This Is the Way to Live

Unsplash-trafficRomans 12:11–13,

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Because of God’s mercy, we are called to live totally transformed lives, which is summarized generally as to love others. This is the basic way to understand the string of characteristics that begin in verse 9. Love is the central theme into which every characteristic is united.

This transformational love is first and foremost to God, the one who loved us in Christ when were unlovable (Romans 5:8). And then it is extended out to those around us, thus fulfilling the law (Romans 13:10). It is this horizontal dimension that is illustrated in the several portraits listed in Romans 12:9–21. None of Paul’s points stand above the others in preeminence, but rather, united by the theme of love, they all form a wise, pithy code that helps us navigate life in Christ, in this world.

Verses 11 and 13

The straightforward nature of these lines propels us into meditating on their meaning and how they look in our lives. “Do not be slothful in zeal,” verse 11 begins. “Be fervent in the Spirit, serve the Lord.” There is nothing hidden here. It means precisely what it says. The Christian life of love is not a couch potato. “Be fervent” is reminiscent of Colossians 1:29. We are filled with the Sprit. God’s energy is powerfully at work within us.

Skip to verse 13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” This is the practical, nitty-gritty expression of love, both for fellow Christians and for unbelievers. The former reminds us of the Macedonian’s generosity in 2 Corinthians 8:1–5. The latter reminds us Hebrews 13:2 when we’re commanded not to neglect hospitality to strangers. Meeting needs in the church is the call for family concern for one another. Showing hospitality is the call not to become inward-focused about our needs.

A Closer Look at Verse 12

Now consider verse 12. I save it for last not because it is more important. There is nothing grammatical in this list that favors one line over the others. It’s just that verse 12 is a sequence of words that I’ve found personally helpful…

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 

This could be a paradigm for life. Rejoice in hope is the call to this future-oriented vantage on reality. “Hope” is a very rich word in the Book of Romans. Because we have been justified by faith in Christ and have been brought into fellowship with God, Paul says in Romans 5:2 that “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” This hope is filled out in Romans 8 to be the consummation of the new creation. This hope — the final redemption of our bodies — is the hope in which we were saved (Romans 8:23–24). This is the hope that we rejoice in. This is our destiny. Notice this doesn’t say to rejoice in our present circumstances. They may be great right now and we should rejoice in them when they are (Romans 12:15), but the call to rejoice in Romans 12:12 encompasses more. It sets our eyes on what is to come, on the reality for which we were made: life in the presence of God, forever.

And as we rejoice in hope, in what is to come, we must be patient in tribulation. Oftentimes we will find that our destiny feels a lot different from our current location. Here we suffer. But Paul tells us that our present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Because we rejoice in hope, we can be patient in tribulation. It is momentary affliction. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

And as we rejoice in hope and be patient in tribulation, Paul tells us to be constant in prayer. That is, walk in fellowship with God. Draw near to him. How else can we really rejoice in hope? How else can we be patient in tribulation? Let us be swallowed up into our relationship with God. Let us know him and love him and tell him all our heart.

Because of God’s mercy to us in Jesus, because he has welcomed us into his fellowship, let us walk in glad communion with him, constant in prayer, patient in tribulation, rejoicing in hope.

This is the way to live.

Putting the “Christian” in Christian Friendship

Is there anything distinctive about Christian friendship? What’s different about how two fellow followers of Jesus relate to each other, compared with two friends who don’t identify with Christ? Romans 15:2 helps us consider one essential component of what puts the Christian into Christian relationships.

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Who Is Our “Neighbor”?

“Neighbor” can be used very broadly (as Jesus does in Luke 10:29), but in this case, Paul is plainly talking about fellow believers (as he does in Ephesians 4:25). This is confirmed in the verb “to build up” — a word which Paul reserves exclusively for the church. We’re talking about Christians here in Romans 15:2 — Christian neighbors, fellow followers of Jesus with whom we share some proximity. So we could say this text carries significance for Christian friendship.

And the imperative is to “please” them, to accommodate them, to make their welfare of higher interest than our own. To please our Christian neighbor is to serve them. Undoubtedly, this will be for our own joy — no one is really served when it’s done in stiff reluctance. But it being for our joy doesn’t mean it’s always (or often!) comfortable. Pleasing our neighbor will take sacrifice. It’s not typically easy — it’s “not to please ourselves.” We’re giving something up for something better and that better is the building up of our brother or sister.

Sacrificially Build Up One Another

The sacrificial building up of one another — this is what makes Christian friendship, well, Christian. It’s Christian both in the adjective (sacrificial) and in the verb (building up).

Sacrificial building up (“not to please ourselves”) means it’s Christian in its manner. The foundation to our serving, our sacrificial edifying of others, is rooted in the example of Jesus. We’re to have the Philippians 6:6–8 mind among ourselves. He didn’t give prominence to his own comfort when he “left glory.” Nor when he prayed in the Garden. It wasn’t easy when he bore our sins and suffered the wrath we deserved. Yet even in the midst of the pain, there was a joy set before him. It wasn’t easy, but it was glorious. And when we walk in that example, it works the same way (1 Peter 2:21). It shocks the world — for the glory of God.

But this sacrificial building up is not only Christian in its manner. It’s also Christian in its goal. The friendship goes beyond discussing the latest scores (though it may involve that), or the newest app (though that may be a part, too), or the best book we’ve read (another good one). The purpose is to build them up. This is what the pleasing is about, for their good. It’s about their conformity to Jesus. Our little place in their life is to serve the goal to which God has elected them, Jesus has died, and the Spirit is working. We want to build them up.

For Your Friends

Now then, let each of us, by grace, please our neighbor for their good — count them more significant than ourselves, and their needs more pertinent than our own; to build them up — play the God-ordained role of a means of grace in their lives, investing in their transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Let’s stir this Christian intentionality in our relationships — that we not seek to please ourselves, but that we pursue the pleasing of our neighbor for their good in Jesus.

Read the original post at DG.

Believe, Sent, Speak, Heard, Believed, Sent…

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, Paul tells us, will be saved (Romans 10:13).

This is good news.

And then comes the best possible question, and subsequent questions, that could be asked.

How then will they call of him in whom they have not believed? There’s not going to be a confession of the mouth if there’s not a believing of the heart. Okay, okay, next question. How are they going to believe in him of whom they have never heard? There’s not going to be any believing unless they hear about the one worthy of their faith.We’re tracking with him now. Another question: how are they to hear without someone preaching? There’s not going to be any hearing about Jesus unless someone tells about Jesus. Last question: And how are they going to preach unless they are sent? Those who tell others about Jesus have to go forth, leaving one spot and traveling to another.

So the good news of salvation to everyone who calls on Jesus is coupled with a glorious mandate: tell this good news to others. No Uncle Sam posters here. No long, skinny finger is pointing at you. This is a call more amazing than we can imagine.

There is good news! This is good news that’s meant to be told. And we’re the ones, you and me, us, we’re the ones who get to tell it.

Let us be sent. Let us go speak. Let them hear. Let them believe and call on Jesus. Then let them be sent. . . . This is how it works.

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The Word Is Here, for Everyone

Romans 10:13–15,

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

This is one of the mountain peaks of Holy Scripture. This significance of this text can hardly be overstated on a couple levels. For one, there is just the good these verses bring to us — we’re told how we can be saved. And then, overall, these verses encapusalte so much of the Bible, of Paul’s theology, of how it all comes together with the people of Israel and the Gentiles, the law and faith and righteousness and how Jesus is what it’s all about.

Jesus, the Better Word

Leading up to verse 13, Paul tells us how Israel has misread the Scriptures. He lays out in detail Israel’s failure to understand God’s righteousness, that is, their ignorance of Jesus (Romans 10:3–4). Paul then goes to the Torah in Romans 10:5 to draw a parallel between that word and Jesus.

Jesus has come down from heaven — we don’t go up to him. Jesus has been raised from the dead — we don’t go bring him up. The point here: it’s not human striving. It’s here. The word is here. Jesus has done it all already and this is what we’re proclaiming. Do you believe?

If you believe (Paul must be excited here!), if you believe, if you confess, you will be saved!

Believe, Confess!

These two expressions, believing and confessing, describe the one reality of faith and lead up to the two Old Testament verses quoted in Romans 10:11 and Romans 10:13. Believe in your heart because everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame (Isaiah 28:16). Confess with your mouth because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32).

This is good news. No more white-knuckled laboring to establish our own righteousness. No more vain endeavors to impress God by how good we think we can keep his law. No more more searching up or down for someone to come help us.

The Word Is Here

Jesus Christ has come to this earth, God became man. He walked in our shoes and persevered in every way imaginable. Where we can’t but fail, he was faithful and obedient and righteous and true. And then he went to the die for us. The King went to suffer for his people. He took upon himself all of our guilt and shame, all the wrath we heaped up for ourselves by our rebellion against God.

Jesus died for us, and was buried. Then on the third day, he was raised from the dead, and he appeared to Cephas, the twelve, and later to about 500 folks. He was resurrected to be received by faith. For us to turn from our sin and embrace him. He is now ascended and reigning. His kingdom is coming. His word is being proclaimed.

This very word, the one here. The word that declares God has acted. God has done it. The dead-end roads of our efforts are exposed. Now, here is the word, and everyone who believes will be saved. Here is the word — you have heard it — here is what Jesus has done, will you call on him?

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Sin as Contradiction

John Murray:

All sin in the believer is the contradiction of God’s holiness. Sin does not change its character as sin because the person in whom it dwells and by whom it is committed is a believer.

It is true that the believer sustains a new relation to God. There is no judicial condemnation for him and the judicial wrath of God does not rest upon him (Romans 8:1). God is his Father and he is God’s son. The Holy Spirit dwells in him and is his advocate. Christ is the believer’s advocate with the Father.

But the sin which resides in the believer and which he commits is of such a character that it deserves the wrath of God and the fatherly displeasure of God is evoked by this sin. Remaining, indwelling sin is therefore the contradiction of all that he is as a regenerate person and son of God. It is the contradiction of God himself, after whose image he has been recreated.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955) 144.

Rethinking the Annual Ritual of One Dramatic Resolution

Here is a helpful post by Paul Tripp—

Trading One Dramatic Resolution for 10,000 Little Ones.

An excerpt:

And what is he doing? In these small moments he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace he places you in daily little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again—exactly what each one of us needs!

Yes, you and I need to be committed to change, but not in a way that hopes for a big event of transformation, but in a way that finds joy in and is faithful to a day-by-day, step-by-step process of insight, confession, repentance and faith. And in those little moments we commit ourselves to remember the words of Paul in Romans 8:32

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us, how will he not also with him freely give us all things.

On Natural Theology: Romans 1:19-20

Romans 1:19-20

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

Paul says that there is something intelligible about God in creation that is universally plain. More precisely, God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived. Paul’s content on general revelation here is describing a demographic of the humanity, i.e., a culture that has incorrectly interpreted nature. These are humans, creatures of God outside of the covenant (1:25; 2:14), who have rejected what can be clearly perceived about God in creation. Their rejection leaves them “without excuse.”

The details of this passage do not lay out for us the specifics of general revelation. They only tell the reader that people can discern enough about God in creation to make them accountable. Creation is set to be interpreted. It does not interpret itself. This passage gives us the converse of what Psalm 19 and Job 38 suggest: this is what happens when nature is interpreted without the intervention of God’s particular revelation.

Calvin writes, “[W]hile some may evaporate in their own superstitions and other deliberately and wickedly desert God, yet all degenerate from the true knowledge of him” (I.IV.1, italics mine.) This passage in Paul demands his explanation in Romans 10:13-17, concluding—“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

If the human intellect would see God in creation, then God must sanctify the intellect by his work of grace, which we understand to be accomplished definitively in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Seeing nature is a work of gospel grace—it happens only in relation to Jesus Christ and is appropriated by the Holy Spirit.