Grace links mankind in a common brotherhood; grace makes the great man give his hand to the poor, and confess a heavenly relationship; grace constrains the intellectual, the learned, the polite, to stood from their dignity to take hold of the ignorant and unlettered, and call them friends; grace weaves the threads of our separate individualities into one undivided unity. Let the gospel be really felt in the mind and it will toll the knell of selfishness, it will bring down the proud from their elevated solitude, and it will restore the downtrodden to the rights of our common manhood.
Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 96, “The Christian – A Debtor”
I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support as I’ve been taking a little hiatus from podcasting. The past few months have been extremely busy. Among other things I have been involved in my church’s committee responsible for seeking a new pastor, I’ve been making my own contributions to the Sunday sermons (which you can hear on the C3 Denton podcast), and of course I’ve been adjusting to fatherhood of our now 1 year old sweet little boy. I’ve decided it’s time to finally get things rolling again, and my desire is to begin doing podcasts more regularly as we get into the summer.
This passage and its meaning in the Christian life has been on my mind for a long time, ever since I listened to John Piper’s sermon on it a long time ago. What I think of most when I meditate on this concept is the idea that we bear a debt of grace. We have been shown such immense grace, and we carry with us the hope of humanity in our love for Christ. Yet how often do we actually display this? When I preached on Zechariah 14 recently, what I drew from the passage as a main idea was the fact that we as the body of Christ are waiting in great hope for the day of the Lord, because it is the day that all the evils of sin will be ended, all the striving and division of humanity will be ended.
And the remarkable thing is that we have that end now, in Christ! Yet, we don’t have it fully realized, as we live in this time of aching. We’ve seen the victory of Christ over sin, but we still are looking to His return. What I see from a lot of believers isn’t joyful proclamation of the freedom of Christ. It’s fear, arrogance, and echoes of the same desire for power and control that the world apart from Christ clings to in its own misbegotten hope. So many of us who claim the name of Christ need to recognize the great debt of grace we bear, and make our payments on that debt in the form of patient and generous love to our neighbors and to one another.
I’m not excluding myself from this by any means. But I am calling on all my brothers and sisters – if you believe that Christ is victorious, then by all means live like it! That doesn’t mean swaggering like earthly victors swagger lording their triumph, which is what I’ve seen from even some “reformed” corners of online Christendom. It means laying our lives down, being patient with one another. It means bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and putting to death the works of the flesh. It means we need to remember the incredible grace shown us, and display that love in our words, and in our deeds.
I’ve been pretty busy the last month or so, hence no podcasting going on. But, I have something to show for it now: I spent much of the last couple months studying, writing, and then presenting teachings on several subjects to my church’s young adult ministry. I am very grateful to them for the invitation and the challenge to speak on these challenging subjects, and I intend to release the recordings I made of them here, interspersed with other “regular” podcasting content.
This teaching is on the subject of truth. How do we understand truth as Christians, especially in the face of a world which denies that there can be any overriding standard of truth that conflicts with one’s own desires? That’s the topic I try to fit a teaching into about 30 minutes on, so take a listed and let me know how you think I did.
I do think that many Christians have scandalized the Lord’s name and cause before the ungodly. Many professors make it appear that there is not much difference between the church and the world, but I believe that there is sufficient power in true religion to lift a Christian right up above the world, and to make him live in such a serene atmosphere that, notwithstanding all the trials and troubles that may come upon him, he will be able to say, as David did when he fled from Saul, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.”
I won’t belabor this episode with a lot of extra remarks. However, I do want to take a moment and discuss how I think this verse ought to be taken to heart by Christians today, especially in the West which has at least a short history of holding up freedom of religion.
As Christians in a secular or secularizing culture, it is important for us to think deeply and carefully about how to represent Christ to that culture. I’ve spoken about what I think is a dangerous and unhelpful battle many wage in the culture war, not because I want to be friends with the world, but because the way many engage with the ungodly culture of the West betrays fear and doubt in who God says He is. Even many who proclaim faith in God’s sovereignty over His creation, when confronted with the foolishness and destruction our culture is putting itself through by its own love of sin find themselves taking up battle where they should not, and fighting in anger rather than serving in love and patience.
“Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:13 CSB
Christians, are we loving our neighbors well? Are we praying for them and seeking to know them and serving them in their needs? If one of the people you are writing angrily about on the internet because of one reason or another suddenly appeared in front of you in distress and in need of the love of Jesus, would you be able to actually give them that?
We need to wrestle with these questions. I know I do. This is why I think it’s important for us to pour ourselves into our ministries where we are. Serve and love your local body. Know the people you live around. Don’t just look for opportunities to give them a sales pitch to church, but be sure that you are walking in a way that reflects the fact that you have been bought with the blood of the Lamb. My prayer for myself, my family, my church, and all of you, is that we will all pursue this humbly and in love for God and neighbor.
“‘Sin shall not have dominion over you.’ Oh, how I love these ‘shalls!’ There seems something grand in them. “Sin shall not.” Ah, Satan may come with temptation, but when God says, ‘Sin shall not have dominion,’ it is as when the sea comes up in the fullness of its strength and the Almighty says, ‘To here shall you come, but no farther. Here shall your proud waves be stopped.’ If there were not other promise in the Bible but this one and I knew no more theology than that promise teaches me, I would be most happy.”
There is such tremendous hope in Romans 6:14 that I couldn’t help but want to read a sermon on this passage. There are actually two Spurgeon sermons on this verse, and if God is willing I will eventually read the other as well here. But just like Charles Spurgeon, I see in this passage multiple considerations we ought to make when meditating on it.
If sin has dominion, you are under law
Charles Spurgeon chose to begin with reading the passage as a warning to all who would consider themselves Christians, and I think that is a good place to start as well. We all sin. We can’t sit under the words of Paul in Romans and come away thinking that sinless perfection in this life is possible, and it’s certainly not what he teaches. However, he goes to great lengths to distinguish the life of war Christians enter into against their own sin, and the death begetting more death that is the nature of humanity when it lives in its innate, natural rebellion against God, against what the Bible calls “the works of the flesh.”
If we are able to walk in sin with absolutely no pangs of conscience, no battle within, then the warning to draw is that though you may claim Christ, in your heart, you do not know Him. To be in Christ is to struggle against the sinful desires that are a part of our natures, and if that struggle is absent, then we need to hear this as a warning to our inmost hearts: you can’t love sin and love Jesus. You can’t have Christ as a master if you also want to serve yourself.
Hope for the struggle
But the presence of sin as a struggle is not a sign that you are a false believer. That is a way some have read this passage and it is untrue and dangerous to faith. Rather, we should look to this as a tremendous hope and a source of peace. We are going to sin, because we’re still living in the flesh. Not that we are making peace with it, not that we’re throwing our hands up and saying “whatever” to the notion of breaking God’s law, but we’re admitting the truth: we are weak. We are not wholly renewed, even though we have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in leading us to faith in Jesus.
But God also promises that His power is made perfect in weakness. When we trust to the truth that we are not under law but under grace, we can put our sin to death day by day by knowing that the answer to falling to sin is to seek the cleansing of God’s grace and love. In Christ we don’t have an angry judge waiting to destroy us. We have a loving Father who takes His children in His arms, cleans them up and kisses them in love, and sets them back on the right path. We have a patient, gracious God who will absolutely complete the work He began in us, and therefore, we can struggle in hope and rest in grace. This is a hard thing to fully grasp, and I’m not sure we can really understand the full implications in this life, but it’s a good thing to consider, to meditate on day by day.
A directive to our steps
We rest in the hope of Jesus, in the truth that His spilled blood and broken body has paid fully the price of our rebellion before God, and that we will follow Him in resurrection to eternal life. But we still ought to consider the implications of the gospel for our daily lives, our thoughts, and words now. So many people I know believe passionately that the power of Christ to overcome sin is their hope, and yet they seem to operate on the idea that God needs their help day to day to prevent evil from taking over the world.
Our weapons to do battle in the war on sin, in our lives and in our world, are spiritual, and human power is not one of them. Too often it seems like we believe that if this leader doesn’t triumph, if this law doesn’t pass, if this act doesn’t occur, then the hope for the church in the world weakens. And so often we see Christians behaving in very un-Christlike ways towards one another and towards those who do not follow Christ.
You cannot compel the obedience of those who are outside of Christ. You cannot ordain holiness where the Holy Spirit has not moved. And you certainly cannot shine the light of Christ with one hand, while swinging the club of human authority with the other. If we are going to walk in a way that says “I am not under law, but under grace,” then we need to take the path that Jesus led His disciples on. That’s the path that involves taking up our crosses and following Him to a death that has had its true power broken.
I want to leave you all with that thought, and encourage you to think on it especially as you engage with those you disagree with. How do I reflect the grace of God shown to me through my words? I know that I often have much to repent of, and often choose to restrain myself rather than speak. But I pray that the words of Paul, and the words of Charles Spurgeon, will minister to you in the way they do to me, in illuminating the tremendous grace of God for my life.
I charge you rest not, be not content until by faith you can say, “Yes, I cast myself upon him; I am his, and therefore he is mine.” I know that full many of you, while you look upon all else that you have as not being yours, yet can say, “My Redeemer is mine.” He is the only piece of property which is really ours. We borrow all else, the house, the children, nay, our very body we must return to the Great Lender. But Jesus, we can never leave, for even when we are absent form the body we are present with the Lord, and I know that even death cannot separate us from him, so that body and soul are with Jesus truly even in the dark hours of death, in the long night of the sepulchre, and in the separate state of spiritual existence. Beloved, have you Christ? It may be you hold him with a feeble hand, you half think it is presumption to say, “He is my Redeemer;” yet remember, if you have but faith as a grain of mustard seed, that little faith entitles you to say, and say now, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
The truth of this sermon title is the truth that rings in the heart of every believer when suffering comes. When we find ourselves pressed upon, feeling the pain of loss and doubt, and anger, and we know deep in our hearts that our God is just and holy, we look to this. Not in a “brush the dust off your hands and go on like nothing’s happening” way, because usually that is neither helpful nor practical. We do it in a way that says “My suffering is real. My pain is real. But God is just as real and He will give it purpose.”
I talked before about how the psalms of lament echo this same cry, where they call to God in real pain, in turmoil and suffering that doesn’t fade with the night and vanish in the morning, but continues for years, even generations. They don’t blame God, but they do recognize the truth, which is that God rules over even their times of suffering, and they call out to Him not because they are ungrateful or bitter, but out of faith:
Wake up, Lord! Why are you sleeping? Get up! Don’t reject us forever! Why do you hide and forget our affliction and oppression? For we have sunk down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of your faithful love.
Psalm 44: 23-26
I want to share some more from the book I mentioned last time as well, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings:
In what sense, exactly, does the psalmist blame God amid crisis? The psalmist does not “blame” God in the sense of a judge who blames a defendant as he delivers a verdict and dismisses the defendant from the courtroom. If the psalmists had already decided the verdict–that God is indeed unfaithful–they would not continue to offer their complaint. They would have a solution to the problem of evil that silences the questions of lament: that God is not trustworthy, not wholly good. Instead the psalmists blame God in the interrogative, with raw, unanswered questions that cling to the hope of God’s covenant promise: Why am I in this crisis if the Lord’s covenant promise is true? In the context of covenant fellowship, God’s people can cry out to their covenant Lord–in complaint, even in protest and open-ended blame–until God shows his faithfulness according to his covenant promise.
J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament, p. 59
Faith expressed in times of doubt
Job may not fully understand at this point the nature of God’s redemptive plans, but he does have the right target in view. If he were hanging on the side of a mountain, he would have grasped the right handhold. If he were in the water after a shipwreck, he would be clinging to the best life preserver there is: the promise and truth of God’s work to redeem His people. And as Charles Spurgeon said, how much more ought we who live in this time between Christ’s first and second comings look to that in faith?
God does not say to His people, “Ah, you don’t have it so bad, quit whining.” He does not dismiss them or punish them for crying out in need. He listens to them. He has sent the Comforter to minister to His people, and provided His Word to lead them. Let us rest in that, and in who He is: our loving Father, who never leaves us even in greatest darkness and deepest valley. He is our God.
If there’s one idea that is missing a lot from the current national discourse, it’s the idea of what peace can look like in the midst of all the turmoil and anger that is the currency of our emotional economy these days. Jarod and I wanted to talk some about what real peace looks like–not simply a lack of conflict, or not what happens when some group asserts itself as the new dominant force above others, but actual peace. And the answer, as always, lies in the words of Scripture:
Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
Ephesians 4:32 CSB
Now you may say, “What does this have to do with peace?” And truth be told there are dozens, even hundreds of verses I could have quoted that underline what a biblical view of peace is from different angles. But this one is particularly at the forefront of my mind right now because, for all reasons, it just happens to be trending on Twitter, and it’s getting the expected response on there. When you have a bunch of people whose righteousness is rooted not in the work of Christ for unworthy people who He gives Himself for willingly, but rather is rooted in their own correct thought and speech (at least, correct for the moment), then it should be no surprise that a command from Scripture towards an attitude of love, forgiveness and generosity that is itself pointed back to the work of Christ is angering to them.
But as Christians who do believe that, Jarod and I want to take the time to point to Christ as the only real, lasting, meaningful foundation of peace. We want to love our neighbors well. We want to see the sin in our own lives put to death. And we want to hold our own hearts up against this standard, not the standard of the world. Take a listen to this conversation, and let us know through email or in the comments below: how do you wrestle with this idea? What does it look like for you to put the desires of the flesh to death and to live in obedience to commands like the one above?
You will all perceive at once that there must be love even in this apparently angry word; that this contention must, after all, have something to do with contentment, and that this battle must be, after all, but a disguised mercy, but another shape of an embrace from the God of love. Carry this consoling reflection in your thoughts while I am preaching to you; and if any of you are saying to-day, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me,” the very fact of God contending with you at all, the fact that he has not consumed you, that he has not smitten you to the lowest hell, may thus, at the very outset, afford consolation and hope.
The title of this sermon is truly countercultural. I say that because I don’t know of any culture that embraces, loves, and celebrates adversity. Hard times are rarely anticipated with the same kind of excitement as a day at the beach or a family holiday. Certainly the kind of adversity seen by Job would not be something anyone would see as a joyful experience that they would desire to pass through.
Therefore we can understand Job’s anger and his sharp words. God’s mercy shines through in that, rather than ignoring an impertinent question or even more justifiably, punishing such a creature, He hears Job’s words and (as we’ll see in later sermons and as we work through the book in Scripture Sunday) even answers him. Whether that answer is satisfying in a human sense is up for discussion in a later episode as well.
Job the self-justified
If you’ve been listening along as we’ve read through Job on Scripture Sunday, you’ve heard the increasing frustrations of Job and the befuddlement of his friends as they try to apply their notion of retributive justice to God’s actions in Job’s life. His friends insist that Job surely must have done something wrong, because after all, God doesn’t do things with no purpose or with malice. Job insists that he has done nothing, and rests his increasingly self-righteous anger on his own actions.
How often do we wrestle with these same ideas about God? The old question “why do bad things happen to good people?” has gotten the response from Christians that “That only happened once,” because of course we recognize that there has only been one truly good man, Jesus. But this isn’t a satisfying answer for most, and I don’t think that should be surprising, because that kind of answer doesn’t actually help us wrestle with the bigger questions that press on us each time we watch the news.
In a world ruled by a just, holy, and good God, why do babies die? Why are children born into third-world nations with not enough food, clothing, or medicine, only to starve to death or die of a disease that hasn’t appeared in the rest of the world for decades? Why are innocent civilians in Yemen losing everything as war consumes their country? Why are innocent civilians in the United States losing everything because of a turn down the wrong street, an encounter with the wrong person, the wrong thing said?
We look at these horrors of our world and we look at ourselves, and I think it’s safe to say we often feel like Job is fully justified in his frustration: “I know I’ve never done anything nearly bad enough to warrant this. Why is this happening? Why doesn’t God hear us?” The psalms are full of similar laments, aching cries to understand even as the psalmist admits they will never know the full wisdom of God.
The answer is not simple
We don’t get a nice, clean answer to this either in the book of Job or elsewhere in the Bible, outside of this: these things happen because our world is stained by sin, and its child death follows gleefully behind. Yet as Christians, we ought to be sure that the standard by which we engage these is not following after the ways of the world. I have seen people trying to wrap the faith up in ideas that are borne of the angry cynicism of the world towards injustice, while lacking true faith in God’s eternal and perfect justice. Look to Paul’s words in Romans 8:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.
Romans 8:18-25, CSB
I’ve been reading a book that Jarod recommended to me, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings. He writes this book as he battles a form of incurable cancer, and his struggle with this issue is palpable. I am not finished, but I have been tremendously ministered to by this book. In one section he speaks to the struggles Job and his friends have with viewing God’s justice as purely retributive. Job believes he deserves good things because he does good things. His friends believe, if he’s receiving bad things, that must mean he’s done something bad. But Pastor Billings wrestles that idea into perspective:
While sometimes a rigid form of retribution theology makes us search for what we did to “deserve” a tragedy (in retrospect), at other times it relates more directly to how Christians view the future. Many Christians don’t seem to expect to suffer–assuming that if we are “good Christians” who “obey God’s will,” then we might face obstacles, but not great tragedies that appear senseless. But in this form as well, the book of Job breaks through our illusions, for it “shatters the myth that our own righteousness can protect us from unjust suffering.” God has not given us a bargain such that he would spare us of unjust suffering if we seek to obey his will. To the contrary, in Jesus Christ, we are called to take up our crosses daily and follow the path of the One who was unjustly crucified.
Rejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, p.25
This is why on Kings Highway Radio, Jarod and I have been so insistent on the importance of Scripture as the foundation upon which we must build our lives and our views of who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Left to our own devices we can find ourselves “tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” I see this so often as Christians struggle with how to engage the world’s discussion and debate surrounding issues of race. We find ourselves torn apart as we find one side or another more appealing, and we lose perspective on what Christians must keep central: who Christ is, and who we are in Him.
Job’s only hope
Though Job is deeply confused about his righteousness compared to God’s, he does know where his hope ought to lie, and that will be the subject of the next sermon in this series. For those who look to their Redeemer, suffering is a transformative experience that leads us to greater faith and hope, and “hope does not bring us to shame” when it is fixed on the perfect Object that is Jesus and Him crucified.
Jarod and Dave chop it up about a few topics in the aftermath of the last few heavy episodes. In particular they dig into stories and reactions online to the continued national controversy over racism. This has produced no small amount of opportunities for many to try to prove their self-righteousness, and the guys talk about a few of those, as well as the positive influences they’ve been looking to in this difficult time.
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Jarod and Dave sit down to a conversation about the dividing lines that we often find, and the terms we use to try to both understand and shut down the other side in these debates of the day. We often find ourselves feeling like we’re in the middle of a culture clash, and this one is no exception, as we seek to point to the truth of the need for reformation while also rejecting the calls for undermining the entirety of society or for “decolonizing our faith.”
Scripture alone is sufficient as the infallible rule of faith for the church, and when we try to add another level above thing, things get rather tricky. Listen in and join the conversation.
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