule. Sin has a way of getting a hold of us and forcing us to do its bidding. When we first begin to toy with sin, we think we are the master, and it serves our desire. But it does not take long before the roles are reversed, and we realize we are under the control of sin. Paul is warning of that danger, but also instructing us on how to overcome sin’s hold on us.

He goes on to say, “do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13).” Our members are our body parts. Before coming to Christ, we used them to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. We used our minds to think of clever ways to sin and avoid getting in trouble for it. We used our eyes to look at sin, our ears to listen to it, our feet to lead us into it, and our hands to accomplish it. Now that we have come to Christ, we should use our members as instruments for righteousness. How have you been using yours? In what way have you used your mind, eyes, ears, feet and hands for the Kingdom of God?

Practically speaking, there is only so much time in the day. If we are giving ourselves over to the service of the Lord, we are going to have less time to give to sinful folly. In addition, we will find, the grip sin’s hold on us begins to weaken, and we, like Paul, will be able to speak of many of our struggles as victories.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 35- Grabbing A Dog
2 Chronicles 36- Compassion

Benefits

Romans 5:1
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

images.jpegA few years back, a good friend of mine was applying for a new job. When he returned from his interview he was very excited. Naturally, I asked him how it went. He replied, “It is such a good job! Because of the company’s connections, I will get deals on hotels, flights, cruises, and be able to travel for a fraction of normal rates.” After describing, in much greater detail, many of the peripheral benefits of his new job, I did not have the heart to ask him what he would be doing everyday; or to remind him he would only have one week of vacation to enjoy all these benefits. Sometimes, a reminder of the benefits is all we need to keep us pressing on through the difficult times.

The Roman believers, to whom Paul is writing, are facing their share of difficult times. He speaks of the tribulations they are facing. There are many words that can be used to describe difficulties, but it is hard to think of one with deeper meaning than ‘tribulations’. In order to encourage them in the struggles they are encountering, Paul reminds them of the benefits of following Christ. Allow me to draw your attention to four of them.

First, we are reminded that through faith in Christ, we have peace with God. No longer are we living as the enemies of God, warring against Him, and living opposed to His Word; now we are the friends of God. As a result, all the resources of God are available to give us victory in the battles of life. In Romans 8:31 we are told, “If God is for us who can be against us.”

Second, we have access to God. The cross is the doorway to the throne of God. His throne is described as a place of grace and mercy where, from the giving nature of God, everything the child of God needs is poured out. If we need mercy, peace, encouragement, forgiveness, comfort, healing, power, provision, or any other thing, we will find it there.

Third, we have hope in God. This hope is expressed in two ways. One, we have the hope of glory, the hope of heaven, the hope of one day standing in the presence of God; having shed these earthly tents, that are wearing down, and being dawned in glorious bodies designed for eternity. As we stand in glory, we will be face to face with Jesus. No more will we be looking at God as “through a glass dimly”, but we will see Him as He really is. Oh, for that day! When all questions are answered and all sin removed, when we stand glorified in glory! Two, this hope also has benefits today. Because of Christ, the difficulties we face are not just obstacles or struggles, they are means for God to produce His character within us. Only God can take a trial and use it positively in our lives, to make us more like Christ.

Finally, Paul declares, “much more then… we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”(Romans 5:9) The greatest of all benefits is the fact that, as a result of receiving Christ, we will not face eternal judgment, but instead, receive eternal life. Sometimes, in the midst of the struggles of life, and the temptation to turn from Christ, we need to be reminded that Christ alone can save us from the wrath of God, and the judgment we all deserve. Take some time to look at your life through the prism of the benefits of following Christ.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 33- Turn Around
2 Chronicles 34- Set That Aside

Believing God

Romans 4:3
“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”

A right standing before God is not received by the good works that we do, but by faith in the finished work of the Cross. This is illustrated in the life of both Abraham and David. These are two of the three greatest heroes of the Jewish people, the third being Moses.

Abraham was justified, not by the good works he accomplished, but by trusting in the promises of God. In fact, when he was first chosen he was an uncircumcised idol worshipper.

Likewise, David was not justified by his works. The Psalm referred to was written after David had sinned with Bathsheba and attempted to hide his rebellion from God. The great release from the burden of sin was found when, in faith he confessed it to the Lord, and forgiveness and righteousness was imputed to him (Psalm 32:1-2).

The same is true for us today. Our standing before God is never based upon our good works. We were loved and chosen before the foundation of the earth. We were separated, called from the womb, pursued and prayed for before we ever responded to Christ. We are made right with God when we trust in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. We have access to Him every day, not because of how good we have been the day before, but because of the efficacy of the Cross. If you are avoiding the Throne of Grace, thinking you are not worthy because of something you looked at, said, thought, or did, you need to understand trusting in Christ results in your sins being placed on Him, and His righteousness imputed to you.

In Romans 3 Paul asked, “Where is the boasting then?” Clearly, the answer is in Christ. I do not stand before men and brag of my great accomplishments, self-righteousness, or unwavering faith. I bow before God, rejoicing in His marvelous grace. I stand before men, declaring that all who come to God through Christ, can have their sins forgiven and His righteousness imputed to them. I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist who declared,

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand” Psalm 149:6

Instead of justifying our sin, or allowing failure to keep us from God, let’s join David in praising God, and Abraham in continuing to pursue the promises of God.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 31- Daily News
2 Chronicles 32- Underdog

Truth & Lies

Romans 3:4
“Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar.”

A few years ago, I was returning home from one of my many visits to West Africa. Since it was a day flight, most of the passengers were wide awake, doing anything they could to pass the time. After a while, I struck up a conversation with the young lady sitting beside me. After covering the pleasantries: where we were from, our families, what had brought us over seas, I noticed an open door to engage her in the things of the Lord. After sharing the Gospel message, and even giving a few examples of lives that had been drastically changed by responding in faith to Christ, she grew disinterested. Realizing, that to push too hard would only turn her off to Christians, I concluded our conversation by asking her if she would do me a favor. I requested she simply read the Gospel of John, and pray if God was real, He would show Himself real to her. I was surprised when she responded, “I do not have time for that. I live in the real world.” I realized that her statement revealed a struggle we all face, between what seems to be “real” and the promises found in the Word of God. It is as though a battle is raging between the promise of God, and what we “know” to be true.

How often we doubt the Word of God over the claims of our circumstances, emotions, or the experience of others. Perhaps the biggest arena where the Word of God is brought to question, is in the realm of science. To some, it seems we have a choice of either being a critical thinker, or believing the claims of the Bible. To that Paul would say, “let God be true but every man a liar.”

History is filled with examples of Biblical promises that seemed unbelievable, only later to be worked out with precise detail. The Bible promised a Messiah that would be born of a virgin, have a ministry of the miraculous, be rejected by men, suffer and die by crucifixion, and rise from the dead. After four hundred years of silence, the promised Messiah appeared fulfilling the promises of God. The same Messiah promised the gigantic stones of the Temple would be knocked down, and the city of Jerusalem conquered. It seemed ridiculous to his disciples. How could such a massive building be leveled. Yet within a few decades, the Romans attacked, and the promises were fulfilled. In more recent times, we have seen the fulfillment of a promise so outlandish that even pastors and Bible scholars did not believe it. The Bible promised that the nation of Israel, that ceased to exist in 70AD, would be revived.

Now, Israel is a nation, and has celebrated its 67th anniversary. “. . . let God be true but every man a liar.” We have grown to question the authority of the Bible, while believing in the inerrancy of emotion, experience and science. It is as though we question every claim of the Bible, and believe without hesitation the claims of science. It might help to keep in mind, not everything that was once heralded as scientific fact still holds true today.

For instance, in the Nineteenth Century a French mathematician discovered a tiny planet between Mercury and the Sun, and named it Vulcan. His discovery became the buzz of much of the science community. Others came out with claims to have also seen the planet in its orbit. It was only after his death that his claims were proven false, and the planet Vulcan remains only the fictitious home of Mr. Spock. In more recent times, an Italian astronomer discovered a series of intricate “canals” on Mars. Many believed they were a detailed irrigation system built by Martians. Only after the development of more powerful telescopes, was it proven that no such canals existed. As recently as the 1700′s, many scientists believed life could literally spring out of nothing, when sun light struck the right environment. This theory, known as the Spontaneous Generation of Life, dates as far back as Aristotle who, seeing maggots appear in dead animal carcasses, thought that sunlight had birthed these disgusting little bugs.

Suffice it to say, science, experience, nor emotion are trustworthy foundations to build our lives upon. There is a Rock that will sustain us in the storms of life and through the test of time. That Rock is the authoritative, infallible, inerrant Word of the Living God. Read it, know it, trust it and live by it. His promises will never let you down.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 29- Mr. Fix It
2 Chronicles 30- The Runner

No Excuses

Romans 2:1
“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”

excuses.pngBeginning with the eighteenth verse of chapter one, Paul is developing his case against humanity. He states, because of the inner witness of the conscience, and the outer witness of creation, men have no excuse for atheism, agnosticism, or idolatry. He makes it clear, unbelief is primarily driven, not by lack of evidence of the divine, but out of a desire to practice things God forbids. He speaks of those who reject the truth in order to practice unrighteousness.

After giving a long list of sinful activities, Paul declares, it is not only the one involved in such sins, but also the one who looks on with approval, who is guilty before God. One of the fascinating issues of today, is the widespread idea that tolerance means we must accept behaviors and lifestyles that are lived in open defiance to the teaching of the Word of God. Many, practicing these behaviors, even go so far as to say that God is TOLERANT of their behaviors, even though His Word clearly condemns such actions. We live in a time where people are afraid to stand up and call sin what it is, and as a result, we find ourselves approving lifestyles that God condemns. As the second chapter of Romans unfolds, Paul’s attention switches from those who assume any and all behaviors are acceptable to God, to those who think they will be accepted for the things they don’t do.

I am reminded of a story Jesus told of a Pharisee who stood before God, attempting to justify himself. He prayed, “God I thank you that I am not like other men, I am not an extortioner, I am not unjust and I am not a tax collector…” (Luke 18:10-14) This man considered himself to be acceptable to God for the things He did not do. What we ‘don’t do’ is not what makes us right with God; because what we ‘don’t do’ in action, we often do in thought. Jesus explained that adultery, theft, and murder were issues of the heart, as much as they are actions of the body. When I look at a woman with lust, I am guilty of the same sin as the man who is cheating on his wife, or having sexual relations before marriage. Paul put it like this, “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?” Romans 2:3

If you assume God will look past your sins because they are not as bad as the sins of others, you have misunderstood the righteousness of God. The list of things we have not done does not justify us before God. Instead ,we are justified when we realize our need for a savior, and put our trust in Christ. This long treatise that Paul develops is to remove all excuses, and bring each of us to a place of accepting Christ; having our sins removed, and receiving eternal life. I realize some of us feel stuck in our sins. We have been practicing them for so long they have become a part of us. Will you allow me to encourage you? When you come to Christ, He will wash your sins from you, as far as the East is from the West. He wants to give you a brand new start in life, by making you a new creation in Christ. Rather than excusing our sins, let’s confess them, and allow Him to transform us into the persons He designed us to be.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 27- Always Watching
2 Chronicles 28- My Fault

The Gospel

Romans 1:1
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God . . .”

The Gospel was the favorite subject of the Apostle Paul. He used the term four times in the first chapter of Romans, 15 times in the book, and a total of 71 times in his writings. It was the subject of every letter he wrote, and every message he preached.

When writing to the Corinthian church he declared, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

Here, he refers to himself as being “set apart to the Gospel.” The picture he paints is that of an Old Testament Priest, who was set apart to the service of God around the Temple. The priest’s whole life was consumed with the service of the Lord. His daily activities, lifestyle, even his clothing, were ordered by the fact that he was set apart unto the Lord. It is clear, declaring the Gospel was not a random act, a hobby, or even a job for Paul, but rather it was his way of life. He saw every day as an opportunity to share the love of Christ with others, and every encounter as an open door to declare the message of eternal life found in Christ. As this chapter unfolds, Paul gives us at least three reasons why the Gospel message was so important to him.

First, in verses 14 and 15, Paul declares that because of what Jesus has done for him, he sees himself as one who owes a debt to the world. The only way he can repay this great debt is by declaring the hope of eternal life, found in Christ alone. Paul would endure personal suffering, mockery, lack, imprisonment, and ultimately death, in order to ensure that all might hear the message of the cross.

Second, he declares the reason he would risk all for the gospel is because of what the gospel can do. He says it is the power of God to save. The latter half of Romans, Chapter One, declares the condition of man apart from God. This condition would be hopeless if It were not for the Gospel message. God sent His Son to rescue man from the power and penalty of sin.

Finally, when a person puts their trust in Christ, they are redeemed from bondage and restored to a right relationship with God. The gospel alone has the power to accomplish that, and it takes place within a person, as soon as he puts simple faith in Christ. Paul explains, it is then that the righteousness of God is revealed. In other words, when we trust Christ, our sins are taken away, and His righteousness is given to us. This is a transformation that takes place in every person who trusts in Christ. Oh that we would be separated to the gospel!

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 25- It’s Not About The Money