March 11. Romans 12:1-2 Part 1: Indicatives and Imperatives, the Mercies of God, and Anne Lamott reads.

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans is the fourth of Paul’s letters that we have worked our way through here at To Live is Christ – Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and now Romans. But Romans is the first to follow a more formal argumentation, it’s more rhetorical if you will. Paul’s earlier letters addressed specific questions and problems. Romans is a treatise, and it follows this logic that we will see in others of his letters: the indicatives first, then the imperatives.

Indicatives: the objective truths of who we are in Christ (position). What’s been done.

Imperatives: the commands that we obey because Christ is in us (condition). What we do.

Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities.

You can see Paul’s use of indicative and imperative right here in Romans 12:1. “therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God [indicative]…present your bodies as a living sacrifice [imperative].

You see, God will always start with the indicative, the truth of who we are, the merciful realities of our salvation, before he gives us an imperative to obey. Here in Romans we explored 11 chapters of indicatives before we get our first real command here in Chapter 12.

Why is this? Because God always operates from the inside out. First God indwells us, then he transforms us inwardly then outwardly. Most “religion” is focused on changing behavior through penitence, creeds, and sacramental works – outside in. But this is not God’s way. It is not the way of union with Christ. Only the indwelling Christ can make us righteous, and only received grace can produce holiness.

Romans 12-16 will list a whole lot of things that frankly we cannot do. Just look at Romans 12:1 again – present your bodies as a living sacrifice. When’s the last time you did that successfully? But this is meant to drive us back to the mercies of God. We actually can present our bodies to God, because we are the presented body of Christ. Now our lives as living sacrifices are not sacrifices of atonement, Jesus already did that, they are sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise.

If we try to obey God without first realizing that God has graciously given us, in Christ Jesus, the mercies that we need for obedience, then our obedience will be works rather than faith. It will be slavery not freedom. It will be earning not receiving. It will be law not grace. In other words, if you aren’t trusting the indicatives, don’t even bother trying to obey the imperatives. It will literally be impossible. Who can produce love on their own? Who can love without first being loved?

But once we trust the indicatives (God’s grace), now we are free to obey his imperatives by faith. And it is faith alone that pleases God (Heb. 11:6).

“OK, what are the indicatives? What are the mercies of God?” Um, everything in the last 11 chapters:

  • Justification: complete forgiveness.
  • Imputation: credited as righteous, while still ungodly.
  • Death to sin.
  • Death to the law.
  • Resurrection to God.
  • Freedom from condemnation.
  • The new way of the Spirit.
  • Adoption unto sonship.
  • Suffering unto glory.
  • Transformation into Christ likeness.
  • Hyper-conquering.
  • No separation from God.
  • Endless love.
  • Election.
  • Grafting into the New Covenant.
  • Eternal salvation.

That’s a lot of mercy. That’s “to live is Christ.” I appeal to you to embrace it today.

Anne Lamott reads about mercy from her book “Hallelujah Anyway.” It’s worth a listen and a read.

March 9-10. Romans 11:36. All Glory Be To Christ: A Meditation.

Romans 11:36. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

This doxology is life. It answers all of life’s questions. All its mysteries. All its confusion and uncertainty. All is answered by the glory of God in Christ and his cross.

From him

All in creation is from Christ. From solar systems to seeds, he is the creator of it all. He is the first cause.

From him we have eternal life, zoe life. By our death with Christ the fountain of Christ’s life flows from him to us. All that is good in us – all kindness, grace, love, compassion, joy, and peace – is from him.

Through him

Every square inch of creation is sustained through him. Everything that happens in time and space is transformed through him for the good.

Through union with Christ we live, through union with Christ he lives through us. Anything from us that is good, true, right, or worthy is only possible through him. Through the power of his death and resurrection we truly live – dying and rising, sorrowing and rejoicing, giving and receiving.

To him

To him belongs all things. Christ is the goal of all history. Everything points to him. All righteousness and justice finds its completion in him. Every knee will bow to him.

Christ is our end. Our meaning. Our purpose. Our fulfillment. The journey to him is the journey of the cross that leads to his likeness – our eternal glory, our resurrection, our reward, our rest.

Be glory

The meaning of our life is the glory of God. We exist for God’s glory alone. And may it always be, even in these darkest of days. For if we lose sight of the glory of God we would become as satan – a creature that demands to be the creator. Our only hope is to find our glory in the cross of Christ. In submission to the Father’s good will. In living to die to self. In rising to live for him.

This doxology is life – To him be glory forever, amen.

March 8. Romans 11:33-36. The Inscrutable Ways of God and Finding Answers in the Cross.

Romans 11:33-36. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Much of Romans 9-11 (and the whole letter really) leaves us scratching our heads. God’s plan to save the world through Christ is beautiful and simple, and yet unsearchable and inscrutable. Paul has detailed how God has been at work in redemptive history through the Jews and the Gentiles. Hardening, softening, electing, grafting, proclaiming, mercy and judgment. Paul anticipates that some might call God unfair simply because they don’t always understand everything that he is doing.

It is true that we can’t always understand WHAT God is doing. But can we trust WHY God is doing it?

God does everything for his glory – To him be glory forever.

God is a Trinity. As a community, God will always do what brings glory to God. The Father will glorify the Son. The Son will glorify the Father. The Spirit will glorify the Father and Son. The Father and Son will glorify the Spirit. Always. There is no division. There is no competition. There is only the unrivaled beauty of his shared glory.

If we can trust that God does everything for his glory, then we can also trust that everything God does will ultimately be for the good? How? Because God’s glory IS his goodness.

Exodus 33:18-19. Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

God will only do or allow what will ultimately be best. Whatever brings him the most glory, and us the most good (Romans 8:28-29).

Right now I am questioning everything I am writing. Do I really believe this? Is God really glorious? Is he really good?

Last night we found out that one of our dearest friends passed away suddenly. He was young, brilliant, genuine, caring, and passionate for Christ and his kingdom. He was a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania studying archaeology. He truly was dedicated to using his research and influence in academia to reach people for Christ. His potential for the Kingdom seemed endless. How could his passing ever be turned into good?

Right now my heart is demanding an explanation from God. This deserve scrutiny. This deserves searching. But when I sat down to look at this blog today this is where God, and the book of Romans, has brought me – How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Maybe it’s the macro level of God’s plan of salvation, Jews and Gentiles, hardening, and softening of hearts, election and predestination, that has you scratching your head.

Or maybe it’s the micro level of the untimely death of one of your best friends. How on earth does this glorify you God? How do any of the terrible things that we endure here on earth?

But these are God’s judgments. These are his ways. He is God.

But shouldn’t God have to give any account for this? For all his decisions? Especially the ones that leave us reeling down here?

On the one hand the answer must be “no, he doesn’t.” He’s God. And from him and through him and to him are all things. God doesn’t have to give an account for what he does with what is his. He’s the source of everything. He’s the purpose of everything. Everything and everyone exists for him (not for me). It’s almost farcical to think that I can demand a reckoning from God.

But on the other hand maybe God has already given an account for all his decisions. Isn’t that what the cross is? The judging of God? God in the dock (C.S.Lewis)? God on trial? God’s plans scrutinized? His choices examined?

In the cross, humanity’s demand for a response has been met. God’s defense is the cross. Only death produces resurrection glory. Only suffering produces faith. Grace is not the absence of pain and sorrow, it is God carrying our pain and sorrow on his cross right next to ours.

Our life in Christ has made the unsearchable judgments of God searchable, and the inscrutable ways of God knowable. Maybe not fully in this life. But “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” We will gain the full glory of God and the full knowledge of his plan. We will understand his judgments and be at peace with all his ways. When we see the crucified Jesus in the glory of his presence it will make everything from this life, even death, gain.

Maurice, enjoy your gain my friend.

How he lived.

March 7. Romans 11:22. God’s Severity and Kindness, Perseverance, and a Gratuitous Narnia Reference.

Romans 11:22. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

Rome in Paul’s day was not unlike America today, very divided. In the first century Jews and Gentiles were often at odds, and this prejudice found its way to even the highest levels. At one point the Roman Emperor Claudius actually removed all Jews from Rome. The church in Rome, once predominantly Jewish, was now mostly Gentile. By the time of the writing of Romans, the Jewish Christians were trickling back into the city, but the power balance has shifted. Christians used to be seen as a subset of Jews, but not anymore. Now Christianity is seen as its own thing. And Jewish Christians are in danger of being rejected by Gentile Christians. So the book of Romans is not just a theological treatise on salvation, it is a call for unity. And humility.

What is the basis of our humility? God. His character. His kindness and his severity. God is holy and gracious. He will punish and destroy all evil (severity) and he will reward all faith (kindness). God is always both severe and kind. “Old Testament God” is both severe and kind. And “New Testament God” is both severe and kind. If God is severe without kindness he is an unloving tyrant. If God is kind without severity, he is an unjust pushover. For God to be good he must be both.

He’s not a tame lion, but he is good. Lucy continues in the kindness of Aslan.

Romans 11 is a warning to the Gentile Christians in Rome using the metaphor of a tree. In his severity God removed the Jewish branches because they rejected grace and embraced self-righteousness. So, in his kindness God grafted in Gentile branches. But then the warning – otherwise you too will be cut off. What happened to the Jews can happen to Gentiles too. Jews weren’t saved just because they were Jews. And Gentiles aren’t saved just because they are Gentiles. And you’re not a Christian just because you call yourself a “Christian.”

And so there is this warning for us as well – provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

Wait what? “I’m in Christ.” “I’m ‘to live is Christ’.” “I have the Spirit.” “How could I be cut off from God?”

How do we reconcile this very real warning in Romans 11 with Romans 8 and statements of “no condemnation,” and “more than conquerors,” and “nothing can separate us from God’s love?” How can a Christian live in both of these realities – we are eternally secure within God’s kindness, and yet we must continue in God’s kindness?

Remember, you were saved through faith in grace. You are being saved through faith in grace. And one day you will be saved through faith in grace. Your faith must persevere. It must persist. God will be kind on judgment day to those who have continued steadfast, trusting in his kindness. In the words of Tim Keller:

The only way we know God’s sovereign love is upon us is that we continue; we persevere in seeking to be like Jesus, until the day we meet Jesus. If that continuing disappears…then we will and should begin to wonder if his kindness is upon us, if we were ever chosen.

Will the true Christian continue in God’s kindness? YES.

Must the true Christian continue in God’s kindness? YES.

How? By faith. Faith in who God really is and what he has done for us at the cross.

We must maintain the proper view of God as both severe and kind. It’s too easy for us to lose sight of the severity of God. And when we do, we fail to continue in the kindness of God. In other words, we must never take our eyes off of the cross – the place where the collision of God’s severity and kindness are in full display.

The cross reveals what is required by God. It reveals the curse of sin and law. It reveals the consuming holiness of God. On the cross God’s severity was poured out on Jesus as he endured the physical death and separation from God that we all deserve. But, at the same time, God’s kindness was poured out toward us as Jesus became our curse, took our sin, and died our death, resulting in new life through union with Christ. It is this kindness that produced our repentance (Romans 2:4), and it is continuing in this same kindness that will bring you safely home to Jesus.

“To live is Christ” is to continue to trust in the kindness of God. First, by not losing sight of the severity of the cross, or the severity of God’s work in your life in destroying your old self. Then, by letting the severity of the cross drive you constantly back to the kindness of the cross. Continuing in it. Persevering in the faith. Pressing forward to the prize of Jesus our Savior – the very incarnation of God’s severity and kindness.

Here is love vast as the ocean loving kindness as the flood when the Prince of Life our ransom shed for us his precious blood.

March 6. Romans 11:5-8. Ash Wednesday, Grace and Repentance, and Lent Memes.

Romans 11:5-8. So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

I’ve never had ash put on my forehead, at least not on purpose. As someone from a Baptist tradition that always emphasized being as little Catholic as possible, I was never taught to observe Lent or Ash Wednesday or really the liturgical calendar at all. I suppose the fear of practicing Ash Wednesday or giving something up for Lent was too close to being a law, something that earned righteousness, when in reality we know that it is all of grace. As Paul says in Romans 11:6 above, But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

I think I have been reluctant to give something up during Lent because I never really thought I could sustain it for 40 days (of course those Sundays off is a nice respite). So then the “good Baptist” in me just labels Lent as “works righteousness” and eats another slice of pizza. And yes I still reject any teaching that says that we can self-purify by what we do or don’t do, or what we give up, for then it would no longer be grace.

But on this Wednesday, and every Wednesday, I don’t want to have the spirit of stupor either eyes that don’t want to see and ears that don’t want to hear. Could it be possible that Ash Wednesday can be a reminder of our complete inability? Our need for grace?

Maybe what our ash-ed brothers and sisters in Christ are reminding us of today is that grace IS our only hope. The dust of mortality on a forehead reminds of our hopelessness without new life. Reminders of mortality are reminders of eternal life. And physical life. That being in Christ is not just a spiritual reality but a physical reality as well.

So whether you observe Lent or not, can we agree today that we all need a bit more repentance in our lives? Can we agree that without Christ our living is futile? And yet at the same time that how we live in the flesh is important for transformation into Christ. Isn’t this why we fast?

“To live is Christ” is to be awakened from the stupor. Eyes open. Ears open. Grace filled. For those in Christ, EVERY DAY is Ash Wednesday. A day of remembering our own ungodliness. Our sin. Every day I can stop pretending. Stop moralizing. I can embrace the reality of my corruption. Admit it. Name it. Honestly turn from it. Seek grace. Be desperate. Be mortal.

And every day is Sunday. A day to embrace grace. To live in the love and victory of the resurrection. To embrace hope in Christ. I can show myself some compassion and show it to others too. I can embrace the reality of my salvation, my righteousness. Identify holiness. Strive for it. Be satisfied. Be immortal.

Lord open my eyes. Unplug my ears. Wake me up inside. Awaken me to my inability. Show me that I need to not just give up something for Lent but that I need to give up on all my self-salvation projects. The “do better, do more” voice that answers my doubts. The efforts to be like any other Christian rather than like Christ. The holiness inducing penance that I place myself under after each sin. God, save me from me.

Whether you observe Lent or not, Liturgical Folk’s Lent album can offer a good prayer guide for any season.

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March 5. Romans 10:14-15. Preach It!

Romans 10:14-15. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

The good news.

In the Old Testament the “good news” was the good news of the king and his kingdom. The telling of his victory in battle. It was the good news of freedom from captivity or exile (like the Jews exile in Babylon). The beautiful feet are those of the messenger who ran ahead and told everyone that victory had been won and the King would be returning soon – so get ready!

This is what we are. We are the messengers. The preachers. The tellers of the good news of King Jesus and his conquest over Sin and Death and Satan. When he returns will he find you ready to submit to his kingship, or will he find you entrenched in a guerilla war against him?

What Paul described in Romans 9 is a sad situation. Most of his Jewish brethren are resisting God and entrenched against him don’t even realize it. Many are resisting God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and yet they think they are actually on God’s side in this big cosmic war. How? Because they are law keepers. They do good. They try hard. They don’t cheat on taxes or park in handicapped spots. They help old ladies across the street and pay for their own Netflix.

But to reject grace and embrace law is to reject Christ. And to reject Christ is to reject God. And that’s bad news for anyone.

But there is good news! Christ is coming and you don’t have to be his enemy. You can actually be his conquest. His friend. His brother or sister. His bride. His body.

Do you want “to live is Christ” to be your reality? An eternal life of hope and peace, of joy and love? I hope so. But how? By calling on name of the Lord.

Romans 10:13. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This is not mere intellectual assent. It is a transfer of trust from one source of salvation to another. From salvation by your own efforts and own righteousness to salvation by Christ’s effort and his righteousness. It is believing in him. Putting all your faith in him and his character (he is sinless) and his work on the cross (he became sin for us). “To live is Christ” is possible for you today – call upon the name of the Lord, repent and believe.

And for those of us who are in Christ, our union with him is a call to preach the good news. You say, “but wait, I’m no pastor.” Maybe not. But you are called to be a preacher of the gospel. The word preach here means to herald. But the idea is not to just stand around yelling about Jesus on street corners. The word hear means to persuade or to bring understanding. That takes time. It takes a relationship. It takes more than just crying out, it takes crying with.

Stephen Colbert “evangelizes” Bill Maher (sort of).

God, in his sovereignty and love has invited us to be a part of how people are saved. They aren’t just zapped with salvation. They aren’t saved in their dreams. They aren’t saved in isolation. People are saved when they hear the good news of grace through Christ.

The good news for us is that we who are in Christ have the Sent One in us by the Spirit. His message is our message. His gospel is our gospel. His life is our life. If you already have Christ in you, won’t you preach his good news today? Preach with your life, preach with your words, preach with your hope. This is your mission, to run ahead of Christ’s return, and herald his grace and mercy to a world that is deceived and dying.

Christ is in you. He is with you. He has gone before you. He will come behind you. Just tell the good news any way you can and every way you can. And he’ll take care of the rest.

March 4. Romans 10:12-13. In Christ – No Partiality and No Distinctions.

Romans 10:12-13. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 9-11, although often overlooked, is really one of the greatest explanations of our salvation in all of scripture. What is God like? What is his goal in salvation? And what are we like? What is the result of our salvation? We get an answer for both sides of this equation in Romans 10:12-13 above.

What is God like?

God is our unbiased savior. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. God is the most impartial being in the universe. He shows no favorites, ever. The Jews are not his favorites over the Gentiles. God chose the Jews as his instrument to save the whole world. As it says somewhere, “God so loved the world.”

The offer of salvation is a genuine bona fide offer to everyone in all of humanity. Yes, Romans 9 tells us that only a remnant will be saved. But this is because not all will believe. If God chooses, uses, or hardens anyone, it is so that more will believe, not less (Romans 9:22-26). We must believe that if God ever hardens the will (Romans 9:18) it is for the glory of God and the good of man. And we must never believe that God would deny salvation to someone who would have chosen to believe.

What are we like?

Our impartial saving God has removed all classifications unto righteousness in this life and the next. This is what “to live is Christ” means – there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. Possibly the biggest human distinction, among others in Paul’s world and ours, was the racial one. But God, in Christ, has eliminated any and all distinctions that we might use to prove our worthiness.

Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We spend most of our life classifying ourselves. Making more distinctions, rather than eliminating them. Where do you work? Where are you from? What school did you go to? Where do you live? Are you married yet? Kids? What kind of car do you drive? Who do you know? What sneakers are you wearing? How good are you? How religious are you? And these differences are the ones we work to create beyond the physical differences of race or gender.

Differences aren’t bad until we make them bad. Our racial, ethnic, gender, socio-economic, geographic, and other distinctions can be celebrated in Christ. That is unless they become our source of righteousness, our worth, our ultimate identity.

Parks and Recreation’s ongoing tension between Pawnee and Eagleton: a case study in finding self worth in your class distinction.

But in our salvation, Christ eliminates all these distinctions and unifies ALL of us on four counts.

One: We are ALL the same level of sinful.

Romans 3:9. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.

Two: NONE of us can work our way to God by being good.

Romans 3:20. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.

Three: We must ALL call out to Christ for salvation by his gracious work on the cross.

Romans 10:13. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And four: We ALL receive the same righteousness of God.

Romans 3:22. [We receive] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

This is our union with Christ. This is our union as humanity. Now there is only one distinction, the only one that matters – are you in Christ or not? All the other differences must be forced into the background. All the boasting of your accomplishments, degrees, heritage, awards, church activities, even your race, gender, and sexual identity must be absorbed by your new life IN CHRIST.

Do you believe this?