Tag Archives: Romans 11

From, Through, To – A Musical

I must confess that the title of this post is a bit misleading. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to write a blog post and make it a musical, but for the sake of keeping myself free of accusation that I am a liar, I will link to some music that you can listen to while you read. If you are talented, perhaps you can kind of “sing” the words to the post here, and…voila (pronounced “wah-lah”)…you have a musical!

In yesterday’s post, I said that we would be getting to a more practical application of the idea that we should “put off the old self” and “put on the new self.” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). The practical application of this can be summed up in one word – Repentance. Repentance has a very negative connotation to us – I think many of us see it as a constant “saying sorry to” or “asking forgiveness from” God. This is not a Biblical view of what repentance truly is. Today’s lesson, titled The Power of Repentance, looked at what Biblical repentance is, and the part it plays in the breaking of the power of sin in our lives.

Making Truth a Reality

The overall point of yesterday’s lesson was that the starting point becoming free from the power of sin is coming to a realization that my sin is no longer my master.  I said that I have to ” embrace the fact that I was personally crucified in Christ, and therefore sin no longer has a hold on me.” This is the starting point to living as a “new creation” in Christ. I insinuated that this revelation was all that was needed to overcome the power of sin, but that may be slightly off-base on my part. While it is true that, once we understand that sin no longer has any power over us, we are free from it’s grasp, there is an important middle step between the revelation of this truth, and making this truth a reality. That middle step is called repentance

The 3 step process on how truth becomes a reality in your life looks like this:

  1. Revelation – the enlightening of God’s Word by the Holy Spirit.
  2. Repentance – the aligning of your thinking and behavior with God’s Word.
  3. Reality – the empowering by the Holy Spirit to live in line with God’s Word.**

As you can see, without repentance, reality is an unreachable step. Many people (including myself) go to church every Sunday and hear the truth preached to them, then go on with their lives, failing to live in the reality of that truth. What they missed is repentance – aligning their thinking and behavior with the truth that was revealed to them.

In our current context, dealing with the breaking of the power of sin over our lives, repentance “is based on a revelation…that the power of sin was broken at the Cross…and that God requires you to switch allegiance from sin to Him.”** This revelation is what we talked about yesterday (if you haven’t read yesterday’s post…go back and read it now). Without this revelation, the only option we have is to try and break the hold of sin on our own, and self-effort is NOT repentance (nor will it ever work…).

A Change of Orientation

At the end of Romans 11, Paul write a closing hymn of praise to God:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
   How unsearchable his judgments,
   and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
   Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
   that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
   To him be the glory forever! Amen. (v. 33-36, emphasis added)

This ending line – that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him – is the way God intends us to orient our lives. Unfortunately, we usually see things from a “from ME, through ME, to ME” perspective, but this self-centered orientation is not where we are supposed to point our lives. The first step in repentance is turning from a ME perspective to a GOD perspective. Often, as we’ve mentioned before, we come to a realization that salvation is from God, but we still think it is through me and to me. We still think that self-effort will get us where we need to be, and our motives are still self-centered. Once we move past this, and realize that the power to break free from sin is from God (He provided the way), through God (He provides the power to do it), and to God (it is for His glory), we are finally on the right track – our orientation is God-centered, right where it should be.

What Shall I Do?

In Acts 2, Peter speaks to the Jews and tells them that they have crucified Jesus, whom God has made both “Lord and Christ”, they are “cut to the heart” and respond by saying “what shall we do?” (v. 36-37). This is the natural response to a revelation from the Holy Spirit – to act! But of course, self-effort gets you nowhere – as the lesson put it: “Note that even in this process of repentance and revelation, the direction is from God and not from me. Repentance does not have its roots in self-effort but in response to a revelation that comes from God.”**  It is only action prompted by a revelation from God that is proper.

The action we take is outlined in Romans 6:

  • “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11)
  • “offer yourselves to God” (v. 13)

The action we take is in our minds – resolving to turn our backs on sin and turn our face toward God (orientation), and in our behavior – actively giving ourselves to God and living for Him. This is what Paul meant when he said “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The putting off of the old self is counting yourself dead to sin. The putting on of the new self is counting yourself alive to God and offering yourself to Him.

We’ll get into what exactly we mean by counting ourselves alive to God and offering ourselves to Him later on. But again, for now, let’s bask in the light of this new revelation. If you’re like me, you feel like a load has been lifted off your back – no longer am I required to fix myself. The problem has been taken away – all I have to do is realize it, stand up straight, turn around, and pursue the one who took the burden away.

** Taken from Lesson 8: The Power of Repentance, from The Power of the Gospel, OBC

Note: I considered titling this post Turn Around, and recommending listening to Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler (since they sing “turn around” over and over again), but after watching the music video and being really weirded out by it, I changed my mind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible Study

What is Repentance?

I used to believe that repentance was asking God’s forgiveness for the sins you had committed since the last time you asked God’s forgiveness.  I had the view that God only forgave me of the sins I asked Him to forgive, and that if I happened to die before I asked for forgiveness for whatever sins I still had on my account, that they would remain unforgiven and that I would go to hell.  Where I got this idea, I can’t say…It’s definitely not Biblical!  It’s probably just one of those misconceptions that come about from only hearing part of the truth, and filling in the details with your own imagination. As a middle school science teacher, I saw misconceptions like this all the time (like the misconception that our solar system contained millions of stars…when in reality it only contains one – the sun).

The truth is, once we accept God’s gift of forgiveness, all our sins are forgiven – past, present, and future. True faith understands this, and living in constant fear that you will die in your sins, even after your salvation, is not faith at all.  So if repentance has nothing to do with this constant asking of forgiveness, what is true repentance?  My Bible study today answer this question, and I’d like to share it with you.

The last few lessons in my study have been discussing the power of the Gospel. Most people understand the first part of the Gospel, that God forgives us of our sin and provides eternal security for us in Heaven. But the Gospel is actually much more than just this. Sure, this is the most important part, because it the part that deals with salvation.  But the Gospel also deals with more than just our sin.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

These are the 2 major divisions of the Gospel – the old and the new. The first half reveals how your past – the old self – has been wiped clean and you are given a new start with God.  The second half describes the new life in Christ – living through the power of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.  Of the first half, dealing with the old self, there are 2 divisions as well: the first part deals with our sin – Christ died for me, taking my sin and offering me forgiveness and eternal life, and the second part deals with our self – Christ has taken away the power of sin in our lives.

One of the key factors to understand in all of this is that it is God who does it all. Our own efforts could not save us from our sin – “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6).  The same is true when it comes to overcoming the power of sin in our lives. No matter how entrenched in sin you are, it takes God working in your life to overcome it.  How does He do this?  My study pointed out that, throughout Scripture, people’s lives are changed by following a 3-step process:

  1. Revelation
  2. Repentance
  3. Reality

The first step – Revelation – is the opening of God’s Word in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit. God shows us things in the Bible, and it is He who opens our eyes to His truths. The next step – Repentance – is the aligning of your thinking and your behavior with God’s Word. The final step – Reality – is the empowering by the Holy Spirit to live in line with what God has shown you, and what your life has now been aligned toward.

The pivot point of this process is the middle step – Repentance.  Repentance is based on a revelation of two things – that the power of sin has been broken at the Cross, and that God requires you to switch allegiance from sin to Him. My study put it this way:

Unless we understand that the power of sin was broken at the Cross, we will be caught up in an endless cycle of self-effort – trying to break the power of sin ourselves. Self-effort is not repentance. And unless we understand taht God requires you to switch allegiance from sin to himself, we will never see the need for repentance in the first place.

So from this, we can define true repentance as turning the orientation of your life toward God. What does that look like, you ask?  Take Paul’s hymn of praise at the end of Romans 11:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (v. 33-36, emphasis added)

This is a true God-orientation – understanding that all things are from Him, through Him, and for Him.  Most of us live life in a self-orientation – we look out for number one. Repentance is a turning from this self-oriented lifestyle toward God.  My study gave the example of our tithes and offerings (and hit a little close to home, if you ask me). We know we are supposed to give to God, and we know that God blesses us when we do. But if we inspect our motives, often times we give out of expectation of those blessings, and not as a response of being God-oriented. We often don’t give because what we have is from Him, through Him, and for Him.

True repentance, then, requires that we orient our lives toward God. It also requires that we offer ourselves to Him.  Paul wrote in Romans 6:11-13:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (emphasis added)

Today I asked myself, as I did some of my menial little tasks – what is my motivation for doing them?  As I drove to work, I asked myself – what is my motivation for driving courteously (or the opposite thereof, sometimes…)?  What is my motivation for how I treat others? What is my motivation for thinking those bad thoughts about my co-workers? Is my motivation to live from Him, through Him, and for Him?  And on top of that, am I offering myself as an instrument of righteousness to God?  Sadly, the answer to these questions is not always what you would expect from someone who claims to follow Christ. But that is what repentance is – a turning back to that orientation on a regular basis. God reveals the need through His Word, and we react by re-orienting ourselves to Him.

**The study I am currently working through is the Power of the Gospel course from Online Bible College.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible Study

Grace and Truth: Entitled to Nothing…

Entitlement. I think that one word describes why we do a lot of the things we do. We think we deserve more. We think we deserve better. We deserve higher pay, better treatment, faster service. We push others to do these things for us, because we truly believe we deserve it. And even worse, we push God for blessings that can only come from Him, and we honestly believe we deserve them. We have the gall to think that God owes us more. We may not actually say this to God, but we say other things like “why do I have to suffer with this illness?” or “why can’t I have a higher paying job?” Sure, we might not direct those questions at God, but who else are we asking? Our fairy godmother? We could only ask things like this of someone who has the power to change them, right? So when we have dissatisfaction about our circumstances, it is God who we are dissatisfied with. We are saying that He hasn’t done enough to make our lives better, and that we’re entitled to something better. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Paul pointed out in Romans 11:35-36: “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things.” And if anyone knew something about this subject, it was Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells about a “thorn in [his] flesh”, which he pleaded with God 3 times to take away from Him. God’s reply? “My grace is sufficient for you…” (v. 9, emphasis added).

The truth of the matter is that God owes us nothing and He is indebted to no one. In fact, we owe God everything, yet as the passage from Romans above points out, we have nothing to give Him. So if I have nothing else to give to Him, I will give Him my gratitude. If I have nothing with which I can repay Him, I will live in a way that glorifies Him. As I wrote about recently, one of my favorite John Piper quotes is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” So in the light of this, I will try to live being content in my circumstances, satisfied by nothing more than His grace.

Keeping the Right Perspective

I’ve also recently written about the fact that the one lesson I am learning the most lately is that the Christian faith is very much about perspective. Entitlement is all about having the wrong perspective. Gratitude is about having the right one. The perspective that my study pointed out today that people often miss is how much gratitude we should have about the fact that we aren’t bound for hell. Randy Alcorn used this analogy to point out how amazingly out-of-focus our perspective is:

“Imagine a great and generous king who, in spite of his benevolent reign, hears that his subjects have revolted. He sends messengers to investigate, and the rebels kill them. So the king sends his own dear son, the prince. But the people viciously murder him, hanging his body on the city wall. The king has both the power and the right to [take revenge on these rebels]. But instead, he offers these criminals a full pardon: ‘I will accept my son – whom you murdered – as the payment for all your rebellion,’ he declares. ‘You may go free. All I require is for you to admit your transgressions…I invite any of you to come live in my palace, eat at my table, and enjoy all the pleasures of my kingdom. And I will adopt you as my own children and make you my heirs; everything that’s mine will be yours forever….I won’t force you to accept my offer, but the only alternative is spending the rest of your life in prison. The choice is yours.’ “

This story seems a little far-fetched in our minds, doesn’t it? Would God, the righteous ruler of the universe, fully pardon, take in, and eternally bless the very same people who rebelled against Him, killing his son?  This is exactly what God has done. He accepted His son’s death as a replacement for our own deserved death, and as if that wasn’t enough, he piled one eternal blessing on top of another. Alcorn asks “Can you imagine anyone responding, ‘How dare the king send anyone to prison? What a cruel tyrant?’ ” Yet people deny the existence of hell simply because they don’t see how God could send someone there. But in this perspective, it seems a little silly to think that God sends people to hell. No, God has made the most undeserved offer we could ever receive – it’s our pride that sends us to hell if we refuse His grace.

Grace is a funny thing. We have a hard time grasping it, and I know why. Our minds are so bent toward equality and justice that it just doesn’t make sense that God would completely drop the charges against us, only to turn around and adopt us as His own children. He loves us that much. Yet, we often live as though He owes us more. In the light of grace, I think we should quickly realize that He owes us nothing, and we owe Him everything. We don’t really have anything to give Him, but we can at least be grateful.


Filed under Bible Study, Grace and Truth

Heaven: Engaging in Work and Expressing Creativity

This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.

Click HERE to see the previous post. Click HERE to start at the beginning.

In continuing our discussion this week of things we will do for eternity on the New Earth, today we’ll look at how work will be engaging for us and how we will express our creativity. Some people tend to believe that, since in many ways the New Earth resembles the Garden of Eden, perhaps our culture and technology will revert to the simplicity that existed at that time. In Genesis 4:19-22 it tells of descendants of Adam and his son Cain after they were expelled from Eden – “Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” (emphasis added). If these industrial, cultural, and technological advances were not around until after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, then they weren’t around in Eden. So if the New Earth is so much like Eden, some people may wonder, then perhaps we will lose these advances. Fortunately for us, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The description of the New Jerusalem (see a discussion of this here) would lead one to believe that industry, culture, and technology will likely carry over from what we currently see on earth.

Engaging in Work

For 6 years I worked in the public school system, 5 years as a teacher and 1 year prior to that as an instructional assistant. I loved hanging out with the kids, but there were certain aspects of the teaching job itself that I was not well-suited for. After a while, I knew that I would have to change careers at some point, so I went back to school to be a software developer, and that is what I do today. I’m brand new at it, but I can already tell that this kind of work is much more fitting for my personality than teaching was. In Heaven, I believe that whatever work we are given will be perfectly aligned with the things we are good at. I also believe that we will have plenty of motivation to do well at whatever work we are given. That means that our work will directly contribute to something that is important to God, or our work will directly affect our own circumstances. In Isaiah 65:21, when describing the New Heavens and the New Earth, it says “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” I’m not much of a carpenter or a farmer, but with any kind of learned skill I would definitely be motivated to do either of these activities if they directly affected my own circumstances (whether I had a house or fruit to eat). I don’t believe God will allow me to go without shelter or food in Heaven, but that doesn’t mean He won’t make me do work for it. I also think we’ll do other (non-self-serving) work, as well. Alcorn says that “in Heaven, we’ll reign with Christ, exercise leadership and authority, and make important decisions. We’ll set goals, devise plans, and share ideas.” We’ll be fully engaged in whatever work God gives us to do.

Expression of Creativity

Even under the Curse, humanity has been able to produce some extremely creative works. I think about the pyramids in Egypt, the works of art hung in museums throughout the world, and some of the pieces of music, plays, and movies we have created that are beautiful, moving, and entertaining. If we are able to accomplish these things on this cursed earth, what more will we be able to accomplish on the New Earth, where our resources will be made new and will be lavished on us by our loving God, and our time will be unlimited.

God will take joy in our craftsmanship, just as took joy in the craftsmanship of Bezalel in Exodus 31. Alcorn points out that Bezalel was the first person in the entire Bible to be said to “filled with the spirit,” and it just happens that he was chosen by God to do nothing more than “to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship” (v. 4-5). He wasn’t a prophet or a priest – he was an artist. His creativity and craftsmanship are what God took joy in, and it will be the same for us in Heaven.

I believe that much of the technology we have today is a gift directly from God. The advances in medicine, the size of our networks, and the complexity of our microprocessors are just small examples of the things we have accomplished in the last 100 years (or less!). These accomplishments have given us great power, and to quote Spiderman’s uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” We’re called to use these gifts in ways that glorify God. But the great thing about these gifts and this calling is that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). That means that God isn’t going to take it back when this earth passes away and a New Earth is put in it’s place. We will continue on in much the same way we are now, with many of the same industries we have now, using much of the same technology we have now, expressing perhaps even more creativity than we do now. And we’ll be engaged throughout it all.

Click HERE to see the next post in this series.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible Study, Heaven

Genesis 48: Mixed-Up Blessings…

My study today took me through Genesis 48. In this chapter Joseph is summoned to see his father Jacob, because he is ill and presumably on his deathbed. Joseph takes his sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him, and when they arrive Jacob sits up and speaks to them. Jacob tells Joseph of the promise God had made to him a long time ago – God had said “I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.” (v. 4). Jacob tells Joseph that his 2 sons will share in the inheritance and in this blessing from God just as Joseph’s other brothers will.  Then, Jacob proceeded to bless Joseph’s sons, but not as in the manner Joseph would have expected. Joseph placed his sons before Jacob so that his firstborn, Manasseh, was on Jacob’s right, and Ephraim was on his left. But Jacob crossed his arms while he blessed them, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, and his left on Manasseh’s. This displeased Joseph, but Jacob tells him “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (v. 19). Then Jacob tells Joseph that he is about to die, but that God will take care of him and allow him to return to the land of Canaan.

My study (Precept Upon Precept) had me read this chapter, then took me on a Biblical field trip on walking with God (as Jacob mentions his forefathers did in verse 15). I will return to this topic of walking with God tomorrow, but for today I want to look at the blessing that Jacob bestows on Joseph’s sons.

My first observation from this chapter is that, when Joseph is summoned to Jacob’s bed when he is ill, Joseph must know that he is going to bless him and his sons. The reason I say this is because, from what I can tell, Jacob has not met Joseph’s sons before this point. Jacob acts like this is the first time he has seen them – “When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, ‘Who are these?’ ” (v. 8). This seems odd to me, because the text tells us that Jacob spent 17 years in Egypt before he died (see Genesis 47:28), and that seems like a long time for him to live there without meeting his grandsons, who were born before he moved to Egypt (see Genesis 41:50-52). Of course, Jacob’s vision was failing him, so it is possible that he just didn’t recognize them, but I really don’t think this is the case.  So why would Joseph take his sons to meet their grandfather now, but not before? First, Joseph obviously knows that there are some social divisions in Egypt that might cause problems if he were to have too close of a relationship with his family. In chapter 46, Joseph explains to them that shepherds are detestable to Egyptians, and in chapter 47, he tells Pharaoh that his family will be living in Goshen, which is a ways away from the center of Egyptian leadership and a majority of the population. Joseph, having a highly public and respected position, perhaps could not risk getting too close to his family, or having his sons get too close them. Another reason Joseph may have known that his sons would be blessed by Jacob in this meeting was that it was possibly a deathbed tradition. Jacob’s father, Isaac, had blessed his sons while on his deathbed (see Genesis 27), so perhaps this was just something that Joseph expected.

My next observation is that, when Jacob went to bless Manasseh and Ephraim, he crossed his arms and placed his right hand on the younger grandson.  Joseph had attempted to put his sons in their right place, placing the firstborn on the right side of Jacob where his right hand could touch him during the blessing, and placing the younger son on Jacob’s left. Jacob saw where they were, and crossed his arms so that his right hand would touch Ephraim during the blessing. This obviously disturbed Joseph – the right hand must have held more blessing power or something. But Jacob reassures Joseph that he knows what he is doing. This story reminds me that God makes choices based on his own holiness and righteousness, and his own knowledge that supersedes time and human understanding. As Matthew Henry put it in his commentary over this chapter

Jacob acted neither by mistake, nor from a partial affection to one more than the other; but from a spirit of prophecy, and by the Divine counsel. God, in bestowing blessings upon his people, gives more to some than to others, more gifts, graces, and comforts, and more of the good things of this life. He often gives most to those that are least likely. He chooses the weak things of the world; he raises the poor out of the dust. Grace observes not the order of nature, nor does God prefer those whom we think fittest to be preferred, but as it pleases him.

So Henry suggests that God, and not just Jacob, chose Ephraim to be the greater of the 2 brothers. To Joseph and Manasseh this may have seemed unfair, but I try to remember that we, as humans, usually aren’t wise enough or powerful enough to understand why He makes the choices He makes.  Romans 11:33 says “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” God is way bigger, wiser, and more powerful than we can understand – if He were small enough for us to understand, He wouldn’t be big enough to worship. I hope to remember this when I consider questioning God during the times that I don’t understand what is going on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible Study, Genesis