The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky on the 26th day of November 2017:
Back a few months ago, I sat among hundreds of students at a summer camp while listening to a widely-known speaker teaching theology. You could tell this guy had been doing this for quite some time – he had us on the edge of our seats as we were gripped by his stories, illustrations, and hand gestures. He was the full package, even using diagrams and object lessons in an attempt to teach us deep theological truths. I leaned in to listen and grow in my faith just like everyone else in the room. Eventually however, I was leaning in with one eyebrow raised. Most of what he was saying was helpful and biblically sound, but as he continued to speak I began to notice a pattern in his teaching – and it made me sick to my stomach.
Once he would come to a five-syllable theological term in the Scriptures such as justification or sanctification, he would immediately diminish its significance by describing the term as such: “This is a term that theologians use – oh ho ho ho (with a French accent).” Everyone laughed as you’d expect. He would then replace the word with something “simpler” and “easier to understand,” without giving a definition of the word or explaining its meaning. When it came to justification, he referred to it as something that only theologians talk about and then said what he preferred to call it. In an attempt to make the truth “easier” to understand, he avoided the use of the term altogether and sidestepped from defining and explaining the term.
There were students in this room that had never heard of justification or sanctification before, and now they will go back to their churches, schools, and families with the impression that big theological terms really amount to nothing. And sometimes, it is near impossible to undo first impressions.
This practice of avoiding the use of theological terms in preaching and teaching is theologically destructive. When this practice is followed, whether by speakers, Bible teachers, or even pastors, it is done so in hopes that their audiences will not be confused. But when they do this, it completely backfires and it creates a ticking time bomb ready to explode at the next hearing or reading of that theological term.
Those who do this really have good intentions, I truly believe that. They don’t want people to be frightened or confused by big terms. But avoiding the use and explanation of theological terms is fundamentally avoiding explanation of the Bible. Any person who teaches the Bible should use and explain theological terms because the Bible uses these terms. When we fail to do so, it’s a ticking spiritual bomb, waiting to explode within the Christian’s mind when he comes to the term the next time he reads it in the Bible. If we don’t use and explain the theological terms that the Bible uses, Christians will not know what they mean when they read them in the Scriptures. They will regard the terms as unimportant, run over them, and turn the page. It’s never a good thing when people consider terms in Scripture to be unimportant. This leaves them with a poor and unbiblical view of the Scriptures.
Bible teachers and expositors should use and explain terms such as justification, sanctification, glorification, propitiation, salvation, preeminence, redemption, substitution and a host of others because the Bible uses these terms. With that I want to encourage you, whether you are a parent, Sunday school teacher, youth pastor, lead pastor, Bible teacher, or a widely known speaker – labor much in the use and explanation of the theological terms replete in the Scriptures. We need to know what they mean, and our people need to know what they mean. We need resources like Bible dictionaries to help us understand and grasp the meaning of these terms. We need to labor much to explain the meaning of theological terms to our people. If we want to be faithful teachers of the Scriptures, we must explain all the Scriptures – every term included.
The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on March 16th, 2014:
We are going to look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians this morning and how Paul felt about the problems that they were facing. Galatians was one of the problem churches of the New Testament. They had been born out of Paul’s missionary efforts and had become a church—but a crisis has hit this church of Galatia. It’s important that we read about the crisis that hit their church because there isn’t anything that makes us any different from them today. So let’s get into this text.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Do you see what is missing here? Not that the Scriptures are inefficient and lacking, but there is something missing here that is usually found in Paul’s letters. Let’s take a look at all of Paul’s letters to the churches of the NT and see if you can find out what is missing here in his letter to the Galatians:
To the Romans: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom. 1:8).
To the Corinthians: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4).
To the Ephesians: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:16).
To the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Phil. 1:3).
To the Colossians: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” (Col. 1:3).
To the Thessalonians: The first letter, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Thess. 1:2). The second letter, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3).
As soon as we read the first few verses here, we notice that there is no thanksgiving. Of course I don’t mean the holiday, Thanksgiving, but there is no expression of thankfulness for these Galatians like there is in the rest of Paul’s letters to the churches. Paul expresses his thanksgiving to all the churches to whom he has written, except for the Galatians.
But not so with these Galatians. Paul doesn’t waste any time addressing the problem and says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (1:6).
It is Astonishing to Turn Away From the Gospel
First Paul tells his Galatian readers, “I am astonished.” This is his expression—and it wasn’t a good astonishment either. It was astonishing to Paul that these believers were turning away from the gospel. The idea here is that it is astonishing to turn away from the gospel!
The gospel isn’t a genre of music, it’s not a lofty idea in literature, it’s not something that only theologians argue about, folks the gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel is the greatest thing that God could ever offer you—and to turn away from it is astonishing.
The gospel is what reconciles us to a God whom we have offended (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). The gospel not only individually transforms, but it corporately unites (Rom. 15:6; Eph. 2:14-18) . The gospel is received by individuals but the gospel grafts you into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:16). The gospel is how you are made right in God’s sight (Rom. 5:1, 8:30; Gal. 2:16-17, 3:24; Titus 3:7). The gospel is how the wrath of God was absorbed for you (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). The gospel is how you are free to serve God (Gal. 5:1; 1 Peter 2:16). The gospel is what sets you free from the power of sin and death (John 8:36; Rom. 6:7, 8:2). The gospel is what’s worth living and dying for (Phil. 1:21).
The Gospel Brings You to God
The gospel is what brings you to God. You see, God is the ultimate goal. You see, everything that the gospel accomplishes is really to remove the obstacles that are blocking your way to God. Through the gospel, the obstacles are moved out of the way so you can get to God. In justification—sin is out of the way and only Christ’s righteousness is seen (2 Cor. 5:21). In substitutionary atonement—the debt is paid—here’s the warrant for your rightful arrest and it has listed on it “The soul that sinneth shall surely die” but instead of us paying for it, God nails that warrant through the hands of His Son, thus canceling the debt against you (the debt is out of the way). (1 Peter 3:18)
In redemption, God purchases you for Himself. You are His possession. “For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20) In setting you free from sin, you are free to serve God—enabled to serve and honor Him (John 8:36). In giving you eternal life, you will be in a place where you will never depart from God’s presence (Revelation 5:9-13).
All that God does is in the gospel is to bring you to Himself. He is the ultimate, final, highest and greatest gift of the gospel. And to turn away from this gospel? That’s absurd! Yet people are doing it every day. The world counts the gospel as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18), as folly. And apart from the grace of God leading you to faith, you will naturally hate the things of God. So you will naturally turn away from the gospel if you aren’t redeemed.
It is true that people are turning away from the gospel and this is a most astonishing thing, but are we living our lives in such away that demonstrates the worth of the gospel so that people will see what a mistake it is to turn away from the best thing God could ever offer you? Let’s make sure we are demonstrating to the world the worth of the gospel by our lives being transformed.
Turning Away Can Be a Christian Problem
Paul says here that it is astonishing to turn away from the gospel, but he also says more about the problems for these Galatians: “. . . you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (v. 6b). It’s also interesting to note here that Paul says they were quickly deserting Christ and His gospel. This means that not much time has passed since the Galatians had believed in the gospel. Not much time had passed since their conversion, and now they are quickly deserting Christ and His message. More specifically, they were deserting “him who called you in the grace of Christ.” They are not just turning from a doctrine or a teaching. But if they were “called [into] the grace of Christ,” then this indicates that these Galatians were believers.
If they weren’t Paul would not have said that they were “called [into] the grace of Christ.” Because that’s how salvation happens for people. God calls you to repentance and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ—and everything, everything, about salvation is dependent on the grace of God. So this problem of deserting the gospel and turning to a different gospel can be a Christian problem. Nothing has happened that makes them any different from us today. What was the “different gospel” that they were turning to? The teaching of justification by works.
We as Christians are suspect to fall prey to “quickly deserting” Jesus Christ and the message of justification by faith just like these Galatians. If the Galatians were, why wouldn’t we be? Their reason for quickly deserting Christ was that there were some who troubled them. It was people who were within the church. They weren’t being infiltrated by some religion in a distant land. They were being deceived by those called themselves Christian “brothers” (Gal. 2:4). They were Judaizers who were within the church trying to teach that justification is by works—in this case, keeping the law. Paul reveals throughout this letter that this is what the Judaizers were trying to teach.
Today we are not likely to hear a church member say that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. Something like that should easily turn on a red light for us, but we do have an epidemic in the church today. Many of us become Christians and then we fall into this “do-it-yourself” mentality. We believe that God gives us grace to be saved, but after we are saved, we fall into a type of thinking where we actually believe that we must do more service to gain more of God’s approval. For some reason, we start to believe that God’s approval and acceptance of us.
This was exactly the problem for the Galatians.
But according to the gospel, there is nothing you could ever do to gain more approval in God’s sight. Nothing. God’s approval and acceptance of you is totally and completely based on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His work specifically of justification. Justification is the brightest facet on the gospel diamond.
What happens in justification?
1) Christ takes your sin, like making it His own—charging it to His own account, though He never sinned. That way, in God’s sight it is as though you had never sinned to begin with.
2) But the other side of that coin is that God credits Christ’s righteousness to your account. Christ takes your sin and in exchange gives you His righteousness. That is how we are accepted and approved of in God’s sight. Oh God wants that for us! “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
You can do nothing to add onto that. You can do nothing to take away from that. What about if you gave away all your money to the poor? Wouldn’t that make Him love you a little bit more? Absolutely not. What if you went to live on the foreign mission field with another people group, a different language, and stripped away from your family? Absolutely not. What if you went one full-week without a single, lustful thought? Absolutely not! God’s approval is based on this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). And Romans makes this truth explode with brilliance: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).
In Christ, there is nothing you can do that would make God love you any more than He already does. He loves you because He loves you. And in Christ, there is nothing you have done that makes Him love you any less.
Do not fall into the mindset of “works-righteousness.” Embrace the gospel’s truth of justification by faith. You will wear yourself out trying to gain more of God’s acceptance. In fact, the Scriptures say that you will become a slave to “works-righteousness” if you think that obedience is earning God’s approval: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
What should be the driving force behind obedience to God then? We are seeking to please Him every day. We are seeking to be more obedient today than we were yesterday. But we should be seeking to be obedient to God because we want to. The proper response to receiving this “so great salvation” (Heb. 2:3) is joyful sacrifice to Him regardless of the cost. Christ paid the greatest cost at Calvary, and we will want to joyfully give our lives in service to Him because He is worth losing everything and anything for.
Make sure you check your motive for obedience to God. Are you motivated by thinking that God will approve of you more? Or are you motivated because you want to make much of Him in every part of your lives? Are you motivated to serve God because you want to see Him glorified, magnified, and lifted up? Are you motivated to serve God because you want people’s attention to be drawn to Him?
No Other Gospel
We have seen that it is astonishing to turn away from the gospel, and that we as believers today are easily subject to fall into the mentality of “works-righteousness” but that we must not, for that is not the gospel at all. Paul continues his argument here and defends the gospel by saying: “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (v. 7).
In this verse, Paul says that what they were turning to was not really the gospel at all. He refuses to recognize this heresy as a “gospel.” This “different gospel” was the product of “some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Paul states the truth that there is no other gospel. And there isn’t.
There is no other message on the face of the planet that teaches that God completely forgives sin based on the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is not another message in this world that has endured the test of time, death, persecution, and struggle. The message of the gospel is the final triumphant message in the world—and there is no other gospel. There is no other good news like this good news.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ is the only way to God. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is not a way. He is not a good way. He is not one out of many ways. He is the way. And there is no other way that you could ever reach God by your own efforts, by your own works, by your own good intentions. The only way that you could ever get to God is through Jesus Christ. There is no other gospel. No other way.
This is quite contrary to the belief today that there are many ways to God. I read in a story once that there were these two religious leaders talking about their religions. One of them was a Buddhist religious leader. The other was a Muslim religious leader. And they said, “You know, when it comes right down to it, our religions aren’t really that different. Some minor details at the most are what make us different. Really we are trying to reach God at the top of a mountain but we are going up that mountain different ways.”
Folks, the message of the gospel is that God came down from that mountain to meet sinners like you and I. We do not climb a mountain different ways to get to the same God. The foundational, life-transforming message of Christianity is that God came to you. Because you couldn’t come to Him. The Bible says that we are born haters of God (Rom. 1:30), sinners by nature and dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:3), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), not seeking Him (Rom. 3:11). There is no way on earth we could ever get to God on our own. But thank God Jesus paid a debt that we couldn’t pay! He lived the life we could never live! And He died in our place, He paid for our sins, He bought us with a price, He justified us in God’s sight, and He absorbed the wrath of God that we deserved.
Imagine it this way: If you and I were standing about a hundred yards away from a dam of water that was ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide. All of the sudden that dam was broken and a surging flood of water comes crashing down at us. But right before it reaches us, the ground in front of us opens up and swallows it all. Folks, at the cross, Christ drank the full cup of God’s wrath, and when He downed the last drop, he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). All who turn away from sin and have faith in Jesus Christ have can have their sins totally forgiven though this gospel.
Some Who Trouble You
But again, the problem was from those who wanted to distort the gospel of Christ. And there are many today who are deceived by “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Don’t think that you are immune to being easily deceived folks, the Bible says that the devil can even disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
But how will we protect ourselves against “different gospel[s]” as Paul says here if we barely spend time in the Bible? Folks, if Sunday morning and possibly Sunday night is the only time you get a feeding of the Word of God, then you are as vulnerable to false gospels as a baby lamb is to a roaring, hungry lion.
If you are not arming yourself with the Bible, meditating on the Bible, memorizing the Bible, studying the Bible, reading the Bible, then you will be “tossed about like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:16). Often times, when we have revivals we get our hearts set on fire for Christ and have a rekindled passion for the word of God. But if we we’re growing in our maturity and knowledge of God’s Word like we should be, then we wouldn’t have to depend on events like these to get revived!
These events are great, but we need to realize that clear knowledge of God is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. Theology matters. The study of God matters. Because if you have a low view of God, then your worship of Him will be low. But if you have a high view of God, then your worship of Him will be high. We need to strive for maturity in our faith—and study God’s Word to defend ourselves against what is not true or right.
For years people have tried to cheat the US Treasury Dept. by producing fake bills and attempting to duplicate currency. But you know how the US Treasury Dept. recognizes counterfeit bills? They know the real thing. And we will be utterly defenseless against heresies and false teachings if we do not know the real thing—the Word of God.
Will you take the time to arm yourself with the Word of God? Will you take the time necessary to read, study, and memorize the Word of God in order to recognize “different gospels?” Dive into Bible study and trust that God will help you discern what is right and what is wrong. Just plunge into Bible study on faith.
Paul has expressed that he is astonished that these Galatians are so quickly deserting the gospel. Then he defends the fact that there is not another gospel, but the problem is with “some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (v. 7), now Paul reinforces his argument by saying: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (vv. 8-9).
Paul says that “even if we” meaning himself and his missionaries, preach a different gospel, let him be accursed. What was the gospel that Paul and his missionaries preached? The gospel of justification by faith. This is clear throughout this letter. In fact, a theme verse to sum up Paul’s argument is 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.”
It’s interesting that Paul uses himself and his missionaries as an example here. “Even if we. .” Paul extended that curse to himself and his missionaries if they had preached a different gospel. That means that his message must never change or deviate—because the truth of the gospel never changes. There is nothing you can add to it, nothing you can take away from it.
Paul says that anyone, even an angel, that preaches a gospel contrary to justification by faith, is to be accursed. Paul doesn’t mean “let that person be excommunicated,” like if someone is preaching to you a different gospel, kick him out of your church. It can’t mean that. Paul says that “even if an angel” preaches a contrary gospel, let him be accursed. Angels can’t be excommunicated from a local body. The phrase means “let him be delivered up to the wrath of God.”
Why? Because to preach a different gospel meant to reject the gospel—and if you reject the gospel you bring God’s curse upon yourself. Don’t read over these verses and yawn and then turn the page. What these Judaizers were doing was forthright damnable. If they taught that keeping requirements and keeping laws was the way to be justified in God’s sight, that justification is not based on the finished and final sacrifice of Christ on the cross and you must receive that justification by faith. . . then they were:
1) Presenting a “road of salvation” that actually leads to death. Because no man will be justified in God’s sight by works. Paul says elsewhere in this letter “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
2) Denying the claim that Jesus was the Messiah. The Old Testament Scriptures promised that the Messiah was the One through whom God’s saving purposes would be accomplished.
Paul says that if they do that they are anathema. When a person is anathema he is cut off from Christ (Rom. 9:3) and doomed to eternal punishment. Paul says that because this justification by works is the way that leads to death. The way that leads to eternal punishment—because works will never be enough to gain God. They only way to do that is through faith in Jesus Christ.
I just shriek in my heart when I see these televangelists who are preaching the prosperity message and these people are just eating it up! These false teachers are under the anathema and so are the They are “amening,” singing and dancing. And why? Because God has apparently chosen to bless you with nothing but financial wealth? I tell you what, I don’t need that folks. I’m rich enough through the gospel!
This damnation isn’t just for these false teachers described in these verses. This goes for anyone who rejects the gospel. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Paul even uses the same word in 1 Cor. 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed.”
Meditate on the Horror
We need to think deeply about the horror of rejecting the gospel folks. We are too occupied with work, television, and worldly things that we hardly think about the real damnation that people will experience if they reject the gospel. We need to think about the anathema the way a child hears his first peal of thunder, or the way a child feels his first earthquake, or suffers his first storm at sea.
1) God’s wrath is real and we need to be sharing what Christ did about this wrath with everyone we meet. We need to have a real concern for them because the whole world is under God’s curse if they do not trust in Jesus Christ to be their Savior. C. H. Spurgeon said, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”
2) We need to meditate on that from which we have been saved. That if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ on the cross and God’s grace extending to us who are totally undeserving of His mercy—then we would face the full wrath of God for our sin.
Ponder these things. Allow them to humble you.
The Servant of the Gospel is Not a Servant of Man
Paul has expressed his astonishment for the Galatians giving allegiance to another gospel, which Paul says is no gospel at all. He tells them how serious it is to distort the gospel’s message. And now, Paul concludes this passage of Scripture by asking a few rhetorical questions. Questions that have obvious answers: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (v. 10).
Paul isn’t asking this question in regards to justification. Because God’s approval was already his through Jesus Christ. The reason Paul says this here is because of what he said above. He has said some things that will not win him very many friends. He says that those who preach a false gospel are accursed. Paul realized that it doesn’t please very many people to hear the pronouncement of damnation. Paul is talking this way because pleasing people (telling them what they want to hear) is much lower on his list of priorities than serving Jesus Christ.
There is too much at stake for Paul to talk lightly about this problem of swearing allegiance to something else other than the gospel—it’s a life or death situation. If the gospel is twisted then Christ’s work on the cross is dishonored. If the gospel is twisted, then the way of salvation for sinners is blocked. So, Paul must oppose the perverting of the gospel with all his might—whether it pleases people or not.
Seeking to Please God
The meaning here is not that if more people are displeased with you, then you are more spiritual. Paul’s aim was never to take people out of the equation. He didn’t want to alienate people (1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 15:2). It is good to “please people” when it means that pleasing them is a means to their salvation and it builds them up in the faith for God’s glory. But when the gospel is at stake, and we are in situations where our faith could be compromised, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I now seeking to please God or man?” For Acts 5:29 says, “We must obey God rather than men.” When you are tempted to hide your faith ask yourself this question.
Paul indicates here that he lives for God and for God alone. How thrilling is that? You don’t have to worry about pleasing one person here and another person over here. You only live to please one person—God. That challenges every aspect of your life. When you live to please God, everything you do relates to pleasing Him. Should I see this movie? Read this book? Make this purchase? Take this job? Go out on this date? Marry this person? It is so freeing to know that there is one person who is to be pleased in every decision of our lives—Jesus. Sometimes pleasing Him will please others. Other times it won’t. Other times it will cost you dearly—but anything is worth losing when you know you have a God that you can never lose. A God that is infinitely worth more than anything this world affords.
The shining truth of this passage is that there is one, and only one gospel. It is astonishing for one to turn away from this gospel—because you are turning away from God, and away from grace in Christ. It is not only astonishing, but it is tragic, damnable, because the person who rejects the gospel is accursed and cut off from God.
But on the other hand, if you embrace the true gospel—the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for your justification—not only are all your sins forgiven by God, but freedom will come into your life because you will live to please one person—Jesus Christ.
You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?
It is a sad fact that some Christians have committed suicide. Adding to the tragedy is the false teaching that committing suicide automatically consigns one to hell. Many believe that a Christian who commits suicide will not be saved. This teaching is not supported in the Bible. Scripture teaches that, from the moment we truly believe in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life. According to the Bible, Christians can know beyond any doubt that they possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39). No “created thing” can separate a Christian from God’s love, and even a Christian who commits suicide is a “created thing”; therefore, not even suicide can separate a Christian from God’s love. Jesus died for all of our sins, and if a true Christian, in a time of spiritual attack and weakness, dies by suicide, his sin is still covered by the blood of Christ.
Suicide is not what determines whether a person goes to heaven or not. Only by trusting in Christ for salvation are you guaranteed entrance into heaven. You must be justified by faith in Christ. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Of course, if the unsaved person commits suicide, all he has done is expedite his journey straight into hell. There is no way to sugar coat that truth. But will that unsaved person go to hell because he committed suicide? No. The reason for his going to hell isn’t because he committed the act, but because he is an unsaved sinner. Sin is what separates us from God. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), “children of wrath,” and enemies of God; hostile to God.
Suicide is not the “unforgivable sin” as many say, but those who take the sacred name of Christ upon their lips dare not contemplate it. Our lives belong to God and He alone has the prerogative to bring them to an end. In the very words of God, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39 NIV, emphasis mine). The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the only one who is to decide when and how a person should die. We should say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.
Characters in the Bible
In addition, the Bible mentions six specific people who died by suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Five of these men were noted for their wickedness (the exception is Saul’s armor-bearer—nothing is said of his character). Some consider Samson’s death an instance of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31), but Samson’s goal was to kill Philistines, not himself.
Furthermore, many people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission. Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
In conclusion, suicide is a sin. It is not the “greatest” sin—it is no worse than other evils, in terms of how God sees it, and it does not determine whether or not a person goes to hell. However, suicide definitely has a deep and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily. May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). May God grant the psalmist’s perspective to each one who is facing trials today: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).
Approval in American and Islamic Culture (and Twilight)
We naturally crave acceptance and approval from others. I believe that to be true for a number of reasons, but there are many things that we may do to gain acceptance or approval from others. We may join a club to feel acceptance or gain it. We may change our style of clothing. We may change our language and the way we talk. We might join in on a dirty joke because it gains us some approval. We may get the latest Tablet, iPad, or iPhone. We may start playing a certain sport to gain acceptance. We might bully and slander and look down on others to look “cool.” We might even do drugs to gain acceptance. We may join Twitter to earn approval.
There are many things we may do to earn approval maybe because we want to fit in, maybe because “everybody is doing it,” or because it’s “swag?” Just look around you. A few people start using Instagram and now everyone is using it. Are they really interested in the social networking photograph program itself or the approval they get from using it? This isn’t the case in American culture alone. This type of thing is happening all over the world. In many countries where Islam is the national religion, if you don’t worship Allah and follow the teachings of Muhammad, you are disowned both by your family and society. Many join the Islam movement simply for acceptance.
This cultural reality hit me when I heard David Nasser, an international Christian speaker, preaching at a youth conference that I attended back in November 2011. He said he faced a great deal of opposition when he told his family about becoming a Christian. His parents were devout Muslims. He writes concerning his conversion, “I stepped down into the warm water of the baptistery, not realizing that a baptism by fire was waiting for me at home. When I got back to the house, Mom and Dad were sitting in the living room, waiting. ‘Give me your house key,’ he said. As I reached in my pocket, Iranian curse words came gushing out of him, as if all this emotion had been brewing while I was gone. My entry had broken the dam, and it was all pouring out now. His son had disobeyed a direct order. To him, this was if I had spit in his face. I had dishonored him, and what’s worse, I had done it in front of my mother.” (Jumping Through Fires, 2009 by David Nasser) David was pressured to give in to the culture of Islam for acceptance in the eyes of his parents. So this craving of acceptance happens everywhere.
Even in my own life. Okay, I know I’m going to lose man-cards for this, but I watched Twilight. Yes sir. I feel like a woman. I mean, I didn’t want to see the movie at all. In my judgment, Cast Away with Tom Hanks and “WWWWIIIIILLLLSSSOOONNN” was a far better love story. But I wanted to see that movie so I could satisfy my girlfriend, gain her approval and really to say that I watched it so I could be a critic like everyone else. Even in my Christian life, I make sure I’ve got the latest Christian books off the press, and stay updated with what’s going on in the lives of my favorite Christian artists like Lecrae, Chris Tomlin, or Jeremy Camp. Why do we do that? Why do we do so much to gain other’s approval? I think we naturally crave acceptance in the sight of others. And some of it can be good. For example, some of it can help build your identity. The real question is this: Who’s approval ultimately and supremely matters above all? Please ponder these thoughts as we examine this passage of Scripture.
“18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18-21 ESV)
Examining the Text; Two Teams
Let’s look at some facts about the book of Romans before we dig into the meaning of the text. When you desire to understand a text, it’s always important to ask questions like: “Who was the author? Who was the original audience? What was the purpose of writing?” That is important because before the Bible means something for us today, it meant something specific to a certain group of people. So the purpose of Romans was to introduce Paul to the Romans and to give a sample of his message before he arrives in Rome. The author of course is the apostle Paul. The original audience to whom Paul was writing to were the Christians in Rome. Though Paul does spend some time greeting people in Rome at the end of the letter, he wrote Romans as an organized and carefully presented statement of his faith. It doesn’t have the form of your average letter.
Digging into the text, in v. 18 he says, “Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all men. . .” What is that “one trespass?” The sin of Adam. The “one trespass” of Adam, as the representative of the human race, brought condemnation and guilt to all people. So we are sinners by nature and by choice. All of us are naturally rebellious against God. Therefore, His wrath rests on us. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7 ESV) Therefore, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against us. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV) And according to Ephesians 2 we are “by nature children of wrath” (v. 3), “sons of disobedience” (v. 2), and “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1).
Now what does Paul mean by the second half of the verse? “. . . so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” In a similar way that Adam’s “one trespass” lead to guilt and condemnation for all, Christ’s “one act of righteousness” gives righteousness and life to all who belong to Him. Paul talks about two teams here. Not only in this verse, but in this chapter as well. Let’s take a look.
Because of Adam’s disobedience, all people were caused to be sinners. Paul just continues to say what he said in v. 18; that all are sinners and are born with a sinful nature. All of us are set in the mold of Adam’s sin. So we’ve got a problem. Our rebellion against God is total. In our total rebellion, everything we do is sin. “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23 ESV) Our inability to submit to God and do good is total. Our rebellion is totally deserving of God’s wrath. Paul also mentions here and everywhere he writes, that God did something about it: through the gospel.
The gospel is the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ. The gospel can be easily explained in four parts: God. Man. Christ. Response. First, God is holy and just (Isaiah 6:3; Acts 3:14) Second, man has sinned and therefore God in His holiness, must punish sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Third, Christ died in our place and rose from the grave the third day. He paid our penalty. He took the punishment for our sin. He justified us (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:8). Fourth, we must respond. We must receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord through repentance and faith (Acts 3:19; John 3:16; John 1:12)
My Focus: Justification
My focus of preaching this morning is the heart of the gospel. My focus is on how what happened on the cross deals with our greatest problem. And that is justification. Now we will shift back to what I said earlier about approval. While we may do things to earn or gain the approval of others, the most supremely important acceptance has nothing to do with earning. Nothing. And that’s God’s acceptance. That’s where justification comes in. Justification is the process by which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God. You do not gain this approval by joining a church like you would join a club. You do not earn this approval by changing your style of clothes. You do not gain this acceptance by any good thing that you do. It’s all about the gospel and it’s something God did for you.
Let’s talk about it a little further. The word “justified” appears in multiple places throughout Romans 5. Verses 1, 9, 16, and 18. When God justifies, He charges our sin to Christ, and credits the righteousness of Christ to us. “Not only are our sins counted as His, but His righteousness has been counted as ours.” (God is the Gospel, John Piper 2005 by the Desiring God Foundation) Thus, you have Romans 5:18 “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (NLT) God’s holy standard of righteousness has been fulfilled! Here’s why justification deals with our greatest problem: We are not merely alienated from God but are under His wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 5:9; Gal. 3:10). This means that what must change fundamentally is God’s anger toward us because of our God-dishonoring sin (Rom. 3:23). We are not capable of changing God. We cannot pay our own debt. So God, in His great mercy, put Christ forward to absorb God’s wrath and the curse we deserved.
There are two sides to justification: Removal of our sin because Christ bears the curse, and the giving of His righteousness. J. I. Packer writes, “The judge declares guilty sinners immune from punishment and righteous in his sight. The great exchange is no legal fiction, no arbitrary pretence, no mere word-game on God’s part, but a costly acheivement.” (Justification in Protestant Theology, J.I. Packer) John Calvin defines justification as “the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin 1960 by Westminister Press) Similarly, Luther (who called the doctrine of justification the belief that determines whether the church stands or falls) affirmed both these aspects of justification: “Christ took all our sins upon him, and for them died upon the cross,” and “they are righteous because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them.” (Cited in Packer, Justification in Protestant Theology)
Justification is Good News Because. . .
Ask yourself, what makes justification good news? You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because I don’t want to go to hell.” That’s true. No one should want to go to hell. You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because a guilty conscience is a horrible thing.” Indeed, forgiveness relieves your conscience. You may say, “I want to go to heaven,” “The alternative is painful,” “My family is there, I want to see them,” “Because sin will be no more and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.” What’s wrong with these answers? They do not treat God as the final and highest good of the gospel. They do not express a supreme desire to be with God. God was not even mentioned. Only His gifts were mentioned. These gifts are precious. But they are not God. And they are not the gospel if God Himself is not cherished as the supreme gift of the gospel. That is, if God is not treasured as the ultimate gift of the gospel, none of His gifts will be gospel, good news. And if God is treasured as the supremely valuable gift of the gospel, then all the other lesser gifts will be enjoyed as well. Justification is good because it wins access to the presence and pleasure of God.
My Plea: Rest. Rejoice. Sacrifice and Sing.
What is my plea to you? Rest and rejoice. Oh that you would rest and rejoice knowing that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you have done that makes Him love you any less! Rest and rejoice in the hope that “does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5 ESV). Rest and rejoice knowing that you don’t earn God’s approval. Clear knowledge of God from the Bible is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. One of the most crucial kinds of knowledge you can have is what God is like in salvation. That’s where justification comes in. Let the truth of that sweet doctrine pierce your heart and penetrate the depths of your soul so that your joy in God is overflowing and spilling out in the schools, the workplace, the grocery store, the home, and the church! Respond. Sacrifice and sing. “Proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).
Now think on this. This big awesome God who spoke the universe into existence, this big awesome God who created billions of galaxies and calls every star by name. Who never had a beginning and will never end. Whose ways are inscrutable and Whose judgments are unsearchable. Whose thoughts are as different from ours as the heavens are from the earth. When “the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15), this big awesome, amazing God who doesn’t need us, did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of Jesus, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself. That’s the beauty and majesty of the doctrine of justification.