Alive to God

How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2, CSB)

Why do Christians still sin when we have all of these wonderful promises about Jesus overcoming sin in our life? Paul offers several truths in Romans 6 to give a more robust theology of sin. Being armed with this perspective, we can better face our daily rebellion.

Our Sign of Hope

The first truth that Paul offers is the sign of baptism. Most Christians don’t see their baptism as a help in overcoming sin, maybe because it’s not rightly understood. Baptism is meant to be a sign of hope for us in this life. When we are baptized “into Christ Jesus,” we symbolically participate in his death. And in the same way that Jesus was raised “by the glory of the Father,” that same power lifts us from our way of death into a “new way of life.” Baptism is a beautiful sign for a Christian, but it is not the true resurrection, right? We still have to go about our daily life. We will still die, but we have a hope for true resurrection in the future.

For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 6:5, CSB)

This sign, along with the hope that faith grows in us, is a tool for subjugating our sinful, mortal bodies. Much of the Christian life is about looking towards the promises of the future to overcome the everyday.

Our Weapons of Righteousness

We are now able to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:11). But how do we move beyond the knowing to the doing? One of the problems that I see with Christian sin management is how we only concentrate on not doing something bad, rather than being intentional about doing good. Paul is pressing this point in Romans 6:12-14. He says that you shouldn’t obey the desires of sin or offer any part of yourself for its use. Instead, we are to offer our whole self to God as tools/weapons/instruments of righteousness.

“Paul teaches us that faith doesn’t so free us from sin that we can be idle, lazy, and self-assured, as though there were no more sin in us.” – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans

Our Promise

Jesus’ conversations with religious people were often very heated. He had a problem with their devotion to the rules of God and their lack of devotion to God and people. The law was the chief end of their existence. If they suppressed their sin and kept the rules of their religion, they might obtain righteousness. But our great promise is that when we could not obtain righteousness, Christ purchased us. He did not sin. He did not break his relationship with God. Now, sin cannot rule over us, because we are not under the law but grace (6:14). God bought us with a great price and now our only hope in life and death is that we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.


Are we kings in this life?

Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17, CSB)

I’ve heard this phrase misused a lot. People are quick to claim these realities of our royalty like it’s here and now. I’ve heard comments such as: “You are a child of the king, pray like it” or “We are reigning even now in this life so nothing can stand in our way.”

“In life” is being used to qualify what type of reign it is. It is a reign that takes place in the space of true life. This life that we live in this body is just a shadow of the true life that we are promised with God forever. It’s easy to get caught in the message of eternal life when we should be rejoicing over the promise of authentic life. When we stress the acquisition of eternal life, we are coming dangerously close to the words of the serpent in the garden.

We are promised struggles in this life, but we are also promised that genuine faith ignites hope, endurance, and character within us. These things are used by the Spirit of God to navigate the pains of this life while we wait for true and everlasting life with God in the age to come.

As always, scripture gives a friendly perspective:

if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us;” (2 Timothy 2:12, CSB)

Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5, CSB)

No law, no sin?

In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13, CSB)

This verse has made me pause for a long time. Recently, I was shown the differences in the Bible’s words for sin, trespass, and iniquity. A casual definition of sin (hamartia) is missing a given target or standard. Since there was no codified law given by God, sin by definition could not be counted against people. This is why Paul says repeatedly that the law of Moses makes everyone aware of their sinfulness.

The other word that Paul uses here is trespass or transgression (paraptoma). Before the law, God established relationships with people. These relationships were always defined by an agreement, sometimes more formal like a covenant. Just like two neighbors agreeing on a shared land boundary. When relationship agreements are broken, trespass occurs. Breaking agreements in a relationship always lead to damaged trust and separation. Being separated from a life-giving God means death. Betraying an agreement made with a holy God is so egregious the punitive damages earned can never be paid. We need some way to reconcile this relationship so that the damage can be repaired. In human relationships, this type of reconciliation is near impossible. In divorce, counselors and lawyers have to be brought in either for reconciliation or termination of the relationship.

In ancient near eastern culture, a mediator would be brought in to settle family disputes and feuds between neighbors. We have the perfect mediator in Jesus Christ. His death paid the retributive cost of our trespasses. The grace shown to him in the resurrection is extended to us. We have the beginnings of a restored relationship now to such an extent that we are called ministers of reconciliation! And we have hope that helps us endure in this life until the relationship with God is perfectly restored forever.

“Christ, a second Adam, had to come in order to make us heirs of his justice through a new spiritual birth in faith, just as the old Adam made us heirs of sin through the old fleshy birth.” – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans

Works of Faith

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1–5, CSB)

“Joy, peace, love for God and all people…assurance, steadfastness, confidence, courage, and hope in sorrow and suffering. All of these follow where faith is genuine, because of the overflowing good will that God has shown in Christ.” – Martin Luther, preface to Romans

Peace with God

I used to think that peace with God was about me. I needed to have peace in my restless heart and that could only be given to me by Jesus. But Paul tells us that we were rebellious enemies. Our betrayal grieved God. His designs were ever against us. It would have been better for the world if we were removed from it. Even in that state, Jesus came to rescue us. Now, not only has all hostility ceased, but we are welcomed in as part of the family.

W.H. “Dub” Jackson flew bombers and fighters over Japan in WWII. He knew who his enemy was. He had seen their acts of aggression first hand. Only days after General MacArthur sign the Japanese surrender, Dub and others were thinking about how he could get back to Japan as a minister of the gospel. They started to work with churches in the US to send volunteers as missionaries to the people who were called enemies.

Access to God

Adam and Eve were immediately sent away from paradise and the way back was guarded. Standing before a holy God would now mean their death. In the Old Testament, people didn’t pursue God — He came to them.  The tabernacle and the temple showed the clear separation between God and man. But through Jesus’ death, the veil was torn. Access was granted. Now we are promised that we will stand before him forever. Like Mary at the feet of Jesus sitting and listening, we will have eternal access to pure wisdom and attention.

Glory of God

Our old selves would have run for our lives from God’s presence and glory. We were like those who will hide in caves and ask the mountains to fall on them on the Day of the Lord. But now, we look forward to it. It motivates us. Even though we will stand before the Ancient of Days in judgment, we have full assurance and we hope to see his glory. This is the same glory that Moses asked to see on Mount Sinai and was denied because “no man can see God’s face and live.” Our affliction, endurance, proven character–they all affirm our new identity. This life is lived with confidence knowing that we will see his face forever.

If faith produces endurance in spite of afflictions and if we are exhibiting proven character, then it is undeniable that true faith produces true works of faith. These works were never able to bring peace with God, give us access to God, or make us holy in the presence of God. In the church, there have always been ingrown traditions, actions, and rules of living that are said to prove your Christianity. But that’s not what Paul says. Only Jesus gives us a new identity through faith. That faith produces genuine works of faith.

“They invent for themselves their own works in which are neither peace nor joy nor assurance nor love nor hope nor steadfastness nor any kind of genuine Christian works or faith.” – Martin Luther, preface to Romans

Everybody, Always

“Find a way to love difficult people more, and you’ll be living the life Jesus talked about. Go find someone you’ve been avoiding and give away extravagant love to them. You’ll learn more about God, your neighbor, your enemies, and your faith. Find someone you think is wrong, someone you disagree with, someone who isn’t like you at all, and decide to love that person the way you want Jesus to love you.

We need to love everybody, always.

Jesus never said doing these things would be easy. He just said it would work.”

  • Bob Goff, Everybody Always

Why grace?

I just began studying Romans again, and I was struck by Paul’s train of thought regarding grace.

Through [Jesus] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles, including you who are also called by Jesus Christ. (1:5-6)

We have received grace to bring about the obedience of faith

Paul spends a great deal of time in this letter defining the vocabulary of our belief. In Romans, grace brings us completely into God’s favor through the mediating work of Jesus. When God says, “What about sinful John Smith?” Jesus replies, “Don’t look at him look at me. His identity is forever wrapped up in who I am.”

Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God…Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans

We are saved from sin for a purpose. Our salvation by grace is evident through actionable obedience to God calling us out of our old life.

…for the sake of his name…

Individuality is sacred today. Everyone must be free to express themselves and pursue their own interests. But salvation is not about us. It’s not for our joy and success. It is for the glory and honor of God. It’s so that he would be the focus of all respect, recognition, and honor. Paul, wants us to see from the very beginning that the purpose of our salvation and our call to evangelize is rooted in God’s glory and fame.

…among the Gentiles…

God’s interest in us doesn’t stop with our conversion. He wants our changed lives to be contagious and multiplying. When Paul talks about Gentiles here, he means those who haven’t heard about YHWH, the God of the Bible. Many of Paul’s fellow workers were still struggling with the idea of crossing the cultural divide between Jew and Gentile. But the gospel is for all, especially those who have never heard and few are working to reach.

…including you who are also called by Christ Jesus.

The message of Romans is not just for the lost. It’s been used as an effective evangelism tool for years because of its foundational truths on the human condition and the process of salvation. But our contagious grace and our life of faith must be seen by those in the church. The building up of the church and the strengthening of believers is God’s plan for evangelism. We must understand these words like law, gospel, grace, and faith. They must be a source of joy and strength in our church people.

Your personal salvation is not the conclusion of grace. The impact of grace in your life ripples out into your church and community. It has lasting, eternal impact for the glory of God.

Review: Help for the New Pastor

Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry by Charles Malcolm Wingard

I received this book at Together for the Gospel this year, and I think it was a great choice for the young pastors there. We learn so much about studying and delivering the Word at seminary, but I think most guys would say that there is a learning curve when it comes to church administration and pastoral care. Hopefully education on these subjects comes from watching trusted mentors, but I fear more often it’s a trial by fire for young pastors. Help for the New Pastor is a great reference tool for young pastors feeling overwhelmed by church leadership and pastoral care.

While I have learned a lot about the content of the first six chapters, the rest of the book was full of insights that I had not encountered often. In particular, chapters 9, 10, and 13 were full of wisdom and experience about what to talk about during visits and even what scriptures a pastor might want to read. I’m happy to have this on my shelf, and I will regularly give it as a gift to new pastors.

  1. Understanding your call to ministry
  2. Preparing for pulpit ministry
  3. Preparing and delivering a sermon
  4. Practical advice for preaching
  5. Leading worship
  6. The Sacraments
  7. Church Administration
  8. Growing through conflict
  9. Home visitation
  10. Practicing hospitality
  11. Counseling
  12. Weddings
  13. Hospital and Hospice Care
  14. Funerals
  15. Your denominational duties
  16. The character and habits of effective ministers
  17. Small things that yield big results
  18. A long and faithful ministry

How to Prepare for Pastoral Transitions

  • read this post on For the Church here.

Goodbyes are inevitable.

When a pastor leaves a church, it can be heartbreaking but also harmful to the community. These transitions can cause hurt, disunity, and doubt that hinders the growth and message of the church. Looking at Paul’s departure from Ephesus, we can see that it doesn’t have to be this way.

If Paul were to be called a pastor of any church, it would be the church at Ephesus. He spent years with these people, more time than in any other city. He was deeply invested in these peoples’ lives, and his departure from them was painful. But he effectively used his time in Ephesus so the church was positioned for continued growth. This made it easier for Paul to obey God when transition time came.

During his goodbye message to the Ephesian leaders in Acts 20, Paul shows at least four ways that we can avoid chaos during ministry transitions:

He held nothing back.

Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church. When they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house. (Acts 20:17–20 CSB)

From his first day until his last, Paul worked tirelessly among these people. Because of the itinerant nature of his work, Paul could have easily become pessimistic towards new places. But he did not close himself off to ministry opportunities in Ephesus. He quickly and intentionally entered into peoples’ lives and homes with his message of repentance and faith. He was consistent through the tears and bold in spite of the consequences his ministry produced.

If we hold back our words or our presence from our people, then we are hindering the penetrating power of the gospel. It is hard, messy work being so personally involved, but we must spend time laying a foundation for our people.  We must model the gospel faithfully with words and actions, and we must teach believers how to study the Word, because these things will guide them long after we are gone.

He never lost perspective.

But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

Even though he had grown very close to the Ephesian church, Paul does not choose to remain among the friendly and familiar. And how could he? He was “compelled by the Spirit” (30:22) to move on to Jerusalem. To stay would be to disobey.

When you give your life to God’s gospel ministry, your address may change, but your purpose never will. There will be churches that are painfully hard to leave, and sometimes that choice will be made for you. While we should enter any pastorate with an indefinite commitment, we also know that no place can be called our forever home in this life. God may move us at anytime, but if we have our eyes fixed on him anyway, we will be found faithful in any of the situations which he gives us.

He trained watchmen.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood…Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:28, 31)

Paul was not blind to the fact that his departure was going to be dangerous for those that he was leaving behind. Gaps in leadership provide an opportunity for the Enemy to bring disunity and misdirection into the church. Since Paul held nothing back in his discipleship, he had capable leaders ready to protect the flock and continue the work. He reminded these leaders of their appointed responsibility to guard themselves and the people against the dangers inside and outside the church.

Unfortunately, many pastors have too much love for their position. They are unwilling to share their pulpit and their platform. This selfishness has no place in the biblical model of discipleship which calls on pastors to essentially work themselves out of a job. We must whole-heartedly disciple leaders capable of teaching and guiding our church community. The threats facing our churches are too great to face alone. We must train fellow watchmen to care for our communities. These leaders will be able to not only weather a transition in the pulpit, but they will also be equipped to move into their own ministry opportunities as God leads them.

He entrusted the church to God.

And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Paul knows the church’s growth, any results from his words or his care, were not because of him. God is the only one who can change hearts, build his church, and bring his people home.

Pastors, we have no ownership of our people. We bear a responsibility to the church, but God purchased it by his own blood. We must trust that he will care for believers and that he will complete the work that he started.

Transitions in ministry are never going to be easy. When Paul left the Ephesians “there were many tears shed by everyone” (30:37). Knowing that goodbyes are inevitable, we have a responsibility to minister even more diligently today.

Do the next thing

(This is a repost from last summer)

Sometimes it’s crazy hard to know if we are making the right decisions in ministry. We feel a world of possibilities, but we also fear missing God’s “call” or “perfect will.” Why do we doubt that the God who bent history towards our salvation, made our dry bones come alive, and placed his spirit within us is going to let us ruin everything? Yes, the Christian life requires daily obedience to God’s way of life, loyalty to our heavenly Father, and care for others. But we also have to make decisions. If these former things are in line – if our footing is solid – why should we doubt the next step?

This poem is a quiet reminder of genuine ministry. I can picture the faithful pastor in this poem – who is fittingly anonymous. He spends one day after another studying the word, delivering his message, and caring for his people. Most often it was a thankless task, but now, standing before his Saviour and seeing his God, it was infinitely worth it.

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Thrust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

(Unknown Author)

When I Don’t Feel Like Serving

Matthew 14:13–14 (HCSB)

13 When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot from the towns. 14 As He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd, felt compassion for them, and healed their sick.

I’m an introvert that loves people. And that often makes working in Christian ministry hard. Minor inconveniences can throw off my emotional cadence, leaving me ready to retreat to quiet and solitude.

Jesus takes me to school here in Matthew 14. He hears about the gruesome execution of John – his relative and partner in ministry – at the hands of Herod, and he just wants to get away to be alone to reflect and pray. What a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He shows us a very relatable response to grief and loss with his need for solitude and time alone with God.

But he’s given little time to himself. His ministry follows him everywhere. As soon as he steps off the boat – there they are. The relatable equivalent would be escaping the office only to run into a crowd of church members at Starbucks. And yet Jesus doesn’t put the boat in reverse when he sees needy people waiting for him. He feels compassion for them and heals their sick. (1) He doesn’t fake his care, but instead musters the proper, righteous emotions for the situation. (2) He acts in these peoples’ lives. He shows that he cares, regardless of their motivations.

Brother Pastors, let’s not hide from the mess in front of us. Let’s enter into that mess with Christ-like emotions and care.