October 23: Hope in Christ (not your own spiritual growth)

Romans 3:26-28. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 

“To live is Christ” means that you are righteous without works. But do we really understand the implication of this greatest of Christian truths? Do we really believe it?

Most Christians live their daily lives in constant shame over failures. The majority of their life is effort upon effort. And yet failure upon failure. And with each failure comes the wave of guilt and shame that floods the heart and changes the score in our minds. This proves that our hope is still in what we do. It is in our behavior. Our change. Our spiritual growth.

Your hope must never be in your spiritual growth. Yes, you are growing spiritually. Yes, we are being transformed into the image of Christ. Yes, we desire Christ’s life, his love and holiness, to be the controlling force of our lives. Yes, we grieve our sin with godly grief. But we must never place our hope in any of this. Our hope is in Christ and his finished work alone. This faith in our justification by God’s grace alone is what will produce the growth. Faith in anything else, including our own spiritual transformation is NOT faith in Christ. Focus on anything other than Christ, including our own obedience, will return us to the soul destroying law of works.

God is forever done dealing with you based upon the law of works. He deals with you from the law of faith. He deals with you based on what Christ has done. Not on what you are doing.

The truth is you are a failure. But you are a justified failure. A righteous sinner. Therefore, we are no longer to live our life from the paradigm of “success v failure.” I hear so many Christians use the language of “good Christian” and “bad Christian.” There are no such things. Why? Because God is not keeping score. Nothing you do can change your justification. Nothing you do can makes you “good” or “bad.” Union with Christ by faith makes you good (no matter how bad you are). And a lack of faith in Christ’s saving work makes you bad (no matter how good you are).

“To live is Christ” is a calling to live from the paradigm of faith. Faith in Christ. Faith in Christ in success. And faith in Christ in failure. Faith in Christ in my good and my bad. Faith that God sees me and judges me only in Christ, and no other way. When we really trust this, believing it with every bit of our being, we are ready to embrace our sinful reality and the grace of God that comes with it. Now we are freed for true growth and transformation. Now, we no longer fear God’s purifying work. We simply fear God as the lover of our souls.

Do you tend to score your own life based on your perceived spiritual growth? Are you actually living from the law of works, rather than the law of faith? How does union with Christ accomplish our justification? How does faith in this justification accomplish our transformation?

 

 

October 22: Stop Your Boasting

Romans 3:27. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. 

boasting: pride, glorying, rejoicing.

Some of the things we boast in:

 

Our busyness.

Our boredom.

 

Our tiredness.

Our energy.

 

Our style.

Not caring about style.

 

How funny we are.

How serious we are.

 

Our politics.

Avoiding of politics.

 

Our morality.

Our debauchery.

 

Our luxurious life.

Our simple life.

 

Our awesome parenting.

Our “I’m such a train wreck as a parent” parenting.

 

Our new job.

Our retirement.

 

Our “likes” on Facebook.

Our “I don’t do social media.”

 

Our new hair-do.

Our messy bun.

 

Our ability to argue our point.

Our ability to not argue our point.

 

How much we help at church.

How spiritual we are without church.

 

Our outrage.

Our calm.

 

Our self control.

Our passion.

 

Our race.

How blind we are to race.

 

Our happy life.

Our sad life.

 

What we should boast in:

Christ.

 

Romans 3:27-28. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

We boast in whatever it is that gives us our value or worth. We boast in whatever our faith is in. This is the law of faith. “To live is Christ” eliminates all boasting other than boasting in Christ and his work in your life. Faith in Christ and his righteousness means no more self righteousness. In its place we find the freedom to love unconditionally and without manipulation, knowing that we are forever safe in Christ.

What do you boast in? How can your union with Christ begin to eliminate your boasting?

 

 

 

October 21: The Necessity of Justice

Romans 3:23-26. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Paul cannot understand salvation apart from justice. And neither should we. We think of justice in terms of the punishment of sin, but the  justice of God needs to also be seen as the restorative mission of God. God’s justice always seeks to restore both the victim and the victimizer to a place of righteousness (Note: the word justice and righteousness are the same root word in Greek: dikaiosyne).

Yes, God’s righteousness is his holy rule for life. It’s how life is supposed to be. Perfection and shalom. This includes God’s moral standard. But God’s righteousness is also God’s active movement to restore the world and humanity to this standard. He is making what is wrong right again. Paul says we are justified by his grace. We are made right. We are rectified. We are returned to the state of righteousness. Not by law, but by grace. Law could never accomplish the righteousness of God because the law cannot change our unrighteous and unjust hearts. Only grace can do that.

Paul is also showing us that salvation is more than just forgiveness. Forgiveness alone does not make everything right. It does not restore. The forgiven murderer can kill again. The forgiven abuser may harm again. For there to be salvation, these hearts must be transformed, restored. And what of the victims? Are we to think that the victim can simply forgive with no hope of the abuse being made right? No promise of justice? No correction? Of course not. “The voice of Abel’s blood cries out to God from the ground.”

Therefore, God never separates forgiveness from justice. We do. Especially as Christians and as the Church. We call for people to forgive and forget with no justice in sight. This is not the gospel. Jesus’ work on the cross both allows for forgiveness, but without forgetting that there is still the need for justice. But how? How does the cross bring justice to the victim and to the victimizer?

Remember, justice is God’s restoration to righteousness. As the victim, Jesus was restored to righteousness at the resurrection. Christ offers this restoration to every victim. All shame will be removed. Everything taken from the victim will be restored. The unrepentant victimizer will be dealt with. This is the justice of God.

Also, as the substitute for the victimizer, Jesus was punished for every act of oppression and injustice. Now forgiveness can be offered to the victimizer, the oppressor. By grace through faith and repentance, they can be forgiven. Without this faith in Jesus, God’s justice will destroy the oppressor and thus restore the community.

It is the wrath of God aimed against the oppressor that, in grace and mercy, seeks to restore the oppressor through the power of forgiveness to a place of dignity as an image bearer. And it is the mercy of God poured out on the oppressed that seeks to restore the oppressed to a place of dignity as image bearers.

But remember, each of us is BOTH the victim and victimizer, the oppressed and the oppressor. Thus the necessity of the cross. Without it, we would all be destroyed.

“To live is Christ” places us into this system of God’s righteousness and justice apart from the law. We are justified by God’s grace. As victims, we are redeemed from the shame of injustice. As victimizers, we are redeemed from the guilt of our injustice. In Christ we are justified, made right, on all accounts. Something we could never do on our own apart from his righteous life imputed to us as the gift of grace.

How does your union with Christ bring justice to you as both the oppressed and the oppressor? How does it empower you to seek justice wherever you are today?

 

 

 

 

 

October 20: It’s About Substitution

Romans 3:21-26. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Take a minute and soak it in.

These verses are possibly the clearest and most succinct summation of our salvation that we have in scripture.

In Galatians Paul introduced this idea:

Galatians 2:16. yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But here in Romans we get it in all of it’s glory. These verses are the foundation of “to live is Christ.”

  • All are unrighteous
  • The law can’t bring righteousness
  • Righteousness comes by grace through faith
  • Faith in Christ who is the righteous payment for our sins
  • The cross proves God to be righteous and the giver of righteousness to those who believe.

This doctrine should produce great humility and great hope within us. You simply cannot save yourself. It is literally impossible. “Self Help” is an oxymoron. If you are embracing “to live is Christ,” that is, union with Christ, from any other starting point other than your own sin battered desperation (ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), then you will miss Christ completely.

If your understanding of Christianity and union with Christ is primarily one of morals you have missed it. If your understanding of your relationship to Christ is primarily one of imitation, you have missed it. If you see God primarily as a parent saying “clean your room,” you have missed it. Christianity is not merely a moral system. It is not behavior modification. It is not DO, DO, DO.

It is DONE.

The heart of Christianity is substitution. It is rescue. It is exchange. It is imputation. It is grace.

2 Corinthians 5:21. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

At the heart of “to live is Christ” is this substitution of Christ’s life for yours. This rescue mission of Christ toward his enemy. This alien grace that invades us from the outside in, and then changes us from the inside out.

How do you primarily see Christianity and union with Christ? Is it a moral system? Behavior modification? Or is it about an exchanged life? Substitution?

October 19: Knowledge of Sin

Romans 3:20. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

How do we know what our sin is? Wait let’s back up. Do you know what your sin is?

A fundamental truth exists that we cannot know what sin is without first seeing the standard of righteousness. We can’t know who didn’t win the race without knowing where the finish line is. We can’t know we failed the class without first knowing the grading scale.

The law does not create your sin or bring your sin into existence. It’s already there. The law shows us a perfect standard and then reveals to us our own shortcomings.

In this way the law is a gift from God. God spoke the law to humanity in order that we might know him and his holiness. But he also spoke it so that we might know ourselves and our own darkness.

Sometimes it seems like identifying our own sin, naming it, fighting it, is actually very difficult for us. In ministry, when I ask people about sin they almost never start to talk about their own sin. They usually begin to talk about how they see sin in the world, or in “some people” who do this or that. I can’t remember the last time that I heard someone say, “O, yes, there is a deep darkness in my heart, a shame, that shows itself as this breed of insecurity, or this lust, or that greed.” Recently in one of my small groups one of the men talked about how he used to see himself as better than other people, he judged people. He said he now realizes that he is just as in need of grace as everyone else.

It was beautiful.

Knowing the depth of our sin is essential for growth. For transformation. Why? Because growth and transformation in the image of Christ only comes by grace. No sin – I don’t need grace. Tons of sin – I need tons of grace. Of course we all have tons of sin. But not until we place our lives up against the standard of the law will we see our desperate, desperate need for the abounding grace of God.

And so this is the proper use of the law, and why the law is a gift – to set it’s righteous standard up against our own actual life and then let it drive us deep into “to live is Christ.” Deep into the arms of the Father by the life of the Son.

By God’s grace he has given us the law in the form of the Old Testament LAW. But the truth is that this is not the law that is kicking our rear ends every day. It is the “little l” laws that get us. The standards that we set for ourselves. The standards that our society sets for us. The standards of our own conscience (remember Romans 2:15, especially if you’re a Gentile).

Get good grades.

Be beautiful.

Have it all.

Never let them see you sweat.

There’s a better you inside of you.

These standards will produce one of two results (just like the Bible’s standards): 1) You will fail and try harder and try harder and try harder and eventually destroy everything good in your life, or 2) You will fail and fall into grace. Hard.

“To live is Christ” is to choose #2.

Are you aware of your sin? In what ways have you allowed law to drive you to self righteousness? How can union with Christ allow you to let law drive you hard into the grace of God?

 

 

October 18: Circumcision of the Heart (you’re new identity)

Romans 2:25-29. For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

For Jews, anyone who was not circumcised was a godless pagan. And that means we can sit around and judge them, harshly. But Paul is trying to show these same Jews that circumcision is actually meaningless if you are not also righteous.

For the Jewish Christians their identity was still found in their Jewishness. Their circumcision. Their heritage. Their race. Their background. Their religion.

But none of these things matter in the eyes of God. What matters is our righteousness. And two things are very clear so far: 1) you have to obey the law to be righteous, and therefore 2) just being a Jew by birth and circumcision is quite meaningless.

How then are we righteous? The gospel. Stay with me…

Look at verse 29. Paul radically re-defines what it means to be a Jew. He’s challenging their very identity. He does this by using Old Covenant language and New Covenant truth.

Deuteronomy 10:16. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

Deuteronomy 30:6. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

The Old Covenant called the Jews to a circumcised heart. But only the New Covenant can actually accomplish this. It is by the Spirit, not the letter. Gospel not law. Grace not works.

The law required circumcision. Why? Because it symbolically showed what happens when a Jew would break the Old Covenant. They would be cut off from the nation, from God.

But now all that are in Christ are circumcised. We are the spiritual Jews. This identity is imputed to those that have received the circumcision of Christ’s very life. He suffered the curse of the law. He was cut off from the nation, from humanity, from God. Union with Christ accomplishes the circumcision of the sinful heart. It is cut off and removed.

                                                       Warning: a bit dark and gory. 

Like actual circumcision on an infant, the circumcision of the heart is done TO us by God; not BY us through our obedience to the law or our conscience.

Paul says that if your heart has not been circumcised, you’re not spiritually Jewish. And if it has happened to you, even if you’re a Gentile, you ARE spiritually Jewish. We who are spiritually circumcised are the ones who receive the praise of God, not the praise of man that comes by law keeping.

Listen, your heritage, and ethnicity, and background, and family are all good things. And Paul will uphold the blessing of being Jewish in the next section. But when we make these things our source of self-righteousness, our core identity, we are no different from the pagan idol worshippers of chapter 1.

“To live is Christ” is a whole new identity. It is Christ’s own identity. One that overrules for all time any former identity you might be trying to hold on to. Especially one that even hints at being your source of righteousness.

Is there an identity that you are holding on to that seeks to take the place of Christ’s righteousness in your heart? How does your union with Christ allow you to claim the identity of God’s “chosen people?” How does the gospel of grace overrule our works of righteousness? Why is this good news?

 

October 17: Two Ways to Die: Law or Conscience

Romans 2:12-13. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 

The thesis of this letter is that we all need God’s good news (the gospel). Why? Because we will all be judged, and without God’s intervention, we will be condemned. Here in chapter two of Romans Paul will show us two ways to be condemned: by the law of by your own conscience. You can take your pick. If you’ve sinned you will perish. You’re only hope is to be a doer of the law (not just a hearer), or a doer of your conscience.

Thank God we are still in the judgment part of the letter. Paul hasn’t yet begun to explain salvation. This is good. Because the statement that only those who do the law will be justified is really scary. Who among us would say that they have obeyed the whole Law?

Or, if you’re a Gentile, who among us could say that we have listened to our conscience perfectly?

Romans 2:14-16. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

The Gentile’s thoughts are what accuse or excuse them. So now judgment isn’t just by what we do, but also by what we think? Our secrets are also judged? Yikes.

We all have a built in sense of right and wrong (the Knowledge of Good and Evil). For Jews it is confirmed by the Law. For Gentiles, it is confirmed by the conscience. But, as we saw in chapter one of Romans, we all also suppress the truth and choose to believe “The Lie.” The lie that says we don’t need God, and we can worship things other than him, or just overlook him – idolatry.

This is getting worse as we go.

Which is, of course, Paul’s point. He is using the Old Testament Law correctly, and the natural law of the conscience correctly – both condemn.

But there is good news here: according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. 

Christ Jesus is the judge.

“To live is Christ” means that the final judgment, which is the good news of righteousness in and of itself, will be carried out by Christ, the same Christ to whom you are united. In Christ you have heard the law, and done the law. In Christ your conscience is clear. In Christ your secret thoughts are purified by the mind of Christ. The judgment of Christ is, therefore, not a terror, but a glorious reunion of lovers and friends. A day of purification by the holy love of Christ.

Can you see how your law keeping and your conscience (take your pick) condemn you? How does union with Christ free you to look forward to the judgment of God by Christ Jesus? Have you placed your faith in Christ alone for salvation?