This Great Revolution


The greatest revolution in history is the revolt of the Kingdom of Jesus against the ruler of this dark air, against the principalities of self-love and pride and idolatry and greed that have set themselves up as “kings” in this world.  

The greatest revolt of all time is the one eternal light is mounting against these temporary shadows.  

The church, flawed though she is, is the instrument of that revolution.  She is the people of the coming victory.  

The church, the beloved wife of Jesus Christ, is a people of dangerous love.  She is a people of violent forgiveness.  Christians are a battering ram to the world’s worst lies, both the ones it’s told and the ones it’s been sold.  Our Christian kindness undermines the world’s bloody economy.  The church’s mercy upends this world’s dark systems.  

Our love of children assaults abortion.  Our care for the poor undercuts materialism.  Our promise-keeping in marriage takes a baseball bat to lust.  Our humble serving stands against belligerence and hate.  Christian kindness towards our enemies is an assault on everything Hell stands for.  We are fighting against something just by being children of God.  

We are ice cold water thrown into the face of a world stunned and punch drunk by bitterness and rivalries and selfishness.  We make war with hate by the audacious power of love.  We overcome evil with good.   

We are the people of the greatest revolution.  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Romans 12:21

Texting Romans 5:14

  
Just in case it’d be helpful, I’m passing along my answers to some questions someone texted me about the Romans 5:14.  The person was reading the NIV translation of it.  

Happy Monday!

Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 

Which translation are you reading?  

Romans 5:13-14 “For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (ESV)

The Law given via Moses showed human beings just how convicted they were.  One of its purposes was a sort of public reading of what we’ve done and reading of our sentence.   We were already convicted murderers, but now a town crier was announcing it from a mountain top, so that we’d hear and angels would hear and everyone would know.  We were already convicted.   Already sentenced.  Death already reigned.  But because of the Law it was all the more plain now just how sinful we each and all were…

Yeah, I think they’re doing a little more interpretation than translation there…

The trespass caused the death.  The sin caused the death long before the Law revealed just how awful it was.  But now the awfulness of what we are and what we do and what we’ve done is plain as day, because it’s published on Mount Sinai and delivered to a million of God’s people and recorded in His unbreakable Word and held in His holy Ark of the Covenant. 

Sin reigned before the Law, death reigned before the Law, but now it’s public knowledge just exactly what our sin was and and what it deserves…

The literal language is just “who did not sin in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”  The NIV guys are trying to help you by interpreting that for you as “did not sin by breaking a command.”   But in my opinion they’re probably just making it more confusing…  That’s what preaching is for.  I’d prefer a translation to simply translate…

FYI: Paul uses a word there in the “their trespass was not like…” clause that specifically means “transgress,” not the normal NT word for sin, which would be “hamartia.”  So I think he’s saying that what they did post-Law was an additional layer of wrongdoing.  It was a trespass of a now-public edict…

Paul is saying Adam was a sinless human who sinned, thus death reigned because of him.  Over everyone, pre-Law and post-Law. “But, all my Roman Jewish Christian friends,” he says, “Out father Moses read out an even greater condemnation of us then [sic] Seth or Enoch or Noah had.  We’ve heard from Moses just exactly what we are and what we do.  The Law condemns, it can’t save, and it can’t wind back Adam’s death.  Noah was dead in sin, we’re dead in sin and KNOW just how and why, and we’re all screwed.   

Except that there’s a free gift.  And it ain’t like the trespass…

“Just for Believing the Wrong Thing?”

  

I’ve heard an objection to Christianity that I was mulling this morning for reasons that probably aren’t interesting enough to mention.  It goes something like this:  “If the Gospel is that God offers eternal life to all who believe in Jesus, then I have a problem.  Because I don’t believe God would send someone to Hell simply for believing the wrong thing.”

*Quick sidebar:  I always want to ask someone when he says something like that, “Where do your ideas about God come from.  How do you know what God is like?”  Because in our day and place I think it is very common for people to think God must simply be like whatever they feel God should be like.  But if God is a real being (and He is), that’s totally incoherent.  Barak Obama and Michael Jordan and my father are all who they are regardless of what I feel they are. Only fictional beings can be re-written based on your own personal desires.  

Here’s the snag with that, though:  There’s an incorrect premise in the argument.  By objecting that the Gospel Christians preach is morally flawed because it means God would be sending people to Hell simply for believing the wrong thing, the person is assuming that we’re morally neutral people (or even good people) who are simply asked by God to pick the right religious option.  

But that’s not the case.  

As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Romans 3:10-12, 21-22(a)

No one goes to Hell merely for believing the wrong things.  Every single person who has ever entered God’s eternal wrath and judgment has done so because he is a sinner against the perfect God who made him.  And God gave His Son to redeem us from us our own lawless suicide.  The Gospel is God’s offer of restoration to those who don’t deserve it.  To not believe on Jesus is to not receive the medicine God procured (at an unimaginable cost) to heal you.  If I refuse the treatment, it is not the medicine’s fault, or the doctor’s, that I die; it’s the gaping, self-inflicted bullethole in my head.

We are not blank slates commanded to fill in the right bubble on God’s spiritual ACT exam.  We are willful rebels against the good King, idolaters and liars and adulterers and hatemongers all, and rather than wipe us from the face of His good, green Earth He chose to bleed out on a shameful Roman Cross that we might be made eternal sons and daughters.  

If you think the Gospel is that some morally neutral people believe the right thing and go to Heaven and other morally neutral people believe the wrong thing and go to Hell, you’ve totally misunderstood our situation, here.  

You, I, and our first father Adam tried to kidnap the glory of the only good King and hold His innocent world ransom, all while clawing our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes out as we tried to be kings ourselves on His free soil.  But He has offered to ransom us from our own suicidal treachery.  

The Gospel isn’t “Believe the right thing, good man, or you’ll get worse than you probably deserve.”  The Gospel is, “Believe, wicked man, and be my son forever; I offer with open arms more than you could ever deserve.”

Don’t be deceived:  A man will reap what He sows.  And everyone reading this (and the man writing it) started adult life having sowed a gallon of poison into his own veins.  

But the unfathomable Good News is that Jesus went to a cross to spill the antidote from His own side.  

The One Where the Smoke Clears

  
I think like a fool sometimes.  

I think, and then of course act, as though my fiercest enemy is someone or something out there.  I fret about a problem or a person just on the other side of the hill, something or someone I know is ready to make trouble for me tomorrow. I sweat and stress and stew about it or him or her.  

And so I’m often preparing for the wrong battle.  

Every Christian will have to wrestle the world and struggle against Satan, but the pivotal war of my life is being waged inside my own skin.  My biggest enemy, and the thing causing my most glaring vulnerability, is my own sin.  

Have you ever felt really wronged by somebody?  You know how it eats away at you?  Or apprehension about something coming down the pike?  You know that palm-sweating, can’t-sleep sort of worry?  

I can be so absorbed in that sort of thing, with what or who might assault my comfort, my peace, or my loved ones, that I neglect the thing most poisonous to any of those:  my sin. I bloody my knuckles on a punching bag preparing for the wrong enemy.  I’m so obsessed with financial problems or job worries or car troubles that I miss the fact that my rage or doubt or idolatry or deceit are right at the door, threatening to blow it off the hinges and kill everyone inside.  

The most important battle you’re ever going to load your musket for is the one against your own flesh.  Your sin is a far more deadly foe than a layoff or a leak in the roof or a bitter relative you can’t please.  Your anger, gossiping, lust, and idolatry are far better armed, and far closer to the front lines.  This is Gettysburg.  This is Normandy.  I’m warning you and I’m warning me:  Don’t get too distracted by life’s little skirmishes with less toxic dilemmas.  The one that can cost us most dearly is right behind our own breastbone.  

The devil and my flesh would love for me to spend six hours wondering how to pay a bill and no time praying for victory over my anger.  So this is a written redirect, as well as an attempted clarion to fellow Christians:  this is the battlefield where most eternal blood is spilled.  This is the war our Savior died to win, and rose to prove He can’t lose.  This is the one where the smoke clears and the faithful are left standing, swords of Spirit in hand, ready for a peace that never ends.  

This is the one that counts more.  

Be brave, and be focused.  

I’ll let Scripture shut the door for me:

For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me… For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’

Justification Reconsidered (considered)

  
I wanted to pass along a few statements from a wonderful book on the Gospel in Paul’s New Testament writings.  

If you’re unfamiliar with the “New Perspective” on Paul, it’s an interpretation of the Apostle’s letters that claims he was not (so much) saying that people could only be made right with God through faith (in Jesus).  Instead Paul was, the New Perspective says, (merely) proclaiming that Gentile followers of  Jesus did not have to be circumcised or engage in the other Jewish “boundary markers.”  

The New Perspective would also say that God-fearing Jews of Paul’s day already had accurate understandings of God’s rescuing grace, so Paul must have been rebuking some other bogey than that human beings can/must contribute to their own salvations.  The NP has great doubts about Martin Luther’s Great Exchange (Christ’s righteousness for our sinfulness), and it has great doubts that Paul ever taught such a thing.  It would have us believe that Luther and Paul were trying to slay different dragons.  
I disagree.  

Not too long ago, Stephen Westerholm, a Biblical scholar in Canada, wrote this helpful book reiterating the Gospel, the message that by grace through faith, we can be saved to good works, not by them.  

Some selected quotes:

“To claim that the Paul of Galatians was exercised over the terms by which Gentiles can belong to the people of God while overlooking his (still more fundamental) concern with the dilemma facing all human beings responsible before God is to suffer from a peculiarly modern myopia.”

“Unrighteous people can be found righteous only by extraordinary means, and God has provided that means in the gospel. In Paul’s terms, the gospel introduces a righteousness ‘apart from the law’ (3:21), by which he means not merely that Gentiles can experience this righteousness without being circumcised, but that Jewish and Gentile sinners alike can be found righteous even though they have not met the law’s requirement for righteous behavior (cf. 2:17–27; 3:9–18). That is why the act by which God declares them righteous is called a ‘gift,’ an expression of divine ‘grace’ (3:24).”

“We are indebted to [New Perspective godfather] Sanders for the reminder that Judaism saw the importance of divine grace, but Sanders himself gives us reason to doubt that it assigned the same importance to grace as the apostle.”

“John Barclay has pointed out that ancient notions of gift giving consistently took into account the worthiness of the recipient(s). Gifts were still gifts, to be sure; they were not earned. But neither were they to be given indiscriminately; giving a gift to those who would not appreciate it, or who would squander it, was wasted effort. Along these lines we may understand the rabbinic insistence on the merits of Israel, or of Israel’s forefathers, as a factor when God chose them for his covenant people: on nations that betrayed no interest in submitting to God’s will, the gift would have been wasted. Israel’s willingness to obey made them worthy recipients of what was nonetheless a divine gift, out of all proportion to their merits. Against such (readily understandable) notions, Paul’s striking insistence on the utter unworthiness of the recipients of God’s grace stands out all the starker.”

“But it is no caricature of Judaism to say, with Sanders, that it lacked a doctrine of the ‘essential sinfulness’ of humankind; no Jew would regard that claim as an insult. For Paul, on the other hand, it is precisely the ‘essential sinfulness’ of humankind that requires a salvation based on grace alone, apart from human ‘works.’ Judaism was not ignorant of divine grace, but that is no reason to deny that Paul could have understood justification in terms of an exclusive reliance on grace in a way that was foreign to the thinking of contemporary Jews.”

“‘Acquitted’ and ‘righteous’ are not synonyms, even in a legal setting. Never in the Old Testament are acquitted wicked persons called ‘righteous,’ nor is ‘righteousness’ used of their ‘status'”

“No Galatian would have heard ‘justified’ and thought ‘entitled to sit at the family table’; nor would Paul (who elsewhere uses dikaio– terms in their ordinary sense) have used this word here if that was what he wanted to say. To the simple answer we need add only that nothing in the context in Galatians 2 compels us to add fresh categories to the lexical definition of ‘justify.'”

“Twice Paul alludes to the claim of Psalm 143:2 that no one can be found righteous in God’s eyes, only to say that such unrighteous people are ‘justified’ (found righteous) when they believe (Rom 3:20–22; Gal 2:16).  But the paradox of the gospel does not end even there: not only does God declare the guilty righteous, but he himself is ‘righteous’ when he does so (Rom 3:25–26). How does that work? Divine righteousness here depends, Paul explains, on the expiation of sins that God provided through the sacrificial death of Christ. ‘God put forward [Christ] as an expiation,13 by means of Christ’s blood—an expiation of benefit to those with faith. In this way God demonstrated that he was indeed righteous even when he overlooked [or ‘forgave’] past sins’ (3:25).”

“As we have seen, ‘righteousness’ does not mean ‘covenant faithfulness’; but keeping one’s promises, covenantal or otherwise, is one example of righteousness.”

“(Gal 2:21). The goal under immediate discussion is ‘righteousness,’ not table fellowship; and the rejected path to that goal is ‘the law,’ not simply its boundary-marking elements.”

“I hasten to add that one of the consequences—’on the ground,’ so to speak—of Paul’s formula is, indeed, that Gentile believers ought not to submit to the regime of the law, with its boundary-marking provisions. But Paul reaches that goal by saying that those who get circumcised are submitting to a law that cannot lead sinners to righteousness in God’s sight.”

“Paul distinguishes faith, not from more difficult works that humans might be required to do, but from human ‘works’ of any kind (4:4–8; 9:32; Gal 3:11–12).”

“The Galatians to whom Paul wrote had also come to faith, but teachers had lately visited them and insisted that, as Gentiles, they needed to be circumcised and live like Jews if they wanted to belong to the people of God. That way madness lies, replied Paul: Why would anyone submit to the laws of a covenant that enslaves and curses all its subjects? As he made this argument, Paul returned to the picture of justification: sinners needing justification (and such are all human beings, Gentiles and Jews alike) must understand that ‘a person cannot be justified (or ‘declared righteous’) by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ’ (Gal 2:16). That, after all, is what we find in Scripture: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ (3:6).'”

“For people who have proved constitutionally unable and unwilling to do what they ought (and such are all human beings [3:10–18]), the law can only serve to bring about recognition of sin; it cannot serve as a path to righteousness: ‘by works of the law no flesh will be justified; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin’ (3:20). The verse is no attack on Jewish ‘legalism’—as though those who set out to do what they ought must be ‘legalists.’ Its denial that the law’s requirements can serve as the path to righteousness is based rather on a more radical perception of human sinfulness than that held by most Jews. As a result, Paul sees the only righteousness available to sinful human beings to be that given as a gift of God’s grace, ‘apart from works’ (3:24; 4:2, 6; 5:17)—distinguishing grace from works in a way other Jews felt no need to do.”

Just a sampling, there.  I heartily recommend the book to anyone curious about whether Paul truly meant that only by the grace of Jesus through faith in Jesus can a human being have peace with God and eternal life.  

It is well worth the read.

A Happy Death

 

The flesh doesn’t want to die.  

Mine kicks and screams and throws up fists at every call to humility, every demand placed on “my” free time, every confrontation with the reality that I am not the center of God’s universe.  

Jealousy, fear, anger, lust, bitterness, despair… These all perspire out of the fleshly, sinful nature that isn’t totally dead yet. They’re the toxic output of the sinful flesh I haven’t fully shaken. I long to throw that old man off (at least in my better moments I do). But he’s still with me. And he always will be, as long as I’m in the body.  

But I won’t surrender to the flesh. I can’t. To let it have dominion over me is to be an enemy of God, and I’d rather die than be an enemy of the Almighty.  

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Romans 8:7-14

Your flesh doesn’t want to die, and mine doesn’t either. But the Good News is that if you belong to Jesus through faith, you are not alone. The Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells in you, and He will help you put to death the deeds of that old, fleshly nature. The sinful self that doesn’t want to succumb or surrender.  

We are called to put the deeds of the flesh to death, and we are promised the help we need to do it.  

When you feel anger rising up inside, confess and repent to Jesus by the Spirit, and pray that that Spirit would sever the root of your wrath in your heart.  

When you recognize lust lurking its way into your mind, call upon Your Savior and the Spirit of His Resurrector to keep your eyes and your soul pure.  

When you shrink from the world in anxiety or fear or despair, take one minute and bend your knees to the Christ and ask Him to put down the faithless shrieks of doubt from your flesh. Ask Him to give you the trust He Himself prescribed when He told us about our Abba feeding the birds and clothing the flowers with care.  

Join me, guys, in putting the flesh to death by the Spirit through faith in the risen Jesus. He has promised to be with us in His Word, and to give us life as He dwells in us. We are not alone in the fight of (and for) our lives.  

He is in and with those who belong to Him.

If you are truly in Christ your old man may not be fully dead yet, but his obituary is already written.  

Instead of Dying

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In repentance there is life, while in sin-denial there is suicide.

When you’re frustrated with the way a work week, a project, a conversation, or a family situation is going, it is easy and relatively painless to lay the blame at the feet of others. Or to say the problem is “the situation.” And of course there are actually cases where we do get wronged or where the situation is that bad. But two truths should give you and me pause before just assuming our work, family, emotional, or friendship issues are completely the fault of someone else:

(1) All death, suffering, pain, and problems are a result of sin entering the world.
That one’s obvious. Doesn’t really offend our flesh and pride so much. If we are Bible-trusting Christians, we’ll usually admit wholeheartedly that sin exists and that it is the cause of bad things.

(2) My biggest danger is not that the sins or stubbornness or selfishness of others might harm me, but that my own sin might strangle me.
Whoah. Hold up. See, I’ll admit in theory all day that I am a sinner. But when it comes to honestly saying and seeing that my present or past wicked actions are the primary causes of my current anger, depression, broken relationships, or stresses, I get really defensive. I want to self-justify. I want to think I am a better human, a better man of my own sweat and moral effort. And I want to think that that is what makes all the difference in my life and my eternal destiny.

A quick example: I read a story about a famous man I disagree with, a man who I think does great harm to a great many people. I read that not too long ago there was an assault charge brought against him by one of his children. He told the authorities that it was a false charge, and that may well be the case; I wasn’t there. But do you know what ugly thing rose up in me as I read this short little account? A smug, internal smile, knowing that the man who I was confident was misleading people was being revealed to the watching world to be the troubled leader he was.

Not concern for his family. Not brokenness for this man who needed Jesus to forgive him. Not prayer that he might be restored and that the deceived among those he led might turn to Christ. And not the realization that but for God’s grace I could be the sort of man who uses his hands as instruments of his anger. No, in the moment I thought I was a good guy while he was a trapped and false guy, and that that was the biggest difference between us.

But the truest difference between me and this man, to whatever degree there is one, is all the grace of God. And my blind, internal self-righteousness would’ve led me to ignore my own sinful anger. I don’t want to admit that I have sin that can (and often does) tear apart my own life.

I am not saying that some among us are not truly being victimized. I know at least one person who is, in one given relationship in his life, truly faultless in a general way. Genuinely has been the victim. It does happen. But from 30,000 feet, taking in all of the landscape of our lives, the Holy Spirit can show us through His Word that the vast majority of our difficulties are the results of our own sins.

-Do I get sinfully angry because I’ve always lied to myself about who is really in charge?

-Do you get depressed because you don’t delight in prayer?

-Does he use filthy language because he doesn’t fear God?

-Does she talk so much about the the sins of others because she is self-righteous?

-Do I dwell on the flaws in the job performance of others because I am prideful?

-Do you have marital problems now because you lusted after other people years ago?

Sometimes depression is a biological result of the fall, sometimes we do have bad jobs we need to get out of, and sometimes one spouse truly does wholly violate the other. Not every single problem is directly due to our own personal sin; but a great many of them are, and the biggest problem of our lives is still our own sin.

But now let me end with the Good News: If we admit the problem we can receive the solution. If you get the diagnosis right you can be cured. God mercifully offers to cleanse us, forgive us, and make us increasingly holy in Christ Jesus. But we need to come to a place of honest, knee-bent repentance: You and I need to be washed and sanctified and made to delight in God more, not simply given easier jobs, more obedient kids, and healthier bodies.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Romans 7:15-20

I am not simply an innocent victim who needs his co-workers, wife, children, and neighbors to get on board and treat him better. I am a sinner who is often reaping the consequences of his own idolatry, pride, and anger. We are each regularly dealing with the results of our lusts, lies, hardheartedness, unforgiveness, cowardice, or hatefulness. Rather than blaming the sum total of our lives’ problems on others or our environment, let us confess our sins to the Forgiver and be sanctified. Be made better. Be washed and healed.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.”
1 John 1:9

Do you know what will most ultimately make my marriage better? Holiness and love of God. What’ll make my vocation more fruitful and worthwhile? Worshipful joy and God-honoring servitude. What has the power to help me forgive hurtful family members? Knowing that I am forgiven in Christ Jesus. While there are times I have been genuinely violated or need to remove myself from a harmful situation, the pinnacle crisis of my life is the one Jesus died to rectify on the cross: my own sin and sinfulness.

My flesh needs to be slayed and my heart needs to be sanctified.

I am a sinner who needs the Gospel, not merely a victim who needs his circumstances changed. I need to repent and receive life and joy. The alternative is a hardened and depressing spiritual self-destruction.

*Note: This post was adapted from an e-mail I sent to our church.