Barrenness and Mother’s Day

Yesterday morning at Farmdale Baptist Church I continued my sermon series in the book of Romans with a message from Romans 4:13-25 titled “Barrenness and Mother’s Day:  How God Used a Barren Woman to Bless the World”.  The audio starts after the introduction and Scripture reading, so I’ve included the text of the introduction and Scripture read below.

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One of the things that most bothers me most about the way that churches observe Mother’s Day is the knowledge that for many this is a very painful day.  Some people don’t come to church on Mother’s Day for this reason.  For those whose mothers have already passed, or mothers who have outlived their children this is a difficult day.  But it is perhaps hardest for those who, in God’s providence, have been unable to have children.

I think God allowed me to be aware of this when we were not able to have children for the first five years of our marriage. When Gretta had a miscarriage in 1996, we learned that having children is not a given.  God is sovereign over the womb and gives or withholds children to whom He wills.  I still remember going to the doctor for the first ultrasound when Gretta was pregnant with Haddon.  We were so scared that something was going to be wrong that we sat and cried in the car before going into the doctor’s office.

Our middle son, Isaac, was named at the ultrasound that revealed his gender.  Gretta, Haddon and Hannah picked the first name, I was allowed to pick the middle name.  Little did she know that I would choose the middle name of Watts.  The name Isaac means laughter.  He is appropriately named.  But the first Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah’s old age, was even more appropriately named.

They Called Him Laughter (by Michael Card)
A barren land and a barren wife,
Made Abraham laugh at his wandering life.
A cruel joke it seemed then to call him the father of nations.
A heavenly prank, a celestial joke,
Cause gray hair and babies leave no room for hope.
But hoping was something this hopeless old man learned to do.

Chorus: They called him laughter, for he came after,
The Father had made an impossible promise come true.
The birth of a baby to a hopeless old lady,
So they called him laughter, cause no other name would do.

This morning’s text shows how God made this impossible promise come true, how God used a barren woman to bless the world.

Romans 4:13-25 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  (14)  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  (15)  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.  (16)  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,  (17)  as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  (18)  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  (19)  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  (20)  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  (21)  fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  (22)  That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”  (23)  But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,  (24)  but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,  (25)  who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

The Spirit of Adoption (Exposition of Romans 8:12-17)

The following sermon was preached at Farmdale Baptist Church on Sunday, August 2, 2009.  Audio available here.
Russell Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. A bout seven years ago, he had his wife adopted two boys from Russia. At the Russian airport an American lady asked the question, “But are they brothers?” To which Dr. Moore replied slightly irritated, “Well, they are now.” She then said, “Well, yes, but I mean, are they really brothers?” To which Dr. Moore replied, “Yes, now they are really brothers!” She said, “You know what I mean.” What she meant was do they share the same DNA, do they share the same genetic material, do they share the same blood-type? These are the things which she thought really mattered. Are they really brothers?

This morning’s text begins with the Apostle Paul addressing the Roman Christians to whom he wrote this epistle, “brethren.” How can Paul call this mix of Jewish and Gentile Christians whom he had never met his brothers? It is because he knew that these Christians had received the Spirit of adoption when they believed the gospel. Therefore these Christians were the children of God and thus his brothers in Christ. We are brothers and sisters today because of the Spirit of Adoption!

The Holy Spirit, who is called the “Spirit of Adoption” is this passage, is prominent in Romans 8. In the first seven chapters of Romans the Holy Spirit has only been mentioned two or three times. In Romans 8 alone, the Holy Spirit is mentioned twenty times!

In this morning’s text the apostle Paul highlights four important functions of the “Spirit of Adoption” in our lives as Christians. The Spirit of adoption assists our sanctification, issues our sonship, assures our spirits and ensures our salvation.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (13) For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (14) For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (15) For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (16) The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (17) And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. Romans 8:12-17

I. The Spirit of Adoption Assists our Sanctification, vv. 12-14.
This is accomplished as the Holy Spirit aids the believer in the putting to death of the deeds of the body. This was the focus of last week’s post. I won’t say much more about it today, but it is our responsibility as those alive in the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body (v. 12). It is also evidence of our relationship with the Father (v. 14). To summarize, it is those who are led by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body who prove to be the Sons of God!

II. The Spirit of Adoption Issues our Sonship, v. 15.
The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Adoption”. It is the Holy Spirit of God that makes us the sons of God. We have “received the Spirit of Adoption” as opposed to “the spirit of bondage again to fear”. We have not received the law again (an instrument of bondage and fear) but a relationship with a Father! In a parallel passage found in Galatians 4:1-7, Paul explains in more detail this process:

Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

We’re familiar with adoption today in which a couple unable to have children naturally may adopt a child as part of their family. That’s a wonderful picture, but there’s more to our adoption as sons of God than this. In the first century an adopted son was a son who was deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to continue his name and inherit his estate. He was not in the least way inferior in status to a natural born son. But our adoption is even better than that. In the first century an adoptive father could only give an adopted son his name and inheritance. But the Spirit of Adoption gives believers a new nature! And this new nature results in a heart-cry, “Abba, Father!”

A lot has been made of the Aramaic term Abba being a more personal term than the Greek term Pater (translated “Father”). However, both these terms imply an intimate relationship with no discernable difference in meaning. I believe the real significance of the repetition of the Aramaic and Greek words for Father is to show that both Jews and Gentiles are now able to approach God as their Father. This is why Paul can address this mixed group as brothers. He and the Roman Christians have the same Father! Remember how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father . . .” This has been called by some the sweet “Our” of prayer. We approach God together with our brothers and sisters in Christ! This was made possible by the death of Christ on the cross. After His work of redemption was complete following the resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene to “go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” John 20:17

III. The Spirit of Adoption Assures our Spirits, v. 16.
The text says that the Holy Spirit Himself bears witness together or alongside our renewed spirit, both testify that we are the children of God! In Hebrew culture the testimony of two witnesses was required to establish a truth, and here we have two witnesses: that of our innermost being which is crying out “ABBA, FATHER”, and that of the Holy Spirit. What a double testimony!

Do we need this testimony? We certainly do! Remember that Jesus Christ Himself was not exempt from Satan questioning His sonship. In Matthew 4:6 the devil said to Jesus, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down.” If the devil tried to get Jesus to question his sonship, how much more will he try to get you and I to question our sonship! But we have the double witness of our spirit and the Holy Spirit to answer back to Satan that we are the children of God!

Note the shift in Greek terms from huios “sons” in vv. 14 & 15 to teknon “children” in vv. 16 & 17. This is a shift of emphasis from privilege to relationship. Not only do we have a privileged position as legal heirs but we also have an intimate relationship as children.

What is the significance of being called the sons or children of God?
In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is called the son of God. In Exodus 4:22 it states, “Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” In Hosea 11:1 the Lord God says, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” These same words are applied to Christ in Matthew 2:14-15,

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

And now we as New Covenant believers are also called the sons of God! As John wrote in 1 John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God”!

How is this possible? Jesus Christ was the true seed of Abraham, the real Israel, the Son of God! We are united to Christ by faith, therefore we become the true seed of Abraham, the real Israel, the sons of God! As Paul states it in Galatians 3:26-29,

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What a privilege! What a position! What a relationship! With the Creator of the universe!

IV. The Spirit of Adoption Ensures our (Final) Salvation, v. 17.
Just as Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham had an inheritance. We also as the spiritual descendants of Abraham have an inheritance! Abraham was promised a land and a people! We also have been promised a land (heaven) and we are called by the Apostle Peter a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

But what specifically is our inheritance in this text? Glorification – the final stage in our salvation. This is how the Spirit of adoption ensures our salvation. He guarantees the completion of our salvation, the redemption of our bodies!

This inheritance is only for those who suffer. But I have good news for you (or bad depending on your perspective). All Christians are called to suffer! As Philippians 1:29 states “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” In other words all who have been given the gift of faith have also been given the gift of suffering. Therefore if you are a true believer in Christ you qualify for this inheritance of glory because you have suffered, are suffering or will suffer in this life. There is no glory without suffering. No crown without a cross. But one day we will see Him (Jesus) and be like Him!

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2

“It doth not yet appear what we shall be”! We may not look like much now, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be! A fuzzy caterpillar may not look like much now, but soon he will soar effortlessly through the sky on multi-colored wings. An acorn may not look like much now, but before too long it will grow into a mighty oak where birds may nest and animal and human life may find shade under its branches. You don’t look like much right now, but if you are a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus, you will soon be like Him! No, “it doth not yet appear what we shall be”! Likewise Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21,

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

This is our inheritance! A glorified resurrection body like that of our Savior’s! On that day, there will be no doubt that we are really brothers! Not because we came out of the same mother’s womb, but because we will all be conformed to the image of our elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ!

No Condemnation in Christ Jesus! (Exposition of Romans 8:1-4)

The following sermon was preached at Farmdale Baptist Church on Sunday, July 19, 2009.  Audio available here.
It’s not hard to imagine, given what we’ve all seen on the news in recent days, a home that has survived the hurricane and the flood waters and is still standing. But upon examination by an engineer it is found to have structural damage beyond repair. Therefore, this apparently safe home is ruled unsafe and scheduled for demolition. Likewise, we as individual humans have been examined by a holy God and have been found to have structural integrity problems. We are sinners by nature and by choice. Therefore we are scheduled for eternal damnation.

How may we escape the certain judgment that will surely and most deservedly befall us? Romans 8 begins with these great words of comfort: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”. How is this possible? The apostle Paul describes to us in the first four verses the essence of the objective work of God in Christ and three important results thereof which culminates in the declaration in verse 1 of “no condemnation”!

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

First, let’s examine the objective work of God in Christ described in verse three. Paul says, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” What could the law not do? It cannot justify (i.e., forgive sin and impute righteousness). As Romans 3:20 states, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” According to Galatians 3:21, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Likewise the author to the Hebrews cofirms that “the law made nothing perfect” (Hebrews 7:19). Yes, the law cannot justify you and it’s your fault! Paul explains the failure of the law as a result of the weakness of the flesh. The problem is not with the character of the law. The problem is that you and I are unable to keep the law.

So, God has done the humanly impossible. How did He do this? By “sending His own Son”! What amazing love of God! John says in 1 John 4:9-10,

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (See also John 3:16)

He sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. Notice how carefully this is worded. He doesn’t say in the likeness of flesh, which would imply He was not fully human. Nor does he say in sinful flesh, which would imply that He was sinful. But Jesus is described as being sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This means that He was fully human without sin.

He sent His Son “for sin”, i.e. as a sacrifice for sin and by His death “condemned sin in the flesh” of Christ! On the cross God condemned our sin in the flesh of Christ! This is the objective work of God that has been accomplished in Christ on the Cross. It has three important results. These results are found in vv. 4, 2 and 1. We will examine them in this order and conclude with Paul’s famous declaration of “no condemnation.”

I. The Righteous Requirement of the Law Has Been Fulfilled, v. 4.
The first result of the objective work of God in Christ is that the righteous requirement of the law has been fulfilled in us. What does the phrase “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” mean? There are two popular interpretations. The first is that we receive the righteousness of Christ imputed to us as believers as a result of the obedient life and death of Christ. This is certainly true and taught clearly elsewhere in Scripture (see Romans 5:16-21), but I don’t believe this is what Paul is teaching in this particular verse.

Another view is to see this “righteousness of the law” as the moral actions of believers with a new heart controlled by the Spirit. I believe this is taught elsewhere in Scripture as well (see Hebrews 8:1-13), but again I don’t believe it is being taught in this particular verse.

Instead, I believe “the righteousness of the law” is the righteous penalty which the law requires, namely death. In the death of Christ, the righteous penalty has been paid. Since we as believers are united to Him in His death and resurrection, the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled in us.

In other words, because the law could not justify us, God sent His Son in human flesh, condemned our sin in His flesh, in order to fulfil the righteous penalty which the law requires for us, by His death.

II. We Have Been Set Free From the Law of Sin and Death, v. 2.
The second result of the objective work of God in Christ is that we have been set free from the law of sin and death. In verse two we are told that the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has set us free from the “law of sin and death.” That sounds good, but what does it mean? What is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and what is the “law of sin and death”? I agree with Octavius Winslow who, in his classic work on Romans 8 titled No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, argues that the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is equivalent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (or New Covenant) and the “law of sin and death” is equivalent to the Mosaic Law (or Old Covenant). Thus, verse two can be reworded to say: The “Gospel of Jesus Christ” has made me free from the “Mosaic law”.

I believe that this verse is a restatement of Paul’s argument in Romans 7:1-6. A woman whose husband dies is free to remarry. We have died with Christ and have been set free from the law. We have been resurrected with Christ in order to be remarried to the resurrected Christ. We are free from the law’s penalty and power.

To summarize Paul’s argument to this point: We’ve been set free from the Mosaic law (v. 2), because the law’s penalty has been paid (v. 4). This happened when God condemned sin in the flesh of Christ(v. 3)!

III. There is Now No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, v. 1.
The end result of the objective work of God for us in Christ is that there is now no condemnation! The word “condemnation” means a judicial pronouncement upon a guilty person. It is a declaration of guilt in a courtroom. This word also contains the idea of punishment. It is the very opposite of justification. If justification means to be declared “not guilty” then condemnation means to be declared “guilty” before the tribunal of God. Back to the analogy of a condemned house, when a house is condemned it is no longer habitable and is scheduled for destruction. Likewise a person condemned before God is already condemned and is destined for hell fire. But the good news for the believer who is in Christ Jesus is “there is now no condemnation!” In Christ we died, in Christ we live, therefore in Christ there is no condemnation!

There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (v. 1) because we have been set free from the Mosaic Law’s rules and regulations (v. 2), the righteous penalty of the law has been fulfilled in the death of Christ (v. 4) where our sin was already condemned in the flesh of Jesus on the cross (v. 3).

This is why Paul preached to the Antiochenes in Acts 13:38-39,

Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

How is this possible? Paul spells it out for us in a crystal clear manner in Galatians 3:13,

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

Paul here quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” This was revealed by God to Moses thousands of years before the Roman Empire even existed. Who knew (but God) that the Roman’s main method of execution would be by hanging people on trees (crosses)?!? Christ bore our curse so we could escape the curse. God pronounced “condemnation” upon His own Son, so that He might pronounce “no condemnation” upon the believeing sinner. God declared His Son to be “guilty” in order that you and I might be declared “not guilty”! The Son of God was executed that we might have eternal life!

The question is: Are you “in Christ Jesus”? The blessed promise of “no condemnation” is only extended to those who are “in Christ Jesus”. So, are you in Christ Jesus? How do you know? Well, the Bible teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Are you a new creature? Have old things passed away? Have all things become new?

Jesus said in John 3:18,

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Paul urges his Corinthian readers in 2 Corinthians 13:5,

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

An Arab chief tells a story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, “What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?”

The spy hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the firing squad.

Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide who asked, “What lies beyond the big door?”

“Freedom,” replied the general. “I’ve known only a few brave enough to take it.”
Don McCullough, “Reasons to Fear Easter,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 116.

If you’ve never turned from your sin to trust in Christ, there is a choice before you today. There is before you the firing squad of condemnation or the blood stained cross of the Savior. Which will you choose? Turn to Christ, trust in what God has done for you through Christ that you might be able to sing with us:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love, how can it be?
That thou, my God, should’st die for me!

Together for the Gospel! (Exposition of Romans 16:1-27)

I attended a conference this week in Louisville, KY called “Together for the Gospel”. In this conference there were approximately 3,000 people gathered together of various ages, from multiple denominations, from all over the world united around the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There were many differences among those gathered in Louisville this week, but all these differences paled in comparison to the one great truth around which we all united: the gospel!

There are many different competing models for unity in the church today. Some say that we should be united because of tolerance in spite of what we may believe. But true unity in the church must come as a result of a common belief in the gospel itself.

In the local church we have an even broader basis of agreement. We have agreement on many secondary matters. We are agreed, for example, in regard to the government and ordinances of the church. But at the heart of our unity is the message of the gospel itself.

When we examine this closing chapter of the book of Romans, we discover a large number of people whom Paul considered to be united with him in the gospel. As we look at this passage we see three components of what it means to be together for the gospel. If we are together for the gospel, we must recognize our diversity. Being together for the gospel requires our definition. Finally, being together for the gospel results in our doxology.

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you. 17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. 21 Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you. 22 I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother. 24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen. Romans 16:1-27

I. Being Together for the Gospel Means that We Must Recognize Our Diversity, vv. 1-16, 21-24.
Paul recognized that he was not alone in his ministry of the gospel. We often feel as if we are alone, but God has graciously given us partners in this ministry. Paul is writing this letter from Corinth and sending it to Rome. Phoebe, the lady commended in verses 1 and 2, was probably the one who delivered this letter to Rome. The individuals mentioned in verses 3-16 were people who Paul probably knew from their travels to other cities which Paul had visited during his missionary journeys. Although, Paul had never been to Rome, he still knew several people who were now present in Rome. One example of how this happened is found in the story of Aquila and Priscilla of verses 3 and 4. Though originally residents of Rome, they had been expelled from Rome along with all the Jews during the reign of Claudius. During this time they took up residence in Corinth where they met the apostle Paul. Now that the emperor Claudius was dead, Aquila and Priscilla had returned to Rome.

The individuals listed in verses 21-24 were Paul’s companions in Corinth. They sent their greetings to their counterparts in the church at Rome. Each name listed by the apostle Paul represents a different person with differing personalities and abilities, differing strengths and weaknesses, differing attitudes and aptitudes. Of those listed, only Priscilla and Aquila are known outside of this passage (unless Rufus is the son of Simon the Cyrene in Mark 15:21). This husband and wife team are mentioned also in both Acts 18 and 1 Corinthians 16.

Look at the list of Paul’s partners in the gospel listed in this passage. Of the 27 specific names given to whom Paul sends greetings, 10 were women. Some of the names were Jewish, others Latin, most were Greek. There are names common to both 1st Century slaves and nobility. These people probably didn’t all look, smell or sound the same, but they were united with Paul for the sake of the gospel!

Being together for the gospel does not mean that each person is a cookie-cutter replica of one another. Instead, there is great diversity in our unity. This is what the conference I attended this week was all about. But in a greater sense, this is what church fellowship is all about! We are partners together for the gospel!

What a beautiful picture this is of the local church! We are a group of people whose unity cannot be explained in any other way than the gospel. There are male and females, rich and poor, old and young. We are not necessarily united around common interests or hobbies. In other words, we’re not united around any of the things that the world unites around. What unites us is nothing less than the glorious gospel of Christ! This is what we each hold in common!

II. Being Together for the Gospel Requires Our Definition of the Gospel, vv. 17-20.
But not only must those who are together for the gospel recognize our diversity, being together for the gospel also requires our definition! In other words, the content of what defines us, the gospel, must be defined. This is why there can be diversity, as well as unity.

Here, Paul establishes fences around the gospel that serves to clearly identify who is in this unity in “the gospel” and who is outside this unity. He does this by telling us to “note” those who cause divisions “contrary to the doctrine which you learned”. This tells us that there is a definitive content of the gospel and that one can identify false teachers by their failure to affirm that content. What is the content of this doctrine? Well, here in the book of Romans Paul’s doctrine has included:

  • The Doctrine of God (One who is righteous and has wrath against sin) Romans 1
  • The Doctrine of Humanity (Both Jews and Gentiles in rebellion) Romans 2-3
  • The Doctrine of Salvation (God has provided righteousness for us through the person and work of Jesus Christ) Romans 3-5
  • The Doctrine of Justification (If we believe this righteousness will be given to us) Romans 3-5
  • The Doctrine of Assurance (No condemnation, therefore no separation) Romans 8
  • The Doctrine of Election (Chosen by God’s Sovereign grace) Romans 9-11
  • The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Practical Christian Living) Romans 6-7 & 12-15

This is the teaching which the Romans had learned in which Paul urges them to continue.

Paul says that we should note “watch out for” the false teachers who cause divisions (note that it is not the one who points out the false teaching who is causing division, but the false teacher himself). This is especially the job of the pastor as Paul admonishes the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-31,

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (29) For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (30) Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. (31) Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

However, Paul here indicates that it is the responsibility of all believers who have learned doctrine. You have that responsibility (see Acts 17:11)! The clarity of the gospel is at stake!

In verse 20, Paul provides assurance of the triumph of the gospel. This verse provides an echo of the first gospel promise of Genesis 3:15. Here Paul says that believers will share in the ultimate victory of Christ. Christ has crushed Satan’s head already on the cross, but there is also a day of consummation when all Christ’s enemies will be put under His feet at His return (see 1 Corinthians 15:25). Then all the enemies of the cross of Christ will also be defeated! Paul says that the “God of peace” will accomplish this, thus making eternal peace!

Being Together for the gospel recognizes our diversity, requires our definition and finally . . .

III. Being Together for the Gospel Results in Our Doxology, vv. 25-27.
Here we come to the conclusion of this glorious letter. This great letter of theology fitting closes on the strong note of doxology (praise to God).

As J.I. Packer has noted, “Theology … is for doxology. … Theologies that cannot be sung … are certainly wrong at a deep level.”

Paul gives praise to God first because God alone is the one who makes the gospel effective. He is the one “who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” All the glory goes to God and God alone.

There is also praise to God here for the unfolding of His plan of redemptive history. It is the mystery that has now been revealed. The mystery of a body made up of all nations (Jew and Gentile).

When we understand, believe and embrace the gospel, the result will be genuine heart-felt worship grounded on the truth of God’s Word!

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen. Romans 16:25-27

What a glorious note to end not only this message and this chapter, but this entire glorious letter to the Romans!!! May our own meditations on the truths of God result in similar expressions of praise to God!!!

Do you have this unity in the gospel? Are we “together for the gospel”? Do we respect our differences while rejoicing in our unity in the gospel? Do we understand the objective content to the gospel? Has this understanding resulted in both our unity with other believers and praise to God?

A Farewell to the Book of Romans

This morning I preached the 46th and final message on the book of Romans. As I placed my favorite five commentaries on the shelf for the last time last night, it was with mixed emotions. I have joy because of the benefit that I know my time of study in Romans has been for me and my hearers. But there was also sadness because I won’t be able to give the attention to this book as much as I have over the past year. It is mind boggling to think back about the amount of time that I spent in this glorious book over the past year. I’ve spent approximately 700 hours studying this book over the course of the last year (that’s nearly a month of 24 hour days!), reading approximately 3,200 pages of commentary, written 184 pages of sermon notes and preached for 35 hours!

My prayer now is that this time will have not been wasted but that the Holy Spirit will use the truths studied by me and delivered to my congregation to produce eternal, life-changing results!

My final post for my last message in Romans will be posted sometime tomorrow. It is titled “Together for the Gospel!” and comes from Romans 16:1-27.

A Biblical Model for Ministry (Exposition of Romans 15:14-33)

There are many different models of Christian ministry competing for dominance in the church today. But here in Romans 15:14-33 we find a biblical concept of Christian ministry modeled by the apostle Paul. Three times the apostle Paul calls upon his readers to follow his example or imitate him (see 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; Philippians 3:17).

In this section at the close of his letter to the Romans, Paul has finished with his doctrinal exposition and practical exhortation and is now concluding with personal remarks. Here in the context of explaining why he had written so boldly (vv. 14-15) and why he had not yet visited them (v. 22ff), Paul provides a revealing glimpse into his own heart. Here in this personal remarks we see Paul’s view of the ministry.

Explanation of Paul’s travel plans (vv. 22-29) and prayer request (vv. 30-33)

In Romans 15:14-21, we see the mandate, message and motive of Paul’s ministry.

Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. (15) Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, (16) that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (17) Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. (18) For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient– (19) in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (20) And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, (21) but as it is written:

“ To whom He was not announced, they shall see;
And those who have not heard shall understand.”

(22) For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. (23) But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, (24) whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. (25) But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. (26) For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. (27) It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. (28) Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. (29) But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. (30) Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, (31) that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, (32) that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. (33) Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. Romans 15:14-33

I. The Mandate of Paul’s Ministry.
Paul discusses his ministry to the Gentiles always with a conscious awareness of the call of God. He didn’t just decide that the gospel ministry was a good career choice, he was sovereignly called out by God to be an apostle. Paul explains his boldness in writing to the Romans by appealing to this call in verses 15-19. This is a reference to God’s declaration to Ananias after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. In Acts 9:15, God tells Ananias that Paul is “a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” Paul consistently appeals to his call in defending his apostolic ministry (See Galatians 1:15-17 and Ephesians 3:1-8). In verse 16, Paul describes his ministry among the Gentiles as a priestly ministry. Three terms related to priestly sacrifices (“minister”, “ministering” and “offering”) combine to express this idea. Paul saw himself as providing a sacrifice of praise to God as the Gentiles came to faith in Christ through his ministry. This, as we’ll see in a few minutes was the true motivation for his ministry. So the first aspect of Paul’s view of ministry that we see in this text is his conscious awareness of a divine mandate: a call.

God is still calling men to proclaim his gospel. We must distinguish between the call which Paul received and which pastors, preachers, missionaries, etc. receive today. We are not called to be apostles, but God still is calling men into the gospel ministry to proclaim the teachings of the apostles! How does God call a man? It is helpful to think of God’s call into the ministry in two different ways. First, there is the internal call of God. This is what Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 3:1 when he says “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” This godly desire is partial evidence of God’s call in a man’s life and essential to gospel ministry. This is not to be a desire for power, position or prosperity (as the qualifications which follow make clear), but a desire to preach, teach and shepherd God’s flock. Second, there is the external call which includes the confirmation of others. This is the evident when other Christians recognize that your life and desire compares favorably with the Bible’s teaching about what a minister of the gospel should be. This is also evident when given opportunities to minister and God’s people seem to be helped by God through your ministry. If you believe that God may be calling you into the gospel ministry, please talk to me and there is a resource back in the back that I would like to recommend that you read. It is a paper on “The Call of God to Preach the Gospel” by Don Whitney.

Finally, we must recognize that every believer has been called to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Paul’s reference to “the grace given” to him by God as a called apostle recalls Paul’s own description of all believers in 12:3-8. There Paul states:

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (4) For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, (5) so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (6) Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; (7) or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; (8) he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Each of us have been called by God into a specific ministry that we need to be fulfilling. Paul states that each believer has been called to proclaim the gospel as an ambassador of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (18) Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, (19) that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (20) Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. (21) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

This is the mandate that each of us has received and it is the foundation for biblical ministry. We would never and should never proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father if we had not first been called to proclaim this message. We are ambassadors! We don’t get to invent the message, but we must proclaim the message that we have been given!

But what is that message?

II. The Message of Paul’s Ministry.
What was it that the apostle Paul was called to proclaim? He refers to it in verses 16, 19 and 20. It is the gospel! Note how everything that Christ has accomplished through Paul is for the purpose of the proclamation of the “gospel of Christ” in verses 18-19. All signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit were not an end in themselves, but rather served to magnify and verify the message of the gospel!

Paul claims to have preached this gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum (verse 19). This is from the birthplace of the church to the distant eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea (which you can see in a map of Paul’s journeys in the back of your Bibles).

What was the gospel message which Paul proclaimed? Paul outlines for us the message that he had proclaimed in Corinth in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 1ff:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen . . .

This is the message which the apostle Paul proclaimed and it is still the message that you and I have been entrusted with to proclaim today!!!

Many things have changed in the last 2,000 years, but this message has not changed and will not change!!! The Gospel of Judas has not changed it. The Da Vinci Code has not changed it. As Brother Charlie said last Sunday morning regarding the first message of the Christian church, preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, this is still the message that we proclaim 2,000 years later.

The message of Paul’s ministry was nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ and this is also our message. This is the heart of Christian ministry. Without this message, there is no ministry, indeed there is no Christianity!

But what motivated the apostle Paul to proclaim this message?

III. The Motive of Paul’s Ministry.
Paul’s motivation to preach the gospel is found in verses 20-21. His desire, aim, goal is to proclaim Christ where He has not yet been named. He is motivated by an understanding of the condition of those who have not heard that he described earlier in 10:14,

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

But Paul’s motivation for proclaiming the gospel to those who have not heard is thoroughly biblical as demonstrated by his quotation from Isaiah 52:15 in verse 21. This verse fits with Paul’s emphasis in this passage of showing the importance of taking the gospel message to those “to whom He was not announced” and “those who have not heard”. But the context of this verse provides even more color as Paul himself understands this verse and expects the Roman believers to recognize as well. This verse is from a extremely Messianic prophetic section of the book of Isaiah (as we read earlier in the service). It is all about the “suffering Servant” (Jesus) who will bear the sins of many. The message of Christ’s passion must be taken to those who have not heard. Paul’s goal is that the effect of Christ’s passion would be fully realized. Paul knows that there are people all over the world for whom Christ has died who have not yet heard the message of Jesus Christ. This motivates Paul! He is motivated by the idea of the vision which John saw over thirty years later in Revelation 5 of the throne room of heaven filled with people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation! He can imagine their voices sing around the throne of God,

You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth. (vv. 9-10)

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing! (v. 12)

This is what motivated the apostle Paul. His desire to offer up to God an acceptable sacrifice to God from among the Gentiles who would praise His redemptive grace throughout all eternity!

This is what should be our motivation as well. Yes, we should be motivated by the lostness of mankind and the horrors of hell, but ultimately we should be motivated by a desire to see Christ praised by all peoples for the eternal glory of God.

This was Paul’s view of the ministry, a biblical model for ministry, that recognizes the call (mandate) of God upon our lives, that proclaims the message of the gospel and is motivated by a desire to see worshippers in heaven from every tribe, tongue, people and nation!

Receive One Another! (Exposition of Romans 15:1-13)

This passage is the conclusion of the larger section beginning at 14:1 dealing with the differences in the Roman church between the Jewish and Gentile believers. There are some right ways and some wrong ways to deal with differences. I read about a family from New York who bought a ranch out West where they intended to raise cattle. Friends visited and asked if the ranch had a name. “Well,” said the would-be cattleman, I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy Q, one son liked the Flying W, and the other wants Lazy Y. So we’re calling it the Bar-J-Suzy Q Flying-W Lazy Y,”

“But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked. To which the man replied, “None survived the branding.”

In this Romans 15:1-13 Paul provides three compelling reasons why we should receive one another. This is the correct way to deal with differences!

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us,[2] to the glory of God. 8 Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 9 and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:
“ For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles,
And sing to Your name.”
10 And again he says:
“ Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!”
11 And again:
“ Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!”
12 And again, Isaiah says:
“ There shall be a root of Jesse;
And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,
In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:1-13

I. Receive One Another For the Edification of the Saints, vv. 1-2.
Paul begins his final appeal that believers should receive one another by calling upon the “strong” to bear with “the scruples of the weak, and not to please” themselves. Instead, we are to please our neighbor for his good. In other words, we are not to do anything that would be spiritually harmful to another believer. Whatever we do should be for the edification (“building up”) of our brothers or sisters in Christ! These first two verses are a concluding summary of the argument of Romans 14:13-23.

Notice that Paul does not say we are to be men-pleasers. In fact, Paul would condemn any compromise of the gospel or any clear teaching of Scripture merely in order to please man. In Galatians 1:10, this same apostle Paul stated, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” The issue in this text are things which are morally indifferent (practices that are not explicitly spelled out in Scripture). It is on these matters that Paul calls upon believers to seek to please our neighbors.

Paul’s life and ministry clearly gives us a great model for where we can agree to disagree and where we must fight! In Galatia, the truth of the gospel was at stake and Paul fought for that truth. Here in the church at Rome, the disagreements were over matters of Christian practice that were not clearly spelled out in Scripture. Therefore, Paul urges mutual acceptance over these type of issues. As Paul said himself in 1 Corinthians 10:32-33,

Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

This is the attitude that Paul is calling the Roman Christians to have toward each other in Romans 15.

II. Receive One Another Because of the Example of the Savior, vv. 3-7.
Next Paul gives a powerful reason why we should receive one another. This reason is the example of our Savior. In his earthly ministry, He never pleased Himself to the harm of others. As evidence of this a verse from the Messianic Psalm 69 is quoted: “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me” (v. 9). Instead of pleasing Himself, Christ bore our reproaches!
Think for a moment with me about how differently the life of Christ would have looked had He only pleased Himself. He wouldn’t have gone to the cross, that’s for sure. He would not have said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Aren’t you glad that Christ didn’t please Himself?

Now, do you remember Paul’s admonition to please our neighbor and not please ourselves? It is grounded in this truth: “For even Christ did not please Himself.” If Christ did not please Himself, neither should you when the spiritual good of your brother is at stake!

In verse four, Paul gives us a basic principle of Bible interpretation to explain why he used Psalm 69:9 in the preceding verse. Whatever has been written in Scripture is for our learning! As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:11,

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Or as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:16,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

In verses five and six, Paul issues a prayer for Christian unity. This prayer expresses Paul’s main concern in this entire section. He wants the church at Rome to be unified, not split into Jewish and Gentile factions! Notice that he addresses his prayer to “the God of patience and comfort” just as verse five refers to “the patience and comfort of the Scriptures.” There is a vital link between what the Scriptures tell us and the God who is revealed though them!

But ultimately, Paul’s desire for unity, that is the occasion for his call for mutual acceptance, is a desire for God’s glory. He desires unity in the church in order that the church (made up of both Jews and Gentiles) will lift up their voices with one voice to “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”! Paul wants the Romans to see what is at stake in their petty disputes. It is nothing less than the worship of the one true and living God! Likewise, this is what is at stake over our own petty disagreements! Paul’s conclusion is verse seven: “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”

III. Receive One Another Based on the Exposition of the Scriptures, vv. 8-13.
Finally, Paul urges the believers in Rome to receive one another based on the Exposition of the Scriptures. His point is to show from the Old Testament Scriptures (which was all they had at this point) that both Jews and Gentiles are included in God’s purpose of redemption. He shows this by declaring that Jesus Christ came in order to fulfill the promises made to the Patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. The promise which Christ’s coming has fulfilled is the promise first made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 which states “In you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The first promise to Father Abraham (the father of the Jewish people) was that God would bless all nations through him! In other words, God’s purpose has always included both Jews and Gentiles! As Paul explains in Galatians 3:8,

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”

The result of the fulfillment of God’s promises to the fathers is that the Gentiles are made to glorify God for His mercy! In other words, Paul’s exhortation to these Romans Christians is to tell them they are a part of something big! They are a part of the outworking of God’s eternal global plan of salvation that includes both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, receive one another!

In conclusion, Paul strings together a series of four quotations from the Old Testament that clearly demonstrate that God’s saving purpose has always included both Jews and Gentiles. Paul intentionally uses verses from all three of the major divisions of the Hebrew Bible (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) to make his point.

  • The first quotation is from Psalm 18:49. Notice the emphasis on worship!
    “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.”
  • The second quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:43. “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!”
  • The third quotation is from Psalm 117:1. “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”
  • The fourth and final quotation is from Isaiah 11:10. “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Aren’t you glad that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves!?!? We’re a part of God’s eternal plan of redemption. God purposed from all eternity to make us one body in Christ. Why, then, do we get hung up over petty disagreements? Note Paul’s concluding prayer in verse 13:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

What a fitting conclusion to this section! May God grant this prayer for us today!

Do Not Cause Your Brother to Stumble! (Exposition of Romans 14:13-23)

Martin Luther wrote in his foundational work The Freedom of a Christian that, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” This quote is a great summation of the relationship between the first and second halves of Romans 14. In verses 1-12, Paul declares that “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none.” But in verses 13-23, Paul asserts the equally, yet paradoxically true statement that “A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” The first half of Romans 14 is concerned with Christian liberty, the second half of Romans 14 is concerned with Christian charity.

Paul’s point is that we must not misuse the freedom that we have in Christ by failing to love our brothers and sisters. In this passage Paul asserts that there are some clear prohibitions that must be obeyed, but first there are some equally clear principles that must be observed.

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (14) I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (15) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. (16) Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; (17) for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (18) For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. (19) Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. (20) Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. (21) It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. (22) Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. (23) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:13-23

First, There are Some Clear Principles That Must Be Observed.

Principle #1: A Distinction Between the Weaker Brother and the Pharisee

This is very important for us to know in order that we might know to whom Paul is directing us to submit our liberty in order to not be a stumbling block. Paul is dealing in this passage with our attitude toward a weaker brother, not toward a Pharisee. He is not telling us to be bound by the legalistic scruples of the Pharisee about practices which are in themselves morally neutral. Instead, he is calling upon the “strong” to sacrifice our liberty in order to prevent a “weak” believer from harming his soul through the violation of his conscience. How do you tell the difference between a weaker brother and a Pharisee? Here is a good test:

  • The weaker brother is one who thinks that since he is saved he cannot possibly do what you are doing.
  • The Pharisee is the one who thinks that because of what you are doing you cannot possibly be saved.

Don’t forget that Paul is dealing here with things which are indifferent, not clear and open sin. In cases involving clear and open sin we have the responsibility to lovingly rebuke, but in the case of things indifferent we have the responsibility to not be an occassion for our brother to stumble.

The spoof Christian news site LarkNews recently had a story of a “weaker brother” who was asked to leave a men’s accountability group. This story, though fictional, illustrates the difference between the Pharisee and the weaker brother.

Tired of accommodating their legalistic friend, members of a men’s group have asked Harold Beihn to loosen up or move on.

“His standard of personal holiness fits us a little too tight,” says one member.

But Beihn says he just “wanted my guys to be holy as the Lord is holy. I think God put me in their lives to remind them of the rules.”

By all accounts, Beihn’s lifestyle was out of synch with the others’. He vetoed most activities the other guys wanted to do because they “didn’t accord with righteous living.” This ruled out movies, sporting events, even bowling because the atmosphere at the lanes is “too loose,” says Beihn.

Beihn also took accountability so seriously that he often called the other men at 7:30 a.m. and asked, “Did you kiss your wife yet?” If the answer was no, he’d report them to the men’s ministry pastor.

This man was not a weaker brother, but a Pharisee!

Principle #2: The Truth of our Liberty in Christ, vv. 14 & 20

Paul says in both verse 14 and 20 of Romans 14 that “there is nothing unclean of itself” and “All things indeed are pure.” This is a sure and certain knowledge expressed in Paul’s own words, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself” (v. 14). This is no doubt a sure knowledge based on Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7 and Matthew 15. In Mark’s account (7:14-19), Jesus says,

When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, Me, everyone, and understand: (15) There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. (16) If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (17) When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. (18) So He said to them, you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, (19) because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” Mark 7:14-19

Here Jesus makes the point that food that enters one’s mouth enters the digestive system and exits the body through the excretory system. Nothing that has such an existence can defile a man. Much more serious are the matters of the heart, for out of the heart comess all kinds of evil.

Likewise, Peter heard from the resurrected and ascended Christ abou this issue while on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa. There he had a vision of a sheet descending from heaven with all kinds of animals thereon. This vision happened three times and each time Peter heard the voice of the Lord say to him, “Rise, kill and eat!” But each time Peter responded negatively and he was rebuked by the Lord who said, “Do not call common or unclean what I have declared to be clean” (Acts 10:9-16). The point was that Peter was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, but the truth used to make this point is that the distinction between clean and unclean animals has been done away. A believing Jews conscience need no longer be bound in this area.

Principle #3: The Role of Conscience, vv. 14 & 20

First, we see that man’s conscience was given by God for our good. The conscience functions for the soul much like pain functions for our physical bodies. Just as we would experience great physical harm if we ignore the signals of pain, we can also experience great spiritual harm if we fail to heed the signals of our conscience.

Second, man’s conscience must be properly informed. Our conscience is like a clock, it has to be set with the correct information. If the right information has not been imput, then the conscience will not function properly.

This leads to a third observation about man’s conscience, it can be misinformed. Just as one’s nervous system may fail to function properly, many people have defective consciences. For example, if you are told that a certain activity is okay your entire life, your conscience will not bother you even if the thing is morally wrong. On the other hand, if you are told a certain activity is wrong your entire life, your conscience will bother you, even if the thing is morally good or neutral.

Finally, man’s conscience must not be violated. Regardless of whether a conscience is properly or improperly informed, it is still best to never violate one’s conscience. As Martin Luther famously said, “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe!” Everytime that a person violates his or her conscience it becomes easier to do so the next time. If one violates one’s own conscience in even a morally neutral matter, it is still a violation of conscience and will result in a weakening of your conscience in other areas which require moral judgment. Let me use a personal example to illustrate:

I go to movies sometimes because I realize that the size of the screen does not determine the degree of sinfulness of a particular movie. If something is okay to watch six months later after the movie is out on TV or on DVD, then it is okay to watch in a theater six months earlier on a giant screen (By the way, not all movies are okay to watch at home or in the theater! In fact, most are not because of clear issues of immorality.). My conscience did not bother me when I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe recently.

However, I have known people who have gone to movies (which in itself is morally neutral) while believing it to be wrong (in violation of their conscience). This has only weakened their resistance to sin in other areas of their life. It is a dangerous thing for a person to violate their conscience!

We should never try to get someone to violate their conscience, even on a morally neutral matter. Instead, we should patiently teach them of their liberty in Christ and allow their conscience to be properly informed in order that they might live as the strong and not as the weak.

Second, There are Some Clear Prohibitions That Must Be Obeyed.

Having established our freedom in Christ, Paul now urges us to not misuse that liberty. This is what Paul exhorted the Christians at Galatia to in Galatians 5:13,

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Not only does Paul exhort to this end, but his own example complements his teaching. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 these words,

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; (20) and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law,[3] that I might win those who are under the law; (21) to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God,[4] but under law toward Christ[5]), that I might win those who are without law; (22) to the weak I became as[6] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (23) Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

Paul had resolved not to do anything that would be a hindrance to the gospel in his evangelism efforts. In a similar way, Paul here urges “the strong” to sacrifice their liberty for the sake of “the weak” in the church at Rome. In this passage there are four basic prohibitions which Paul gives.

First, Do Not Put A Stumbling Block Before Your Brother (vv. 13 & 21). Even though we have been given great freedom in Christ, we should never abuse that freedom by allowing our actions to be a stumbling block to a weaker brother.

Second, Do Not Destroy Your Brother (vv. 15 & 20). Paul here draws a contrast between being one who destroys and one who edifies. As believers who have strong faith, we are to be on God’s construction crew (edification – “build up”) instead of the demolition crew (destruction – “destroy”). The importance of having this proper attitude is highlighted by the terms used to describe the weaker brother in these verses. He is called both “the one for whom Christ died” and “the work of God.” How could we destroy such a one with our lack of consideration?

Third, Do Not Allow Your Freedom to Be Viewed as Evil (vv. 16-20). If we misuse our freedom to the end that some who are weak are destroyed then that which is “good” (our freedom) will be viewed as evil. We have turned a positive into a negative. This should not be!

Finally, Do Not Flaunt Your Liberty (vv. 21-23). Paul here basically says, “If you have freedom, good for you! Have it before God, but don’t flaunt it in front of weaker believers who might be led to violate their conscience because of your example.”

We must take people where they are, but we don’t leave them there. We want to provide loving instruction so that believers become “strong.” But in the meantime, we must be sensitive to their sensitivities out of love for them!

Our goal should be to see all of our fellow believers strong in the faith in order that they might not violate their conscience in matters that are indifferent and might experience the fullness of their liberty in Christ. But in the meantime, we have a responsibility to not do anything which could cause one of our weaker brothers to stumble.

Do Not Judge Your Brother! (Exposition of Romans 14:1-12)

Comedian Steve Martin said, “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.” That’s not exactly what Paul has in mind in this morning’s text. But he does urge us not to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the tendency to look down on those who differ from us. This was evidently true during the first century in Rome as well. There were essentially two different groups in the church at Rome at this time. One group was made up largely of Jewish believers who were still influenced by the customs from their past in Judaism. These customs included eating only kosher foods and observing certain holy days, especially the Sabbath. The other group was made up mostly of Gentile believers who had never been exposed to the customs of the Jewish religion. The Jewish believers, while not trusting in the law as a basis for their salvation, still believed that the observance of the Sabbath and eating clean food that had been properly prepared was pleasing to God. As a result of this belief a division had arisen among the church at Rome. Jewish believers though the Gentile believers who did not observe their Jewish customs were not as pleasing to God as they were. The Gentile believers, on the other hand, looked down upon the Jewish believers as immature because of their observance of these customs.

Not much has changed in the last 1,950 years! Sure, the list has changed, but there are still needless divisions among the people of God! In the first century the list included what foods were appropriate to eat and whether or not the Sabbath should still be observed. Today the list includes things such as styles of music, television, movies, hairstyles, clothing, and Bible translations.

In this morning’s text, the apostle Paul teaches that there are some areas in which we as believers can agree to disagree. To be sure in the next section (vv. 13-23) Paul lays down some guidelines to assist us in determining the correct action in particular situations. However, he first establishes this general principle that a believer is not to judge another believer in regard to “doubtful things” or things about which Scripture is unclear one way or another. Instead, it is best to observe the following slogan passed down through the history of the church: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” In this morning’s text, Paul lays out three important reasons why a believer should not judge his or her brother or sister.

Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Romans 14:1-12

I. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Has Accepted Him, vv. 1-4.
Paul begins this section with a command to “Receive one who is weak in the faith”! Not all believers are at the same stage of spiritual maturity and we must accept those who are believers, yet are not as far advanced in the things of God as are others. But Paul’s exhortation to receive our weaker brothers is accompanied by a qualification: “but not to disputes over doubtful things.” This qualification requires us not to be engaged in disputes with our fellow brothers and sisters about things which are not clearly spelled out in Scripture. In particular, in the church at Rome there was a disagreement over what kinds of food were pleasing to God (see v. 2). This was mainly a dispute among the Jewish and Gentile members of the church. The Jewish believers wanted to continue to observe the Jewish customs concerning the kinds of food and types of preparation that were pleasing to God. It was probably out of fear of violating their conscience in this regard that the Jewish believers were refraining from meat eating. Since they could not be sure that the meat sold in the market place had been slaughtered properly, they refused to eat meat at all. This is what Daniel did when taken into captivity in Babylon. He refused to eat the king’s meat since it was not prepared according to God’s law. In the same way, these Jews in Rome had become practical vegetarians, not for the same reasons that people become vegetarians today. I don’t know why people become vegetarians today! My view is that if God didn’t want us to eat cows, then why did he make them out of steak! The text says that “he who is weak eats only vegetables”! No wonder he’s weak if he’s only eating vegetables! No, that’s not what the text is saying. It’s describing the one who is weak in faith, not physically weak. They were weak in faith which means they had not completely experienced the freedom and confidence that comes from being justified before God by faith alone.

On the other hand, in Rome there were also Gentile believers whose conscience was not bound like their Jewish brothers. Their faith was strong enough to enable them to “eat all things”. They couldn’t understand their Jewish brothers’ hangups over food. In this situation, Paul calls on those who eat to not “despise” him who does eat and for the one who does not eat to not “judge” the one who eats (see v. 3). This morning’s text gives three reasons why we are to refrain from such an action. First, we are urged to not judge our brother because he has been accepted by God!

We are to receive our brother because God has already received him (v. 3b). And if God has received him, he belongs to God now. Therefore Paul asks, “Who do you think you are, judging another’s servant?” (v. 4) “To his own master he stands or falls.” In other words, his acceptance or rejection is in God’s hands, not yours! Paul then confirms that God has accepted him by saying, “Indeed, he will stand, for God is able to make him stand.” God has accepted the believer, why then should we reject him?

When there are disagreements about issues that are not clearly spelled out in Scripture, we have a biblical responsibility to accept one another. If we fail to do so, we are disobeying the clear revelation of Scripture in order to hold onto our personal preference. A lot of what passes for Christianity are in reality cultural issues and we need to be able to discern what are clearly Biblical issues and which are merely the norms of East Tennessee culture.
Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Has Accepted Him!

II. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Is Praised By Him, vv. 5-9.
Here in verse 5 Paul introduces another issue, the issue of the observance of days. This is in all probability again a reference to a disagreement between Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jewish believers still held to the laws regarding the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. The Gentiles did not have any scruples at all in regard to the seventh day.

As we read in this morning’s Scripture Reading from Colossians 2:6-19 that one of the results of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was that no one could judge another in food or drink or Sabbath since Christ was the reality to which those shadows pointed! The Gentile believers in Rome no doubt understood this and realized that there was no special holy day.

Let me emphasize that this issue was not about which day of the week the church was to gather for corporate worship. This was not an issue in the early church. Believers have consistently met on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. We can tell this is the case since Paul’s instruction is to basically to observe the day if you want to and don’t observe it if you don’t want to. That would have been chaotic. If I were to announce this morning, some of you can show up this coming Saturday at 10:00 am for Sunday School and 11:00 for Worship and the rest of you show up on Sunday at 10 for Sunday School and 11 for Worship, the result would be chaos. The Jewish believers were not meeting on Saturday for Christian worship, they were merely observing the laws that regulated work and travel on the Sabbath.

Again we see Paul’s exhortation in light of this possible source of division in the church in verses 5 and 6. It is to recognize that those who observe the day, observe it to the Lord and those who do not observe the day, observe it not to the Lord. In other words, God is being glorified in both instances. This is the same criteria which Paul uses to settle a slightly different issue in Corinth which also centered on appropriate food and drink. There Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

As believers we have agreement on basic principles, where we have disagreements is in the application of those principles. Later in this chapter, the apostle Paul offers some guidelines for the application of Biblical principles to the otherwise neutral areas of our Christian lives. At this point, however, Paul is concerned that where we disagree about the application of certain principles in another believer’s life we should reserve judgment if they are able to give God glory in the midst of it.

In verses 7-9, Paul adds the idea that no one lives or dies merely to himself. This is not meant as it is often taken to refer to the interrelatedness of all of mankind. Instead Paul’s emphasis is that we each live to God and die to God. The basis for this truth is the fact that Christ died and rose again to life in order that He might be both Lord of the dead and the living!
Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Is Praised By Him!

III. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Will Judge Him (and You), vv. 10-12.
In verse 10, the apostle Paul returns to the same question of verse 4. But here the emphasis is upon the judged as a “brother”! The question here is “Why?” The reason is “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ”! Just as 2 Corinthians 5:10 declares,

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Likewise James admonishes us in James 4:11-12,

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

Jesus said in His “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 7:1-2,

Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

We simply don’t have access to enough information to judge our brothers! We’re like someone who has casually and occassionally watched one of the high profile trials on television. We may have formed an opinion based on our limited amount of information. Maybe our opinion is based upon ten minutes of testimony as opposed to the hours of testimony which the jurors have heard. We’re in no position to make a decision about the guilt or innocence of a person! As Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is always one fact more in every life of which we know nothing, therefore Jesus says, ‘Judge not.’”
“Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” in Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 3

Paul offers as proof of the fact that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” a quotation from Isaiah 45:23 in verse 11 which says, “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”

The conclusion is that “each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Therefore, don’t worry about your brother or sister, they will give an account to God, not you. Additionally, you also will appear before God, so beware!

In this text, the apostle Paul has laid out three important reasons not to judge our brothers and sisters in “doubtful things”. We should not judge him because God has accepted him, God is praised by him and God will judge him and you!

Are you ready to stand before God!?! When you stand before God, you will stand alone. You won’t have to give account for your brother or he for you. But you will have plenty to account for, including this text that was preached to you today. Have you repented at the Word of God today?

Unbeliever, you too will one day stand before God! Are you ready? Are you ready? As God said to Old Testament Israel by the prophet Amos, “Prepare to meet your God!” (Amos 4:12)

Living in Light of the Lord’s Return (Exposition of Romans 13:11-14)

What time is it? There are many different ways of telling time in our world today. There are the clocks and watches that have the hour, minute and second hands. There are digital clocks. Clocks on computers, cell phones and in handheld personal data devices. You can even purchase a satellite clock that keeps perfect time and can reset itself when there is a power outage. Did you know that your body has an internal clock that helps to regulate your sleep, mood and health? According to Dr. Teodor Postolache (a physician and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore) the human body has many clocks in its structures and cells, but the master clock is in the suprachiasmatic nucleus region of the brain’s hypothalamus. This clock is influenced by exposure to light. Managing exposure to light or certain intensities of light has been shown to help people whose body clocks might get out of whack from jet lag or night-shift work.

Just as our bodies clocks can be corrected by exposure to certain intensities of light, so also our spiritual clocks can be corrected by exposure to the light of God’s Word. This text helps us to reset ourselves to God’s timetable.

This morning’s text functions as an important clock that indicates exactly where we are in redemptive history. We sometimes get out of time and need to be reset. This text is our spiritual alarm clock.

In light of the time, we need to do three things: wake up from our sleep, cast off our sins and put on our Savior.

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. (12) The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (13) Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. (14) But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:11-14

I. Wake Up! vv. 11-12a
Paul first exhorts us to wake up! Implied in this command is our tendency to be rocked to sleep by the redundancy of our day to day lives in this world. Our lives are so routined that we soon find ourselves in a rut. We get up at the same time. Eat the same food for breakfast. Go through the same morning rituals. Drive the same car, the same route to the same workplace. Do the same job for 8-10 hours. Get back in the same car drive the same route to the same house with the same family. Eat supper, watch tv, go to bed and start the routine all over again. And we’ve allowed the sameness of our lives to lull us to sleep. We’ve forgotten that Jesus is coming!

This is exactly what Peter predicted would be said by scoffers in the last days. He said in 2 Peter 3:4 that these scoffers would come and say:

Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.

It is from this condition of drowsiness that the apostle Paul calls us in this text.

The reason for this call to awake is clearly stated by Paul in these verses. It is the return of Christ! Jesus is coming! “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep”! Paul states this in two different ways in vv. 11b and 12a. First, Paul says that “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

There are three tenses to our salvation (past, present and future). We have been saved, that’s justification. We are being saved, that’s sanctification. We will be saved, that’s glorification. Here Paul is addressing the future tense of salvation. This is what Peter addressed in 1 Peter 1:3-5,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Likewise, the apostle Paul in Romans 8:23 speaks of this future salvation as that for which we “groan within ourselves”, i.e., “the redemption of the body.” Let me say that this day is closer now than it has ever been! And every second that ticks away takes us closer to the moment of Christ’s return!

In the New Testament, there are no predictions of the time of Christ’s return. There are only references to the certainty of the event and to the uncertainty of the timing. Both of these should be a motivation to being alert and ready!

But Paul states this truth in another way in v. 12a. Here he uses the image of night and day. He says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” In this imagery “the night” represents the present evil age and “the day” represents the future glorious age. In other words, this present evil age ruled by Satan is almost over and the future glorious age under the reign of Christ is soon to come!

Historians used to speak of the Middle ages of world history as the “Dark Ages”. Here Paul uses that same language to refer to the entirety of the present evil age. We live in the dark ages, the night time, but the day is about to dawn!

On the basis of the twin truths of the day of our salvation being nearer than when we first believed and the image of night fading into day, Paul exhorts us to wake up! Realize that Paul was writing into a society with no artificial lighting therefore their days were governed by the sun. In this setting, people rose at dawn. Only the lazy would remain in bed after the sun was up. This was especially important in the Near East, where most of the work needed to be completed before the heat of the afternoon sun. In other words, this appeal would have been understood by Paul’s Roman audience. They would have understood that Paul meant by this language that they should wake up!

II. Cast Off!, vv. 12b-13
Paul not only says that we should wake up in light of the time, he also says we must cast off our night garments! This night garments are called “the works of darkness” in v. 12b and are described more fully in v. 13.

In verse 13 three pairs of sins are listed. The first pair are sins of drunkenness (revelry and drunkenness). The second pair are sexual sins (lewdness and lust). The third pair are social sins (strife and envy). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a representative one. As believers who are living in light of the Lord’s return, this sins should be cast off from us! Paul says of a similar list in Ephesians 5:3 “let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints”!

The second coming is a common motivation to personal holiness in the New Testament. Instead of being an excuse to sat back and take it easy, it is a powerful motivation to holy living! In 1 John 3:2-3 the Bible says,

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (3) And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

It’s interesting that Paul points back to what Christ has done for us in his first coming in Romans 12:1-2 as a motivation to practical Christian living, but in this text he points forward to the return of Christ as a motivation to practical Christian living. The message is that both the first and second comings of Christ should serve as a motivation to holiness in our lives as believers!

Paul is using the metaphor of casting off clothing in Romans 13. There is certain clothing that is appropriate for the night time, but that would not be practical for the activities of the day. I’m not wearing this morning what I slept in last night. You don’t wear your night clothes to work or anywhere else, I hope. Construction workers don’t wear their pajamas to work! But the contrast is even greater than this! Paul says that instead of pajamas, we need to put on armor (see v. 12c)! As believers waiting for the return of Christ, we’re in a war against sin and Satan! We can’t afford to be comfortable in regard to sin!

Jesus is coming! Therefore, we need to wake up from the slumber of sin and cast off the garments of the night!

III. Put On!, vv. 12c, 13a and 14
But Paul doesn’t stop there. We’re not only called to wake up and cast off, we’re also called to put on something! We’ve already seen that we are called to “put on the armor of light” (v. 12c). The Christian religion does not call us merely to “cast off”, but also to “put on”. Some think of Christianity as only a list of “don’ts”. I sometimes feel that way about my relationship to my kids. It seems like the only thing I’m saying to them is “No!” But Christianity says more than “No!” It also says “Yes!” to some things! Here Paul calls us to “put on the armor of light” and to “walk properly, as in the day” (v. 13a). What does this expression mean? Well, Paul has already said in verse 12 that “the day is at hand”. In other words, the eternal day of God’s forever kingdom of righteousness is just about to dawn. Therefore, Paul says that we (who are citizens of that future kingdom) should live now as if we were already in the day! We should seek to live just as holy now as we think we will in that day! Paul spells out the means for living this way in verse 14. This is the parallel expression to Paul’s exhortation in v. 12c to “put on the armor of light”. It is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”!

But what does this mean? It means that “we are consciously to embrace Christ in such a way that his character is manifested in all that we do and say” (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 825-826). In other words we are to act like Jesus! The rest of verse 14 spells out what is involved in “acting like Jesus.”

A few years ago, bracelets with the letters WWJD (standing for “What Would Jesus Do?” became popular). Let me say, that question is not the essence of Christianity. The essence of Christianity is WDJD “What Did Jesus Do?” However, the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” can be a helpful one in determining how we are to live by the ethics of the future age in this present evil age. This is what Paul is calling us to in this passage. Paul spells out the specifics of what Jesus would do or not do in this text (see v. 13). But specifically it is spelled out in the second half of verse 14. Paul there urges us to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” One commentator said that this meant “Do not plan for sin; give it no welcome; offer it no opportunity. Kick the sin off your doorstep and you won’t have it in the house” (K.J. Foreman quoted in The Epistle to the Romans by Leon Morris, p. 474).

Don’t play with sin any more than you would play with a poisonous snake! Sin will destroy you! Kill it before it kills you!

So, what time is it? Paul says in this morning’s text that it is time to wake up, cast off and put on!

Now this text was intended for believers to prepare for the return of Christ. However, there are some of you who are not yet believers in Christ and you need to apply this text to yourselves. One of the greatest theologians in the history of the church, St. Augustine, became a believer after an encounter with this very text. Here is Augustine’s own account of his conversion:

I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes…In my misery I kept crying, “How long shall I go on saying ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?” …All at once I heard the singsong voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain “Take it and read, take it and read.” At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing them before. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.

So I hurried back …seized [the book of Paul’s epistles] and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” (Romans 13:13-14). I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.
From John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, p. 53

What time is it? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2,

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.