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.  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,  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.
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.
Yesterday I preached from Romans 5:18-21 in our series titled, “The Gospel According to Paul” (an exposition of Romans) on Sunday morning. Flowing from Romans 5:12 are verses 13-21 which provide an explanation of verse twelve while also comparing and contrasting Adam and Christ. In the final section, Paul drives home the excellency of Christ and points to the gift of eternal life that comes through Christ.
In verses 18-19, we see two comparisons. The first half of verse 18 points to the work of Adam in providing all of humanity with the curse of condemnation by sin. In the last half of verse 18, we see Christ and his work of justification. The next verse follows the same pattern with the first half of verse 19 pointing to the work of Adam in disobeying God and leading all men into sin. The last half of the verse points to Christ’s work of obedience and how he obeyed the law, submitted to the Father’s will, upheld the Word, and accomplished our salvation.
Moving on to verse 20, Paul points out that the law increases the trespass of our sin by pointing to the knowledge and reality of our sin. In other words, the law is incapable of saving us. It can only condemn us and in doing so it points to our need for an alien righteousness—namely the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We receive this righteousness in the great exchange as God places our sin on his Son and then imputes to our account the righteousness of Jesus thereby making us just before God. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone and we receive eternal life according to verse 21.
Interestingly enough, in the verses that begin this section (18-19), there are two comparisons that provide categories that must be explained properly.
- “All Men” — Romans 5:18 – Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
- “The Many” — Romans 5:19 – For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Some people teach that in Adam, all humanity (all men) are condemned as sinners and that in Christ, all of humanity (all men) are justified and receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ. While the same words are used in both verses to describe the work of Adam and Christ, we must understand the art of comparison and contrast and furthermore realize that this would lead to a heresy if pressed to the end. If all of humanity receive the guilt of Adam’s transgression and the same exact group without exception receive justification through Christ—that would mean that hell is empty today. Not one person who has received the righteousness of Christ has entered the gates of hell.
This is known as the doctrine of universalism which states that all people will eventually be saved through Jesus no matter what they do or believe in this life. That is heretical and certainly not the teaching of the Bible. Furthermore, sometimes words are used in Scripture to make a point, but we shouldn’t take it to the fullest end. One example is when the Pharisees were becoming angry with the popularity of Jesus, and they responded by saying, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19). Obviously, the whole world without exception did not follow after Jesus, but to make the point of his popularity, the Pharisees spoke with that language.
What is happening in verses 18-19 is clearly an example of comparison where Adam and Christ are being contrasted closely by using the same words. So, what Paul is saying is that all of Adam’s people are condemned by his sin while all of Christ’s people are justified by his work of righteousness. Adam condemned the entire human race, and Christ will save every one of his people who were given to him by the Father before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1; John 10:28-29; Matt. 1:21).
Everyone who is in Christ receives their justification by faith and become the heirs of the promise and eternal life. What a reason to rejoice. Christ is far better to save than Adam is to condemn.
Yesterday I preached from Romans 5:15-17 in our series through Romans. In this paragraph, we see Paul explaining how Christ is far superior to bless than Adam was to curse. In verse 14, he called Adam a type of Christ, but now suddenly, he dives off into a three part comparison as to how and why Christ is far more superior to redeem than Adam is to ruin.
First, we see Paul’s explanation that human depravity is replaced by God’s righteousness. Through Adam, we inherited by imputation the depravity of the human heart. This leaves us helpless and hopeless in a state of spiritual death. However, it’s through Christ that lost and rebel sinners are brought to faith and redeemed from the curse of sin. In order for this to take place, we receive by imputation the righteousness of God in Christ. Paul repeats this pattern in this section of verses twice, but he writes, “much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom. 5:15).
Secondly, Paul notes that condemnation is replaced by justification in Christ. The result of human depravity is that we are condemned by God. Yet, in order to be welcomed into heaven and reconciled to God, we must be justified. Justification is a legal verdict and pronouncement of our status before God. God declares us just. This is the only way to escape the wrath of God in the condemnation of sinners. This is only possible through the miracle of conversion that happens through Christ. It is the last Adam who is far greater in his work of redemption than the first Adam is in his work of corruption.
Finally, Paul makes it clear that Christ is far superior to Adam in the fact that death is replaced by life. Adam brought death into the world and it reigned through Adam. Through one man’s transgression, sin entered the world and death was the result. Not only physical death, but spiritual death. In Adam all die physically and spiritually. The very moment that Adam ate of the forbidden tree, he died spiritually. He would later die at 930 years of age a physical death. Genesis began with an explosion of light and life, but it ended with the veil of darkness and death.
However, that’s not the end of the story. Christ is the light of life and through his work of redemption, he defeated death. The gospel (good news) is the announcement of the reverse of the curse of Adam. The degeneration of Adam’s curse is overcome by the regeneration of life through Jesus Christ. The gospel denounces sin in the death of Christ and it announces hope in the resurrection of Christ. Christ is far more powerful to save than Adam is to curse.
Through Adam’s one sin spiritual death death came which introduced degeneration, pollution, corruption, rebellion, sickness, pain, brokenness and lawlessness—resulting in physical death.
Through Christ’s work of redemption we see the following work of God’s saving grace:
- Sins are forgiven.
- Atonement is made.
- Propitiation is accomplished.
- Death is defeated.
- Righteousness is granted.
- Justice is satisfied.
Reconciliation is achieved.
- The head of the serpent is crushed.
- The curse of sin is reversed.
- One day – Christ will return – and make all things new!
- The entire world will be renewed.
- Death will be no more.
- No more weeping.
- No more pain.
- No more sorrow.
All of this is the work of Christ. The work of Christ in redemption is far more superior than Adam’s work in rebellion.
If the church is unified in a lectio continua approach to Bible reading and Bible preaching—it will create a solid and healthy foundation that will mark the life of the church. Lectio continua is a Latin phrase that means, continuous reading. This phrase has been used to describe the continuous approach to systematic expository preaching—the popular method of the Reformers and towering giants of church history.
The long cherished lectio continua approach to preaching has been a healthy method for many years throughout church history. Unfortunately, in recent years, preaching has fallen on hard times—even among those who claim to be Reformed expositors. There seems to be a wide and shallow definition of exposition within even the most healthy pockets of evangelicalism. The typical pulpit method today is fad-driven and man-centered. This pragmatic approach to the pulpit ministry results in informal and often immature talks that are shallow, short, chatty, and filled with more cultural cliches than biblical theology. After all—it works.
If the church today will indeed see a revival—it will be based on a firm commitment to God’s Word rather than the shallowness of man-centered gimmicks. We need a return to the lectio continua approach to reading and preaching that will cause the church to gain massive theological growth. Those old paths were walked once before and it brought great results. May the Lord be pleased to do it again.
Lectio Continua as a Bible Study Methodology
How can we expect the people in the church to have an appetite for sequential expository preaching if they are not practicing sequential expository Bible reading in their home? If your personal Bible study looks like a cherry picked verse or paragraph from day to day—it will not only leave you with a superficial understanding of the Bible, but it will likewise leave you with a discontented spirit on the Lord’s Day when your pastor is seeking to preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.
The random Bible verse approach or the mainstream boxed devotional approach to Bible study will often lead a person to adopt poor study habits as well as a low view of a expository preaching. Why would you approach the pages of the Bible in a way that you would never approach your mother’s will after her death or a legal document that you received in the mail? Why would you read those documents line-by-line in an attempt to understand the meaning, intent, and message of the documents rather than merely picking out a line or two from the center of the letter? With that in mind—why would anyone dare to read the Bible with that type of approach?
The benefits of a continual and sequential reading of the Bible in your personal study is that it allows you to deal with the original author, his grammar, his intent, and his meaning in each verse and the entire book as a whole. With all of this information, you can then have a good grasp of the entire book of the Bible and its place within the canon of Scripture as a whole. At this juncture, you can begin to connect the dots to your personal life and make proper application.
Before a church can learn to love expository preaching—the people must first be capable of expository listening which emerges from expository reading on a personal level. Solid corporate worship begins in the home.
Lectio Continua as a Preaching Ministry
As stated previously, the lectio continua approach to the pulpit was the common method of the early church and the patristic eras. When Huldrych Zwingli sought to lead his congregation back to this historic approach in 1519—he was met with many questions and concerns. However, his commitment to a sequential exposition of God’s Word proved to be the right move. John Calvin would adopt this same approach as he labored in the pulpit. As we read church history, we get a glimpse into the ministry of Calvin:
- He began his series through Acts in 1549. He completed it in 1554.
- He preached 46 sermons through 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
- 1 and 2 Corinthians – 186 sermons.
- He preached 86 sermons through the pastoral epistles.
- His series through Galatians was 43 sermons.
- He preached 48 sermons through Ephesians.
- 159 sermons through Job. Many modern preachers haven’t preached one sermon from a text in Job.
- His series through Deuteronomy was 200 sermons long.
- He labored through Isaiah in 353 sermons.
- His series through Genesis was 123 sermons in length.
We get a glimpse into his commitment to lectio continua preaching as he finished his sermon on Easter in 1538 and was banished by the City Council from his pulpit. Calvin would not return for more than 3 years. On the first Sunday back in the pulpit, he picked up in the very next verse. He was communicating something to the people. He was making it known that he was committed to sequential preaching through books of the Bible. He wasn’t finished. His work was not complete.
Standing upon the shoulders of the Reformers have been men like D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, and in modern times—John MacArthur. It seems that God blesses the faithful proclamation of his Word—yet modern man-centered preaching styles are headed in a different direction. In an interview with Ed Stetzer in 2009 regarding his book titled, Communicating for a Change, Stetzer asked Stanley about preaching. The question was, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” Andy Stanley responded, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.”
Not only does Andy Stanley have a skewed understanding of expository preaching, he apparently has a skewed understanding of preaching throughout church history—beginning with the apostles. Yet, Andy Stanley is not alone. The popular church growth techniques are rolled out at conferences each year and those methods get results. Often, they get fast results. Such pragmatism fills empty seats and offering plates and so for that reason, lectio continua has been pushed to the backseat in modern times.
Historically, the first mark of an authentic church is the right preaching of the Word. If you get this mark wrong, everything else will be negatively impacted. Yet, today, when you ask someone why they chose their church, they will talk about the choir, the programs for the children, the way the church made them feel, and various other things—but they rarely if ever discuss the fact that the church has a proper expository preaching methodology. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the top priority in many professing Christian homes.
Shallow preaching leaves people spiritually dry and hungry. The evangelical church is not a picture of health. Modern preaching is using every gimmick known to man in order to fill worship centers including rock concerts, slick movie clips with media presentations, and every other trick you can imagine. Only through a robust pulpit where the Bible is sequentially explained verse-by-verse on a weekly basis can we have confidence that God will usher in a revival, change people’s hearts, and ultimately reach the world.
God doesn’t need our tricks and gimmicks. God’s Word is sufficient. Sola Scriptura lives on. Preach the Word!
Yesterday I preached from Romans 5:9-11 in our series through Romans. The focus of the text was on Jesus Christ as our Savior. In the previous text (Romans 5:6-8) we explored Jesus as our substitute. In this rich section of Romans, we see the work of Christ in bringing us to God and reconciling us to the Father through the ministry of his blood.
As we consider the work of Jesus to save us from the penalty of sin – we would do well to pause and rejoice. Far too often we enjoy the benefits of salvation without the joy that should go alongside it in our hearts. We often talk of being saved without the joy of salvation that should flood our hearts and minds through Christ. So, how did Jesus save us?
First of all, Jesus provided our justification by his death. The word “justification” is linked to Jesus’ blood. The point is, we were in a state of sin as the enemies of God and stood in need of justification. We were condemned, guilty, and vile sinners who had offended the sovereign God who created the entire world. Yet, through the ministry of Jesus a great exchange took place. Through the death of Jesus, God took our sins and placed them on his Son and then took his Son’s righteousness and placed it upon us which delivered us from the wrath of God.
We were made just through the just system of God’s justice system. Our sins were not swept under the rug, they were paid for by the crushing blow of Jesus’ death. Yet, we must remember that we were under the wrath of God. The text doesn’t say that we were under the wrath of Satan or the wrath of the devil. It says that we were in danger of God’s wrath. In an age where people fear the devil, it would be far better for people to fear God (Matt. 10:28). Too many people view salvation as being saved from sin or from the devil. The truth is, salvation is being saved from God, by God, and for the glory of God.
Secondly, Jesus saved us through his resurrection. It’s through the ministry of his resurrection that Jesus reconciled us to God. Through the resurrection of Jesus, he did something that Mohammad or Joseph Smith were capable of doing. Jesus predicted his own resurrection (John 2:19) and then on the third day—he walked out of the tomb after the brutal Roman crucifixion. Impossible—yet factual. This is illogical, but confirmed. And it was through this miracle of the resurrection that Jesus proved he is God and is also able to reconcile guilty sinners to God.
Hebrews 7:25 – Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Take a moment and examine yourself. Do you have the joy of salvation provided by Jesus? If not, could it be that you are seeking joy from the world and finding yourself consistently disappointed? According to the Bible, all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). We deserve the wrath of God (Rom. 6:23; Rom. 1:18; 5:9). Yet, anyone who calls upon the Lord for salvation will be saved and will experience the joy of reconciliation.
- Do you recall how Jesus saved you? Do you remember what a burden was lifted from your shoulders the moment you repented of your sin and trusted in his saving grace?
- Does the death of Jesus and his resurrection provide you with consistent joy?
- If you don’t have joy through Jesus and peace with God — why not bow to him today and call upon the Lord for salvation?