Thursday, January 26, 2023

Who Is On the Throne?

 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

(Romans 13:1 ESV)

As Christians, our perspective on religion and politics tends to be rather confused. This is especially true in the day in which we live, where each and every issue is so polarized. It’s true, especially today, when the only options seem to be one extreme or the other.

There is little doubt or question when it comes to the spiritual side of things. It’s clear to us that God is the ultimate authority in the church. It’s clear to us that he reigns over his church and that we’re to submit to him. 

When it comes to the government, however, when it comes to the state, we are more than a little confused. It seems to us that, unless we have a Christian president, unless we have Christian legislators, and unless we have Christian judges, God is not in control. It seems to us that he’s not the one in authority.

When it comes to the politics of the day, we would largely say that our leaders are anything but Christian. Even if they profess faith in Christ or claim membership in a church, we would say that they are anything but Christian. And this leads us to the conclusion that God is not in charge.

This would be our conclusion also as we look at the decisions they make. This would be our conclusion as we listen to the words that they speak. This would be our conclusion as it seems that, at every turn, they are contradicting or violating the Word of God.

Our response, then, is that we must win back the state for God. Our response is to raise up something like the Moral Majority to take back control of the government. Our response is to do whatever we can to put God back on his throne.

This shows a faulty understanding of the Lord. It shows a faulty understanding of the world in which we live. And this shows a faulty understanding of Scripture.

We find, in the passage above, that the authorities have been instituted by God. They, in other words, serve at his pleasure. And there is no authority that rules apart from his will.

This is true even in the case of unbelievers who hold power. It’s true even in the case of wicked rulers. And it’s true even of those who reject his Word and continually violate his will.

I realize that this raises some questions. It causes us to ask why God would appoint such people to positions of authority. And it causes us to ask how he can reign if our rulers counter his every desire.

We must realize, however, that God’s ways are higher than our own. We will not always understand what he’s doing. This, in fact, will be the case more often than not.

We must realize also that, as God can work through his people, he can also work through unbelievers. He can use the wicked to accomplish his purpose. This, in fact, is something he’s often done.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Lord reigns. He reigns over the Church, and he reigns over this world in which we live. And this provides us with great comfort.

It provides us with comfort because, no matter how things may seem, we can trust him. It provides us with comfort because, no matter how things may seem, we can know that he is in control. And this fills us with comfort because, no matter how things may seem, his will is going to be accomplished.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Gracious Giving of Honor


“Outdo one another in showing honor.”

(Romans 12:10 ESV)


Most of us are, by nature, extremely competitive. Whatever the event, we want to win. And no matter the occasion, we want to come out on top.


We want to win the football game we’re playing with our team. We want to win the board game we’re playing with our family. And we want to win the game of frisbee golf we’re playing with our friends.


When it comes to school, we want to get better grades than the other students and we want to be at the top of the class. When it comes to our physical performance, we want to run faster or to lift more weight than anyone else. And when it comes to fantasy football, we want bragging rights over everyone in our league.


This is what comes to mind as I read the above passage. Paul says that we’re to outdo one another in showing honor. And as I read this, with my competitive nature, I understand it to say that I’m to excel in this, that I’m to do better in this than everyone else.


That being said, this isn’t a competition. Nor is it a contest that we can win. But there is a sense in which this is a race.


Our natural tendency, when it comes to showing honor, is to reciprocate. What I mean is that we will show honor only when we’ve received honor. We will show honor only to those who have honored us. And we’ll show honor to others only in the same measure we’ve received it from them.


We refuse to show honor to those who have refused it to us. We refuse to give to others more honor than we’ve received. To do so, we believe, is degrading and humiliating.


But we are being called, in this passage, to give honor graciously. We are to give it not because it's been earned or deserved. And we are not to limit it based on the treatment we, ourselves, have received.


This is captured by some of the other translations of this phrase. The NASB says that we’re to give preference to one another in honor. The NIV says that we’re to honor one another above ourselves. The KJV says that we’re to prefer one another in honor. And the CSB says that we’re to take the lead in honoring one another.


The idea, then, is that we’re to go first in giving honor to others. The idea is that we’re to give even more honor than we’ve received. And the idea is that we’re not to selfishly look for honor, or expect it from others.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Faithfulness of God


“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Romans 11:29 ESV


We have all known those who were once faithful. At one point they were very devoted to the Lord. But, somewhere along the line, things changed.


No longer are they devoted. No longer are they trusting in Christ. And no longer do they believe his Word and promises.


It makes us wonder if we were somehow duped. It makes us wonder if these people ever truly believed. And it leads us to ask if they were ever truly saved.


Much of this comes from the idea of “once saved, always saved,” espoused by American Evangelicalism. We reason that, if these people are not now believing, they never did. And we determine that, if they are not now saved, they never truly were.


We certainly can’t deny this possibility. There are some, I suppose, who go through the motions and say the right things, pulling the wool over our eyes. There’s also the possibility, however, that, for whatever reason, they turned their backs on the Lord and walked away from the faith they once held.


Yet, even in that case, we don’t give up on them. We don’t give up on them because the Word and promise of God is just as valid now as it was then. We don’t give up on them because, should they return to faith in Christ, God’s salvation remains available to them.


This is the encouragement we receive from the above verse. Paul had been addressing the spiritual state of Israel. And he noted their fall.


As things currently stand, the Jews, or what we might refer to as national Israel, are enemies of God. They have rejected his promises that were fulfilled in Jesus. And, in this way, they have rejected the salvation of God that was provided by Jesus.


Yet, Paul notes, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. They are beloved because of the faith of their forebears, namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although they had rejected God, God had not rejected them.


The gifts and the calling of God, he tells us, are irrevocable. They are binding. They are unchangeable.


Paul is not suggesting that they are saved simply because they are Jews. Nor is he suggesting that he’ll overlook their rejection of Christ for the sake of their ancestors. He’s saying, rather, that God’s grace, that his invitation, still stands.


They were not outside of God’s reach. They were not beyond saving. If they received God’s Word and promise, looking to Jesus in faith, his grace was available to them.


And this, you see, is the comfort this passage provides to us. It provides comfort to us when it comes to our friends and loved ones who have turned their back on God. Although they may now stand condemned, although they may now be outside of the grace of God, his gifts and calling are irrevocable.


The promises that he once made remain valid. They are still in force. They have not lost their applicability.


Should they receive the grace of God still being offered to them, they can yet be saved. Should they again trust in his promise, God will welcome them home. Until the return of Christ, until the day of grace comes to an end, his invitation and offer still stands.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Who's at Fault?


“But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.””

(Romans 10:21 ESV)


We get very defensive when it comes to the matter of our salvation. If it is even suggested that we are not good people, we become upset. And when we are told that we need God’s forgiveness and mercy, we are offended.


We believe that it would be wrong, we believe that it would be unjust of God to withhold from us his salvation. Even though we acknowledge our imperfection, we believe ourselves to be well-intentioned. Even though we acknowledge the fact that we sin, we believe ourselves to be generally obedient. And although we admit to wrongdoing, we believe that we’ve performed far more good deeds than bad.


We also get defensive when it comes to the salvation of our friends and loved ones. Even if they have rejected the gospel, and even if they’ve lived a life of unrepentance, we believe that it would be wrong of God to deny them salvation. We become upset as we believe them to be inherently good and deserving of the blessings of God.


We even become defensive when it comes to those unknown to us. We become defensive when it comes to those on the other side of the world, with whom we’ve had no contact whatsoever. From our perspective, how dare anyone question the fact that they will be saved?


Again, we believe most people to be good people. We believe them to be well-intentioned. And if they have not believed the gospel, or if they have not heard the gospel, we insist that it’s not their fault.


In our view, most people should be saved. Other than those who have lived horribly wicked lives, we believe that most should be saved. And if they’re not, we try to pass the blame onto God.


He, we think, should’ve done more. He should’ve given them greater opportunity to hear the gospel and to believe. And we believe that, if only he’d done more, if only he’d worked harder, everyone would believe.


God, however, has done everything necessary to provide for our salvation. His work is sufficient. Although, rightfully, he could have left us in sin and judgment, he’s ceaselessly held out his hands to us.


This is the point Paul is making in the passage above, as it pertains to Israel. He pointed out that salvation had been received by the Gentiles, who had not sought it. But it had been missed by Israel, who was seeking it.


Yet they alone bore the fault of their judgment. Although God had reached out to them, they had refused him. It was they who were disobedient, and it was they who were contrary.


The same, you see, applies to so many of us today. Yes, there are those who have received the gospel. There are those who have trusted in Christ and received his blessings. But there are so many who have refused him.


And the problem isn’t God or his effort. The problem is us. The problem is our disobedience. The problem is our stubbornness. And the problem is our rejection of the Lord.


If we fail to receive the salvation of God, we will be without excuse. We will have no one to blame but ourselves. The fault of our disobedience and contrary nature is our own.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Our Neighbor's Good


“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

(1 Corinthians 10:24 ESV)


Society tells us to do whatever makes us happy. It tells us we should do that which fulfills us. And it tells us that we deserve these things.


It sounds very convincing. It sounds convincing because it frames this in the context of self-care. It tells us that it’s about taking care of both our physical as well as our mental health.


And, for the most part, we in the church have bought in. As we go about our lives, we naturally pursue those things that serve us. We pursue those things that satisfy us. We pursue those things that please us.


In reality, of course, this flows from our sinful nature. It flows from a nature that is inherently selfish. It flows from a nature which is fundamentally self-centered and self-seeking.


 As we look to Scripture, however, we find that it commands the opposite. It calls us to do that which goes against our natural tendencies. It calls us to turn from our selfish tendencies and to put our neighbor ahead of ourselves.


This is Paul’s point, in the passage above. He tells us that we’re to seek not our own good, but that of our neighbor. We’re to seek the welfare and the blessing of our neighbor ahead of our own.


We see this not only in the above passage, but throughout Scripture. For example, in Philippians 2:3-4 Paul says: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And in 1 Corinthians 13, we’re told that love does not insist on its own way.


In John 13:34-35, Jesus says it this way: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And we, of course, know how Jesus loved us. He loved us by laying down his life for us.


I’m not suggesting that we ignore our health and well-being. If we fail to take care of ourselves, we’ll be of no good to anyone. However, we’re to seek the blessing of others ahead of our own. And we’re to seek not our benefit, but that of our neighbor.


In fact, we serve God by serving our neighbor. We love God by loving our neighbor. And we worship God as we help and minister to our neighbor.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Source of Faith

 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

(Romans 10:17 ESV)

I’ve run into few, over the years, who dispute the importance of the Bible. I’ve run into few who dispute the value of the Word of God. However, that being said, most are prone to neglect it.

Even those who believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible tend to neglect it. They fail to make use of it. They ignore and disregard it.

As we look at the above passage, we see one reason why the Bible is so important. We find that it’s indispensable for us as Christians. We find, in fact, that we cannot be saved without it.

Paul made clear to his readers that salvation is available to all people. He said that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. He then asked how we’re to call on the Lord if we haven’t believed in him.

It’s clear that we can’t. Unless we believe in the Lord, we will not call on him and be saved. And he went on to argue that we can’t believe in the Lord unless we first hear of him.

This, you see, is why the Word of God is essential. This is why we can’t be saved apart from it. Unless we hear the Word of God, we cannot believe in Jesus. Unless we believe in Jesus, we cannot call on him. And unless we call on him, we cannot be saved.

Faith, you see, is not an inherent quality that we possess. Nor is it an ability on which we act. Just as our salvation is a free gift, given to us by God, so too is faith.

According to Paul, faith comes from hearing. As we hear the Word of God, we are enabled to believe. The Holy Spirit works in us, through the Word, drawing us to faith.

In the same way, God sustains us in faith. He upholds us in faith. And he enables us to persevere in faith. 

It’s for this reason, while explaining the Third Commandment, Martin Luther says we’re to fear and love God so that we do not despise his Word and the preaching of the same, but deem it holy and gladly hear and learn it. The reason we honor the Sabbath Day is that we might hear the Word of God. The reason we keep it holy is that we might receive the blessings God offers to us in his Word.

Knowing that Scripture is vital to our faith, we’re to make use of the opportunities God gives us to receive it. We’re to read it regularly. We’re to study it, both independently and corporately. And we’re to listen to it, we’re to hear it, as it’s preached and taught.

We must not make the mistake of believing that, in this way, we earn or become deserving of God’s mercy. We must, rather, recognize it as God’s gift. We must recognize that God works through his Word, enabling us to believe, that we might receive his salvation.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Source of Righteousness

 “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

(Romans 10:1–4 ESV)

When it comes to our faith, and when it comes to our desire for salvation, there is a common trap into which we fall. And the reason we fall into it is because it flows from our sinful nature. It is, in fact, our default.

The trap to which I’m referring is that of works righteousness. It’s an attempt to earn or to become deserving of the salvation of God. It’s the belief that we determine our salvation by way of ritual or deed.

This is the basis of every religion practiced in the world today, outside of Christianity. It’s the center of their teaching. And it makes up the core of their practice.

This was also the trap into which the Jews had fallen. As Paul expresses his desire for their salvation, in the passage above, he makes clear the reason they were not. Although they were zealous, he says, they were ignorant of the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own.

The righteousness of God, you see, was freely available to them in Jesus. It had been provided to them by his death and resurrection. And it could be received by faith.

Rather than receive the righteousness of God, however, they sought to secure their own. They sought to enact their own. They sought to achieve their own.

But this led only to their condemnation. It led only to their judgment. It did so because righteousness cannot be attained in this way. It did so because true righteousness is found only in Christ.

This, then, results as we attempt to establish our own righteousness. This is the result when we attempt to gain God’s favor apart from Christ. In that case, we receive only condemnation and judgment.

But, in Christ, this righteousness is received freely. And it’s in no way dependent upon us. It results neither from our nature nor from our accomplishments. 

This, then, fills us with peace. It comforts us with certainty. It enables us to rest in the fact that this righteousness is ours in spite of our deficiencies and failures.