The following message was delivered at Olivet Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky on the 19th day of July, 2015:¹
The Bible isn’t like any other book in the whole world, is it? I was reading a story about two college students who shared a dorm together. One was a Christian and the other was a Muslim, and as they became friends, their conversation quickly turned to religion, as you’d expect. The Christian asked the Muslim if he’d ever read the Bible before. He said, “No, but have you ever read the Koran?” The Christian responded, “No, I haven’t but I’m sure it would be interesting. Why don’t we both read together, once a week, alternating books?” The young men agreed to the challenge, and their friendship deepened, and only during the second term the Muslim became a believer in Jesus. One evening, late in the term, he burst into the dorm room and shouted at the Christian, “You deceived me!” “What are you talking about?” the Christian asked. This new believing Muslim opened his Bible and said, “I’ve been reading it through, like you told me, and just read where it says the Word is living and active!” He grinned and said, “You knew all along that the Bible contained God’s power and that the Koran is just a book like any other. I never had a chance!” “Now you’ll hate me for life?” asked the Christian? “No,” he said, “but it was an unfair contest from the start.” The truth is, the Bible is not like any other book. It is not a textbook, it is not like the Koran, the Buddhist scriptures, the book of Mormon, or even Christian literature.
The word of God is breathed out by God, it is useful for the Christian, and it equips us for Christian service. That’s what we’re going to learn tonight. It is also important to know what we believe about the Bible, for all of our beliefs about Christ, God, the church, salvation and last things, come straight from God’s holy word. What we believe about the Bible is without exception our most important belief. For from it flow everything else we believe about . . . everything. We’re going to see tonight that: the Scriptures are inspired, the Scriptures are useful, the Scriptures are equipping, and finally how to use the Scriptures.
The Text: 2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Preliminary: “All Scripture.”
First I have to make an important note here. Paul begins with saying, “All Scripture.” Paul is not beating around the bush here—everything that he is going to say about the Bible is going to apply to all the Bible. Not just a few parts. If the Bible says that all Scripture is breathed out by God, then all Scripture is breathed out by God. If the Bible says that all of it is useful, then all of it is useful. If the Bible says that all of it is equipping, then it is all equipping. There are not levels of importance in the Scriptures—all of it is important, all of it is God’s word. I’ve heard people say before that the historical parts of the Bible are not reliable or true, but the doctrinal parts are true. Folks, if God lied to you in Genesis and other historical accounts in the Bible, then why are you believing Him in John 3:16? If some parts of the Bible are not true, then none of it can be reliable or trustworthy. But because all parts are true, the whole Bible is trustworthy.
I. The Scriptures Are Inspired (v. 16a)
First of all, notice that the Scriptures (all of them) are inspired/breathed out by God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (v. 16a). Scripture is God-breathed, it’s inspired by God—it’s not inspired the way a poem or song is—it means its origin is from God. The Greek word for “breathed out” by God is theopneustos, the only occurrence of it in the Bible, meaning that the Bible is divine in its origin—the Bible is literally God’s breath, God’s wind, God’s words. Think about what happens when you speak. Whether you’re lecturing students, talking with your spouse, or verbally disciplining your children, your words are “you-breathed.” Because when you speak, your breath pours forth speech doesn’t it? You breathe out your words, and they are a reflection of your inner self. That’s what Paul means here by the inspiration of the Scriptures. He is saying that God has breathed His character into Scripture so that it is inherently inspired. If the Bible is not inspired by God, then there is nothing inherently special about it. We could say that it is helpful literature, we could say that it is a carefully crafted book of history, poetry, and narrative.
But the Bible is more than that. The Bible is inspired by God meaning that it has power, a divine Source, and is useful for God’s people. It is “the word of God [that is] is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). If Scripture is breathed out by God, this bears obligation on us as Christians. If it’s inspired by God, then it’s the most valuable thing we have. Just if we found the location to some buried treasure, because of what the Scriptures are, we are compelled to value them, pursue them, and study them. Do you realize that the Scriptures are alive because they are inspired by God? Do you treat the Bible as breathed out by God?
II. The Scriptures Are Useful (v. 16b)
We’ve first seen that the Scriptures are inspired by God, and as you would expect, notice secondly that the Scriptures are useful. Paul says in the latter part of v. 16: “[The Scriptures are] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Paul says that the Bible is profitable. If the Bible is inspired by God, then it is surely useful—simply because of what Scripture is implies that it is useful in one way or another. Thankfully for us, Paul didn’t leave us wondering why the Scriptures are useful. He spells out four ways in which the Scriptures are useful.
1. For Teaching. Paul first says that the Scriptures are useful “for teaching.” This is one of the most fundamental uses for Scripture. Paul says that Scripture “was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4). This is because of what Scripture is. Because it has been breathed out by God, because of its content, it has this fundamental use of instructing us. The word of God teaches us how to live godly lives, and it is our primary and only source of doctrine. In fact, another word for teaching here is doctrine. For example, what we believe about God, ourselves, the world, and eternity is all informed by Scripture. As believers, we need to make sure that we are being informed and taught by the Scriptures. I’m afraid that much of people’s doctrine (or what they consider to be doctrine) is not informed entirely by Scripture—through its use of teaching. Just interview a few people on what they believe God, Christ, salvation, and many other important theological truths, and you are sure to see that misconceptions run rampant. This is because many people think what they believe is sound doctrine, but because of their ignorance of this use of the Scriptures, what they believe often times is just unbiblical.This should drive us to baptism in the Scriptures! If we are not studying the Bible regularly, in our personal lives and in the local assembly, how can we expect to recognize teachings that are unbiblical? And thinking of the historical context here, there were many heresies that were facing Timothy, Paul’s young protégé, and Paul emphasizes here that the source of sound teaching comes from Scripture alone. This is the first use of the Scriptures, and perhaps the most fundamental.
2. For Reproof. Secondly in this list, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful “for reproof.” Reproof is best defined as a criticism for a fault. This too, is one of the fundamental uses for the Scriptures. Paul could be referring to a reproof that exposes the false teaching of the heretics that Timothy was dealing with, or he could be referring to the rebuke that Scripture has on our personal lives. But either way, Scripture does both. Scripture can serve as reproof for doctrinal errors, or it can show sinners like us our many failures, and show us what we need to do about it. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, He prays for us and says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV). Being sanctified means being set apart. Daily it is a struggle to be set apart from sin in our lives, and that’s how Jesus prays for us—that we would be set apart for God. But how is this accomplished? “. . . in [through] the truth; your word is truth” (emphasis mine). That’s how it happens—through God’s word. And if we’re honest, it’s not very pleasant when God points out what needs to change in our lives. But that is one of the functions of God’s word, and if we ignore reproof we are fools—if we listen to reproof we “gain intelligence” (Prov. 15:32).
3. For Correction. Paul says thirdly that the Scriptures are useful “for correction.” The Scriptures not only rebuke our wrong behavior, but they also point the way back to godly living by correction. Once the Scriptures have convicted us and rebuked our sinful behavior, then they aim at the goal of recovery. After the Bible reveals our sin and the deep things of our heart, then it works to repair us and build us up again. Again, no one likes to be corrected, but praise God that not only are our wrongs revealed to us, but we are shown how to stay on the “way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5). When you are convicted of sin, do you search the Scriptures for ways to overcome it? Do you search the Scriptures and allow the Scriptures to search you in order to be corrected when you are in the wrong?
4. For Training in Righteousness. Finally in this list, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful, “for training in righteousness.” The Scriptures are designed to train us in godly living. Training involves the action of teaching a person to acquire a particular skill or type of behavior. The idea here is that Scripture, by its teaching, rebuking, and correcting functions, trains us to live “in righteousness.” The Scriptures produce conduct in our lives whereby doctrine is actualized—that is, the Bible makes doctrine come alive in all areas of our lives. All of these uses for Scripture are intermingled and sometimes overlap, but they are all for training us in righteousness—putting us through a spiritual workout program to develop godly muscles for being under pressure from sin, and having the strength we need to carry out the commands of God.
Mobile phones are a great help today aren’t they? With all of their gadgets and applications, they can be hard to use, but once you learn how to work the basics, they are nearly the most useful tool in the 21st century. There are apps, calculators, dictionaries, image-editing software, and much more on today’s phones. In fact, I’ve heard it said that our mobile phones today are really mobile computers with a calling app. Mobile phones are very useful, and because they are so useful, we take them everywhere we go—we value them. They have a lot to offer, but we must simply access its many resources. Listen, the Bible has much to offer us. It is much more useful than a mobile phone—it is useful for teaching us, showing us where we are wrong and making it right, and for training us to be pleasing to God. I wonder what would happen to our Christian lives and communities if we viewed the Bible as valuable as we do our mobile phones? Do we turn to it when we need direction? The Scriptures are useful, but we must use them. Do you use the Scriptures? Do you use the Scriptures to teach you and correct you? Do you justify sin in your life because you think it can’t be corrected or do you turn to the Bible?
Set aside time each day to study the Bible. Get books that will help you understand the Bible. Once you start getting into the word and allowing the word to get into you, you will begin to notice that you are becoming exactly who God wants you to be—more like His Son every day through the ministry of the word of God. If you hope in your own life to overcome error and grow in doctrine, overcome evil and progress in personal holiness, then we must turn to Scripture, because it is profitable for these things.
III. The Scriptures Are Equipping (v. 17)
We’ve seen that the Scriptures are inspired by God, and we’ve looked carefully at the four individual uses for Scripture, so now let’s look at how the Scriptures are equipping. Listen to Paul in v. 17, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul tells Timothy here about the purpose for which God intended the Scriptures to be useful. Paul tells Timothy that all of these uses for Scripture serve one chief purpose, for the spiritual maturity of the man of God. This phrase “man of God” can apply to any Christian in general, or it can refer to a Christian leader. But by implication anyway, it will refer to all of us as believers.
The idea here is that the Bible is able to help us meet the demands that God places on us—to equip us with what we need to be “complete [and] equipped” for God’s purposes. First, Paul says that the Scriptures uses are for the man of God to be complete. This means that the Bible enables us to be capable of doing God’s work. In other words, we have all we need in the Bible to do God’s work in the world, to be obedient to His commands, for the Bible (considering it is used properly) makes us complete as believers. But secondly, Paul says that the uses of Scripture are for the Christian to be “equipped for every good work.” Similar to being complete, this means that the word of God enables us to meet all the demands of godly and righteous living.
Have you ever had problems with your plumbing? I know I have. We’ve just recently redone our entire bathroom plumbing system—it’s really a lot of work and sweat. Many of you have had problems with your plumbing before and have likely hired a plumber to take care of the job. Well, suppose you have a leak under your sink and you hire an experienced plumber to fix it. But there’s a catch: the plumber arrives at your door without any equipment—no wrenches, no clamps, no pipe, no tool belt, or anything. And he says, “Okay, I’m here to do the job!” How confident would you be? Probably not at all. Why? Because this man has no equipment to do the job!
For believers, we have a far more important job to do than fix a sink, and it is living godly lives—but we cannot and will not do this job without our equipment, the word of God. How can we expect to accomplish the job of godly living without our equipment, the Bible? How can we expect to know how to do God’s work without God’s word?
IV. How to Use the Bible (Selected Scriptures)
For many people, the only time their Bible is open is on Sunday—and those same people wonder why their devotion to God has grown cold, well no wonder. If you eat about three times daily to sustain your body’s strength, but you only get one meal of God’s word a week, no wonder you might be so malnourished in your life of faith. Because of what the Bible is and because it has many uses, I want us to look at a couple of ways to use the Bible. If God’s word is inspired, if God’s word is useful, and if God’s word equips us for Christian service, then how can we get the most from our Bibles?
1. Read the Bible. This is the most basic way we can use the Bible. Do you read the Bible every day? Everyone reads and learns at a different pace, so it may take some time to adjust to reading the Bible regularly—but perhaps the best way to read it is by reading a few chapters a day, in the morning and the night. A good Bible reading plan is also very helpful—helps keep you accountable and track your progress. We must take time out of our busy schedules to read God’s word. If you’re too busy to read the Bible, you’re too busy. The good part about it is that the more we read it, the more we will want to read it, and the more we will be equipped with its teachings.
Biblical Math. A while ago, I did a little math to calculate how long it would take someone to read through the entire Bible. The Old Testament, consisting of 929 chapters, would only take you 26.5 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s reading through the entire Old Testament in about 6 months. The New Testament, consisting of 260 chapters, would only take you 7.4 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s Matthew through Revelation in under 2 months. If you read 5 chapters of the Bible daily, you could read through the whole Bible once and read half of it over again. . . In a year. In a small 5 year period, you will have read through the entire Bible nearly 8 times.
2. Meditate on the Bible. This is not simply a suggestion, for the Bible implies that we should meditate on the Scriptures (Psalm 119:15, 48, 97). Do you remember the first Psalm about the godly man who was blessed in every way? How did he get blessed? How did he become so prosperous? It was because “his delight [was] in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Scripture meditation involves pondering and thinking deeply on what we’ve read. We think about what they mean for us, and ponder how to put them into action. Meditation involves allow the Scripture to dictate our thought lives—to let it swim and boil in our hearts and minds throughout our daily commute. Do you have some Scripture that you’ve been meditating on?
3. Pray the Bible. Many people do not realize the benefits of this or see that it’s even necessary, but praying the Bible helps us to align our prayers to God’s will. That’s the only kind of prayers God answers anyway—according to His will:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15).
God’s will is revealed in the Bible, so if we want to pray according to God’s will, wouldn’t it make sense to pray the Scriptures? Sometimes we pray for the wrong things, but if we want to pray for the right things, we need to be praying the Scriptures. When you’ve read your Bible each day, let what you read compel you to prayer, and then pray about what you’ve read.
4. Memorize the Bible. This one, like the others, seems to be implied by the Bible itself as a command. We are familiar with Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist there says that his defense against sinning was that he had stored God’s word in his heart. Scripture memory involves not only getting into the Bible, but allowing the Bible to get into us. It is allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). Scripture memorization involves taking time to memorize the Bible, whether a few verses or a few chapters.
It is very beneficial, for we can call to mind a Scripture that is especially helpful for us in a time of need or for someone else in a time of need. Because the Spirit of God can’t call to your memory a Scripture you’ve never read or memorized. Do you take time to memorize the Bible? You can write it out on paper until you have it memorized, or you can repeat it back to yourself time after time, or you can simply read it over and over again. I’ve put Bible verses on note cards and slipped them in my pocket as I go about my daily tasks. That way, when I get my keys or phone out, I can always look at that verse first.
5. Study the Bible. Studying the Bible is key. It involves the most effort, but yields the best results. Studying the Bible is observing it, interpreting it, and applying it to our daily lives. We might spend a while studying a verse of Scripture, a chapter, or a whole book of Scripture—but studying involves doing much work to excavate the deep truths of Scripture. A good study Bible helps with this, good commentaries, or other helpful books like Bible dictionaries and Bible handbooks. In studying the Bible, we focus on it—think through it intellectually and emotionally. We discover what the particular author is saying about his subject and what it means for us today. Do you study the Bible? How much time a week is spend studying the Bible?
Conclusion: A Man Who Really Valued His Bible
We must value the Bible because of what it is—and if we truly value it, we will take the time to study and read it. I read a story once about a man who really valued his Bible. During King Philip’s War, a war between the Pilgrims and Indians during 1675-1676, there were a group of Indians who launched an attack on the Pilgrims. In March of 1676, a group of nearly 1500 Indians attacked the village of Rehoboth. As the inhabitants of the village watched from their garrisons, 40 houses, 30 barns, and 2 mills went up in flames. But only one person was killed. He was a man that believed that as long as he continued reading his Bible, no harm would come to him. Refusing to abandon his home, he was found shot to death in his chair by Indians—the Bible still in his hands. That’s someone who really valued the Bible. I wonder if we could say the same about ourselves. Do we really value our Bibles? Do you value your Bible like this Pilgrim man?
God grant us that we might pray with the psalmist in Psalm 119:
“With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word” (vv. 10-16).
1. This message was also preached at FBC Barlow in Ballard County, KY on the 14th day of June 2015.
We’ve been studying through Paul’s letter to Titus, looking at how we can have a healthy church. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t want a healthy church—in fact, there was a survey conducted of the number one question the pastoral search committee asks its possible pastors. When they are interviewed, they are asked, “Can you grow our church?”¹
As Paul writes to Titus, his fellow worker, about church conduct and church order, we glean from this letter principles to have a healthy church—what the church should be doing and what it should look like. Specifically, we’ve been focusing on the first section, verses 1-4, looking at these verses under a microscopic lens, really. We have made it our aim to not miss a single detail of this paramount text of Scripture. We’ve been seeing from this passage principles for true ministry.
If we’re going to have a healthy church, this a crucial part of it—having a healthy ministry. We’ve been looking at several principles involved in having a successful, fruitful, effective, biblical ministry. Again, these principles are straight from Scripture, not a five-step program, or a book on Christian ministry—these principles are scriptural. They were the principles that God gave to Paul for his ministry, and they are the principles that God gives to us for ours. So far we have looked at two principles that God gives to us, and I want to take a moment to remind you of them:
1. Our Character. Out of verse 1, we read that Paul describes himself as an “servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” We saw here that if we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God like Paul and Jesus—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God.
2. Our Purpose. We saw from v. 1b that Paul’s purpose in ministry was for people’s faith, and then the building up of that faith: “[an apostle] for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.” This too is our purpose, to aim at men’s salvation first, then at their sanctification. To get the fish in the boat and then allow Jesus to do the cleaning. We saw that without knowing our purpose, we won’t know what to aim for in our ministries. If ministry is attempted without a clear, defined purpose in mind, it won’t be effective—and most of all, it will not be biblical because in order for it to be biblical and effective, we must follow and fulfill the purposes that God has given us for ministry.
Tonight we will look at the third principle that God gives to us for ministry: our hope (v. 2). Hope is quite interesting—it does something for us that nothing else in this world can do: Hope alters our perspective on reality by informing us about reality. Hope changes the way we see things by informing us about the way things really are.
Hope is something like what General Smith had in mind while he was being tortured. Many of you know the story. He was a great, never-say-die general who was taken captive by enemies and thrown into a deep pit with his soldiers. This pit was wide, deep, long, and filled with a huge pile of horse manure. As he dove into the manure pile, he cried to his men, “Follow me men! There has got to be a horse in here somewhere to take us out!”
Hope functions to change our perspective on things. When the impossible seems to be the only option, our hope in God is that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). In this passage, we will see how important it is to have this perspective. In fact, we will see that our hope is the basis for our ministry, as it was Paul’s. It is what motivates us, it is what gives us the right perspective, and it is what gives us confidence that God is able to do what He promised. And the great part about this is that God has given us hope as a principle for our ministries to our workplace, our families, our church, our community, and our world.
And we absolutely need it—ministry is impossible without it. What we do in ministry is unthinkable, really. I know that sounds pessimistic, but think about it. We are pleading and begging dead sinners to receive life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-3). We are trying to get a dead person to take medicine that will give him life. We are trying to get sinners to go against their nature and trust Christ—it’s not natural. Think about all the people you know who aren’t saved. It is discouraging when our message is constantly rejected. We wonder about them, we weep for them. It’s an impossible task, but the unshakable, unwavering confidence and joy that we have is in the grandest truth in all the universe that God saves. We do not save, God saves. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), and we have confidence in this God who has the power to save according to His sovereign will. That’s the hope we have.
But let’s see deeper what this great hope is that God gives us for ministry. We’re going follow Paul’s order of describing it by seeing first the object of our hope, then the person of our hope (God), and finally the surety of our hope—God’s sovereign will. After this we will look at a few practical ways to put this principle into action.
The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
I. The Object of Our Hope (v. 2a)
Notice first the object of our hope: eternal life. Paul says first, “In hope of eternal life.” I think that it is imperative first to notice where this verse is. It really does make a difference. Paul names this principle after he talks about his purposes as an apostle.² Those purposes being, “[to bring about] the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” This means that as he carries out his tasks of ministry that is, aiming first at men’s salvation, then their sanctification, all the while — having this hope, never losing it, but always having it on his mind.
It’s also another thing that belongs to God’s elect. Remember what two things belong to God’s elect that Paul described in v. 1? They are those who possess “the faith,” and “the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,” and also here, “the hope of eternal life.”
So we can infer from these two truths to say that Paul is really describing the hope that he shared with God’s elect, as he was one of them. While he carries out his ministry with its hardships, difficulties, and victories, he set his mind on this hope. This was a confident expectation of eternal life that he had for himself and for those he ministered to. In fact, this hope was the reason behind everything he did, it was the motivation he had for his mission. It was his confident, future expectation of endless life that the believer will have as a gift from God through Christ Jesus. It was the “gift of God [that is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). He describes this hope in other places in Titus as his eager expectation:
“Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
“So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).
This hope functions in two ways for Paul: for himself, and those he ministers to. First I believe that this hope is what he looks forward to—that’s the way it’s expressed in the text. Second, I believe that his expected goal for those he ministered to was eternal life. He had hope for himself, and hope for those he ministered to.
1. Paul had this hope for himself. When ministry got tough, when people failed him, when people rejected him, he did not despair. Speaking of all the struggles of ministry, being “afflicted in every way,” “persecuted,” “struck down” (2 Cor. 4:8-9), he says in 2 Corinthians:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).
Philippians 3:20 expresses Paul’s confident expectation of heaven perhaps more than any other text: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He endured more suffering than any of us ever will (lashes, beatings, stonings, etc.). But Paul could sacrifice anything anytime because of this—he knew what awaited him. He could endure any persecution or suffering for ministering to people—he knew what awaited him. What about you? Are your sacrifices joyful because of this expectation of eternal life, or are they drudgery because you have nothing to look forward to? When you are rejected and persecuted for your faith, do you still have this joy? Does this joy determine your response to persecution, or does your sin nature determine your response?
2. Paul had this hope for those he ministered to. We read in Acts 18, that Paul was struggling to share the gospel in Corinth. He was having some great success, but immediately met opposition by some Jews. “they opposed and reviled him” (v. 6), and he likely wondered if he should spend any more time sharing Christ with them. In fact, he said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (v. 6c). But we read a few verses that God said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (vv. 9-10). God promised Paul that there were still people who needed to be saved—people that God would save in His own time. God had people in that city who were His. Because of this we read that Paul didn’t leave, but stayed “a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11)
God’s sovereign election ensured Paul’s ministry—he continued to share the gospel because God promised him that He would bring about the salvation of souls in His own time. God had people everywhere in that city that He had chosen to save, and because He chose them, they would be saved. Paul was to simply continue his ministry and wait for God to do His work. So Paul also had this hope of eternal life for those he ministered to—he expected men to be receptive to the gospel because salvation belongs to the Lord, it is God’s work and He is sovereign over it, bringing it to fruition in His own time.
When I think of hope, I’m thinking of what the great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote about it. I believe he illustrates it well for us: “Hope is an active grace: it is called a lively hope. Hope is like the spring in the watch: it sets all the wheels of the soul in motion. Hope of a crop makes the farmer sow his seed; hope of a victory makes the soldier fight; and a true hope of glory makes a Christian vigorously pursue glory.”³
Praise the Lord! That’s what hope does for us: God promised eternal life for us, so no sacrifice we make for Him in ministry can be too great, and no persecution or rejection can be so great because we have eternity to look forward to. And another thing hope does for us is give us confidence for ministry to the unsaved, as it did Paul. We plant the seed of the gospel expecting salvation of souls, because God has sovereignly chosen to bring about the salvation of many souls. Our hope causes us to enter our areas of ministry to our families, our workplaces, schools, and communities because we expect people to be saved and respond to the gospel.
Do you have that expectation? Are your sacrifices measured by your confident expectation? That is, how often are your daily sacrifices for God determined by the truth that God will usher you into heaven one day? Do you expect people to be saved when you minister to them?
II. The Person of Our Hope (v. 2b)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, which is eternal life. Notice second that the person of our hope is a trustworthy, faithful God. Paul is moving on to talking about God’s person and actions concerning eternal life to prove that our hope of eternal life is unshakable. See v. 2b, “which God, who never lies.” He is attempting to prove the validity of our hope because it rests in God’s character. Paul is giving a strong, reinforcing argument to support the validity of our hope of eternal life because it is based on and sustained by a trustworthy, faithful God. He’s pointing to God for proof that our hope of eternal life is true and trustworthy.
Saying that God never lies echoes the Old Testament; this great truth that God never lies has its roots in the OT:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19)
“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (1 Sam. 15:29)
But talking about God this way is also in stark contrast to the culture that Titus ministered in. They were known as a lying culture. Crete was a small island, about the size of Western Kentucky, and the name Crete comes from the phrase: “to play the Cretan,” which in other words meant, “to lie.” So this was a place named because of the prevalence of lying in their culture.4 But notice also in v. 12 of this chapter, Paul says, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Even their religious leaders were proud to admit that everyone on the island was a liar, and they were always that way. We live in a culture just like this don’t we?
Falsehood is all around us. A statistic I read said that 60% of people can’t go ten minutes without lying. 40% of people lie on their resumes, 69% of people lie to their spouses, and without surprise 90% of people lie when dating online.5 Lying is a weakness, and when we discover we’ve been lied to, we feel like we can’t trust that person anymore. We trusted their character enough to believe anything they said. But we don’t have to worry about that with God. When He promises eternal life, He is 100% truthful. He doesn’t lie to us about anything, and He never has to live with the guilt of lying—He never lies; not in the past, not now, and never in the future. He is completely trustworthy. The point that Paul is making here is that our hope is based on God’s trustworthy nature. Our hope is unshakable because it rests in an unchanging, trustworthy, faithful God. Let me tell you a few things this truth about God should do for us: This should encourage us—we’re telling people the truth when we share Christ. This should give us confidence in our hope—it’s a sure thing. This should give us strength and security and rest—our hope rests not on ourselves, not on our good works, not how good we can be, it doesn’t rest on anything but God’s unchanging, immutable, loving, trustworthy, faithful nature. Even when we fail to do our ministry: He cannot fail us: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
God cannot lie because it is against His nature. It is something He cannot do. It doesn’t go against saying that “God can do anything,” or “God is all-powerful.” Some question if we truly believe that God can do anything, if we affirm that He cannot lie. Thomas Aquinas and Anslem, some ancient church theologians argued that God cannot sin or lie because it is a weakness, not a power. God cannot lie because lying isn’t a power—it’s a weakness.6 Paul’s point is that we can have this hope for ourselves and this hope for those we minister to because it is based on God’s trustworthy character. So when we minister this hope of eternal life to people, we can know that we are telling them the truth, we can know that when God promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts, He meant it. If God never lies He is deserving of our full trust—that is great encouragement for ministry. If you trust God during your ministry efforts, you won’t be discouraged when your efforts aren’t enough.
III. The Surety of Our Hope (v. 2c)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, eternal life, and the person of our hope: an unlying, trustworthy God. Notice third that the surety of our hope is God’s sovereign will. See in this verse finally that Paul describes God’s action concerning the hope of eternal life. What did God do about it? How is it possible? Because “God, who never lies, promised it before the ages began” (v. 2c).
We see here two things: God’s action concerning our eternal life, and the time when those actions took place. That is, eternal life doesn’t come to us abstract, it comes to us graciously through what God has done, and at a cost. We see here that God did something about eternal life, and we see the time when He did something about it. And like our last point, Paul is attempting to build confidence and surety about our hope of eternal life because of God’s trustworthy character first, and second (here) because of God’s action concerning it.
First we see that God promised it. Anytime one makes a promise, it is a personal declaration made to another person that certain conditions will be met. When I asked my fiancée to marry me, it was a promise I was making to her that we would get married. Our relationship is grounded in that promise—we look forward to enjoying union together; all because we promised each other that we would be life partners.
Promises are central to the way God relates to us as well. He has made us so many promises—in fact, the Scriptures function like a promise book God gave to us. But there’s a special promise He made to His people. The promise that He made was that He would save them and be in a relationship with them. It is a covenant God made “before the ages began,” before we were ever born—and not because of anything good in us or foreseen in us, but because of His mercy and free grace. He promised eternal life to His people long ago, in eternity past, “before the foundations of the earth” (Eph. 1:4). This is a hard truth to understand, and theology calls it election.
This is a hard truth to understand, but if we believe that God saves, we must believe it—for He saves according to His plan and will, not ours. This means that our work will always be fruitful—it doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved when they hear our message, but it does mean that we have confidence that God’s word will not return back to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
Christian conversion takes place because of God’s promise and election. Recall your conversion. Did you plan for that to happen? Did you know and plan to walk up the aisle? Did you know the details of your conversion before it happened? No, because you didn’t plan it. But God did. That’s the beauty of election and God promising eternal life. He is the One who planned it, and He is the one who will finish it and usher us into eternity with Him.
We believe because we were chosen: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5a). Here Paul says that we can confidently be sure that God has chosen us because the gospel has come to us and transformed our lives. And when it comes to our ministry, there are people all around us who might be days away from that moment; weeks away; years away; decades away; but God is using our ministering efforts right now to lead them to that moment, just like He did us. Just like His plan of salvation is His plan in His own time, He has also chosen to use us as His tools to reach people—no other way will they be saved without the preaching of our gospel.
Do you have confidence in God’s promise of eternal life like Paul did in Acts 18? Do you rest in God’s sovereign plan of salvation?
IV. How to Use this Principle in Ministry
We have seen what this principle is, but it is no good to us if we don’t know how to use it. So how can we have this hope of eternal life? How can we develop this kind of perspective for our ministries to our workplace, family, church, community, and world? I offer a few practical suggestions:
1. First, make sure you’re saved. I think this is self-explanatory. You have to have Christ as your Savior and Lord to look forward to eternal life and have this hope, and to share it with the unsaved.
2. Ponder often the truth of eternal life. Read about it in the Scriptures. As Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). With this principle and great truth in mind, there is no sacrifice too great that we can make if we know that heaven is our home. There is also no persecution or rejection so great that can remove the place Jesus is preparing for us in eternity. Think about this hope at work, at the home, by your bedside. Let it permeate your being.
3. Examine your motive for Christian service. Do you minister to those around you because you are expecting them to be saved? I think we should expect more people to be saved. God is graciously at work in the lives of people everywhere, there are people on your path that God is just waiting for you to share the gospel with them. Our motive and reason for Christian service should be yes, God’s wonderful grace. But here, Paul says that his reason for ministry was this hope of eternal life—that’s one of the greatest expressions of God’s grace. So our motivation for Christian ministry should be joy and gladness in response to God graciously promising us an eternity with Him.
4. Expect people to be saved. Not everyone will believe our message, but God has promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts. If you never expect anyone to be saved, it will damage your gospel sharing efforts. Think of the farmer who doesn’t expect a crop to grow. Will he water the seed? Will he ensure it has the right amount of sunlight? No, and indeed he will not plant it at all. Neither will you share the gospel with someone you expect to reject it and discard it into the garbage. When you share the gospel, expect people to be saved.
1. I read this a few weeks ago, and now I cannot find the article. Even if it’s not the number one question asked, it is still one that all of us are seeking the answer to by the leaders of our churches.
2. You can listen to my last sermon on Paul’s purposes as an apostle here: The Healthy Church: Principles for True Ministry (Pt. 2)
3. Foster, Elon. 6000 Sermon Illustrations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972), 358.
4. Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 670.
5. Benjamin, Kathy. 60% of People Can’t Go 10 Minutes Without Lying on Mental Floss. May 7, 2012.
6. I expound on this further here: Theological Reflection: God’s Omnipotence and Logical Possibility.
The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church, on the 25th day of January 2015:
There is perhaps nothing more important to the human body than its health. This is due mainly to the fact that good health is necessary to the human body. In fact, this is especially true in our own age. We find that there are more organic and wholesome foods sold today than ever before. Cigarette smoking is at its lowest percentage now among high school students.¹ Fast food restaurants are being questioned about their practices, the way they prepare their food, and what they put into it. This focus on health is evident even in my own life. I went on a search the other day to a few general stores because I was looking for coffee creamer. Sounds strange right? Not quite, if you’re a coffee drinker like myself. The reason I went on this search is because I was looking for coffee creamer that was actually made with real sugar. I never noticed this before, but more and more stores are carrying products that are sugar-free. Every store I went to, the label read, “Sugar-Free” on all the creamers. I was seriously making sure I hadn’t missed the Rapture, because it sure seemed like the start of the Great Tribulation.
So we have this emphasis on health today more than ever before, and there are certain principles we put into practice in order to maintain our own health (at least we’re supposed to). We eat right, we exercise, and I might add—we avoid sickness. Nobody enjoys being sick and unhealthy, expect maybe the guy whose job is to drain out Porta-Potties in the Summer and calls into work sick. Praise the Lord for his days off, right?
But in the area where health should be regarded as infinitely important is where it is nearly totally neglected, in fact I would say, nearly entirely lost—and that is in the church. The church, more than a human body, needs health to have a beating heart. It needs to have health in order for its hands and feet to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus. Simply put, there are certain things that must be done in order to maintain the health and life of the local church.
That’s what Paul’s letter to Titus is all about. It’s all about what we should do in order to have a healthy church, what we should do in order to have healthy, biblical families, and what we should do to have a bold witness before a watching world. All of that is influenced by a healthy church. Those are the three themes in this letter: the church, the family, and our witness before the world. In this epistle, Paul talks about:
1.) Doctrine and duty in the local church (1:5-16)
2.) Doctrine and duty in the Christian home (2:1-15)
3.) Doctrine and duty in the world (3:1-11)
This epistle to Titus is really a bargain book—you get more for less. It is theologically jam-packed, and it goes to show the magnificence of God in inspiring Scripture because He can say so much in just a few words. Paul begins this letter by talking about how we can maintain the health of our ministry here: ministry to one another, and ministry to our community and the world. We will see how Paul put certain principles into practice in order to maintain effectiveness in his own ministry. He begins this letter by talking about his own character, the purpose for his ministry, his message, his proclamation, and then his power.
The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
I. Principles for Ministry
Notice first how formal and drawn-out Paul’s introduction is here. It is the longest of Paul’s introductions in the pastoral letters, and the second longest in all of his letters (Romans being the longest). This passage itself is one long, elegant sentence in the original Greek—in fact, it is just one sentence in the English translation, too. The question we should be asking is this: Why such a long introduction for a letter to a friend in ministry? Was it because Paul had a distant relationship with Titus and had to remind him of who he was as an apostle? Not likely.
Paul had a unique relationship with Titus. Paul traveled with him to do missionary work: “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me” (Gal. 2:1). Also, Titus worked with Paul to relieve the problems of the church at Corinth. He is mentioned nine times in 2 Corinthians (2:13; 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18, 18). Paul calls him in those places his “brother,” and “partner and fellow worker.”
Paul didn’t write out such a formal introduction because his relationship with Titus was distant. But did he perhaps, write such a long introduction to introduce themes he would talk about in the letter? Not necessarily. Now, the themes of the introduction, like salvation, and knowledge leading to godliness are clearly picked up in later sections of this letter (2:11-14; 3:3-7); and Paul does this often times, mentioning a few things in the introduction(s) that he will talk about later (Paul’s introduction in Romans and Galatians are excellent examples).
It seems that Paul has written such a lengthy introduction here to give unchanging, objective, external principles to guide his own ministry. Paul used these principles in his own ministry, and he was expecting Titus to do the same. Because Titus had an important task: to strengthen the churches in a pagan region of the world. He needed biblical principles for his own ministry that would stand the test of time. Paul was aging and he would soon die, and these principles he lays down for Titus’ ministry could be, and should be used even after Titus passes on. Why? Because these are eternal principles—unchanging, and biblical. These churches still needed a lot of work ( v. 5), they had to work through the bugs—these churches weren’t established Southern Baptist churches with orders of service and Lottie Moon mission offerings. In fact, they were likely the opposite—in need of sound doctrine, elders who would lead biblically, and the proper perspective for Christian families, and a proper perspective of the world. And it begins with the principles he would use for the ministry of the local church. Ministry can’t be done effectively, biblically or even purposefully without scriptural principles guiding, leading, and directing Paul, Titus, and us today on our journey of faith. As we see them, we need to ask ourselves if we have these individual principles in our own lives, and in the life of our local church.
II. Our Character (1:1a)
Paul begins with his own name—characteristic of all of his letters. That is one main reason why Paul is rejected as the author of Hebrews, because his name is absent. In all of Paul’s letters, his name is present at the beginning—it is the first word penned before anything else. When we write letters today, we usually sign our names at the bottom of the page, but in Paul’s day it was the exact opposite. You began letters by identifying who you were. Sometimes the letters were still signed for authenticity reasons (2 Thess. 3:17). And we see that Paul begins this letter by identifying himself in two significant ways: 1) “a servant of God,” 2) “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
1. A Servant (δοῦλος) of God
Notice first that Paul says he is a “servant of God.” Now, Paul does not casually call himself a “servant of God” here. First of all, this phrase occurs only here in Paul’s introduction to this letter. Never does Paul refer to himself this way except here. Paul sometimes calls himself a “servant of Jesus Christ” (as in Romans 1:1, and with Timothy in Philippians 1:1). Usually, in his introductions he refers to himself as simply, “An apostle of Christ Jesus . . .” On every occasion (with the exceptions of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon), Paul always calls himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” If we are going to be good interpreters, this should cause us to ask why he deviates here, when his normal self-identification is “an apostle.” Every word in the Bible counts, so there’s a significant reason why he does this.
I believe we find our answer in the Old Testament, for the expression “servant of the Lord” is an explicit OT expression. In defining his relationship with God in this way, he draws on the Old Testament pattern established by Moses, David, and other prophets who stood in the special position of those who had received revelations from God. Typically, God’s chosen prophets were described as “servants.” Let’s see a few examples:
“Moses the servant of the LORD” (Deut. 34:5).
“. . . my servant David” (God to Nathan in 2 Sam. 7:5).
“For the LORD GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
And in Jeremiah 7, God says that he gave the Israelites His commandments, but they did not obey. And in an attempt to get them to obey, here’s what God did:
“From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers” (Jer. 7:25-26).
It seems that Paul is aligning himself with obedient servants of God who preceded him as recipients of divine revelation. Just as the towering figures of the Old Testament were obedient servants of God and received God’s revelations, so was the same of Paul. By describing himself this way, Paul anchor’s his ministry in the story of the covenant God of the Old Testament. Those great characters of the Old Testament served God’s people, His elect (and notice later in this verse that he says that his purpose as an apostle was the exact same purpose for all of the Old Testament prophets).
If this is true of Paul, his authority and obedience to God are not to be questioned. This was important for the Cretan culture that Titus ministered in. They had discounted the teaching of the gospel of Jesus and had devoted themselves to “Jewish myths,” (1:14) and they were an untrustworthy, lying culture that was proud to admit it, too (1:12). So while they would have been taught that Judaism in its various forms was superior to Christianity, Paul was saying that he received revelations from God just as the prophets of old.
But there’s another important reason why he says this. The Greek word for “servant” here is doulos, meaning one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will. This is literally translated “bondservant,” which in this case is someone who has no rights of his own, no will of his own—but his sole desire is to do the will of his master. If anyone in the Bible could say this of himself, it was Paul. In the passage where Paul lists all of his credentials and spiritual accomplishments, what does he say concerning them all? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). Also recall in Acts 22 where he recounts his conversion and he notes that he inquired of the Lord, “What shall I do, Lord?” (22:10). Paul was a doulos of God—he had no will of his own, no agenda of his own. Paul’s will was to do God’s will and God’s agenda.
And he is laying this down as a principle for Titus, too. If Titus is going to be a successful pastor of his church, a leader of his own home, and a witness in his pagan culture—he must be a servant of God. How would he expect his church to be servants if he wasn’t a servant? How would he expect his family and the families of his church to be servants if he didn’t model it for them by being a servant? And how would he expect for a lost world to be a servant and follow Christ if he wasn’t being a servant?
The same applies to us. If we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God. The Bible already says we are slaves of God, we just need to act like it. For instance, Paul in Romans 6 says, “But now [you] have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God . . .” (v. 22). We just need to become what we are already—slaves of God. What about you? Are you a slave of God? If you want a healthy church, here’s where it starts. This is where it started for Titus, and this is where it must start for us.
Most of the time, our plans are rarely God’s plans, but Paul was someone whose whole life was changed because of submission to God’s will. Living in submission to God’s will is perhaps the greatest thing on this present earth for a ChristianGod wants us to be His servants, and He will give us strength and grace daily if we will only surrender. This is so important because not only was being a servant characteristic of Paul, but of our own Savior—in Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . .and [became] obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 7-8). And Peter, speaking in Solomon’s portico, defending the messianic Jesus before the peoples, says this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts 3:13). Jesus is our supreme example—He was a servant of God. Paul was a servant of God, and this must characterize us as individuals and us as a local church. If we can’t honestly say that we are servants of God, maybe we need to get our hands dirty and out into the action, pull up our bootstraps and get to work—empowered and motivated by a passion to serve God because of who He is and what He’s done for us in the gospel. Motivated not because we want God to love us—but motivated because He already does love us. We need Paul’s attitude: “What do you want me to do?”
2. Messenger/Apostle of Jesus Christ
We’ve seen the first way that Paul identifies himself, as a doulos of God, and as we expect from Paul, he defines himself secondly as his usual designation, “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” To further confirm his authority as an apostle, not only is he in the spiritual line of prophets who received revelation from God, but he was a special messenger of Jesus Christ Himself. That’s what it means to be an apostle. The word apostle literally means a messenger, a representative, or envoy. This is the usual way he describes himself, because that’s what he was.
During Paul’s conversion, the Lord Jesus says of him, “[He] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). He was Christ’s instrument. In Romans, Paul says in introducing himself, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). And Paul defends his apostleship in Galatians:
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . .” (Gal. 1:15-16a)
But I just want to make you aware of something at this point. We have really elevated the term apostle in our language. Yes, Paul being an apostle meant that he was given revelation from the Lord and of course, penned 13 letters of our New Testaments. But the word apostle is really nothing lofty—it just means to be a messenger. Someone is an apostle simply because they carry a message. If I have a message I need to send to someone, say across the street, and I get someone to take it for me, then they would be my apostle—my messenger.
The same is true of us. We are ambassadors for Christ, we are His messengers—and having a healthy church starts here too. We must realize that we are His messengers in this world. I love Paul’s description of this in 2 Corinthians 5:20, where he says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We may not have the gifts Paul had, and we certainly will not be agents of divine revelation—but we have a responsibility to be messengers.
True ministry begins with our character—we must understand who we are; slaves of God and messengers of God. It is our birthright; when we become believers, we have the responsibility to live every day in these ways.
Let me add something in closing. Being servants of God and being His messengers are not simply things we need to be, but they are things we can be. This is not legalism; God has all the empowering, motivating grace we need to be servants and messengers. To reinforce this point, what does Paul crave for Titus in v. 4? He says, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” Paul couldn’t be a servant or messenger without the grace of God, Titus couldn’t either, and neither can we. Without the grace of God, we are powerless, lifeless, and useless. But because He has “lavished upon us” the “riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7, 8).
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cigarette Smoking Among U.S. High School Students at Lowest Level in 22 Years, June 2014.
Often times when we read an account like this, we tend to run over it, believing that it is not relevant for us today and we read on to the next passage. But the Bible says different: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This means that every portion is relevant for our lives. I don’t have to make the Word of God relevant; it is already relevant.
“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”
Paul, the Prisoner for Christ
First Paul writes, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles. . .” (3:1)
For what reason? Well, look at Ephesians chapter 2. What is that chapter all about? The gospel that gives life and includes the Gentiles. This is the guiding purpose in all Paul does. So he writes, “For this reason [for the reason of this great gospel] I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” Paul was a prisoner at the time of writing this letter (You can read about that in Acts 28). Paul was a prisoner in Rome because he had been preaching the gospel. And Paul writes that he is a “prisoner for Christ Jesus” here in this passage. That is interesting to note, because he could have said “a prisoner, held captive by these filthy Romans.” It’s interesting because he doesn’t once place blame on anyone for his being held captive. Paul views his imprisonment positively. His imprisonment was definitely a hardship. His imprisonment was an embarrassment. But to our surprise, he gives little focus to his difficulty. He doesn’t blame the Romans, he doesn’t blame God, but you can almost hear a tone of honor in his voice as he says, “I am a prisoner for Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s theology of hardship never focuses on the hardship itself, but on the Christ, His gospel, and His people. We know this all too well from the pen of Paul to the Philippians: “12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:12-14). Yes, Paul is aware of something much larger than his own circumstances. He is aware of something of infinite worth. Something on which no value can be placed. Something worth giving up everything for. Something that is worth losing everything for—and that something is Someone, and He is Jesus. Was Paul’s imprisonment life-threatening? Of course. But Paul’s imprisonment did not define who he was. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ defined who he was.
The Gospel is What Defines
Let me clarify: Paul wasn’t talking about suffering as a result of sin and evil in this world. There are different types of suffering—death, sickness, and disease, but the kind of suffering he was talking about was suffering for Christ. And so we unearth a foundational truth of the Christian life: The gospel will cost you something. The gospel always costs you something. What matters is where your heart is when you lose things for the gospel. And when we will lose things for Christ’s gospel, Jesus asks us if our heart is in the right place when we suffer on His behalf. When we lose things for the gospel. And it’s in a very strange passage of Scripture: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). What Jesus is saying here is that following Him will cost you dearly. You know your dad won’t approve. He’ll roll his eyes and mumble something about you getting carried away with your religion. Your brother or sister won’t know what to make of your decision to lose everything for Jesus. Your friends may distance themselves from you. There’s a good chance your husband or wife will criticize you for losing everything for Jesus. And Jesus is saying, “Yep, that may be part of it. And if you’re not willing to choose me over your family (and over everything, knowing that you may lose it in this life), then you are not ready to follow, and maybe it’s time for you to go on home.”
If you lost everything for the gospel would it still be worth it?
Ephesians says yes. Because when you lose things for the gospel you are not really losing anything—but you are gaining that which is of infinite worth and that is God. Nothing on this earth can compare to God—not the greatest amount of wealth and possessions, not the most power, not popularity from anyone and everyone, not conquest, not great achievement—nothing ever will and ever can compare with the infinite worth of God. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:25-26).
And nothing can ever take Him away from you. No force, no power, no nothing can every take you away from God if you belong to Him through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). So what if you lose something for the sake of Christ and the spread of His gospel? That’s the attitude that Paul had here. Paul rejoiced in his suffering and counted it as an honor to be called a “prisoner for Christ Jesus.” And so asked his readers: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (v. 13).
Value the Treasure
Paul didn’t allow his circumstances to define who he was. He let the gospel do that. He was a prisoner for Christ Jesus. And we need to remember that the gospel defines who we are. Folks, the gospel is all we have. It’s all we need—but it’s all we have. This gospel is the good news that even though we are born haters of God (Rom. 1:30), sinners by nature (Eph. 2:3), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), not seeking Him(Rom. 3:11)—that God had a plan from eternity to save us (Eph. 1:4) and that salvation was accomplished through Jesus Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:8) and is available to all who would turn away from sin and have faith in Him as Lord and Savior of their lives.
If you are a believer, no sin defines who you are, no past shame defines who you are, no difficulty in life defines who you are, not even death defines who you are—but only the gospel of Jesus Christ defines who you are and that gospel says that you are God’s forever, to enjoy Him forever and make Him your infinite delight.
“Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” (vv. 2-3). Paul stops his prayer here and doesn’t come back to it until 3:14. He stops here to explain the nature of his apostleship and his ministry. Paul’s readers would have heard of God’s entrusting of His grace to Paul if they had only read the above chapters. That’s all it would take. In fact he states in the next verse: “when you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ” (v. 4). He says that he was steward of God’s grace. And he tells his readers that the mystery of the gospel was made known to him by revelation and he was written about it briefly. Paul viewed himself as a manager of grace. Why? Well he had a specific task given to him. In Acts 22, Paul says that Jesus commanded him: ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:21, emphasis mine). Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was unique, and God used Paul to write Holy Spirit inspired letters—and while we can never duplicate Paul in exactly every way, Paul’s theology of grace here really teaches us something that I think we often forget.
Grace enlists. Grace commissions. Grace always brings responsibility. Christianity is not a religion of works, but it is a religion of action. If we think that God’s grace is limited to the gift of salvation, and it stops there—then we are deceiving ourselves. This text forces us to reflect on the fact that grace enlists. We are all managers of grace. If we have received the grace of God, we are told to extend it to others: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). In fact, you may disagree, but I would go as far as to say that if grace is not being worked out in your life, then you never had grace to begin with and are not saved. Grace always brings responsibility and forces us to take action folks. If we are not taking action in our Christian lives today, then did we have grace to begin with? Paul even says later in this passage, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7).
But let me clarify two things:
1) Grace doesn’t just enlist clergy. Grace doesn’t just enlist pastors, Sunday school teachers, and crazy youth pastors. All believers are called to extend God’s grace to others and to live in a way that draws people’s attention to Him. We are all ministers folks. In fact if you want the Bible’s specific definition of how we are all ministers, here you go: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).
2) Ministry is God’s gift to you. It’s not your gift to Him. Often times we think we are doing God a favor when we engage in some spiritual project. But what is really happening is this: God is inviting you through obedience to glorify Him. God delights in that, but really it is a gift to us because we are enjoying God as we are glorifying Him. That’s the cool thing about our relationship to God. Our full joy in Him does not compromise His being glorified and uplifted. Those two things go hand in hand. For example, in the Westminster Catechism the first question asks: “What is the chief aim of man?” The answer there is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” It doesn’t say ends. We glorify God by enjoying Him. And we will enjoy Him as we extend His grace to others by doing things that will draw people’s attention to Him.
The Mystery Revealed
“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (vv. 4-5) Paul says that when his readers read this, they can perceive into his insight into the mystery of Christ. This is a conditional statement. They will not understand the mystery without reading his letter. And Paul says that this mystery was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets. And it wasn’t. This “mystery of Christ” was not known to human beings in earlier generations. However, he insists that the Law and the Prophets (who in past generations attested to the gospel): “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (Rom. 3:21). Moses and the prophets had written of Christ and his coming salvation, and God even promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3), but the full realization of who Christ was and the great extent of His salvation that would come to the Gentiles was not clear until the giving of the Spirit. That’s how Paul says that this mystery was revealed: “by the Spirit.” The Bible attests elsewhere: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 2:21, emphasis mine).
What is the ‘Mystery of Christ?’
Paul has made mention of this mystery a few times already and now he explains what that mystery is: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v. 6). Here’s the mystery Paul says: These people who were separated from Israel and her God, (like we’ve seen before in Eph. 2) are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. How are they made into these things? “Through the gospel” (v. 6 b). What Paul is demonstrating here is a theology of unity. Paul has fought so strenuously for establishing the doctrine of unity between Jew and Gentile. In fact, that has been an aspect of our study in Ephesians since we started. Paul has a real concern for the inclusion of the Gentiles into the body of Christ. Paul is expounding the mystery of Christ and says that the Gentiles belong, and they are on the same footing as Jewish Christians and receive the same benefits. Their unity is not grounded in the similarity of skin color, their unity is not grounded in following the law, their unity is not grounded in anything else but the Lord Jesus Christ.
If being in Christ unites Jews and Gentiles into one body (members of the same body), does it not do the same for us with all other believers who are in Christ? That’s the theme we draw from Paul’s usage of language of reconciliation between Jew and Gentile that we have observed so much.
Unity: Are We Living It?
We are unified in Christ. Regardless of our differences. Regardless of our past. Regardless of any barrier that may make us different from any other person. If we are in Christ, we are unified in one body—Christ’s body. The question is not, Are we unified? The question is, are we living unified? We are not asked to like other Christians, we are not asked to be like them, agree with them, but we are to recognize and to put into action that we are one with them in the Lord, and we share the same benefits. When we realize that we are all “fellow heirs,” “members of the same body,” and “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus,” we will view our brothers and sisters in Christ in a biblical way. We will see each other on the same level. We will encourage one another because we know that we all struggle with one ultimate problem: sin. We will worship as a family. And all sorts of other benefits.
Here’s where disunity starts to get damnable: if we do not live in unity, then we proclaim a false message to the world. The message of the gospel is a message of unity and a message of peace. And if our church life is characterized by divisions, strivings, and arguments, then we are putting our light under a basket, when we should be “letting [our] light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Unity is a lifestyle that we need to put time and effort into folks. We live in a day when people come to church to see what they can get. Some people come to church to fit their preferences and if they don’t get what they want, often times they leave. Or someone will have a petty disagreement with somebody or a wrestling with someone and they leave the fellowship. There are right reasons to leave certain fellowships and there are wrong reasons to leave certain fellowships. And if you’re someone who breaks from a fellowship because you didn’t get your way—that is a wrong, unscriptural reason to leave the fellowship.
Folks, when we meet together as a body—a great protest takes place. That’s right, a protest. When we fellowship together as a family, worship as fellow heirs, see each other as members of the same body, our presence together is a bold protest against division. We meet together as a body to protest divisions and to hold up our picket signs against divisions—and those picket signs have painted on them, “We are one in Christ!”
I Am the Very Least
After Paul describes what this mystery is, he goes on to say, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7). Again, Paul talks about the “grace-enlisting” that we discussed earlier. He tells his readers that he was made a minister of this great, triumphant gospel. How was he made a minister? “according to God’s gift of grace, which was given me by the working of his power.” Again, grace enlists. Grace enlists.
Verse 8 reads, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. .” Paul maintains such humility here and says basically, “I of all people, was given this grace to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” But what else was he given this grace for? “. . . and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (vv. 9-10).
Paul has said that this plan of the mystery was not revealed to “the sons of men in other generations” (v. 5), and the plan of this mystery (as he says here) was hidden for ages in God who created all things. Paul attests to God creating all things to imply that God doesn’t need a creator. That is the only rational explanation for the existence of the universe. Something (we know Someone) outside our realm of existence would have to supernaturally create the universe as we know it. And this something would have to have never had a beginning. Something that doesn’t depend on something else for its existence. This something is Someone and that’s God.
And Paul says that this plan of the mystery was hidden in this eternal God. If God is eternal, then He didn’t need a creator and this plan of the mystery was hidden “for ages” in the limitless, eternal God. Which is why Paul says in the next verse, “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11). Paul also says that God gave him grace to bring to light for everyone this mystery for a special kind of testimony: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (v. 10). Didn’t see that coming. Have you ever read that in the Bible? This means that our testimony provides evil angelic powers with a reminder that their authority has been decisively broken and that all things are subject to Christ.
Thus you have a triumphant testimony of the gospel’s power: No power of hell, no scheme of the devil, and no influence of a demon can hinder the advance of the gospel to Gentiles or their inclusion into the church. And that goes for everyone who would trust in Jesus Christ. The living, breathing Church of God testifies to even demonic powers that we have been unified by Christ and are in subject to Christ.
Boldness and Access With Confidence
Paul says of this Christ, “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (v. 12). Paul says that through Christ we have these things.You know, it’s strange that Paul was not frequently discouraged with the failures of his churches. He did criticize the sexual immorality of the church in Corinth, he did exhort the believers in Galatia to stop getting away from the true gospel, but he was convinced that things would work out. So Paul was eager for his readers to share his confidence rather than be discouraged—and once again the gospel is what sustains that: Paul says that in Christ he has “boldness and access with confidence,” through his faith in him.
We have something that the rest of the world doesn’t: access to God. Not only that, we have access to God with confidence. However, “boldness and access with confidence” (v. 12) does not mean that:
1) We have freedom to do whatever we want boldly before God. He sees anyway so I will do sin all the more.
2) We should feel superior to others because we have access to God; Boldness and humility go hand in hand.
3) It also doesn’t mean that we should be passive. It doesn’t mean that confidence in God should result in not taking action.
We know that life is difficult, we have suffering, evil and death all around us. Often times we can make a mistake and deny that these suffering are really impacting us. Listen to me, denial of the struggles in your life is not the solution. Paul knew the difficulties and was still confident. He looked his struggles straight in the eye but said, “I have access with confidence to God.” When we are aware of the fact that we do not go through hardships alone, when we are aware of the fact that we have a Savior who was “in every respect . . tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15), then we have a great comfort. We as believers even have confidence over death as part of belonging to God.
So Paul concludes by asking his readers, “not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.” Why? “it is their glory.” Paul’s suffering was worth it because he knew that he wasn’t really losing anything—but gaining that which is of immeasurable worth: God.
May God develop within all of us an attitude like Paul’s here.
You’ve Got Questions: Does James’ Teaching About Faith and Works Contradict Paul’s Teaching About Faith and Works?
When climbing from lowlands to mountaintops, one must often pass through clouds. While ascending to the peak, sight soon becomes fogged. When you enter a layer of clouds, it helps to have a guide to help you avoid loose rocks that you can’t see as you try to get the best views of the mountaintop. I hope that this article will serve as a guide to clarification regarding the compatibility of the teachings of Paul and James about faith and works. If you’ve studied the Scriptures for long, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. We often receive questions along the lines of “Explain how these verses do not contradict!” or “Look, here is an error in the Bible!” If you are troubled in answering your skeptics or just desiring clarity from theses passages of Scripture, I pray that you are helped by the information presented here. I want you to get the best view of the mountaintop of truth that is evident in these passages.
The Obstacle in Our Journey
The obstacle that we have approached in our journey of Bible study is this: Does James’ teaching on faith and works contradict Paul’s teaching on faith and works? To answer this question it is important to understand that there are difficult passages of Scripture. There are verses that appear to contradict each other. We must remember that the Bible was written by approximately 40 different authors over a period of around 1500 years. Each writer wrote with a different style, from a different perspective, to a different audience, for a different purpose. We should expect some minor differences. However, a difference is not a contradiction. It is only an error if there is absolutely no conceivable way the verses or passages can be reconciled.
James writes in his letter “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24; out of context), while Paul writes to the Romans “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28; also out of context). Some see an apparent contradiction by saying that Paul is teaching salvation by faith alone and James is teaching salvation by faith plus works. This apparent problem is solved just by examining the contexts of the passages.
The Clouds Dissipate
To begin, let’s look at an earlier verse where this concept began: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (James 2:21 ESV). On the surface, James may seem to contradict Paul. Paul denies that Abraham was “justified by works” (Rom. 4:2), arguing from Genesis 15:6 that Abraham’s faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). However, James’ assertion in this verse (that “Abraham [was]. . . justified by works”) is based not on Genesis 15:6 but on Genesis 22:9-10, where (many years later) Abraham began to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Thus, James apparently has a different sense of the word “justify” in view here, as evidenced by the different Scripture passages, and the different events in Abraham’s life, to which James and Paul refer. The primary way in which Paul uses the word “justify” emphasizes the sense of being declared righteous by God through faith, on the basis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:24–26), whereas the primary way that James uses the word “justify” here in James 2:21 seems to emphasize the way in which works demonstrate that someone has been justified, as evidenced by the good works that the person does (see Matt. 12:33–37).
With that biblical concept in mind, some clouds have hopefully dissipated as we now look at the verse in question. “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). James again seems at first to contradict Paul’s teaching that one is justified by faith alone (Rom. 3:28), but the two are compatible. For James, “faith alone” means a bogus kind of faith, a mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life. Recall how the “demons believe—and shudder” (2:19). He is arguing that simple mental assent to the Christian faith does not save anyone. The faith that saves, as both Paul and James both affirm, embraces the truth of the gospel and acts accordingly. Therefore, the conclusion drawn is that James, in agreement with Paul, argues that true faith is never alone: it always produces works (Eph. 2:10).
I have heard it said well before that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of faith: to bring salvation. While James is emphasizing the results of faith: a changed life. Paul expects just as much of a changed life as James does: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James and Paul do not disagree in their teaching regarding salvation. They approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.
Keep Digging and Digging
The Bible is a book that is not merely for reading. It is a book for studying so that it can be applied. Through careful study in the contexts of our passages above, the answer is discovered. If vigorous study of the Word is neglected, then it is like swallowing food without chewing and then spitting it back out again—no nutritional value is gained by it. The Bible is God’s Word. As such, it is as binding as the laws of nature. We can ignore it, but we do so to our own detriment, just as we would if we ignored the law of gravity. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough just how important the Bible is to our lives! Studying the Bible can be compared to mining for gold. If we make little effort and merely “sift through the pebbles in a stream,” we will only find a little gold dust. But the more we make an effort to really dig into it, the more reward we will gain for our effort. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16).
“And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:39-40 ESV)
Remember playing Tug of War as a child? The game consists of a rope, two teams, and a marker dividing the teams. The object of the game is to pull your opposing team over the marker. In this Scripture passage, Paul and Barnabas were in a kind of personal “tug of war” as they made plans for another missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul was still upset at Mark for deserting them on their previous journey. As a result, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark with him while Paul chose Silas to join him. Though they had their differences, the missionary work was not hindered.
As long as we are on this earth we will have conflicts with people, even within the church. The question comes, “Will we let conflict disrupt our mission?” We must not elevate personal offenses or preferences over the Great Commission. A point comes when we need to drop the “rope,” get over our differences, and move on to do the work.
Prayer: “Father, may I be faithful to your mission, get over personal offenses, and move on in my service to You.”
Taken from: Jenna Fleming, Open Windows: A Guide for Personal Devotions. Sept. 24
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.