The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: August 2017

Two Men

This is the story—true story (though critics will claim it’s religious fanaticism gone further amok)—of two men.  The first, the first man (there had to be a first, right?—unless somehow “the Big Bang” explosively produced a horde).  To this first man we’re all connected; from him we all descend.  To the second man (the God-man!), some are connected.  He is the progenitor of  a new creation.

Paul introduces the first man as the means through which sin entered the world, thus explaining why humanity is estranged from God and needing the reconciliation of which he’s just written: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved (from God’s wrath) by his life” (Romans 5:10).

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—(5:12).

“Therefore” is the Greek dia touto, literally “on account of this”:  “On account of this (of believers’ rescue from God’s wrath) . . . ” (5:1-11).  With “just as” Paul begins to compare the effects of Adam’s sin with the effects of Christ’s grace.  But he breaks it off (hence the dash ending this verse), not to pick it up until 5:18.  In other words, “ Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Before we get there, we should note that by “sin” Paul doesn’t mean specific acts but sin as a power (see 3:10), entered the world through that first man.  And death (as the consequence of sin—death as physical expiration and death as separation from God) entered the world through sin.

Thus, the Bible’s answer as to why we die, why we can’t conquer death, is sin against the Creator.  Adam chose to disbelieve and disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).

Consequently, claims Paul, “ . . . death came to all men, because all sinned.”  Implicitly, “all sinned” because of the Adam-connection.  But what is the connection?  Some commentators/theologians explain that Adam was “the federal head” of the race, thus representing us all in his sin and subsequent death.  Others explain that Adam’s progeny were all present in him; thus all sinned and all die.

I’ve always favored the view that says we all get Adam’s immoral “genes”.  That is, we inherit a sinful, depraved nature from our forefather and all sin and all die.  (This, I just learned is known as “the Roman Catholic view” and is held by many Wesleyans and Arminians.)  Whatever.  Choose your view.   Paul is obviously saying that we’re all connected in some way to Adam and all have sinned as he did and so death comes to us all.

” . .  .for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law” (5:13).

Again, sin is more than acts of breaking God’s law.  It’s the power of evil that “was in the world . . . before the law was given.”  But sin is not marked down as a rebellious transgression against God’s law “when there is no law.”

“Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come” (5:14).

Despite the absence of law-breaking (because God had not yet revealed his law) death ruled from Adam’s time to Moses’ (when God issued his law).  Humans sinned, but not “by breaking a command, as did Adam” (“You shall not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden . . . lest you die”—Genesis 3:3).

Adam was not only the means of sin and death entering God’s creation, he also was “a pattern of the one to come.”  By “pattern” (Greek, tupos) Paul means Adam was a prophetic symbol who pictured Jesus Christ long before he came.

But in what sense was Adam a “pattern” of Christ?  Adam’s one disobedient act impacted the entire human race.  Christ’s one act of obedience impacted the “new human race”—all who would believe in him

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (5:15-19).

A pattern Adam may be, but his trespass and Christ’s gift, though alike in impact, are poles apart in results.  Paul emphasizes this with phrases like “how much more did God’s grace and gift . . . overflow to the many!”  And “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life” (5:17). 

The contrast is severe.

Connected to Adam one “dies by the trespass of the one man” (that statement seems to support the belief that somehow we are guilty for Adam’s sin); one stands condemned under God’s judgment following Adam’s “one sin”; one lives under the reign of death; one stands condemned with “all men . . . as the result of one trespass”; one lives among “the many [who] were made sinners . . . through the disobedience of the one man . . . “

Connected to Christ, one receives “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of . . . Jesus Christ” (that is, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross); one has “the gift” that “brought justification”; one receives “God’s abundant provision of grace and . . . the gift of righteousness (that allows one to reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”; one receives “justification that brings life”; one is “made righteous”.

Actually, using “one receives” throughout my comments on 5:15-19 isn’t accurate.  Often Paul uses “the many”—“the many died by the trespass of the one man”; “the many were made sinners . . . the many will be made righteous.”  “ . . . the many” is merely stylistic.  None are not sinners (“all have sinned”—3:23).  And only “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life.”

“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20,21).

Paul finishes this paragraph by a word about the law’s purpose and about the super-abounding nature of God’s grace in Christ.  The law doesn’t change the Adamic nature of humans; it only reveals humans’ sin and makes humans increasingly aware of it.  This what Paul means by, “The law was added so that the trespasses might increase.”  But the more sin increased (both in realization of sin and the practice of sin), God’s grace multiplied “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Despite the power of sin reigning over Adam and his progeny (all of us), God’s grace must and will reign through Christ’s righteousness to bring eternal life to many.

* * *

It’s not fair!  That’s how I first respond to this two-men story.  Why should my family tree traced all the way back begin with Adam?  Why should I be connected to him, so that I’m cursed with a  bent toward sin, or am born with a sinful nature, or have Adam’s guilt imputed to me?   Why should death reign over me because of Adam?  Why should his disobedience make me a sinner?  Nobody asked my opinion.  Nobody recorded my vote.  It’s not fair.

On the other hand, look what else God has done.  He’s given me the free gift of justification.  He’s given me the free gift of righteousness so that I will reign in life.  He’s given me grace and the free gift of grace that abounds.  Even though God’s law increases my sin, God’s grace abounds all the more.  He’s given me grace that leads to eternal life.  All this because of the second man in the story.  I’m connected to him.  Not by my works, just by  grace through faith.   And that’s not fair either.  That’s grace.










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My Muddled Prayers

Puritans held a high view of God’s sovereignty and humans’ sinfulness.  Nothing happened outside his will.  He is the King and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 115:13).  Humans are depraved and incapable of doing anything toward their salvation.

Here’s a sample from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . . 

“I can plead nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure . . .

Help me to pray in faith
and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised . . .

So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.”

The prayer harmonizes with the apostle John’s promise and with the psalmist’s proclamation . . .

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15).

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

I draw two conclusions.  One, my illness is God’s will.  Satan may be involved in some way, but ultimately the sovereign God has allowed it as what he wants for me at this time in my life.  Two, I must pray for God’s will to be done with me in this illness.

Does that mean I should pray for contentment with him, for grace sufficient to endure?  Or can I pray for healing?  If I were content in him, he would be glorified. If I were miraculously healed, he would be glorified.  How I should pray—and what the results would be (whether contentment or healing)—would result in God’s glory.  So God’s glory doesn’t tell how I should pray.

I’ve written here before that in his weekly phone call my brother-in-law prays for my healing.  So does a prayer group in his church (the church in which Lois and I grew up).  And so do I, pointing to Matthew 14:13,14) . . .

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

And I pray: “Jesus see me.  Look on me with compassion.  And please heal me.”

I pray relying on Jesus’ mercy, because, while I have great confidence that he can heal me, I don’t have great confidence that he will.  So sometimes I pray for a gift of faith.   Often I’m just confused.

Praying for contentment in the Lord while enduring this illness seems like surrendering to it.  Everything in me wants to fight back.  To stubbornly refuse to give ground.  To stomp it out.  (Not by myself—with the Lord’s grace and healing work.)

Yet I find a certain peace in simply praying, “Your will be done.”  I can rest, not be agitated over healing I want but so far can’t have.  I can focus my thoughts on the Lord.  (Sounds so spiritual.  Honestly, often when I do the question intrudes, “But why won’t he heal me?”)

Despite that nagging intrusion, I think I should pray, “Your will be done” (keeping my prayer for healing on the perimeter).  The sovereign Lord has led me into this valley for this season of my life.  He will keep me here as long as he wants—until my dying day or until my healing.  (Either way, he has eternal healing for me!)  And here, instead of slipping into a mire of depression, I can meet with him in his Word and in prayer.  I can seek contentment in him.  I can admit what is more than ever painfully obvious:  I am utterly dependent on him.  Instead of withdrawing in anger or disappointment, I can draw near to him.  I can know Jesus in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).  I can pray this Valley of the Vision prayer . . .


Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

          that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,       

          that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
and the deeper the wells the brighter the stars shine.

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

( I will inevitably sneak in:  “And if you want to heal me today, please do!”  That’s okay, right?  Ah, my muddled prayers!)


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God gives generously, liberally, abundantly.  More than can fit in one blog!  So here’s the rest of the “good stuff” that comes to us justified-by-faith-in-Christ-people in Romans 5:1-11 . . .


“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us . . . ” (5:3,4a).

. . . rejoice in our sufferings” An oxymoron.  Suffering isn’t joyful.  It’s in the world because we humans exchanged the Creator’s glory for our own images.  And, in wrath, God gave us over to what we want—and the consequences. But, for the justified, God uses suffering to produce perseverance (or, endurance) in us.  Perseverance develops character—a difficult-to-interpret Greek word which moves one writer to picture a veteran soldier, no longer a boot-camp rookie, now battle-tested and toughened.  And that character produces our capacity for hope of future glory.  And, Paul writes, that hope “does not disappoint us . . . . “ –it will in no way fail to satisfy us!

“ . . .  rejoice”, again, is a verb.  (Not a state-of-being noun.)  And rejoicing ”in our sufferings” is something, says Paul, we can do because we are justified and because of what suffering-as-justified-people produces—endurance, character, and non-disappointing hope.

I’m still working on this one.  Haven’t gotten it down yet. I want healing from my physical sufferings.  Am I wrong?  Should I be praying for the ability to rejoice in my sufferings?  Apparently so.  Wouldn’t it be great to rejoice in our sufferings?  Holy Spirit, enable me!


“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:5).

The reason our hope of sharing God’s glory will not end in disappointment is this:  “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul’s words recall Ezekiel’s new covenant prophecy . . .

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

In this case, Paul writes God, by the Holy Spirit, has poured out “his love” into our hearts.  By this Spirit-given love, God inaugurates our certain hope.

This love is subjective–love we sense, feel.  It bears witness with our spirit that the loving God is at work within us by the Holy Spirit.

The foundation for this love poured out and for our justification itself, however, is objective, not left to the realm of feeling . . .

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:6-8).

It was “just the right time” according to God’s timing.  “ . . . we were still powerless”, totally helpless to escape God’s wrath.  We were “ungodly”—anti-God, blasphemous, depraved.  We were “still sinners”—living in conscious opposition to God’s good will.

And “Christ died for us.”

Sure, occasionally some will die for a good person.  A soldier for his buddy, for instance.   But only Christ will die for wretched sinners.  And only God will  demonstrate his own love for us like that!


“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (5:9,10).

Paul makes a logical argument.  Since God did the more difficult thing (justifying sinners by Christ’s blood), then he can do the less difficult thing (save them from his coming wrath).  By the way, let’s make no mistake.  While God in his wrath gives God-rejecters over to their lusts, the day of his wrath still comes (2:5).  But there’s no way God will allow his wrath to touch his justified.


“Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:11).

Not only will the reconciled be saved from God’s future wrath, reconciliation gives us cause to rejoice now in God.  The Greek kauchauomen means “boast of with joy” or “glorify with joy”.  The key to this rejoicing in God is “reconciliation”, which Paul uses to sum up justification and all its benefits.  The Greek for “reconciliation” is katalagayn referring to the reestablishing of a personal relationship.  We who have trusted God’s justifying work through Christ now have a personal “connectedness” with God himself.  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (8:16a).   In this God, Paul writes, we rejoice.

* * *

As I admitted above, I’m still working on the rejoicing-in-suffering “stuff”.  I get what Paul’s saying.  Suffering produces perseverance in me, perseverance produces proven character, and proven character increases my capacity to hope in sharing God’s glory.  I just want to go to God’s glory with the bottom half of my body working!  So I pray, and I ask you to pray, that, trusting the good God promises to bring from it, I might rejoice in my suffering for as long as it continues.

Poured-out love is a warm fuzzy.  Well, it’s more than that, but not less.  There’s nothing like feeling loved, especially when you don’t deserve it.  And there is nothing like feeling loved by God.  I don’t feel it often.  But I know that feeling comes when I’m meditating on his Word that tells me he loves me.  (I think there’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere!)

Paul seems to overdo rescue from God’s wrath.  It under girded his “Peace with God” benefit.  Now, here it is again.  Maybe it’s because he knows we underplay it.  A terrible day of God’s wrath is coming.  (Don’t you wonder how he can still withhold it when you look at the world?)  But he will shelter us from his wrath, because he’s already rescued us from it through Christ.

For me, rejoicing in God (that is, joyfully give him glory) doesn’t come automatically.  Largely this is due to my illness.  I have to meditate on his Word that tells me who he is and what he’s done.  When I do–and when I do it in an attitude of prayer thinking deeply about his Word (such as Romans 3:21-5:11) joyful praise to him comes.

And that’s when I realize again that God himself is the greatest “good stuff” of justification!




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Good Stuff from Justification (1)

What “stuff“ exactly?  Might sound greedy to ask what we get from justification.  Maybe “consequences” is more palatable.  But in Romans 5:1-11 Paul lists the “stuff” (or, “consequences” if you prefer) . . .


”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . “ (5:1).

Paul has just summarized 3:21-4:24 with these words:  “ [Jesus our Lord] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  Now comes the “stuff” that follows as a consequence of being put in right-standing with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We should note that this means nothing for the person who believes he’s “good” so he’s “okay” with God.  This is why 1:18-3:20 is so important.  We’ve exchanged creation-revealed knowledge of God for our idols.  Therefore, God has given us over to the lusts we want to gratify—and their consequences.  This is God’s wrath in the world’s everyday life.  But religious people have no excuse.  They do the same as the God-rejecters and won’t repent. Therefore, they are storing up wrath against themselves on the day of God’s wrath.  Conclusion:  all are sinners; all are accountable to the God of righteousness and wrath.

But “we”, who’ve trusted the crucified and resurrected Christ, “have peace with God.”  Wrath has been appeased.  The war is over.


“ . . . through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:2a).

The English “gain access” comes from the Greek, prosagogen, a word used of admission into the presence of a person of high rank. The fact that Paul uses it with “into this grace in which we now stand implies continued access.  So we, who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and are now justified, have ongoing access into grace.   So there we now stand.

I picture it like this.  The most common definition of “grace” is “God’s undeserved favor.”  God’s favor is an ocean.  We’re standing in it knee-deep as gentle waves of grace wash over us again and again.  It’s another benefit of being justified by faith.


“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2b).

“ . . . rejoice” (Greek, kauchometha) obviously is a verb (unlike “peace”—above—which is a noun and, therefore, something we are given as a result of being justified).  So, rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” is something we do, says Paul, and able to do because of being in right-standing with God.

This rejoicing is specific.  It’s “in the hope of the glory of God.”  “Hope” isn’t a wish; it’s a confident expectation the future has broken into the present through Christ’s resurrection.  “ . . . in the expectation of the glory of God” captures the sense of the word.  The “glory” of God (Greek, doxa—splendor, grandeur, power) is what we fell short of (3:23) and what we exchanged for our images (1:21).  Now we rejoice because our confident expectation is to gain what we lost.

It should be noted that ”the glory of God” is more than a simple definition can contain.  If I say “God’s glory is all that he is in his splendor, grandeur and power”, we’re stepping closer.  But, in my view, “glory” is a “catch-all” word to express the inexpressible.

Why is “the glory of God” a hope in which we rejoice?  Because God’s glory will be revealed in us (8:18). This will include “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).  My imagination could soar here.  But I’ll tamp it down, so we can move on.  (You, go ahead.  It will be more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20,21).

* * *

We take peace with God (benefit #1 of justification above) pretty much for granted.  I think that’s because our culture has penetrated our minds, and we can’t envision God’s wrath against us.  God is love, right?  Besides wrath sounds so 18th century puritanical.  But the wrath-war has ended only because God makes us right with himself through our faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace as waves of his kindness and favor continually wash over us can be a tough image to accept, especially in times of suffering and pain.  How is this grace?  How is this undeserved love?  But like “peace with God”, “standing in grace” is a state of being for the justified, not something we have to do.  We’re standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace even if it feels like a dry desert at times.

Hopelessness is one of the worst emotions.  Many of us struggle with it as we face death, because we will die with much undone we wanted to do.  Only in the movies do we get to check-off everything on our “bucket list”.  But we who are justified have a future beyond our last breath here.  Paul calls it “the glory of God.”  I can’t define it.  But gaze at a field of wildflowers, or pounding ocean waves, or majestic mountains.  Creation is a tiny revelation of “the glory of God.”  Or read the Gospels and watch Lazarus come out at Jesus’ command, and envision Jesus suffering an agonizing, bloody death in our place.  And then read of the empty tomb and Jesus meeting Mary and showing his wounds to doubting Thomas.  Jesus is the supreme revelation of “the glory of God.”  And justification opens the floodgates of rejoicing in our future of God’s glory.

Pretty good stuff, no?  More to come next time . . .

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I Will Not Die But Live

The words.  Suddenly, there they were.  In my mind.

“I will not die but live.”

It was last Thursday afternoon.  I don’t remember now what I was doing.

I had been thinking lately about death.  Primary Lateral Sclerosis is chronic, not terminal.  But complications arise and, who knows?  Besides, I sometimes feel like I’m dying.  (That’s probably more emotional than physical.)

So death-on-my-mind was the larger context.  But I wasn’t thinking about it when the words came . . .

“I will not die but live.”

Scripture?  Sounded like it.  But I couldn’t place it.  So I cranked up by Bible software and found it.  Psalm 118:17.  Here’s the whole verse . . .

  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”

And here’s the critical question that immediately came with it:  Where did the words come from?  I’d certainly read that verse–that psalm–before.  So:  inexplicable recall?  Too much rich dessert the night before?  The Holy Spirit?

I read through the whole psalm–a psalm of thanksgiving to the LORD for his steadfast love . . .

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’  Let those who fear the LORD say: ‘His love endures forever’” (118:1-4).

The psalmist testifies how the LORD rescued him from death . . .

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.  All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me.  The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”  I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (118:5-18).

He goes on, then, to describe a festive occasion when all the people celebrate the LORD’s steadfast love that endures forever . . .

 “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (118:19-29).

It’s a triumphant, celebratory psalm that Israel sang and was used of Jesus during his Jerusalem entry (Matthew 21:9).  But here’s my question:  dare I used verse 17 of me?  In other words, given the fact that it just popped from nowhere into my mind, was that the doing of the Holy Spirit for me?

I did a quick exegesis.  I understood that the psalmist spoke, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done” after the LORD had rescued him from possible death.  So our situations (his and mine) weren’t the same.  I was still fighting my battle.  Even  though I wasn’t surrounded by “all the nations”, could the Holy Spirit have “spoken” the words to me and for me?


Scoffers will say I’d read it before.  It was there in my memory.  Just happened to come to conscious level because I had been thinking of death.  Theologians might say, “Those words were the psalmist’s for his celebration.  Not yours.”

But that’s what I’m doing.  I’m daring to say those words didn’t come from nowhere, or from unconscious memory, or too much chocolate.  Label them however–prophecy, word of knowledge, impression.  I choose to believe they came from the Holy Spirit.  They are his words to and for me.

Sure, I’ll die.  Just not soon.  Maybe not for a few years.  Meanwhile, I won’t give in to this dreadful illness.  By God’s grace, I’ll do all I can.

After all, I have a mission:  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”  Blog the Bible.  Blog lessons learned and questions raised.  Preach the Lord’s wonderful deeds.

Yesterday and today I’ve not felt well.   Two down days.  But, yes, the Holy Spirit still speaks.  And, yes, he’s spoken to me.  He spoke his inscripturated word for me.  So, even on down days I’ll wield his words like a weapon.  Against Satan.  Against my unbelief.  They’re my triumphant proclamation until the day (not soon) when he does hand me over to death.  Until then (not soon), listen . . .

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”


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What People Really Want

I just finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  Four different theologians contribute four different perspectives on that question.  I may  comment on it in later blogs.

What I want to write now is the author’s compelling answer at book’s end to this question:   “What is the deepest concern of Christians in this area (of miraculous gifts)?”  Wayne Grudem’s answer spoke to my heart . . .

I don’t think that the differences we usually talk about among our churches are their deepest concern.  I do not think most Christians care deeply whether the pastor wears a coat and tie or a sweater or a robe, or whether the church has an Anglican liturgy or a Baptist order of service or charismatic spontaneity with tongues and prophecies.  I don’t think they care deeply whether the church leads music with an organ or with a guitar, or teaches that you should be baptized in the Holy Spirit or filled with the Holy Spirit. These matters are of some importance, but they are not matters of deepest concern.

“I think what people really want is to be in the presence of God.  They want to have a deeper experience of God as they participate in church life week by week.  They want times of prayer that are not just forty-five minutes of prayer requests and five minutes of prayer, and not just quickly praying through a long list of requests, but times when they can pray long enough—in an unhurried way—so that they not only talk to God but also hear his still, small voice bearing witness to their hearts.  And they want times of worship where, when they are singing, they are allowed to focus their attention on God for an extended time—where no one is interrupting them to tell them to greet their neighbor, or to sing loudly on the next verse, or to listen to the announcements, or to listen to the choir, or to fill out the registration card in the pew.  These things, of course, have a place, but they all shift our focus from God alone to the people around us, and they interrupt our times of deepest reverence in the worship of God alone.

“Christians instinctively long to be in an assembly of God’s people where they can focus their attention on God long enough that their eyes and minds and hearts are aware of nothing but his presence, where their voices are singing his praise (or perhaps silent in his presence), and where they are free to feel the intensity of their love for him and to sense in their spirits that God is there, delighting in the praises of his children.  That is what Christians today really long for.  They long to come to a church and be allowed to worship and pray until they sense in their spirits that they are in the manifest presence of God.

“When churches have allowed people to have such extended times of prayer and worship, this longing of Christians has been fulfilled, and these churches have grown remarkably.  No denomination or viewpoint on spiritual gifts should have a monopoly on such times of worship and prayer.  Cessationist churches and “open, but cautious” churches, as well as Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches, can provide such times of prayer and worship, each with its own style and within guidelines that protect their doctrinal convictions regarding spiritual gifts.

“Of course, I am not saying we need to diminish the importance we give to sound Bible teaching, in which we have God’s voice speaking to us.  In many of our churches this is done well, in other churches it is not, and people go away spiritually hungry week and week because they have not been fed on the Word of God.  Yet I am saying that I think many churches need, in addition to such teaching, much more emphasis on extended, uninterrupted times of prayer and worship.  I think people are longing to come to church and to know in their experience that they have spent extended time in the manifest presence of God.”

To which I say a hearty, “Amen!”  By God’s grace, we had that when I pastored.  Now, retired and disabled, I can’t find it.  If I could, I’d wheelchair there, however difficult.  We need what this writer describes.  And my soul longs for it.


This book is available from Amazon at


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Got Credit

It’d be crazy, right, if my next IRA report showed a generous stranger had credited $500,000 to my account.  In Romans 4:22-25 Paul announces God has credited righteousness to us who believe Jesus died as a sacrifice for us.

That (crazy) good news falls mostly on deaf ears, though, since we presume we’re “okay” because we’re essentially “good”.

But even a cursory reading of Romans 1:18-3:20 demolishes that idea.  In 1:18-31 Paul explains how we humans suppress the truth of God by our wickedness, and how God in his wrath gives us over to the horrible consequences of our God-less choices.  In 2:1-3:8 he charges that even religious people fall short of God’s standard and face the day of God’s wrath. Finally, in 3:9-20, like a powerful prosecutor, he charges that we’re all sinners dominated by sin’s power.  “None is righteous . . . no one does good!”

But in 3:21-31, with a big “But now”, Paul transforms into an old-fashioned newspaper boy shouting “Good News” on a street corner:  we unrighteous, bad-doers can be right with God!  Not by doing good, but by believing in the crucified Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (Again, this is good news only to people who believe 1:18-3:20 correctly describes our standing before God!)

In 4:1-21 Paul opens his Jewish Bible and presents the father of the Jews, Abraham, as the classic example of righteousness-by-faith.  Now, here in 4:22-25, he applies the gospel of justification by faith to his readers in Rome, and to us.

“This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:22-25)

“ . . .  credited” is the key word.  Paul repeats it three times in this little paragraph . . .

  • Abraham’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness”
  • “ . . . the words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also”
  • “It will be credited to us who believe in him . . . “

The original Greek word is logizomaiI, an accounting term.  “Because you believe,” God says, “I’ll credit your account with righteousness.”

Paul adds further substance to this (crazy) good news by showing it’s not some New Testament oddity, but a solid Old Testament witness.  Righteousness was credited to Abraham who believed God’s promise.  That promise has been fulfilled in Christ.  The foundation for justification by faith is Christ’s death on the cross.  But, as Abraham bears witness, the promise of being right with God has always been by faith apart from works.

Here Paul adds a dynamic dimension to faith:  it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”  As God gave life to Sarah’s “dead” womb to birth Isaac, so he raised our Lord Jesus from the dead.  And by believing we are declared in right standing with God, though we are no more righteous than we were a minute before faith.

What, though, does Paul mean by Jesus “was raised to life for our justification”?  He means that resurrection completed Jesus’ work of putting the ungodly into right-standing with God.  Had Jesus remained in the tomb, all his claims would have been proven false.  But resurrection is a sign . . .

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here'” (Matthew 12:38-41).

Resurrection signifies Jesus’ words are true, both about himself and his work.  Therefore, resurrection “completes” his justifying work by signifying it is true.  It also adds a new dimension to justification.  It means not only that by faith we who are ungodly are declared to be in right-standing with God.  It means also that we are standing in the risen Christ.  His righteousness is ours.

* * *

For those who believe in the inherent goodness of man and that God’s okay with our being “okay”, this is only so much fanatical religious blather.  We’ve evolved out of the idea that sin is, well, sinful.  And talk about God’s wrath is likely to be met with bewilderment, at best.

I know soldiers lay down their lives for their buddies and strangers volunteer to help in hurricanes.  But how can any thinking person look at today’s world and believe man is inherently good?

What we’re offered to believe is that “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sin and was raised to life for our justification.”  Ah, there’s the rub.  To believe that is to admit we’re not inherently good–and that we can’t do anything to be good enough.

And to believe, as John Bunyan (17 century Puritan preacher best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress) wrote “he found in his heart a secret inclining to unbelief . . . Against hope, against reason, against ‘feeling’, against opinions of others, against all human possibilities whatever, we are to keep believing.”

God of all grace, help us.








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Inherit the World

You sit in the lawyer’s office surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other heirs (it’s a big office).  The patriarch Abraham is present.  The crowd is all his faith-descendants from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  The lawyer opens a will and reads: “You—all of you (he pauses at the outrageousness of it)—inherit the world.”

That’s what Paul writes of  in today’s text–but mentions it almost as an aside.  He’s focused on Abraham, a Jewish hero, right with God, not by works but by faith.  Paul concludes this makes Abraham the father of both believing, circumcised Jews and believing Gentiles (4:1-12)—though they had been the pagans described in 1:18-32.

But, now, about . . .


“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (4:13).

Paul has two passages from Genesis in mind when  he writes that sentence . . .

“After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’  And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’  Then the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’  He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars– if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:1-6).

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.  I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’ Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations’” (Genesis 17:1-4).

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, expands “offspring” and “many nations’ to “the world”.  He uses the Greek word, kosmos—here referring to the new order of creation peopled by all the redeemed “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Who’d want to inherit this world?  Sure, it has its wealth and places of magnificent beauty.  But this world is under the devil’s dominion (1 John 4:19).  It’s corrupted by wars and senseless violence, by poverty, by sickness and disease and death, and by human sin against the Creator.  But there’s a new world coming!  And it’s ours who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus we are Abraham’s descendants.  And, thus, we are made right with God, so we might have the promise.

“If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)– in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:14-17).

The reasoning of this paragraph is clear.  If those who cling to the law are to inherit, “faith is null and the promise is void.”  This because the law brings God’s wrath, because those who aim to be right by keeping laws always fall short.  And so, God has made the promise depend on faith, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all [Abraham’s] descendants”.  And Abraham’s descendants are all (circumcised or uncircumcised) “who share the faith of Abraham”.

And Abraham’s faith was as outrageous as the promise:  he believed in God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  I picture nothing—and God creating out of nothing this universe.  I picture something else too.  Old, as good as dead Abraham with his old barren wife Sarah.  He’s standing in a desolate darkness. He hears the Lord say, “’a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’  He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars– if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’”.  He looks up and sees stars, yes, more than he can count.  And he believes in this God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  He, Abraham, is as good as dead.  And not even one son exists.  But he believes in the Lord.


All those who share in Abraham’s faith have God’s promise guaranteed by grace. Paul uncovers the nature of Abraham’s faith (which we are to share).

“Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:18-21).

Abraham’s faith necessarily included hope, because he believed in a future work of God (“he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’”).  But that was hopeless (“against all hope”).  After all, his own body “was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old)” and Sarah’s womb was barren.  But “hoping against all hope, he believed that he would become the father of many nations” according to the Lord’s word.

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God . . . “  Those words seem at odds with Genesis 17:17,18 . . .

“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’”

Commentators suggest various solutions.  I think the best is this:  Paul was looking at Abraham’s life of faith overall.  He wasn’t perfect.  He had bouts of wavering.  But, search the panorama of his life and you find a man who hoped against hope, believing what God said he would do.

* * * *

Two applications can be made, the first concerning our inheritance.  Obviously, that we are among those who will inherit the world gives us hope for the future.  Beyond the routine of our lives, beyond even death, our new world awaits.  Though, as I’ve said above, this is an outrageous promise, we should never think of Christianity as only a “personal faith”.  It is cosmic.  It involves a new creation.  We mustn’t publicly retreat from the promise because it sounds so “crazy”.

The second application to be made here concerns our faith.   We’re called to believe that by believing in the death (and resurrection) of Christ God, despite our sins and moral corruption, declares us in right-standing with himself.  We’re called to believe in the outrageous promise of the new world.  But, since we are called to share the faith of Abraham, we’re called to “faith for the long haul”.    Day after day, year after year with no tangible evidence accompanied by “body blows” that cause suffering and raise doubts.  May God in his grace grant that it may be said of us as if was of Abraham . . .

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God,
but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”


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Regulations and Rituals

The church where I grew up prohibited members from movies, dancing, drinking and card playing.  Many Reformed churches today erect a rhetorical fence around the Lord’s Supper table to keep out unbelievers.  My childhood church thus (unintentionally) implied being right with God was a matter of keeping regulations.  Reformed churches today (unintentionally) imply that properly participating in the ritual is required for justification.

In Romans 4:1-12, Paul addresses Jews and meets both regulation and ritual head-on . . .


“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about– but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:  ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him'” (Romans 4:1-8).

Why was what Abraham found about how a person is made right with God important to Paul’s justification-by-faith argument?  Abraham is revered as the father of the Jewish nation.  And Paul is primarily addressing Jews here.

Can Abraham boast of his works?  Not before God, replies Paul.  Then, citing from the Greek translation of Genesis 15:6, he writes, Scripture says “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness”.  “Credited” is the Greek logizomai, meaning ”to credit to one’s account”.  That is, his faith was the means right-standing with God was accounted to him.

This astounds the Jew.  Abraham was justified, not by obeying the Lord and leaving his father’s household to settle in an unknown land.  Nor by obeying the Lord and sacrificing his only son (the Lord stopped him at the last second).  But Abraham was counted right with God by his faith.  Therefore, Jews can’t appeal to Father Abraham as a model for justification by works; he’s a model for justification by faith.

Furthermore, a workman doesn’t get a gift of wages; a workman is due wages.  But, when it comes to right-standing with God, a person must choose not to work to earn justification, but simply trust “God who justifies the wicked”.  Thus “his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Paul next appeals to David, Israel’s greatest king.  David, he says, agrees with Abraham:  “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man who sin the Lord will never count against him”—a citation of Psalm 32:1,2.

Do two passages in the Old Testament contradict God justifying the wicked?  Exodus 23:7—“Keep your distance from a false charge—do not kill the innocent and the righteous, for I do not justify the wicked.”  Proverbs 17:15—“Justifying the wicked and condemning the righteous—both of them are an abomination to the Lord.”  The difference, however, is that justified now has been satisfied through Christ’s death, but it had not been in those Old Testament days.


“Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!  And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:9-12).

God commanded Abraham to circumcise every male in his household (Genesis 17:10-14).  It became the outward mark of belonging to God’s covenant people (Genesis 17:1-10).  But did circumcision make a man right with God.  Absolutely not!  Abraham received the sign of circumcision (as a) seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”  In fact, Abraham was 99 years old when he underwent that rite (Genesis 17:24).

Paul applies a staggering (to the Jew) “so then”:  “So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised” . . . and “he is also the father of the circumcised” . . . who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

* * *

In his definitive research (published in Soul Searching:  the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and in Souls in Transition:  the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults), sociologist Christian Smith found that the majority of these groups believe “God wants us to be good.”  What is being “good” but a casual way of trying to keep God’s regulations?  But this is not what God wants.

Most Americans regard the sacraments (church rituals like the Lord’s Supper and baptism) as, in some way, “holy”.  But rituals signify deeper realities (fellowship with the Lord, commitment to follow him, and especially faith in him) without which rituals are empty forms–certainly not redemptive.

On one hand, we might say Paul has brought us to a joyful place.  Our sins doom us under God’s wrath–no escape by regulation-keeping or ritual-engaging.  All we can and must do is trust in Christ’s redemptive death.  Joy!

On the other hand, Paul has brought us to an uncomfortable place.  We have all sinned.  In anger, God has given us over to our lusts and their consequences.  We are storing up wrath against ourselves for the day of God’s wrath.  But God offers us Christ’s redemptive death to save us from sin and wrath and to put us in right-standing with himself.  All we can and must do is trust.  But trust means we can do nothing to justify ourselves.  Trust means we must step out on the high-wire and walk by what we can’t see.  Or in the words of the 18th century hymn, trust means singing . . .

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace . . . “




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