December 28, 2014

It’s A Brand New Year! Psalm 39:4-6

Another year comes to a close, and a new year begins this week.

Much as we would like to, we can’t go back and change things we did or didn’t do in 2014. But traditionally, the dawning a new year is a time of reflection…a time when we can reflect and, if appropriate, make changes for 2015…

The most important reflections and evaluations for the Christian to make are spiritual in nature.

Psalm 39 gives us some insight along those lines.

4Show me, LORD, my life’s end    and the number of my days;    let me know how fleeting my life is.5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;    the span of my years is as nothing before you.Everyone is but a breath,    even those who seem secure.6 “Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth    without knowing whose it will finally be.

The New Living Version  translates verses 4 and 5 like this: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:4, 5 -- NLT)

David’s words declare three truths we often simply write off.

One truth is…that life is fleeting. Everything we call “life” in the material world has extreme limits. The few dozen years we get…go zipping past, ever more at warp speed. 

The second truth is…this life is not all there is. Our time on earth is just the ground work -- “the preparation period” for everything we will be and know and encounter in the eternal state. Scripture says, every last human being will experience eternity, either in God‘s eternal realm…or apart from it.

There’s a third truth in Psalm 39. It rests on the first two. Because life is short; because present experience is just the barest beginning of life – therefore—we should stop and evaluate.

We know Christ will evaluate us. He will bring Christians before Him and He will examine…our faithfulness…our growth in Christ…He will inspect the fruit and kingdom impact our lives have had. Doesn’t it make sense that we should regularly do the same? 

Evaluating and making appropriate changes are crucial so we don’t get stalled in our progress. So…what would it be worth to you to set aside a couple of hours, right at the start of this year, to evaluate and lay some plans for your progress in the coming months? What kind of value would it be for you to take what we talk about today and process it? 

We must reject passivity…Passivity runs rampant in American culture and in the Church…We must dump the “I can’t” attitude…We must quit making excuses for not growing in Christ…God has much greater things in mind for us…He wants to work in us and through us all the way to the finish line. 

Let’s begin with a look back and then a brief look forward 

The first question:

1. How’s your heart? (Matthew 12:34; Matthew 6:21; John 4:23) 

When you go for a physical exam, the normal drill is, the doctor will hold a stethoscope to your chest and listen to your heart. If things don’t sound right, the doctor gets out more serious equipment, to allow better analysis of what your heart’s doing. If that does not provide the answers, then it’s on to a specialist for more evaluation. Doctors do that because the heart is right at the center of things physically; if there‘s a problem there, it will, without fail, impact the whole body. 

So how’s your heart…your spiritual heart? Scripture describes the heart as the deepest and truest spiritual part of you. It’s a great reservoir, containing massive amounts of information and feelings. It’s also the control center. Your spiritual heart is composed of your mind and emotions and will. Your heart reveals who and what you really are…down there deep inside…where no one but God ever sees. It’s reasonable that a spiritual check-up begins with a heart exam. 

So…how’s your heart?

When we believe, our spiritual heart is transformed. God is interested in both our conduct and our character…not just our performance…He wants our heart…transformed from that self-centered spiritual heart we all had before He saved us into that new, unselfish, loving heart He gives each of His children. And He wants us to follow through and give Him our hearts without reservation. 

Does He have your heart? How can we know? There are some good ways to tell. I call them “barometers of the heart.” They provide us an accurate reading on our hearts’ health and vitality. 

One barometer is my speech, how I communicate. In Matthew 12:34, Jesus said, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The operative phrase there is the abundance of the heart. That means, what the heart is full of. My heart is full, so is yours. And we know what they’re full of by what comes out of our mouths. So, when I’m tired, or stressed, or ticked, or in traffic; what comes leaping off my tongue tells the tale of what’s in my heart. When I’m alone with my spouse or family, what comes out is what I’ve been hoarding down there. 

That filling—that abundance—is what’s been occupying my thought life, what I’ve been chewing and meditating on, and saving down in my private thoughts.

So, if we want to know the condition of our heart…take a reading…how do we communicate with people? In the different situations of life? Do people hear us talk a lot about ourselves and our needs and accomplishments? Is lots of our speech gossip? Or do we speak the Truth in love? Do we encourage people spiritually and lead them with the way we speak? What would people around us say about our communication patterns? Are we known for speaking words that hurt or words that heal? 

Another barometer is money. Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). Again, Jesus lays His finger on a key Truth about our spiritual hearts. The way we spend, or save, or invest, or freely give…describes what is pulling the strings of our hearts.

Jesus spoke those words when He pressed people to be invested in His kingdom, not just to put away money on earth. You’ve heard the old adage…”money talks.” What’s ours saying? If someone opened up our check register…or if someone got on our computer and opened up our financial records, what would they see there about our hearts? More to the point, what does Christ see as He observes us handling money? 

Does a bunch of our wealth go for things we’d be embarrassed about? Do we spend more than we earn…like the average American? Are we still trying to find that material thing which is going to fill the hole in our hearts? Are we part of the 80% of American Christians who in essence give nothing to Christ’s Kingdom? 

Or are we learning to give more…and give for the right reasons? Are we getting more generous than we’ve ever been before?

A third barometer is worship. Scripture informs us that we are “hard wired” to worship. In other words, we all worship something. By nature, we look outside ourselves for something to which we will gladly and willingly give our interest, our loyalty, allegiance…our devotion. Worship by definition and by right belongs alone to the God of All Glory.

God desires that our expression of worship be His exclusively. He wants worship that comes from the heart. Jesus told the woman at the well, in John 4:23 “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)

What’s the object of our worship? Is it a relationship…or a possession…or the Great I AM…that occupies our hearts?

A fourth heart barometer is love. The things and the people I love paint a picture of my heart. The greatest calling of God on man is to respond to His love by loving Him with everything we are…and to love people in our lives like we love ourselves. 

Jesus’ critique of religious people in His day was they did the right things…they showed up at worship services…they prayed the right prayers…and they gave money…but they did it all without authentic love for God or for people. 

Their hearts weren’t in it. So, beyond ourselves, what are the focal points of our love? Is our love for Jesus Christ constantly more real and growing? Are we committed to noticing people around us and expressing love to them in practical ways? 

The toughest question is the heart question. It requires some significant time to honestly answer before God. How are our hearts? 

Then there is another question…
2. What are our commitments? (Ephesians 5:15-17; Matthew 6:33)

Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

Paul suggests that people of the world live outside the bounds of wisdom. They approach life, they approach all of life’s choices foolishly. But he’s not content to simply observe that; he urges Christians: “don’t let yourself get squeezed into that mold, don‘t fall back into that trap.” 

A lot of people live as if their material life—their possessions, their homes, their wealth—will last forever. They work and buy and relate as if there is no eternity…as if there is no God in heaven…as if there is zero accountability.

But, God’s truth teaches us something very different. And because we know the truth, Paul says, we need to buy up opportunity. He’s not talking earthbound opportunities. He means making spiritual commitments, spiritual investments. Understand that we are here for God’s purposes and priorities. So, we need to invest to get His will done. 

Jesus addressed those priorities in Matthew 6:33 when He said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Jesus says to us…will you stop primarily focusing the aim and direction of your life on things that won’t matter, and get your heart and mind on what will matter? And He spells out what’s of highest value: pursue God’s righteousness. That’s whatever helps us to be transformed into Christ’s image: those are what we must give attention to. Is there rock-solid commitment and conviction in our lives that we are determined to grow in our Christian maturity? Have we made the commitments and taken the steps to be certain that happens? 

Another priority is the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. In other words, we should set our sights on—and employ our resources on—what leads to building and expanding Christ’s Church. 

How do we get a read on our commitments? Scan back through the last couple of months of your calendar. What occupies our evenings and weekends…what consumes our discretionary time. What kind of commitments do we make to entertainment, hobbies, and relaxing? Are our greatest priorities things like making money, expanding our leisure activities, concerning ourselves primarily on preserving our wealth and increasing our leisure? On the flip side, what amount of time do we give to time in the Word and prayer? hospitality with believers and unbelievers?…to building relationships with people who need Christ? 

Beside these commitments, there is another area to consider…

3. What are our daily habits? (Matthew 6:33, 2 Timothy 4:5-7)

Psalm 39 tells us our days are numbered.

People react to that in different ways. Some of us want to live and experience and do and buy and travel and…just squeeze as much as we can into the days we have. 

Others may just want to passively ignore the truth that life is temporal. Passive people live one day at a time…Take life as it comes…Go with the flow…go with whatever feels right at the moment. 

We can get busy with this or that…and suddenly, another year has gone by…and if enough of those years have gone by, we suddenly may find that life itself will go by us in the blink of an eye.

So what are the daily habits that mark our days? What do we do everyday which helps set out the course of our lives? Is Scripture part of our daily regimen? Is time with our Father in reflection and prayer? Is there time in our lives for people who need Christ?

But let’s not limit ourselves to looking back. Let’s look forward to 2015.

A New Year can mean a new start. So, we normally think about things like getting in shape…or, spending less and saving more…or, eating better and getting healthier.

God has candidly and graciously told us how and where we can invest our lives for maximum return. 

Let’s make 2015 a year a spiritual investments.

The first investment you can make this year is: 

1. Invest in knowing God. (Colossians 1:9, 10)

Paul prayed for the Christians in first century churches. He told them often what he prayed for them. That’s the case for the Colossian Christians. Chapter 1:9-10 tells us some of what he prayed: 

“9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,…”

One of the astounding, unique characteristics of NT Christianity is that we have a God Who can be known. Most world religions describe gods who are distant, unknowable, uncaring. Others imagine a supreme being shrouded in great mystery and darkness. But the only real God is very different. He can be known…because He has revealed Himself to us. 

It happened through creation. The Designer left imprints of His character on His designs. Scripture says, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” It says, “the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God.” Beyond creation, God spoke to prophets in words, ideas, dreams and visions. Then He declared Himself in Scripture. We have an inspired and clear, written message which we can read and understand. Then, Hebrews 1 says, God spoke through His Son, Who visited us in human flesh and blood. God repeatedly and powerfully made Himself knowable to people. 

The most beneficial investment you could make this year is to get to know God better.

Knowing God and knowing Christ stands at the heart of our Christian lives. Everything in our spiritual life stands or falls there. We can be really busy and work hard and try to act and look Christian, but everything that is Christian about us centers on this: how well we know God? 

How do we go about investing in knowing God? Let me suggest four ways: 

One is get to know the Truth about Him. The Bible is God’s delivery system for Truth about Himself. When you engage Truth about God in Scripture, you will begin to know Him as He declares Himself to be.

So let me suggest a few of the kinds of things we can do: study some passages which tell us about God’s character. Read great declarations of His character, like we find in the Psalms. Memorize a Psalm…like Psalm 103. Ask Him day by day as we read Scripture to make Himself known. Meditate on the truth of His character and begin counting on it as we encounter life‘s experiences. 

A second concept: study Jesus. Jesus said, if you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father. He said, I and the Father are one. Jesus came to earth to show us God in flesh and blood. If we want to know what God is like, we need to take long looks at His Son.

We have four records of Jesus’ incarnation in written form. For the next 12 months, lay out a plan -- first, read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- read them several times. Ask Christ to show Himself…His character…His Wisdom…His teaching…His Person…His actions and how He wants to relate to us. When we take some long looks at Jesus, we will get to know Him better. 

Obviously, if we want to know a Person, we need to spend time with Him. We should make this the year we consistently set aside time with God every day. David wrote, One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple (Psalm 27:4). To dwell in God’s house is another way of describing living fellowship with Him. 

Another  concept is to respond to Him. Here’s what I mean by that. We need to do something whenever God speaks to us and teaches us…from a verse…a sermon…a sudden understanding of a scripture… or a discussion with another committed Christian. The reason I say this is that knowing God isn’t a mind game. God loves to reveal Himself to His people. But He consistently makes Himself known to us for a reason: to transform our character. When God speaks, make some kind of response. We’re not supposed to just take a few notes and stuff them in our Bible…we are called on to…change the way we think based on what God has said…and to repent, when God speaks to us about our sin.

God wants us to commit to steps of obedience. John 14:21 tells us: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”

God delights to reveal Himself to people who will walk with Him and relate to Him and obey Him. He wants to be known by each of us. Imagine the results, at the end of 2015, if we can say, “I’ve come to know God better.”

 2. So we need not only to invest in knowing God better, but also to invest in our own growth. (Ephesians 4:15, 2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

The Bible describes us at the start of our faith as spiritual infants. But just like with new babies born to us, God’s desire for His children is to grow. That growth process is not automatic. It requires response. Ephesians 4:15 says “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

There are two decisions most of us will have to make if we’re going to grow up spiritually. One is to dump our excuses. We all are wildly creative when it comes to making excuses. We say things like, “I‘m not motivated.” “What happened to me in the past holds me back.” “I’m too busy to do the stuff you need to do to grow”…or even…“I‘m not doing too badly compared to most people.”

Let’s make 2015 the year we jettison those attitudes.

Finally, another way to invest in ourselves is to get God‘s Word into our lives. Our spiritual growth largely depends on our time in and saturation by Scripture. God’s Word changes us, shapes our thinking, transforms our hearts, and changes our lives. 

Another investment we must make is to invest in building Christ’s Church. (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 6:33) 

Jesus said, in Matthew 16:18: "I will build My church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it." We occupy the time frame of earth’s history when Jesus is working to expand the borders of His kingdom and Church by driving back the forces of Hell. The battle for that expansion will continue until He returns. He summons us to join with Him where He’s working to that end. 

There’s no limit to the opportunity, there is no limit to what kind of people He will use. There is only limited availability on the part of His people. 

We read earlier Matthew 6:33 where Jesus says, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be given to you." He was responding to some followers who had gotten their priorities confused. They were thinking about the stuff they needed for everyday life…food, clothing, and shelter. 

Material beings naturally pursue material stuff! But Jesus told them—and He says to us today…that’s not why you’re here. He wants us to have the right priorities and invest ourselves in the things that matter.

Imagine having the great goal of knowing God well…that He would often speak to us, show Himself to us, press closer to us. What a powerful thing to have at the heart of our Christian lives!

Imagine that we invest whatever God puts in our hands in ways to further Christ’s Kingdom and build up His Church. By God’s amazing grace, we must respond as people and as a church which will say “yes” to God.

2015 is not just another year to slip by us. It is the year for us to put forth the effort as never before to intentionally grow in our faith. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been. It’s a new year. Let’s end 2015 with the knowledge that we have put forth the effort to grow spiritually and know Him better.

December 11, 2014

Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7: And His Name Shall Be Called . . .

Year after year, I find myself returning to the marvelous prophecy of Isaiah at during the Christmas season. Isaiah, who, writing in the 7th century B.C., provided the ancient Israelites very important prophetic insight about the Messiah Whom God the Father would send to His people.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

6 For unto us a Child is born,
      Unto us a Son is given;
      And the government will be upon His shoulder.
      And His name will be called
      Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace
      There will be no end,
      Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
      To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
      From that time forward, even forever.
      The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.  Isaiah 9:6-7

Like other peoples of the Middle East in early history, the Israelites very carefully picked names for their children. The names tended to be descriptive of the child’s heritage or the parents’ (in some cases, God’s) hopes for him or her.

Some examples:

Abigail (first wife of David) in Hebrew means “Father’s Joy” (lit., “my father has made himself joyful”)

Elisha—“God Is Salvation”

Elijah—“Jehovah is God”

Gideon—“Great Warrior” (lit. “One Who Cuts Down”)

Daniel—“God Is My Judge”

Abram—“Exalted Father”

Abraham—“Father of a Multitude”


Joshua—“Jehovah Saves” (pronounced “Yeshuah”); this is the Hebrew form of the name “Jesus”: Matthew 1:21:  “and you shall call His name Jesus (Yeshuah), for He will save His people from their sins.”

Most of Isaiah’s prophecy deals with a terrible calamity taking place in Israel, as Israel is overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians.  But Isaiah does not stop with the message of calamity. He encourages his readers—and us—about God’s promises of a redeemer, a future king from heaven who would rule the world . . . the Messiah or Savior. Isaiah shows what we may call a “foreshortened” view of the prophetic future—foretelling both the first advent of the Messiah and the second advent without always clearly distinguishing between the two in the text. His message, however, is that the calamity about the envelop Israel is not permanent. God will send His Messiah. And eventually the Messiah will rule the earth.

The Messiah’s Identity

He would be humble leader who is “God with us” (Hebrew: Immanuel), and He would come as a child—“For unto us a Child is born”—The future king would be the child Isaiah first mentioned in 7:14 . . . a miraculous birth of a Son who would be Immanuel (“God with Us”). The name “Immanuel” applied to the future Messiah is a key theological statement in that Isaiah correctly identifies the future Messiah and King as God Himself coming to be among mankind.

Isaiah’s prophecies are the first to communicate the humble nature of the advent of God on earth.  He pictures the Messiah as a both humble servant and everlasting king. Rather than dealing just with the Messiah’s first advent, however, Isaiah also shows us the Messiah as the future ruler who is the one having the birthright to assume the throne of David (9:7).

Isaiah tells us what the Messiah will be like:

"Wonderful" or "Wonderful Counselor"

Some debate about whether this designation is one term (“Wonderful Counselor”; i.e., an adjective modifying a noun) or two (“Wonderful” and “Counselor”; i.e., two distinct qualities). There is no punctuation in Hebrew text, so this is an issue we cannot resolve from a study of the text itself. However, the difference is not something that radically changes the meaning. The term “wonderful” in Hebrew is used only to describe God. It is used 21 times in the Old Testament, every time referring to the work of God. For example, Isaiah 28:29 reads: “This also comes from the LORD of hosts, Who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance.”

The Hebrew terms refers only to “the ability to accomplish something that cannot be accomplished; to do or show marvelous works and miracles; to do the works only God can do.” Thus, the ability to perform miracles was the commonly accepted “sign” of God or God’s work and hence was referred to by the term used only for God and His works: “wonderful.”

So when Isaiah identifies the Messiah as “wonderful,” he is telling us that the Messiah would be God Himself; that is, corresponding to the term “Immanuel” (God with us) in 7:14. This theme is found throughout the Bible. For example, John the Baptist sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  Jesus answer was, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:20-22).  In other words, the miracles He performed proved He is God.


The Hebrew terms means “a guide, teacher, or intercessor.”  It can be taken here to mean all three—guide, teacher, and intercessor. “Counselor” is a term associated with government. Every king had many counselors who were experts in their fields to advise him. So when we see the Messiah as the “Wonderful Counselor,” we know Him as a miracle worker, and miracle of God the Father Himself, a counselor or teacher who does powerful works only God can do.

But, we say, aren’t these roles of the Holy Spirit?  Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who is our Counselor and Guide? Yes, but as two of the three persons of God, the Son and the Spirit are one.

Look at John 14:15-17: “15 ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper (“Counselor”), that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

Jesus is teaching the disciples that He will not always be with them, and when He is gone, the Father would send them another Counselor (also translated “Helper”).  The word “another” here means literally “another exactly like.”  So Jesus is indicating that at that time He was filling the role of Helper or Counselor, and another exactly like Him—that is, a person of God—would follow and be present with believers once Jesus was gone. This Helper—the Holy Spirit—would be with us, live in us, and fill the purpose of being our guide and teacher, just as Jesus had done when He was physically present with His people.  And, in fact, Jesus works together with the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with God the Father.

"Mighty God"

Isaiah is emphasizing that the Messiah would be God Himself—reiterating the identify He gave Him in 7:14 (Immanuel— “God with us”).

In Scripture, this truth is repeated in different ways. For instance, in Colossians 2:9 we read “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (lit., “in bodily form”).” In other words, the Messiah is God Himself, or as we refer to Him, one of the three persons of God or the Godhead.  In addition, we have Jesus’ own words: “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father” and Paul’s description in Colossians 1:15-16: “15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”

The Messiah is consistently identified at God Himself throughout Scripture—the image of the invisible God, the creator, the one in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily; “Immanuel.”

Isaiah does not describe the future Messiah only as God, but uses the adjective “mighty,” the Hebrew term meaning giant, strong, valiant, chief; one who excels. Isaiah wanted to stress the power and might of the Messiah as Immanuel, God of infinite power dwelling among His people. He uses this phrase “Mighty God” to refer both to the coming Messiah and to the Father. For example, we read in Isaiah 10:21: “The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God.”

"Everlasting Father"

The Hebrew term here would be literally translated “Father of Eternity” and can mean not only the eternally existing God, but also the One who gives His people access to eternal life. The Septuagint translates the term “Father of the world to come.”

“Father” in the context of Isaiah’s time and culture included a whole bundle of attributes inherent in the father role: protector, provider, the one whose name the children bear. The term was used more widely than to refer only to the father of a family unit. The king was regarded as the father of his subjects (protector and provider).  Also, various spiritual leaders of the Israelites—Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, to name a few—were at times referred to as “father.”

Describing the Messiah as “Eternal Father” also emphasizes the Messiah’s identity with and sameness with the Father—both always were and always will be. Jesus attested to this also in John 14:8-11: “8 Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”

"Prince of Peace"

When the Bible speaks of peace through Christ, it almost always refers to “peace with God.” For instance, Romans 5:1 tells us “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Peace” is that familiar Hebrew term “shalom,” which literally means harmony, wholeness, well-being. Jesus came to bring peace (peace with God, reconciliation with God) to those who would trust in Him. There also may be a dual emphasis in this name for the Messiah, also. The prophecies of the Messiah in Isaiah do not clearly differentiate between the first and second advent of the Messiah. Therefore, the Messiah is described both as a babe and a powerful king. In his foreshortened view of the advent of the Messiah, Isaiah’s use of the identify “Prince of Peace” can reasonably be understood in terms of the first advent (Jesus enabled mankind to find peace with God) and the second advent (when Jesus returns to bring peace, in a fundamentally changed physical world where there will be no strife).

When the heavenly host sang “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14)—they were singing of the Father’s goodwill and peace toward mankind, made real by His sending the Son, the Messiah, as the means of restoring peace with Him.

November 23, 2014

Thoughts About Thanksgiving: Psalm 100

In 1789, our nation's first President, George Washington, issued the following proclamation:  

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and
 Whereas both houses of Congress have by their joint committee requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God,
 Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

The holiday we recognize as the first Thanksgiving celebration started in the fall of 1621, when the settlers at the Plymouth colony in what we now call Massachusetts got together with about 90 Wampanoag Indians for a feast.  The pilgrims had not had an easy time.  Half of them had died the previous winter from disease, and without the help of the Indians, all of them would have perished.  

After the colony's first harvest, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a time of thanksgiving and prayer to God.  The feast lasted three days and featured venison, turkey, duck, eel, clams, leeks, cod, bass, barley, corn, and cornbread.  

Two years later, the colony responded to a severe drought with a time of prayer and fasting, and after the rains came, another thanksgiving celebration was held.  Late in the year, Governor Bradford proclaimed November 29 as a day for the colony's settlers to gather together and give thanks to God for all His blessings.  

The first Thanksgiving Day proclamation of the independent United States was Washington's proclamation in 1789, which set the last Thursday of November as the annual Thanksgiving Day celebration.  A few years later, however, the holiday was cancelled by the nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson, who was an agnostic.

The observation of Thanksgiving returned to our nation in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday to be observed the last Thursday of November each year, at the end of the harvest.  The timing was changed to the 4th Thursday of November by President Roosevelt in 1941.  

The tradition of Thanksgiving Day is to look to God in gratitude for His care and blessings.  It does not matter that times may have been hard.  The people used the occasion to recognize God as our Creator, Provider, and Sustainer.  Finally, only two nations--the United States and Canada--officially recognize a day of thanksgiving.  Both nations grew out of hardship, grit, and dependence on God.  

For some context to our discussion today, let's return for a moment to that day in November 1621 and the handful of survivors at Plymouth, Massachusetts.  They had come to these shores looking for a fresh start.  They were coopers, blacksmiths, weavers, farmers, and other tradesmen.  They lived in very small huts made of small logs with mud to seal the cracks.  The roofs were thatched and leaky.  Food was scarce the winter of 1620-21, because the settlers arrived too late in 1620 for a successful agricultural season.  They lived on small game, fish, berries, and edible roots that first winter, and half of the community died the winter of 1620-21.  In 1621, the small community cultivated wheat and barley from seeds they had brought with them on the Mayflower, along with corn that was native to their new land.  The community had good relationships with the natives in the area, the Wampanoag tribe, and the Indians helped with the planting, cultivation, and harvest.  

After all the trials they had been through, what do you suppose was on the pilgrims' list of things for which they were thankful?  Their list was most likely different from the lists we would make.  They no doubt were thankful for their survival, for God's provision of food from the land, and for the hope they had for the future—the simple, basic provision from God of life and sustenance.  They didn't have jobs, 401Ks, pensions, autos, fine homes, and so forth.  They had life, and it was clear to them that their life and survival came from their Creator and Sustainer.  

God tells us it is important for us to remember Him.  In the Old Testament, God delivered His people twice to the land He had reserved for them—the first time when Abraham was chosen to lead his family into the Promised Land and second time when God chose Moses to lead the people out of slavery back to that land.  Both times, God reminded them repeatedly not to forget Him when they had settled in the land.  He knew the root of their difficulties would come not from the efforts to settle the land and prosper, but because they would tend to forget Him as their Provider and Sustainer as they became more and more secure and comfortable in the land.  

Among the reminders God gave His people is Psalm 100.  The Psalms were written and sung by the people several hundred years after they returned to the land.  Today we will look at Psalm 100, a Psalm that recognizes God for who He is and what He does for His people.  

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to Him and Praise His name.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever,
His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100 is known throughout Israel's history as a psalm of thanksgiving.  Note that it is not specific.  That is, it does not express thanksgiving for particular things, but expresses thanksgiving to God for Who He is and the faithfulness He shows His people.  

In Israel when this Psalm was sung by the people, there was almost constant turmoil and insecurity.  The nations around Israel continually threatened the nation's security, and we read of dozens of times in the Old Testament histories when the nation had to fight for its survival.  There also was internal turmoil.  They were an agricultural society dependent on the success of each year's harvest.  Socially, there were periods of terrible injustice, the rich becoming richer and the poor ever poorer.  Spiritually, their devotion to their God waxed and waned over the generations.  Psalm 100 was one of the reminders God gave them to look to Him as their Creator, Provider, and Sustainer.  

It sometimes is amazing to me that over the millennia, we haven't changed much.  Sure, our lives are more complicated today.  Most of us are far removed from dependence on the annual harvest for our survival and prosperity.  But we show many of the same tendencies as the Israelites--as we prosper and grow physically, we tend to forget about our Provider and Sustainer.  In addition, perhaps we in the U.S. can look to September 11, 2001, as a spiritual wakeup call for us, when we were shocked by the evil and driven back to the realization that life consists of more than the endless quest for more prosperity and that our lives and sustenance are continuing gifts from our Creator.  

This morning, I would like for us to look at Psalm 100 as a series of instructions to us from God, who wants us to get back to the basics of who we are, who God is, and what He does for us.  

 1.  Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth   

We all recognize it is God's will for all people—everyone throughout the earth—to have joyful communion with Him.  

One of the ways the Israelites expressed their joy as God's children was to shout for joy.  The term shout for joy in Hebrew denotes expressing happiness from the depth of one's being.  This was an expressive culture.  They expressed themselves, much like charismatic Christians express themselves today as they experience the joy the very presence of the Lord brings to them.  In Israel, shouting for joy in worship was often accompanied by a trumpet blast and exited dancing.  

Joy in the Lord is something I don't want to keep inside.  While in our culture we may not literally shout and dance in exaltation, at the very least our inner spirit shouts and dances for joy when we realize who God is and what He means to us.  It's a much, much deeper feeling than the expression of thanksgiving for what God has provided to us.  It is the expression of thanksgiving simply for the One who decided to create me and who now cares for me day by day.  

Shout for joy!  

 2.  Worship the Lord with gladness   

There is a lot of theology and depth wrapped up in this short phrase.  

The Hebrew idea of worship inexorably includes the idea of serving with all my being.  The Psalm is reminding us to serve God completely, with all our being and as the singular purpose of our lives.  The Psalmist allows for no other purpose of life than to worship and serve God.  He adds that our worship and service must be with gladness.  This means our devotion is not self-serving in any way, but is unreserved, unselfish, expecting nothing in return.  It comes from pure love and is unconditional.  

Like the people of Israel, we tend to worship God for what He has done for us, rather than simply who He is.  It's tragic to me that as we grow more comfortable and secure, we tend to forget that God is the source of our prosperity and security.  It happened repeatedly in Israel, and it happens repeatedly today.  Have you ever wondered—especially since September 11, 2001—what it is about human nature that obscures God when we feel secure and reveals Him when we do not?  

It's a mystery we all ponder, and while we cannot in any way be thankful for the crises, we can be thankful that the crises do awaken the sense of God in us about which the Psalmist writes—worship of God unreservedly as people who are completely dependent upon Him…worship of God not out of obligation or guilt feelings or because we may be elevated in others' opinions of us…worship of God because of who He is and not simply because of what He has done for us physically or financially.  

 3.  Come before Him with joyful songs

I've noticed that the first three instructions in this Psalm have to do with being happy in God's presence.  There is nothing here about being happy because we have warm clothing or a roof over our heads.  There is nothing here about being grateful to Him for our job or our pension fund…or our new home or new car.  It is simply happiness because of Him.  

The Psalmist sees that our thanksgiving above everything else is about the fact that we are His children.  Period.  It is good to meditate on that fact alone!  

 4.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture   

As we meditate on the fact we are His children, the Psalm pointedly reminds us of that fact.  He is God, the only God, and it is He who created us.  

I think the psalmist communicates here two senses about God creating us.  First, He is Creator—that is, He decided to create you and me.  All that I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually, God created.  He created me as me intentionally and for His purposes.  Nothing happened by accident or by evolution.  It was His hand that did the creation.  

Second, He continues to make me.  He wants me to be more and more like Him in how I think, what I decide, and what I do.  Remember those "What would Jesus do?" bracelets?  Every time we make a decision with Him in mind, we are being made more like Him, and He wants desperately for us to make all our decisions with Him in mind, with His standards being our standards, with His love being the love we show.  

We can give thanks for His creative act in forming us and the fact He continually refines us.  

 5.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the Lord is good and His love endures forever, His faithfulness continues through all generations.   

God does not treat us the way we sometimes treat Him, thank goodness!  God loves us and cares for us even though we don't deserve it.  We never have deserved it, and we never will.  God does not bless us today just because we lived up to His standards yesterday.  He does not stop leading us just because we have failed to follow Him.  

God is love.  Let us be thankful this season not just for what He has done for us, but for who He is!  

November 12, 2014

Romans 8:1-17

Notes from a small group study
Sources: MacArthur Study Bible, NIV
The Grace of God: A Journey of Discovery in Romans, by Alan Perkins
Romans, by Thomas R. Schreiner
NIV Application Commentary: Romans, by Douglas J. Moo

In chapter 7, Paul has contrasted life under law with life in the Spirit. Paul’s conclusion to chapter 7 might be expressed this way: To those who minimize God’s Grace in favor of the standards of the law, it is not God they are serving but the flesh, which is the law of sin. In chapter 8, Paul continues his discussion of the law versus the Spirit, emphasizing again that the Christian has been set free from the law.

Romans 8:1-8

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

V.1—“…there is now no condemnation…” In contrast to living under the law in the past, the Christian is released from the law.

V.2—“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Paul described the bondage to sin and death in 7:7-25. He is now telling us that Christ has set us free from the law. The “law of the Spirit who gives life” is the new life we now have with the Spirit dwelling in us.

V.3—“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh…” (alternate translation: “…weakened by the sinful nature…”).

The law cannot overcome sin in a person not because the law is defective in some way, but because of the weakness of our flesh and the law’s lack of power over sin. The law was powerless to overcome the flesh (our sinful nature), but God provided the solution “…by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh.” By condemning sin is meant more than simply exposing sin as evil. God rendered sin powerless for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law could not condemn or defeat sin, but God accomplished both through Christ.

V.4—“…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be full met in us...” Our guilt and our sin were taken on by Christ through His death and resurrection. At the same time, His righteousness was credited to us. In this way, the righteousness required by the law was completely satisfied.

“…who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Our righteousness means we are in right standing before God. But we also experience a changed life. The Holy Spirit lives in us, and our manner of living is different from what it was before, as we walk in accordance with the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our rebirth has set us free not only from the penalty of sin, but also from the power of sin over us.

V.5—“ Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

This is a key verse in understanding the regenerate versus unregenerate mind. This is the contrast between the nonbeliever and the believer. The nonbeliever is focused on his or her own desires, while the believer can focus on what pleases the Spirit. For the faithful Christian, what pleases him or her is in line with what pleases the Spirit, and the aim of his or her life is the glorify Christ and not to serve self.

V. 6—“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

The nonbeliever’s mind, being self-centered, is focused on sin, which brings death. Remember, Paul uses the term “death” to refer to spiritual death, or eternal separation from God. The faithful believer’s mind, on the other hand, is focused on the Savior, and that faithful focus on the Savior brings life and peace. Paul uses the term “life” to refer to eternal union with God.

Vv. 7-8—“7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”

There is no such thing as a neutral mind. The mind of the nonbeliever is hostile to God and cannot submit to Him. Consider the Pharisees, whom Christ called “children of hell.” The Pharisees observed the law. Jesus called them hypocrites because while they observed the outward requirements of the law, they rebelled against God in their hearts. Their zeal for the law served their self-centeredness and self-righteousness, rather than observing the law as a means of glorifying God and as an expression of what was in their hearts.

It is impossible for the nonbeliever to please God. Keeping the law but having no real faith, like the Pharisees, does not earn God’s favor. Look at how Isaiah summed up the hearts of the Israelites as he prophesied to Israel. Speaking of the Israelites who went through the motions of observing their religious traditions but did not have real faith in God, Isaiah said, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

Romans 8:9-17

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

You, however…” Once again, Paul draws sharp contrast between the nonbeliever and the believer. Believers are not under control of the flesh, or the sinful nature, but serve the Holy Spirit instead.

“…if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you…” All believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and can choose to be controlled by the Spirit. Otherwise, Paul says, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” In this verse, Paul gives us one means of evaluating our own standing before God: those who belong to Christ demonstrate the indwelling Spirit in their thoughts and actions; those who do not belong to Christ serve their sinful natures as a lifestyle and not the Spirit.

Vv. 10-11 deal with the promise of eternal life. “If Christ is in you,…the Spirit gives life” (v.10). And if the Spirit lives in us, then we are promised a resurrected life, just as Christ was raised from the dead.

Vv. 12-13—“12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” The “old man” and its sinful nature are still part of us, but no longer have to control us. Our obligation as believers is not to serve the sinful nature, but to serve the Spirit who lives in us.

In v. 13 Paul again contrasts the lifestyles of the nonbeliever, who lives according to the flesh (or sinful nature) and will be separated from God in death, with the believer, who will live eternally in communion with God. The Spirit-led life is characterized by the putting to death of the deeds of the sinful nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul emphasizes this in Galatians 5:16-18: “16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

It should be noted that both our own will and the Holy Spirit are involved in putting to death the misdeeds of the body, and it is the Spirit who enables us to overcome the sinful nature.
Note that Paul is not giving this putting to death the misdeeds of the body as a requirement for salvation, but rather, he is describing the ability of the Christian to do so and offers the putting to death of our misdeeds as a characteristic of one who belongs to Christ.

Vv. 16-17—“16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Believers have the inner presence and inner witness of the Holy Spirit as a means by which we know we belong to God. So Paul has given us two ways that we may know this: (1) the standard of being controlled by the Spirit and not the sinful nature and (2) the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, who lives in every believer. And so, being the children of God, we can look forward to a rich inheritance, that of being in His presence forever.

October 27, 2014

Romans 7

Notes from a small group study
Sources: MacArthur Study Bible, NIV
The Grace of God: A Journey of Discovery in Romans, by Alan Perkins
Romans, by Thomas R. Schreiner
NIV Application Commentary: Romans, by Douglas J. Moo

In chapter 6, Paul used different analogies to explain what it means for the believer to be under grace rather than under law: spiritual death vs. eternal life, slavery to sin vs. slavery to righteousness. In chapter 7, he gives us another analogy, comparing being under the law to being married and being under grace as having been widowed from the law.

In chapter 6, Paul has told us that believers are not under the law, but are under grace. In vv. 16-23, he denies that grace is a license to sin without restraint. Having dealt with that false view, Paul now contends that God has released Christians from the law, not so we would be free to sin, but so we would be free to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ.

1Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh,[a] the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Paul’s point is that those who have trusted in Christ have become united with Him in His death (6:3-8; 7:4) and are therefore free from the authority of the law. Paul uses as his example the law of marriage. As long as a woman’s husband is alive, she is “bound” to him—that is, she is obligated to remain faithful to him. Under the law, if she violates this by marrying another man, she is called an adulteress.

Paul is using three parallels with this illustration:

1. Under the law, the wife was under the authority of the husband; so also the Jews had been under the authority of the law.

2. Just as the husband’s death released the wife from his authority, so our death to the law through Christ has freed us from the law’s authority.

3. Just as the husband’s death freed the wife to marry another man, so our death to the law has freed us to become united with Christ.

The analogies are not perfect, since it is the husband’s death that frees the wife, while it is our own death to sin that frees us. But Paul’s point is well stated. Death frees one from the law’s authority, and we have died to sin in Christ. Therefore, Christians are free from the law’s authority.

V. 4—Paul applies this principle to the Roman Christians (“…you also died…that you might belong to another…”). He is driving home the point that being dead to the law is a practical truth for them, not just an abstract theological principle: the practical point is in this verse—“…you also died to the law through the body of Christ.” That is, Christ suffered a real bodily death on the cross, and when we became united with Him through our faith, we shared in His death also in our being dead to sin but alive in Christ. Christ’s death on the cross released us from the law. Christ’s death released us from the law so that we might belong to Him and bear fruit for Him.

That fruit is our obedient service to God, in contrast to “…fruit for death…” (v. 5), the result of sinful passions. Galatians 5:22-23 gives us the list of the fruits of the Spirit, which constitutes God’s will for every Christian: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In stressing that Christ is “…Him who was raised from the dead…,” Paul is careful not to leave his readers without emphasizing again that death is not the end. Not only did Christ die to free us from the law, but also He rose again to give us new life.

V.5—Paul explains why it was necessary for our old self to die in order to bear fruit for Christ. We were controlled by the sinful nature, and the law actually pointed out people’s sin nature to themselves. Paul held that the presence of the law actually aroused the sin nature in those controlled by the flesh.

V.6—The result of our freedom from the law is not independence, but rather a new kind of service. Our service to God is now guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, rather than guided by a list of regulations which, unlike the Holy Spirit, have no power.

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[b] 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

V.7—The law points out specific acts of disobedience and calls those acts sin. (In our culture, people prefer to call sin “a mistake” or “a character flaw.”) Paul chooses coveting (the 10th commandment, Exodus 20:17) as his example. All of the other commandments (for example, prohibiting murder, adultery, theft, etc.) could be interpreted as outward acts of sin, which possibly could be kept fully.

Matthew 19:16-22 provides an example of one coveting his wealth but having kept the other commandments:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The commandment against coveting demonstrates that the law has to do with the heart and not merely outward actions.

V.8—Paul speaks of sin as an active force which uses the law to produce acts of disobedience: “…for apart from the law, sin is dead…” Every parent and teacher has experienced this: nothing is more certain to motivate a child to do something than to forbid it. Disobedience comes when there is a prohibition against an act.

Vv. 9-10—Paul is remembering the time in the past when, although he was instructed in the law, he saw the law merely as a set of rules to be obeyed to obtain God’s favor. But when he considered the law against coveting, he realized the depth of his own sin. He realized that his sinful nature produced in him all kinds of coveting (v. 8) and “…sin sprang to life…” (v. 9).

V. 11—“…sin…deceived me…” There is always an element of deceit in sin. It appears attractive and causes us to overlook its eventual negative consequences.

V. 12—The law is holy, righteous, and good. In this verse, Paul answers the question he posed in v. 7 (“Is the law sinful?”). The law is not sin, but it is used by mankind’s sinful nature to produce disobedience.

V. 13—Paul now moves on to a second question: Even if the law itself is not sin, doesn’t it cause death? The assumption is that something that causes death must be evil and not good. But Paul is emphatic in denying that the law causes death. Rather, it is sin working through the law that causes death. Paul illustrates the sin nature in vv. 14-25.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Vv. 14-25 are the source of some controversy among biblical scholars. Some hold that the subject of these verses is Paul’s experience prior to his conversion, while others hold that vv. 14-25 refer to Paul’s ongoing experience as a believer. I believe the latter to be the case. The verb tense changes from the past (vv. 8-13) to the present (vv. 14-25), indicating to me that Paul is shifting from describing his past before ‘Christ to his present experience as a Christian. In addition, in vv. 14-25 Paul emphasizes that he desires to do good. The unbeliever, being a slave to sin, would not have this as his or her objective. But the Christian would, being a slave to righteousness. Only the believer truly desires to do morally good and live in complete righteousness before God and to keep from sinful and self-serving behavior. Also, only a believer would characterize himself or herself as a wretched person (v. 24) in need of deliverance, as he or she fights with the old nature. Finally, the struggle Paul describes in this passage is a common Christian struggle with the sinful nature, as described in Galatians 5:17: “…the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh.”

While some commentators hold that vv. 14-25 must be referring to Paul’s pre-conversion life, citing the fact that nonbelievers struggle with sin, too, according to their (flawed) consciences, it is a fact that believers struggle with sin because they are no longer slaves to sin. The sinful nature struggles against the Spirit, which lives in every Christian.

V. 14—“I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…” A better translation would be “I am fleshly” or “I am made of flesh,” emphasizing that the physical body is the instrument through which sin works.

Vv. 15-25—For the first century Christian reader who subscribed to keeping the law, this passage emphasizes the futility of using behavioral standards to please God and earn His favor. To every Christian, Paul here describes that all-too-familiar dilemma—that of conforming our thoughts and actions to the righteousness that God has declared us to possess in His sight. Conversely, those trying to live by the law find that they cannot resist sin, because the law provides no power to do so.

V. 18—A more accurate translation of this verse would be: “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh.” There is no inherent righteousness in our human nature. Righteousness is imputed to us by God through Jesus, and righteous thinking and behavior does not come from our flesh, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the power in us to counteract the sinful nature of the flesh.

Vv. 24-25—“What a wretched man I am!” This is the testimony of every Christian. All of us face that constant struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. “Who will rescue me…”—probably addressed with the Christians in Rome in mind, who were trying to please God and gain His favor by obeying the law. Inevitably, they broke the law in their human efforts. V. 25 provides the answer to anyone trying to earn God’s favor through righteous behavior. It is Jesus, not our human attempts as righteous behavior, which delivers us.

Paul’s conclusion might be expressed this way: To those who minimize God’s Grace in favor of the standards of the law, it is not God they are serving but the flesh, which is the law of sin.