Resolutions – Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2 ESV

 

New Year’s Resolutions, many people tend to make them. The top ten New Year’s Resolutions this last year were diet, exercise, lose weight, save more money and spend less, learn a new skill or hobby, quit smoking, read more, new job, drink less alcohol, and spending more time with friends and family. We tend to look at New Year’s resolutions as a form of self improvement goals, things we want to do for ourselves either to fulfill our desires or to make ourselves appear better in some for or another. Now I am not saying there is anything completely wrong with New Year’s Resolutions, I mean half of them are regarding living a healthier lifestyle. The problem with New Year’s Resolutions is how many people actually stick to them? I mean the big joke is if you want to start working out at a gym, start in February after those who made resolutions have quit and the gym becomes less crowded.

 

The question is do we often take a similar approach to our spiritual life? We make promises that we will do things to improve ourselves spiritually only to give up on them after a short amount of time. How many of us made a resolution to read the Bible through in a year, or to do a daily devotional? How many of us have actually stuck to that resolution? One thing I will state New Year’s Resolutions it is said that 80% fail by February and only 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions.

 

The thing is what Paul is getting at here in this verse goes so much deeper than the concept of a resolution. In fact if you look at verse 1 we see that this is a daily intentional decision. To be transformed and not conformed is not something we can do on our own; but it is done by daily giving ourselves to God. It is humbling ourselves before God, looking to Him and seeking His desires, which in turn eventually become our desires as we are transformed. You see being conformed to the world is asking what can we do for ourselves, how can we make ourselves look good; even the most giving person if they are not following God their motives are purely for their own purpose. On the other side to be transformed is to rather ask what can I do to make God look good, what can I do to bring Him glory? You see the reason in the previous verse Paul states we need to present ourselves daily as a living sacrifice is that in order to be transformed we need to kill our selfish desires and humble ourselves daily, as pride is something we all struggle with  and it is turning from our selfish desires and looking towards God and seeking His desires that results in the transformation. One verse I like to look at regarding this is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Not in that God will be a genie and give you what you want, but as you look towards God, He will change or transform your desires to line up with His desires; or He renews your mind so that “you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Glory to God Alone – Episode 32

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:13-14

Soli Deo Gloria or to the glory of God alone, the last of the five sola statements of the Protestant Reformation. This is a concept that on the surface is instilled into many Christians. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is what is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Paul in his writings alludes to the fact that our lives and actions should be bringing glory to God, in fact he is the one that penned the verse, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Although I might mention that while a good application of this verse that use does take it a bit out of context, and I would feel uncomfortable applying it in such a way, I blame my seminary professors that hammered in good hermeneutics through exegesis.

So on this fine Christmas day, I figured what better verse to use for talking about to the glory of God alone than the proclamation of the heavenly host to the shepherds that first Christmas morning. You see in God’s plan for salvation the purpose was for His glory. You see this proclamation comes right after the first angel gives the shepherds the good news that a Savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord. This good news is why glory is to go to God, as some might say glory goes to the victor, and since the garden of Eden and the first sin man has been at war with God. It is funny that the Jews in Jesus’s day were looking for a conquering king for a Messiah and got instead a suffering servant. I however believe Jesus did come as a conquering King, it is just he didn’t conquer in the sense they were looking for. They wanted a king that would defeat Rome and reestablish an earthly kingdom for Israel, Jesus is a King that came and defeated sin and brought forth peace between man and God.

Glory is not only a form of honor but also praise and worship. You see in Christ coming as our Savior, he came not to defeat Rome but to bring peace between man and God, before this all mankind was at enmity with God. We were in all out rebellion and wanted nothing to do with Him. Christ’s actions on the cross reconciled the world to God. It opened the door to allow God to offer us grace which we respond to in faith, which without grace we would be unwilling to do. It is once we understand that our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and due to the work of Christ alone, that we then realize that our praise and worship, all of the glory, goes to God alone. So remember, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Christ Alone – Episode 31

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV

Solus Christus or Christ Alone, it is the concept that the only work required for our salvation was done through Jesus’s death on the cross. There are many places throughout the New Testament that makes this point. Paul tends to put it so bluntly as to state that while we were enemies of God, Christ died for us, just read Romans 5 or Colossians 1. The Old Testament also points forward to this, while the Jews of Jesus’s day, especially the religious leaders, missed it many of the prophecies pertaining to Christ’s first coming show a need for Him to be the suffering servant. However, if I just had to pick out one book of the Bible that drives home the point of Solus Christus it would have to be Hebrews. The entire book was written to believers in Rome during a time of great persecution where many were considering leaving the faith, the author seeing the problem wrote to encourage them and illustrate that Christ is far greater than any other option.

The author spends a great amount of time comparing Jesus to the priesthood, pointing out Jesus’s superiority and how the sacrifices offered up by the Levitical priests are not sufficient to cover our sins. The problem is that the Old Testament sacrifices were not perfect sacrifices offered by a perfect priest, therefore they were flawed sacrifices. This required regular trips to the temple and frequent sacrifices to cover one’s sins.

Then Jesus came along, the perfect Lamb of God, he lived a perfect life free from sin and died on the cross serving as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. Not only that but in doing so he also took on the role as our High Priest to stand before God in our place acting as our advocate and interceding on our behalf, covering those who have faith with his righteousness. That is why the author of Hebrews can state that those who are being sanctified are perfected once and for all through Christ’s sacrifice, because the blood that was used to cover our imperfections was the perfect blood of Christ applied by a perfect Priest and not the blood of earthly sacrifices applied by earthly priests. It is this sacrifice that makes God’s offer of grace possible; and without grace there would be no faith, and with no faith we would have no hope for salvation. So we have now seen that we are saved by grace, through faith, because of Christ’s work on the cross.

Grace Alone – Romans 3:23-24

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24 ESV

Sola Gracia or grace alone, it is the second of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation that I will cover and is the concept that we are saved by grace alone. So what exactly is grace? I am not big for acronyms or catchy phrases to describe theological terms but I often hear grace broken down as God’s riches at Christ’s expense; but as we see in Romans 3 I would modify that statement, and I think Martin Luther’s revelation regarding Romans 1:17 would agree, God’s righteousness at Christ’s expense. You see in the previous verses it mentions that God’s righteousness is given to the believer, it is the same righteousness that Martin Luther agonized over when reading Romans 1:17b, “For the righteous shall live by faith.” What this means is that through grace we are offered God’s righteousness, as that is the only thing that can truly justify us, because when we are measured against God’s glory in our own merit nothing we do can measure up, no matter how moral and good it may seem to us our actions on our own tend to be self serving in some form or fashion.

The fact that we can never measure up to God’s glory, to His standard, He offers us the gift of grace. He states that He is willing to apply His righteousness to us when He sees if we measure up to His glory and standard. You see when we say that we are justified, it is not the simplistic just as if I had never sinned, another of those pesky catchy phrases. So if you remember what it mean to be justified, it is to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable.

But didn’t we just get finished talking about how it is faith alone? Well faith and grace are actually two sides to the same coin. Grace as mentioned here is the gift of God’s righteousness bestowed upon us. It is God stating that rather than using our righteousness to measure up to His standard, he will apply His righteousness to us and use that to see if we measure up. Faith is our trust and belief that God will do just that, in other words our faith is the result of accepting God’s grace. You see you cannot have faith without grace and when we receive grace our faith is the proof before God. Thus as stated in Ephesians 2:8 we are saved by grace through faith.

Faith Alone – Romans 3:28

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:28

Sola Fide or Faith alone, this is the second of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. It is the concept that it is only through our faith that we come to salvation. One popular verse that speaks on this is Ephesians 2:8, but Paul to one extent expresses all five of the solas in the book of Romans. Romans 3:28 is just one of many in the book of Romans where Paul expresses that we are justified before God by faith and not works.

So let’s look at the verse, first thing you might mention is if we just got through with stating Scripture alone as our authority, doesn’t Scripture contradict itself with passages such as this when compared to James 2 where it states faith without works is dead? As Paul would state, “Absolutely not!” You see both would agree that it is not the works that save or even justify us before God. What James is getting at is that good works justifies our faith among other men, it is the sign and proof of our faith for others to see, it is not what God uses to consider whether we are saved.

So what does it mean to be justified? Well the non theological definition of justified is to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable. Much like how we will use various arguments to justify a large purchase to our spouse or significant others, or justify our actions to family and friends or even ourselves. God looks at our faith and takes that as enough reason to mark us down in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

So now what is faith? Faith is us placing our full trust and belief in God. It is stating that we believe that Christ died for us, and rose from the dead conquering sin and death. It is as the author of Hebrews states, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That hope is a trust and looking forward to the future glory that as believers we will receive; the freedom from our bondage to the sins and corruption of the flesh.

So now as I end what is sola fide? It is the belief and trust that Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for our salvation. It is the trusting in God that we are justified in His eyes not by anything we can or will do but by our faith alone.

Scripture Alone – 2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone, this is one of the foundational statements of the Protestant Reformation. It is the concept that Scripture is the ultimate authority on how a Christian should live and believe. The Bible is the measuring stick by which we are to measure all of our beliefs as well as what we are told. It is to be the final say in our moral compass directing our paths and actions. You see the reformers and even some of those that came before them such as Wycliffe and Huss saw a discrepancy between what Rome was saying and what the Bible stated and rather than side with the pope and the church they took the stance that the Bible should have the final say.

This verse explains precisely why the Bible is important. The first thing that Paul mentions in this verse is the importance of the source of Scripture. I know when writing research papers there are different types of sources, where the professors want you to use as many quality sources as possible, sources that are accurate and reliable as opposed to the random rants of someone on the internet. What he points out is that Scripture was inspired by God, or as we see in some translations that it was God breathed. What this means is that what we see in the Bible was in a way dictated to the authors by God; but in a way that was more in terms of thoughts and concepts, as God’s truth flowed through the minds, souls, hearts, emotions, and personalities of the various authors. This is seen by each writer having their own style and presentation; Paul uses a different vocabulary than James, and Luke writes to the Greek mind while Matthew speaks more to the Jews. It all however, is God’s truth breathed into the writers.

The next thing we see is that not only is the source of Scripture important, but the uses of Scripture is important. Paul gives a list of ways that the Bible is to be used by stating that in each of these areas Scripture is profitable, it brings about the best results. The four areas in which Paul lists Scripture as being profitable all work together in helping the believer grow. First is that of teaching or in fancy terms doctrine, it is learning what is right. That is followed up by reproof, or telling us what is not right. So with these first two aspects Scripture tells us what we should be doing and what we should not be doing; what our goals should be and what we should try to avoid. Then there comes correction, this is where Scripture helps to tell us how to get right; especially when we fail, as we all will do at one point or another. Finally Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness, or how we are to stay right. These last two go together because as we are shown how we have failed and how to get right with God, we then are shown how to remain that way. This is not a one time deal, it is a lifelong process that we must all endure; and that is what Paul is getting at with how Scripture is profitable to us. It brings us to salvation, to faith in Christ, but then leads us through maturing in our faith.

If you have any other questions about why Scripture alone remember that Scripture is the Word of God, and as John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Why Are We Scared To Share? – Romans 1:16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16 HCSB

How often are you scared to share your faith? Do you often make up excuses for not going out and sharing the Gospel with others? I will admit I am the type of personality that often worries about how others think of me and at times I think that keeps me from sharing about my faith like I should. How strange it is that in a country where we can proclaim our beliefs without fear or penalty of imprisonment or death are often scared to proclaim the Gospel because of worry that someone may form a negative opinion about us.

We can oftentimes claim we are not ashamed of the Gospel, yet act in the complete opposite way in order to “not offend” someone. The problem is when you look at this verse think of what Paul was stating. Just before he wrote this, Paul was talking about wanting to come to Rome to teach the Gospel; this was Nero’s Rome a Rome known for its persecution of Christians. Paul here is stating that he didn’t care that preaching the Gospel was a death sentence waiting to happen, because when people hear the Gospel it has the power to bring about salvation.

So now the question is if Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel and willing to proclaim it with the threat of death for doing so, why don’t we share with the same boldness?

Who Persuades You Into Faith? – Ephesians 2:8-9

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 HCSB

How many times have you held a belief in which someone was able to talk you out of? Or how about how many times has someone talked you into something and then someone else is able to convince you of the exact opposite? Human nature is such that if a compelling enough of a case is made you could be talked into just about anything. The question though comes to what about our faith? I know a pastor that likes to say that he doesn’t want to talk anyone into believing the Gospel, because someone can come along and talk them out of it. That is because our faith is not of our own doing.

We recently celebrated what many consider to be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with October 31 being the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the chapel in Wittenberg; and when one thinks of the reformation there are a number of verses that come to mind of which these two are among the most prominent. That is because they sum up nicely where our salvation comes from, and who exactly is responsible for our salvation. “For you are saved by grace through faith…not from works,” in other words Paul is telling us that we do not contribute anything towards our salvation. We cannot do anything to earn it as it is given to us freely, we are saved by grace not works. We are saved by grace through faith, the thing is this faith does not originate from us, it is also given to us by God. That is because until the Holy Spirit grabs a hold of us we are unable to turn towards God, in fact we want nothing to do with God before the Holy Spirit changes us. So is the Holy Spirit tugging on your heart, what is keeping you from accepting the gift of salvation that God is offering?

By Whose Merit? – Zechariah 4:6

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Zechariah 4:6 ESV

How often do we blame God for when things go wrong in our lives but then when things go our way we tend to look at as being done in our own power? In this passage God through the prophet Zechariah is giving a message to Zerubbabel, the leader of the Jews returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. It is a reminder to the leader that it was not by anything the Jews did, it wasn’t due to being a stronger power, or even them defeating the Persians and Babylonians that allowed them to return and to also rebuild the Temple. God is reminding them that He is the one that brought it about.

How often do we find ourselves in a similar situation. We get a promotion. We purchase a new car or a house. We find ourselves in a position of being blessed. We tend to look at it being done on our own merit, or being our good luck rather than giving glory where glory is due. This verse serves as a reminder that no matter what no matter how we may be blessed, even if it is in a material way, no matter how we may prosper; it is not due to anything done on our own merit, but all because of God’s power.

So let me leave you this week with this question? Have you been giving glory and praise to God when things seem to be going right? Do you give God the glory when you seem to be getting blessed? Think hard about it, because often we tend to forget God when things seem to be going good.

Stop the Spiritual Fluff – 1 John 4:1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 ESV

Who are you listening to? What preachers and speakers do you regularly follow? Do you take what they tell you as gospel truth or do you regardless test what they are teaching against the Word of God? John wrote to the early church warning them about false teachers and he wasn’t the only person to warn the church. Paul in his farewell address as well as when writing to Timothy warned against those that would come in teaching what people want to hear rather than teaching the Truth.

Today in the world of televangelists and mega churches we find ourselves in a similar situation. Crowds gather more to where they are being told what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. They want the what amounts to being spiritual sweets while neglecting the spiritual nutritional substances. The problem is much like with our own diet we cannot live on only cakes, pies, and ice cream as our nutritional intake, a spiritual diet of nothing but spiritual fluff is also unhealthy.

That is why we need to test the spirits. We need to be sure that our spiritual diet is healthy. We do this by making sure that the teaching we listen to is firmly grounded in the Bible and not taken out of context. We need to remember that just because it sounds good doesn’t make it true. So let me leave you with this, what does your spiritual diet look like? Do you test the spirits to make sure what you are taking in is healthy or do you just settle for spiritual junk food?