The promised Good News

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy ScripturesRomans 1:1–2 (ESV)

When I was a kid, about half of the Bible stories that were taught in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School were Old Testament stories about the lives of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David and others. However, I didn’t realize until I got older what an issue some people have with either studying or being taught the Old Testament. David Murray says, “Some surveys put the ratio of Old Testament to New Testament sermons at 1 to 10.”

I’m sure one of the reasons why people don’t want to hear from the Old Testament is because there’s “no Jesus”. But we see Paul here rightly identifies that the euaggelion of God, the good news of the Messiah, was promised by the prophets, who were all in the Old Testament.

Without getting into an exegetical study of the Messianic prophecies, I think the opinion we really should care about is what Jesus says:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 5:17-19 (ESV)

Seems simple enough to understand, but if it’s not enough to get the approval of Jesus, He even quoted the prophets and the Old Testament in several places in the gospels. Again, probably not the time or place to exhaustively review all of them, but I think Jesus (and Paul in Romans) referencing the Old Testament in the New Testament not only declares that it is not obsolete, but it points to some important themes.

God is not self-contradicting.

It would be easy for Jesus to preach, “Listen, you guys have had a couple thousand years here on your own, but you couldn’t get that right. Let’s just scrap the old covenant and roll with the new one.”

It would certainly be Christ’s right and authority to do so, but to do so would also mean to admit failure. It would be hypocritical for an unfailing God to admit failure. It would probably also mean God wouldn’t really be as worthy of our worship as He says He is.

Jesus told us that we were not only to continue following the law as it was explained in the old covenant, but by following the new covenant of loving God and loving others as yourself, that new covenant agrees perfectly with the law and gives everlasting life to all who place their faith in that new covenant.

God’s plan has been God’s plan all along.

If the assumption is that the new covenant was Plan B, again, how could an infallible God not see the ruin and futility that trying to follow the old covenant would entail? Again, if God claims to know everything and didn’t know that, then God would not be the worthy God that He claims to be.

The problem with that argument is that it equates the moral failure of mankind with the failure of God’s plan, as if God’s plan was for us all to be morally perfect creatures. Paul states later in Romans:

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”—Romans 8:3–4 (ESV)

God’s plan all along was to give us the law so we could see that we could not uphold it within our own sinfulness no matter how hard we tried to be righteous. Look at King David, a man after God’s own heart, who was still an adulterer and a murderer. Even he could not uphold the law!

But what the law does show us is that despite trying to uphold it, we are still sinful and shameful and unworthy of mercy. Without faith in Jesus we cannot uphold the law, and that is God’s ultimate plan: to rescue His children through the blood of Christ and to give us the grace we do not deserve.

My prayers for today:

I want to remember that God does not contradict Himself. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. A God who does not contradict Himself truly knows what is going on and is not surprised by anything.

I also want to remember that my shame, failures and sinfulness do not affect God’s plans. God is not surprised by them, and although I should always be in a position of repentance and striving to avoid sin, God promises me undeserved grace when I do.

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Music Monday: Surrounded (Fight My Battles)

I’m not the biggest fan of Michael W. Smith. I apologize if stating that offends you, but the type of praise music he sings is not generally my cup of tea.

However, this song sneaked in at the end of 2018. I had only heard it once or twice, but it ended up at #18 in SiriusXM The Message’s Top 18 of 2018. So, in hearing the countdown while running New Year’s Eve errands, this simple song came on, and I was hooked.

The lyrics:

This is how I fight my battles

It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You

And basically, it’s a very simple song that repeats those words as the song builds, but those lyrics really hit home for me. If I try and picture an image of the song in my mind, I see someone who goes into battle with the whole armor of God surrounding them. When you fully put it on, you stand within God’s truth, righteousness, peace, shield, salvation, Word and Spirit.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints—Ephesians 6:13–18 (ESV)

If I look at the image of how I head into battle, to be honest, I’m not thinking of putting on the whole armor of God. I may pick up pieces of it, or I might pick up the offensive weapons, but I don’t put on everything. The sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) is not a sword that I should expect to use to stab at people for my own purposes when they disagree with me.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.—Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

The Word of God gets its attribute of sharpness from driving straight into people’s hearts. It doesn’t need me to wave it around, flailing like an idiot hoping to cut something like some raving berserker.

And really, that is what the point is of the armor of God. It’s more of a defensive tool than an offensive tool. It’s meant to protect me and my heart, to give me solid footing, to give me peace while in the battle and the faith to go into the battle with confidence.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.—James 1:21 (ESV)

This is the purpose of the implanted Word of God: to be received in my heart and stored there so it can work in me and through me and “worn” on me as armor, so that any time I feel surrounded by the enemy and the worries of the world, I’m actually surrounded by the armor of God, and in essence, surrounded by the Holy Spirit Himself.

What do you think of this song? Leave a note in the comments.

Friday Fun Day: NFL Wildcard Weekend

I live in Indianapolis. We haven’t had a lot of success with our sports teams since Peyton Manning left for Denver and Reggie Miller retired.

2018 was a mixed bag as far as our local sports were concerned. The NFL season came to a merciful end for the Colts, but the drama was far from over. Quarterback Andrew Luck missed the entire season after shoulder surgery in early 2017, and there was concern that he might never play again.

On top of that, head coach Chuck Pagano was fired after five seasons, and the Colts decided to hire New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to replace him after the Patriots made their eighth Super Bowl appearance with head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Problem was, the night before McDaniels was supposed to be introduced as the new head coach of the Colts, he got cold feet and turned down the offer.

Thankfully the Pacers were playing well enough to be a welcome distraction from the drama across town last season. Trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder brought back former Indiana University star Victor Oladipo, and he became the leader and the star that the franchise needed. The Pacers went into the playoffs as the 5th seed (their highest in 4 years) and took LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the full 7 games of their series.

For the Colts, enter Frank Reich as head coach, the former veteran backup quarterback of the Buffalo Bills and offensive coordinator of the 2018 NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Not only was he a coach of the winning team, but he wasn’t considering any outside coaching offers until his season with the Eagles was over. He’s also had dreams of planting and pastoring a church one day.

The Colts’ 2018 season started with a rough 1-5 start, but the Colts finished 9-1 down the stretch. Andrew Luck recovered to play this season. The offensive line, the running game, and the defense all improved. The players that we have aren’t household names, but they’re enthusiastic, and I daresay that having a coach who is a Christian has given the team a moral compass that it has lacked since Tony Dungy was the head coach.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the Colts can do this weekend against the Texans. It’s been enjoyable to watch the Colts again. Indy lost a close game in overtime early in the season, but turned it around to beat Houston later in the season to split the series. Now, we have the rubber match to see who goes on to the next round.

If you have a team you’re rooting for this weekend, I hope you will not be disappointed by the outcome of this weekend’s games, and if you’re a fan of one of the other 20 NFL teams, better luck next year!

What are you looking forward to this weekend? Leave a note in the comments.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God—Romans 1:1 (ESV)

A Slave of Christ

When Paul greeted a church in one of his letters, he usually referred to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus or an apostle (or sometimes both as he did here). The original word for “servant” in Greek is doulos, which means a “slave” or a “bond-servant”. In both the Roman and Jewish cultures that Paul lived in, slaves had no freedom and were the property of their owners, but the Old Testament dictated in Exodus 21 the laws governing ownership of slaves.

We think of slavery as a concept of forced servitude against someone’s will, but Jewish law provided that if a slave declared love for the master, then that slave could willingly enter into permanent ownership by the master. Paul gave his life to Christ three days after meeting him on the road to Damascus. As a slave, Paul declared his love for Jesus and willingly surrendered all his personal rights in order to enter into permanent ownership by the master.

The term “slave” has negative racial connotations in society, so perhaps the word “bond-servant” gives a better explanation. The idea is that the servant had some sort of financial bond or debt obligation on his head. In order to pay off the debt, the servant would enter into a forced labor arrangement with the master. In our case, as we’ll see later in Romans, our debt is the wages of sin (death), which can only be paid for with the blood of Christ. In return for the forgiveness of our sins, Jesus asks for the only payment we can offer: faith in Christ alone for what He has done.

The Call of Christ

Paul claims that he was called to be an apostle, but who called him? The Greek word klétos can also be translated to the word “invited”. Here, the call is the divine invitation to follow Christ. In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus was not seeking out Jesus, but rather Jesus extended a divine invitation to Saul.

This invitation is similar to the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22, where Jesus concluded that “many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The wedding feast itself is symbolic of salvation, which is the gift which we accept from Christ when we follow Him.

An Apostle of Christ

The Greek word apostolos refers to someone who is a messenger or who has been sent as a representative on a mission. So while those who are saved in Christ are His bond-servants, we are not treated cruelly by our Master or forced to do menial tasks. Christ calls us to follow Him so that we will be saved. He loves us and even though we have surrendered all control of our lives to Christ, He still entrusts us with the mission to spread the gospel to others.

Set Apart for Christ

Finally, Paul concludes the verse by stating that he is set apart for the gospel of God. The word used for “set apart” here is aphorizó, which I expected to be another word for set apart, which is “holy”. However, this word appears to just simply mean being physically separated. The Greek for gospel is euaggelion, the translation of which we’ve all heard: “good news”. Specifically, this good news is in reference to God’s good news of the Messiah and His coming.

Taking the entire sentence as a whole, we might have surrendered our personal claim on our lives to Christ, but He has called us to be set apart in order to represent Christ, to be a messenger for Christ and to be given a mission for the good news of the gospel. Christ loves us and has entrusted the gospel to those who follow Him to share that good news with others.

My prayers for today:

This might be the first verse of the book of Romans, but it’s not the first sentence. Paul continues this sentence through verse 7.

I want to live as one enslaved to Christ. I must remember that I was bought with a price (1 Corinthians 7:23), and I am set free from the penalty of sin because of that price that was paid (Romans 6:22). As a slave, I want to keep what the Lord says that He desires for me at the forefront of all my thoughts and actions.

I want to follow the call of Christ, because to all those who receive Him and believe in His name, they have the right to call themselves children of God (John 1:12). Not only do I not want to disappoint my Master, but I also do not want to disappoint my Father who loves me and adopted me into this family.

I want to be a representative of Christ. I don’t want people to see me when they look at me, but I want them to see Christ. I should live my life as a new creation in Christ, for my old self has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I want to live set apart for Christ. I want to live a different life that’s unlike that of the world: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). By living set apart from the world, I can more effectively represent Christ.

However, living set apart from the world doesn’t mean to avoid it completely or to shun others, because we are also called as followers of Christ to be set apart for the good news of Christ. Good news is meant to be shared with others, not kept to oneself (Matthew 5:14). As I live set apart from the world, I want to live a life where I embrace those opportunities to share the good news with others.

Greetings

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God—Romans 1:1 (ESV)

Each of the apostle Paul’s letters started out the same way: he introduced himself and those working with him. Although Paul only mentioned himself in this particular greeting to the Roman church, he included many others by the time you read to the end of the letter.

You can’t get past the first word of the book of Romans without considering the author of the letter. In Acts 22, Paul gave a testimony of his life while addressing the people of Jerusalem. He was born Saul of Tarsus, but he was raised in Jerusalem and thoroughly trained in Jewish law. His zeal for the law led him to persecute and murder Christians until the resurrected Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus. Blinded by the Lord for three days, Paul did not receive his sight until the Holy Spirit came upon him.

Paul saw his sin.

There are different circumstances through which God brings us to our knees because of our sin. It’s interesting that Paul’s sight in particular was taken away after he Jesus confronted Paul over his atrocities against Christ and His church. I wonder if Paul felt fear at what occurred after his encounter with Christ, or perhaps he felt helpless. We might think that we have certain aspects of our lives under control, but we have no control over the physical capability to see.

Perhaps Paul saw the faces of those he persecuted and murdered. Without his sight, he might have played those scenes back over and over again through his mind. Perhaps without his sight, it was the only way for Paul to truly see (at the exclusion of everything else) that he had sinned greatly against God, even in his zeal for pursuing Jewish law. If he had not been blinded, he might never have dealt with his sin, and he probably wouldn’t have repented of it either, nor seen that he needed a Savior.

Paul saw Christ’s forgiveness.

After Paul accepted Christ, he went from town to town into the synagogues and preached Christ with the same zeal as he had when he persecuted Christians. Paul’s experience with Jesus on that road had changed his life and became a living testament to the power of the gospel. After all, if Christ could even forgive Paul for the murders of His followers, then there are few sins too great for His forgiveness.

I wonder if some of us cannot see the greatness of Christ’s forgiveness because we can’t see how great our sins are. When I remember the things that I have done in my life that have damaged relationships, harmed myself, and brought shame upon the Lord, it helps put the size of Christ’s forgiveness into perspective. I have victory over those sins only because Christ’s forgiveness is so great, and that victory should bear fruit in my life as a changed man.

Paul saw Christ’s love.

What would cause a zealous Jew to change his life in such a remarkable manner? It could only be the work of the Holy Spirit. While Paul was blind, he suffered the consequences of his sin for just a few days, because the Lord had plans for Paul. When the Holy Spirit came upon Paul, not only was Paul given back his sight, but it was a sign of approval from the Lord that Paul belonged to Him. God did not cause Paul to suffer in blindness for the rest of his life. He turned Paul’s life around and sent him on a new path to spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean nations.

Christ doesn’t leave us in our sin. He cleans us up, prepares us for His good work and purposes, and then leads us to where we should go and what we should do. Christ loved us so much that He died on the cross for our sins, but our life has to have greater purpose and meaning so that sacrifice isn’t made in vain with empty lives spent in our own pursuits. Jesus continued to teach the disciples after His resurrection and prepared them for what lied ahead. This is why Jesus gave us the Great Commission, because the gospel is “good news” and good news is meant to be shared with others in service to Christ.

My prayers for today:

Paul had a lot to say in one simple greeting, and he said it with the lifetime of experiences that he had before and after that meeting with Christ on the road.

I want to see my sins as detestable as God sees them. I pray that I would not minimize or rationalize them to protect my reputation, pride and ego.

I want to see Christ’s forgiveness as bigger than those sins. If my sins are small to me, then Christ’s forgiveness means little. Christ’s forgiveness for me should mean so much to me that I would repent and walk in righteousness through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I want to see Christ’s love in proportion to that forgiveness. Because Christ loved me so much that He died for me and my sins, my reaction should be to allow Him to change my life and for me live it in the way that He directs it.