Selfless Living, 27 January 2019

Selfless Living
Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
Romans 14

Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Big Idea: The Holy Spirit will lead us to live for God and others rather than judging, condemning, and living selfishly.

I have four prayers for First Alliance Church. I announced them the moment we arrived more than three years ago and I continue to pray for them.

I pray for
passion…for Jesus, the lost, one another, the widows, strangers, orphans, and poor. I can’t make you passionate, but I can pray the Holy Spirit awakens you.

I pray for
direction. This is not my church. This is not your church. This is God’s church. Jesus is our Senior Pastor. I want nothing more than to listen to and obey Jesus.

I pray for
protection. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill, destroy, and lie. God is greater.

I pray for
unity. This one is related to protection because the enemy loves to bring division. Unity is fragile. Without grace, love, and truth, things can go south in a hurry.

One thing I love about praying for unity is it’s Jesus’ prayer. In fact, the only prayer I know that Jesus prays specifically for us is found in John chapter 17.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Jesus prayed that we would be one. This is why I pray for unity…not only within First Alliance Church but throughout our city. This is why we join other churches for worship—to answer Jesus’ prayer. This is why I pray with other pastors at MERGE once a month. This is why we have Home Missions partners to love our community together. This is why we seek to bless other Christians, be they counselor Jane Ginter, the Monroe Vineyard Church who is opening a coffee shop, the Toledo Vineyard Church who needed a place for a small office, our Faith Missions workers, or virtually anything we do with our Christian & Missionary Alliance family. It’s about unity…but not uniformity.

I know this will come as a shock to some of you, but God made each of us different. You are uniquely created by Almighty God with value, dignity, and worth. There is no one like you on the planet. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday, but for now I want you to think how different you are from the person sitting next to you. Maybe you look different. Maybe you think different. Maybe you smell different! We are all different, and if you’ve ever spent more than five minutes with another human being you understand why unity is so fragile, why Jesus prayed for us, and why todays passage from Romans chapter 14 is vitally important to us all.

Who’s the most selfish person you’ve ever met? Perhaps your mind reached back to that sibling or childhood friend who wouldn’t share their toys with you. Maybe it’s a co-worker or neighbor. Could it be the person in the mirror?

If we’re honest, we’re all selfish. Our natural response to most any situation is what is best for us. If our own humanity didn’t cause enough selfishness, we’re bombarded by messages every day telling us it’s all about us. Satisfy your needs, your thirst, your desires, your pleasures. You deserve it.

This might all be ok if you were the only person on the planet, but any group of two or more—much less hundreds like First Alliance Church—requires looking beyond our own preferences and conclusions.

We’ve been looking at the book of Romans during the beginning of this year. With our without new year’s resolutions, we can let time fly by or be intentional about growth, about transformation, about walking in the Spirit. Every moment is an opportunity to follow the flesh and the world or be filled with the Holy Spirit, living as God’s children and pursuing His Kingdom.

Jesus taught us to pray, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is advancing. We see brilliant moments when heaven kisses earth—the birth of a child, a prisoner being visited, the sick being healed, the hungry being fed, the lost becoming found, generosity multiplying, artists creating, …

Of course, we live in a fallen world where the kingdom of this world is also present. The tension is real between good and evil, god and satan, this world and the next.

We’ve repeatedly said growth involves suffering. Transformation involves trials. Surrender involves sacrifice. But it’s worth it! Jesus is worth it! Being filled with the Holy Spirit, used by Almighty God is worth it!

Perhaps nowhere is the battle between the kingdoms of God and satan more evident than in relationships. I’ve seen people deeply pious, religious, and committed to God, yet they miss the second part of Jesus’ command: loving their neighbor as themselves.

Romans chapter fourteen begins…

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. (Romans 14:1-3)

Until recently, Paul’s specific message was deeply contextual. After all, whoever cared about another person’s diet? These days it’s almost impossible to prepare a meal for someone without asking if they’re vegetarian, vegan, keto, dairy-free, kosher, nut-allergic, …

Paul is most likely referring to the controversy surrounding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols or even pork. We might call it a gray matter, something which is “disputable.” Someone once said there are close-handed (clear) and open-handed (disputable) issues. For example, Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead would be two close-handed issues. We don’t debate them. They are crystal-clear from the scriptures. Murder, adultery, drunkenness, lying, stealing, envying people who live in Hawaii on a cold day like today…!!! These are close-handed, clear issues. There’s no debate.

But there are open-handed issues which are not essential. They don’t define heresy. They are disputable matters and they must be considered with humility and prayer. Of course, what is close-handed and open-handed can be a disputable matter! Here are some examples of what many would consider open-handed, disputable matters:

Can a Christian dance? Should a Christian dance? What about square dancing?

Can a Christian go to the movies? Should a Christian go to the movies? What about an R-rated movie? What about
The Passion of the Christ which was rated R?

Can a Christian smoke? What about vaping?

Can a Christian drink a glass of wine? What about a beer?

Can a Christian purchase Christmas gifts with a credit card that is nearly maxed out?

Can a Christian work for pay on Sunday? Besides me! What about attending a soccer game on the Sabbath? What about playing in a soccer game on Sunday?

Can a Christian drive a nice car? Wear expensive jewelry? Own a vacation home?

This chapter of Romans is encouraging me because I’ve seen people argue and leave churches and break off relationships and judge one another over the silliest things. Again, unity is fragile. Our enemy laughs when he sees us condemn one another over peripheral issues. My boyhood pastor used to say, “There are some things the Bible is silent about and we should be, too.”

Donald Cole was a missionary, pastor and commentator on Moody Radio In his youth, Pastor Cole was raised in a church where going to a movie theater was considered sinful. However, his family participated in Halloween trick-or-treating.

As an adult, when Pastor Cole travelled he would often stay at the house of a friend or colleague. Once he was staying with a Christian family on Halloween. His host conveyed their concerns about the evils of celebrating Halloween and the importance of shielding their children from the spiritual dangers associated with Halloween.

“So what alternative plans do you have?” inquired Pastor Cole. The parents enthusiastically replied, “We take the kids to the movies!”

There are disputable matters…and often they are based in preferences, traditions, and culture. There’s nothing wrong with having opinions, but if something’s not clear in the Bible, we must be very careful about how we express those opinions.

We need unity. Not uniformity, but unity. We must always focus on the essentials of our faith…and our own conduct. Love the sinner, hate your own sin!

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

What right do you have to judge someone over a disputable matter? God will judge each of us as individuals. When you point the finger, there are three pointing back at you.

We need to judge our own sins, not those of others.

Paul continues,

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Paul moves from diet to the sabbath. The day of the week is not what’s important, but rather that we take a sabbath, that we rest, that we trust God. My sabbath is usually on Saturday. Yours might be Sunday. Paul’s saying don’t be legalistic. And don’t judge! You’re not God!

Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:6)

It's not what’s in the stomach but what’s in the heart that really matters.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:7-9)

We can’t live apart from Jesus. If you’re in a relationship with Jesus, if you’re praying, seeking to honor God, studying the truths of the Bible, and looking out for the best interest of others, there’s freedom. There’s never freedom to sin, but there is freedom to live. And while it may be ok for you to do something, be sensitive to those around you.

Perhaps the most obvious example is drinking alcohol. If you can drink a glass of wine in good conscience before God and you know your brother or sister is an alcoholic, it’s not ok to drink with them. We must be sensitive and not cause others to stumble.

If you’re not sure if something is right or not, it may indicate it’s not ok. If you have to think of ways to defend yourself, maybe you should avoid it in the first place. It’s really not enough to think WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? Instead, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit, surrender our will and desires to the LORD, and live in ways that undoubtedly bring Him honor and glory. Just because another Christian does something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok for you to do.

Does it honor God? Worship is more than singing songs. It’s more than an hour on Sunday. It is a 24/7 lifestyle. Whatever we do can be an act of worship if we live for the Lord. Your work can be worship. Your hobbies can be worship. Your rest can be worship. If you’re married, your sex life can be worship. Everything we do—if done for the Lord—can be worship.

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
It is written:

“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (Romans 14:10-12)

[click here for more on God's judgment seat]

Why do we judge? I think it’s usually insecurity, a form of pride. If I condemn you, I’m apt to feel better about myself. When I put you down, I feel lifted up, even though I’m actually the one in sin. If your real motivation is to help someone grow in godliness, I doubt judging will ever produce that result. Have you ever changed your behavior because someone was condemning you?

Dallas Willard noted, "
Condemnation always involves some degree of self-righteousness and of distancing ourselves from the one we are condemning. And self-righteousness always involves an element of comparison and of condemnation…It is extremely rare that anyone who is condemned will respond by changing in the desired way."

This does not mean we shouldn’t care about the dangerous behavior of others. There is a time and place to humbly admonish one another, but never for the purpose of looking down upon a brother or sister, and not over disputable matters. May it never be! Instead, we need to encourage one another, help one another, lovingly challenge one another to follow Jesus rather than the world.

Someday you will stand before God and give an account of…you. Not me. Not your neighbor. Not even your spouse or kids if you have them. Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like Jesus? You may recall he said,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Obviously the early Christians were judging one another. Some things never change!

We need to judge our own sins, not those of others.

We are to be sensitive to our weaker spiritual siblings. We are to help others flourish (Thomas George). They are image-bearers of Almighty God. We never know the darkness and chaos of someone else’s life (let’s not add to it!).

Paul spends the rest of the chapter reiterating the main point: don’t judge, yet be sensitive to others. Don’t cause them to stumble.

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. (Romans 14:21)

Perhaps the best way to summarize, then is to go to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Yeah, that convicts me, too…every time I read it!

So What?

I struggle with this.
I judge people for being too legalistic.
I judge people for being too liberal.

I’m a very selfish person, and that never leads to unity. It never leads to love.

Earlier this month,
Lifeway released the results of a survey that analyzed why young people leave the church. If you look around the room, I’m younger than most of you…and I’m a grandpa! They say the church is always one generation away from extinction and I’m deeply committed to helping the next generations encounter Jesus Christ. With all due respect to you senior saints, hopefully you know Jesus by now. But your kids and grandkids and great grandkids are lost with Christ, battling depression, anxiety, addiction, and loneliness. So why do they leave the church?

1. Moving to college and no longer attending
2. Church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical
3. No longer feeling connected to people in their church
4. Disagreeing with the church’s stance on political or social issues

Take a look at number two. Take look at number four.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

In the words of Billy Graham,

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

Credits: I’m grateful for the research and assistance of Doug Oliver.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Transformed Living, 13 January 2019

Transformed Living
Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
Romans 12:1-8

Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Big Idea: We can know and do God’s will when we are transformed by the Holy Spirit from worldly to godly living.

One of the most common questions I get asked as a pastor is, "How can I know God's will? Do you want to know God's will? Do you really want to know God's will?

Walking in the Spirit and today we’re in chapter 12, another passage packed with inspiration and information for the purpose of transformation: transformed living.

One thing I’ve noticed about humans is most don’t like change. It’s easy to get comfortable, in a rhythm. The problem is, if we aren’t changing to become like Jesus, we’re stuck—at best—and likely losing our faith, backsliding, drifting.

In Romans 11, Paul talks about how we have all been disobedient to God, yet He has extended His mercy to all followers of Jesus.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

One of the most common questions asked by Christians is, “How can I know God’s will?” We know Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” but what does that really mean? The answer is found in these two verses. We must be transformed. We must…change.

I love you all deeply, but none of you has yet achieved perfection. We are all in need of what is called sanctification, the process of being set apart, consecrated, made holy. There are actually two aspects to sanctification for the Christian.

First, there’s positional or internal sanctification. All believers are sanctified or set apart unto God when they receive Jesus as Savior and LORD. In another book, Paul, the writer of Romans, said,

“…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justifed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Tragically, this is where so many Christians stop. You’ve heard me call them vampire Christians—they just want Jesus for his blood. He’s their Savior but not LORD. They
think they’ve been given a Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card because they prayed a prayer and do religious things, but they’re nothing more than modern-day Pharisees. They’re not walking in the Spirit.

The second type of sanctification is progressive or eternal. This is the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion. This is what Paul is describing in Romans 12:1-2.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Sacrifices are rather uncommon today, but at the time of this writing, the slaughter of animals was a part of life for many, killed and placed upon an altar. The problem with living sacrifices is they can wiggle off the altar!

This is such a challenging text because Paul is basically saying to surrender our bodies…and our minds. See, we often make the mistake of thinking Christianity just about our soul, but we are multi-dimensional creatures…and God wants all of us.

Do you want God? Do you really want God?

Let’s face it, in the next life it will be easy to follow God. Satan will be removed, temptation will be a thing of the past, we’ll be forever in God’s presence…but we’re in this world now. We’re expected to live as citizens of heaven while being in Toledo, Ohio!
What does Paul mean when he speaks of the pattern of this world? One of Jesus’ best friends, John, described it this way:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

Let me break this down a bit.

The lust of the flesh refers to our comfort, prosperity, sexual activity, eating, etc.

The lust of the eyes includes greed, coveting, jealousy, envy, etc.

The pride of life
involves pride, the quest for fame and power, desiring a sense of importance, or what we call “the American Dream.

This is what it means to follow the pattern of this world. This is why I meet so many Christians in this country that are different than their non-Christian neighbors. Most of us are pursuing the American Dream instead of God’s dream, God’s will.

Most of us are too busy to pray.
We’re too comfortable to fast.
We’re too greedy to give generously.
We’re too distracted to study the Bible.
We’re too prideful to serve.

If you want a wake-up call, here’s the very next verse from John:

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

So how do we begin to do God’s will? It begins with renewing the mind. All of our actions begin in our head. Here are two simple steps:

Fill your mind with God’s truth. Study the Bible.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

Focus your mind on good things.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

This can be really difficult in a culture of cable news, Facebook posts, and online porn.
Paul continues to describe what it means to renew our minds:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3)

I think pride is the root of most, if not all, sins. It manifests itself through both arrogance and insecurity. It got satan kicked out of heaven. It’s what drives us to seize power and control. It seeks comfort and safety. Pride may be my greatest sin throughout my life.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)

I’ve heard people say they love Jesus but not the Church. That’s like saying you love Christ but hate his Wife! The Church is imperfect, yes, but it is the Body of Christ. A Christian without a church is like a football player without a team. We need others!

I need you. You need me. We belong together. We need to love and serve one another, not only for the sake of the members of the church, but also for our mission field: Toledo and beyond.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)

This is not a comprehensive list of spiritual gifts, but one of several in the Bible. The Alliance affirms all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in scripture. In fact, one of our seven core values states

Without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can accomplish nothing. - 1 Cor. 2:4-5

A quick note about prophesy, it is not necessarily predicting the future, but rather forth-telling or revealing God’s truth. Perhaps you’ve heard God speak to you about someone or something and didn’t know what to do about it. We’re hosting a three-week seminar on Wednesday nights beginning February 27 to discuss the spiritual gift of prophecy, what it is, how to use it if you have it, and how to avoid misusing it as so many have done.

I want you to see a living example of what happens when a family is filled with the Spirit, surrendered to God, using their gifts, and
being the Church.


Did you notice spiritual gifts in use? At least five from Romans 12 are clear:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)

serving (the needs of the mother and daughters)
- teaching (discipling the mother and children)
- encouraging (the four new daughters through their myriad of problems)
- giving (of their time, home and funds)
- showing mercy (to the mother who was incarcerated)

So What?

Do you want God? Do you really want God?

Transformed living is possible. It begins with renewing our minds and surrendering our bodies. Here are a few notes about the process of transformational sanctification:

1. Growth takes time.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

Transformation is a lifelong journey. It’s like a slow dance between the Spirit and us as the Holy Spirit guides and we respond. Don’t ever stop growing!

2. We must take obedient action by taking off our old self and putting on a new self.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

3. We must remain submitted to God to experience lasting transformation.

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

4. We must remain humble. Christians often become prideful about how much they have been sanctified or transformed. How much you have been transformed is not so much the issue – rather the direction in which you are currently changing is much more important. 

…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5b-8)

5. Growth will likely lead to both troubles and a more abundant life.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:30)

Do you want God? Do you really want God? If so, as we sing this closing song, I want to invite you to the altar. The new year is still getting started. Today is the perfect day to publicly declare your desire for more of God, to surrender, to let go and let God, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Credits: I’m grateful for the research and assistance of Doug Oliver.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Living in the Spirit, 6 January 2019

Living in the Spirit
Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
Romans 8

Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Big Idea: We are free to live under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit as we become like Jesus.

Happy New Year!

We’re returning to the book of Romans, a favorite of so many in our church family. We could easily spend a year in this book, but instead we’re taking specific chapters, getting an overview of timeless truths from this important letter written to some of the first Christians in Rome.

One common theme we will see is this idea of walking in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve made new year’s resolutions…or didn’t out of fear of failure. If we’re honest, we probably all have areas in our lives in which we want to see growth. Well, if it involves weight, perhaps growth is the last thing we want! But seriously, where would you like to be a year from now? I’ve done a lot of reflection upon 2018 and would not be satisfied if 365 days from now I was the same person.

I want to grow! My ultimate goal is to become like Jesus. That’s what “Christian” means…little Christ. As I mentioned last Sunday, I will not become more like Jesus by trying harder. That’s a terrible myth. Instead, I need to surrender, confess my sins, and welcome the Holy Spirit into my life. The late Bill Bright used to talk about spiritually breathing—exhaling by confession and inhaling by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not a force. The Holy Spirit is not a ghost. The Holy Spirit is a Person, one Member of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. One God in three Persons.

We are all engaged in a real war between God and satan, good and evil. Make no mistake, the enemy is real. He wants to steal, kill, destroy, and lie, tempting you to make a mess of your life. On the other hand, our Heavenly Father has a much better vision for your life, one filled with love, peace, joy, and abundant life. Jesus is our example. The Holy Spirit provides the gifts, the fruit, the power to become like Jesus when we die—to our flesh, our sins, our pride—and let the Holy Spirit live in and through us.

In the seventh chapter of Romans, Paul describes the battle so eloquently:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25a)

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:25b)

The struggle is real. But there’s hope. There’s power. There’s freedom!

After admitting the war between God’s law and the law of sin, Paul continues in Romans chapter eight, perhaps the most inspirational highlight of the book:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was po
werless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

It is fitting that we are reading this on communion Sunday. Some churches remember the Eucharist or the LORD’s table each week, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But on the first Sunday of the month we are reminded of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, demonstrating his love for us, freeing us from the law of sin and death. His death brings us life…abundant life and eternal life. And there’s no condemnation! Only grace! Hallelujah! Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, repentant followers of Jesus who have turned from their sin and followed Jesus can experience forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, salvation, and joy! The law can’t claim you, condemn you, or control you because of Jesus. That’s wonderful! It’s amazing! That’s grace!

You’ll quickly see a tension between what might be called positional and practical reality. Followers of Jesus are forgiven, but we still sin. We are free from the law of sin and death, but we are still tempted to sin…and often succumb to those temptations.

We find ourselves, yet again, in the in-between. Even when we make progress in our spiritual journey, there remains a distance between our lives and the perfection of Jesus. Like a child whose muscles are developing and body is growing, we are not what we were, but not what we will become someday. Such is life!

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)

Every sin begins in the mind. Every act of kindness begins in the mind. Where is your mind? What influences it? We are bombarded by fake news, violence, fear, perversion, profanity, and evil every day, whether it’s from a screen in our pockets or a giant billboard on the expressway, cable news or Netflix.

At the risk of sounding old-school, we must get our minds on God. True believers read the Bible. They study it. They put it into practice. The Bible is our authority, our truth, yet so many of us don’t fill our minds with it. This isn’t a pastor thing, it’s a Christian thing.

As we begin this new year, let me remind you of some great resources we have made available to you.

Mission 119. This daily devotional offers a passage of scripture, a twelve-minute audio by Alliance pastor John Soper, and downloadable resources for further study. And it’s totally free! Year 2 began last week, but even if you’ve never accessed it, you can get started today. You can easily catch up on the five days you missed last week since it’s a Monday through Friday format. In three weekends, you’ll be right on track! I’ve been thrilled at the positive feedback on it. I usually read the passage of the day while I’m still in bed…and listen to the audio during my commute. If you struggle with reading, you can even listen to the scripture passage each day.

Right Now Media. They sometimes call this Christian Netflix. It’s not a vast library of movies, but it is packed with Bible studies for individuals and groups, great content for children, leadership resources, …and it’s all available for free on most any screen in your pocket or home. If you’d like an invitation, note it on the Connection Card.

D6. Parents, grandparents, and guardians, last year we began offering take-home resources and weekly e-mails to equip you to train the next generation in the ways of the LORD. Discipleship cannot adequately occur through one hour a week. I have never seen a tool like D6 to help you and your family know and follow God. Some sermons, small groups, and Sunday School classes are thematically synced, too, to help our entire church family grow together, regardless of age, focused on the same scriptures.

4. Speaking of
groups, we have a growing number of small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday School classes that meet on Sundays and throughout the week, here on our church campus and in homes and public spaces. A complete list can be found out our Information Center in the lobby as well as at the bottom of the weekly FAC Focus e-newsletter. If you don’t get that in your inbox each Wednesday, please fill out a Connection Card and you’ll receive it…spam-free!

Home Missions partners are local ministries doing great work in and around Toledo. They are always accepting prayers, donations, and volunteers. Our next Home Missions Sunday is in two weeks, January 20. Following Jesus is so much more than just agreeing with a mission statement or having Bible knowledge. The true measure of our spiritual maturity is love…how well we love God and how well we love others, even our enemies. Serving through FAC and its home missions partners is a great way to put your faith into action.

But it all begins with our minds. Will you live for yourself in 2019 or God and others?

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

That’s a fantastic promise! Christ was raised from the dead and after we die, our bodies will be resurrected like his! In the meantime, the Spirit of God lives in us! That’s just incredible! This is what it means to be controlled by the Spirit. We die to our selfish desires and follow Jesus.

If I have one desire for 2019, it’s that I would decrease and Jesus would increase. I pray that 52 weeks from now, you would see more Jesus and less Kirk. It will only happen if I
live under the control of the Spirit.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13)

This is an awkward in-between time. We’re citizens of heaven, yet we’re living in a sinful culture, influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here we’re told to put our flesh to death. This doesn’t mean the body is evil and must be destroyed, but rather it is prone to sin.

I’m proud to be a USAmerican, but does my life look more like Jesus or my non-Christian neighbor? If I’m living according to the flesh, my culture and comfort will take precedence over Jesus’ call to surrender, sacrifice, give, love, forgive, and extend grace. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to help dead people experience life, but first we must die to our will, our desires, our agenda, our flesh.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

We are to live as children of God. Are you a child of God? How do you know?

Some of us have been told the lie that if you just pray a magic prayer, you’re done. You’re in. Any such prayer or “decision” is just the beginning. Children of God are led by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit. They are living in the Spirit. They are walking in the Spirit. They have the Holy Spirit…and the Spirit has them! That means we daily die to ourselves. Their body becomes the very temple of the Spirit. If you think that sounds uncomfortable, it surely is! Never are we promised endless rainbows and lollipops! Paul tells us we will share in the sufferings of Jesus. That’s the pathway to glory.

The vast majority of us have never endured the sufferings of Jesus. If someone wished you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Mary Christmas,” that’s doesn’t count! Paul knew suffering, the early church knew suffering, and today millions of our brothers and sisters in other nations are experiencing torture, imprisonment, and martyrdom because they refuse to follow Jesus.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

Do you see Paul’s perspective? He’s not in denial about his present circumstances, but he doesn’t whine and complain. He knows freedom is coming. Life is coming. Liberation is coming. Even creation knows it. Someday suffering and death and pain will cease.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

I’m so impatient. I want things now. I want Jesus to return, satan to be defeated, and a new resurrection body! Regardless of your present circumstances, hope is real. God always keeps His promises. It will be worth the wait!

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

I love this passage. Have you ever tried to pray and you didn’t know what to say? I’ve had that happen many times, and I usually pray, “Holy Spirit, groan on my behalf; intercede for me; may God’s will be done.”

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is tongues. There are two different types of tongues: known languages and heavenly language. Some Christians are given the supernatural ability to speak human languages they’ve never learned, usually for the purpose of evangelism. This occurred in Acts 2:6. The heavenly language tongue is a spiritual gift which requires someone with the spiritual gift of interpretation to understand, though some speak it privately without an interpreter.

I have asked the Holy Spirit to give me the gift of tongues, but I have never received the gift. The Spirit has given me other gifts and I’m content with them since nobody has all of the spiritual gifts. I mention this controversial gift fully embraced by the Christian & Missionary Alliance because some people when they pray are unable to use known languages to express their heart to God, yet the find themselves speaking words they don’t understand. This might be similar to the groanings the Holy Spirit prays. Note it’s all in accordance with God’s will.

We must live through God’s strength.

Now we come to one of the most famous and misused verses in the Bible.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Take some time and unpack those rich verses. Remember, this is in the context of suffering. Nothing surprises God…and the suffering of His children is never in vain. There’s a rich chunk of theology here, that those that walk in the Spirit are called, justified, and will someday be glorified. We will receive a reward for our devotion to God…eternity with Him.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Romans 8:31-35)

I’d love to preach an entire sermon on this paragraph! If God is for us, who can be against us? The Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Our High Priest, Jesus, is also interceding for us. Nothing can separate God’s children from the love of Christ. We can live confidently in God’s never-ending love. If God is for us, how can we worry? How can we be fille
d with fear?

As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

If we walk in the Spirit, we can live victorious, free from sin, defeat, death, discouragement, condemnation, and fear. Nothing can separate God’s children from the love of God. Hallelujah! If God is for us, who can be against us,

I want to you think about your relationship with God. Who’s the pilot? Are you frustrated from disappointment and failure, trying to be in control? Live under the control of the Holy Spirit. Do you feel distant from God or find yourself trying to fit in with the world? Live as a child of God. Are you weak and tired? Live through God’s strength? Are you insecure or feel unloved? Claim the promises of Romans 8 and know that you can
live confidently in God’s never-ending love.

That love was not just a mushy Hallmark card, but demonstrated with blood, sweat and tears. Jesus died to make everything in this chapter possible. He endured suffering knowing glory would follow, and the same is true for us. Your story’s not over. I want to encourage you in this new ye
ar to press into Jesus, surrender control of your life to the Holy Spirit, and seek first the Kingdom of God.

Credits: outline from D6.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Freed from Sin, 28 October 2018

Freed from Sin
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundations
Romans 6

Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: We are no longer slaves to sin, but rather servants of the Most High God.

We live in a very divisive society. Have you noticed? Dan Rogers likes to say everything seems to be binary. You are either a Republican and hate Democrats or you’re a Democrats and hate Republicans. The same can be said for Wolverines and Buckeyes or any number of categories. Where’s the nuance?

The older I get, I see less black and white and more gray. There is a middle. Compromise is often a possibility. For that matter, my dad taught me to always root for the Big Ten so this Wolverine boy even cheers for that school to our south…except the Saturday after Thanksgiving, of course!

Life can be very gray—and I don’t mean scarlet and gray—but there are some realities which are mutually exclusive and either/or. Jesus famously said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24a, Luke 16:13a)

While he was speaking of God and money, a similar statement can be made of God and sin. You can serve God or sin. God or the world. God or self. We must choose. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment.

Today we continue our series
Faith’s Foundations, a run through Romans. We’re looking at the sixth chapter of this incredible book written by Paul to some of the first Christians in Rome. To quote Joshua 24:15, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”

Last week we looked at the binary choice we have to make for our sins—eternal punishment or accepting the grace of Jesus. He died for us. Our only hope is not in our pathetic good works, but in the saving faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Praise God for His amazing grace, unmerited favor, gift of salvation. Hallelujah!

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

Paul faced two extremes which are still rampant today, legalism and license. Some were preaching the importance of good works as if they could ever save us from eternal separation from a holy and perfect God. Others were saying since we have grace, let’s just do what we want because Jesus paid the price for all of our sins. Rather than legalism or license, we are to experience liberty.

If we set aside Judgment Day and eternity for a moment, sin is never beneficial. Think about your most troublesome sin, your most annoying temptation. Maybe it’s worry or gossip. It could be porn or unbridled anger. Perhaps it’s envy or workaholism. Whatever it is, how has it brought peace, joy, and satisfaction to your life? Exactly! It hasn’t! Sin only brings temporary pleasure. Like eating chocolate-covered poop, what follows is never worth it! Sin leads to death—death of relationships, finances, and sometimes even physical death. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He tempts, then accuses. He never plays fair!

Last Sunday we celebrated the joy of experience grace—forgiveness, peace, reconciliation with our Creator, hope…

Our response to God and the gift of the cross and empty tomb should never be the pursuit of sin, but rather the pursuit of God. You don’t say thank you for a gift by abusing it. You take care of it. You express your gratitude. You respond in love and kindness.

Jesus died for our sins. He set an example for us to follow—dying to sin. This doesn’t mean we accept Jesus and never sin. The battle continues, but our allegiance is no longer to satan and sin, but to our Savior and salvation. We have died to sin.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

The book of Ephesians is filled with a wonderful phrase—in Christ. It means that we are united with Christ. Everything that can be said about Jesus can be said about us. Water baptism brilliantly shows physically the spiritual reality of discipleship—dying to our self and sins and old nature in the water grave and emerging out of the water as new creations, resurrected and following Jesus Christ with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7)

Baptism is a symbol of dying and rising, but there’s another layer of meaning. For Paul, baptism is an exodus image, a Passover image. Coming through the waters is an image of slaves getting freed.

Do you want to be a slave to sin? That’s how most people live, addicted to sin. It may or may not be alcohol or drugs, but any sin can control us, rule us, enslave us.

But Jesus has conquered sin. Jesus has conquered death. Last week we looked at the doctrine of justification by faith which is a part of the powerful gospel through which we are transformed into renewed human beings. The Messiah died and rose as a representative of his people, creating a new reality for the rescued, forgiven, and freed who follow him.

I know it feels as though we are still dragged down by sin, but Paul says remember who you are in the Messiah. We already stand on resurrected ground. We are set free from sin. We are not free
to sin! We are to know this. We are to fill our minds with this truth.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6:8-10)

This is such great news! Jesus has conquered death. Once for all. He died to sin. If we die with him, we will also live with him…for the glory of God. We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

A.W. Tozer, in writing about “The Deeper Life,” said,

To enter upon such a life, seekers must be ready to accept without question the New Testament as the one final authority on spiritual matters. They must be willing to make Christ the one supreme Lord and ruler in their lives. They must surrender their whole being to the destructive power of the cross, to die not only to their sins but to their righteousness as well as to everything in which they formerly prided themselves.
If this should seem like a heavy sacrifice for anyone to make, let it be remembered that Christ is Lord and can make any demands upon us that He chooses, even to the point of requiring that we deny ourselves and bear the cross daily. The mighty anointing of the Holy Spirit that follows will restore to the soul infinitely more than has been taken away. It is a hard way, but a glorious one. Those who have known the sweetness of it will never complain about what they have lost. They will be too well pleased with what they have gained.

That’s radical! But doesn’t it make sense? We can serve sin or God? But not both.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

Some translations say reckon yourselves dead to sin but alive to God. This is an accounting term. We must calculate ourselves, add it up. The Messiah has died and been raised. We’re in Christ so therefore we have died in him and are alive to God. This is our status. Reckon it. Count it. Deal with it!

Paul doesn’t say sin less. He does say manage your sin or try to avoid it. He says count yourselves dead to sin. But you can’t just eliminate something from your life. You must replace it with something else.

I’m told many alcoholics turn to smoking or even gum when they are trying to rid themselves of the bottle. If you want to stop eating donuts, keep some carrots handy. Die to sin…and come alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:12-13)

We are to offer no part of ourselves to sin. This means our heart, soul, mind, and strength; our eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, thoughts, attitudes. God wants it all.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

Jesus says all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

I believe the problem in our world is not “those people” who don’t know Christ. It’s those of us who call ourselves Christians and yet act nothing like Jesus. We may look religious on Sunday morning, but return to our sin on Monday. We give our leftovers in the offering plate if there’s anything left over after our binge shopping on Amazon.

Let me put it this way: my wife wants me to be faithful to her. 24/7/365. Is that unreasonable? What if I told her I would be devoted to her on Sundays but acted differently during the week?

Perhaps Jesus’ half-brother, James, says it best.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:9-12)

What will it be? Sin or grace?

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

Paul wants us to know the truth so the truth can set us free.

He wants us to have orthodoxy—right thinking—so we can engage in orthopraxy, right living.

We are dead to sin and alive to God.
We are to refuse sin’s reign in our lives.
We are to offer ourselves to God…completely. 100%

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18)

We can be slaves to sin or righteousness. It’s one or the other.

Obviously the word “slavery” has nothing but negative connotations in our culture. Tragically, there are more slaves on our planet today than at any time in history. A slave is subject to their master. Sin is a terrible, destructive master.

Becoming a servant of the Most High God, on the other hand, is a blessing, a privilege, a liberating, life-giving, satisfying experience.

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:19-22)

I love the contrast—death or eternal life. What do you choose?

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This verse is often used to speak of non-Christians, but it was written to Christians.

When you serve a master, you can expect to be paid wages. Sin pays death. God pays holiness and eternal life.

The fruit of sin is shame.
The fruit of God is joy.

Death or the gift of God. What do you choose?

So What?

So much of what Paul seems to be addressing is the abuse of grace. If God forgives all of my sins, why not just eat, drink and be merry? In a word, death. Again, all sin leads to death of one kind or another. Words like holiness and righteousness have been abused to convey holier-than-thou and self-righteousness. That’s not at all what Paul’s talking about. He’s saying we need to choose—the world or God?

Later in Romans, Paul will write,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

The problem with living sacrifices, of course, is they can move! They can get off the altar! We are to surrender to God, yield, live for Him, not because He’s a control freak, but because He knows us, loves us, and is the source of all life, hope, freedom, and peace.

We are to know we have been crucified with Christ and are dead to sin.
We are to reckon this to be true in our lives.
We are to yield and surrender our bodies to be used for God’s glory.

Once again I want to give you an opportunity to respond. There’s not one of us in this room who has lived a perfect week. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Where have you failed? What part of your body have you not fully surrendered? Maybe it’s your negative tongue, lustful eyes, or gluttonous stomach. Perhaps it’s an anxious and fearful heart or envious attitudes. Your feet might be taking you to unhealthy places or your hands are holding tightly onto your agenda and will rather than trusting God with your future.

Don’t think you can do it alone. You need the Holy Spirit. You also need other people. Celebrate Recovery meets on Wednesday nights not only for addicts but anyone struggling with grief, loss, pain, or temptation. That’s all of us! We have small groups that meet throughout the week.

We no longer have to be slaves to sin, but rather we are invited to become servants of the Most High God.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Abundant Grace, 21 October 2018

Abundant Grace: Justified by Faith
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundations
Romans 5

Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: Because of God’s amazing grace, we can be justified by faith and have a right relationship with our Creator.

Clichés. We probably hear them every day. We probably say them every day. But do we understand them?

This past week Heather and I were blessed to be able to host a Japanese engineer in our home, a student at the University of Toledo’s American Language Institute. If you want to really confuse an English student, throw some clichés at them!

Cat got your tongue?
Read between the lines
He has his tail between his legs
Kiss and make up
Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed

They don’t translate well!

Today we’re continuing our series Faith’s Foundations, a run through Romans. Our text from chapter five is filled with phrases that can easily become clichés or Christianese. It’s essential we understand them…and apply them to our lives.

The Bible is filled with words which are uncommon in popular culture. Of course, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek—not English—so our Bibles contain translations of ancient languages. There are three words I want to define before we engage our text in Romans.

Grace is

- the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.
- the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.
- a virtue or excellence of divine origin

We’ve sung a lot about grace today.

Faith is

- confidence or trust in a person or thing

belief that is not based on proof
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion


- to acquit, declare righteous, declare innocent or guiltless, absolve
- the opposite of condemn.

Justification by faith means God declares the believing sinner righteous by faith because of Christ’s finished work on the cross.

It is the righteousness of Jesus plus the subtraction of sins.

It is an act, not a process.
God does it, not us.
We are not made righteous, but declared righteous.

Under the law, righteous came by behaving.
Under the gospel, righteous comes by believing.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

What’s the therefore there for? Chapter 4 talks about how Abraham was justified by faith.

The Chamula people of southern Mexico have no single word for faith in their language. Needless to say, this passage was difficult for translators. Their understanding of faith is “taking-seriously-what-God-has-0obligated-himself-to-do.” Romans 5:1 could then be paraphrased, “Therefore, since we have been justified through taking seriously what God has obligated himself to do, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s a mouthful, but what a brilliant reality!

They say the longest twelve inches is from the head to the heart, and I desperately want you to grasp how amazing God’s grace is, that God would send His precious son to die for us, for our sin, for our unrighteousness, for our junk.

Justified by faith
Peace through Christ
Access by faith into this grace

We have salvation, yes, but so much more.

By grace, we become children of God. Kids of the King! Joint heirs with Jesus!

Some translations of the Greek word for access,
prosagogein, are “brought into” or “been allowed to enter.” Through Jesus, we are ushered into the very presence of Almighty God. That’s incredible! The curtain of the temple that separated humans from God was torn from top to bottom while Jesus surrendered his life on the cross.

Karl Barth wrote,

“Into the depth of our predicament the word is spoken from on high: By grace you have been saved!  To be saved does not just mean to be a little encouraged, a little comforted, a little relieved.  It means to be pulled out like a log from a burning fire.  You have been saved!  We are not told: you may be saved sometimes, or a little bit.  No, you have been saved, totally for all times.  You?  Yes, we!  Not just any other people, more pious and better than we are, no we, each one of us.
This is so because Jesus Christ is our brother and, through his life and death, has become our Savior who has wrought our salvation.  He is the word of God for us.  And this word is: 
By grace you have been saved!"
We have peace with God! This is not merely the absence of conflict, but shalom: every kind of blessing and good.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Through Jesus, we are reconciled to our heavenly Father. We have peace with God…even in the midst of turmoil and sufferings.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

This is a remarkable sequence. I thought about spending the whole morning on these two verses, though next month our series “When Life Gets Hard” will revisit them. At first, it sounds crazy to glory in our sufferings, but Paul does not say we glory because of our sufferings. He doesn’t say rejoice because of our sufferings. He says rejoice or glory in our sufferings, explaining an important sequence.

The first question we ask in the midst of suffering is…why? I’m here to tell you it’s not meaningless. According to this text, it’s ultimately hope. Suffering produces hope? Usually hope is what we need when suffering. Let’s unpack this briefly.

Suffering produces perseverance. This might best be illustrated in exercise. Several years ago, our oldest daughter wanted to train me for the Ann Arbor Turkey Trot, a 5K race. I told her I had never ran more than a mile and thought more than 3 miles would be impossible. She insisted, saying if I worked up to it, I could eventually run 3.107 miles without walking or stopping. She was right. The suffering of those first days of training strengthened my muscles and allowed me to persevere through longer runs—or more accurately jogs! Suffering produces perseverance.

Perseverance produces character. This makes sense, right? As you develop the ability to endure through difficult circumstances, your character is strengthened. You learn to trust in God more fully. You may grow more patience and willing to surrender control. You become rooted in prayer, in dependency upon God. Perseverance produces character.

Character produces hope. As we lean into God, we realize His resources are never-ending. We recognize our efforts are nothing compared to His abilities. As we advance on our knees, praying without ceasing, our understanding of our awesome God reveals promises, increases confidences, and assures us of the reality of His presence and power. Nothing is impossible with God. His love never fails. Character produces hope.

Therefore, we can glory in our sufferings. We’re not supposed to like our sufferings—I don’t—but we can see them as growth opportunities, chances to draw closer to God, moments to live by faith, not sight. Although you might not have any idea why your life is the way that it is, someday you might look in the rear view mirror and praise God for the way this season has shaped you into the image.

Remember, as Thomas George often says, you were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. It’s not all about you! It’s not all about me! It’s all about God and His glory! We can have hope of the glory of God. The purpose of our creation will be ultimately realized. As sinners, we fall short of the glory of God, but through Christ, we can boast in and experience the hope of the glory of God.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

This is a fantastic verse! Paul has moved from faith to hope to love. The Holy Spirit is given to every believer at their new birth and his love for us continues to live in us. Faith, hope, and love.

The opposite of faith, hope and love is doubt, despair, and hatred. We’ve got enough of that in our world!

Now Paul elaborates on justification by faith and grace.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

I get so excited about this passage! Jesus didn’t die for us because we were so good, but because we were so bad. That’s grace. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. We’re not good enough. We’re not smart enough. We’re not rich enough. We’re not powerful enough. We’re not beautiful enough. We’re not educated enough. We were just pathetic sinners. We brought nothing to the table, yet God sent Jesus. Jesus died for us. That’s amazing grace!

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

We have received reconciliation through Jesus. I love that word, reconciliation. We have it with our Creator. We are invited into a relationship with Almighty God despite our sin because of Jesus.

Even in our sophisticated, 21
st century world, men, women and children around the globe are doing things to try to appease god, hoping their good works will produce karma or favor. Human efforts toward our Creator are pitiful! Picture 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps’ two year-old son challenging dad to a swim race. Imagine LeBron James’ 11 year-old son trying to go one-on-one with his dad. Ludicrous!

Now imagine those boys instead going with dad to lunch. Eating with a legend? Just dining with dad! We have been reconciled to our heavenly Dad. We don’t need to try harder or out do Him. We can’t impress Him or outlast Him. We can’t out think Him. We can’t do anything to earn His love or affection or approval. He just loves His kids!

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 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. (Romans 5:12-14)

Sin always leads to death—physical death, the death of relationships, spiritual death. Since Adam, we’ve all been sinners.

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:15-17)

God’s grace is infinitely more good than Adam’s sin was evil.

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

Are you getting the picture? Jesus reversed Adam. This does not mean everyone will be saved, unfortunately, but that salvation is available to everyone. Like any gift, the gift of God’s grace must be received. Have you received it?

The chapter concludes…

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

The law just showed how sinful are sin was, making grace even more profound.

So What?

There are two groups of people here today.

Some of you have never received the gift of God’s grace. You’ve tried to be good and failed. You’ve tried to be in control and have gotten frustrated. I’ve got great news for you: grace!

I often say one of the great differences between Christianity and any other religion I’ve ever seen is grace. Unmerited favor. It’s the greatest gift ever, offered freely for you to receive. Let go and let God. If you’ve never done that, I urge you to simply say, “Jesus, I’m a sinner. I’ve made a mess of my life. I believe you died and rose from the dead to offer salvation and forgiveness and reconciliation with my Creator. I surrender all. Be the leader and LORD of my life.”

Some of you have received the gift of God’s grace. You’ve confessed your sins, repented of your selfish ways, and surrendered to Jesus Christ. You need to worship, praise God, life your voice, offer thanksgiving to God. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)


To whom much is given, much is required. We have been showered with extravagant grace, unmerited favor from God. Now we go and extend grace to others. We forgive those who do not deserve to be forgiven. We are kind and generous to those who are not kind and generous. We bless those who curse us. We pray for our enemies. May we be a people of grace, conduits of faith, hope, and love.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

The Cure for Sin, 14 October 2018

The Cure for Sin
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundation
Romans 3:10-31

Series Overview:
Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: The only hope we have as sinners is not our works, but Jesus.

It was almost exactly one year ago that my body started doing strange things. One day I felt great, the next I had a fever. The next day I was fine. Then my temperature would go well past 100 degrees…at times around 104. What was happening?

It took days in the hospital before I was diagnosed with Malaria, an unwelcome souvenir from my time training pastors in Africa months earlier. It was such a relief to know the problem. It sounds odd to say, but I was glad I tested positive for the disease because it took the guesswork out of the situation and we are able to proceed to treatment.

I was also relieved to learn of the treatment—essentially some medicine which took effective in minutes, curing me of this debilitating illness that could’ve eventually taken my life.

Whether you know it or not, you are sick. You were born with a deadly disease. It is responsible for everything that’s wrong in our world—homelessness, addiction, divorce, violence, corruption, greed, abuse, and anything else you’d love to eliminate. The disease we all have is called sin.

Contrary to the self-proclaimed experts who have never had children, we are not born good and innocent. Nobody has to teach us to say, “No!” But what do we do about it? What is the cure for sin? I’m so glad you asked!

Romans chapter three paints an awful portrait of the human condition featuring a collection of Old Testament quotations (Psalm 14:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:1).

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; Romans 3:10
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God. Romans 3:11
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
Romans 3:12
“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”

“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
Romans 3:13
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
Romans 3:14
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; Romans 3:15
ruin and misery mark their ways, Romans 3:16
and the way of peace they do not know.”
Romans 3:17
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:18

These are not all word-for-word quotes from the Old Testament, but they convey the message quite clearly: we are all under the power of sin. We’re born with it. We practice it. It’s a deadly disease. The entire human race is lost in sin.

Are you looking for a loophole? An exception? Look again!

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is
no one who understands;
there is
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is
no one who does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

The Jews were given the Law to follow. It contained dietary restrictions, …

Paul’s Roman audience was wrestling with Jew/Gentile relationships and distinctions. Many early Christians were Jews—like Jesus! As the faith spread to graft in Gentiles, numerous questions arose such as whether or not a kosher diet was required.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

It was impossible to follow the Law perfectly. Even the most self-righteous Jew sinned (perhaps most of all because of their self-righteous pride!). Being devoted to the Law wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but legalism and judgment arose as a result. The Law revealed sin and the need for a savior.

The only cure for sin is…Jesus.

Like my Malaria meds, Jesus changes everything! Hallelujah!

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24)

The Law cannot provide salvation because nobody can keep the Law perfectly. Righteousness is found only through faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. We all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. The original Greek means “to miss the mark.” It’s like shooting an arrow that doesn’t even make it to the target.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,
through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

God is just. He always does what is morally right and fair. As much as we might want Him to bend the rules and excuse our sins, it’s impossible. Payment must be made. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was sufficient. We are all justified by the same God through the same way, faith in Jesus. We all fall short and miss the mark, and we are all invited to humbly trust in and serve Jesus, embracing the redemption accomplished on the cross.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31)

You are not a good person!
I am not a good person!
We might be better than some—we might sin less—but we are not sinless.

Two weeks ago I heard a former Muslim share her remarkable story. As she compared and contrasted Islam with Christianity, she expressed how the Qur’an says God loves the righteous…but no one is righteous…so no one is loved by God.

Islam and Christianity have a lot in common, but the differences are stark.

The Bible says God loves the righteous…but no one is righteous…so God sent Jesus!

Please don’t miss this, family. If you are a mature follower of Jesus, it’s great that you don’t sin as much, but don’t ever think for a moment that you are good. The prophet Isaiah declared,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6a)

The actual Hebrew translation means our good deeds are like soiled feminine hygiene products! That’s not too impressive!

I’m not trying to dis, depress, or discourage you, but I can’t emphasize this point enough.

God is holy. We are not.
God is righteous. We are not.
God is perfect. We are not.
God is awesome. We are not.

Even the most godly among us are so far from God’s standard it’s laughable. It’s like trying to jump up and touch the ceiling. You might be able to get a little closer than I can, but none of us can even imagine being able to reach it on our own.

But Jesus is our lift! With him, we can touch the ceiling, but no person in their right mind would take credit for touching the ceiling as they stand on a lift! This is why Paul asked,

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. (Romans 3:27a)

Family, we are commanded to do good works, but they can never save us. They are merely the expression of our gratitude, love and obedience. Our salvation is only by God’s grace. Unmerited favor. Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus in Turkey,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Once Paul has made that clear, he adds,

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

We cannot save ourselves. All of our efforts, abilities, character, wise choices, kind deeds, church attendance, Bible study and memorization, financial gifts, and acts of service combined are not even close to being adequate. But while our good deeds can never earn our salvation, our salvation will result in good deeds. Even our good works are not of ourselves, but the result of God within us, the Holy Spirit filling us. The best we can do on our own is self-righteous, hypocritical religion worth nothing more than “filthy rags.”

Put that way, even the best of us is really not all that better than the most notorious criminal in our city. You might have a four foot vertical leap and they might have a four inch vertical leap but they’re both pitiful in attempting to touch the ceiling. And in reality, our separation from perfection is more like trying to touch the moon (in which case Jesus is our rocket ship!).

So What?
Last week we talked about a variety of sins mentioned in the first chapter of Romans. I want to modify an expression I’ve heard many Christians make.

Love the sinner. Hate your own sin.

It amazes me how often I hear people criticizing others, especially Christians condemning non-Christians. Where in the Bible does it say we are to judge non-Christians? You and I have enough of our own mess to clean up! There is a time and place to admonish one another in love within the family, but expecting non-Christians to behave like Christians is ridiculous!

Pastor Tim Keller was recently interviewed on television. Quoting Francis Schaeffer, Keller said, “If you preach judgement without tears, you don’t have Jesus’ spirit.” He explained how Jesus delivered messages of judgement with compassion, and how God “doesn’t enjoy judging people.” He added, “We’re not supposed to enjoy condemning people,” adding that most parents don’t enjoy discipling their children, but many Christians enjoy condemning people.
Instead, we are privileged to share the gospel—good news—and let people know help is available. Hope is available. Jesus loves them—and you—enough to provide an alternative to eternal death. Jesus died to reconcile us to our Holy Heavenly Father. Peace, joy, meaning, purpose, forgiveness, and love are outrageously offered to us as a gift from God if we merely repent and believe, accept and receive, surrender and follow.

The longer you are a follower of Jesus, the more tempted you may be to think of yourself as a good person. Without Christ, we are all hopeless, helpless, and dead. But praise God, we are invited to follow Jesus, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and experience abundant life here and beyond the grace.

One More Thing

Somehow many people have been led to believe if they just pray a prayer, they’re given an automatic Get Out Of Hell Free card. Just believe in God and do what you want. Jesus’ half brother wrote,

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:18-19)

Jesus himself said,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

The cure for sin is God’s amazing grace through Jesus’s death and resurrection. Making Jesus both Savior and LORD requires a complete surrender, which should be our natural response to the gift of Christ.

These messages in Romans have been sobering. They’re not fun, but they’re true. Sin is real. Judgment Day is real. Are you ready?

It’s not easy but quite simple. Die.

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come to life. But they have to die first. They must surrender. They must get off the throne of their lives and let God be leader, king, master, LORD. It’s not a one-and-done thing but a daily surrender, picking up our cross each day and following Jesus.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

In closing, let me remind you of this beautiful promise:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

That’s good news! Hallelujah!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

The Curse of Sin, 7 October 2018

The Curse of Sin
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundation
Romans 1:16-32

Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: Sin has destroyed what once was paradise, and threatens us every day.

If you recall the story of creation in the opening pages of the Bible, God created a universe so vast scientists have only scratched the surface on its size and beauty. God called it good.

What happened?

In a word, sin.

My name is Kirk and today we’re beginning a new series,
Faith’s Foundations, looking at selections from the book of Romans. Rather than a deep examination of every word, this will be more of a run through Romans, capturing the big ideas. I encourage you to read a chapter or two each week, digging deeper to mine for nuggets of wisdom and application.

Many a preacher has spent years preaching through the book of Romans. While each of the 66 books of the Bible is God-breathed truth, many people have their favorites, and Romans is often on their list.

Martin Luther said, “It is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel… the absolute epitome of the gospel.”

Samuel Coleridge, English poet and literary critic, called it, “The most profound work in existence.”

Warren Wiersbe writes,

“When you study Romans, you walk into a courtroom. First, Paul called Jews and Gentiles to the stand and found both guilty before God. Then he explained God’s marvelous way of salvation—justification by faith. At this point, he answered his accusers and defended God’s salvation. “This plan of salvation will encourage people to sin!” they cry. “It is against the very law of God!” But Paul refuted them, and in so doing explained how the Christian can experience victory, liberty, and security.”

The year is AD 57. Saul, the great Jewish leader and persecutor of Christians, has converted to follow Jesus. His name is changed to Paul and he writes from Corinth in Greece to early Christians in Rome, Italy, a place he had never experienced but one he was hoping to visit on his way to Spain after delivering money to the Jerusalem church.

I must confess I wrote this sermon and felt very unsettled by it. There’s a lot of bad news, quite frankly. Our text for today is not the warm, positive, happy stuff that tickles the ears, but sometimes the truth hurts.

After further wrestling, I felt led to change the order, so if you turn to Romans chapter one, we’re going to jump ahead and then back up…not unlike a movie that time shifts. Romans 1, beginning with verse 18. Paul’s talking about sinners who have rejected God.

Rather than teaching evolution—the idea of humanity advancing through increasingly favorable characteristics, our passage today teaches devolution, starting high and sinking because of the curse of sin dating back to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. First, Paul describes the devolution of intelligence.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

God’s wrath. I told you this isn’t pretty! Paul’s saying God has revealed Himself to people yet they reject Him.

Paul’s writing about general revelation. Even people who have never touched a Bible can look around at nature and acknowledge this couldn’t have been an accident. Someone must be behind the universe. It says truth is plain and clearly seen—a paradox given the reference to God’s invisible qualities! They are also understood, ongoing, and it reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature.

We are born with some understanding of right and wrong.
We are born with the ability to choose right and wrong.
But our moral standards are always better than our behavior.

This is devolution of intelligence. Next, we see devolution from ignorance.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)

You might recall the first two of the Ten Commandments: no other gods and no idols. Those sound so simple, yet every day I want to make myself god. I want control. I might not worship statues of animals, but there are other things I’m tempted to worship, things to which I give my time, money and energy which might not glorify God. It’s easy to replace God with the worship of success, wealth, or even family. It’s tempting to devote too much time, money and energy to even good things like travel, leisure and career while subtly turning them into idols above God.

Indulgence is the next step of devolution.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)

It says “amen,” so let’s pause for a moment. Does this happen anymore? The media has had a field day with people—many so-called godly people, including pastors, who have gone out of control.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

Is homosexuality in the Bible? Here’s but one example. Do I need to help you understand what Paul is saying? I don’t write the mail, I just deliver it!

When we continually reject God, at some point He rejects us. He “gives us over” to our sinful desires, our shameful lusts. I’ve heard some people describe their behaviors and say, “I don’t feel any guilt or shame so God must be ok with it,” unaware that God has left them. There’s no conviction because there’s no Holy Spirit! That’s a scary place to be!

I must add no person is hopeless. No one is beyond God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Prodigals can always come home. Hallelujah!

But when God gives you over to your sinful desires, watch out!

Sexual sins—both heterosexual and homosexual—are frequently highlighted in these discussions, and for good reason. Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

I must add sex is a beautiful gift of God, but like any gift it has boundaries. A new car is great, but don’t drive on the left side of the road (unless you’re in England!). Medicine might be useful, but don’t down the whole bottle. Sex is wonderful…in a marriage.

But family, the list of sins goes far beyond sexual immorality.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)

Here we come to devolution through impenitence, the opposite of repentance, having no shame or regret. They not only commit sin, they virtually celebrate it.

It’s as if God just throws in the towel and says, “You’re on your own.”

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. (Romans 1:29-30)

That’s a harrowing list! Who does that remind you of? None of you, I’m sure!

There’s one phrase in there that I’ve always found fascinating: they invent ways of doing evil. That’s a whole new meaning of the word “creative!” When I first heard about partial-birth abortion this phrase came to mind. Who could imagine such a procedure on a baby just moments from birth? It’s like something from Nazi Germany. Thank goodness it was banned in 2003.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:31-32)

It’s as if they say, “Let’s have a festival, throw a parade, celebrate our sin!”

Imagine the Father’s heart.

Who is Paul describing in all of this? It could very well describe our world today, couldn’t it? In virtually all western nations, there is a significant decline in Christianity, whether you measure church attendance, baptisms, Bible reading, or whatever. Some have declared their opposition to God, but I think far more have simply drifted away from God as a true priority in their lives. This week I was listening to a podcast about a church plant—a new startup church—and the host was troubled by the reality he considered himself to be a Christian, but he hadn’t been to church in over a year. He wasn’t even sure why he stopped feeding his faith, but I bet he just got busy with work, social media, entertainment, friends, and life.

It's a slippery slope, family. One missed Sunday becomes a month becomes a year. One day without listening to God through the Bible can easily become a dusty book. Disciples of prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, celebration, worship, and giving are radical, counter-cultural, and easily lost. Temptation lurks all around, and so many people “out there” used to be “in here.” Let me be clear, the goal isn’t going to church. We
are the church! But the goal is to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples—and you simply can’t do that alone. Following Jesus is a team sport. It’s a family matter.

So what are we to do with these frightening words from Paul? What are we to do about the crazy world in which we live? Should we just all move to South Carolina, take over the government, and succeed from the Union? I actually heard someone suggest that several years ago!

No! We are to lean into God, acknowledge His holiness, repent of our sins, and be fully engaged in His mission…to seek and save the lost. We’re on a mission from God! As we noted last Sunday in stating one of the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance,

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

So let’s go back to verse sixteen of Romans chapter one.

Paul says,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

What is the gospel? We’ve examined this before.

Tragically, when many hear “gospel” they jump to personal salvation. They might say, “The gospel is I get my sins forgiven” or “I get to go to heaven when I die.” The gospel is first and foremost about Jesus, not us. We benefit from the good news of the gospel, but it is fundamentally about King Jesus the Messiah. The original readers of Romans never would’ve thought of the afterlife when Paul mentions salvation, instead bringing to mind deliverance, whether personal or national in the Roman empire.

The gospel is good news
In a word, the gospel is Jesus.
In three words, the gospel is Jesus is LORD.

One of my seminary professors, Scot McKnight, has said,

“…the word gospel was used in the world of Jews at the time of the apostles to announce something, to declare something as good news — the word evangelion always means good news. “To gospel” is to herald, to proclaim, and to declare something about something. To put this together: the gospel is to announce good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for Paul was to tell, announce, declare, and shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God.”

Good news needs to be shared, declared, shouted. We need to proclaim King Jesus in our words and deeds to our city and world.

Do you know Jesus?
Do your friends know Jesus?
Do your neighbors know Jesus?
Do your enemies know Jesus?

This is really serious, especially in a culture filled with violence, suicide, overdoses, and fatal accidents. I’m not trying to be morbid, but merely point out tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us—ourselves or those around us.

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

The righteousness of God is the theme of Romans. It may sound distant to our modern ears, but you’ll hear it often. The idea of righteousness is used over sixty times in this letter. Some scholars view righteousness as the gift of right standing given by God to those who believe. Others see it as the activity of God by which He saves His people. Suffice it to say the theme involves the act of God giving and humans receiving. As the gospel is preached and people repent and believe, transformation occurs. A new relationship is established between us and Holy God. It’s because of faith—by faith unto faith.

“The righteous will live by faith” may seem obvious and insignificant, but those in Rome would be very familiar with this phrase, a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. Life before God demands our complete allegiance to God. It means we trust Him and are given a new life and a new lifestyle.

Why does Paul make such a big deal about righteousness? It’s because the Roman world was filled with unrighteousness. Perhaps not unlike ours, the news was not good, the people were not godly, the world seemed to be headed in the wrong direction.

So What?

It’s easy to think these verses apply to “those people,” the drug dealers and prostitutes and whatever. The reality is my heart is wicked. My hands are dirty. I’m greedy. I’ve committed murder and adultery by Jesus’ definitions. The pride and arrogance that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven is in me. I’m a self-righteous recovering Pharisee. I fail to love others, instead caring about my best interests.

God’s standard is perfection. That includes what you did or didn’t do today as well as every moment of your past. I want to ask you one simple question: are you right before God? One day you and I will stand before the Almighty and have to give an account for how we lived this one life—how we cared for the poor, treated the orphan, welcomed the stranger, visited the imprisoned, spent our money, invested our time, loved our neighbor. It’s sobering to think about, but Judgment Day is coming. I don’t like to talk about it, but because I love you I must. The reality is we all far short of God’s mark of perfection. One sin or a million, big or small, it doesn’t matter. We’re all hopeless…without Jesus.

The bad news is we’re all messed up.
The good news—the great news—is Jesus loved each of us enough to die on the cross for us. He offers to pay in full our debt, our punishment for our sins. He offers to clean our slate if we repent and believe, turn and follow, seek and surrender.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

This includes heterosexual sins, homosexual sins, greed, gossip, self-righteousness, murder, abuse, addiction, lying, deceit, theft, porn, rage, drunkenness, whatever! Hallelujah!

The righteous will live by faith and we can only be righteous because of the body and blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice we remember today.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.