We have to dedicate the darkest places of our lives to God’s miraculous power.
A 19th century poem by William Ross Wallace asserts, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” He must have been thinking about the story of Hannah and Samuel in 1 Samuel when he wrote that.
Hannah was a barren woman who longed to have children. She cried to God in her sorrows. God wants to meet us in our sorrows.
Maybe you feel “small” today in your life. Maybe the circumstances of your life are huge and overwhelming. Good! God’s about to do something through you that will amaze you. I pray you allow Hannah’s life to inspire you.
We meet Hannah for the first time in 1 Samuel 1:2. She is described as, “Hannah who had no children.” She was known by her sorrow.
The Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 1:3 that Hannah’s husband would go up to the city every year to worship God and give thanks to God for his goodness and blessings to them. Because Hannah was barren, her husband had taken another wife in order to have children. This was a common practice in that day similar to surrogacy today. However, her surrogate often tormented her that she could not have children. It was a painful visit for Hannah to go and worship the Lord and give thanks in the midst of her sorrows.
The Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 1:6 that Hannah couldn’t have children because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb. It is very difficult to give glory to God when God is the source of your greatest sorrow.
You are supposed to be giving glory to God today for his goodness to you and all you can think about is the blessing God has withheld from you. This is truly the dilemma of life.
Maybe you find yourself there today. I know I have been there. What do you do? These next seven words are crushing to a spirit that is already struggling. 1 Samuel 1:7 says, “So it went on year by year.”
Not only was she barren at a festival in the presence of her rival, where she was supposed to give glory to God for his blessings, but it went on year after year.
I find that a lot of people stop showing up for church for this very reason. They are tired of seeing God bless others before them. Can you relate? You are happy for them, but you want to say to the Lord, Where’s my blessing, Lord?
It is important in these seasons that we keep leaning into God in the midst of our sorrows.
Hannah’s pain was great, ongoing and unrelenting.
In the midst of Hannah’s hopelessness, she kept inviting God into these dark and hopeless spaces. She does this in 1 Samuel 1:11 when she said to God, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.”
I remember as a kid my mom telling me she prayed this prayer over me when I was two years old, sick and dying in a hospital bed in Louisville, Kentucky. My parents were told there was no hope for me to live. My mom knelt by my bed and prayed this prayer that Hannah prayed. I didn’t miraculously get up out of the bed that day, but I started getting better from that day forward.
If you and I are going to hear and obey God in our sorrows, we have to dedicate the darkest places of our lives to God’s miraculous power.
Hannah stays after it. Hannah says to Eli the Priest in 1 Samuel 1:15–16, “I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”
I love Eli’s response to Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:17, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” I love Hannah’s response to Eli’s in 1 Samuel 1:18, “‘Let your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”
Can you say that and do that? If so, we should follow Hannah’s example. The next day 1 Samuel 1:19 tells us, “She rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord.”
Hannah didn’t allow her pain to define her practice of worship.
The Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 1:20 that in due time God gave Hannah a son. She named him Samuel because that means “I asked for him from the Lord.” She wanted Samuel to know he was from the Lord. The loudest human voice in my head is my mom’s voice. She told me the story of my life when I was too young to remember it. She told me how God blessed my life and saved me. But the blessing wasn’t the end of the story. She reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me and she told me of God’s purpose for me.
God doesn’t bless us so we can be blessed. He blesses us so we can live out his purpose for our existence.
Do you see the blessings of God as your means to fulfill your purpose?
After Hannah weaned Samuel, she took him back to the house of God where God heard her cry and answered her. She said to God in 1 Samuel 1:28, “As long as Samuel lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
My mom went to heaven 29 years ago, but her dedication of me to God like Hannah did Samuel, still carries great weight and fulfillment through my life and ministry today.
Keep obeying God’s voice in your life. Dedicate your sorrows to God like Hannah, and in due time, he will fulfill his eternal purpose through it.
Last Sunday, I began a series on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, looking at the person of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit so that we can worship Him in the way He deserves to be worshipped. And at that time when I began the series last week, I mentioned to you that the Holy Spirit is the most – in my mind at least, the most abused member of the Trinity. There are so many people who blame the Holy Spirit for their behaviors, their words, their experiences, and the Holy Spirit has no part whatsoever.
It is a strange kind of thing to realize, having read what we did in John chapter 14, 15, and 16 about the Spirit of Truth, to see so much untruth connected to the Holy Spirit. So many lies, so many deceivers, so many deceptions are basically assigned to the Holy Spirit in order to gain necessary ground with people for those who have illegitimate desires and goals. The Holy Spirit is blamed for so many terrible things.
We are warned about that in the Bible. We are warned about the danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. In spite of that warning, it goes on. We are warned about – and I’ll say more about this next week, about insulting the Holy Spirit, we are warned about resisting the Holy Spirit, we are warned about grieving the Holy Spirit, we are warned about quenching the Holy Spirit, and all those verbs are addressed at the way we refer to the Holy Spirit Himself. But it is not just a matter of trying to avoid blasphemy and abuse and attributing to the Holy Spirit things that He would have no part of. It’s more than that. We need not only to avoid certain errors regarding the Holy Spirit, but we need certainly to worship the Holy Spirit fully for what He has done and who He genuinely is.
Just last week, I was reading an article from the year 1657 and it was written by John Owen, the great English Puritan who is so prolific, who wrote volumes and volumes that enrich us in understanding of Scripture and theology. One very important treatise that John Owen wrote is an analysis of what it means to commune with God, what it means to really worship God. His title, in the sort of standard Puritan vernacular, is this: Of Communion with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Each Person Distinctly, in Love, Grace, and Consolation – that’s a typical Puritan title. He also gave an alternate title – or The Saints’ Fellowship with the Father, with the Son, with the Holy Spirit Unfolded.
In this treatise written by John Owen, he calls for the realization that we have received from, individually and specifically and particularly, each member of the Trinity certain specific benefits. And as we have received these benefits from each of the members of the Trinity, we are required to respond to those gifts to each member of the Trinity so that our Trinitarian worship is not so much blended as it is separated. There is a passage of Scripture that might help us to see this. If you look at the very last verse in the last chapter of 2 Corinthians, you would read this: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” That is a Trinitarian benediction that sorts out the individual features of the ministry of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to us as believers. It is the love of God. Coming from God is that divine, sovereign love. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Son who provides divine, sovereign grace. And it is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. From the Father comes divine love; from the Son, divine grace; and from the Spirit, divine fellowship.
And the apostle Paul separates these individual members of the Trinity and identifies aspects of their ministry. Our communion is initiated by the love of the Father, ratified by the grace of the Son, and communicated by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And while we would agree that throughout Scripture there is overlapping in the work of the Trinity, there is still an emphasis on those specific works which each member does in some unique way.
I think for most of us who worship God in the true way, knowing that He is a triune God and who recognize that He is one essence but three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we tend to sort of blend everything together and worship Him as the triune God, and that, of course, is a legitimate way to worship God. But what Owen is calling for is for us to start separating these persons in the Trinity as to the recognition of what it is that they have provided for us and how it is that we should respond specifically to those specific provisions. In regard to the Holy Spirit, John Owen writes, “The Spirit’s ministry consists in bringing the promises of Christ to remembrance, glorifying Him in our hearts, shedding abroad the love of God in us, witnessing with us that we belong to God as to our spiritual state and condition, sealing us to the day of redemption, being the earnest or the guarantee of our final inheritance, anointing us with comfort, confirming our adoption and being present with us in our supplications.”
Then Owen responds to the work of the Spirit by saying this: “Here is the wisdom of faith, to find out and meet with the Comforter in all these things, not to lose their sweetness by lying in the dark as to their author, nor coming short of the returns which are required of us.” Each member of the Trinity, having done these specific things for us, is to be worshiped in specific response to the work that each as done.
It isn’t just that we don’t want, as believers, to quench the Holy Spirit, which believers can do. It is not only that we don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit, which believers can do. We don’t want to resist the Holy Spirit. It isn’t just what we don’t want to do. It is that in our regular communion and our regular worship and our regular praise, we need to identify the three persons of the godhead in meditation, in prayer, and in submission. We need to dwell on the special mercy and the special ministry of each person of the Trinity toward us, and we need to make a specific response of love and submission and joy and gratitude distinctly to each member of the Trinity. This, says John Owen, is full-orbed communion with God.
Another of my favorite Puritans is Thomas Goodwin. Thomas Goodwin writes: “Our worship is sometimes with our Father, then with the Son, and then with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes our hearts are drawn out to consider the Father’s love in choosing us. Sometimes our hearts are drawn to the love of Christ in redeeming us. And sometimes the love of our hearts is drawn toward the Holy Spirit who searches the deep things of God and reveals them to us” – and then I love this line – “and takes all the pains with us.” Have you ever thought to thank the Holy Spirit for taking all the pains to work on your sanctification? “Thank You, Holy Spirit – thank You, Holy Spirit, for teaching me, thank You for warring against the flesh, thank You for interceding for me, thank You for sealing and securing me, thank You for guiding me away from the path of temptation, thank You for empowering me in the face of sin.”
Now, that’s what Thomas Goodwin is calling for and Goodwin says, “It is only when we understand the work of each member of the Trinity distinctly that we have a true communion with God.” He says, quote, “We should never be satisfied until all three persons lie level in us.” A beautiful way to say that. So that we sit, as it were, in the midst of them while they all manifest their love to us. This is the highest experience that ever Christ promised in this life, to sit in the midst, as it were, of the Trinity and be the recipient of all the love coming from the Father, all the love coming from the Son, and all the love coming from the Spirit on our behalf. This is true worship.
We have spent a lot of time – and we do, I think, as believers – thinking about the love of the Father, the electing love, the sovereign love, thinking about the sacrifice of the Son, the grace that is given to us. There are a lot of ways to look at it. The Father initiates our salvation, the Son ratifies our salvation, the Holy Spirit communicates our salvation. The Father chooses us for life, the Son provides the sacrifice that leads to life, and the Holy Spirit gives us the life. And being able to recognize the ministry of each member of the Trinity is being able to have full-orbed worship and full-orbed communion.
So what we’re trying to do is, in this brief series, get a better understanding of the work and ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit that we might enhance and enrich our own gratitude and thanks and worship to Him. Maybe one of the most amazing verses that our Lord ever spoke or ever recorded from His lips is in John 16. I read it to you earlier. It really is a startling verse, if you stop and think about it. This is what our Lord said in John 16:7: “I tell you the truth” – as He always did – “it is to your advantage that I go away.”
And we’ll just stop right there for a minute and ask the question, “How would the disciples have received that?” Since they had been with the Lord essentially 24/7 for a period of three years, He was everything to them, absolutely everything. On one occasion, according to John 6, Jesus said after a group of people left, “Will you also go away?” and Peter, speaking for the rest, said, “To whom shall we go? You and You alone have the words of eternal life. We’re not about to go anywhere. Everything we want to know, everything we want to see, everything we need You have, You are.” How in the world could they handle the statement, “It’s to your advantage if I go away”? What could be better than that?
And when you think about the fact for literally millennia, people had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah and every generation of Jewish people who knew the Messiah was going to come had wished that they would be the people alive when He came, and yet when He did come, the people at that time rejected Him as we know fully. But there was a group of people, His followers and His disciples, who embraced Him, and this was the fulfillment of all of redemptive history, going all the way back to the time of the fall and the promise that one would come and bruise the serpent’s head, how wonderful that the Messiah had come, how wonderful that He was there. They didn’t want Him to go anywhere. They didn’t want Him to leave. They wanted Him to stay and set up His kingdom and that would be the end and the culmination and the fulfillment of everything.
Yet in that last evening together when they were meeting in the Upper Room before He was taken and crucified, He says to them, “I’m leaving, I’m going to go away, and you’re not going to be able to get to Me, but I’m going to tell you something, it’s to your advantage that I go away.” That’s an amazing statement. How could that be true? He says this: “If I do not go away, the helper will not come to you. But if I go, I’ll send Him to you.” What is better than having Jesus? Having the Holy Spirit – having the Holy Spirit. “You mean the Holy Spirit wasn’t around?” No. I also read to you from the same portion of Scripture, “He has been with you, He will be” – where? – “in you.” The Holy Spirit was always around. The Holy Spirit was the Creator, He moved on the face of the waters in Genesis and created. The Holy Spirit’s always been the life-giver, the Holy Spirit’s always been the convictor. He’s been striving with men, it says in Genesis 6.
The Holy Spirit has always been the one that brought life to spiritually dead people and all men have been dead since the fall. There would be no salvation in the Old Testament, no believing faith, no redeeming repentance, no genuine conversion apart from the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit was around to give leading and guiding. The ministry of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the Old Testament period to some degree. He is with you might be a way to understand that for those necessary things like salvation and sanctification, the Holy Spirit was required.
But here comes the Son. Isn’t that a better thing? Isn’t it even a more wonderful thing to be in the very presence of the incarnate Son of God? One would certainly think so. So maybe that’s a step beyond what they had in the Old Testament. The Spirit was there, the Son was promised, now the Spirit is still doing His work and the Son is also there. How can Jesus say, “It’s better if I go away”?
The answer to that is because the Holy Spirit brings to the believers, from the time of the founding of the church on, a ministry that has never been known before. It isn’t that the Holy Spirit wasn’t here, it’s not a question of absent and present, it’s a question of degree, extent. The best thing that could ever happen to any people, better than having Jesus Christ in their midst, is to have the Holy Spirit. And that’s us. We’re living in that marvelous, marvelous realization. “It’s better that I go so I can send the Holy Spirit.”
Boy, if that’s true, then the Holy Spirit is very, very special. And indeed He is. And instead of the terrible things that are assigned to the Holy Spirit, we want to take a look at the genuine ministry of the Holy Spirit so we can worship Him and they can – all members of the Trinity, as Goodwin said, can lie level in us and receive equal praise.
Where do we go in the Word of God to get in touch with the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Well, we’ve chosen to look at Romans 8. So with that brief introduction, I want you to turn to Romans 8, and we’re going to take a look at the ministry of the Holy Spirit that flows through this chapter. And as we go, we may digress a little bit and talk about some of the other things, but obviously we’re not going to try to cover every passage in the New Testament regarding the Holy Spirit but those things are which most essential and important to us. And in Romans chapter 8, we have a great starting point for this because the ministry of the Holy Spirit is presented here with regard to salvation.
Remember, in the opening seven chapters of Romans, the themes are all salvific. It’s all about salvation. It starts in chapter 1 verse 16 with the gospel. Paul’s not ashamed. He preaches. It’s the power of God unto salvation. Then he starts to unpack the essence of the gospel. Talks about sin and judgment and then talks about the futility of trying to achieve righteousness on your own. Talks about grace and faith, uses Abraham as an illustration. Talks about the meaning of the cross and our union with Christ, and it’s all about salvation all the way up to chapter 8. And now we come into chapter 8, and we shift into a section that is the final summation of the glory of salvation. It is the final summation of what it means to be saved. Here is the ultimate good news, and it all is secured to us by the Holy Spirit – by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s at least begin in verses 1 and 2, and let’s see what it is that the Holy Spirit does for us. I’m going to give you kind of a grocery list of things the Holy Spirit does that flow out of this chapter. But you have to understand where it all begins. Romans 8 verse 1: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How can that be possible that there’s no condemnation for sinners? How can that be possible? Answer, in verse 2: “For the law or the principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” There’s no condemnation to those who are in Christ because of something the Spirit of life has done. The Spirit of life is the Holy Spirit. So we meet the Holy Spirit in verse 2 and here’s the first point: The Holy Spirit frees us from death by giving us life. The Holy Spirit frees us from death by giving us life. That’s the first feature of a no-condemnation life.
But let’s back up into that first verse and recognize the word “therefore” ties this in with everything that had come before. All that has been said about salvation in all its glory and all its beauty – he’s not going back to verse 25 of 7, he’s not going back just to chapter 7, he’s going back all the way to chapter 1 verse 16 where he started talking about the gospel, all of that gospel teaching therefore means there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That’s the summation of the gospel. That’s the good news. You can be before an infinitely holy God as an utterly corrupt sinner and not be condemned at all, not now, and not ever. That is the good news.
And to understand that good news, you have to understand the bad news. The bad news is that Scripture designates every human being born into this world as a child of wrath – child of wrath, Ephesians chapter 2 verse 3. You’re children of wrath. You’re all children of wrath. Well, that’s a kind of a Hebrew way of speaking. In other words, you’ve inherited the nature of those who will be damned. That’s what that means. If you’re a son of corruption, it simply means your nature is corrupt. If you’re a son of wrath, it means you are sentenced to judgment. All men are children of wrath. They are under condemnation, and it is a miserable condition.
What are the elements of this condition? Well, we’re overpowered by sin. We all come short of the glory of God. We’ve all sinned and we’ve all come short of the glory of God. We’re all cursed. We are dominated; we are literally overwhelmed by, overpowered by sin. Sin is a defiling disease that cripples the soul of every human being, degrades every person, disquiets every person, steals peace and joy, replacing it with trouble, pain, fear. It plants in every heart the killing principle of corruption that no man can ever overcome and no human person can ever cure.
It is even worse than that. Not only are we incurably sinful and wicked but we are controlled by Satan who is the angel of wickedness, who is the devil himself. We are members of his kingdom. We are part of his family. John 8:44: “Your father is the devil.” We are the devil’s children. We are ruled by the prince of the power of the air – Ephesians 2:2 – the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience. He’s operating in all human beings who are not only corrupt in their own nature but further corrupted by the work of Satan in them. And that’s why Jesus said, “His lusts you do.” What he lusts for, you do.
As a result of this, we are subject to vanity, it says in Romans 8:20. What that means is that in that condition where we are overpowered by sin and dominated by Satan, we are subject to all that is bad, all that is horrible. This is the futility of life, emptiness, bitterness, sorrow, pain. We’re born to trouble. We have no peace. We fear death. We’re full of anxiety, hopeless. And as such, Hebrews 10:27 says there remains nothing but a fearful looking for a fiery judgment. All humanity has to look for is hell – hell. Damned forever, according to Revelation 20 verse 14, by the second death and the Lake of Fire. That is he misery of all human beings.
And when that punishment falls, it is a just condemnation – it is a just condemnation. Romans 3 says that in verse 8 and 9, it is a just condemnation. We have broken the law of God. Galatians 3 says if you break one law, you’ve shattered the whole law. Our condemnation is just. Like the thief on the cross, we indeed suffer justly. That’s what He said.
So as a result, you sum all that up and you have the fact that the sinner stands as a child of wrath, under the condemnation of a holy God who is offended at every sin and renders a just judgment. The inevitable end, then, is hell forever. And that’s the condition of every person until the Holy Spirit arrives. And in our text, in the darkness of this picture, our text brings glorious light. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the principle or the power or the influence of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Honestly, the Bible is a very condemning book, very condemning. In the 5th chapter of Romans, it says in Adam, all died. That we all inherited the sin nature from Adam. Romans 5 says that over and over again. Second Thessalonians chapter 1 gives us a frightening picture of the final future judgment that’s going to fall on all sinners when it says that the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the Lord and from the glory of His power.
There are two aspects of eternal hell. One is sense; that is, real pain. The other is absence, the absence of God. That’s a real hell. And you say, “Well, didn’t God send His law so we’d have standards to live up to? And if you live up to those standards we’re going to be okay, we’re going to get to heaven?” That is the misunderstanding that is most popular in the world and equally a damning misunderstanding because as holy as the law is, and it is perfectly holy because it’s simply a reflection of God, it’s the ethics of God’s nature codified, written out and spelled out. The law, however, can’t make us holy. The law can’t deal with our sin, and the law cannot give us a way to escape condemnation.
Listen to what it says in Romans 3: “Whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become accountable to God.” All the law does is shut your mouth when you make any claim to goodness. “Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” All the law does is give you the knowledge of sin. That’s all God’s law does, is show you sin. It is not the path to overcome sin. It is not the path to escape the condemnation that your sin produces. It cannot do that. It cannot alter your condition; it can only reveal it. And it cannot change your condemnation; it can only enforce it.
In fact, the law makes things worse because the law expands the violations. So no one by the law is going to be made right with God. Rather by the law, our guilt is increased, our sin is expanded. There is, therefore, condemnation and only condemnation to those who are under the law because the law can’t save, the law can’t remove condemnation, the written law. That’s what verse 3 means when it says, “What the law couldn’t do, weak as it was through the flesh.” In other words, the law can’t operate in human beings to any saving end. Condemnation here is the word katakrima and it focuses on the punishment after the sentencing more than just the judgment itself. There’s another Greek word that speaks about the judgment or the adjudication itself. This is a word that stretches beyond the sentencing to the actual punishment.
And what is said here is this: There is no punishment for those who are in Christ Jesus. In spite of all the violations, in spite of breaking God’s law, in spite of being in a condition where condemnation would be just and righteous and holy and correct and deserved, in spite of that, in spite of our corruption, in spite of our belonging to the kingdom of darkness and Satan himself, we can be in a condition by salvation where there is no condemnation. “No” is a strong negative, a strong word. There’s a lot of ways you could say no in Greek; this is a very strong one. Absolutely, unequivocally, no condemnation.
Now, let me tell you, that is the good news. That’s the gospel. That as sinful as you are, there is the possibility of coming into a condition in which there is no condemnation, not any at all. What is that condition? What is that place? Being in Christ. Verse 1: “To those who are in Christ.” Or verse 2: “In Christ Jesus.” It’s about union with Christ. What does it mean to be in Christ? It means to be in Him in a very real sense, spiritually. Go back to the 6th chapter of Romans for a minute, verse 3: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized” – or immersed – it’s not talking about water baptism here but using the word to mean immersed into in a metaphoric sense – “all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus have been immersed into His death. Therefore, we’ve been buried with Him through that immersion into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” In other words, we literally are placed into Christ in His death and into Christ in His resurrection. We die in Him, we rise in Him.
Verse 5: “We have become united with Him in the likeness of His death and we shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. As a result, our old self was crucified with Him in order that our body of sin might be done away, terminated, and we would no longer be slaves to sin, for he who died is freed from sin. If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, knowing that Christ having been raised from the dead is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him, for the death that He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life He lives, He lives to God. So consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In Christ we die, we rise again. This is our union with Christ. And that is what is being stated.
And that’s all been unpacked and unfolded, as I just read in chapter 6, but all of that leading up to this point, so we don’t have here a definition of what it is to be in Christ because that’s all been explained. All we need to know here is: For those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation – none. Literally, we have been placed beyond the reach of condemnation – beyond the reach of condemnation. That’s how the chapter begins, and it’s how it ends. If you go to the end of chapter 8, what do you read? “What will separate us” – verse 35 – “from the love of Christ, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword?” No. Verse 38: “I am convinced that neither death, life, angels, principalities, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In other words, list everything real, everything imaginable, things that are, things that are only imagined. None of them can change our condition. None of them can alter the no-condemnation status. We have been placed beyond the reach of condemnation. And this whole chapter is a long and really thrilling proof of the safety of believers. That’s what it’s about, it’s about the safety and security of those who are in Christ from any condemnation, now or ever. Even if Satan shows up, it says later in the chapter, who is going to bring a successful accusation against us before God? No one, ever, we are beyond the reach of condemnation. And this is all going to be attributed in a wonderful way to the Holy Spirit who does this for us. The reason we are beyond condemnation is because – verse 2 says – the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
The word “law” here is not in a biblical sense, not in a codified sense, but it’s used in the sense of a principle, a dominating power, the dominating power of the Spirit of life has set you free from the dominating power of sin, which leads to death. It’s just an amazing, clear, specific statement on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Those of us who are in Christ are really in Christ. We are joined to Him.
How did we get into Christ? We literally have been placed into Him by the Holy Spirit who took us out of a condition of sin that leads to death and gave us life. That’s why He’s called the Spirit of life, the regenerating Spirit, the Spirit who is life – the life-giving Spirit. All those are used as phrases to describe the Holy Spirit.
It was Martin Luther who said, “For a man to be a Christian without having Christ is impossible and if he has Christ, he has at the same time all that is in Christ. What gives peace to the conscience is that by faith our sins are no more ours but Christ’s, upon whom God hath laid them all, and that on the other hand, all Christ’s righteousness is ours to whom God hath given it. Christ lays His hand upon us and we are healed. He casts His mantle upon us and we are clothed, for He is our glorious Savior, blessed forever.” This union that we have now with Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. He takes us out of a condition of death and puts us in the union with Christ. We are then alive in Christ.
This happens by faith. We understand that. Luther goes on to say, “Unites the soul with Christ as a spouse with her husband. Everything which Christ has becomes the property of the believing soul, everything which the soul has becomes the property of Christ. Christ possesses all blessing and eternal life. They are thenceforth the property of the soul. The soul has all its iniquities and sins, they become thereafter the property of Christ. It is then that a blessed exchange commences. Christ who is both God and man, Christ who has never sinned and His holiness is perfect, Christ the almighty and eternal, taking to Himself by His nuptial ring of faith all the sins of the believer. Those sins are lost and abolished in Him, for no sins dwell before His infinite righteousness, and thus by faith the believer’s soul is delivered from sin, is clothed with eternal righteousness, the righteousness of her bridegroom Christ.” Oh, happy union. Who does that? That is the work of the Spirit of life who removes us from the union with sin and Satan, which produces death, and gives us life. This is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. That’s what verse 2 means.
Go back again for just a moment, looking at the end of it, we have been set free from the principle, the dominating principle of sin that produces death. The condition of spiritual death as a result of sin. How are we set free? By the dominating power of the Spirit of life, and that can only refer to the blessed Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of life. And He is so designated in 2 Corinthians chapter 3. You can read through that, the law kills, the letter kills, the letter kills, the Spirit gives life, the Spirit gives life. Verse 6, verse 17, verse 18, Galatians 6:8, the life-giving Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us life.
And if you’re still wondering about that, what did Jesus say to Nicodemus? You want to enter the kingdom of God? You must be born of the water and the Spirit. You must be born from above. The Spirit is the source of life. He is the one who gives life. He is the regenerator.
Look at Titus for a moment. In Titus, there’s a wonderful statement about salvation that we can see will lay some weight on what I’ve been saying and perhaps some clarity. But notice that we were foolish – verse 3 Titus 3:3 – that we were disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts, pleasures, spending our life in malice – that’s evil – envy, hateful, hating one another. That’s a description of every human being. Not a pretty picture. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared” – so here you have the kindness of God, everything starts from the love of God, works through the grace of Christ and ends up with the fellowship of the Spirit. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us.”
How did He save us? How did He rescue us from the condition of corruption and cursing? How did He rescue us from the domain of Satan? How did He rescue us from the tyranny of sin? How did He do it? “He saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness.” Okay, it wasn’t by the law then. It wasn’t by our goodness. “But according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and the renewing” – by whom? – “by the Holy Spirit whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” I don’t know that we really know the full richness of the Holy Spirit, but we’re going to work on understanding it together. How did this renewal come? How did this washing come? How did this regeneration come? How did this life come? How, by whom have we been made alive? None other than the Spirit of life.
How did He do it? Well, first I read you in John 16, He convicts us of sin and righteousness and judgment. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the work of convicting the sinner. Then He brought to us the gospel. The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. God breathed, comes from the pneuma, the Spirit of God. Holy men were moved by the Holy Spirit, Peter says, and they wrote the Scripture. So the Spirit is the author of holy Scripture. So one, the Holy Spirit convicts the sinner. Two, the Holy Spirit, who is the author of the gospel, brings the gospel so that we’re begotten again, according to James 1:18, by the Word of Truth. First Peter 1, the same thing. We’re begotten by the Word of Truth. The Spirit is the convictor; the Spirit is the author of the gospel which is brought to us. The Spirit becomes our teacher, opens our minds by His regenerating power, and we believe the gospel, we turn from sin. That’s all the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the life-giving Spirit, the Spirit who gives life, the Spirit of life.
I don’t know if you’ve ever really spent time thanking the Holy Spirit for what He gave you, for convicting you of sin and righteousness in judgment, for writing the holy Scripture, the glorious gospel, the Word of Truth, the Spirit of truth who brought you the Word of Truth, and then who gave you life and understanding so that you heard the truth, you came alive, you repented, you believed the truth, and you literally were delivered out of a condition of sin and death into a condition of life. And now your condition in life is a condition not only of being alive, but having been clothed with the very righteousness of Christ, you are beyond the possibility of condemnation – beyond that possibility.
How could the Spirit do this? How can the Holy Spirit do this? He can do it because of the provision of verse 3, which we’ll look at a little more next time, but just to introduce it to you. The law couldn’t do it. It was weak because the law couldn’t empower the flesh. The law couldn’t make a better man. It could set the perfect standard, but it couldn’t make a man that could keep it. So it was weak through the flesh. In other words, it’s weak not in its own self but in the sense that flesh can’t keep it. But God did what the law couldn’t do and He did it through His Holy Spirit, and He did it by the sacrifice of Christ, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as an offering for sin. He condemned sin in the flesh.
Let me show you the difference. See that last line, “He condemned sin in the flesh”? You know what the law can do? The law can condemn the sinner. The law does condemn the sinner. The cross condemned sin. See the difference? The law can’t condemn sin, only the cross condemned sin. The law sentences the sinner to death, the cross sentences sin to death. Sin dies, it’s no longer our master, it is no longer our power – a dominating force. It no longer can call for a just punishment and execution. The law condemns the sinner; the cross condemns sin.
How does it do that? Because at the cross, Jesus pays the penalty in full. Sin’s requirement, which was established by God Himself, is paid in full. That’s what it means when it says we were identified with Him in His death. When He died, all our sins were there and paid for in full. The law couldn’t do that. Believe me, the law condemns every sinner. The law can’t condemn sin, but the cross condemns sin for those who are in Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
I was looking around this week for some hymns on the Holy Spirit because there are a few songs to the Holy Spirit. They’re kind of schmaltzy, syrupy, sentimental songs. But I was digging around, I figured I’ll go to a Presbyterian hymnal. A Presbyterian is usually a little more theological. And I found this, I’ve never heard it, I don’t know what – I could hum the tune but that wouldn’t help anybody. But here’s an old hymn to the Holy Spirit, it’s the only one I found, and it goes like this: “Spirit, we would worship You, crowning gift of resurrection sent from Your ascended throne, fullness of the very godhead, come to make Your life our own.” That’s exactly what the Holy Spirit did. He came to make the life of God our own life.
And then this writer – who, by the way, is Margaret Clarkson, you may know a little bit about her. The hymn goes on, and I’ve edited it a little bit, but speaking to the Holy Spirit, “You who in creation’s dawning, brooded on the lifeless deep, still across our nature’s darkness moves to wake our souls from sleep. Moves to stir, to draw, to quicken, thrusts us through with sense of sin. Brings to birth and seals and fills us, saving advocate within. You Yourself, the living author, wakes to life the sacred Word, reads with us its holy pages and reveals our risen Lord. You it is who works within us, teaching rebel hearts to pray. You whose holy intercession rises for us night and day.” That’s absolutely true, and that’s reason to give honor to the Holy Spirit. Amen?
Father, we thank You for our time this morning to think about these things, and we’re just kind of scratching the edges of these great truths, but we have so much that we already know that we can fill in to this and grasp that all that Christ did on the cross made it possible for the Holy Spirit to give us life. The fact that He had borne in His own body our sins on the tree, the fact that He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, chastisement for our peace fell on Him, by His stripes were healed, that He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, the fact that He became a curse for us. All of these great realities of the substitutionary work of Christ, the necessary provision, the necessary ratification of divine initiative make it possible for the application and communication of the Holy Spirit to give us life and give us life that puts us beyond the possibility of condemnation, knowing that Christ was fully condemned for our sins. Nothing can ever condemn us. What incredibly glorious news.
How we thank You, Father, for such initiating love. We thank You, O Christ, for such a sacrifice of grace. And we thank You, O Holy Spirit, for giving us life and sustaining that life until we see Christ face-to-face and are like Him. We worship You, our triune God, and we do so with joy and gratitude. Amen.
And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. Genesis 37:5
Someone once said that God’s blessings are not all bright, shinny objects. There comes a time, a place and a season one MUST endure (call it a nightmarish experience) for God to reveal the mighty handiwork He ordains specifically for your life. The experience will either make you or it will break you. It will either make you ‘bitter’ or it will make you ‘better’. But, let it be known that if you endure the nightmare, God has waiting for you on the other side something that will change your destiny. It will change your perspective on God, on life, on yourself and on your world. The question is: will we allow God to produce the miracle in the middle of our nightmare? Will we trust Him to take our horrendous dark night for the purpose of birthing a masterpiece, a work of beauty?
We will look at five specific examples, the life of Joseph, Abigail, Peter, a personal story, and the life of Jesus Christ to see how a nightmare can birth something miraculous beyond human calculation. Let’s take a look.
Sweet Dreams Become Bitter Nightmares – The Life of Joseph
For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. Genesis 37:7
And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. Genesis 37:9
The young man (seventeen years old at the time) was meek, kind, gentle, humble and called of God. The lad’s name was Joseph. One would think given these “blessings” all of life would be well – no pain to endure, no difficult life situations to navigate, no enemies, no perplexing circumstances to set one off the trajectory God ordained. That was not the case. In fact the opposite was true. Joseph’s call became a caldron of turmoil before birthing the life-altering actions it was designed to produce.
Joseph’s dreams caused him rejection by his brothers (Gen 37:18-28), placed him on the auction block of slavery (Gen 37:36), shackled in the prison house of false actuations (Gen 39:20), and marginalized and brushed-off for his spiritual insight (Gen 40:23). Through it all Joseph allowed God to bless him on three levels; personally (Gen 41:38-45), relationally (Gen 45:3-15; 46:29-30) and generationally (Gen 47:5-11). The Lord restored his personal life, his family’s unity and his nation’s sovereignty by faithfully traversing the dark roads he was destined to travel.
Abigail – From Disgrace To The King’s Place
Abigail learned of the plot to annihilate her husband Nabal, his entire household, including herself. David and his ragtag army of misfits were headed her way and they would leave no life untouched by their wrath. But, unlike her husband, Abigail was a godly woman who feared the Lord. Instead of being fear-struck, she found courage and hope in God’s faithfulness, and by faith, humbled herself before David with a freewill offering of food and provisions. Her prophetic and anointed words concerning David and God’s will for his life (I Sam 25:24-30) were God-sent (I Sam 25:32) which he desperately needed to hear at this dismal juncture in life.
Abigail endured her nightmare. Her faith enabled her to persevere through the darkness. What was her “silver lining” in the pending catastrophe? She became the wife of the King of Israel. The pain Abigail endured from living in a very difficult situation was now comforted by looking daily at the face of her child, Chileab (meaning ‘like his father’ or ‘everything of the father’), born in Hebron between her and David. While Abigail lived a past filled with disgrace, she now lived a life surrounded by royalty as the king’s wife.
Peter’s Test In His Own Personal Nightmare
“But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:30
The account of Peter’s walk on the water to meet Jesus on a stormy sea was an unforgettable moment for him and for those who would read about it as recorded in Matthew chapter 14. It was truly a supernatural manifestation of God’s power in one man’s life. But, was there something else going on here that Jesus was setting out to accomplish? Was Jesus looking to use this moment of drama and near catastrophe to send a test of faith to his fresh brand of disciples to expose who would prove to be the most passionate and faith-driven?
One thing we do know is not much is recorded about Peter or his life before this supernatural encounter of walking on water. But afterwards, Matthew has much to say about him. Could it be that God was waiting to see by using the sea to test and identify true faith? How much faith does it take to walk out of a boat and onto the sea in the middle of a raging storm? It would appear a whole lot. But, there is a key point here that needs recognition. It is faith. What happened when Peter stepped out of that boat to walk towards Jesus on the sea? He gave up all control. Peter relinquished his own control over the situation, and by faith, trusted Jesus to take control. And what was the target of satan’s attack against Peter? It was his faith in God (Luke 22:31-32).
Peter’s test of faith in a time of great darkness was the key God would use to birth his future special role in God’s salvation plan (Mat 16:17-19). By trusting in Jesus’ ability to deliver in impossible situations (Mat 14:28), Peter would have the faith to fulfill God’s will for his life. This faith would later come to good use at a most critical time and place – the beginning of the church age on The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). It was engrained in Peter’s mind that no matter what may come in life, or death, Jesus’ word is true and Jesus would back it up. Even when prompted to walk on the sea in the middle of a raging storm.
While sitting at the red light it took some mental gymnastics to decrypt the vanity license plate on the car ahead. But, after juggling around the seven-lettered puzzle piece it was too real and almost too coincidental – LVNTMRE. Living nightmare. Which was a fairly accurate description of life for the past eight years or so. But, as it turned out God has a plan even living there.
The beautiful newborn child pictured above was 3 weeks old when this photo was taken. Logistically-speaking, she has neither a mother or a father. She is our first grandchild. She is healthy, beautiful and complete. But, you do not know the “nightmare”, the story behind her entrance into this world. The circumstances surrounding her birth are nothing short of miraculous. Her 9-month journey was atypical of the way most children enter this life. This little girl was born in a very difficult situation and under horrendous circumstances. Some of the more personal and sensitive details (and they are numerous) are excluded. You see this child was born by a parent addicted to crack cocaine, nicotine and alcohol (and other drugs). But, God reached His hands into a nightmare situation and brought forth a living miracle. The neonatal nurses at the hospital knew her background, read the blood work results and were on the lookout for withdraw signs. They were very minor.
This was all because of prayer coupled with the cooperation of one special family member. Prayers by her family and prayers from the body of Christ were heard and answered on her behalf and turned a certain tragedy into a wonderful treasure. God reached His hand into a pit of darkness and brought forth precious life. And all life is precious because it is created by God.
Even in the belly of hell Satan may challenge, but he cannot overpower God’s sovereignty. Jesus is the God of light, life, and love. Jesus is the giver and taker of life. When Jesus commands, hell listens, even when the situation dictates otherwise. Don’t loose your hope in the midst of your nightmare because He just might be planning to produce a living miracle in its midst.
And now we will save the best nightmare for last.
Jesus Christ – He Experienced His Own Nightmare
His life was perfect. He never sinned, his heart and mind was pure, he always handled himself gracefully and tactfully when faced with hate and injustice. His name is Jesus Christ. History documents his life. Jesus indeed walked the dusty, earthen paths and roads of this earth. Jesus lived for one purpose – to heal, to love and to set souls free from the curse of sin. But, even Jesus encountered his own nightmarish experiences.
“And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” Luke 23:32-34
And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Luke 23:44-46
What did Jesus birth in his darkness? He birthed our healing (Is 53:5) and He birthed the church, God’s church, the highest life-form on earth, the body of Christ. God has free will and can choose to be whoever He wants to be. Yet, he decided to be love and be known as the God of love (I John 4:8, 16). And there is “no greater” way to display this love than to lay down His life for sinners, a people who don’t deserve it and can never do anything to earn it. God’s love is a gift. A gift to humanity. And Jesus endured the darkness of sin so that we might have the choice to embrace that love and be birthed into his kingdom.
Jesus endured the cross’ pain and shame to usher into the world salvation for mankind through the new birth of water and Spirit (John 3:3-8, 7:37-39; Acts 2:1-4, 2:38; Rom 8:11). Jesus did it for you. God knew before creation that he would walk through this darkness (I Pet 1:19-20; Rev 13:8) and face the ‘nightmare’ on Golgotha’s hill. Jesus became sin for us who knew no sin that we might have a hope for something beyond the end of this life journey.
What Will God Birth In Your Own Nightmare?
No one really knows the totality of our life like God. He even knew before your birth the number of hair follicles that would be on your head (Mat 10:30). And no one really understands life’s nightmarish experiences you are going through, have gone through or somewhere down the road will go through but God. Are they to punish, callously inflict pain or purposelessly cause undue burdens upon your life? Never. We must come to an understanding of this. Whatever you go through in life is meant to better you, make your faith stronger, recharge hope, and most importantly to rekindle love – our love for God, love for our neighbor and love for ourselves.
We must allow the nightmares God sends into our life to produce their intended miracle, turn the mess into a masterpiece and birth the impossible out of the darkest of nights. Only God, only Jesus really understands the whole picture of your life. This is mentioned because God has sent you or will send you a nightmare to birth in you a miracle. What the enemy meant for evil, God desires to turn it around for your and His good. Why? Because God is glorified through the fiery trial of your faith (Rom 4:20; I Pet 1:7). There is nothing that defuses the devil’s machinery of mayhem more and completely blasts his apple cart of destruction and wickedness apart then when someone endures a nightmare experience while maintaining a right attitude by praising and magnifying the Lord in its midst. Do you know what that does? It shows whether it is the god of this world with the lower-case ‘g’ or the God of Creation with the upper-case ‘G’ that is really running this thing we know as life.
And there is one thing that ends all nightmares every single time. All nightmares end upon one condition, when you “wake up” and open your eyes. The nightmare looses its power and grip when the person under its control wakes up and sees the light of day. Jesus is the light of the world (John 1:9, 8:2, 12:46). Jesus is the peace and comfort in life’s darkest moments. And Jesus came to heal the mind’s blindness caused by the god of this world (II Cor 4:4) and enlighten your vision to who really is the One in control. If we allow him. Jesus will take our worst nightmare, turn it around, and produce a work that will amaze you and those around you.
What miracles will you allow God to birth in your life like he did for Joseph, Abigail and Peter (and Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Samson, Hannah, Ruth, Esther, Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, the blind, deaf, dumb, the bruised, the broken, the DEAD and so many others)? And who knows, you just might be next on His list!
Only Jesus can turn a LVNTMRE (‘Living Nightmare’) into a LVMIRKL (‘Living Miracle’).
We’ve been talking about Paul’s gospel, the gospel according to Paul, and I confess to you that this is a great challenge for me to try to narrow this down to a few subjects. In all honesty I’m kind of vacillating a little bit, I’m changing my mind, if it’s okay here and there, so you’ll have to bear with me a little. Tonight I want you to open your Bible back to 2 Corinthians and I want to go to chapter 5. We have talked about the glory of the gospel, we have actually talked about the nature of the gospel in our two sessions this morning digging down into the doctrine of justification with the nature of the gospel is that the righteousness of God has to come down, and it is received by faith, and it is a gift of grace, and that’s how salvation takes place. We’ve talked about that.
It is glorious gospel. It is a substitutionary gospel as we saw this morning. We’re going to see a little more about that tonight. But I want you to understand this concept of reconciliation. It is a reconciling gospel. The gospel reconciles the sinner to God. There’s a passage here at the end of chapter 5 that is a critically essential passage in understanding Paul’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the blessed God, the gospel of peace and grace and salvation, that Paul called my gospel and even our gospel.
I want you to begin by looking with me at verse 18. “Now, all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were making an appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Five times in that passage the word reconcile appears. You saw it. Verse 18, “God reconciled us, gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” verse 19, “God in Christ reconciling the world, committing to us the word of reconciliation.” Verse 20, “Be reconciled to God.” This is about reconciliation.
Reconciliation assumes alienation, does it not? It assumes enmity, hostility. It assumes that people are enemies or worse, violent enemies. And reconciliation needs to take place. Now, you will notice that Paul says we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. And we have been given to affect that ministry the Word of reconciliation. Our message is a message of reconciliation, a message of reconciliation. How are we to understand this reconciliation? Well, in this passage, not only in verses 18 through 21, but backing up a little bit, we have, what I think is the essence of an understanding of the message of the gospel as reconciliation. We are given the ministry of reconciliation. We have received the message concerning reconciliation and this constitutes, according to verse 20, the nature of our ambassadorship. An ambassador was a representative of a monarch who was set into an alien culture to represent that monarch. And so it is with us: we represent the King of kings and we are in an alien culture. And our responsibility is to tell the people in this alien culture, who are enemies of God by nature, that they can be reconciled to God. That’s our message. That’s our message.
I have on occasion been flying in an airplane and had people sit next to me and ask me what I do. I remember answering the question on a flight from New York to LA, and I said, “Well, I’m a preacher of the gospel.” And the guy that I was sitting next to who was pierced every way you could be pierced, must have been frightened because he got out of his seat and never came back. And that’s a five-hour flight. So I’ve learned maybe not to just be so blunt. On the other hand, on occasion I say this. “Oh, I have a great job. I tell sinners that they can be reconciled to God. Are you interested?” I mean, that is what’s called cutting to the chase. But that is exactly what I do. That is what we do. Our message is that sinners can be reconciled to God. That God is a reconciling God who has provided a means of reconciliation and a message of reconciliation is the responsibility of every ambassador of Christ. It assumes alienation, hostility, an enemy kind of relationship, but one that can be turned into a full and complete reconciliation.
Now, as we look at this passage, I want to show you several elements to the ministry of reconciliation. Several elements to the reality of reconciliation. And in order to do this, we have to back up to verse 14 and pick up some things that are there. And backing up to verse 14, I want to say the first component of reconciliation is that it is motivated by the love of God. It is motivated by the love of God. I shouldn’t need to deal with that very much because you’re all very familiar with the fact that God so loved the world, right? That He gave. Hearing His love, not that we love God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. While we were enemies, Paul says He loved us. In verse 14 Paul identifies this, “The love of Christ controls us.” That’s a verb that means put pressure on something to create an action. It could even be translated: the love of Christ rules us. I love the word “control” actually in the NAS. Paul is not talking about His love for Christ; he’s talking about Christ’s love for him. What drives him, we saw he understood the glory of the gospel, right? From 2 Corinthians we talked about that. We understood the transcendent glory of the gospel and was motivated by its unparalleled and unequalled grandeur. Well, he also experienced the love of Christ. Christ had laid a saving claim on the life of Paul so that he was so overwhelmed by this saving love that he could never live for anything but the proclamation of the gospel of that saving love.
Christ’s saving love for Paul controlled him, dominated him, motivated him, ruled him. And he didn’t see it in a personal way. He didn’t see it in a selfish way. Didn’t see it in an isolated way, because he says in verse 15, “And He died for all.” What God has done for me through His love, what Christ has done for me through this magnanimous saving, forgiving, gracious love is not just for me. He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
What drove him? What compelled him? What motivated him? It was not only the glory of the gospel in a broad sense, but the glory of the gospel was bound up in the fact that the gospel was such a magnanimous expression of divine love toward an unworthy sinner, such as he was who confessed himself to be a blasphemer. And he realized that this love which God had given to him in Christ which had so totally transformed his life was not just for him, but that Christ died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. He died for all.
What do you mean for all? He died for all who believe in Him. All who believe in Him. He died and rose again on their behalf. The end of verse 14 says, “One died for all, therefore all died.” I don’t want to get technical here; He died for all those who died in Him. He died for all those who died in Him. It doesn’t mean that He died for the whole world. If Christ died for the whole world, the whole world would be saved. Do you understand that? If Christ actually paid the penalty in full for the whole world, then the whole world would have to be saved because the penalty was paid. There are people who teach that He died for the whole world and if you teach that He died for the whole world, everybody who has ever lived, then His death was a potential death and not an actual death. It was a potential atonement and not an actual atonement. If you say He died for everybody in general, then He died for nobody in particular.
That’s a problem. He died for all who died in Him. He died and rose again on behalf of all who died in Him, who are made manifest by faith. This is an actual atonement. Christ actually bore our sins in His own body on the cross, actually paid the penalty in full. His death is not a potential, it is an actual death. It doesn’t make salvation possible; it makes salvation inevitable. Christ’s death was the death of His people, His elect who would believe. The penalty for whose sins He paid.
You say, “That sounds like predestination.” Exactly. By the way, I know you want to ask that question. Everybody has that question, so tomorrow I’m going to talk about how Paul’s view of predestination fits into His gospel passion. Okay? We do that in the morning. All right.
Paul understood that this love gift of salvation that had been given to him, that controlled his life, couldn’t be kept by him. Because Christ had died for all who died in Him, who were yet to be born in some cases, yet to hear the message of the gospel, but would hear in the future and believe and be saved. What controls his life was the love that God showed him in Christ to redeem him from his wretchedness and from eternal damnation, and that love took control of his life because he knew he was to be an instrument to take the message of that love to everyone he could possibly reach.
So, his whole life changed. Verse 16, look what he said. “From now on we recognize no one according to the flesh.” Do you understand that? What happened in his life? Well, all of a sudden he didn’t view people as external. He didn’t view people as physical beings. He didn’t just see the outside of it. He wasn’t particularly interested in what they looked like. He wasn’t particularly interested in their external behaviors. That’s not how he viewed people. He says it in verse 16, “From now on, from the moment of his salvation on, we recognize no one according to the flesh.” We don’t judge people by what we can see and experience of their physical life. Then he said, “I did that once, did that to Christ, we’ve known Christ according to the flesh.” There was a time when I knew Christ only according to the flesh. And you know what I determined? He was a blasphemer. He was a fraud. He was a false messiah. He was a problem to Judaism. He deserved to be crucified and his preachers deserved to be killed. Do you remember in the stoning of Stephen who was standing there and had the cloaks of the people who stoned Stephen placed at his feet? Paul. He had made an external evaluation of Christ and it was totally wrong. Yet now, we know him in this way no longer. My entire opinion of Christ has changed since the Damascus Road. I don’t view people anymore externally. The most horrible result of my doing that, which is what Pharisees did and all false religionists, and all the lost people, the most horrible expression of that kind of judgment was the way I judged Christ. Boy, was I wrong. I just see everybody from a spiritual viewpoint now, don’t you? You understand that?
You know, if you have children who don’t know the Lord, they can get all dressed up and look good and walk out of the house and your heart can break. Everything might be coiffed exactly the way it should be, all you care about is the heart, right? You may have a spouse that’s attractive, doesn’t know Christ, you see right past that. We don’t view the world the way the world views itself.
I was in the White House some years ago, talking to the White House staff and I said, “You know, you guys got a problem here.” I said, “And it’s not the kind of problem you think it is.” I said, “You guys are so bent,” this was in the Bush years, “you are so bent on making sure that you attack the Democrats, that you attack your adversaries, that you have turned the mission field into your enemy. You can’t do that. You might not like their politics, but you can’t look at them after the flesh. That’s a mission field.” That’s how Paul viewed the world. That’s how every believer has to view the world. And Paul says this in familiar words in verse 17, “Therefore, I love this, if anyone is in Christ, he is,” what? “A new creation, old things have passed away, new things have come.” And the “anyone” is the operative word here. Anyone, I don’t know who the all are who died in Christ, for whom He actually paid in full for their sins, I don’t know who they are but I do know that anyone who believes fits into that category and anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.
Paul thus is catapulted into the ministry of reconciliation ‘cause he has a personal first-hand experience of the love of God in Christ given to him that brought about the spiritual transformation of his own soul, changed his eternal destiny and granted him the very righteousness of God in the place of damning human righteousness. That became the passion of his life. It is that love of Christ which controlled him and everybody with him, us. You see the pronoun there in verse 14. We’re all controlled by the reality that we have been made new creations by the love of God in Christ and it can’t be limited to us, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. We don’t see people the same anymore. If you ask Paul, he would say, “In Christ there’s neither male, female, bond, free, Jew, Gentile.” There’s no distinction. He saw everyone as an eternal soul.
I’m sure you experience this. I do. I see myself looking through the person whoever they are, whether I know them or don’t know them. When I’m exposed to people, it’s their soul that captivates my thinking. It’s their soul. We don’t know people any longer, purely on the superficial level. We live in a world of lost souls. They’re all around us. You might not like their politics, might not like their behavior, might not like their social status, might not like their personality, you’ve got to see past it, because for some of those people, Christ died and paid the penalty for their sin in full and you may be, if available, the instrument that He uses to bring them to the point of the salvation plan for them before the foundation of the world. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation. That’s the heart and soul of our responsibility as believers and that was the way Paul viewed his life. Our ministry is to reconcile men to God, to reconcile women to God, to preach the good news that the relationship of enmity, hostility, hatred, alienation between God and men can be totally changed. And part of that, of course, is defining the fact that there is alienation between men and God. That’s the good news. It is possible for sinners to be reconciled to Almighty God.
I always think about this. You may have heard me say this somewhere on a tape or something. I was riding on an airplane, Southwest Airlines to El Paso, sitting in the dreaded middle seat. I’m squeezed in there and I was preparing for a men’s conference in the El Paso Civic Center. And just got my little New Testament open and was making some notes of what I was going to talk about, and there was sitting next to me an Arabic man, clearly I could tell. And I’m looking at my New Testament and we’re just barely up in the air and after a few minutes go by, he looks over at me and he says, “Excuse me, sir. Is that a Bible?” I said, “Yes, it is a Bible.” He said, “May I ask you a question?” I said, “Of course you can ask me a question.” He said, “Well, I’m from Iran, I’m new in America. I’m in the process of immigrating and I don’t understand American religion. I don’t understand. In My country everyone is a Muslim, everyone. But I don’t understand American religion.” He said, “Could you, sir,” and this is exactly what he said, “tell me the difference please between a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Baptist.” A Catholic, a Protestant and a Baptist, so he had been exposed to at least those three categories. So I said to him, I said, “Yeah, I can tell you the difference.” And I just gave him a simple way to understand Catholicism as a sacramental form of ceremony, et cetera, et cetera. And Protestantism is a protest against that, and a regripping of a personal relationship with God through Christ, and we went through that. And I put the Baptist in the Protestant category where they belong.
So, he said, “Thank you, thank you very much, thank you very much.” I said, “Can I ask you a question, sir?” He said, “Of course, of course.” And I knew the answers but I wanted to hear them from him. So I said, “Do Muslims have sins?” And I knew the answer but I wanted to hear him say it. He said, “Oh, do we have sins? We have so many sins; I don’t even know all the sins.” I said, “Well, do you do them?” “All the time.” Then he said this. “I’m flying to El Paso to do some sins.” “You are?” This is a pretty honest guy. Flying to El Paso, “Yes,” he said, “I met a girl when I was immigrating, that’s an immigration point, and we will meet and do some sins.” “Oh,” this is more information than I really require. I said, “Well, can I ask you another question?” “Of course.” I said, “How does Allah feel about your sins?” “Oh, very bad. Very, very bad. I could go to hell.” I said, “Well, why don’t you stop doing them?” “I can’t, I can’t.” I said, “So you keep doing sins that could send you to hell, everlasting hell?” And then he said this, “I hope the God will forgive me. I hope Allah will forgive me.” And then I said something that afterwards I know, I didn’t think about it. I said, “Well, I know Him personally, and I can tell you He won’t.”
He looked at me, He looked at me and said, you know, in his mind he was saying, “How could you know God personally and wind up in the middle seat on Southwest?” That doesn’t make sense. I said, “I do know Him personally and He will not.” He said, “Well, I hope He will.” I said, “I have some good news for you. I know how You can be fully reconciled to God, how You can be completely forgiven and become a friend of God and a son of God, and receive all that God possesses as a gift from Him to you.” He had never heard anything like that in his life. There is no redemption in Islam. And I went on to give him the gospel. He did not respond to Christ, but I think I messed up his weekend. Some girl got very confused. I’m sure she didn’t know what happened. I gave him a bunch of material, sent him much stuff, told him where to go to church in the place he was living, but I never have gotten any follow up. But that’s the truth, isn’t it? Isn’t that what we do? Don’t we tell people they can reconciled to God?
Go back to chapter 5 here, He’s committed to us the Word of reconciliation, literally placed in us the logos as opposed to the mythos. Logos is the word that is true, mythosis the word that is not truth. He has placed in us the logos of reconciliation. We’ve been called then to preach the ministry of reconciliation, to tell sinners they can be reconciled to God. And it assumes that we have to help them to understand that they are currently alienated from God. In other words, you can’t tell people they can be reconciled until you’ve made it clear that they need to be reconciled, ‘cause you don’t want to be the enemy of holy God.
Now, as we think about this ministry of reconciliation, I want to give you just a few things that will help you understand the nature of this great truth, okay? Number one, reconciliation, this is so important, is by the will of God. Reconciliation is by the will of God. Please go back to verse 18; let’s pick up our original text. “Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” All what things? All the things that He’s been talking about from verse 14. Salvation, the provision in the death of Christ, being made a new creation, having the old pass away and the new come. This is speaking not about justification but about regeneration. This is by the will of God. All these things are from God. Verse 19, “It is God in Christ reconciling us.” Verse 20, “It is God making an appeal through us.” Reconciliation is by the will of God. That is the foundational reality. We cannot decide to be reconciled to God. We have no power to satisfy God’s anger. We have no ability to set aside His justice, to achieve His righteousness. We’re the offenders. We have been banished from His presence forever. Any change in our relationship with God has to come from Him. Any reconciliation has to be by His design. And this is at the heart of the gospel.
God loves sinners and seeks to reconcile them. He designed a means to reconcile with sinners, to make sinners into sons. It is God who reconciled us to Himself. It is God who is the reconciler. That is just such a profound point. If you go back and study the religions of the world, you will not find, as we said the other night, you will not find a reconciling deity in the history of religion. You will not find a God who is by nature a reconciler. First Timothy 4:10 says, “God is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” What does that mean? What do you mean He’s a Savior of all men? Especially those who believe?”
Well, there is a sense in which He’s the Savior of all men. In a very generic, a very comprehensive, a very wide sense, He’s the Savior of all men. What do we mean by that? Physically and temporally, physically and temporally. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is,” what? “Death.” The Bible says, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” The Bible says, “Violate one law and the full weight of the Law will fall upon you.” The Bible says that, “In sin, my mother conceived me; I have been a sinner from conception.” Why am I alive? Why am I here? Because God is by nature a Savior, and every sinner who takes another breath is living proof that God is by nature a Savior. And it is, as Romans 2 says, the forbearance and patience of God with sinners that is intended to demonstrate that He’s the Savior and lead them to repentance.
The very fact that we experience as sinners come in grace, smell the coffee, kiss the one we love, have children, enjoy a sunset, eat a wonderful meal, take a beautiful vacation, have success, appreciate music. Sinners do that. And everyone who ever does any of that, who takes another breath, gives testimony to the fact that God is by nature a Savior, and if He wasn’t, He would destroy sinners before they took another breath.
So, the good news is you don’t have to try to convince God to save; you just need to convince the sinner to receive. One of the things that irritates me about Roman Catholicism, a lot of things do, but one of the most irritating things, one of the most God-dishonoring things, one of the most blasphemous elements of Roman Catholicism is this: look, if you want God to come and rescue you out of your plight, if you want God to deliver you, if you want God to pay attention to you, don’t go to God. He’s really busy. And He’s really holy. He’s holy, holy, holy. And He hasn’t got time for you and He’s hard and harsh. You don’t want to go to God. You don’t want to cry out to God.
Now, you could go to Christ. You could go to Christ because Christ having been a man, and having experienced all the things that humans experience, being in all points tempted like as we are, He’s liable to be a little more sympathetic, but, you know, He’s pretty tough, too. He’s pretty harsh. So if you really have a problem and you really have a need, go to Mary. Go to Mary. Why you go to Mary? Because Jesus can’t resist Mary. He can resist you, He can’t resist His mother. Go to Mary. That is a blasphemy against the nature of God who is a reconciling, loving God waiting for the sinner to come into His presence and ask His forgiveness. You don’t need to go to Mary. Mary never has heard a prayer from any human being since she arrived in heaven. And neither has anybody else in heaven except the Trinity. God is by nature a reconciling God. You say, “Well, look at the Old Testament, how can you say that God is, how can you say He’s a loving reconciling God when some young guys say, “Hey, O Baldy, Baldy, Baldy,” to a prophet, and God sends bears out of the woods and rips them to shreds, what kind of a God does that? What kind of a God sends bears out of the woods to shred a bunch of young men who are yelling, “Baldy, Baldy” at a prophet?
That’s not the question. You say, “What kind of a God opens up the ground and swallows some guys?” That’s really not the question. What kind of God brings down the house on the Philistines? What kind of a God does that? What kind of a God instructs the Israelites to kill the Canaanites? What kind of a God is that? That is not the question. The question is not: why did God take the life of sinners in the Old Testament in those cataclysmic ways? The question is why did He allow most sinners to go on living? That’s the question. The wages of sin is death, death is what they deserve. You know, in Luke 13 they came to Jesus and they said, “You know, we don’t understand, we don’t understand. Some Galileans came into the temple, they were in there worshiping and Pilate’s guys came in, took some knives and sliced them up and killed them all. Why did that happen?
You know, the question is: they’re worshipers. They’re in there doing what they’re supposed to do. How can God let that happen? And Jesus’ answer was, “You’re going to perish, too.” And then they asked a second one, they read in the Jerusalem Gazette that a tower fell over and crushed a bunch of people and killed them. What kind of a God lets that happen?” That’s not the question. Periodically through human history, it all points in times through cataclysms and events like that, God gives testimony to what all sinners deserve that the mass of sinners who go on living and enjoying all the benefits of common grace give evidence to the fact that God is by nature a saving God. He puts His compassion and His mercy on behalf of sinners on display through common grace as a warning to sinners to repent. He is in that sense a Savior of all men, but He is especially the Savior of those who believe because He saves them not physically and temporally, but spiritually and eternally. God is the source of reconciliation. I’m so glad I don’t have to talk God into being willing to accept a sinner.
You know, when Jesus died on the cross, there was a veil, wasn’t there, in the temple that separated God from everybody, or the symbol of God’s presence. God ripped it from top to bottom and threw it wide open. And all sinners who will come have access to one who is by nature a reconciling God. Back to the text. It is God who reconciles us to Himself. It is God in Christ reconciling the world. It is God begging, appealing. Never are you more in line with the will of God than when you preach the word of reconciliation.
Reconciliation, then, is, first of all, by the will of God. Secondly, it is by the act of forgiveness. It is by the act of forgiveness. How in the world can God do this? Well, it comes in verse 19. The only way that God can reconcile with sinners, here it comes, verse 19, is by not counting their trespasses against them. That’s the only way. How is reconciliation possible? How can He reconcile the world? That means all people from all nations who will be reconciled. How can He reconcile them? By not counting their trespasses against them. That’s the issue. He has to set their sins aside.
Now, we already know, don’t we, we talked about it. Micah 7, “Who is a pardoning God like You?” Exodus chapter 33, “God is by nature compassionate, merciful. He is a forgiving God.” The Old Testament is full of that. The New Testament is full of that. God is an eager forgiver of penitent sinners, not counting their trespasses against them. It is the thing that we need to say to sinners. Here’s the question. You can be reconciled to God. God will forgive you all your sins forever. Are you interested? That’s the issue. When people evangelize often, they say, “Do you want to have purpose in your life?” “Do you want to have a better marriage?” “You want to straighten out your slice on the golf course?” “You want to score more touchdowns?” You know. What are you looking for in life? Happiness, contentment, sense of well-being? That is not it. Do you want to die in your sins and go to hell forever? Or, are you interested in full and complete and eternal forgiveness? That’s the message.
Psalm 32:2, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” That’s what’s behind this verse. Paul probably thought about it here because he said it, actually, in Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” That’s a paraphrase of Psalm 32. God is willing to erase the sin. In fact, the Old Testament says He’ll remove it as far as the east is from the west. He’ll bury it in the depths of the deepest sea and remember it no more. Colossians 2:13 says that it is God who has forgiven us all our transgressions. And, friends, as we’re faithful to the gospel and faithful to the gospel that Paul proclaimed, what we’re telling sinners is about the forgiveness of their individual sins. This is the good news, that God will forgive all your sins. This is the message of reconciliation. Let’s get past all the superficiality, get past all the prosperity garbage, that Jesus wants you healthy, wealthy, and rich, successful. What He offers is none of that. You may be sicker after you’re saved then you’ve ever been. You may be poorer after you’re saved then you’ve ever been. But you are in the care of the sovereign God who is determined that that is for your good and His glory. But what you will be able to count on, is that you are on the way to heaven because He does not credit your sins any longer to your account.
In fact, I love the language of Colossians which says He blots out the transgression that was written against us. Taking it out of the way, removing it. It’s a reconciliation Paul knows because He’s personally experienced it. It is by the will of God, by the act of forgiveness. Thirdly, it is by the obedience of faith. Now, we talked about this. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this. It is by the obedience of faith. That’s implied in verse 20. To make this happen, the sinner must respond, so here we go. We’re ambassadors for Christ. We’re the representatives of the great King who wants to be reconciled with His alienated subjects. We gave good news to tell them. God will be reconciled to you. God will not impute your sins to you, He will forgive you. Please accept this gift. That’s what verse 20 is saying. It is as if God, through us, is making an appeal. We are begging you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Now, that doesn’t sound very Calvinistic, does it? You don’t think we go around begging people, please be reconciled, repent, believe, confess your sin, turn from your sin, embrace Christ. Oh, you know, we’re Calvinists. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Really? Listen, not only should we be begging sinners to be reconciled to God as an act of faith, but listen, it is God making the appeal through us. He might conclude that God isn’t even a very good Calvinist. What? God begging sinners to be reconciled? That sounds absolutely Arminian. What do you mean? That’s what it says. We’re going to look at that dilemma tomorrow.
There is no salvation apart from faith. There is no salvation apart from the willingness of the sinner. What does it say in John 1:12? “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” And yet, “They’re not born of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” We know it’s a work of God but still it’s not apart from the sinner. It’s through the sinner’s expression of will. God is a beggar pleading with sinners.
Look at Jesus, “You will not come to Me that you might have life. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not. Your house is left to you desolate. And He wept.” You remember that? He wept. Jeremiah weeps the tears of God in his prophecy. “My eye will run down with tears ‘cause you will not believe.” God Himself is pleading through you with sinners. We are the representatives of a pleading God, a begging God, crying out to sinners, asking them to please believe, and be saved, and be reconciled to Him.
So, the ministry of reconciliation, the work of reconciliation is by the will of God through forgiveness, by the means of faith. That takes us to the fourth and final point, and this is going to capture what we’ve been saying all day. It is by the work of substitution, by the work of substitution. ‘Cause the question then comes immediately: how in the world can God just decide not to impute our sins to us?
To borrow the language of Romans 4:5, how can He justify the ungodly? That frankly, that statement that God justifies the ungodly would be the most, the most unacceptable sentence that Paul could utter in a Jewish context. God determines that the ungodly are righteous? God justifies the ungodly? That is an absolute outrage. How can He do it? As we said today, you know, if a judge sitting at the bench and a criminal came in and he had been accused of multiple murders and he said, “I did it all. I killed all those people, you know, I killed them, and then I dismembered them, and I buried them all over the place. Yeah, I did all that. I feel really bad about it. I’m so sorry for the family. And judge, I’m so sorry, I really am sorry, and would you please forgive me and let me go?” And the judge said, “You know, because you’ve asked, I forgive you, you’re free to go.” You wouldn’t be a judge anymore ‘cause he’s not upholding the Law. It would be an outrage. Is that what God did? Did God just say, “Oh yeah, sure, on your way?”
No, He didn’t. His justice had to be satisfied, and that’s verse 21. That’s the work of substitution. This will wrap up what we’ve been hearing about that really all day. It was BB Warfield who said, “Substitution is the heart of the heart of the gospel.” Let me help you understand verse 21. 15 Greek words. The most condensed, clear, comprehensive statement of the meaning of substitutionary atonement on the pages of the New Testament, verse 21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” If He is not going to impute our trespasses to us, but rather is going to impute righteousness to us, how can He do that and still be just? Here’s how. “He,” that’s God, “made Him who knew no sin.” Who’s that? Very short list. Right? The only one with no sin. “He made Him who knew no sin, sin.” Oh, what did he mean by that? What do you mean He made Him who knew no sin, sin? Well, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagen, the Word of Faith people tell us, and I’ve heard them say it many times with their own lips that on the cross Jesus became a sinner, He became a sinner, and He had to go to hell and suffer for His sins for three days. And then the Lord let Him be raised from the dead because He had pay for His sins.
That is blasphemy. He was a Lamb without blemish and without spot. He was as sinless hanging on the cross as He ever is eternally. That is why He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” If He’s a sinner, there’s no “why”. On the cross, Jesus did not become a sinner. In what sense was, did He become sin? In this sense and this sense alone. God treated Him as if He were a sinner though He was not.
Now, follow carefully. On the cross God treated Christ as if He had committed personally every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe, though in fact He committed none of them. Did you get that? On the cross, God treated Christ as if He personally committed every sin ever committed by every believer who ever lives and though He committed none of them. Let me say it in a more personal way. On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He lived your life. He didn’t, but God treated Him as if He did. He treated Christ as if He lived my life. He poured out the full fury of His wrath against our sin as if Christ was the guilty one. Isn’t that what’s pictured in the sacrificial system, going back to Leviticus chapter 1 verses 1 to 9?
So, we say it this way: on the cross God treated Jesus as if He was a sinner though He was not a sinner. Why did He do that? On our behalf, for us. Because His justice had to be satisfied. And I told you this morning that in three hours of darkness He was able to bear the infinite punishment, the eternal punishment of all the collected people who will ever believe, because He is an infinite person with an infinite capacity, and His capacity to bear the punishment had no boundaries.
That’s only the first part of it. God treated Him as if He committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe, and then the flipside of the doctrine of substitution, at the end of verse 21, “So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Now, listen to this, this must be understood or you don’t get the full picture in this great verse. Are you righteous? Before God you stand righteous, but are you righteous? If you’re having any question about it, just ask the person sitting next to you, you’ll get an honest answer. Are you righteous? No. Paul said at the height of his spiritual maturity, “I am the chief of,” what? “Righteous people?” No. No. “I’m the chief of sinners.” You’re not righteous. What does this mean? It means that God treats you as if you were righteous. Let me go a step further. On the cross, God treats His Son as if He lived your life so that He could treat you as if you lived His Son’s life. That’s how God sees you. He looks at the cross and sees you; He looks at you and sees His Son. That’s why there’s no condemnation.
Now, you know, somebody might say, “Oh well if I were God, I think I would have designed this deal differently. Why does Jesus have to be here for 33 years for and go through all that hassle? I mean, why didn’t the Father just go to Him and say, “Can I use you for a weekend down on earth? You go down on a Friday, they’ll kill You. You rise from the dead on Sunday, be back by late Sunday evening after a few appearances. Redemption will be accomplished. I just need you for the weekend.” What’s the 30 years about? What’s that for? Scripture tells us what that’s for. He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without what? Sin. At all points means chronologically, from birth. At all points without sin. He lived a complete life without sin. Infancy, childhood, teenage years, young adult, mature adult, full life, He fulfilled all righteousness. Why? Because that life would be credited to your account. That is the active righteousness of Christ that we talked about.
So, on the cross God treats Jesus as if He lived your life, and now He treats you as if you lived His. That’s pretty generous, isn’t it? He looks at the cross and sees you. He looks at you and sees His Son. That’s good news to the sinner. Paul says, “I can’t view anybody any other way than as a spiritual entity, desperately in need of the message of reconciliation. We have been given this ministry, we’ve been given this message, we are here as ambassadors in an alien world. We can’t look at people externally, we have to see them for what they really are, eternal souls who will spend that eternity either in heaven or hell and the message that we must deliver to them is a message of reconciliation that God loves them so much, He is such an eager forgiver, that He is willing to remove their sins from them and replace them with His own righteousness as demonstrated and manifested in the perfect life of His Son. He judged His Son as if He lived your life, so that He could reward you as if you lived His life. This is the glory of the gospel.
Father, we thank You for Your truth. These are just almost beyond our comprehension, these wonders. We are so insignificant, so utterly sinful and unworthy and undeserving. And yet You have granted us this great salvation. May we be like Paul, ruled by such love, realizing that You didn’t just do this for us, but You died for all. And may we give our lives relentlessly and eagerly to the ministry of reconciliation to tell sinners they can be reconciled to a loving, forgiving God who will treat them as if they were as righteous as His perfect Son. This is available through faith in the name of Christ. Thank You for a wonderful evening of fellowship. Thank You for the privilege of worshiping You. We know that You want us to worship You in spirit. We’ve done that as we’ve sung, but also in truth. And now that we’re more enriched with the truth, fill our hearts with joy as we continue to worship You in the name of Your Son. Amen.
All right, let’s turn to Romans chapter 8 again this morning. Romans chapter 8. We have been considering in some depth the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this chapter, and we are profoundly enriched by what Paul gives us here of divine insight into the Spirit’s work. What prompted the series emphasizing the Holy Spirit is a feeling in my own heart and the sense – and I think it’s an accurate one – that there’s a member of the Trinity who gets left out in Christian worship and Christian discussion and Christian teaching and in Christian living, and He is the very member of the Trinity to whom we are most indebted for our Christian experience, and that is none other than the Holy Spirit.
Just in general, Christian worship today is more about style than it is about substance. It’s more about feeling than it is about fact. It’s more about self than it is about the Savior. It’s more about therapy than theology. It’s more about the secular than the sacred. It’s more about good feelings than the glory of God. And as we have endeavored to look at the woeful state of Christian worship today, it strikes us that while we do give some attention to God the Father and sing songs about His attributes, and we give much attention to Christ and sing songs about His person and work, very little is said about the Holy Spirit. If we are to worship God fully and totally, we must worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Many Christians know very little about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is so much error floating around about the Holy Spirit that people avoid saying much about the Spirit for fear they might contradict the popular thinking of the time. But we must worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the full sense and full knowledge of the revelation of each member of the Trinity, and so we’ve been endeavoring to understand the wonderful, blessed ministry of the Spirit of God. We sort of laid it out that the Father planned redemption, the Son provided the means of redemption in His death and resurrection, and the Spirit produces the work of redemption in us. He is the agent that brings about the actuality of the plan that God initiated and that the Son validated; He is the one who activates it.
We must understand the biblical ministry of the Holy Spirit. We’re warned in Scripture about not grieving the Spirit, not quenching the Spirit, not insulting the Spirit, not blaspheming the Spirit. Little wonder that we’re warned about those things because that seems to be a very common thing. So we’ve been trying to reconnect with things that are clearly revealed in Scripture that maybe we have let lay dormant for a long time with regard to the Holy Spirit, and we have been learning that it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us. John 3: “We are born of the Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and righteousness and judgment, John 16. The Holy Spirit even participates in our justification. First Corinthians 6:11 says: “The Spirit, it participates in our justification.” Second Corinthians 3 tells us that it is the Spirit who sanctifies us, moving us from one level of glory to the next in conforming us to the image of Christ.
We’ve learned in Romans 8 that it is the Spirit who confirms our adoption as sons of God. The Spirit takes up residence in us. The Spirit gives us assurance by witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God. First Corinthians 12 says the Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ by which we become one with every other believer. In that same chapter, it says that the Spirit gives to us spiritual gifts by which we serve Christ and minister to the body. It is the Spirit who assists our prayers. In Jude 1:20, it talks about praying in the Spirit. It is the Spirit who strengthens us in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16. It is the Spirit who guides us, as many as possessed the Holy Spirit are led by the Spirit, we saw in Romans 8. It is the Spirit who produces fruit through us, attitude fruit, love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and all kinds of righteous activity as well. It is the Spirit who delivers us from sin, enabling us to be obedient to God. It is the Spirit who illuminates the Word and is our internal resident truth teacher.
And on top of that, the capstone of those things, it is the Spirit who secures our eternal glory. It is the Spirit who secures our eternal glory, and that great ministry of the Holy Spirit is the theme that I pointed you to when I read the Scripture, Romans 8:18 to 39. That entire section is focused on that one glorious reality, that salvation is forever. That salvation is forever. That we are protected by the power of God unto that final glorification and that inheritance laid up for us that does not fade away, undefiled, reserved in heaven. The Spirit secures our eternal glory. In Scripture, He seals us to the day of redemption. He is the guarantee, the first installment, the down payment, the engagement ring, the first fruits. He is the power of God. He is the protector of every believer until one day He is the one who raises us to eternal glory, even as He raised Christ from the dead.
All of this, of course, cause to worship the Holy Spirit. This is the true doctrine of the Holy Spirit as over against all the false misrepresentations and blasphemies against the Holy Spirit that are so common and popular today.
So Paul has been going through these verses, starting – actually, he mentions glorification in verse 17, then starting in 18, running all the way down to verse 30, he has given us this great, glorious argument for the eternality of our salvation. That if you are saved, it is forever. It is forever. And the culmination of his argument comes in verse 30, that whoever God predestines to be conformed to His Son, He calls in time with an effectual call to salvation. Whomever He calls, He justifies, and whomever He justifies, He glorifies so that the people who are glorified are the people who were predestined. No one is lost in the middle. This is what Paul presents to us. This is the purpose of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. So Paul has been telling us that all things in our lives, whatever they are, God causes to work together for our eternal good and glory because we are the called according to that purpose and we have come into a love relationship with Him.
I’ve taught this doctrine all my life. I teach it with passion because it’s so clear in Scripture, and yet through all of my life and ministry, I have had to debate people who reject the idea that salvation is forever. I was in a former military base in Belarus outside the city of Minsk where the Communist soldiers were stationed during the great Russian Empire. It was turned into a kind of a camp and I went there with some pastors, and I was giving a message and I made reference to the fact that eternal – that salvation is eternal, that once you are regenerated, it is forever, and you can anchor your soul in the confidence of the hope of eternal glory. And afterwards – it was all pastors who were there, Belorussian and Russian pastors, and they came to me and they said, “We think that’s wrong.” And I said, “Well, you need to give me some time in the morning to answer all your objections.”
So I got up in the morning, went and had a little bowl of something, I don’t know what it was, for breakfast, and I went into the meeting. And they were rubbing their eyes – they’d been there all night. They stayed up all night collecting all the reasons why I was wrong. And so I started in with one after another, after another, after another, after another. I understand that. I don’t want to argue with them, I want them to enjoy their salvation. I want to get them out of the fear of losing it. I want them to rejoice in the hope that it’s secure. It was a gift I was trying to give them, and they kept pushing it back, and I had to give it again and again and again and go through every objection and every argument through a long day. I understand that. Paul understands that.
So when you come to the end of verse 30, Paul now anticipates objections. He knows somewhere, someplace there’s a group of people who have stayed up all night and they’ve figured out some objections. And he knows what they’re going to be because there are only certain things you can argue about. Paul knows this: that there are only two possibilities, that some person can cause you to lose your salvation or some circumstance. That’s all you’ve got. That’s complete. That’s all the categories there are. And so the question is: Can some person cause you to lose your salvation in spite of the work of the Holy Spirit, in spite of the provision of Christ, and in spite of the purpose of God? Or if not some person, can some circumstances cause it to happen? So overwhelming, so powerful that you forfeit your salvation? That becomes the subject of verses 31 to 39.
The first part, verses 31 to 34, answers the question: Is there a person who can cause you to lose your salvation? Verses 35 to 37, Is there a circumstance that can cause you to lose your salvation?” And then a glorious wrap-up at the end of the chapter.
Now, Paul introduces this, and we’re just going to take point one about persons. He introduces this in verse 31: “What then shall we say to these things?” What then shall we say to these things? What things? The things concerning eternal salvation. The subject since verse 18 has been on the eternality of salvation, that God has secured us in His purpose, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, God works all things together for our eternal good, that if we have been foreknown and predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, we will get there and none of us will be lost, that all who are called are justified and glorified – all those things that relate to an eternal salvation that cannot be lost. What shall we say to these things? What’s your response? That’s the question. What is the conclusion you want to draw?
Well, Paul knows that there are going to be people who will protest this. They’re going to say salvation can be lost. It’s a wonderful thing, but it can be lost because there are certain persons and there are certain circumstances that can cause us to abandon it or to have it taken away from us, to forfeit it. So Paul says, “Okay, let’s consider the persons.” Is there a human being or human beings who can take away our salvation? Can have such power over us? Such influence over us that they can remove what God has given for us? That’s embodied in the question at the end of verse 31: “If God is for us, who’s against us?” The who here is looking at persons, people. Is there a person who can take away your salvation? You say, “Well, who would ever want to do that?” Lots of people that are offended by your Christianity. Maybe your spouse. Maybe your children wish you weren’t saved and would do anything they could to get you off this kick. Unsaved family members.
Matthew 10, Jesus said He came to bring a sword and set people against their family, be hated by father, mother, sister, brother. How about secular educators? You send your child off to the university – do you think the agenda there is to confirm the faith of those that are professing Christ? I don’t think so. I think they would do everything they could to destroy that. What about the collective immoral indoctrination of our society? You think it’s the goal of the culture and the society in which we live to stabilize your convictions in Jesus Christ? Or to destroy them? Do you think they want to confirm your faith in the Bible? Your view of creation? Your view of the end of the age? Your view of eternity, heaven, hell? Or do they want to destroy that? Do they want to separate you from that? Do they want to cast doubt into your mind?
The whole culture is set against you. There are all kinds of people, because they all operate in the kingdom of darkness, who would do anything they could to separate you from your faith and your salvation. False religionists would do it. Cult leaders would do it. False teachers would do it. There are plenty of people who would do it and plenty of them have influence and power and impact and sophistication. And Paul says, “If God is for us, who’s against us?”
What does he mean by that? Well, it’s a conditional sentence in the Greek that starts with a particle, ei, which is pronounced but it’s E-I. And that’s a conditional clause that should be translated “since” because it’s not about probability, it’s about actuality. It’s an actual reality put in a conditional clause, so it would be read this way: “Since God is for us, who successfully can be against us?” It’s a pretty simple argument, isn’t it? Is anybody more powerful than God? God has predetermined our eternal destiny to be conformed to the image of His Son, that His Son might be the preeminent one among many brethren. God has predetermined the end at the beginning. God called us, justified us, and He promises to glorify us, that’s His purpose. His Son intercedes for us on that behalf and so does the Holy Spirit. those two intercessors we talked about.
We know what God wants, right? We know God’s plan and God’s purpose is to bring us all to glory and lose none of us and to give us everlasting life. And we will never perish. And Jesus said, “No one will take them out of My Father’s hand.” That’s God’s promise, that’s God’s pledge. And since God is for us, what person would be more powerful? In the church, Paul warned, you can be in a church, you can be in a religious organization that claims to be Christian and he says this: “It can be a dangerous place. After My departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves, men will arise – men will arise speaking perverse things.” For what? “To draw away the disciples after them.” There are people in churches that wear religious garb that stand in pulpits that teach in seminaries that want to take you away from your convictions, your faith. They want to steal your salvation. But if God is for you, are they more powerful than God?
You know, when you think about that, you go back – at least I do – to the Old Testament. The believers in the Old Testament knew God was their security. I love the words of Psalm 27. This is David: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” Right? If the Lord is my salvation, who would I fear? “The Lord is the defense of my life. Who will I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries, my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear. Though war arise against me, in spite of this, I’ll be confident.” What are you so confident about? “One thing I asked from the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” I just ask to be with Him forever. “And in the day of trouble, He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me, He will lift me up on a rock and my head will be lifted up above my enemies and I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy. I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.”
Doesn’t matter who comes against us. God is for us. God is for us. “Don’t fear” – Genesis 15:1 – “I’m a shield to you,” God says. “The Lord is near” – Numbers 14:9. “Don’t fear.” It’s really the flipside of verse 28. God positively causing all things to work together for our eternal good, that’s the positive. The negative is no one can undo that. If God causes everything to work to our good, then no one can make anything work to our evil. No one can remove our no-condemnation status indicated in chapter 8 verse 1. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. No one, no person, no human – we’re talking about human persons, that’s our first point – no human person can do that because God is greater than any and all humans. So the objection about humans falls away in the simple statement at the end of verse 31: “If God is for us” – or since He’s for us – “who could successfully be against us?”
Ah, but a second possibility. God Himself. Can God Himself take away our salvation? Hey, the Lord gives, the Lord takes, blessed be the name of the Lord. Can He take our salvation away? Can He change His mind about us? Can He be so disappointed in us? Can we follow a pattern of sin to the degree that He takes back what He gave us? Can He see us sinning and see us being disobedient and remove from us the life that He gave us? Does He kill us? Because He made us alive. He regenerated us. We were born again, we were given new life. Does He kill us and now we’re dead again? Is keeping us saved just too much trouble?
Paul answers that in verse 32. “He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Let me tell you, that’s a simple verse. I know you read it, it sounds a little bit troubling cause you can’t quite sort it out, but it’s a very simple verse. It is the classic Jewish argument from the greater to the lesser. It’s a simple argument. He didn’t spare His own Son but delivered Him over for us all. Don’t you think if He gave us His Son to save us He’ll give us lesser things to keep us? That’s the argument. The argument from the greater to the lesser. God’s love is so strong for those He chooses to redeem that He gives His own Son. The best, the most, the purest, the divine one, the highest price, the greatest cost, His own beloved Son to save us. Don’t you think He would do less than that to keep us?
And think about it this way – turn to Romans 5. When you were saved, you were saved strictly by grace. You didn’t do anything to earn it. Romans 5:6: You were helpless and you were ungodly. So God gave His Son, Christ, to die for the helpless and the ungodly, and we can say the spiritually dead and the blind and the ignorant and the wicked. And, you know, people don’t do that. Verse 7: “One hardly would die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die.” I mean now and then you see somebody give his life for somebody who’s a good person but that’s pretty rare. But if somebody is willing to give his life, that rare reality, the person he’s going to give his life for is going to be a good person, right? Somebody that he has great admiration for, respect for, love for. They’re not going to give his life for a bad person, for a criminal, for an enemy.
But God, in verse 7, demonstrates His love toward us, His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We were sinners. Wretched, lost, blind, dead, godless, helpless, and He gave His Son to die for us. Much more than having now been justified by His blood, the sacrifice, we will be saved, or we will be being saved, kept saved from the wrath of God through Him. Look, if God gave His Son in death to make our justification possible, don’t you think the life of the Son of God will secure our glorification? That’s the whole point.
Verse 10: “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more beyond that, having been reconciled will be being saved by His life.” We were literally redeemed at the most infinite cost, the death of Christ, and we will be kept by the living interceding Christ. Even Christ gave the greater gift to save us and the lesser gift to keep us. He died to save us; He lives to keep us. If the Father gave His Son to save us when we were ungodly, gave His Son in death to save us, will He not give His Son and His Spirit in life to secure us? I mean, it’s that simple a concept, that God has done the greater in justifying us when we were unworthy, ungodly, wretched. Will He not now that we belong to Him and have been transformed and made new creatures and have righteous longing and holy affection, will He not do what He needs to do to keep us, which is far less than the giving of His Son in the sacrifice of the horrors of the cross?
Several elements in that verse, back in Romans 8. Several elements are just so wonderfully profound. Verse 32: “He who did not spare His own Son,” He didn’t hold Him back. In fact, Isaiah 53:10 says, “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. He has put Him to grief.” He didn’t spare His Son. And I love this: “His own Son,” idios in the Greek, one’s own particular, private possession, the Son that belonged to Him, the Son of His own love, God was willing to do this for us. If He was willing to give the greatest gift of all to save us, He will do everything less than that to keep us.
The language, “He delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Since He delivered Him over, that’s a very graphic term. Delivering over was handing somebody over to the executioner – technical term. Since the Father delivered the Son to the destruction and damnation and punishment that sin required, the rest of the verse then, “will He not also with Him freely give us all that flows out of that?” All we need to be secure?
Who delivered Jesus to death? It wasn’t Judas for money. It wasn’t Pilate for fear. It wasn’t the Jews for envy. It was the Father for love for us all. For us all. The “us all” – verse 32 – the “us all” is the “us” of verse 31. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Those “us’s” are the “these” of verse 30. “These whom He predestined, called, justified, these He also glorified.” Whoever is in the plan, the provision for them has been made, and God will add to that provision in the gift of His Son anything else that is necessary to get them to glory. I love the fact that it says “freely give us all things.” It continues to be grace, doesn’t it? Continues to be grace, we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but we receive it.
Somebody says, “Okay, if persons can’t take away our salvation, if God Himself can’t take away our salvation because He’s already committed Himself to give the greatest gift and lesser gifts come easily after that, maybe there’s another person. How about Satan? Maybe Satan can do it.” Satan would like to do it. He wanted to destroy Job’s faith, right? He wanted to destroy the faith of Peter. Jesus said, “Peter, you better be careful because Satan desires to sift you like wheat.” He went before God in the book of Job and he said the only reason – to God, he said, “The only reason Job is faithful to You is because You bless him. Take away his blessing and he’ll curse You. I’ll shatter his faith.”
God turned Satan loose, said, “Go do it all, anything but take his life.” And Satan moved, and all his animals were killed, all his children were killed, and then Job was sick, then he had a bunch of stupid counselors telling him all kinds of things that weren’t true, and he was isolated in the agonies of confusion because the conversation between God and Satan wasn’t known to him. He had no idea while this was going on what the cause was, what the motive was, what the reason was. But in the middle of it all, could Satan take his faith away even when Satan had killed his family and left him only with a wife who said things she shouldn’t have said and was no help? When Satan had removed everything that he owned and possessed, when he left him so sick and so covered with boils and sores he was scraping them off with a piece of broken pottery? That would probably be the kind of extremity that would make you say, “If you’re going to lose this thing, I’m going to lose it here.”
And Satan was essentially the tormentor through all of that. And in the middle of it all, what does Job say? “Though He slay me, yet will I” – what? – “trust Him.” You can’t kill that faith because God sustains it in the midst of everything. Satan can’t do that. Satan is the accuser of the brethren, right? Revelation 12. He’s the accuser of the brethren day and night before the throne of God, accusing the brethren. Did it with Job. He did it with the high priest in Zechariah chapter 3. He’s coming to Jesus about Peter. He’s going after Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 with a messenger from Satan being like a thorn in the flesh. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He is the tormentor. So with that background, you come to verse 33: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” Well, the one who is always trying to do that is Satan. Or the beginning of verse 34. “Who is the one who condemns?” The one who does that is Satan.
Both those questions, really, are the same question. One, wanting to bring a charge that would result in condemnation. Going to God and saying, “You don’t let go of this person, let me torment this person and I’ll destroy his faith. He’s not a worthy person. He’s only serving You because things are going well. And if we make life tough enough for him, he’ll curse You. I’ll show you what he’s really like.”
This is what Satan does, I think, all the time. He’s night and day before the throne of God, bringing accusations against the saints. Can he succeed? The answer comes in verse 33: “God is the one who justifies.” Literally, “God is the one justifying.” God alone condemns and God alone declares righteous. And if God declares that we are righteous in Christ, He can’t at the same time declare we are guilty, right? And there is no higher judge. Believers are always being accused. I think that goes on in heaven all the time. Satan is always trying to make a case against our salvation, against God loving us, against God declaring us righteous and just. But God has already rendered His final verdict, and the final verdict, based upon his own sovereign purpose, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, the provision of Christ in His death and resurrection, activated by our faith, is that we have been declared righteous, we have been declared just, and that settles it.
There’s no higher court, that’s the whole point. There’s no court of appeals above God. God is the only court. God is the only court in the universe when it comes to sin and judgment and justification. There is no other court. And it is God who is justifying His people, and no accusation from Satan against them can stand. And no effort on the part of Satan to bring destruction into their lives can stand.
God doesn’t always prevent that. I know you hear the prosperity preachers say that Jesus wants you healthy, happy, and whole in every sense, but that wasn’t Job. That wasn’t Peter. Peter got sifted like wheat that night, didn’t he, around the fires of the trial of Jesus, denied Jesus over and over again. Paul had his thorn in the flesh and his immense amount of suffering. Satan, with all that he could bring about in the lives of these men and in the lives of other believers that God allows him to go after for his own purposes, all that they can do can never change our standing before God and God has rendered us righteous. That’s why Charles Wesley said, “Bold shall I stand in that great day, for who ought to my charge shall lay, fully through Thee absolved I am from sin and fear, from guilt and shame.”
Please notice, back in verse 33, this is because we are God’s elect. Who will bring a charge against God’s elect, those that were foreknown, predestined? God already has determined their justification. So when Satan tries to bring us before the bar of God, we don’t arrive as outlaws and we don’t arrive as criminals; we arrive as God’s elect, already declared righteous.
Well, there’s only one possible person left outside of us who might decide to let us go, turn us loose, and that would be Christ. What about Christ? Could He give up on us? He brought us in, could He throw us out? Verse 34. Christ Jesus, is He going to condemn us? He died, He was raised, He’s at the right hand of God, and He’s interceding for us. He’s not going to be the one because there are fourfold realities there, fourfold protection, shall Christ that died? He’s the one who died, the obvious point. When He died, He received in full the punishment for all our sins. That’s why He died. He was sinless. There was no guilt in Him. He died in our place, bearing our punishment. He’s not going to condemn us when He took our condemnation.
Secondly, not only did He die, but He was raised. In other words, His atonement was propitious, it satisfied God and God validated His work on the cross by raising Him from the dead. His resurrection is the affirmation of the accomplishment of His atoning work on the cross. Christ’s death paid in full the penalty for all the sins of all the people who will ever believe through human history and to indicate that, God raised Him from the dead.
And that’s not all, there’s a third element. So you have Christ paying in full for our sins, you have the Father validating that His payment was in full for our sins by raising Him from the dead, and then thirdly, who is even at the right hand of God, like Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to My Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand.’” God highly exalted Him because of His work on the cross, gave Him a name above every name, seated Him at His right hand, and every knee bows to Him. He ascended to the right hand of the throne of God because He had fully accomplished our eternal salvation.
So you pull those together, the complete work of Christ on the cross, through the resurrection, and in His exaltation and His ascension all indicates that our salvation has been paid for in full and God is totally satisfied. And as if that’s not enough, end of verse 34, “He also intercedes for us.” He also intercedes for us. That’s the high point. He keeps on interceding, keeps on, keeps on interceding. Hebrews tells us that He’s our great high priest, right? That He ever lives to make intercession for us. He ever lives to make intercession for us. He stands at the very throne of God at God’s right hand and He intercedes for us. Any accusation that comes against us, He becomes the lawyer for our defense who says, “Paid for in full by Me personally.” He is our high priest forever, Hebrews 6 says, our high priest forever, who anchors our hope, which is sure and steadfast within the veil.
So persons that could take away our salvation? Not any humans, not God, not Satan, not Christ. Only one possibility. What about ourselves? You say, “I know people like that. I wouldn’t blame God. I wouldn’t even blame Satan. They were in the church, they believed, they sang the songs, they came to Bible study, they said they believed and then they left and they denied Christ and they went away. They lost their salvation.” Did they? Is that what happened? They seemed saved to me, some of them are in your family, some of them are close, maybe your children. Are you asking yourself what happened? What about those who believed or seemed to believe and then they left?
First John 2:19 gives us the answer to that. First John 2:19. Oh, we all know people like this. I’ve known them all my life. Many of them in this church. Did they lose their salvation? Did they just give it up themselves? Listen to 1 John 2:19. “They went out from us” – and we all know people who’ve done that – “but they were not really of us, for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us, but they went out so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” Never real. Tares among the wheat. Rocky soil. A little life starts to appear to show, no fruit, and they wither and die. Weedy soil, choked out by the love of the world and riches and the cares of this life. We all have people like that. But they went out from us because they never were really of us.
But for those of us who are real and genuine believers and we have the witness of the Spirit in our hearts in that regard, we’ve seen His fruit evidenced in our lives, our love for the Lord, our love for the truth, our love for the Word, our love for other believers, all these things, our love for things that are holy and pure and good, our salvation is forever secure. And this is the pinnacle capstone ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit. If you don’t believe in that, then that is an insult to the Spirit. That is an insult to the Spirit who is doing in the life of a true believer something that that true believer denies that he’s doing and rejects. The Father planned our eternal salvation, the Son provided and purchased our eternal salvation, and the Holy Spirit produces and perfects our eternal salvation.
So much for persons. There is no person who could take away your salvation. Jeremiah 31:3 sums it up. God says this: “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” and I rest my weary soul in this confidence. Let’s bow together in prayer.
And we’re going to just have a word of prayer and then meditate against quietly at the end as Steve plays the organ for us. That little time of meditation is good for us to think about what we’ve heard and let it settle in our hearts, and then the prayer room will be open to my right, the members center is open, the visitors center is open, and those of you who need spiritual help, you need to be sure about your eternal destiny, the prayer room in the front to my right, come, there’ll be folks who would love to speak with you and do so kindly and wisely.
Father, we thank You for the continual feast that we enjoy from Your Word that feeds our souls, gives strength to us, produces joy, hope even in the face of difficulty in life. Thank You for the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in securing our eternal glory. And we know that if we are truly Yours, we’ll never lose that salvation, as if we could lose it and the Holy Spirit would have to start the work all over again and do it again and maybe again and again and again. There’s nothing in the Scripture that even intimates anything like that exists, but rather this is a work that You deemed to do and set out to do and will do. And we honor You, Father, and we honor You, blessed Son. We honor You, Holy Spirit, for all that You have done for us who are unworthy, all by grace. Fill us with joy and hope and eagerness for what You have for us as long as we’re here and then for what You have prepared for us when we enter into Your presence. Bring those to You who do not know You and have not yet received this gift of salvation. May they awaken in faith to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord, we pray in His name.
I recently had the privilege of speaking on the theme of Paying the Price at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in California, pastored by Rob McCoy (a short clip is here.) My brief exhortation drove home the fact that America crossed a dangerous line years ago. Instead of repenting and turning back to God, we have walked further into the deep waters of ungodliness.The decadence and brutality in our streets are unparalleled in our history. Despair and depression reign in our land. But—believe it or not—I am hopeful.
Where do I find such hope? In studying various spiritual awakenings (including those in the Bible), I have found that darkness often precedes light. For instance, in his book on revival, W. T. Stead makes a stunning observation: “It is the darkest hour before the dawn. The nation always seems to be given over to the Evil One before the coming of the Son of Man [Jesus Christ]. The decay of religious faith, the deadness of the Churches, the atheism of the well-to-do, the brutality of the masses, all of these, when at their worst, herald the approach of the Revival.” He then concludes with this powerful offer of hope: “Things seem to get too bad to last. The reign of evil becomes intolerable. Then the soul of the nation awakes.” Sadly, it often takes tragedy and calamity to wake us up.
Have We Really Sought the Lord Wholeheartedly?
Decades ago, Gordon Cove challenged readers when he wrote, “You have not sought the Lord with ‘your whole heart’ until you have tried a protracted season of prayer and fasting.”Could a lack of prayer and fasting be one of the hindrances to a spiritual awakening? Absolutely! Desperate times call for desperate measures. A full stomach makes seeking God difficult, prayer hard, and worship challenging.
Cove continues, “In many cases, where fasting has been added to the prayers, along with deep consecration and weeping before God, the answer has miraculously come to hand.” Fasting doesn’t twist God’s arm, but it does bend my knee. Fasting isn’t a work; it’s exchanging one appetite for a greater one.
The Spark that Ignites the Flame
My goal isn’t to overemphasize fasting, but it’s clear that fasting has fallen by the wayside and King Stomach is still on the throne. In reading about the spiritual renewals under the preaching of John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Duncan Campbell, Evan Roberts, and the Puritans, as well as in the First and Second Great Awakenings, I have found that, along with keeping the Word of God front and center, intense prayer and vigorous fasting were the sparks that ignited the flame. God heard the cry of His children.
Could it be that we aren’t willing to pay the price through a deep season of prayer and fasting? Granted, in the same way we cannot produce a field of corn by making it rain, a spiritual awakening cannot be orchestrated. It’s God’s work alone, but we can prepare the soil of our heart by fully surrendering our lives. God revives those who submit themselves to Him with open and empty hands (Isaiah 57:15).
God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility
A.W. Pink, in Gleanings from Joshua, said, “It would indeed be strange if we apprehended how that on the one hand Canaan was a free gift unto Israel, which they entered by grace alone; and on the other, that they had to fight for every inch of it!” Although we are totally dependent on God, a spiritual awakening will not come without a fight.
In the book of Joel, the people’s provisions had dried up and withered away. They were desperate and despondent, but God didn’t give up on them. To show the magnitude of their sin and the need for humility, God told Joel to consecrate a fast and cry out to Him. Crying out, fasting, and repentance were the sparks that ignited the flame (Joel 1:4-14; 2:12-17). If you’d like to join me in fasting for our nation, see the note below.
Four Essential Steps to a Spiritual Awakening
The following scriptural truths, along with prayer and fasting, can no doubt ignite the fires of another spiritual awakening.
1. Embrace godly sorrow and confess sin. Confession of sin is often a precursor to a spiritual awakening, both personally and corporately. During the 1904-1905 revivals in Wales, Evan Roberts said that four things contributed to the revival. At the top of the list was the confession of sin as well as acknowledging Jesus Christ publicly, followed by obedience to the Spirit and the removal of doubt about God’s truth. How are you doing in these areas? If we don’t make changes here, we will not experience all that God has for us.
2. Humble yourself before God does. In Isaiah 58, fasting was ineffective because the people were harsh and self-focused. Whether it’s pastors throwing tirades from the pulpit, carnal Christians mocking God, or proud believers who never look in the mirror, we have not yet humbled ourselves. We underestimate how rebellion and pride prevent spiritual awakenings: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). Pride must be crushed under the power of the cross.
3. Holiness is not a suggestion. Second Corinthians 7:1 says that we must purify ourselves from everything that contaminates our spirit. Romans 12:1 reminds us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Without holiness, no one will see revival. Perhaps it’s time to examine yourself and see how you’re doing in this area. If nothing comes to mind, ask God to show you areas of sin in your life. Spend a Sweet Hour of Prayer with God.
4. There must be continual hunger and thirst for God. On this point, I’m often reminded of the three times in Leviticus 6 where God instructs that fire should always be burning on the altar. And Jesus, in Matthew 5:6, tells us that only those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.
A spiritual awakening is God’s power meeting God’s people who are hungry for more of Him. Full surrender isn’t optional; it’s essential:“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
It’s not about perfection but direction. What direction are you heading? Will He find you empty, humble, and desperate, or full, arrogant, and satisfied?
Will you pay the price for a national awakening? It’s our only hope.
Note: I recently became so broken over what we are leaving the next generation that I began a lengthy water fast, not knowing that it would be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m planning to post my experience in May 2021. You can hear about the outcome by subscribing to my YouTube channel here. Additionally, my new book, 40 Days to Reset Your Life, is scheduled to be released in June. This book demonstrates how prayer and fasting can reset your life and change your spiritual course as well as the course of the nation.
A San Jose, California church and its pastor were found in contempt at a court hearing this week after ignoring a court order to stop holding indoor worship services in direct violation of Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 restrictions.
KNTV reports Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Church continued to hold services while being fined thousands of dollars. A county Superior Court judge had also ordered the church to stop holding indoor services, which the county said were held as recently as Nov. 25.
As CBN News reported, Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams and District Attorney Jeff F. Rosen filed a complaint in Superior Court on Oct. 27, requesting that Calvary Chapel stop “ongoing and serious violations of the state and local public health orders.”
But McClure vowed to keep his church open after seeing members suffer from emotional and mental anguish due to the pandemic lockdown.
During McClure’s hearing, a judge told him “science matters,” before levying a fine of $2,500 for every day the church has held in-door services. The fines totaled about $55,000, according to KNTV.
Following the hearing, McClure addressed the media, indicating that no matter the fines or the restrictions placed on his congregation, services will continue.
“I respect the judge and I respect what the law says,” McClure said. “But there’s a bigger law. I have to get told, you follow God or you follow man. I have to follow what God’s word says.”
In a statement, Williams said it is vital for everyone to comply with all public health orders to avoid serious illness and save lives.
Attorneys with California-based legal group Advocates for Faith and Freedom are representing McClure and Calvary Chapel. The attorneys are planning to appeal the injunction on the constitutionality of the county’s health order. They said they will be in federal court on Dec. 17 to ask the government to take over the case, KNTV reported.
It’s called “the immovable ladder”. Small, aged and wooden, perched under a church window, the kind a tradesperson might use to reach a ceiling. For more than three centuries it hasn’t moved because no-one has been able to agree on what to do with it. Why? This is no ordinary ladder outside an ordinary church. This ladder has been outside a window of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem since the 1750s.
Six of Christianity’s oldest Orthodox and Catholic sects are responsible for the management of this building, a working relationship set up under a complex agreement called the Status Quo, which dates back to the eighteenth century. Every decision relating to the church is shared among the parties, who must reach consensus agreement. Thus, the immovable ladder remains immovable, because the six custodians cannot agree on what they should do with it.
Each party to the Status Quo takes their share of responsibility for this building incredibly seriously. In 2002 a physical altercation broke out that resulted in the hospitalisation of 11 people—a Coptic Christian monk’s chair had intruded ever so slightly into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s space. Because of the tensions among these Christian groups, a Muslim family has historically been entrusted with keeping the keys to the church.
So, what is it about this church building that creates so much tension, renders church leaders powerless to make decisions, and requires members of an outside faith to intervene? Simply, this church is claimed to be the historical site of the death and burial of Jesus Christ, the place of the cross and tomb of Christianity’s Messiah. Each year millions of pilgrims walk through the doors of the Holy Sepulchre Church to catch a glimpse of the site. Pilgrims from all walks of life and from all over the world come to light a candle, offer a prayer, pause and reflect on the event most crucial to every form and variation of Christianity.
A potent symbol
The Christian cross is the most recognisable religious symbol in the world and for good reason. Not just visible atop churches and cathedrals, but in homes, on national flags, in workplaces, in pop culture and even on bodies as tattoos, pendants and earrings. What other symbol is so recognised, so ubiquitous as the cross? Mega corporations like Apple, McDonalds, and Coca-Cola pay millions to marketing agencies to get that kind of brand awareness. The cross is a powerful symbol because it is the central feature of the salvation story; it represents the death of Jesus for the salvation of humanity.
But there is another part to the salvation story that gives the cross its power. Like Vegemite and cheese, left and right, or the loops and hooks of velcro, the cross is meaningless without the resurrection. God’s plan to reconcile humanity to Himself climaxed with the death of Jesus, but was ultimately fulfilled when He walked out of the tomb on Sunday. This plan of salvation was not just that Jesus would die and defeat sin, but that He would also overcome death.
Always part of the plan
The resurrection was a major part of the salvation plan from the very beginning. The Old Testament prophets foretold a coming Messiah who would defeat sin and death. The prophet Isaiah declared, “He will swallow up death in victory” (Isaiah 25:8, KJV) and Jesus tried to explain to His disciples on many occasions that His death wouldn’t be the final curtain. He declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25,26).
First century church leader Paul went even further to say that, without the resurrection, Christian faith is meaningless and salvation is unavailable: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Without the resurrection, the cross has no power.
To borrow a metaphor from Jesus Himself, think about a kernel of wheat. A wheat grain in your hand seems small, indifferent and of little significance. You could choose to eat the kernel or grind it down to flour, but its potential is much more than just a single grain; it holds future fields and generations of wheat. Though the kernel in itself is valuable and useful for food, if you bury it in the ground and walk away, by its own “death” it takes on a brand-new life and can literally feed millions. The kernel is an important symbol of the power and capacity of the wheat, but it is only once it is planted that its power is revealed (see John 12:24).
Furthermore, the cross only made sense to the disciples after the resurrection. When Jesus walked the earth, His followers were expecting Him to incite a rebellion against the Roman occupation. In their view, the predicted Messiah would overthrow their Roman oppressors and restore the Jewish nation’s sovereignty over Israel. As Jesus was led to the cross to die His followers were understandably confused. What was the purpose of this great Teacher’s life if the whole movement was to end in His martyrdom? It wasn’t until the miraculous resurrection on the third day that Jesus’ death made any sense.
New life, new meaning
The resurrection of Jesus gave a meaning to the cross that His disciples could not see on crucifixion Friday. But witnessing their resurrected Lord transformed these men into a mighty force who changed history. Bestselling Christian author Tim Keller wrote in King’s Cross (2011) that “there has to be some explanation for how the cowardly group of disciples was transformed into a group of leaders”. The resurrection was the unfathomable, yet undeniable, evidence that Jesus Christ, among all the pretenders before and since, was the real Messiah. Jesus had risen, and therefore everything He had been saying to His followers was true.
But the resurrection of Jesus was not a one-time thing. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22, NLT*).
Just like the kernel of wheat buried in the ground, Jesus’ death gave birth to a new life for anyone who chooses to accept Him. Death is the reality for all of us, because sin entered the world through Adam. But now a resurrection—a new life—is available to all of us, because redemption is available to the world through Jesus. He came to this earth to live the perfect life we couldn’t and to accept the consequences of our sin: death. All we have to do is accept today and we too can experience new life, both now and beyond the grave.
Lyndelle Peterson is an Adventist pastor and church leader in Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her young and growing family.
People have asked me why we are holding these ‘worship protests,’ and the answer is simple: God is moving, and our nation desperately needs it.
By Sean Feucht
Something is happening in America, and it should sound the alarm for every confessing Christian. Simply put, hostile efforts in many cities now threaten to suppress the First Amendment rights of all people to exercise our faith freely. In unprecedented acts of government-authorized injustice, Christians are being told they cannot gather for worship, they cannot sing songs of praise, and they cannot observe church ordinances.
Just last week, politicians in Seattle installed temporary fencing and security guards around Gas Works Park to prevent us from holding a “Let Us Worship” public outdoor service. Similarly, at Cal Anderson Park, Antifa protesters shouted obscenities, intimidated worshipers, cursed out my wife and four children, and damaged our equipment.
While followers of Jesus are being told we cannot worship in public spaces, violent paid rioters are taking over our streets and being given license to occupy and destroy entire sections of our cities. Churches are being covered in graffiti and even burned while civic leaders call for defunding the police. Never did I dream that this would happen, and never have I been more determined to do something about it.
The Church Is Being Persecuted Here in America
For the past 20 years, I’ve taken my entire family all over the world in support of the persecuted church. These efforts have brought greater exposure for dictatorial regimes and their anti-Christian tyrants in places such as North Korea, Iran, China, and Islamic Africa. In some parts of the world, Christians routinely face prison and even torture for nothing more than simple acts of faith, such as reading their Bibles, praying, and peaceably gathering with other believers to worship.
Now in major cities across America, godless politicians are adopting tactics that more closely resemble those of jihadist ayatollahs than men and women who are sworn to uphold the rule of law. Earlier this year in Kentucky, an elected leader tried to “criminalize” the celebration of Easter and would have gotten away with it if not for a federal judge, appointed by President Donald Trump, who blocked him.
In Virginia, the governor tried to stop Christians from gathering to worship under penalty of arrest and imprisonment. In Minnesota, the attorney general enforced the governor’s executive order that banned churches from worshipping but allowed dog groomers and golf courses to remain open.
In my home state of California, Gov. Gavin Newsom and many large-city mayors have ramped up their fight against the freedom of religion. As I write this, elected officials in Sacramento and Los Angeles are wringing their hands in desperation as they try to figure out how to shut down church leaders such as Grace Community Church’s John MacArthur.
In Portland, one of our brothers was stalked by an armed “protester” and shot at point-blank range while bystanders looked on with their phones, recording the whole thing. The victim, 39-year-old Jay Danielson, had weeks before joined hundreds of Christians who came to Oregon’s largest city for one of our “Let Us Worship” gatherings.
Truly, the actions of militant, anti-Christian forces, who want to shut down our churches, silence our worship, and even shoot our fellow believers in the streets, have stirred the soul of the American church. Where we have stood in solidarity with Christians around the world whose hostile governments threaten their religious freedom, we now stand with each other on our native soil.
I keep telling myself and my fellow Christians from every walk of life that this isn’t what America was founded to be. This isn’t how we are supposed to live. I will not stand idly by and watch it happen.
America Needs Revival
The American experiment, now approaching its 250th year, has proved our ability for more than two centuries to withstand foreign attacks from rogue states that despise and reject the freedoms we hold dear. What we face now is not a new threat; it is just no longer a foreign threat. The present madness has arisen from our own soil, cultivated and encouraged by our own politicians.
All across America, however, Christians are rising up. In recent weeks, thousands upon thousands have gathered and marched to assert their God-given freedoms. I’ve stood before them, armed with only a copy of the Bible and a simple guitar. People have asked me why we are holding these “worship protests” across the country, and the answer is simple: God is moving, and our nation needs it now more than ever in my lifetime.
In Seattle, a self-proclaimed satanist came to protest our worship, met the glory of God, and gave his life to Jesus. He is not alone. Thousands of hurting people have encountered the love of Christ in dozens of America’s most troubled cities through the simple act of gathering together in worship.
The church I believe in ministers to the sick and hurting; it doesn’t hide in the darkness. Jesus touched contagious lepers, and our fellow Americans need His healing touch right now. They need the bold, warm embrace of God’s love.
We are just getting started, with worship gatherings planned in Madison, Minneapolis, Kenosha, Chicago, and many more — culminating in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25. I refuse to seek permission from politicians to adhere to my calling, the church’s calling.
Let me be very clear: Our fists are not held up in defiance; our hands are lifted in praise. Our voices are not raised in shouts of hatred, but our songs of hope and prayers for revival are piercing the darkness around us. God is not finished with America yet.
Sean Feucht is a missionary, artist, speaker, author, activist, and the founder of LetUsWorship.us, a movement organizing worship rallies in America’s most troubled cities.
‘We cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship,’ MacArthur and the church’s elder board said in a statement.
JULY 25, 2020 By Elle Reynolds
John MacArthur, evangelist and pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, defied state orders to limit worship gatherings in a statement released Friday.
“In response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely, we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction,” the statement said. “Faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”
On July 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new restrictions, requiring certain counties on a “monitoring list” to stop indoor worship services. Los Angeles County, where Grace Community Church is located, was one of 30 counties on the monitoring list as of July 13.
“In these counties, we have added a requirement that we close indoor operations” for certain sectors which include worship services, Newsom said in an announcement. He also suggested that restrictions would not end anytime soon. “Until there is a vaccine or effective therapy, we will be mitigating the spread of COVID-19 for the long term,” read one of the slides Newsom presented. “Californians must adapt to new behaviors if we are to slow the spread.”
In response, MacArthur and the elder board of Grace Community Church have a clear message for the state of California. “We cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings,” they said.
When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.
The statement represents a shift for MacArthur and his church, which previously issued a statement acquiescing to a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court that barred churches from meeting in late May. “The Ninth Circuit decision is sadly the law of the land in California, and we gladly submit to the sovereign purposes of God,” the church had said.
But now, after more than 20 weeks of restrictions, Grace Community Church is letting Newsom know they’ve had enough. “Roughly forty percent of the year has passed with our church essentially unable to gather in a normal way,” MacArthur and the elders said, noting that the lockdown measures they originally conceded to were supposed to be short-term. “The church by definition is an assembly. … A non-assembling assembly is a contradiction in terms.”
MacArthur’s church isn’t the only one to defy California’s restrictions on worship. Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California, held an in-person service on Sunday and is suing the state for the right to continue assembling. “We’ve been essential for 2,000 years,” said Pastor Ché Ahn.
Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg, and River of Life Church in Oroville are suing the state over its ban on congregational singing. South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista renewed a lawsuit over the state’s decision to shutter churches, noting that government favoritism toward the George Floyd protests while churches are forced to stay shut “has caused amazing harm in the form of a general loss of confidence by the American people in the merits of the pandemic restrictions at all.”
MacArthur and his church firmly noted the importance of respecting the rightful authority of government. “Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not,” their statement said.
They also noted, however, that government authority does not extend over Christians’ freedom to assemble as the church. “We do not need the state’s permission to serve and worship our Lord as He has commanded,” they insisted. “Freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.”
MacArthur and the elders of Grace Community Church encouraged other congregations to join them in their decision to gather for worship. “It has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship,” they said. “When, how, and how often the church worships is not subject to Caesar. Caesar himself is subject to God.”
Elle Reynolds is an intern at the Federalist, and a senior at Patrick Henry College studying government and journalism. You can follow her work on Twitter at @_etreynolds.
Photo Pigby / Wikipedia
“Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on biblical principles. Therefore we cannot & will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord..”
To government officials, we respectfully say with the apostles whether is is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge (Acts 4:19). And our unhesitating reply to that question is the same as the apostles': "We must obey God rather than men