Saturday, September 30, 2006

God Hates Religiosity and Ritual - Romans 2:17-29
by Pastor Lee Hemen
October 1, 2006 AM

Should a person practice what they preach? Recently we heard and saw on the nightly news a past President loudly trying to defend his ability to do the job he had once been elected to do. Sounding like a petulant child he vociferously defended his record. However, there is just one problem, the history of his own office shows otherwise. Even those that served with him in the capacities required, disagreed with his statements. Little was done in eight years of his Presidency. In fact, our enemies have related that they were embolden to attack the us again because of this President’s inaction. He is learning that we are not only held accountable by the words we use, but by the actions we do. The same is true for our faith in Jesus Christ. God hates religiosity and ritual.

The Jews of Paul’s day felt that they could rely on their past history of being pious people, but their spiritual and physical record proved otherwise. They relied on the law and bragged about their past history. Paul challenges them to look closely at the spiritual facts. In the previous section we found Paul addressing his Jewish readers in a restrained manner, but here the gloves come off. He uses a tirade to get their attention. He is coming at them in full force to help wake up from their spiritual slumber of inaction. Their conduct did not match their loud professions of faith. The same can be true for us as Christians. Do we practice what we preach? Paul reminds all of us that God hates religiosity and ritual. Let us find out what that means for us today.

READ: Romans 2:17-29

We all have little things we do. They almost become rituals in our lives. Spiritually rituals can be either good or bad depending upon why and the outcome. Paul related to his readers the fact that…

I. The ritual of your life speaks louder than your words (vv. 17-24)!

1. What do you call yourself? Paul bluntly calls his to comment on themselves. He rhetorically asks, “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew… you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” Throughout the known world of Paul’s day the Jews hypocritical conduct had lead others to blaspheme the name of God. They were called of God to be His representatives to the nations around them, instead they had become a disgrace to the One they professed to worship! Strong words, but to bear the name of God is a sacred trust. They had relied on the “law and brag[ged] about [their] relationship to God.” They were to be guides to the spiritually blind and a light to a sin-darkened world. They had convinced themselves of their spiritual superiority. They called others infants and foolish of the things of God. Yet they were guilty of breaking the very law they held in esteem. They stole, committed adultery, worshipped idols, and willingly broke the law of God. They were not much different from many believers today! How do we prostitute the blessings of God to serve our own selfish desires? To violate the sacred trust of God carries harsh repercussions: Jesus related to His disciples, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves (Luke 17:1-3).” Paul is saying that the ritual of your life speaks louder than your words.

EXAMPLE: Throughout the world of Buddhism you can find what is known as prayer wheels. They are usually round, with a lot of writing on them. The writing is a series of prayers or incantations. It is believed that when you walk by a prayer wheel if you just give it a spin, you are sending a prayer to the gods. Simply by doing a meaningless physical act, many believe you are being spiritual. Sadly, there are Christians who believe in much the same idea. They believe that by repetitious ritual you are imparting holiness or grace into your life. For evangelicals it can be the false notion of simply experiencing a feeling, going through the motions of prayer, or just by claiming a Biblical promise you have gained some kind of favor with God. It is vain ritual. Why? When we begin to think that our ceremony saves us or brings us close to God we begin to rely on the thing rather than the person of Jesus Christ. Or it can be true if you say you are saved but your life reflects a different view. The ritual of your life speaks louder than your words!

Being religious is not a guarantee that you truly love God. It can just mean that you know when and how to go through meaningless ritual. In fact, Paul relates that…

II. The religiosity of your life may need a circumcision of the heart (vv. 25-29)!

1. How do you obey God? People inevitably hide their real self and put on self they want others to see. We want to appear good and nice before our contemporaries. However, spiritual authenticity comes when we surrender our hypocritical self, acknowledge our sinfulness, and accept God’s divine grace. Like the Jews of Paul’s day, we can know the Word of God rather than practice what it teaches the human heart. Circumcision is not a physical reality as far as God is concerned, it is a spiritual cutting away of our sinful will. You can be circumcised outwardly, but still be uncircumcised spiritually: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God (vv. 28-29).” Or as Paul would also write: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation (Galatians 6:15).” You can say you are Christian, but until it blooms in your life outwardly, what you say is meaningless. Faith that does not express itself through obedience is counterfeit. Going through a ceremony does not make you a pious Jew according to Paul, nor a Christian! You are one only inwardly as God has cut away your sin. The real physical act is only accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit when He convicts us of our sin, we readily confess it, give our lives to Christ and live like it. How do you obey God? The religiosity of your life may need a circumcision of the heart!

EXAMPLE: If you had a cancerous growth, you would do whatever it took to try and get rid of it. You would try using harsh chemicals, radiation, or even cutting it away through surgery. Why? Because you know if it is left unchecked, it will grow and ultimately kill you. That’s what cancer does. Sin is the same. It is the cancer of the soul. The only way it can be taken care of is through harsh measures. No, not by using chemicals, radiation, or physically cutting it out, but by spiritual circumcision of the human heart. The washing of the Holy Spirit in the life of the repentant person. After all “circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit!” And often spiritual surgery like physical surgery, leaves a scar but it is worth it. Only then can you be cleansed. Only then can you be totally forgiven. Only then are you made new and whole. Going to church, singing the hymns and choruses, toting around a big Bible, and spouting God-talk will not save you. It is all religiosity. Paul would tell you that the religiosity of your life may need a circumcision of the heart!

Conclusion:

The ritual of your life speaks louder than your words, and the religiosity of your life may need a circumcision of the heart! What will you do with what you have learned today? Why not come to Jesus and live for Him?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

God’s Divine Standards – Romans 2:1-16
by Pastor Lee Hemen
September 24, 2006

The Bible relates that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12 or 16:25).” In today’s world there are those who want to decide who God is, what He desires, and how they should live for Him or not. In other words they want to set God’s divine standards. There are several problems with this ideology: 1) It tends to constantly change, 2) it is not biblical, and 3) which standard would be correct for you? Everyone’s? Paul relates that there is only one standard that matters. God’s divine standard.

I will never forget when I was speaking to a machinist friend of mine. I wanted him to make a part for me for a table saw I had. He asked me what the measurements were for the specific piece I needed. I related, “Oh it is about so long and so wide.” He just shook his head and looked at me. Then I took out of my pocket a mechanical drawing I had done that had the exact measurements. Relieved, he began to build the part I needed. Machinists will tell you they must have set standards to go by before making any machined part. Paul would say that the same is true in our spiritual lives as well. We are to live by God’s divine standards. Let’s discover this morning what that means for our lives.

READ: Romans 2:1-6

Most people have ethical standards. It has surprised many to learn that even the most hardened criminal usually has a set of moral standards they adhere to. Those who do not are known as amoral or completely without any moral or ethical standards. Many in our world have difficulty realizing that whether they believe in God or not, they are held accountable and in fact are judged. They are quick to declare that no one can judge them and to claim the Christian ethical standard of “judge not!” Yet not hold themselves accountable to…

I. The Standard of God's Judgment (vv. 1-4)!

1. No one escapes God’s judgment! Like many evangelical Christians today, the Jews of Paul’s day, stood morally in sharp contrast with the pagan world around them and freely condemned others. However, Paul related that they were going to be judged as well. The reason? The standard of God’s judgment was not their intimate tool to use at their whim. They were doing the very things they were condemning the rest of the world of doing! “Therefore,” Paul declares, “at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself.” Paul understood that everyone in the entire human race has turned away from God and sinned. In addition the entire human race, especially moral pagans and the religious Jews, stood condemned before God and “have no excuse” because God’s judgment is based on three divine standards: 1) His judgment, 2) His favoritism, and 3) His law! They are eternal and perfect, accusing every person of sin! As the Psalmist declared: “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good (Psalm 14:1-3 & 53:1-3)!” When we hold ourselves up above those around us, thinking we are much better than they are, then we “show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads [us] toward repentance!” God’s standard of judgment is for everyone, no one escapes.

EXAMPLE: David C. Egner writes that “Sometimes we tend to be too nice. When people are doing wrong, we are afraid to confront their behavior, and we choose just to be nice. When a friend is slipping into an illicit relationship or a relative is becoming an alcoholic, we ignore the situations and do not confront them. When an unsaved friend is trusting in good works for eternal life, we remain silent about Christ and His death on the cross. But believers should not compromise obedience to God's Word just to be nice. A US Supreme Court Justice said that ‘in the effort to be civil in conduct, many who know better actually dilute [their] firmly held views to avoid appearing judgmental. They curb their tongues, not only in form but also in substance. . . . This is not civility, it is cowardice. Or well-intentioned self-deception at best.’” We discover that, Jesus wasn't concerned about being nice to those who were evil or were intentionally ungodly. He looked the Jewish teachers of the law squarely in the eye and said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts (Matthew 9:4)?" Nor was He worried about being civil when He called the Pharisees "whitewashed tombs… full of dead men's bones" (Matthew 23:27). He courageously confronted them and exposed their sin. Jesus knew God’s standard of judgment. Sometimes being nice isn't nice, it is putting up with ungodliness.

Paul would write that the standard of “God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.” God’s truth. Not our proclivities, likes or dislikes. Not based on what we think is okay or not. Not on the truth we would like to be judged by, but God’s own truth. It is God’s divine standard of judgment and it is based on...

II. The standard of God’s favoritism (vv, 5-11)!

1. God’s favoritism is based on His truth! God does not wink at our sin, nor does He smile at our feeble attempts to get things right with Him. He is not some big old guy in the sky benevolently chuckling over our refusal to see things His way. Spiritual ignorance is no excuse. We can see God exists all around us, yet because of our “stubbornness” and “unrepentant heart” we “are storing up wrath against” ourselves. Quoting Psalm 62:12, Paul related that “God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” Paul knew that a person’s habitual conduct, whether good or evil, reveals the true condition of what he believes. Eternal life is not rewarded for being good enough; that would contradict Scripture which clearly states that salvation is not by works. Salvation is all about God’s grace given to those who believe. A person’s doing good shows that he has indeed changed. Such a person, redeemed by God, has eternal life. What Paul is conveying here is not salvation by doing good works, but rather the standard of God’s favoritism. Anyone who sins will be held accountable. Anyone who lives for God, will be as well! God’s standard is based not on our human understanding of being good enough, but on His truth! The gospel. The standard of God’s favoritism.

EXAMPLE: In today's fast-paced world, many people with PDAs, laptops, and cell phones are pushing themselves to the limit. Parents, sometimes with furrowed brows and clenched fists, race from soccer fields to school meetings to piano lessons—grabbing meals on the run and collapsing into bed at night totally spent and exhausted. We think if we keep ourselves and our kids busy, then we are good parents. As followers of Jesus Christ we can also approach our life in Christ the same way. We can get caught up in the ideal that if we do enough good things, then God will do good things for us or that He will love us more. It seems that we often put ourselves under enormous pressure to spiritually succeed and to experience everything we possibly can. When we don't, we can't forgive ourselves for failing to measure up to our own or other people’s expectations. Like being busy only makes us tired, doing good is not good enough in God’s sight. He already has done all we need. God’s standard is based not on our human understanding of being good enough, but on His truth! The gospel. The standard of God’s favoritism.

Anyone who continually rejects God’s truth, will be held accountable. In fact, God’s wrath is as much a part of the character of God as is His love. A God who does not exercise wrath against injustice is an immoral God. A universe in which evil exists unchallenged and ultimately unvanquished is inconceivable and could not be ruled by a good God of holy love. God will not just annihilate the sinner. They will be held accountable for their lives. Essential to a good God of love is His wrath against evil. Why is this true? Paul relates that it is based on…

III. The standard of God’s law (vv. 12-16)!

1. God looks at the heart of man to see if he is changed! God’s impartiality in judgment is also seen in the fact that He will deal with people in accordance with covenant in they live under. Under the Old Covenant of Moses or the New Covenant through Jesus: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).” The Law was provided for God’s chosen people Israel, and all others were considered outside the Law. Therefore Paul declared, “All who sin apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law.” Non-Jews who sin will perish, but the Law of Moses will not be used as a standard of judgment against them. On the other hand the Jews who sin under the Law will be judged by Moses’ Law. The non-Jews are not excused from God’s judgment, they are accountable by what they can see and know about God through His creation. The Jews however have Moses’ law. But simply hearing it means nothing, you have to obey it in order to be righteous under it. Sanctimonious Jews, like pious Christians, who only hear the words of God but do not obey them are held accountable! James would say, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22).” When the law of God is inscribed on your heart, you will obey it. Paul was pointing to faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the ultimate standard of God’s law. God does not give eternal life or justification to those who perform good works, but to those who believe (trust) in His Son and whose conduct reveals their spiritually renewed hearts. God looks at the heart of man, who he truly is, to see if he truly is changed!

EXAMPLE: Vernon C. Grounds writes that “Many people might protest. They don't see themselves as rebels against the laws of society or the laws of God. They consider themselves to be good people. So why condemn them as deserving God's judgment? According to James, ‘Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).’ In God's eyes, it takes only one act of disobedience to put us in the company of those who have broken His law and deserve His judgment. Can any of us claim that we've never violated one of God's laws? What about the command not to covet? (Exodus 20:17). The truth is that all of us at some time or other have been guilty of longing to possess what belongs to someone else. Paul himself confessed that he was guilty of this sin and deserved God's judgment (Romans 7:7-10). We may be relatively good, but in the eyes of a perfectly holy God we've fallen far short of His standards. We all need the guilt-cleansing grace that Jesus Christ alone provides. Have you humbly acknowledged your guilt and received the gift of forgiveness that Jesus offers?” It is the standard of God’s law.

Conclusion:
We have learned to day about: The standard of God’s judgment, the standard of God’s favoritism, and the standard of God’s law. What will you do with what you have learned? We all will be judged, God shows no favoritism, and we are measured by the standard of God’s law the gospel. God’s divine standards.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Spiritual Ignorance Is No Excuse – Romans 1:18-32

Spiritual Ignorance Is No Excuse – Romans 1:18-32
September 17, 2006
by Pastor Lee Hemen

Bob Deffinbaugh, from Dallas Theological Seminary, writes that: “We know that these verses in Romans chapter 1 are… on condemnation. Paul is seeking to establish the fact that all men justly deserve the consequences of the eternal wrath of God. The thrust of these verses, however, is not primarily that God will judge the heathen because of his rejection of the truth, but rather that God is judging the heathen for his rebellion and rejection.” I believe it is both. When you reject the truth of God, as clearly manifested and seen in His creation, you reject the gospel. You are without excuse. Diffinbaugh goes on to write that “The wrath of God, then, is not merely future; it is also present. Men face the consequences for their sins in eternity but also in the present.” I agree. However, that being said, God does punish men for their choices, allows them to continue in their choices, and gives them over to their choices. That can be a form of judgment here and now, yet there will also be a final judgment for the choices a person makes in this life. We reap what we sow and spiritual ignorance is no excuse. Let’s discover what Paul teaches us…

READ: Romans 1:18-32

I remember well that when I made the choice to be disobedient to my mother, I was also being disobedient to my Dad as well. Punishment fit the crime and was usually swift and final. I well remember one time when Ed shot me with a slingshot using a marble as the projectile. He was certainly apologetic, to me, and my Dad after I went running home bleeding profusely screaming bloody murder all the way. I do not think he realized just how much damage a marble could do to even my thick head. After my brother abundantly humbled himself to Dad, our father related, “You knew what you were doing before you did it. You made the choice, now you will face the consequences of your actions.” My only thought was, “Give him a beating!” Yet, my father turned to me and related, “Why did you provoke such an ugly response form your brother?” You see, my brother made the choice to bean me, but I also made the choice to “poke the bear” so-to-speak. My self-proclaimed innocence was no excuse. For Paul, spiritual ignorance is not excuse either. In fact he writes us about…

I. The Basis of God’s Wrath Against Deliberate Spiritual Ignorance (vv. 18-23)!

1. People deliberately suppress the knowledge of God! They think by doing so, then God does not exist. Yet we discover that God has made Himself known plainly to all mankind! Ever since the beginning of creation, God’s eternal power and divine nature has been revealed! Holiness is known, it is revealed and we all know what we should do. Therefore, the ungodly are without excuse! You cannot help but see in the simplest cell or in the grandeur of the heavens the glory of God’s presence: “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 men are without excuse.” The ungodly are simply idolatrous, “For although they [know] God, they neither [glorify] him as God nor [give] thanks to him.” In doing so, their very thought processes have become futile and unreasoned: “they claimed to be wise” yet are foolish because they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles!” It is ego-centric in spirituality. How sad that thinking people would worship animals or put their faith in fetishes, statues, or relics. Yet we find this not only in so-called organized Christianity, we find it rampant in thinking circles where people are wearing crystals, placing dream catchers in their cars, or joining in prayer circles where they walk through a mystical maze while repeating a prayer over and over. We therefore find four condemning facts about the wisdom of the world: 1) It does not glorify or thank God, 2) It is futile in its reasoning, 3) It is foolish at its core because it leaves out any reference to the divine, and 4) It leads to the worship of self and creation. It is a basis of God’s wrath against deliberate spiritual ignorance.

EXAMPLE: There are those who want to warn America about the dangers of fundamentalist Christianity. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, equates conservative Christianity with terrorism. He believes that if it was replaced by simple human “reason,” everything would be okay. Atheists often portray Christians as intolerant of other belief systems. However, consider the actions of reasoned atheists like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot, who are synonymous with genocide, gulags, and gas ovens. Harris responds by saying that these are “profoundly idiosyncratic men, not champions of reason.” He claims they were not behaving in a rational manner. (Duh!) However, history will help at this point. The German scholar and biologist Ernst Haeckel pushed the implications of Darwin’s theories. He believed that moral law was subject to biology, just like Richard Dawkins does today. “Thousands, indeed millions of cells are sacrificed in order for a species to survive,” Haeckel argued. If this is true of biology, then it is equally true for society. (Do you understand the implications?) Haeckel’s use of Darwin’s theories had a huge impact. It united trends in Germany and Europe of racism, imperialism, romanticism, nationalism, homosexuality, and anti-semitism. In 1906, he founded the Monist League. The Monist man was one with nature and animals. Man was no special creation as the “image of God.” He had no soul, only a superior degree of development. The Monist League brought together eugenicists, biologists, theologians, literary figures, politicians and sociologists. Survival of the fittest became its chief virtue. Modern humanism, Communism, and Nazism all found support for their view of God and humanity in Haeckel’s teachings. Man is the center of the universe. The world has reaped what this foolish ungodly degenerate man sowed. However it is nothing new, because we find that it is a basis of God’s wrath against deliberate spiritual ignorance.

Man’s response to natural revelation is three-fold. First of all there is the initial act of rejection. Men simply refuse to accept God as He has revealed Himself. Then, whenever we reject the correct explanation of the facts we must necessarily counter with an alternative. And finally, when we reject God’s truth, make excuses for our sin, we then have a propensity to go whole hog, so to speak, and exchange God’s blessing for our own selfish perversions. What makes us feel good. Much of the church growth movement endorses this spiritual ego-centricity. However, we discover here…

II. The Results of God’s Wrath Against Deliberate Spiritual Ignorance (1:24-32)!

1. God hands ungodly people over to their own shameful ways! They degraded their own bodies and lusted after others. Sound familiar? It should. When one heads in this degrading direction, you have to find an excuse, any excuse, and of course you cannot blame yourself, so you end up “exchanging the truth of God for a lie.” Each person decides their own evil delusion. God honors that decision. He gives the ungodly over to their sinful desires “of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” It is a conscious choice not a biological attribute. The ungodly have to justify their actions, so they begin to believe a lie! Homosexuality, unnatural desires, and ungodly attributes become commonplace and accepted by a society or individual who has degraded God’s glory, His image, in their bodies. It is no longer worthwhile, in their depraved thinking, to retain the knowledge of God. Depravity is deliberately turning from God to ungodliness and thinking it is a good thing. Notice the outcome of such thinking: “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 are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” WOW! And what is perhaps the saddest indictment of all is the fact that: “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.” The wages of sin, certainly is death. Death of the individual, death of right thinking, death of the sacred, death of the holy, death of the individual to think clearly. God’s wrath rests on those who deliberately exchange His truth for a self-deluded lie! Paul tells us the results of God’s wrath against deliberate spiritual ignorance.

EXAMPLE: In today’s society you are considered degenerate if you think homosexuality is depraved. Lying is seen as a virtue and defined down as “misspeaking.” Envy and malice are characteristics the corporate world regularly practices. We hear and see the insolent, arrogant and boastful of the entertainment and sports world. If you disagree with their perverted worldview, you are branded as unenlightened, politically incorrect, and worse – full of hate. To stand for what is godly is often branded as “Nazism,” yet we have seen where this teaching comes from. History is deliberately distorted to fit the paradigm of the moment. Sadly, much of what is taking place in the American church today reflects this ungodly idiocy. Whenever we reject one explanation of the facts we must necessarily counter with an alternative. This is precisely the situation with the ungodly in our day. In Purpose Driven seminars pastors and leaders are encouraged to lie to their congregations, or to get rid of any opposition and brand it as divisive, ungodly, or out of step. The gospel is presented in theatrics, darkened rooms, or in concert-style motif as to not offend the hearer in any way shape or form. Worship of God has been reduced to the moment. We have become idol worshippers by choice, only interested in what makes us happy for the day. We can learn a mantra or prayer that will increase our emotional holiness, instead of our way of behaving by living holy. It is deliberate spiritual ignorance and God’s wrath is being revealed against it.

Conclusion:
We have learned the basis of God’s wrath against deliberate spiritual ignorance and the results of God’s wrath against deliberate spiritual ignorance. We choose to be ego-centric or God-centered. One way leads to eternal death and God’s wrath, and the other to eternal life and peace. Which will you choose?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

What Life Is All About - Romans 1:16-17

What Life Is All About -- Romans 1:16-17
by Pastor Lee Hemen
September 10, 2006

Have you ever been ashamed of someone or something? I have. Personal embarrassment can cause us to do a lot of silly things. I remember in the old movie “Support Your Local Sheriff,” where James Garner walks outside of the boarding house he is staying at and the daughter of the mayor, Miss Purdy, does not want him to see her dressed as she is. She had just been involved in a street mud fight and was in her long johns washing in the kitchen sink trying to clean herself up. She is embarrassed and tries to hide, ending up in a tree where, of course, he discovers her hiding. Now that’s embarrassing!

Sadly there are those who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, who either act embarrassed or are embarrassed of others finding out. Paul, on the other hand, was not embarrassed by the gospel message nor its author. He knew what it meant for him personally and what it meant for the entire world. It was far to important for one man’s discomfort. If Jesus could suffer humiliation for him, then Paul could gladly suffer for the gospel’s sake. In fact, for Paul, this is what life was all about. Right in these two verses is the summation of the entire letter to the Romans. No sir, Paul was not embarrassed and neither should we be by the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, that is what life is all about!

READ: Romans 1:16-17

Has anything in life become so important to you that you eat, breath, and live it daily? Some athletes say their sport can do that for them. Great writers say that their books become their lives. Some people’s work become their all in all. Yet in all of these things nothing in all of existence compares to one message. One message that is so important that it becomes your life. Who you are, what you are, and how you live. In fact, it demands it. Life, for Paul was the gospel. We find him telling us that life is all about…

I. The Power of God for Salvation (v. 16)!

1. Here is the concise Godly message that will change lives! Paul emphatically stood by the message he preached! For Paul there was no other of equal importance. After all it “was the power of God for salvation!” This message had neither brought him personal safety or comfort, but it had given him perfect peace in all circumstances. Barclay writes, “Paul had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, laughed at in Athens. He had preached it in Corinth, where his message was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, and out of that background Paul declared that he was proud of the gospel!” This marvelous message had proved more than adequate for Paul and his listeners. Why? It was the power of God! It is issued from God and brings salvation to anyone who heeds its message. The supernatural longings of man were meant in this simple message of the gospel. God with us! It is both a positive and universal message: “For God so loved the whole world!” It is open to anyone who “believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” It does not matter who you are or what you have done. How tall or short. Whether you are smart or dumb. Your racial background is of no consequence and neither is your standing in the community. You could have been anyone or done anything and this message is for you! It is not based on man’s faith, will, or goodness. Your faith does not give it its power, because it is the power of God! The gospel message itself makes it possible for one to believe! The power of God is at work in the message of the Gospel! It is the power of God for salvation! It is what life is all about. Do you know the gospel message? Have you experienced the power of God in your life?

EXAMPLE: Power comes from a lot of sources. We have elected power from politics, energy from electricity, power from doing well in sports, or the power of persuasion that the media uses. Power can be wielded in a lot of ways to many different ends. My brother used to use his age, height and weight to get me to do what he desired. It was the sibling rivalry thing. As we got older he did not have as much influence over me as he used to and the power shifted from one of dominance to a more amiable relationship. Yet the power we find Paul writing about here is not one of mutual acceptance. In fact, it is a one way thing. It solely rests on the mercy of God to change our lives. God alone can change the human heart. Only God alone can regenerate us into new creations for Him. That is the power of the Gospel message! That is the good news. It is the power of God for salvation!

Has something ever changed your life so much that you just had to tell someone about it? I know I did when Katie was born. I know I did when I asked Denise to marry me. These are the significant moments of life. As great as these are there is one message far more important than any other we could ever receive or give to another. It brings good news of eternal significance. The message of the cross for Paul was what life was all about. It had changed him from a narrow-minded Pharisee to a ardent proclaimer. Life, for Paul, was the gospel. In fact, we find him telling us that life is all about…

II. A Righteousness Revealed (v. 17)!

1. Righteousness will change the one who listens and believes the gospel message! Paul explains what he had just written in verse 16. It is both the quality and attribute of God. In the Gospel it is revealed that God is a righteous God and that people get right standing with God, from God because of the Gospel message! By faith in the message, righteousness is revealed and given. Literally the term here is “out of faith into faith” or “from faith to faith.” We are justified, made right by our faith in Jesus Christ alone. No words meant more to Martin Luther than these, because these simple words paved the way for men to be free in their faith again. Faith freed them, not works of the flesh. Simple faith placed in what God would do through Jesus Christ. You could never be right with God by trying to be good enough, because the “righteous will live by faith.” We will trust in God who sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins. God’s righteousness is displayed in the Gospel, the good news for all mankind. The Gospel which tells us that men must come to God by faith alone. The person who is just by faith will live, all others will die in their sin. Jesus related to the religiously narrow-minded of his day, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins (John 8:24).” The Gospel message reveals God’s righteousness and how we are made right with Him. It is a righteousness revealed. It is what life is all about. Are you right with God?

EXAMPLE: There are those who in our day and age think that if someone just tries hard enough, that should be good enough both for God or for man. Here is what I mean. I remember when I was younger, my brother and I were supposed to behave while Mom and Dad went into town. We tried to behave. I mean we really did, for about 30 minutes. Then the “war” started. Ed would thump me on the back of the head as he walked past, and I would throw something at his retreating skull. It escalated until we were running full tilt around the house, yelling and screaming like a couple of “wild Comanches.” (My mother’s terminology.) Right as we were in the best part of our fray, in walked my parents. It would not have been so bad except there were hairs from my head and feathers from a pillow still floating in the air, and Ed had a hold of me and was shaking me like a rag doll. Immediately the horror of the situation penetrated our feeble warrior minds and we knew we were “in for it.” We immediately began to plead, beg, and relate that we never intended to harm one another or the house. Dad looked at both of us and declared, “Boys, your good intentions, were not good enough.” Good intentions will not save you. Trying to be good, do better, or just learning more about God will not save you. Righteousness is not earned. If it was, Jesus did not have to die on the cross for us and we could just do it ourselves. This message is a righteousness revealed. Righteousness will change the one who listens and believes the gospel message. Have you?

Conclusion:

Life is all about the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation and it is a righteousness revealed. Are you ashamed of it? You shouldn’t be.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What Our Faith Means – Romans 1:8-15

What Our Faith Means – Romans 1:8-15
September 3, 2006
by Pastor Lee Hemen

We all like to be encouraged. Many put a premium on encouraging others. So much so in fact that it is now a viable way to say you care about something or someone by just telling others you do. You know, kind of like the phony bumper stickers that say, “My Child Is An Honored Student.” What does that mean really? Or the ones that tell you to “Hug your kids.” The one I find really irritating is the one that states: “Be kind to Mother Earth.” What in the world does that mean? Am I supposed to bend down and kiss the dirt? Could I even possibly hug a planet? In my thinking there is nothing worse than phony effusion.

Gladly, Paul never did that with the people he dealt with. When we find him handing out complements, there were good reasons for doing so. For him, it often defined what faith was all about. In the eight verses we will look at this morning, we discover what faith meant to Paul. Virtually all of Paul’s messages are for the purpose of advancing God’s work and kingdom. He took seriously the Lord’s model prayer when Jesus said, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).” And Paul, like Jesus, was always about his Master’s business. When he saw others doing the same, he was quick to let them know of his pleasure of their expressions of faith. Let’s see for ourselves what our faith means as we look at the words of Paul.

READ: Romans 1:8-15

What would you like to be known for? Your house? Car? Attire? Perhaps your education or financial success? Well the Christians in Rome were known for something quite different than the proclivities of the world around them. They were known for their faith in Jesus Christ and their example can teach us what our faith means. This is why…

I. Paul thanked God for their faith (vv. 8-10)!

1. Faith encouraged is faith appreciated! Notice that the object of thanksgiving for Paul is God! Not merely as a creator and preserver, but as the one true God. And notice that Paul relates that He is “my God,” which acknowledges the personal relationship Paul enjoyed. It also points out Paul’s particular interest in that relationship. It expresses Paul’s knowledge of God and faith in Him, and demonstrates that what Paul did now, he did in total faith in God whom he trusted! Yet, the person through whom Paul’s thanks are given is Jesus Christ. There is no coming to God except through Jesus, nor is any other sacrifice either of prayer or praise acceptable without Him. All the Christian has is through Jesus. It is therefore reasonable that thanks should be returned by and through Him. The people that this thanksgiving was directed toward were all the saints (believers) at Rome. Not for their magnificent city, its fame, its power, its wealth, or grandeur but the simple fact that their personal faith was “being reported all over the world (v. 8).” This shows that the saints at Rome did not hide their faith but openly declared it to others around them! What courage! What faith! What a witness! Living in the heart of the enemy’s capital city where pagan hedonism and rampant sensuality reigned, these believers were known for their faith! Can you imagine it? No wonder Paul thanked God for these Christians and their faith!

EXAMPLE: Herbert Vander Lugt writes that “Many people associate ‘the good life’ with success, fame, and money. Yet a dying man who had it all told me that his life hadn't been worth the effort to attain his success. How different was my uncle Herb's attitude when he was dying! He was thankful and spoke of his many blessings. In his rich Dutch brogue, he quoted Psalm 34:11-14 as God's prescription for a good life. Most of his life he had worked at a low-paying job, and he owned only a car and a small house. He had remained single until he was 47 so he could care for his parents. When he did marry, he had no children, but he was greatly loved by his wife and the wider family circle. He was a favorite uncle to his nephews and nieces, and was so well-liked by the children in his neighborhood that after he died many came to the funeral home and cried by his casket.” What is the good life for you? For Paul it was a life of faith. That is why he thanked God for the faith of the Roman Christians. Do others around you thank God for your faith?

The fact that Paul cared deeply for the church at Rome is seen in his writing that “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you (vv. 9-10).” He tanked God for their faith and longed to be with them in order to support them in their witness. We discover what faith means as we learn that…

II. Paul longed to encourage their faith (vv. 11-13)!

1. Faith encouraged is strengthened faith! Paul certainly knew that God uses His people to encourage others. This is why he wrote the Roman Christians, “I long to see you,” because Paul knew physical contact with fellow believers facing persecution for their faith would help them both: “that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith!” Paul loved Christian fellowship. But Christian fellowship should be designed to encourage each other in Jesus so that we may be better servants for our Lord and Savior Jesus. Much of Christian fellowship can be worthless and little more than selfish socialization. Take for instance the Corinthian church where Paul admonished them by writing, “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good (1 Corinthians 11:17)!” He then went on to criticize their fellowships which instead of creating unity, caused divisions! Christian fellowship is not necessarily bad, but what determines real Christian fellowship is the motive of the heart. Paul longed to fellowship with them to “impart… some spiritual gift to make [them] strong” in their mutual faith! He had “planned many times” to visit them, but was “prevented from doing so until now.” He was headed in their direction one way or the other. Either freely or in chains. The latter would be true, but he wanted to come “in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.” He wanted to see the conversion of sinners, the edification of saints, and the fruitfulness of believers in their faith. This is why Paul longed to encourage their faith!

EXAMPLE: A man was invited to the home of some friends for dinner. The food was superb—except for the apple pie. Even so, he found something good to say about the pie. Several weeks later, the man visited the friends again for dinner. This time they had a cherry pie that was absolutely delicious. But the visitor didn't say one word about it. This bothered the hostess, so she finally blurted out, "The last time you were here, I served a pie that I was ashamed of, yet you were complimentary. Tonight I've served what I think is the best pie I've ever made, and you haven't said a word. Why?" The man smiled and replied, "The cherry pie tonight was fantastic, and the apple pie you served last time was not as good as this one. So you see, the apple pie needed more praise!" This is why Paul wrote, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:19-21).” This is why Paul longed to encourage their faith. How do you encourage other Christians?

Gill writes that “The apostle seems to allude to the casting of seed into the earth: Christ's ministers' are husbandmen, who sow the seed of the word, which lies some time under the clods; wherefore patience is necessary to wait its springing up, first in the blade, and then in the ear, then in the full corn in the ear, when it brings forth fruit; all which depend on the blessing of God.” I believe this to be partially true in that we are commanded to sow the seed of the gospel wherever we go. Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 literally means “as you go.” Paul understood this and it penetrated his faith practice. He was compelled. Indebted. He could not do otherwise, and as we look into these verse we also discover what our faith means as we read that…

III. Paul’s faith obligated him (vv. 14-15)!

1. Faith encouraged reminds us of our mission! Paul had a clear sense of his calling from God. He was called to minister to the gentiles, the non-Jews of his day (Acts 9:15). This calling, Paul felt, indebted him to “both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish (v. 14).” Literally Paul meant the cultured and the non-cultured, those wise about spiritual matters and those foolish about such things. Because of his past ideology as a Pharisaic Jew, he had viewed people as being in two camps: the Jew and the non-Jew. The ethnos or goyim and the “cultured” spiritual Hebrew. Paul was reminding his readers and himself of what the gospel was all about in the first place. “That is why,” Paul wrote, “I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” The gospel message is foolishness to those who are perishing but it must be preached to the spiritually uncultured; for by such a message God has chosen to confound the culturally wise. Yet, even these He calls by His mercy and grace, while hiding the truth from the spiritually blinded wise and practical. However, the Gospel is plain and easy to understand for the uncultured and uncluttered mind, the children of God, those enlightened by the Spirit of God. Paul knew his mission and his faith obligated him to share the gospel message with everyone.

EXAMPLE: Mart De Hann writes “A shopper underestimated the total cost of her groceries. When the cashier added up the items, the woman was $4 short. Then something unusual happened. The man behind her in the checkout lane saw her digging through her purse and motioned to the clerk to put the amount on his bill. He modestly refused to give the woman his name. A few days later, the local newspaper reported that a charity organization had received a $4 check with the following note: ‘This check is for the man who helped me out of a tight spot. I came up with the idea of giving it to you as a thank-you to him.’ This incident illustrates a vital spiritual principle. We should feel an obligation to pass along to others the kindnesses shown to us. That's how the apostle Paul responded to God's mercy. Of course, he could never repay the Lord for salvation, but that didn't stop him from openly showing his gratitude. Because of what he had received, he showed the highest kind of charity—sharing the gospel with others. Let's not think that because we can't repay God for saving us, we owe Him nothing. We are indebted to Him for everything. The least we can do is show our appreciation by telling others about Him.” Paul’s faith obligated him to tell others, does yours?

Conclusion:
Paul thanked God for their faith, Paul longed to encourage their faith, and Paul’s faith obligated him!