Pressing on To Maturity

For the last two weeks I’ve been preaching a message from Hebrews 5 and 6 to several different churches.  Below are my notes on this passage and I hope you enjoy them!  I would just add a disclaimer that they are my raw preaching notes.  So not every thought is written long-form, there are several footnotes with other thoughts at the bottom, and everything is in bullet form.  It this doesn’t turn you off, then I hope you are able to enjoy the study!

PJW

Press On Toward Maturity

Hebrews 5:8-6:3

Personal Note and Background

This series of verses has had an outsized impact on my own life and walk with the Lord. It was these verses that God used to spur me on to learn more, to read more, to draw closer to the Lord and to teach what I learn to others.  When I read this passage several years ago I thought  (rightly) that “I can’t teach anyone now”, but realized that my inability wasn’t God telling me not to teach, but rather it was Him calling me to learn and grow closer to Him in obedience in order to teach when the time presented itself.

The hallmark of this text is a warning to believers not to live their lives as introverted and covetous people.  We are to be people marked by inward heart transformation and a mind renewed in the knowledge of God, which we can readily share with others.

As Moses says, this Word of God is our “very life” – surely it is worthy of our attention today.

The Text: Hebrews 5:8-6:3

 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, [10] being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits.

I want us to focus on 3 Key Points we must take away from this passage, which we will see rise up again and again in our reading today:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

The Biblical Theology

What the author of Hebrews says here, is not an isolated teaching, but reflects what we see throughout the Scriptures from the immutable plans of God for his image bearers, namely that God desires for us to know Him more intimately and to repent of the sin that hinders us from doing so:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, [46] he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. [47] For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47 ESV)[i]

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
(Psalm 145:4-6 ESV)
 

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, [19] and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. (Isaiah 66:18-19)

***Isaiah clearly has an eschatological purpose here, and I will talk later about how Paul sees God’s glory as currently mediated through the Bible (2 Cor. 3:18)

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:44-45)

***Jesus connects knowing God soteriologically and says it’s the results of His Spirit’s work within us

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

***The work of learning from God the Spirit ultimately brings Him glory, and is His plan for us

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

From the law, wisdom literature, the prophets, our Lord Himself, as well as the Apostle Paul, there has been a call to deepen our knowledge of the Almighty, His ways and His Son, and to lean on His Spirit’s power in order to shine that light[ii] of knowledge to all nations[iii] as well as with our own families and friends.

The Situation/Context – 5:8-10

Now as we look again to the context of today’s passage, let’s once again examine verses 8-10.  The Author is expounding on some deep Christological truths – mostly pertaining to the Priesthood of Jesus – that required a foundational understanding already in place.  We just need to glean a few things to understand the context…

    1. That Jesus, though divine, was fully man and “learned” obedience – vs. 8
    2. That Jesus was perfectly righteous and that righteousness enabled him to be our source for righteousness and salvation – the very fountainhead from which we would derive our right standing before a holy God – vs. 9
    3. That these things contributed to the fact that Jesus is a priest, not an ordinary priest, but one “after the order of Melchizedek” which is an order both eternal and personal in type. There are many OT types but Melchizedek was the only type who represented not simply the offices of Christ (Messiah, King, Shepherd etc.), but also his person (eternal, and without father or mother).

–       Needless to say these great truths – these are deep truths – and they aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense to someone still stuck on the basics.  One cannot understand or appreciate the need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, the importance of His being fully man, the significance of Christ’s non-Levitical (and eternal) priesthood, or the typological significance of this enigmatic character Melchizedek if one is still learning the basic truths upon which these are built.[iv]

And so he stops and levels this charge against them (read verses 11-12) 

CHARGE #1 – Dull of Hearing – 5:11-12

–       As we read in verses 11 and 12 its almost as if the author stops mid course as he extolls the virtues of these great truths pertaining to Christ, and has to stop and say, ‘you know, I’d go on here, but its obvious that you aren’t ready for it – even though I have “much to say” still!’   He’s stymied by the stagnation of these church members.

–       They ought to be teachers but instead they need someone to still teach them the basics. They come to church every week and never apply their minds past the elementary truths.  They have regressed.[v] They have become “dull of hearing.” (nōthros – “no-thross” – slow, sluggish[vi], indolent, dull, languid)

–       This is not saying they ought all to be teachers in the sense we have today as one called to preach, but rather they must be able to convey their beliefs to others – this is at the heart of “making disciples” (Matt. 28).

–       John Owen rightly explains that this charge against them isn’t aimed at their being slow mentally, or having a learning disability.  His charge is a moral charge “you treasure not them up in your hearts, consciences, and memories, but let them slip out, and forget them” says Owen.  He continues “The natural dullness of our minds in receiving spiritual things, is, it may be, included; but it is our depraved affections, casting us on a neglect of our duty, that is condemned.”

–       Therefore the principle problem here is not primarily an intellectual one, nor is it a communication problem on the part of the Apostle, rather it is primarily a problem within the hearts of these Hebrews, and within our own hearts as well.

–       “By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interesting in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15). Mark emphasizes that the same malady afflicts the disciples.  They suffered from hard hearts that resisted the revelation of God in Jesus (Mark 6:52; 8:17, 21). They failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching, and their failure cannot be attributed merely to intellectual incapacity.” – Thomas Schreiner[vii]

–       In short, the sins of pride, covetousness and possibly laziness are to blame.  We love the world more than we love God.  We love Monday night football more than we love reading the Scripture. We love our hobbies more than our conversations with the Lord.  And where we spend our time and money is an accurate reflection of where our affections truly lie.

–       Matthew Henry says, “It is a sin and shame for persons that are men for their age and standing in the church to be children and babes in understanding”

–       This is why James rightly says, “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)

–       We must also not misunderstand and think that the “elementary truths” are not precious, that is not what the author is stating.[viii]

–       The basics of the gospel are the foundation for understanding greater mysteries appertaining to the gospel, and to what the author is getting at here, namely the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this context, His priesthood.

–       Thus to be “DULL OF HEARING” is to have hearts loaded down with other matters – worldly matters, and minds that are clouded with other priorities. These are sins that block the blood flow and clot the arteries of our faith, causing our thirst for the knowledge of God to dry up.

–       We need hearts whose desires are to follow hard after Christ, not spend endless years on spiritual life support!

And why is this?  Because you are “unskilled in the word of righteousness”

CHARGE #2 – Unskilled in the Word of Righteousness – 5:13-14a

–       Philip Hughes writes, “The author is now seeking, as it were, to wean them from the debility of the milk-stage, into which they have sunk back, and bring them on to the solid diet of the doctrine of the high priesthood of Christ, who, as their Melchizedeck, is the King of Righteousness (7:1).”

–       When the author describes the “mature” the Greek word is teleios (tel-ay-oss), which has the idea of something brought to its end, completeness, it is perfect, it is fully grown, it is consummated.

–       The immature are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness.  They don’t know how to handle their Bible, and consequently they are not living a life in accordance with God’s will – they aren’t pressing on toward “completeness” (Phil. 3:12)[ix]

–       This admonition comes in the context of learning, therefore the call is for God’s children to have discernment about sound teaching and a developed taste for the sweetness of God’s Word.

o   Children have a taste for simple foods, simple drinks, and simple deserts.  Adults, however, desire couscous, cappuccino, and Crème Brulee – not peanut butter, apple juice, and popsicles.

–       NOW there are consequences to being “unskilled” in the Word of God. When you are lazy in your learning, you hurt the body of Christ and cause other people (and yourself) pain in at least two ways:

1. You use the Sword of the Word in an unwieldy way and lead others astray, therefore causing great pain and spreading sour milk (to use the author’s dairy term) around the church.

2. You are completely impotent as a comforter to those who are hurting, in need of wisdom, or exhortation.  This means you cannot effectively correct and guide your children, encourage your wife, lead others in a Bible study, or share with those in pain. You’ve essentially benched yourself

–       The “mature” have a right knowledge of God resulting in the ability to discern between good and evil in all things. This “discerning” is shorthand for living in such a way that reflects God’s work within you – it means loving others and God, and is the result of a renewed mind and transformed heart.

–       Being able to discern between good and evil, then, is the fruit of a life transformed by God.  It is the evidence of faith, and the outward reality of a changed heart within us.[x]   And it is God’s prerogative to use the instrument of His Word and Spirit to do this.

But how is that achieved? How is it said that we obtain this discernment?

The Remedy: Discernment Attained by “Constant Practice” – 5:14b

–       Here we learn how this discernment is achieved: by constant practice.  This means, no doubt, that we must be continually abiding in the Word of God if we’re to grow closer to God, and live out lives transformed by God’s Spirit.

–       We would do well to examine what Paul says about the nature of “renewing our minds” and the close connection between being “renewed” and the ability to “discern the will of God.”

o   “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)

–       Therefore, the discerning Christian/growing Christian is marked by time in Scripture and prayer. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture Reading, Scripture Memorization, Scripture meditation, and prayer.[xi]  We must inculcate His truths into our minds and lives.

–       This means a real application of our time, energy, and even finances to learning the deep things of God. [xii]

–       Let me suggest then that you do a few practical things:

o   Read the Word Daily: spend time taking in several chapters of the word each day.  This is more than simply one or two verses.

o   Memorize Scripture:[xiii] Chuck Swindoll says, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified”

o   Extended Times of Prayer: Praying for 30-60 min. greatly increases our love of time with the Lord and grows us in unexpected ways.

o   Read Good Christian Authors: Many of us spend our time reading all fiction, or all one field or another.  We need to be diverse in our reading, but first and foremost we need to read good Christian authors (I’m not talking TD Jakes or Joel Olsteen), slowly working our way up to deeper more mature reading.  Start with the modern day Christian classics: Packer’s ‘Knowing God’, Sproul’s ‘Holiness of God’, Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’, and Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’.

–       Furthermore, it is the universal witness of Scripture that calls attention to ITSELF as the instrument by which God changes us and blesses us with a closer knowledge of Him: Consider just a few examples…

o   David begins the Psalms with this important exhortation, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

o   And Paul writes in 2 Corinthians the following, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

–       We behold that “glory” today by reading the Word of God.  The glory of God is mediated through the written Word of God and effectively applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. This is what transforms us by “constant practice.”

–       Matthew Henry rightly states, “The word of God is food and nourishment to the life of grace: As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.

–       And yet again, we must read as much with our hearts as with our minds, applying both to the task.  As C.H. Spurgeon says:

o   “If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart.”[xiv]

And so now you see the thrust of what we’re getting at here.  We have a heart problem when it comes to learning about God and it is only through the implanted Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are changed and transformed. And that leads the Apostle to his final exhortation…

The Exhortation – 6:1-2

–       “Leave” here does not mean “forsake”, for the author clarifies by stating “not laying again a foundation”, in other words you need to start building on the foundation.

–       Imagine a home where the builders laid the foundation, got the plumbing and electrical set in, built the cement blocks structure and decided to take a break…for a few years!  The structure is exposed to the elements until the rest of the house can be built upon it. Rain hits it. Snow sits upon it in winter…and the heat of the sun bakes it in the summer.  Left as it is, water creeps into crevices and freezes, thereby expanding and cracking the cement blocks. The process repeats itself over and over, until finally decay starts to take place.  So the construction crew has to come and rebuild the foundation again.  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that these men and women in the church had let that foundation rot and deteriorate over and over and over.  They just kept on rebuilding!  The outline was already in place; they’d done it before.  No problem, just replace those blocks!  We need to build upon the foundation, not become so complacent in our learning that that we’re stuck in a perpetual process of groundbreaking!!!

–       This is not to say that we don’t cherish the foundation, of course. For we continually point people to the foundation points of the gospel – and we too need to be continually reminded about them and revel in their glories![xv]  However, we build upon this foundation in order to plumb the deeper mysteries and glories of Christ.[xvi] 

–       At the heart of the Spirit’s work within us is His desire for us to know Christ more. Not to move on from the Gospel, but to better understand and appreciate the profundity of it glory.

–       We are called to “go on toward maturity”, to bring to fullness that which God has started within us.  We do not do this in our flesh, but in cooperation with His Holy Spirit who applies the Word we read to our hearts (which I will mention more in just a minute)

–       Therefore we must be continually putting ourselves in a position to learn more, to hear the Word more, to pray more.  These are the meat and potatoes of the Christian life!  It is in these things that “solid food” is apprehended and consumed.

Finally, the Apostle does not stop with this exhortation, but goes on to deliver a comforting reminder (read verse 3)

 

The Reminder: God is Sovereign – 6:3

–       Along with the exhortation, the author delivers an indicative statement about the character of God.  You see, God never gives commands (imperatives) without first laying the foundation for the ability to obey those commands.  This ability, this foundation, is always grounded in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God the Spirit working within us.

–       Verse 3 reminds us that all we do, all we strive for, is done by both the permission and the power of God.  He is the one who is cleansing our hearts and renewing our minds and He will give us the faith to press on, and the discernment to do His will. For as Paul says:

o   “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. [2] For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. [3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a)

–       Furthermore, we can rest in the fact that it is God – the all powerful – who is working within us.  Yet we are exhorted to obey, and held responsible as new creations to work toward holiness.  For as Paul says elsewhere:

 o   Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

–       Therefore we note once again that God desires for us to know Him.  And it is His working in and through us that will help us do so.  Yet we as Christians are responsible to seek His face, to confess our sins, to pray and ask the Lord to change the desires of our hearts and conform our will to His in order that we might be able to discern what is right and that from a changed heart and a renewed mind, we will please and honor Him.

 

Conclusion

And so in all of this we again see the three things I mentioned above:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

My message today has been mostly aimed at those who profess the lordship of Jesus Christ and are followers and believers in His name.  However, if you have been listening to this message and feel a stirring in your heart to know God, then I would implore you to seek Him while He may be found.  Act on that conviction and surrender your heart to His call.  We are all sinners, we have all acted against the law of God which has been emblazoned on our consciences.  We know right from wrong, yet we have spurned the Lord and Creator of all that is right.  All men will one day give account for their behavior during this life.  Only in repentance and faith in Jesus are you able to be saved from the consequences of your sin.  Jesus not only promises (and delivers) forgiveness, He promises and gives a healed heart and transformed life to those who call on Him and believe in His name.  You must trust yourself, your heart and your soul and your entire life to His command.  If you have come to a point where you realize the condemning nature of your sin, and the need for salvation, then I urge you to surrender and be forgiven and receive eternal life in the name of Jesus.

For those of you who have heard this message and are followers of Christ, I urge you to take this calling seriously and work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Realize that God is calling you not to a life of intellectual boredom, but to a renewed mind and transformed heart — a mind which sees terrors as joys and trials as blessings.  A mind and heart that look through the gray havens of today to the eternal riches of His presence in heaven.

We can do this, as Christians, by prayerful meditation on the Word of God.  By asking God to change our hearts’ desires to match that of His Son’s.  By continual “hearing of the Word” and submitting your lives joyfully to its teaching.  This will bring you both peace and joy and give you great strength when all else seems to fail.

None of this can be done alone, can it?  That is why we have the fellowship of the church.  And so I admonish you to stir up one another toward good works, toward meditation on the word, toward times of prayer together, and apart.  That you will together as a congregation seek the face of the Lord with all diligence.

We will do this with His great help, and with David we say:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! [9] Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! [10] Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! [11] Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! [12] Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, [13] O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (1 Chronicles 16:8-13) 

 

[i] This is also seen in Exodus 33:11, 17 and 18.  Moses is talking to God and God says, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (vs. 17). This follows close on the heels of verse 11 which stated, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend…” So what we see is that God has initiated a personal relationship with Moses (keep in mind this is in the Old Testament, for those of you who think God has somehow changed and is more loving and personal now because of Jesus).  Moses’ reaction is what our reaction ought to be when God changed our heart, “Please show me your glory” (vs. 18b).  Moses’ reaction is “I want to know you more!”  That is the proper reaction toward a God who has entered into a personal relationship with us!

[ii] (Is. 49:6, 60:3)

[iii] Matthew 5:16; Acts 13:47

[iv] Owen is right to cite 1 Corinthians 2 which says, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—[46] not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46).  Paul then goes on to say, “ [10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

[v] Hughes makes a wonderful point that the fact that they have “become” dull of hearing means that at one point they were not dull, they have regressed.  Therefore it is not a mental, or intellectual issue he’s dealing with, nor is it a communication problem with what the author is saying to them, rather it is a problem of the heart.

[vi] In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul says, “The Greek word translated “dull” reappears in 6:12 (translated as “sluggish”), suggesting that the danger of spiritual laziness is in view throughout this section.

[vii] This quote from Schreiner is from his New Testament Biblical Theology, Page 512.

[viii] These are foundational truths, as John MacArthur says, “the phrase is equivalent to the gospel of salvation by faith rather than works.

[ix] Again we see the call to Spiritual maturity, which is more than simply “intellectual sophistication” (Sproul). And while none of us will reach our “completeness” in this life, yet we agree with Paul who says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

[x] As Paul says, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a)

[xi] I like what Tony Reinke says on reading through the Bible in a year, “Reading the Bible from cover to cover in 2013 is a noble goal. And it’s a goal that positions us well to commune with God. Keep communion as your aim, and remember the words of Scripture are there for us to know God’s heart, to commune with the Living Christ, and to respond appropriately to his beauty and to his voice.”  The thing this passage really stresses as a result of diving deep in the word of God is the ability to have discernment between what is good and what is bad (vs. 14).  But there are obviously many other benefits to spending time in God’s word, which flow from a renewed mind, and a transformed heart.  Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-we-read-the-bible

[xii] I don’t know where to put this, or if it really even fits in, but there is such a stark contrast between our own affections and those of the angels in Zechariah 3.  Here we see that they are completely obsessed with adorning Joshua (the High Priest at the time) with the best robe etc. in order that God will be pleased.  Their minds are continually thinking “how can I please God in my actions?”  They are obsessed with that!  So also was the Apostle Paul.  When you take the entire corpus of his work, his writing, you’ll see a man so transfixed on Jesus that in order to summarize his entire mission to the Corinthians he says that he resolved to know nothing else but Christ and Him crucified.  Christ permeates Paul’s writing to such an extent that it would be impossible to read around it.  Paul’s entire lens of thinking was seen through the Lordship prism of Jesus.  Jesus was all to him.  So should it be with us – but this means we must have hearts that are desirous of this and not simply our own obsessions and hobbies.  Everything must play the servant to Christ. All desires and all hobbies, all people and all family must be His second fiddle.

[xiii] Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7). http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-memorize-scripture

[xiv] He says a ton of great things here.  Just a few sentences later Spurgeon goes on to say, “It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon’s fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God’s truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright.”   http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1503.htm

[xv] Peter O’Brien says it well, “the author is not suggesting that they should leave behind the gospel for some form of deeper or fuller instructions for initiates. There is no proposal here that the listeners should abandon these basic truths. Indeed, the author reminds them of some of the essential elements of the foundation by immediately listing them. His point is that they are not to lay again the basis of elementary teaching, but to make progress by building on it. The solid food they need is a development of the themes of repentance and faith, resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment’, in the light of the author’s exposition of the high priesthood of Christ.”

[xvi] In the context of Hebrews 5 the call is to understand better the mystery of the priesthood of Christ.

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The Glory of the Lord Transforms Us

This past Sunday evening I preached a sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.  The audio is below.  This has been such an important text for me in my growth and understanding and I hope you also enjoy the sermon.

My introduction and four point outline is also below for the sermon.

God’s Grace Working Through God’s Glory to Renew God’s Image in Man
He is gracious in His plan, glorious in His application, and His teleos is our restoration

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Introduction

I’ve titled this sermon ‘God’s Grace Working Through God’s Glory to Renew God’s Image in Man’.  This passage of scripture, particularly 3:18, has had an outsized impact on my spiritual life.  It has shown me more about the operation of the Lord than many books on the topic of sanctification. It shows that He is gracious in His plan, glorious in His application, and His teleos is our restoration.

One of the things you’ll notice about this message in particular, is how much Jonathan Edwards has impacted my thinking, and at times it may seem as though Edwards himself is preaching the sermon and I’m only the one who was dictating. Well that’s fine by me, because no one in the last few hundred years has better expounded upon the glory of Jesus Christ as Jonathan Edwards.

I’ve broken the passage into four parts, and they are as follows:

  1. The Supremacy of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant
  1. Only Through Faith in Christ is the Veil of Unbelief Removed
  1. The Ministry of the Spirit in the lives of New Covenant Believers
  1. The Process of Sanctification will find its Teleos in Glorification

The goal is that we will see more clearly the glory of the Lord in His Word and pray that the Spirit will apply that to our hearts.

Study Notes 8-25-13: Ambassadors for Christ

This post contains notes for John 13:19-20 which was taught on 8-25-13.  Our emphasis for this post is the joy we enter into as ambassadors for Christ.

13:19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

The Carefully Chosen Words of Christ

We’ve talked before about the deity of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ, and verse 19 really brings those truths home to us once again.  But what I really want to look at here is how Jesus is saying that all of His words are for a purpose.  Specifically, they are for us. So that we will believe in Him. John notes as much later on when he says:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

And so that is the purpose of what He said, but I want to hone in on yet another thing, and that is that Jesus had a reason for everything He said. For whatever reason this really convicted me as I studied the passage.  I began to realize that I often say things that have no point whatsoever. My words are sometimes inane, babbling, rambling, or (at worst) very poorly chosen.

James tells us that the tongue is a “world of iniquity” and that no man can tame the tongue, and yet one of the things that we most often forget is that Jesus did.  He tamed the tongue, and not because of His divine nature somehow “cheating” and retraining the human nature.  He tamed the tongue because while He was fully human, yet He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and obeyed the Holy Spirit.  He submitted to His Father, and did not sin. Did not think sinful thoughts, did not allow those thoughts to come to fruition and bubble over onto His tongue. He took every thought hostage for the glory of His Father. He loved the Father too much to allow sin to even formulate in His mind, much less fall onto His tongue, and in so doing He showed us not simply what “divinity” looks like, but rather what true humanity looks like.  This is why we call Him the “second Adam”, because He was perfect and was truly human – I don’t mean “fully” human.  I’m not talking about the fullness of His incarnation.  I mean “truly” human.  That is to say that Jesus showed us what humanity was intended to be like.  He is our great example because He is transforming us into someone more like Him, and in so doing we are becoming more human, not less human. We are never more as we were intended to be than when we are less like ourselves now, and more like Christ was on earth. Luckily we don’t have to only look back, we can look forward because this work that’s He’s doing in us He will bring to completion at the day of His arrival!

13:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Ambassadors for Christ

I believe the verses 19 and 20 are significant in that they extend again to these disciples the love of Christ. He has just spent time discussing (and will continue to talk about) the treachery of one of their own party.  As John MacArthur[i] tells us, it must have been shocking, and must have raised questions as to their ability to maintain credibility among those who they were going to be ministering to.  How could this new kingdom maintain integrity if one of the first pillars was a traitor?  Well Jesus gives them reassurance here that whoever is sent in the name of Christ (as ambassadors for Him) is actually representing Him with the same authority as if He had been there Himself.

Listen to what Paul says about this to the church at Corinth:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1)

This means that we are entering into the Master’s labor (John 4:38), and our mission in this world is to be representatives, little mini-Christs, to the world. We are on a mission of reconciliation.  This is the gospel: that He sent Him who knew no sin to be sin so that we could draw near to Him as His own children.  This reminds us that we were once enemies of God, and we now reach out to God’s enemies with the goal of reconciling them to God.  Not that we do the ultimate reconciliation, no indeed.  But rather, God working through us has found pleasure in using us, the weakest of the weak, to bring His enemies near, to proclaim the good news of Jesus to them in the power of the Spirit. That’s why we’re here, that’s our mission and our joy!

The second part of this is the amazing truth that we are part of a plan that involved not only the man Jesus Christ, but also the heavenly Father Himself. This verse shows us that the Eternal Godhead has had a plan for our salvation, and that they are bringing us into this plan. Why?  Because they know that we will receive joy from it!

This is how the thinking goes: God receives joy from reconciling sinners to Himself, we receive joy from being reconciled to God, God sends us out to be His messengers so that He can reconcile more people to Himself, and now not only does He receive joy, but we too receive that joy!

Have you every thought why it’s so exciting to lead someone to Christ? There are many reasons, I think, but perhaps the foundational reason has to do with our being made in His image. If we are being made like His Son, who loved to bring sinners into the kingdom, then it stands to reason that we too would enjoy what He enjoys.

And this is what sanctification is all about – beginning to think God’s thoughts after Him, and having a heart that is like His, and loving people as He first loved us.

The nature of the trinity and its work in our lives, and the mystery of our inclusion in this process ought to blow you away Christian.  It ought to give you a peak at the depth of the love He has for you, and a sneak peak at the plan He has for you.

What About You?

Of course this begs the question: would those who are “receiving” you (accepting what you have to say and your company/friendship) doing so knowing this truth? AND, are your actions and words representative of Christ’s actions and words?

If we are Christ’s ambassadors we need to walk and talk like Christ. If we represent Him, we need to act like Him, and speak His truth to others. If you are a Christian, and cannot say this is true of yourself, then I would urge you to repent. Begin to renew your mind again by spending time in His word. Ask for Him to change your desires, to change your mind, to melt your heart, and to help you think His thoughts after Him. If you do these things what you’ll find is that Christ becomes more and more lovely to you, and loving others becomes more and more of your DNA, it just flows out of your mind and your heart – all of which are being washed by the word.

Charge to Men

Men, we need to be washing our families in the word. We need to be stirring up within them these kinds of thoughts. This is how you lead a family, by the way. You help them renew their minds and their hearts. You teach them to pray and ask for deep and wonderful things – teach them to ask the Lord Jesus to think and feel and talk and act like He does – not because you want to have “good little children”, but because if you really love them, then you want them to know what true love really is. You want them to know what its really like to fall in love with Jesus. You aren’t doing this alone. The Spirit of God will do the heavy lifting. He is the one who is going to change their hearts. But you need to lead them in obedience and out of both love for them and love for your Savior.

Study Notes 7-7-13: Following Christ

Today’s passage takes us from the 26th verse of John 12 through verse 30, although we didn’t get much time this morning to discuss verses 29 and 30 and will do so next week.

This week we will be meditating on verse 26, and asking ourselves questions about the verse and asking God to help give us insight into its meaning. How, for instance, does it speak to our need to obey Christ? What does it tell us about where Christ is? What does it remind us of in terms of Christ’s own character? What does it really look like in my life to “follow” after Christ? And, perhaps, we ought to ask ourselves “where is Christ that I should follow Him to?”

John 12:26-30

12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Cost of Discipleship

When Christ says that those who serve him must also follow him, we can see plainly enough in the context of this passage, and the view to the cross he had, that this is a call for us to take up our cross. This conclusion is simple based on the fact that “where” He is can plainly be seen as suffering and death. Although there can also be a secondary meaning which I will explore in a minute.

The idea that we would be called by Christ to follow Him even to death had been enumerated at other times in Jesus’ ministry. For example Matthew 16:24-26 says explicitly, and ties well in with what Christ says in John 12:25:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

What Jesus is saying here and in the John passage, is that we must obey His Word even if it doing so comes with difficulty. Obedience is not without cost. The life of a Christian is not promised to be easy. For one, we are constantly being put to the test, and molded by our Father into the likeness of His Son. This is a grand, albeit painful process. For two, we are identified with Jesus, which in this world can mean anything from snarky comments to the death sentence.

But what is wonderful about what Jesus is saying here is that the there is a real, tangible benefit to all of this difficulty – not only life itself, eternal life – but also honor from the father.

The Reward for Following Christ is Christ Himself

And so, that leads me to explore the flip side, if you will, of what it means to be with Christ where He is, because in a very real sense the verse above shows us that the reward of God’s people is God Himself. It says, “and where I am, there will my servant be also” and this, to me, seems to indicate that Christ Himself and His presence with us will be a great portion of our reward. For we follow Christ not only into the battlements of war here on earth, but also into the blessedness of heaven to come.

In his book ‘Holiness’ J.C. Ryle explains that our striving toward holiness on this earth is as much to please God here on earth, as it is to prepare us to enjoy heaven.  For heaven will be a holy place, and for those who imagine heaven as otherwise are quite mistaken.

“What could an unsanctified man do in Heaven, if by any chance he got there? No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character.” – J.C. Ryle

In his short discipleship book ‘In Our Joy’ John Piper talks about this, and its worth quoting him on this extensively due to the impact his own thinking has had on mine, and millions of others in this area:

Jesus bases our present joy explicitly on the hope for great reward. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). He does not define the reward. But in the whole context of his life and message, the essential reward is fellowship with Jesus himself and with God the Father through him (John 17:3, 24).

There are several pointers to this understanding. For example, Jesus says to his disciples just before his death, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). The indomitable joy that Jesus promises is based on his own presence: “I will see you again.” Similarly Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This fullness of joy is mentioned by John the Baptist, and he bases it on the presence of Jesus, comparing Jesus to a bridegroom and himself to his friend: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29) John’s “complete” joy is based on the presence of Jesus.

Therefore, I conclude that the essence of the reward that we count on to complete our joy is the fullness of the presence of Jesus experienced in the age to come. The reason that we can rejoice now is not only that we taste that future fellowship in hope, but also that Jesus is with us now by his Spirit. He promised us, as he left to return to the Father, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He said that the Spirit of truth would come and make Jesus gloriously real to us even though he is physically absent. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will . . . glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Therefore, even though we can’t see Jesus now, we hope in him with great joy, and he sustains that joy by his continual presence.

Honor from the Father

There seems to be a second part of this reward, which Jesus says is “honor” from the Father. It would be really easy to simply pass by this and not really think much about it, but I think we’d do well to linger here just a bit, if only to marvel at the revelation we’ve been given.

I honestly can only make a few educated guesses as to what “honor” from God might look like, but I know that in relative contrast to being honored by men, it must evoke awe from the honoree!  What I’m saying here is that so often we love the praise of other men – I know that I enjoy a good “attaboy!” from friends or colleagues. In fact I think we often seek the praise of men to the detriment of what God would have us do.

Many times in the past I have been convicted about how often I relish the praise of men, and each time my mind turns to this weakness, the third stanza of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ often brings me to my knees. The words are as follows:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Notice how man’s empty praise is here contrasted with God being our inheritance. Samuel Rutherford once said, “His well done is worth a shipful of good-days and earthly honours.”

I would ask you to examine yourselves and see if this is your mindset.  Can you agree with the hymnist and with Rutherford? Can you truly say that your reward is an imperishable one?  And if so, is your mindset such that the praise you receive on earth is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us?

12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

Troubled in Soul

His human psyche must have been overwhelmed by the painful thought of that death. Why? Because He knew what pain was. He had spent the last 33 years on this earth and knew physical and emotional pain.

But more than that, He knows that what He values most is about to be ripped away from Him –His communion with the Father. During His time on the cross Jesus will suffer something He has never faced – separation from His Father. When the Father turns His back on the Son, the Son in agony cries out “why have you forsaken me!?”  The anguish that the Son goes through at this moment is pure Hell.

The word “troubled” here is significant. Carson says, “The verb is a strong one, and signifies revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation.

I do not suppose to know whether Jesus truly knew in His humanity that this would happen as it did, but I do not doubt for a moment that Jesus understood the ramifications of what He was undertaking. And this is why John records for us Jesus’ words and we must ponder them carefully if we’re to understand the sacrifice and the depth of pain that our Savior endured on our account.

Not My Will, But Thy Will be Done

Now, as to the latter part of the verse, and whether Jesus is asking a true question, or actually praying a prayer (Carson), I do not know entirely and am not wholly convinced of Carson’s argument that this is not a question in the true sense, but rather a prayer asking for deliverance as in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Nevertheless, because of the fact that Jesus was in constant communion with the Father, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, He knew His purpose, and He knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant end. You can see the human and the divine nature here so clearly. He is troubled in the weakness of His flesh. His souls is shaken. He is probably greatly afflicted with intense emotion and perhaps anxiety of a kind that shakes you to the core. Yet, at the same time, He knows what He has to do. He says, “And what shall I say?” It is as if we are witnessing here an internal discussion, almost as if Jesus is thinking out loud and we see the back and forth.  Carson aptly quotes Bengel, “The horror of death, and the ardour of His obedience, were meeting together.”

Note that in His flesh He acknowledges the painful proposition ahead, but then He answers it by saying that will not pray something that He knows is outside of God’s will.  As Carson remarks, “This request is nothing other than an articulation of the principle that has controlled his life and ministry. The servant who does not stoop to his own will, but who performs the will of the one who sent him – even to death on a cross – is the one who glorified God.”

More than Restraint

So Christ restrains Himself from asking something of God that He knows will displease Him and run counter to the purpose for which He came to this earth. But it is more than simply restraint, as Carson argues, it is an active passionate obedience.  Carson says, “But the focus of the prayer transcends mere acquiescence; it betrays acquiescence that is subsumed under the passionate desire to bring glory to God, in much the same way that the petition ‘hallowed be your name’ in the Lord’s model prayer presupposes the active obedience of the one who is praying.”

As we have looked closely at this, it has humbled me greatly. I think of how often I have thought that merely acquiescing to the Lord’s will or my life’s circumstances was pleasing to God.  As if my formalist obedience was a sacrifice of some great magnitude. But Christ here shows us something more. He didn’t go to sulking to the cross with a drooping head. Christ does not model stoicism or begrudging obedience, rather He models for us a passion for God’s glory that completely subsumed His mind.  Like the angels of Zechariah 3 were consumed with glorifying God through the dressing of the high priest, so we too much be like Christ and His angelic creations and be completely subsumed with the thought: how can I glorify God in every action, every thought, every breathe I take?

So often we think the least common denominator will please God, we think of how much we can get away with and how far we can stretch His law and His patience, when we ought to be thinking, “Is this reflective of holiness? Or: Does this please God?”  In his book ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ Kevin DeYoung points out that this is a frequent mistake we make – especially seen in our dating/pre-marital relationships.  We think about our physical interaction with our fiancé and ask the question “how far is too far?”  When we ought to be asking, “How can we best tailor our actions toward holiness and righteousness?” Or, “Is this pleasing to God?”

Let us also seek to do more than simply curb the sinful impulses of our nature, or bow begrudgingly under the rule of God’s law; let us seek to develop holiness in our character, mind, and actions. Let us always be seeking to please God – for if we love Him, we will certainly seek to please Him!

12:28-30 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

The fact that Jesus had his prayer answered so quickly by an audible voice from heaven may not stun us, the reader, living 2000 years later and reading this in black and white type. But to those around him it must have been a shocking, and even scary site to behold. The fact that some in the crowd thought it was an angel that spoke, while others thought that it was simply thunder, has not been fully understood by several theologians except to say that some seemed to be more discerning than others that there was an audible voice of some kind, though they misinterpreted its author as an angel. Though it didn’t seem as though any of them really understood what was said from the way the text is laid out, so Christ must have told them the thing after the fact (Carson).

Taking Measure of Our Desires

Now Jesus ends His prayer showcasing His strongest desire: that God’s name would be glorified. I think its fair to say that very often our strongest desires bubble up in our prayers. We secretly let God know what it is that we want most in the world. Some of these things are very noble and good things.  But I think of the times I have prayed to God, and I can hardly recall very many instances wherein I truly desired for God’s name to be magnified and glorified in the way that I imagine Jesus desired it to be. To hear Jesus pray is so humbling – it’s a heart check for us.  Hearing Him pray ought to cause us to ask ourselves this: what are our greatest desires?

I am reminded of Psalm 37:4-6:

Delight yourself in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday

How is He Glorified?

If one cross references the last time such an instance had occurred in the life of Jesus one would think immediately of two instances, the baptism of Jesus and the Mount of Transfiguration. In both of these two other scenes Jesus had been in the midst of several people when a voice had come booming from the heavens.  What is the purpose of these events? I believe it is to attest to the deity of Christ and to point us to the event of the cross, which would be the one place where Christ is most glorified.

John MacArthur explains why:

God receives glory when His attributes are manifested, and nowhere was His magnanimous love for helpless sinners, His holy wrath against sin, His perfect justice, His redeeming grace, his forgiving mercy, or His infinite wisdom more clearly seen than in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of His Son.

For Your Sake

Finally, look at verse 30 and we’ll see that Jesus has directed us to turn our attention to the fact that the voice was not for his sake primarily, but rather for “your sake.”

As I mentioned above, all of these supernatural events were happening in the life of Jesus as a way to point us toward the realization of who Jesus is.  You have to ask the question: who is this man, and what is He all about?

What makes me shudder is to see that a voice literally spoke from heavens attesting that this Jesus is who He says He is, and yet there are still people who remain in their unbelief. The old joke of people not believing a thing even if it was “written in the sky” comes to mind. I don’t know how you can get much more plain than this. This man Jesus had done super human miracle after miracle from healing people, to casting out demons, to walking on water and calming a sea. He seems to know their thoughts and their hearts, and their pasts (John 1:48-49; 4:16-19), and now, to top it all, he is the subject (for a third time) of a literal voice addressing Him from heaven.  At this point, you continue in your unbelief at your own peril.

Study Notes 6-30-13: Death to the World and Joy in Christ

John 12:24-25

These four verses are packed with rich practical and theological truth, and I hope you get as much enjoyment from them as I did.

12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The Necessity of Christ’s Death

It is a sign of His condescension and His gracious self-revelation, that in the mystery of His plans, and the complexity of the moment Christ gives an agrarian example in explaining the necessity of His death. He gives us the “why” in anticipation of our asking the question. He foresees the ultimate triumph, and yet knows our own weaknesses and frailty of mind and graciously shares His mind with us. The example of the seed that dies in the earth and yields fruit is most certainly referring to Christ’s atoning death – a death that yielded life for many.

Jesus knew that in order for His people to be saved, they would need a perfect sacrifice. For without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission for sins (Heb. 9:22), and because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), we were under the sentence of death for those sins. We needed a sacrifice – a perfect sacrifice that would cover all of our sins for all time – one of infinite value. Christ came to be that sacrifice: To stand in our place as a substitutionary Savior. It was man who sinned and yet the sin was so great that no man could ever atone for it all. Enter Jesus, the God-man, who was perfect and sinless. He was a perfect man like Adam before Him, only He never sinned, and could therefore represent our race perfectly. Yet He was also God so that He could bear the weight of the burden of sin of millions upon millions of Christians – not simply those who were alive during the time of Jesus, but those who would later believe on His name (John 17): Jesus new that His death would produce life for millions upon millions of his chosen people.

Caiaphas accidentally states this fact at the end of chapters 11, “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should parish.” John further expanded the reach of the prophecy in 11:52 when he states in an editorial fashion, “not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

That one representative should be able to act on behalf of an entire people is deeply rooted in the federalism of Scripture, and the role of kingship. A king would act as the voice for his people. The original regent of God’s creation was Adam, and because he failed to obey God’s rules, his actions represented the race as a whole. Similarly Christ represented His people when he lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death for us on the cross, and then subsequently triumphed over death for us so that we might forever live with Him – not based on our own work, but on His meritorious work. Paul explains the doctrine of this in Romans 5:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21)

What is amazing to look at is the choice Jesus made at this moment in history. This was a moment so charged with expectation, so politically tumultuous, so ripe for revolution that if Jesus had followed the course of this world He could have incited a military coup against the Romans and the Jewish leadership (Carson), and ruled as king of Israel. Instead, He set in motion a revolution that far outstripped the expectations of any man or woman watching Him ride into Jerusalem that day. He ushered in a kingdom of life everlasting by a death that was only temporary. He took the road – not less traveled – but never traveled. He did what no human being could do – and frankly what no human being would choose to do (Rom. 5:7).

I am thankful that at this crucial time Jesus chose to die for me, a sinner:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The Imitation of Christ

Verse 25 says that those who love their lives will lose them, and this statement is clarified more by the one that follows it which says that “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”, which is to say that those who value their eternal soul more than the temporal things of this earth will save their souls.

Matthew records a similar statement in his gospel narrative as well, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

But what does it mean to love or hate the world? Leon Morris explains the words well:

The verb translated “lose” often means “destroy”. John means us to understand that loving the life is a self-defeating process. It destroys the very life it seeks to retain…Jesus is saying that anyone who loves this life is destroying it right now. “Hates”, of course, is not to be taken literally, but “hating the life” is the natural antithesis of loving is. It points to the attitude that sets no store by this life in itself. People whose priorities are right have such an attitude of love for the things of God that all the interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred.

This plainly means that while on earth we must not get wrapped up in the things of earth too deeply. I have to admit this is certainly easier said than done. First, there is the death by which we die to our sins by the power of God’s Spirit who breathes new life into us. But we can do nothing to affect this transformational reality of the new birth – that is the work of God. However, once born again, we must lay aside every hindrance and press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We must put to death those things that so easily entangle us.

This is what the author of Hebrews exhorts us to do:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Heb. 12:1)

This is also the antithesis of the thinking of this world. The world focuses on ‘Your Best Life Now’, saving for retirement, getting your kids into the best schools, and making sure you have the biggest house your budget can afford. I’m not saying that all of these things are a bad thing in and of themselves, but that more often than not we assign an energy level toward obtaining the temporal that we refuse to assign to working for what lasts, for the eternal treasures that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. And in so doing, we put off till tomorrow what we need to be doing today.

In a recent article entitled, ‘Faith and Repentance’, Sinclair Ferguson addresses the need to die to self:

Jesus’ parable of the sower is instructive here. In one type of soil, the seed sprouts quickly but dies suddenly. This represents “converts” who receive the word with joy—but with no sense of fallow ground being broken up by conviction of sin or any pain in turning from it (Mark 4:5–6, 16–17). On the other hand, a conversion that is only sorrow for sin without any joy in pardon will prove to have been only “worldly grief” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). In the end, it will come to nothing.

The principle here is simple, in order for us to faithfully follow Christ, we need to die to our selfish ambitions and seek that which is not of this world. A true convert will both die to oneself, and live to the Lord in joy. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the church at Colossae:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:1-6 ESV)

Here Paul shows a heavy emphasis on setting our minds on the things above, and putting to death the sinful passions of this world. The two are closely connected. There’s an old adage that says, in affect, ‘where your mind goes your feet will follow.’ Therefore let us focus on the things of heaven and of God and lay aside our infatuation with video games, movies, TV shows, hobbies and any other thing that has become a distraction from following Christ.

Some people balk at the idea that their favorite hobby is “an idol”, but let me ask you this: is it a distraction from the things of God? Do you spend more time watching movies or building model airplanes or playing video games than you do talking with your wife, or doing family worship, or spending time in the Word and in prayer? If you can answer in the affirmative, then I would urge you to cut out the worthless things, that you die to this world and its passions, and that you follow Christ.

I’m not trying to be a downer, but simply explain that the things of this life are not the supreme joy in this life. The root of our joy must be Christ, and the blessings He gives us must be seen as happy realities of His kindness toward us. But if we replace the temporary blessings with the root of those blessings, then we will fall into despondence when these things are stripped from us by evil people, natural disaster, or other uncontrollable circumstances, we will not be shaken as easily and will keep our testimony despite the difficulty.

Christ also realized the difficulty. He could have had an easier life. He had forever prior to this lived in amazing splendor – a magnificence that no king or billionaire on earth could even imagine. But He took all of this into consideration, and looked forward to a more permanent joy. We looked earlier at Hebrews 12:1, now let us look at the verse following it:

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

I know what you’re thinking, “That was Jesus! I’m not Jesus! This is easier said than done my friend!” And I would agree with you! Taking the doctrinal reality that Jesus is our joy, and realizing what that means for how we approach the more tangible reality that my house is getting small for a growing family, my car is breaks down, my neighborhood isn’t safe, and my paycheck prevents us from taking a much needed vacation, isn’t easy. This is hard work. But it’s worth it – if it was worth it for Jesus who had everything, it’s worth it for us who really have nothing very splendid at all.

These are things we all struggle with, and I struggle with particularly. Who doesn’t want a big house? Who doesn’t want a nice car? Who wouldn’t want to see their children succeed and their bank accounts full and their life less troubled by rough patches of sickness and disease. But because life is full of these things, we must grab hold of what is everlasting, and learn to have joy through both blessing and storm, or we will find ourselves shipwrecked and depressed and miss out on a life full of real tangible awesome joy – the fruit of the abundant life that Christ came to give us.

 

Romans 8: How the Gospel Brings us all the Way Home

As I mentioned today in class, I am teaching twice tomorrow on Romans 8. I named the post here after one of my favorite little books for the layman on this chapter, Derek Thomas’ “How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home.” Check it out on amazon if you’re interested. In the meantime, I thought I’d post up my notes here on the chapter. There’s about 21 pages…so it will be a rather lengthy post. Enjoy!

Chapter 8

Introduction

Romans 8 has often been called the “best chapter in the Bible” and the “heart of Paul’s gospel.” Some have said that if Romans is the heart of the New Testament, then it is like an onion that is gradually being pealed back, and that chapter 8 is like the very heart of that onion.

Derek Thomas says of chapter 8, “It is a description of the Christian life from death to life, from justification to glorification, from trial and suffering to the peace and tranquility of the new heaven and new earth.”

Other major themes of chapter 8 can be summed up in the headers used by theologians as they approach the section in their commentaries. Thomas Schreiner calls the first section of Romans 8 the “ fulfillment of the Law by the Spirit” as part of “the triumph of grace over the power of the law” and that the last half of the chapter is the “assurance of hope.”

John Stott’s chapter heading simply and succinctly reads: God’s Spirit in God’s Children. What an amazing story that tells!

The Context

For several chapters now Paul has labored to describe the war that is waged within the Christian due to sin. It started in chapter 6 and wrapped up in 7 with the rhetorical question “who will deliver me from this body of death.” Paul’s answer is that its Jesus Christ who delivers us from this body of death – this sin nature that still hinders our walk and the sanctification process.

Now, in chapter 8, Paul will seek to show us what life in the Spirit is like, and how God’s sovereign purposes in our salvation are from of old. He will demonstrate through the power of the Spirit and through the use of his pen, that God not only predestined to bring us into an adoptive state, a saved and reconciled state, but that He and He alone has the absolute power to keep us in that state. What God began from before creation He will finish with new creation (Is. 66:22-23).

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This verse is so great that entire books have been written about it. Let me quote from the ESV notes to begin with:

The now in 8:1 matches the “now” in 7:6, showing that the new era of redemptive history has “now” been inaugurated by Christ Jesus for those who are “now” in right standing before God because they are united with Christ. But the summary relates further to the whole argument presented in chs. 3, 4, and 5.

“There is therefore” is a sounding bell across the moors of Satan’s domain, which has been shattered by the ushering in of the kingdom of God by Christ. It is a present reality and a future hope. It is the realization that even though we sin (see chapter 7) we have a glorious reality that awaits us, that is, a glorified purified state in which we will never sin and will be free of the nagging sins that “so easily entangle us” (Heb. 12:1).

Schreiner comments, “The ‘now’ in verse 1 signals a new era of salvation history, one in which God’s covenantal promises are being fulfilled, when his people are enjoying the freedom from condemnation God promised. The blessing belongs to God’s people because Christ took upon himself the punishment that his people deserved and the Spirit has been given to enable God’s people to keep the Torah.”

What a wonderful new reality! There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is to say that for you Christian, no matter how you struggle with sin as I have (speaking as I am Paul in the context of ch. 7), you can and will have final victory at the Day of Judgment (2 Cor. 5:10).

Some indeed struggle with whether the sin that rages within them is an indicator that they are not saved – au contraire! For the battle itself is a sign of adoption and that we belong to Christ. J.C. Ryle says, “A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within” (Holiness, Ch. 2, pg. 20-21).

Now Paul sounds the clarion call to all saints that they need to heed the reality of what may not be seen now, but will be seen on the last day. Christ’s righteousness will indeed cover all your sins (see. Ch. 5) and you will stand with not one shred of condemnation.

In this way, 8:1 relates directly back to 7:6 which says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Schreiner says, “The reason believers are not under condemnation is because they have been freed from the tyranny of the law, for sin exercises dominion over those under the law.”

Therefore, this is a verse that looks back in triumph and looks forward in hope.

8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

This is a reprise of chapter 6 in which Paul explained that:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The freedom that we have in Christ is from the Spirit of God. The phrase “the law of the Spirit” might be easier understood “the principle by which you are free is the fact that the Spirit is working in you.” In other words, the “law of the Spirit” is a new paradigm. Once you lived under the old paradigm of death, the Mosaic Law, now you live under the paradigm of life!

Stott suggest though that it is best to be more specific than just to say that the “law of the Spirit” is simply a new paradigm, though it ushers that in, but rather it is the Gospel itself. “This makes the best sense, as it is certainly the gospel which has freed us from the law and its curse, and the message of the life in the Spirit from the slavery of sin and death.”

The major purpose here in these opening verses is to show that Christ, not the Mosaic Law, is the instrument of redemption. As Thomas Schreiner says:

…the law does not break the power of sin but unfortunately and paradoxically exacerbates it. God’s saving promises to his people have not become a reality via the law. The solution lies in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s work on the cross provides the basis for the deliverance of believers from condemnation, while the Holy Spirit supplies the power for conquering sin so that the law can now be kept.

Sproul adds…

The Holy Spirit knows how weak we are in our grasp of the Gospel, and like dogs that keep returning to their vomit we keep falling back to the idea that somehow we can justify ourselves by our behavior, and morality.

8:3-4 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, [4] 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.

The Purpose of the Law

First, “the law” here is the Mosaic Law (some, like Sproul, say it’s the “moral law”), the law given to the people of Israel as they came out of Egypt. This law was perfect (Stott says “the law’s impotence was not intrinsic”), it was an expression of God’s perfect moral character, yet because we are weakened in our flesh because of sin we could never keep the law. That’s why Paul said that “weakened by the flesh” we could never be saved by the law. That’s what’s at stake here: salvation.

God knew that the law of Moses was never meant to be a saving instrument. People were never meant to be able to keep the entire law, it was a schoolmaster to drive to us Christ (Gal. 3:24). What does that mean? It means that the law exposes us for what we are: sinners. In that exposure we find we have a need. What is that need? Forgiveness from sin.

Therefore God allowed the people of Israel to trust in Him and use animal sacrifices as a way to point forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Christ would make on the cross. The people of old looked forward to something they could not see, in hope that one day their redeemer would come. We look back at the cross and see our Redeemer who “made an end of all our sin” (‘Before the Throne of Grace’).

The Work of the Son and the Spirit

When Paul says that Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” he cannot and does not mean that Christ Himself was sinful, but rather that he had the same weak flesh we had. He had the same exposure to the world of sin, yet He never sinned. Instead He condemned sin to the flesh – I think the easiest way to think of this phrase is probably to say that He ‘banished sin to the temporary existence of the flesh’ knowing that one day He will raise us from these bodies and give us new bodies that are pure and spotless – in this way He is the first fruits of our resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

Stott works this thought out better than I though:

The law condemns sin, in the sense of expressing disapproval of it, but when God condemned sin in His Son, his judgment fell upon it in him.

Stott then quotes Charles Cranfield who says:

For those who are in Christ Jesus…there is no divine condemnation, since the condemnation they deserve has already been fully born for them by Him.

Sproul says:

Jesus was born as Adam was before the fall. Jesus was not in bondage to a corrupt nature. Christ came in the flesh as a human being, and he condemned the sin that binds us by taking it upon himself…In His Son there is no condemnation for His people. There is condemnation for their sin, but it is condemned in Christ and removed.

But not only did Christ conquer sin and justify us, He also gave us His Spirit to sanctify us. Stott explains:

First, he (the Father) sent His Son, whose incarnation and atonement are alluded to in verse 3, and then he gave us his Spirit through whose indwelling power we are enabled to fulfill the law’s requirement, which is mentioned in verse 4 and expanded in the following paragraph. Thus God justifies us through His Son and sanctifies us through His Spirit. The plan of salvation is essentially Trinitarian.

8:5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

What Paul has explained theologically he now works out practically. The reality is that those who are not saved don’t think on the things that are of God. Paul’s emphasis on the importance of what we set our minds on is given at the beginning of chapter 12 as we’ll see later.

But the Christian can be assured that they are in Christ simply by what they desire and what their minds are fixated on. This is not an overnight phenomenon, for surely it takes a lifetime of change and renewal. But there is a marked change between a man who was once lost and now has been found and quickened by the powerful life-giving Spirit of God. Suddenly that man thinks differently than he ever had before. I’m sure that you know what I mean. The blinders have been taken off, and suddenly perspective is added to life that you never had before – an eternal perspective.

The reason that the “mind on the flesh is death” is because those who have that mind also have a destiny with death, and are, in fact, still dead in their sins. The mindset here is not meant to be something we can effect on our own, but rather a fruit of what the Spirit is (or isn’t) doing within us.

8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

This reminds me a great deal of the passage in Hebrews which says:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

And indeed faith is a result of the Spirit work within us – it is a gift (Eph. 2). Therefore those who have faith will act in faith and will not be hostile to the things of God, in fact they will submit to His authority and will do the will of God because that’s what is in their heart. The Spirit is now at work within them to please God – it isn’t as though we please God with our own ideas, but rather the Spirit works with us to help us do things we would never do before (i.e. “love your enemies”).

Carnality: Inability to Please God

The second thing we see in this passage is the stark reality that “those who are in the flesh cannon please God.” Verse 8 reminds us that before we were saved we were at war with God. We were enemies of God. This sometimes offends people. We like to say that God loves everyone…really? Maybe He does have affection in a general way for His creation, but certainly it cannot be said that His particular love is focused on everyone, for indeed if that were the case all people would be saved. But that is not the case. Not all men are saved because not all men are the particular objects of His redeeming love.

R.C. Sproul talks a little bit about how we hear all the time about how “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” and addresses this in the context of these verses:

We hear that God loves everybody unconditionally, but that is the biggest lie of our day, because he does not. At the last judgment God will not send sins to hell; he will send sinners to hell. Even though sinners enjoy the blessings of God’s providential love, his filial love is not their desert. The Scriptures are graphic in describing God’s attitude toward impenitent, carnally minded people. God abhors them. Nobody talks that way anymore – except God in his word. To set our minds on the things of the world is death…the flesh is lived not in neutrality but in opposition to God…To be carnally minded is to be at enmity with God.

Sproul isn’t the only one to articulate this difficult truth, however. John Piper explains it as well:

Yes, I think we need to go the full biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. But Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.”

Six things the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16–19)

God hates unrepentant sinners—which means that his infinite wrath hangs over them like a mountain of granite and will in the end fall. “Surely God will shatter the head of his enemies, the hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds” (Psalm 68:21)

Although this is a difficult truth to explain and perhaps harder to swallow, we must also understand that Paul is subtly laying the groundwork for chapter 9 in which he will explain this difficult doctrine some more. For now what he wants us to understand is that prior to your new birth you were not simply estranged from God, you were an enemy of God.

It’s a little easier for us to see this relationship played out in the lives of atheists who publically deny God’s existence in a very vituperating manner. However, the actions and hearts of those who we may hold dear but are not Christians are still evidences of their enmity toward God and His law. Sproul comments, “We are at war with God because we do not want to be subject to the law of God.”

8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

This is a quick reminder to those to whom Paul is addressing (Christians) that they are no longer enemies of God, but rather children of God. What is the definition of someone who is a child of God? What are the evidences? The Spirit’s indwelling presence and the fruit thereof.

Christ knows who are his (John 6) and if you do not have the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Him.

Now, it might be noted as an aside, that when Paul says “the Spirit of Christ” he is not confusing the two members of the Godhead. It is not as though, as the ancient Modalists would have it, God is really only one person with different names and manifestations. Now, what Paul is saying here is that the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) can also be identified with Christ because while they are two persons, they are One God. They are of the same mind. Remember also the context here of how Paul is speaking to the fruit and mind of the Spirit-filled person. That person will have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16),which is from the Spirit. They are so much “on the same page” mentally that they convey the same thoughts to us, if that makes sense…Christ’s mind is given us by the means of the Spirit of God.

8:10-13 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [12] So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

There is a great parallel track here that Paul is explaining. But first let me first explain what is probably most likely meant by “the body id dead because of sin.” This is a hotly disputed passage and a difficult one to understand. I think that Stott and others are probably correct to say that it is not speaking necessarily spiritually as to our dying to sin, but really physically.

In other words, because of the sin of Adam we have been dying since the day we were born. Llyod-Jones says, “The moment we enter into this world we begin to live, and also being to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take!”

However, because of Christ’s righteousness and death we have been renewed to life in the Spirit. So we are a walking antithetical parallelism. At one time we are dying and yet still living unto life everlasting.

Stott explains “he must surely be saying that our bodies became mortal because of Adam’s sin (‘to dust you will return’), whereas our spirits are alive because of Christ’s righteousness (5:15-18, 21), that is, because of the righteous standing he has secure for us.”

Hope of Resurrection

As mentioned earlier, the hope of our resurrection is seen in the first fruits of Christ’s resurrection. That’s why Paul encourages us with the hope that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

In this way, not only is Christ our hope, but the Spirit also is our reminder that one day we will be made like Christ and resurrected from this body of death.

The Debt of Obligation

Paul now explains our new situation as not being in debt to the world or sin, but rather to Christ – as debt we can never repay. We aren’t to feel as though we have any obligation to the sinfulness of our former life. As Stott says, “It has no claim on us. We owe it nothing.”

Stott also explains that our debt to Christ is not necessarily/specifically worked out in our going to share the gospel, but rather in our living a righteous life. He sums it up this way:

How can we possess life and court death simultaneously? Such an inconsistency between who we are and now we behave is unthinkable, even ludicrous. No, we are in debt to the indwelling of the Spirit of life to live out our God-given life and to put to death everything which threatens it or is incompatible with it.”

In verse 13 Paul sets the table for a life and death choice. You cannot have both.

8:14-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

I wanted to lump these four verses together because there is one theme that pervades them: adoption.

Paul has spent the past few verses dealing with justification and then sanctification, and now he is going to remind us of the tremendous privilege we have that is greater and better than anything we could ever have imagined, namely that we have been adopted into the royal family of God.

The ‘Spirit of Assurance’

We also see that there are characteristics that must be noted here about those who are children of God. Namely that it is the Spirit of God who is doing all of the work here, and it is the Spirit of God who testifies to us internally that we are children. That’s why Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” as if to say “in case you didn’t believe me, you know it internally if you are saved because your mind has been fully convinced of this fact by the Holy Spirit Himself!

I’m sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this, and what a wonderful reality it is. He doesn’t leave us guessing but rather gives us that internal evidence that we have been adopted. Not merely an outward certificate, but an inward peace.

Martyn Llyod-Jones spent 8 chapters talking about the fact that the inward testimony of the Spirit is our greatest assurance. He says, “This is the highest form of assurance possible; there is nothing beyond it. It is the acme, the zenith of assurance and the certainty of salvation.”

Because Jones influenced Stott’s commentary so much on this point, I want to quote Stott here as well:

Although ‘it is wrong to standardize the experience’ (Jones), since it comes with many variations of intensity and duration, yet it is a direct and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, unpredictable, uncontrollable and unforgettable. It brings a heightened love for God, an unspeakable joy, and an uninhibited boldness in witness.

Yet Stott is also quick to ensure that experience doesn’t define doctrine/reality.

My anxiety is whether the biblical texts have been rightly interpreted. I have the uneasy feeling that it is the experiences which have determined the exposition. There is no indication in these four verses that a special, distinctive or overwhelming experience is in mind, which needs to be sought by all although it is given only to some. On the contrary, the whole paragraph appears to be descriptive of what is, or should be, common to all believers. Though doubtless in differing degrees of intensity, all who have the Spirit’s indwelling are given the Spirit’s witness too.

The bottom line here is that the Spirit’s indwelling is the main connection between all of these things. He bears witness, He gives us hope for the future, He testifies to our adoption and on and on.

The Nature of God’s Adoption: Love

Paul has thus far given us many reasons not to fall back into the slavery of sinfulness – we just mentioned that one of them is because we don’t owe sin or the world anything! But another reason that Paul gives us here is that we have been adopted. Our adoption should remind us that we don’t have to be ruled by fear because we not only know the reality of our adoption, we not only know the score at the end of the day, we not only know Who is in charge, but we also know that God our Father is a loving Father.

It is this truth about the loving nature of God that separates Him and our heavenly adoption from the kind of worldly adoption you might have in your mind. For some the very term adoption can carry baggage that isn’t appropriately attributable to God’s relationship with us.

God’s adoption was done in love – just as He “predestined us in love” (Eph. 1:3-6) – and that is why Paul says, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit understands fully the nature of the relationship between us and God even if we don’t fully understand it. You see, “Abba” was the Aramaic way to say “daddy” – this was a loving term, an intimate term. Though this letter was not written to Jews specifically, it is worth noting that in the Jewish world God was seen as so transcendent that to refer to Him as “daddy” would be a slap in the face of everything they thought of who God was. They didn’t fully grasp the paradox of His character: He is both transcendent and immanent.

What Comes with Adoption

Paul moves us from justification to sanctification to adoption, and now brings up the reality of the consequence of this adoption, namely that if we are children of God we are also heirs with Christ.

This is almost too much to comprehend. The Lord of the universe clothed Himself in flesh and died for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. But then He went a step further, He included us in His family – and not as a red-headed step-child – but rather as a fellow heir with Christ!

However, as Stott notes, there is a qualification. We must suffer as He has suffered. In other words, don’t expect this to be an easy path. Christ calls us to take up our cross daily. Listen to the words of Christ in John 15:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. [19] If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)

Therefore it is the reality of our suffering and trials that testify outwardly of our adoption as heirs! What an antithetical thought to many churches in the evangelical world today! The health wealth and prosperity gospel preachers would have you believe that if your life isn’t going well then you must not be praying enough! You must not be trying hard enough! You need to give more money to the church! You need to read your Bible more!

All the while the truth is that God disciplines those whom He loves – it is a sign of adoption. Listen to what the author of Hebrews says:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11 ESV)

8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

When I was growing up this was one of my favorite verses – it was one of the ones I memorized and always recalled to mind, especially during my formidable teenage years. But the full weight of the verse cannot be merely summed up in the adolescent mind of a teen who looks forward to one day gaining his/her independence!

First of all, as we have seen earlier, it is pre-supposed that we will have sufferings in this present life. Any form of “Christianity” which denies suffering is straight from the pit of Hell. For this life is full of troubles, and Christ never hid those from us, but what He did teach was His preeminence over all these troubles, which is what Paul is teaching here as well.

Consider for a moment what Christ said in John 16 just prior to His majestic High Priestly Prayer:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. [33] I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)

What great hope is this! Through Christ we are more than conquerors (vs. 37 – also 1 John 4:4)! This verse gives us a look at the eternal through the eyes of a man who knew what it was to suffer. Schreiner says, “This future glory, however, is conditioned upon suffering with Christ in the present age.” And Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians of what he had to endure:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. [29] Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29 ESV)

But all of these things He counted as “rubbish” next to the surpassing glory of knowing Jesus Christ. And that glory is still to be fully revealed to us! Schreiner says, “One reason suffering furthers hope is because present sufferings are minimal in comparison to future glory. To endure present suffering is worthwhile because our pain will be a distant memory I the light of the glory that is coming.”

Of course Paul’s great parallel text to this verse is found later in 2 Corinthians:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)

8:19-25 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

This entire section is about the hope of a new creation and finds its roots in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 which state:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17 ESV)

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22 ESV)

This hope of a new creation which was once promised to “Israel” is now given to the church (Schreiner). “The means by which the hope is secured, however, is suffering” Schreiner comments.

Peter Gentry comments on these passages in Isaiah and relates them to what God is doing in our lives:

…the creation itself has been subject to futility and destruction on account of human sin, and God is not finished until this is rectified. He will make a completely brand new universe: a new heavens and a new earth. We see, then, that the plan of salvation is no halfway fix-it job. God’s plan of restoration brings us back to the pristine state of Eden – in a world now much better and much greater. Augustine once said that he feared to entrust his soul to the great physician lest he be more thoroughly cured than he cared to be. God’s plan of salvation is absolutely thorough, and he is not going to be satisfied with some half job of reformation and renewal in our lives.

Groaning like a Tree!

Paul uses the tool of “personification” to help us understand the nature of fallen creation’s awaiting Christ. Certainly all things are in Him and for Him and to Him (Acts), but it isn’t as though the creation has a mind of its own, per se, rather it has fallen under the bondage of sin and has been tainted with the results of our sinfulness and will one day be renewed.

Schreiner says, “Paul dazzles his readers with the attractiveness and beauty of the future glory. He does this via personification by saying that even the creation longs for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God. The creation longs for this revelation of God’s children because that revelation will be the fulfillment and fruition of the creation’s function as well…What the creation waits for is the revelation of God’s children, that is, their future glorification.”

The main thrust of this passage is that just as creation has been subjected to “futility” (which means that creation has not fulfilled the purpose for which it was made), so we too have not experienced the fullness of our original purpose as God’s image bearers. Yet we long for the day when we will see Him, and be completely conformed to His image. In fact, we will be completely conformed to His image because we will see Him as “He is” (1 John 3:2; 2 Cor. 3:18).

In the meantime, the Spirit of God bears witness within us that this world is not our home, and because of that fact, we groan for the time when God in Christ will renew the world and usher in the consummation of His great purposes for us and the rest of creation.

Stott says, “For the Spirit’s indwelling and our groaning should not surprise us. For the very presence of the Spirit (being only the firstfruits) is a constant reminder of the incompleteness of our salvation, as we share with the creation in the frustration, the bondage to decay and the pain.”

The Nature of Faith and Hope

The thing that sort of bugs us sometimes as human beings is that we have to wait for all this – and what makes it worse is that we can’t see it! But, as Paul cleverly says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” In other words, it wouldn’t be called “hope” if we could see it!

Consequently this is where the Spirit is so wonderful because the Spirit gives us faith, and faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

It is not “blind” as some mind say, for we perceive the realities of the promise (as we learned above). But it is not something we can see with our eyes…yet! And this is the beauty of Paul’s theology. Paul understands that there is a reality which is already, and yet not already…the “already and not yet.” I love how Schreiner explains this:

…the genius of Pauline eschatology is that the future has invaded the present, the age to come has intruded into the present evil age.

John Stott says, “This whole section is a notable example of what it means to be living ‘in between times’, between present difficulty and future destiny, between the already and the not yet, between sufferings and glory.”

Waiting in Patience

I can’t help be see the clear tie between patience/endurance and God’s purposes in us. James puts it well:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. [4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

Therefore, we are called to be patience for the sake of endurance and, in the end, our sanctification.

8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Now we see the amazing and very practical benefit to being a Christian. The Spirit of God – a divine part of the Triune Godhead – is helping us in our weakness. Paul humbles by reminding us of the reality that our words are not clean enough for His holy presence. But thanks be to God, His Spirit, who always knows His will, intercedes for us converting our heart’s imperfect prayers into requests before the throne of grace.

Stott comments:

So three persons are involved in our praying, First, we ourselves in our weakness do not know what to pray for. Secondly, the indwelling Spirit helps us by interceding for us and through us, with speechless groans but according to God’s will. Thirdly, God the Father, who both searches our hearts and knows the Spirit’s mind, hears and answers accordingly.

8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This is an oft-misused verse, and the reason is usually because those who are quoting it forget the last part: “who are called.” This qualifies the former “all things work together for good.”

We also need to remember the context of the entire chapter. We’ve been reading about how we must suffer trials, temptations, difficulties in this life, with the full assurance that one day those will all be a distant memory. This verse builds on those truths.

For we see here exactly what type of “things” work together for good, namely “ALL things.” What can this mean except that both good and bad things work together to form the amazing weave of God’s plan for a believer’s life. John MacArthur says, “In His providence, God orchestrates every event in life – even suffering, temptation, and sin – to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.”

The difficulty of this verse also lies in the word “work.” The ESV perhaps is not the best translation here because others explicitly tell us that it isn’t simply that “things work” but rather that “God works all things.” In other words, He is completely sovereign over all of these things. He allowed sin, He allowed suffering, He knew all of these things before He created the world. These kinds of things He does in order to show His glory and to receive glorification.

These concepts are so difficult to understand, but it is in these truths that we find the depths of the character and loveliness of Christ.

Juxtaposition…

The obvious juxtaposition of the truth of this verse is that for those who are NOT “called according to his purpose” there is no such great hope. This hope is reserved for the elect and for them alone. This is a benefit of adoption.

8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

These two verses are known in the theological world as the “Golden Chain” because of how they tie together God’s purposes for us from eternity past to eternity future. The “chain” is also known in theology as the “Ordo Salutis”, which is the Latin term for the “order of salvation” because in these verses we see a sort of chronology of God’s working in our lives.

Sproul rightly mentions that Paul doesn’t mention all of the aspects of the Ordo Salutis (ie sanctification isn’t listed here), but that the major themes that he is seeking to highlight are put forth in grand display.

Let’s begin with His foreknowledge…

Foreknown

He knew us, but then also did something – action was taken. There’s more here than meets the eye with this word “foreknew”, as John MacArthur says, “it speaks of a predetermined choice to set His love on us and established an intimate relationship – or His election.”

The ESV Study Bible puts it this way, “Foreknew reaches back to the OT, where the word “know” emphasizes God’s special choice of, or covenantal affection for, his people (e.g., Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2).”

In his New Testament Biblical Theology Thomas Schreiner describes the concept as relatable to an Old Testament concept of covenantal love:

It is likely, however, that the term (proginosko) means even more that this when attributed to God. God’s knowledge of his people in the OT refers to his covenantal love, by which he set his affection on his people. God “knew” or “chose” Abraham as his own. Amos 3:2 also helps us define the term. God addresses Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” God obviously knows all who live upon the earth, but he has set his covenantal affection upon Israel alone. It is the only nation upon whom God has set his saving love…The word “foreknowledge” focuses on God’s covenantal choice of his people – his love in choosing them to be his own.

R.C. Sproul further explains that the root of that Greek word here for foreknowledge is “gnosis” which has two different nuances. The first is a cognitive nuance – as in something that we are aware of, or understand. The second meaning has to do with a deep understanding or intimate familiarity with something/someone (the subject/direct object). This second meaning is the one Paul is shooting for here.

Therefore, it is wrong to say that God’s predestination is based simply on how He knew we would react. It isn’t as though God looked down the portals of time and saw who would respond favorably to the gospel and then determined to save those people. Rather, God in the gracious and unsearchable counsel of His will “knew” what He was doing and predetermined that certain chosen ones would be His for all time. This foreknowledge could also be described in the way that Sproul paraphrased: “Those whom he foreloved [those whom he knew in a personal, intimate, redemptive sense from all eternity] he predestined.”

Predestined

He predestined us…to what? To “be conformed to the image of His Son.” He is obviously and necessarily speaking specifically of the elect here, to His children, otherwise the reprobate would prove the impotence of the will of God (the sovereign efficacious will), and because we know this isn’t the case we can easily deduce to whom the passage references.

Sproul says, “He has determined it (your salvation) according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will. Nowhere in Scripture is a foreseen, conditional, human response ever given as the rationale for the eternal decree by which God fixes for all eternity those whom he ordains and chooses for redemption.”

The ultimate end to this pre-determining plan is that God wants to make you like His Son. Piper says, “The purpose for which we are predestined is to share the glory of the preeminent Son of God.” The only way we are going to share in this glory is to be first fashioned by God in this lifetime, and that is all a part of His plan.

In another sermon Piper sums this up saying, “Having chosen us for his own, he then appointed for us the most glorious of all destinies—to be conformed to the image of his Son so that the Son could be the preeminent One with his glory reflected in millions of mirrors of himself.”

If you’re not catching this by now, the overall theme here is that God planned it, God did it, and God will see it through to completion.

Called

I sometimes run into trouble explaining to people God’s sovereignty, and specifically His plan of salvation from eternity past. They end up asking a lot of questions that revolve around the popular notion of “free will” – the idea that we make the choices and God accepts the results.

The idea that Paul is putting forth here when he uses the word “called” runs counter to that kind of man-centered thinking. Schriener puts it nicely, “Conversion is not primarily a matter of the human will choosing to know God but rather of God’s knowing of human beings.” And Piper adds, “So the call of God is based on God’s act of predestination which is in turn based on the election or choice that God makes without any respect to our distinctives at all.”

First, there are two kinds of “calling” in theology. The first is the General Call/Outward Call of the gospel. This simply refers to the proclaiming of the gospel and the public preaching of the word. This is the public call for all who hear the word to repent and believe.

The second “call” is the Inward Call or the Supernatural Call that the Holy Spirit affects in your heart. This is the sovereign calling of God upon your life. It is not a “wooing”, it is not a “courting”, but is the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you out of the tomb as Christ called Lazarus from the tomb (John 11).

John Piper describes it this way:

What does it mean to be called? It means that God has overcome the rebellion of our hearts and drawn us to Christ and created faith and love where there was once a heart of stone. The call is effectual. It creates what it commands. It is not like, “Here Blackie! Here Blackie!” It is like, “Lazarus, come forth!” or, “Let there be light!” The call happens in the preaching of the Word of God by the power of the Spirit of God. It overcomes all resistance and produces the faith that justifies.

So then, when we “hear” this call, it is by the grace of God. It is He who opens the ears of our heart. He is working mightily in our lives in order for us to come to repentance.

Only once He has done this supernatural “calling” will you have a desire to “choose” Christ. Before new birth you’ll never choose Christ – you’ll run away from Him because you’re at enmity with Him. Piper says, “The call is the creation of the faith. Therefore all who are called are indeed justified.”

Paul reminds Timothy of this high calling elsewhere and explains that the Lord’s calling has nothing to do with our own merit or work or plan:

“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” (2 Tim. 1:8-9)

This calling is an amazing and glorious truth. If you’re a Christian today it is because the most powerful Being in the universe cared enough about you to quicken you unto life everlasting. Your name was particular to Him and He died on the cross for your sins.

Justified

In answer to the question “What is Justification?” John Piper says, “As it is used here in Romans 8:30, it refers to the declaration of God to a repentant sinner that all his sins are forgiven, he is acquitted, the wrath of the judge is removed, and he stands righteous before God. God announces that something has been taken away and something has been added. Sins have been taken away. And a new righteousness has been given.”

Because of Christ’s cross work we are able to stand before God as men who are blameless – not because of anything we have done, but because of the payment that Christ made for us. To be justified means that we are “right” before God.

Of course the major thing standing in our way from being “right” with God was our sin. Although we still struggle with sin, Paul’s point here is that at the end of the day no matter how much you sin, God’s grace is sufficient to cover you. His blood has been shed so that you can stand before God with no cause of a justified accusation. The Devil can say what he wants but it doesn’t matter because Christ already paid the penalty for your sins – not simply the sins you did commit, but also the sins you will commit. He knew all the sins of His elect and died for those sins. He is God and sees all things and knows all things.

Glorified

It is a beautiful thing that Paul is inspired to write this word in the past tense. For Paul, this is something that, although it hasn’t happened in actuality, is already a reality. For him it’s as good as done. Why? Because he knows that God is faithful to the end. He will see you through to absolute victory!

Remember, the entire purpose is to conform you to the image of Christ, the new Adam. When Adam was made at the beginning of creation, he was made in the image of God. We are all still made in that image. Only there’s a problem, that image has fallen, its been tainted. But when the Spirit brought new life into your heart, it was the beginning of a new creation that will one day be completed when you are “glorified.”

I really like the fact that there are really two ways to think about glorification. The first is obvious and perhaps our default, it’s the praise and worship we give to God. When we think of “glorify” God we think about doing so with our minds and hearts and lips. This is a wonderful thing, and a brilliant truth.

The second way that Christ is glorified has to do with the revealing of His character in our lives. This is glorifying Him because it’s showing off (so to speak) who He really is! It is the revelation of His goodness and mercy and grace and justice that brings Him that praise I mentioned a bit ago. In this way we see His glory as well.

I think of our glorification as closely related to verse 19 of this chapter which says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” In this way our own character which is being worked on and fashioned by the Spirit, will be revealed, and we will be glorified. We will receive this glorification from Christ, it is all of Him. Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but it helps me to remember that it is God at work within me, both to will and to work for His own pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The idea here is that if God went so far as to send His own Son to earth, why would He not complete that work by giving us all things? In other words, He has gone to these lengths in His purposes and He cannot deny Himself. In His love He will not allow any circumstance or power that besets us to conquer His purposes which have been set from the foundation of the world.

What God starts, God finishes, that is the overriding theme of this section and reminds us of Paul’s comforting words in Philippians:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

Sproul comments:

One of the greatest Latin phrases in church history is Deus pro nobis: God for us. Paul is not suggesting that if God is for us, nobody will ever stand to oppose us. The import of his declaration is simple: all the human opposition that rises against us is meaningless in the final analysis, because all the opposition in the world cannot overthrow the glory that God has laid up for his saints from the foundation of the world.

Paul’s reasoning here is from logic. He stands in the shadow of the cross and looks up and marvels. Then he makes the fair assumption that, based on everything God in Christ has done for us, and the marvelous depths to which He stooped to save us, it seems only reasonable that He would “give us all things.”

This “all things” includes the good and the bad, with the full knowledge that He is using even the bad for our good. John Stott comments:

…all things must include the sufferings of verse 17 and the groanings of verse 23. Thus all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the execution of God’s eternal plan. Nothing is beyond the overruling, overriding scope of his providence.

8:33-34 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We know that Satan is always accusing us before the throne of God (think of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah chap. 3). If we are concerned about Satan’s accusations we ought to take confidence here because we learn that the very Being set to judge us is also our defense attorney. The courtroom is rigged in our favor. Some have used the analogy of a judge whose son is in court for a speeding ticket. The judge pronounces the young man guilty, assesses a fine, then steps down from the bench, takes off his robe, and pays the fine himself – freeing his child not from justice but from payment of what it requires. In other words, we have reason to be confident in Christ for He is interceding for us. It’s an awesome truth.

That’s the brilliant truth of these verses. Who in the universe is going to have the authority to bring a charge against the elect of God? No one will be able to bring a charge that will stand.

As Charles Spurgeon says, “We have a bulwarks, none of which can possibly be stormed, but when combined they are so irresistible, they could not be carried, though earth and hell should combine to storm them.”

I think that the significance of these verses lies in the fact that Paul brings us the name of Christ. He said that “Christ Jesus is the one who died” and brings to mind the lengths to which God went to make certain our sin would be paid for. He had to have a perfect sacrifice.

The saying cannot be true though for those whose sin is not covered by the blood of Christ, and this is why we must heed the call of Christ our captain to go and seek out the lost. There is an urgency in the realities proclaimed here as well as a comfort. These words proclaim great comfort to the believer and great condemnation to the man not saved.

RC Sproul paints the picture:

It is Christ who died; it is Christ who was raised for our justification; it is Christ who ascended to the right hand of God, where he is seated in the position of cosmic authority. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The highest tribunal in the cosmos is the one who died for us.

Lastly, there’s another great truth that’s proclaimed here, and that is articulated in the words, “more than that, who was raised.” What this means is that the same power by which God raised His Son from the grave will also keep us safely in His care until the Day of Judgment.

The assurance here (our assurance) is based in the reality of God’s power – power that has already been demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ.

8:35-36 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

The question that Paul poses is rhetorical, and in posing it he enumerates a laundry list of items that mankind fear might separate them from God’s presence.

By listing them, I believe, Paul is as much as saying that we should expect to encounter them. It is in light of this reality that Paul seeks to bring us ultimate comfort and a refreshing reminder of whom we ought to delight in and place all of our hope.

Like Sheep to the Slaughter

Once Paul lists these several items, he takes a moment to use an Old Testament passage from Isaiah to verify his point that believers will suffer all kinds of adversity. There is no doubt that it will occur…no prosperity gospel preaching here!

The presence of this OT quote balances out 8:28 and helps us remember that God uses trials and tribulations to bring about His purposes.

One of the greatest eschatological misconceptions in the evangelical church today is this idea that the church will not have to endure the tribulation(s) prior to the second and final coming of Christ. The entire witness of the New Testament stands against this kind of thought. In fact, we are told over and over again that life in Christ involves suffering. In this way we identify with Him in His sufferings.

I am reminded especially of the experience of the early church, and how they were persecuted. Early in the book of Acts the disciples were preaching and teaching in the temple in Jerusalem and were arrested for this, but eventually were beaten and released. What was their reaction to this persecution? Check this out:

…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. [41] Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. [42] And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:40-42 ESV)

The reason I bring up the misconception about end times tribulation is because it results from a direct misunderstanding of the character of Christ and our call to follow Him no matter what the circumstances. Recently, a dear lady at my church messaged me about these things saying she was struggling to understand them. She said, in effect, that ‘surely Jesus wouldn’t want us to suffer, would He?’

Such a presumption betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to follow Christ, and the realities associated with His Lordship. Furthermore, it isn’t as though we are looking for suffering, quite the contrary. This isn’t sadism. However, we can bear with the pain and even rejoice in it because it means we’ve been identified with our Lord and there is nothing more gratifying than to be so closely related to Jesus that we reap the consequences of that relationship – even if they be painful.

8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now in a sweeping conclusion to the section of this letter Paul answers his own rhetorical question. The will of the Father and the plan and power of Christ will not be frustrated, nor will He abandon us to face our trials alone. He comforts, molds, encourages, brings us home to absolute and complete victory.

Thomsas Schreiner explains what it means to be “more” than a conqueror:

To be more than a conqueror over affliction, distress, persecution, and so on indicates that these enemies are actually turned to the good of believers through the power of God…The point is that the love of Christ is so powerful that it turns our greatest enemies into our friends.

I absolutely love that point! In this way verse 32 is closely tied with Paul’s concept of “all things” in verse 28.

Next we see that it is through the love of Christ that we are enabled to be conquerors, and Derek Thomas reminds us that the reason we aren’t able to be separated from the love of Christ is because of the love of the Father. “Our security is grounded in the objectivity of the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Bt it is not, initially at least, the love of Jesus that is in Paul’s mind; it is the love of the Father who sent Him.”

John Owen delights in the love that the Father shows us in this context:

If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in Him.

Derek Thomas quotes Octavius Winslow on the fact that Jesus as the ransom shows us the depth of the love of God for us:

Who killed Jesus? Who killed Him? It wasn’t Judas out of greed. It wasn’t the Jews out of envy. It was His Father out of love. The Father killed Him. It was the Father who put Him to death.”

Being that this is indeed the case, what in the world (to rephrase Paul) could ever keep God the Father from completing this mission? Frankly, the stakes are too high. He’s not going to allow the work of His Son to not be brought to an absolute smashing victory.

I am Sure

Next Paul states something that ought to bring us into the most wonderful comfort. He says quite plainly: “I am sure.” If Paul is sure, the we can be sure!

Furthermore, after being “sure” Paul enumerates a new list of potential foes, this list is even more powerful and lines up really well with what he said when he described the struggle of the Christian life elsewhere:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

Yes because of the armor of God, and the provision He has given us, we can survive the attacks of the Evil One and his forces.

Conclusion

What an amazing thought that we are the benefactors of the Father’s plan and love. We are the objects of His grace, and it blows me away that we get to be included in His sovereign plan of redemption. If it were up to us we might certainly lose our ways, and our salvation. But thanks be to God that salvation, from first to last, is extra nos and is wholly of the sovereign and benevolent predestining plan of our Father God.

From beginning to end, He has predestined, redeemed, sanctified, and glorified us. His plan is perfect, even though we sometimes can’t see the full outcome; we know that His purposes are motivated by love, and that His will is sovereign. The truths we learn in chapter 8 of Romans are truths that last a lifetime. They are truths that comfort, protect, and secure us for the day of storms and set our heart of fire in the day of pleasant skies.

Study Notes 2-10-13

John 11:28-44 – The Raising of Lazarus

11:28-29 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers.  When someone is touched by the words of Christ and their heart is captured by God, they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.

The second thing I think is notably here is the reaction of Mary – she “quickly” rose up and went to find Christ. This reminds me of Philip and how he quickly and immediately obeyed the Spirit in Acts 8.  This is a trait of a true follower of Christ.  When we are called to His side, when we are asked to do something, do we obey?  Or do we hesitate?  Do we run to our master, the healer, the Lord?  Or…do we stay in our homes sobbing over a loss or a heartache. Mary, as stunned and hurt as she was by the loss of her brother ran quickly to find Jesus.  May we do the same.

11:30-32 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring.  They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites.  What was on their heart and their mind here was what they knew of Jesus: absolute love. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents. He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve!  He came to serve! Incredible how these women knew the heart of Christ so well, so for them, this wasn’t a big mystery. If Jesus had been there, His love would surely have spilled out over our brother. “That’s just who He is”, they think. Their hearts loved His heart.

11:33-36 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Compassion for His Sheep

If these verses don’t show you something of the humanity of Christ, then you are not reading the same text I am reading.

Mary is in tears – not simply a small stream of tears, she is weeping. She is weeping for her brother, but also because she has been stirred again emotionally by the presence of Christ.  It’s not been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened it all over again and she bursts forth in tears. The love she has for Jesus, and the painful reality of her loss are intersecting in a mass of human emotion that simply cannot be held back.

And Jesus sees this and his spirit is “greatly troubled” and He too begins to weep.

Why is this His response?  It is because of the love He has for His sheep. His compassion for His children is evident here in these verses.  I believe John recorded this incident for a reason. He knew the impact of these verses. John is concerned to show that Christ Jesus understands our pains, He understands our sorrows. But more than that.  He doesn’t simply understand it – for we could well believe that He understands it being, as He is, a all-wise all-knowing God – but He also empathizes with us.  He enters into our sorrows with us.

We are well familiar with the precious words of Hebrews 4:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys.  The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!”  The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation. Jesus appears to have been angry not only over the painful reality of sin and death, of which Lazarus was a beloved example, but perhaps also with the mourners, who were acting like the pagans who have no hope.”

So the Lord was upset on several levels.  The scene is a complex one.  He is not simply in tears for His dear friend and the family of Lazarus, but also for a world whose response to death is not fully defined by the realities of God. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom whose power would forever be emblazoned on the lives of His followers to the point which death would be no match.

You see, death here seemed to have the last say, and the attitude of defeat among the mourners smacked of Satan. It showed off his blinding power that these people would have no hope in the reality of glorious nature of the world to come.  Christ came to change all of that.  And when He saw the people mourning with no hope for tomorrow, He was indignant.  This is why His raising Lazarus from the tomb was a major sign (A major wake up call to Satan also) of the ushering in of His kingdom. It’s a blast on the trumpet, it’s a major red flag to the enemy that his time has come and his days are numbered, for the Prince of Life is here, and He will allow no more deception about the truth of God’s plan for eternity.

Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier.  A large part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. A big part of the gospel has to do with what happens after death. This is what gives us hope.  There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that day of judgment.  But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul.  And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.

Joined with Christ

Furthermore, because we are one body, and have been united with Christ as His bride, just as He enters into our sorrows and pains, so we too are called to enter into His sorrows as well. We identify with His sufferings and remember that just as He persecuted we shall also be persecuted.

I think it’s so important to remember that we are joined with Christ. We receive the benefits of this – justification, righteousness, and eternal life – but we also are going to be persecuted for identifying ourselves with Christ.

Personally, when I look at how the Lord identifies with us, I marvel to myself that we have such a loving God.  A God who could have sat back and ruled the world from on high, but instead who chose to come down to us.  He came down here, and He entered into our toil, our frustrations, and our tears.  He knew what it was to walk on this earth. He knew what it was to lose a loved one.

I love the fact that He has identified with us in our suffering. I love the fact that angels and all God’s elect children can look at the cross and say, “see how He loved them!

The Impending Victory

But what is perhaps most beautiful about this chapter is that He gives us a preview (as I mentioned above) of what the consummation of His mission will look like when He comes back. The sadness we endure now is like that of Mary and Martha. We weep because we are dying and we exist in a dying world. We have loved ones with cancer.  We have children who are sick. We have pains and ills and death all around us. So did Christ.  So that will make the victory all that much more sweeter when we enter into His presence and He banishes death and sickness once and for all!  That is why we say: “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

This is a statement of confusion and perhaps doubt.  It’s hard to say without having been there, but one thing is obvious and that is that these people had no clue about the plans of God, or the ways of God. Their statement reveals a doubt that is probably part of what Christ was angry (“troubled”) about. Their unbelief in the sovereignty of God and their anxiety over the death of their friend is exactly what Satan would have wanted – it’s a reflection of a world that was lost in sickness and death, mired in a world without hope – at least that seems to be their perspective.

11:38-40 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” [40] Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is likely still filled with a righteous indignation as mentioned before).

Martha’s response to Christ’s instruction is one of unbelief – this is what tempers us from having been led to believe she had the kind of faith that Abraham had (see above).

SIDE NOTE: D.A. Carson talks about how some of the Jews thought (superstitiously) that the soul of a body hovers above the body for three days prior to finally departing. So waiting four days to raise Lazarus from the dead would have crushed their superstitions. I love how Christ’s perfect timing crushes our doubt and shows us that He alone holds the keys to truth and life.

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

We see in Christ’s response to Martha that He isn’t concerned about the odor of Lazarus, He’s more concerned with the revelation of His glory.

This revelation of His glory is the key – and as I mentioned before, Martha is not going to see the glory of Christ in the way that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but rather she will see His revealed character, power, and person pouring out through His majestic work of resurrection.

I want to add some thoughts about the practical purposes of understanding this concept of Christ’s glory and what it has to do with us.

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 we read the following:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We see here that there is a transformational effect from simply “beholding the glory of the Lord.”  John explains in his epistles that:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

So there is this connection again between us being transformed, and us beholding Him in His glory.

For the longest time I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. What is the connection here between us becoming like Him and us beholding Him?  It’s hard to read 1 John and really put your finger on how that will happen – but we can look to how it happens in inches during our lifetimes here on earth – and that’s exactly the purpose of what Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians, and why Christ came to raise Lazarus from the grave in John 11.

How is it that we behold His glory here?  We behold His glory because we see His revealed character in His actions and words, and the Holy Spirit uses this Scripture to touch and transform our hearts.  This is a supernatural thing. This is why we can’t “earn” our way to heaven because we can’t make ourselves righteous!  Our doing is our beholding.  And we behold by reading, by praying, and by asking for Him to change us into the image of Christ, which He is gradually doing.

This is the nitty-gritty of sanctification, and its also why reading the Bible and meditating on Christ’s actions here and every word that proceeds from His mouth, is so important.  That’s consequently why I teach expositionally!  I want you to be changed into the likeness and image of Christ. He’s using this Word to do that.  He’s using John 11 to do that, so I want you to take in as much of it as possible, knowing not only that He is using it to gradually melt away the dross of this life, but that one day (as we wait in faithful hope – see Rom. 8) He will radically finish the job simply by the great revelation of His character and person: His glory.

11:41-42 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. [42] I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Carson points out that this was not a public prayer meant to “play to the gallery” but rather He sought to “draw His hearers into the intimacy of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father” and “demonstrates the truth that Jesus does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father’s will.”

There are a few parallels between this prayer and the High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, but the one that stood out to me the most was how the Father and Son had already been (obviously) in previous communion.  It seems that they had already agreed upon raising Lazarus, and that now Christ is thanking God the Father for “hearing” Him and for granting this miracle so that He may be glorified that people might believe.

Every time we hear Christ pray, or instruct us in prayer, we ought to pay close attention.  For this is His insight and instruction as to how to communicate with God, of whom He is One with the other two persons of the Godhead.  Surely He knows more than anyone how to speak with His Father.

11:43-44 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are several key points that we see here.

First, the “divine imperative”, as Augustine termed the creation of the world, is seen here in Christ’s powerful control over the life and death of His creatures.  We see that not only is this man the Messiah whose long awaited and desired coming had finally arrived, but he is the very Son of God who called creation into existence millennia prior to this moment.

Second, Lazarus’ rising from the dead was a sign of greater resurrection to come, especially that of Christ’s resurrection which was now only a short time away, and of course of our own resurrections once Christ comes again.  And it was also a sign that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Earlier in chapter five, Christ said this:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36)

Third, the power of Christ is on full display in this amazing moment. D.A. Carson notes how some theologians remark that this power seemed to be so awful (awe-inspiring) that had He not specified the name of “Lazarus” that all dead people everywhere would have had to obey His fiat. This is a clear example of Christ calling us from the dead, and the irresistible nature of that call. His grace is so powerful and so effective, that when He calls you, He will not fail in His mission to bring you all the way from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Lastly, as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a clear indication that the kingdom of God was upon them. Christ was ushering in His spiritual kingdom in a way that no man could deny. George Ladd once said that, “…the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from it’s power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”