Satan Intended it for Evil—God Intended it for Good

Satan Intended it for Evil—God Intended it for Good

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching Romans 7:7-12 in our series through Romans. The key to understanding this passage is to understand Paul’s previous life before Jesus and the intended place of the law of God in our life.

Becoming a great pitcher is a difficult task. You must take the baseball that everyone is so familiar with and make people miss it. The key is to use deception. Many hitters are trained to look for the ball from the time the pitcher raises his hands in his windup toward the plate and look for the rotation and you will be able to tell what kind of pitch it is and be prepared to hit. All of this happens so quickly and that’s what makes hitting so difficult too. The success of some pitchers through the years has been to develop a pitch that they can throw with great success. For Nolan Ryan, it was the fastball. For Phil Niekro – it was the knuckleball.

The knuckleball is thrown in a completely different way than all other pitches. The approach to the plate is far different. The velocity is slower. The way in which you hold the ball is different – using your nails on the first three fingers and your knuckle on your fourth to hold the ball in place and release it without any rotation. This causes the ball to dance its way toward the plate. “To have the ball flutter and to render the power of the opposition totally useless, that to me is the pleasure in watching a knuckleballer,” said Dan Duquette, the executive vice-president of baseball operations for the Baltimore Orioles. Some have described the knuckleball as floating like a butterfly with hiccups. The key to success with the knuckleball is deception.

So it is with sin. God intended the law for our good. While the law cannot save us, it does serve as a guardian and teacher to point us to our need for a Savior who is the Son of the living God—rather than our own self-righteousness. However, sin has used the law as a bridge to our hearts in order to excite the affections for our depravity. According to Paul, sin used our heart as the base of operations for attacking us and bringing greater condemnation upon us. So, is it sinful? Is the law bad? Paul said, “God forbid!”

The fact remains, the law of God is for our good and is used to bring us the knowledge of sin. Before we can be saved, we must first understand our need for salvation. It’s through the law that we come to this knowledge and see our need for Christ. Paul stated plainly that without the law, he would have never known of his covetous heart. Interestingly enough, the tenth commandment is the foundational ingredient for all other sins.

Paul concludes with the fact that the law is good and the commandment is holy, righteousness, and good. Why is this true? It’s on the basis that they reflect the character of God. The law is good because God is good. The commands are holy and righteous and good because God is and it’s through the revealed will of God that we see both the boundaries of the law and the need to repent.

Teacher that Instructs

James 1:14–15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. [15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Mirror that Reveals

The law of God is a mirror of God’s holiness and our depravity (sinfulness). It serves to reveal to us our need of a savior.

Romans 3:20 – For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Hammer that Crushes

Jeremiah 23:29 – Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Fire that Consumes

In Jeremiah 5:14, the prophet claims that the Word is like a fire that consumes!

The sovereign God who has been transgressed by our sin owes us nothing, however, he has pointed out our failures and likewise pointed us to the cross – specifically to the hope in Jesus Christ. God has called us to repent!

Acts 17:30–31 – The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

The law is good, however, sin has used it for evil. We must never forget that God will never have his plans thwarted by the created being that we know as the devil. God will continue to use the good law to reveal our sin and to point us to our need to repent. This is true at the point of salvation and it remains true throughout our progressive sanctification in the Christian life.

The Fulfilled Prophecy

The Fulfilled Prophecy

Yesterday I preached from Matthew 1:18-25 and pointed to how Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Not only is he the fulfillment—as we see in this text he is the Savior of sinners who brings joy to the world.

Isaiah’s hope was for a day in which the king would not die. He longed for the strong deliverer of the people to come and to make all things new. He looked forward to a day when the people’s victorious King would appear and lead them to freedom. Isaiah and his people longed for that day.

In Isaiah 6, he saw that majestic vision of the enthroned Lord of hosts sitting upon the throne. He was high and lifted up and worshipped in by a host of angelic host. In Isaiah 7, he foretold of a virgin who would conceive and have a son and once again in Isaiah 9, he foretold of this strong sovereign King who is also the Mighty God!

When Isaiah foretold of the baby to be born and the son to be given (Is. 7:14; Is. 9:6), it was none other than the Lord of hosts from Isaiah 6. The enthroned Christ pictured in Isiah 6 in his pre-incarnate state is the hope of Isaiah—who is really the hope of the entire world.

When the time came for Mary and Joseph to marry, they were in the betrothal period (Jewish legal engagement) and it was made known to Joseph that Mary was with child. He was stunned. This shocked him and he considered all of his options, and thought he would provide her a legal bill of divorcement in order to break off the marriage without too much controversy.

While he considered these things, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream explaining that the little baby in her womb was not from an unsure relationship with another man. The baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take her as his wife and that when the baby boy was born, he was to be named Jesus—for he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

This was the great announcement of the fulfilled hope of Isaiah! The Savior of sinners had come. When the announcement was made by the angel to Joseph it was the fulfillment of what Isaiah stated in Isaiah 9:6 and specifically in Isaiah 53.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we have a reason to celebrate and it transcends beyond his birth. His birth was the initial descent into the world of his own creation in order to walk the path of the cross. Without the cross, Matthew 1:21 would not happen. That’s why the incarnation was part of the whole that would lead to the cross and fulfill holy justice and set his people free.

Joy to the world—the Lord is come.

 

The Prophecy of Hope

The Prophecy of Hope

Yesterday, I preached from Isaiah 9:6 as we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the hope we have in the gospel. In this short verse, we see massive statements about Jesus Christ that provide reasons to rejoice and be glad in our God!

The prophet Isaiah was writing to Israel regarding the Assyrian conflict. Assyria had overtaken the northern Kingdom and what Isaiah promised them was victory. How? Through a military conquest? Through a powerful dictator? No! Through the birth of a baby. It was a shocking statement in his day, but even more so when it actually came to pass hundreds of years later. Jesus was born of a virgin and the child given was the Savior of the world.

In this verse, Isaiah tells of the child who is the Son of God, the One who will rule the nations, the One who is the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father of eternity, and Prince of Peace. The resume of this promised child is beyond comprehension, but not one of these descriptions transcends higher than the claim of deity. This is the heart of the gospel and the true reason of joy at Christmas.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet was encouraging his people in a time when the king had died. The people were scrambling around and looking for leadership when the throne was empty. It was then that God provided the vision of the enthroned King of kings who was worshipped by angels and positioned high and lifted up on a sovereign throne. Just one chapter removed from that majestic scene we hear the promise of a virgin conception and his name shall be called Immanuel. When Isaiah pens the words in Isaiah 9:6, and claims that this child will be mighty God—there is no doubt that this is a reference to the deity of the Messiah—Christ the Lord. The child promised is none other than the Lord of hosts of Isaiah 6. God with his people is the message of joy and the hope of the gospel.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suggest that Jesus is Michael the Archangel—it becomes clear that they are attacking the heart of the gospel. Not only does Hebrews 1:6-14 quote Psalm 102:25-27 which reveals the truth that Jesus is Jehovah—but all through the Bible we see references to the deity of Jesus such as:

  • John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  • John 20:28 – Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!
  • Titus 2:13 – waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ
  • 2 Peter 1:1 – Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ
  • Romans 9:5 – To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
  • Colossians 1:16 – For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
  • Philippians 2:5-6 – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
  • John 8:58-59 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
  • John 18:6 – When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
  • Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This is why the Nicene Creed uses the language of “Very God of Very God” and it’s why the hymn penned by Charles Wesley in his hymn titled, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!” writes:

Hail, th’ incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Without a sovereign Savior—Christmas has no hope. Remember as you celebrate this Christmas—Jesus is God!

The Resurrected Life

The Resurrected Life

Yesterday as we continued in our series through Romans, I was able to preach Romans 6:8-11. As Paul explained the reality of the believer’s death in Christ (we are crucified with Christ) and subsequent burial, he goes on to explain the meaning of what it means to be raised to walk in newness of life. The Christian life is a resurrected life.

In short, that means that we are transformed by the power of God and the new birth causes us to be raised into a new life that is marked by our union with Christ. This new life is different than the life we once lived through our union with Adam. The old things have now been passed away and we now live a life that honors God.

We were born in bondage to sin. This bondage provided us freedom to exercise human depravity. Our depraved human life provided us freedom, but not freedom that leads to righteousness.

  • Free to disobey God.
  • Free to hate God.
  • Free to walk according to the prince of the power of the air.
  • Free to dishonor God.
  • Free to ignore God and focus on self.
  • Free to serve the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Only through the new birth were we given true freedom in Christ. This spiritual resurrection results in a life of freedom to live to the glory of God. The truth of the gospel gave us freedom in Christ (John 8:32-36). In Christ, through his work of redemption, we are freed from this bondage and now we enjoy true freedom to glorify God.

  • Free to live in obedience to God.
  • Free to love God.
  • Free to walk with God.
  • Free to honor God.
  • Free to obey God.
  • Free to worship God.
  • Free to serve God.

The new Christian life is a resurrected life. We live between the already and the not yet. Not only do we have a new life with Christ in this present age, but we will one day live with Christ in his visible presence in glory. The future return of Christ – that great eschatological hope – is what we long for each day as a believer. One day we will enjoy a resurrected body that will dwell in the very presence of our God (1 Cor. 15:22; Rev. 21).

Because of this truth, we overcome sin. Christ died once – and will never die again. His death and resurrection provides true victory and we as his children should walk in a manner that overcomes sin. The response of the Christian life is connected to Jesus’ work. Paul now sums up all of this grand theology by demonstrating how we respond to God (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:22-24).

It’s the work of God that produces a change, but we are called to strive for holiness. That is the calling of the Christian life.

Hebrews 12:14 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

 

United with Christ

United with Christ

Yesterday in our Romans series, I preached from Romans 6:5-7 on the subject of our union with Christ. Considered by many theologians as one of the central doctrines of the gospel—our union with Christ is essential for our position and our life of freedom. Without our union with Christ there is no true Christianity at all.

The word translated, united is the Greek term, “σύμφυτος” meaning, “to being associated in a related experience, or far from the divine, but growing up in the very midst of it; indeed, one might aver, growing up together with it.” [1] Verse five serves as the thesis statement for this section and verses six and seven serve as an explanation of the first half of verse five. Paul launches off into a statement about the believer’s union with Jesus in both his death and resurrection. As it pertains to his death, we were crucified with Christ. Not only does Paul mention our union with Jesus in his death, but then he speaks of us being crucified with Jesus. Why is this so vitally important?

For the Jew, the Roman cross and the system of crucifixion was a statement of finality. Nobody came home for supper after being crucified. Therefore, to state that our old identity in Adam was crucified with Christ—it’s like stating that we will never be the same again. We are now identified with Jesus completely and never will we be identified with Adam. Our old position has now been crucified and there has been a change of ownership that will never be altered.

Following that statement, Paul then moves on to demonstrate that while our position has changed through our union with Jesus in his death, we will still have an ongoing battle with sin since our body of sin is still alive. This will be a constant struggle until we are glorified. We see this in Romans 7:16-18 as Paul writes, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

While the old self connected to Adam has died – our body remains alive and we live in the era between the already and not yet. Christ already rules and yet he hasn’t returned. We have died in Christ, but our sinful flesh remains. We anticipate a day when Christ will return and make all things new – including our sinful flesh – in a glorified body like Christ.

However, we must surrender to Christ and live for the glory of God. As Paul wrote elsewhere in Galatians 2:20-21, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” We are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). We are called to produce good works that bring glory to God and cause others to praise God (Matt. 5:16; James 2:26; Eph. 2:10).

A person who claims to be a follower of Christ and yet remains in a constant unbroken pattern of sin has no right to claim the name of Jesus. When God saves a person, he not only saves them from their sin, but he removes sin from them as well. Sanctification is the pattern of a life changed by Christ.

J.C. Ryle stated, “We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world… Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more – He breaks its power.”


  1. William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 960.
The Call to Holiness

The Call to Holiness

Yesterday I preached from Romans 6:1-4 in our series through Romans titled, “The Gospel According to Paul.” Through chapter four and five, the emphasis of Paul’s message was centered on the subject of justification. How is a person justified? Is it based on works or the grace of God alone? Paul labored his point and emphasized justification by faith alone in Christ alone. As we turned the page into chapter six, the focus shifts from justification to sanctification. Paul drives home the clear call to holy living.

Paul takes up the issue of a serious problem that plagued the Church in the early days – apparently in Rome and elsewhere – as Paul places his cross hairs upon the idea of antinomianism. The false teaching and system of thought known as antinomianism is the idea that the law is invalid and unnecessary since the grace of God super-abounds where sin increases. This is a teaching that produces lips that profess the name of Jesus, but a lifestyle that refuses to submit to Jesus. For Paul, this was a sickening system of thought.

Some people live by the idea “once saved always saved” and think that they possess a privileged status that will keep them out of hell and allow them to enter heaven, but we must be reminded that an attitude that desires to live in sin is the product of an unconverted soul. Any desire to have Jesus as Savior while maintaining a love and affection for the world is the fruit of Adam rather than the fruit of the Spirit.

Paul makes the point that we can’t live in sin that grace may abound. This does not glorify God. He then moves on to ask the question, since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? This is an obvious question for those who walk in sin and profess Jesus with their lips. This is an important question because as Paul makes clear, it’s the difference between a true conversion and false one.

To illustrate his point, Paul points to our baptism into Jesus’ death. This is obviously not talking about water baptism since he’s referencing a permanent change that takes place as a result of the baptism. Any teaching that claims water baptism provides a permanent spiritual change (washing away of sin or the receiving of the Holy Spirit) is heretical. That would be to add something to the work of salvation which would contradict Paul’s entire theological framework.

Sometimes the word baptism (βαπτίζω) can be used for something other than plunging or immersing under water as an ordinance of the church. It was used outside of the Greek New Testament by Josephus who used it metaphorically as he described the crowds who flooded into Jerusalem and wrecked the city. It was used in the New Testament as a mark of identification as when the Israelites were identified with Moses their leader after crossing the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2). In this case, Paul uses it to refer to the spiritual union between an unbeliever and Christ that takes place at conversion. This causes the unconverted sinner to die to sin (which is buried with Christ) and then he is raised to walk in a new life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

This being true, this new life should look, sound, and function in a new way altogether. The new believer suddenly finds himself loving the things that God loves and hating the things that God hates. The Christian will desire to obey Christ and to follow after him. The child of God as led by the Holy Spirit will have interest in what God’s Word says and will have a commitment to the local church—in a way that can only be explained by the person’s union with Christ. The life of a Christian will be marked by movement of sanctification—a true pursuit of holiness (Gal 2:20-21).

Moralism can only take a person so far in life, but a pursuit of holiness is a life marked by submission to God in a joyful manner. Jerry Bridges once stated, “Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.” It must be stated, holiness is not an optional choice for the child of God. Hebrews 12:14 states, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Pet. 1:14-16). Remember, holiness is not legalism. Holiness is the product of a life changed by Jesus. There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.

J.C. Ryle has stated, “There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough – a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice – which costs nothing, and is worth nothing.”