1 Samuel 16: David

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Tonight we are going to look at David in 1 Samuel 16. The Israelites had rejected God as their king and leader because they wanted to look like the other nations of the world. They asked God for a king, so he gave them Saul. But as we learned last week Saul did not do as God had commanded him to do, instead he did what he thought was best. So God rejects Saul as king. Picking up now in chapter 16 we are going to read what God does next through his prophet Samuel.

1 Samuel 16:1-6 says,

1 “The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” 2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’  3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed stands here before the LORD.”

Choosing the New King

In the first verse we learn that Samuel is grieving over what has happened to Saul. But God speaks to Samuel and tells him it is time to stop looking back, and start looking forward. What’s done is done. God has rejected Saul as king. So God tells Samuel to get a “horn of oil” and go to Bethlehem to a man named Jesse. It is one of his sons who God has chosen to replace Saul as king over Israel. Now up until this point Jesse has never been mentioned in the Bible. And as far as the people know at this point in time, there is nothing significant about Jesse and his sons.

Then Samuel raises an issue to the Lord…the fact of the matter is that Saul is a violent and unpredictable man. If Samuel goes to Bethlehem and anoints a new king to replace Saul, he will hear about it and there’s not a chance he’ll be ok with that, he has already proven that he is not submissive to God’s will but only acts on his own interests. So God gives Samuel a way to be protected from Saul. He tells him to go there to make a sacrifice and to invite Jesse. From there God says, “I will show you what to do after that. I will show you who I have chosen as king so that you can anoint him.”

So this raises a good question for us to ask. What did it mean to “anoint” someone as king? In The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (p.33, “Anointing”) it explains that to anoint someone was to pour/rub oil on a person, symbolizing a special recognition of that person. Through doing this that person is set apart from others and publicly given authority. This was actually not a specifically Biblical ritual, it was a cultural one. It was used in business, politics, weddings, and in the liberation of slaves in the Ancient Near East to formally make something official. It was a ceremony. So we would liken it today to the inauguration of a President, or a wedding ceremony. Think about it, we don’t need a big public ceremony to make someone president or marry two people, those things can be done in private. But the ceremonies exist so that both the person and the public understand the importance of the commitment and treat it with submission and respect. So by anointing His king, God is symbolizing to the people that this is His choice so that the people would submit to his leadership and so that He would be protected as God’s chosen. Killing God’s anointed was as serious as we would view assassinating a president today. Also, by anointing David as king God is assuring to David that He will be with Him. That His spirit and His presence will never leave him.

So Samuel goes to Bethlehem and it says the elders “trembled” when they met them. This was probably because prophets of God generally visited people when they were delivering judgment from God. But Samuel assures them he comes in peace. So then he tells them exactly what God told him to tell them, that he is there to make a sacrifice. Verse 4 tells us that Samuel did what the Lord told him to do, unlike Saul who took what God commanded and “improved upon it,” doing what he thought was best. Samuel could have easily justified a couple of changes in God’s plans inorder to protect himself or do what he thought would be best, but instead he obeyed exactly what God had said.

So then it says that Samuel instructs the elders to “consecrate” themselves for the sacrifice, and that he “consecrated” Jesse and his sons as well. To “consecrate” meant to clean yourself in order to purify yourself of all dirt and filth. This often included washing your clothes. And they did it in order to present themselves as clean and as pure as possible before a holy God.

Then it says in verse 6 that as they arrived at the sacrifice, Samuel sees Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, and assumes to himself, that is the one God has chosen. There is something very significant about this. It was very natural for someone to look at Eliab and assume from the outside that he was going to be the one God had chosen. First, in that culture, the eldest was always honored above his younger brothers. Second, simply because of his age he would be the strongest and most experienced of his brothers. More educated and equipped. Even Samuel who was a man of God, looked at these outward things and made a judgment based on them. We are all prone to do this no matter where we are spiritually. We naturally look at what is temporary, what is obvious. It is human to do this which is why we have to remember that only God can see things as they really are. So we must constantly look to Him for guidance and wisdom, and not act based on what we see on our own. Samuel is about to learn this….

1 Samuel 16:7-13 says,

7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.”  9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.”  10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.”  11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.”

God Chooses David

God knows our thoughts and He knew what Samuel had been thinking about Eliab. So God speaks to this in verse 7. First, He warns him not to look at outward things. He says, that is what man is prone to do. God specifically points out two things that tend to impress people. His appearance and his height. Most likely, God choose these two attributes to pin point because those are the things that people found so impressive about Saul. In 1 Samuel 9:2 Saul was described as impressive, without equal, and a head taller than any other. But these attributes did not make him a good king. So God says don’t consider those things, and that the fact of the matter is He has not chosen Eliab, that’s what it means when it says He has rejected him.

So God explains, what matters to Him is the heart. What is God referring to here? What is “the heart”? What does God look at? Instead of looking at what is on the outside, God looks at what is inside. The ESV Study Bible explains that when the Bible refers to our hearts it is taking about our morality, spirituality, emotions, will, and reason.

Proverbs 4:23 describes our hearts as the wellsprings of life. The heart is the source of our lives and who we are, what we are flows from it. In Mark 7 and Luke 6 Jesus describes our hearts as being where either evil or good originate. In 2 Chronicles 16:9 it tells us that God searches the earth looking for men with hearts fully committed to Him. So, the heart is where our loyalties lie, it is in the heart that God sees whether we are committed to Him or not. And based on that commitment either good or evil will flow from our hearts, because it is the wellspring of our lives. This is why God looks at the heart, because the outside can be deceiving but God knows what is in our hearts and where our loyalties lie.

What God was looking for…

So what God was looking for was a heart that was loyal to Him. One that would be submissive to His authority and obedient to His will. In 1 Samuel 13 when God rejected Saul as king this is what He said to Saul through Samuel:

13 “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’S command.”

Although Saul was impressive in the eyes of man, his heart was not loyal to God. Instead of God’s will he did what he thought was best, he did not submit to God’s will and his heart was not for God. It was not about being perfect and sinless, it was about Saul’s heart not being loyal to God. So now God is going to choose someone whose heart is to pursue God, and regardless of how much he sins will always turn back to God.

So in verses 8-10 Samuel considers each of Jesse’s sons, but God tells him no for each one. God rejects each as king, they are not the chosen ones. Now stop for a minute and consider how Samuel must have felt….God told him he had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king, Samuel goes through all of them, and God says no. Samuel is sort of in a desperate situation, he has put his life at risk to do what God said and now he has hit a brick wall. Now think about this. How many times have you found yourself in a similar situation. Where you felt strongly God was telling you to do something, but when it came down to it you hit a brick wall. It seemed God had misled you? Or maybe something went wrong? And you are left frustrated, confused, doubting yourself and doubting God. This is exactly where Samuel must have been. In a situation like this, when God doesn’t seem to be coming through for us, we are often tempted to just do what we think is best.

But instead of doing that, instead of giving in to all these negatives thoughts and doubting God, Samuel believed God was still going to do what He said He would do and how He said He would do it! So he realizes the only other option is that Jesse has another son. This is very similar to what we read about Abraham in Hebrews 11. God promised to give Abraham numerous descendents through his son Isaac, so when God told Abraham to kill Isaac, it says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” (Heb 11:19) They both looked to what they knew about God and believed His promises even though their circumstances didn’t make sense. They didn’t know how God could do it, they just knew He would!

So Samuel asks Jesse if there is another son and he says yes. Just the fact that Jesse didn’t even invite his youngest son to the sacrifice speaks to the cultures importance on the older sons. Until the sons were of a certain age they were not that important. So David was the least of his brothers. He had the lowest job in the family. But God has already given Samuel the whole “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” lecture, so now Samuel is excited. He’s eager to see what it is that God is going to do here. So he won’t even let them sit until the youngest son gets there.

Verse 12 tells us what David looks like, and he is actually impressive on the outside. He is ruddy (which is a way of saying “healthy”), he is fine in appearance, and he has handsome features. So what God was saying earlier wasn’t that His chosen wouldn’t look good on the outside, but that He wasn’t going to choose him based on his appearance, but instead based on his heart. So David arrives and God tells Samuel that is the one He has chosen and to anoint him.

This passage ends in verse 13 with Samuel anointing David here in a private ceremony. Before his family rather than the nation. And it says that from that point on the Spirit of God came upon David in power.

God’s Purposes Stand

One of the greatest lessons we need to glean from this passage is about God’s purposes. God truly can do anything, nothing is impossible for Him. If it is God’s will, then it will come to pass and nothing can get in the way. David was a nobody. He was hidden. The culture he was born into ensured that he would never be great. As the youngest he would always be the lowest on the totem pole doing the jobs that his older brothers did not want to do. Who would ever notice him and how would he ever have great purpose in his life? He spent his days alone with dirty, dumb sheep.

But the truth was, God did see him and he was not hidden from God. When it came to David’s future he actually had nothing to fear, because God had a plan and a purpose for his life.  He was not unimportant. All that time that David was “hidden and unimportant” God was preparing him to be king. Think of all he was doing and the many ways God could have been using it. Being the youngest he had to learn to be last, to serve others, to respect authority. As a shepherd of sheep he probably was learning great patience and how to lead lost and not so smart animals….perhaps preparing him for leading Israel, a nation who had often gotten lost and acted not so smart. He was alone in the fields a lot, with a lot of time to think and pray. He learned to live on the land…perhaps preparing him for the years he would be living in the wild while Saul pursued him.

I am not trying to add anything to God’s Word, but just to help us to think about this and to see that God always has purpose in everything in our lives. God’s purpose for David’s life didn’t start when Samuel anointed him, it started before David was born. Later in David’s life he reflects on this and writes Psalm 139. He says things like….you knit me together in my mother’s womb, you created my inmost being, all the days ordained for me are written in your book, before they came to be, you know my thoughts, words, and actions, you are always there with me.

And this is how we need to learn to view our own lives. Knowing that there is purpose in our lives and God uses all things in our lives to refine and shape us for His purposes and for our good. We have nothing to fear. We are not unimportant and we are never hidden from God.

Eternal Purposes

And we must not forget that there was something even bigger about the purpose of David’s life that David could have never guessed or known. David even died without ever seeing one of the greatest purposes of his life carried out. Israel looked to David to be the one who God would use to save them and make them great. But David could not do this, he was not able to be holy and blameless before God. So God could not use him in that way. That is why Jesus had to come.

In Hebrew, the word for “anointed one” is Messiah. And in Greek the word for “anointed one” is Christos, or Christ in English. If you have ever wondered why we say Jesus Christ instead of just Jesus, it is because Christos is His title. He is Jesus, God’s anointed one. The chosen one. The one God would use to save the world. This is why we call Him King of Kings, He is the king of God’s people that even David could never be. And all four gospels talk about the anointing of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized the heavens opened up, and a dove (the holy Spirit) came upon Him, and God himself anointed Jesus publicly saying “this is my son”. As we talked about at the beginning of the study tonight, God was saying, This is my chosen one, who I have set apart and given all authority.

Conclusion

As we close tonight I want you to think back through this story, what can we take away from it?

  1. As we looked at Samuel and how he obeyed God’s commands and then responded when he seemed to hit a brick wall – we learn that obedience to God never involves tweaking or improving upon God’s commands. And when we are confused and unsure of what God is doing, we are to look to Him, trusting His character and His promises, and respond in faith.
  2. Second, we were reminded that what matters to God is not what is on the outside, but what is in our hearts. We must remember that we are prone to care more about temporary outward things, but what is most important is the reality that God sees that is not on the surface. As we pursue God we will fail and fall into sin, but what matters most is that our hearts are loyal to Him, that we get back up and continue pursuing God despite our failures.
  3. And lastly, as with David, we are never hidden from God. He is with you and He is constantly weaving His purposes in your life, nothing is impossible for Him. Wherever you are in life right now, God is with you and He is carrying out His plan for your life.

Questions for Discussion & Application

●       How have you struggled to trust God’s purpose in your life right now and what causes you to doubt that He has a purpose and plan for your life?

●       How are you currently focusing on your heart and having a heart after God’s heart?

1 Samuel 15: Saul, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Introduction

When I was growing up, my sister and I stayed at my aunt’s house a lot and would play with our cousins.  We loved going there because they had a huge playroom with two huge closets full of toys and games.  There were transformers, Lego’s, board games, red paper bricks, and every other fun toy.  We were always in that room, playing, creating, building, having fun, and usually making quite a mess while doing it… We always dreaded it though, when my aunt or my mom would come and tell us we had to clean up the room by a certain deadline.  We knew we were just going to get the toys back out again anyway, so we didn’t really see the point in cleaning the room, but we knew we had to do it because they said so…  One time, one of us decided the fastest way to clean the room would be to cram everything as fast as possible into these closets.  We would: pick up a toy, run to the closet, throw it in the closet, and repeat.  The playroom soon began to look clean, although the closets were now a disaster.  But, it was clean though, just how our mom wanted it to look…  Finally, the deadline would come, and our inspectors would inspect.  We would all held our breath, anxiously hoping that they wouldn’t look in the closets…if only they wouldn’t look in the closets and see the mess we had really made… to the visible eye, we had done what was asked of us… We had obeyed our parents, because we had cleaned the playroom, and we had done it on time.  Our cleaning had the appearance of truly obeying because the result was a clean room.  But as kids, we hadn’t learned how to get the job done in a way that would be pleasing to our parents.

Tonight, we’re going to look at our need to learn what true Christian obedience looks like.  We’ll see our need to have a heart after God’s own heart.  We’ll see how hiding things in the closets of our lives may appear to be obeying God, but if our hearts and minds are elsewhere, God doesn’t want it.  He doesn’t want partial obedience. We need to learn true obedience by looking to the one who was able to perfectly obey God.  Only Jesus is able to walk perfectly in obedience to God. We need to understand the heart of our God, so that we can learn to follow him and obey him as he desires.  The main idea we’ll learn tonight is:  The Christian is able, with a heart after God’s own, to learn to walk in the path of obedience. Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15:1-23, to look first at what the path of obedience does not look like.  Then we’ll look at what Christian obedience really is, and finally how we can learn to walk in it.

READ 1 Samuel 15:1-23.

Tonight, we’re looking at what true Christian obedience is.  We’ll look first at what it is not, then what it is, finally how we too can learn true Christian obedience.

What Christian Obedience is NOT

Let’s start with remembering what the book of 1 Samuel is about.  The author of this book is concerned to tell us how Israel came to get her king.  In chapter 8, the people of Israel come to Samuel, who Ashley talked about two weeks ago, Israel’s last judge, demanding a king.  They wanted to be like the other nations with someone, a figurehead, to lead them out into battle.  Their desire for a king, however, was seen as a rejection of Yahweh as their king, but Yahweh allowed them to have a king anyway.

This is where Saul comes onto the scene.  God led Samuel to find Saul and to anoint him as Israel’s first king.  Although Saul was from the least family, Kish, of the smallest tribe of Israel, Benjamin, he was still chosen to lead Israel.  He was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—[he was] a head taller than any of the others” (9:2).  Saul was chosen for his height and his military prowess.

But Saul was not without his major faults.  Prior to this story, in chapter 13, Saul committed a great sin against the Lord and Samuel by offering a sacrifice before a battle (13:12).  Only a priest was able to offer a sacrifice.  When Samuel finally arrived on the scene, he pronounced the Lord’s judgment on Saul, saying in 13:13-14,

“You acted foolishly…You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

Saul’s disobedience led to his line being cut off, just like, in the last lesson we saw, that Eli the priest’s line was cut off for his sons’ disobedience and wickedness.  Saul did not keep the Lord’s command, and he did not have a heart after God’s own.

Now, we come to what was recorded and read in chapter 15.  We learn of the problem of this passage in verse 11, that God was grieved that he made Saul king, because he turned away from the Lord and did not carry out his instructions. (Using the word “grief” when speaking about God, means that he was sad, just like he is over our sin, not that he made a mistake.  Biblical writers will often use human words that we understand to describe God, while at the same time, affirming that he does not change—see verse 29 here).

What was it that God had asked Saul to do?  What were God’s instructions? In verses 2-3, we find God’s command.  He wanted to punish the Amalekites (verse 2) for not allowing the wandering Israelites to pass through their land on Israel’s way out of Egypt, recorded in Exod 17:8-16.  For their defiance, God told Moses that one day he would utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exod 17:14).  In the books of Numbers (14:20) and Deuteronomy, God reiterates his promise to totally destroy Amalek for attacking Israel from behind when they were faint and weary, and for not fearing the Lord (Deut 25:17-19).  God promised that once Israel was settled in their land (like they now are in the book of 1 Samuel), that he would remember this promise to Israel and he would carry it out.  And this is exactly what the Lord has just asked Saul to carry out.  Saul was to be an instrument of God’s delayed and final judgment on the Amalekites.

I want to look a little more closely at God’s command in verse 3, God says to “totally destroy everything,” or some translations say “utterly destroy,” “totally destroy,” or “devote to destruction” all the things listed. The Hebrew word which means “totally destroy everything” is harem.  This word and command meant something very specific.  Deut 7:25-26 says that the things of conquered people, including the women and children, were detestable to the Lord and should be set apart for destruction, and Deut 20 (laying out the rules for this harem warfare) says that God didn’t want Israel to learn the ways of these conquered people, or to worship their gods [20:16-18], so they were offered up as a sacrifice to the Lord.  We can see how women and children even could perpetuate and teach the worship of other gods.  The word harem is always used in conjunction with holy warfare and sacrifice.  The Amalekites are to be sacrificed through harem warfare for turning their back on YHWH and on the people of Israel.

Let me interject here and say that Holy warfare can be a hard subject for us as modern readers, especially women, to understand.  There has been more confusion since 9/11 and extremist Muslim jihad, which is also seen as a holy war.  The OT concept was similar to this, so we have to understand what it meant at that time, but also understand it in light of Christ’s coming.  In the OT, God initiated wars against flesh and blood enemies.  These wars were a form of worship and had appropriate sacrifices and rituals to go along with them.*see footnote

The next question to consider is: How did Saul respond to the Lord’s command?  What did he do?  Verse 9 tells us that he spared Agag, the Amalekite king, and the best of the animals.  So Saul, decided that instead of fully carrying out the Lord’s command, he would save what he thought was best and then bring it to God as a pleasing sacrifice.  But, we’ve already seen that nothing from the Amalekites could at all ever be considered good enough to be a separate sacrifice to the Lord.  So, Saul was selectively obedient.  He did what he thought was best.  He did what he thought would be pleasing.  His act was like me and my cousins giving the appearance of following our parent’s command to clean the playroom, meanwhile the closets (also part of the room) were not at all clean.

How does Saul respond when Samuel meets him and confronts him, starting in verse 13? First, Saul doesn’t even see what he did as wrong.  In verse 13, he says “I have carried out the Lord’s instructions…” He has?  Second, in verse 14, he blame-shifts and denies disobeying.  Samuel confronts him with the sounds of bleeting sheep and the lowing of cattle.  Samuel can hear the animals.  He knows they have survived.  If Saul had carried out the Lord’s command, there would be no animals left and certainly not Agag, their king.  In verse 15, he shifts the blame onto the soldiers.  Then he reaffirms that he totally destroyed the rest.  How could he have “totally destroyed” some, but not all?  He’s admitting that he didn’t completely carry out the task, while at the same time saying he did carry it out.  Third, Saul again says he obeyed and refuses to repent.  After Samuel calls him out in verses 17-19, in verse 20, he says, “But I did obey the Lord.” He’s still not willing to admit he’s done anything wrong.  He says he completely destroyed them and brought back their king.  But, if one remains, how could he have been completely obedient?  And again, he blames the soldiers.  Saul is only selectively obedient as fits his needs and desires.  He is the king, the head of the tribes of Israel, God’s anointed, and the one chosen to carry out God’s judgment on a people who had long-ago wronged Israel and Yahweh, and here he is looking like me as a defiant child saying, “But I did clean the playroom, you didn’t say I had to clean the closets too.  I did what you asked me to do.”  This is the picture of what disobedience to the Lord looks like: not seeing our wrongdoing, denying, blaming, and refusing to repent.

So what was it that God wanted from Saul?  He wanted Saul to fully obey him and to have the right heart for doing it.  Verse 22 sums it up.  It says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? [The answer is an implied no.] To obey is better than sacrifice.” God wanted pure motives in what Saul was doing.  He wanted to Saul to obey him, because he recognized that the Lord knew what was in his and Israel’s best interests.

The idea of God desiring obedience and a pure heart over sacrifices is a theme that runs throughout the Bible.  In Psalm 51, we learn that the sacrifices God truly desires are a “broken spirit and a contrite [meaning: repentant] heart” (vv. 16-17).  In the minor prophet, Micah 6:8, we learn that it’s justice and mercy and walking humbly with the Lord that God desires over sacrifice.  Even in the NT, Jesus says that more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices is to “love God and your neighbor” (Mk 12:33).  God’s saying that the sacrifices must be made with the proper heart and frame of mind truly seeking the things that God is interested in, like: justice, mercy, and love, offered in obedience.

Verse 23, then, lays out the consequence for Saul’s disobedience.  “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” The Lord was looking for a man who was after God’s own heart, who would follow God truly and consistently.  Nothing Saul would do after this point would matter to God.  He already forfeited his kingship by his disobedience and unwillingness to repent when confronted.  The chapter ends with the Lord grieving that he had made Saul king.

As you read through the rest of the book of 1 Samuel, you’ll see that this book’s answer to what is true obedience is found in the person of David.  David will be chosen, not for his height, but for his heart (1 Sam 16:7).  David will be obedient to the Lord.  When David fails and is confronted, he doesn’t deny, but he repents and changes his ways.  David is the obedient one in the immediate context, unlike Saul.  Nevertheless, David is still human, he still errs.  His obedience and his sacrifices can’t work for all of us, just for him.

What is Christian Obedience?

Let’s move now to our second main point, what is Christian obedience then?  If Saul represents disobedience, partial truths, and a refusal to repent when confronted, what does true obedience look like?  As we read on into the NT, we see the themes of obedience and sacrifice continuing, but we see that he know requires it of his son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus became man, he humbled himself, and he became obedient to death—death on a cross, Phil 2:8 tells us.  Jesus came and obeyed for us, precisely because he knew we couldn’t do it on our own.  Jesus alone is the truly obedient one. Jesus is also the perfect sacrifice.  The book of Hebrews in the NT elaborates this theme of Christ both as the perfect sacrifice offered for sin, but also as the perfect high priest who actually gave the sacrifice for his people to God (in chapters 4, 5, 10).  He is the true unblemished lamb offered in real sacrifice out of a pure heart.  Only the person of Jesus could offer the sacrifice and be the unblemished lamb at the same time.  None of us can do or be this.  None of us can be truly obedient, and none of us can offer lasting sacrifices that truly please God, because without God, none of our hearts seek or are able to please God. Out of God’s great love and mercy, he sent his son who could make the perfect sacrifice in total obedience with a true heart after God’s own.

So, to answer our question: what is Christian obedience?   It is what only Christ could do.  It is Christ’s obedience.  True Christian obedience is motivated by seeing Christ’s amazing sacrifice on the cross in perfect obedience for you and for me.

How Can We Learn Christian Obedience?

So if Christian obedience is found in Christ, how can we get it and learn it?  This is the third, and final point. I’m sure you’ve all heard plenty that as Christians that you are to be obedient to God.  I’m sure many of you have had that hammered into your head since you were a child.  Others know there are things you should be doing, but aren’t, or that you shouldn’t be doing, but are, and you’re left feeling guilty about them.  You might think Christian obedience means following a certain set of rules so that something bad doesn’t happen to you.  This is not the point.  The point of learning obedience is to develop and grow a heart after God’s own, seeking love, mercy, justice: the things he desires.  Having this heart in turn enables you to walk further into God’s will and path for your life.

I hear a lot of people saying: “do this because God commands it,” or just “do it because he says so.”  Sure, he tells us the best way to live our lives, but to reduce it to a blanket command loses the context for knowing the loving God that wants our best.  Our motivation is not supposed to be fear or Christian duty—they may work in the short-term, but they won’t produce true and lasting motivation.  Our motivation is to acknowledge with our lives and actions the grace that God has given us in calling us to him.  God wants us to understand his love for us, shown through his obedient son, so that we are motivated to follow him out of that same love.  Gaining a heart that is after God’s own is what produces obedience.  And, remember that when we accepted Christ our hearts were already changed to be able to follow God (Ezek 11:19).  But, we still need to develop them and learn to love God as he wants us to, and we need to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide us.  This means recognize where we have fallen short, admit when we are wrong, and seek repentance.  Don’t be content with cramming your mess in the playroom closet.  But, don’t beat yourself up over some past mistake.  Don’t allow yourself to wallow in guilt or shame when Christ has freely offered you life and forgiveness for your mistakes, but you can’t live as if the way you act doesn’t matter.

Illustration

When I was in China, some seekers we met with wanted to know what they had to do in order to be a Christian.  They wanted to know what the rules of Christianity were and whether they fit with their lifestyle or not.  Our leader gave a helpful example.  He said that often people look at God as sitting in the center of a big circle, where the circle represents Christianity and what you have to do.  People ask, “What do I have to do to stay in the circle and not fall out?”  But instead of looking at what’s the least I can do to follow God and still be called a Christian (how do I stay on the edge of the circle), we should be looking at how can we move inward, toward the center, toward God and Christ.  We should want to be moving inward.  We do this by seeing Jesus on the cross, sacrificing himself in ultimate humility, obeying to the point of death, for us. This should motivate you and me to want to learn to have God’s heart and to walk with Christ.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Christian obedience means moving toward Jesus in obedience with a heart after God’s own.  We need to remember to draw near to Jesus.  This is how we will learn to walk in the path of obedience.  Know that, you are able, as a Christian, with a heart after God’s own, to learn to walk in the path of true Christian obedience.

Questions for Discussion & Application

●       Explain how you think Christian obedience differs from other ways of life involving obedience?

●       Have you been hurt by the idea of Christian obedience?  Share a current example.

●       How does your obedience to God mimic Saul’s? How can we move to it looking more like a life walked with Jesus?

*I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic.  I want to recommend this book: Show them No Mercy: 4 views of God and Canaanite Genocide which discusses 4 different Christian views of what God meant by this holy warfare language.  I follow Tremper Longman’s view that shows that in the NT, there is spiritual continuity from the OT concept holy warfare (of literally sacrificing people), meaning that now that Christ has come, this harem warfare is carried out (in the NT and beyond) against the spirits, powers and principalities, against Satan and his demonic forces [Eph 6:12, Rev 12:7-9].  It is no longer a flesh and blood battle that the Lord calls Christians to engage in, but a spiritual one.

The 5000

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When we encounter Jesus and see His hand in our life, we believe. It is the work of Christ in our lives that confirms in us who Christ is. But if we don’t personally encounter Jesus then we will not see Him or hear Him, and our faith will suffer. So in order to have the life He offers us we must learn what it means to come to Him and know Him personally. In the stories we have looked at the last few weeks we have seen Jesus approach each person in a very personal way, in the context of their lives and their unique situations. With each, He invited them to come to Him to find life and He even addressed the things that were holding them back. And we’ve also seen how as those people shared about their encounters with Jesus with other people, others were drawn to Christ and believed because of it. Tonight we are going to continue this focus even though we are going to be looking at Jesus’ encounter with a very large group of people. And the advantage we are going to have tonight is that none of us will have to stretch to relate with these people, Jesus will be dealing with an issue that is central to being human and living in a fallen world.

Feeding the 5000: Read John 6:10-15

Let’s set the scene. Right before the text we just read, John explains to us that a very large crowd of people was now following Jesus. As we just read in verse 10, it was 5000 men. And he tells us, in verse 2, that they were following Him because of the “miraculous signs” he had performed on the sick….so they were following Him because He had performed miracles. Because they have followed him a long way, across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus becomes concerned that they are hungry. So He tells His disciples He wants to feed them but all they can find to eat is 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

Then, as we just read in verses 10-15, Jesus thanks God for providing them with the bread and fish and proceeds to serve it to the people. He even instructs the disciples to pick up all that is leftover and we are told there were 12 entire baskets full of bread. So Jesus fed at least 5000 people with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

The people were following Jesus in the first place because it says they “saw” the miracles He had performed on the sick. But now, they have not only seen a miracle, but they were the beneficiaries this time. And it was a different sort of miracle, He provided food for them, He met their physical need. So not only does Jesus have the power to heal but He also has the power to transform little into much. Because of this they recognize this could mean Jesus is the Messiah they have been waiting for. But the only problem with this is that at the time, the Jews really didn’t understand that the Messiah was not going to come and make them a great and mighty people on the earth, but that instead He would die for their sins. So in verse 15, it says Jesus leaves because He knows that now that they have seen His “power” they are going to try to make him a king.

Jesus’ Encounter with the 5000

Now let’s pick back up in verse 25 where He encounters this same crowd again…

John 6:25 “When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here? Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

So Jesus has gotten on a boat and crossed the lake again to a town called Capernaum. And again He encounters the 5000. Up until this point, Jesus has yet to really say anything to them. But now, the time has come and Jesus speaks. Before we try to understand what Jesus is saying, let’s look at how He says it. As you look at how Jesus’ encounter with them begins, what about it is similar to what we have seen in the other encounters. In other words, how does Jesus speak uniquely to them in the context of this situation, despite the fact that He’s speaking to 5000 people?

First, they ask an irrelevant question but He doesn’t let their irrelevant/wrong questions distract from speaking the truth and telling them what they really need to know. He ignores it and immediately goes to what is most important for them to know about Him. He uses an analogy that relates to their immediate situation in order to help them understand a spiritual truth, just as He had done in each of the previous encounters. And, as before, He uses pictures and words that they can understand and relate with

What does Jesus say to them?

In verse 25 He begins by exposing a wrong motive. He tells them they are looking for Him now not because He does miracles, as they had been before, but because they “ate and had their fill.” What He is saying, is they are now wanting to follow Him because of what He did for them and what that means He could do for them again. They are now wanting more of Jesus because He met their physical need, it is all they can think about, they want more.

What this reminded me of was a mission trip I once went on to Jamaica to work with orphans. The second we got out of the van they swarmed us….I immediately had three of them hanging off of me as if I had made their lives by just being there. I was so overwhelmed and immediately felt so much purpose in being there and saw that God was already using me to warm their hearts and lead them to Jesus….but almost immediately I began hearing words that I would hear constantly over the entire week….Miss, sunglasses, Miss, candy, Miss, pleeeeease. You see, to them, Christian missionaries had become a source to meet their physical desires and needs (according to a 7 year old anyway). Even though we were there to tell them about Jesus who had died to meet their deepest spiritual need, they could not get past the physical need that had been met for them by previous missionaries. So they followed us and hung on us, for the wrong reason. In the same way, Jesus exposed their wrong motive.

And in verse 27, He corrects it. He tells them how to have a “right motive.” Do not work for food which spoils/perishes. Don’t dedicate your life to running after things that are temporary. All those little Jamaican kids cared about was having a pair of hot pink plastic sunglasses that would be broken by the end of the week, when what we had come to tell them about was something that would never leave them, that would be with them for much longer than a cheap pair of sunglasses, that would be with them in the darkest and loneliest moments of their lives. That is what Jesus is trying to tell them. He is trying to give them this perspective.

But instead work for food that endures to eternal life. Yes we need our physical needs met, in fact, Jesus was the one who had to convince the disciples of this. But what Jesus is saying is that the spiritual, the eternal, is much more important. We should be striving and working on what lasts for eternity, putting our energy into what is eternal. They followed Jesus to the other side of the lake because they were hoping that He would magically meet their needs again.

The popular comedy TV show Glee dealt with this human inclination this past week. One of the main characters, the quarterback of the football team, Finn, made a grilled cheese and the burn mark looked like Jesus. So he began praying to his grilledschesus and as long as what he asked for came about, he just kept going back to ask it for more, he was getting what he wanted so regardless of how ridiculous it seemed he kept going back and asking it for more. As silly as that is, this is basically what they were doing. So Jesus calls them out on this but also helps them to see how to correct their wrong motive by simply shifting their energy from the physical to the spiritual, from the temporary to the eternal. Ultimately He wanted them to look beyond what He had provided for them to see Him, to see God, and to put their faith and trust in Him. The end was God, the physical provision was simply the means to point them to Him.

Personal Application

Is there something in your life now that you want God to do for you? To give you? Are you following Him in hopes He will reward your obedience with the things you want? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves constantly, checking our motives. When God provides for you, does it humble you and point you to Him and draw you closer to Him? Or, when He doesn’t give you what you want, does your desire for that thing consume you and keep you from Him? Our natural inclination is to seek the physical, to look to God as our magic genie to solve all our problems and meet all our needs and desires. Because of this, we have to do the hard work of seeking the spiritual and striving after what lasts for eternity. This should be the goal of our lives…to continually turn to Him to be filled up. Just as we eat physical bread and are filled up, we are to come to Jesus to eat the spiritual bread He offers and be filled.

By Faith Alone

After hearing this the 5000 like what they hear, but since they don’t fully understand what Jesus is saying, they ask a question, and as before, it is the wrong question. But Jesus uses it to point them closer to the truth…

John 6:28 “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Because they have been living by the law for so long, having to do good works in order to have a right relationship with God, they naturally ask: What do we need to do then? The literal translation of this verse is: What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God? And Jesus blows their mind with His answer, God has already done everything, all you need to do is believe in the one He sends! In order to live for what is eternal all they need to do is put their faith in Him. But this is almost too much for them to fathom, so they ask Jesus to prove it, give them a sign that will prove He is the Son of God and what He says is true. They say…

John 6:30 “…What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

Because what Jesus is saying is so contrary to what they had always believed, they ask Him to prove it by performing another miracle, but this time a greater miracle. Jesus feeding the 5000 would have caused any Jew to think of what had happened in the desert when their ancestors ate Manna from heaven. The story they are referencing can be read in Exodus 16 in the Old Testament. But the jist is that God had led the Israelites out of Egypt where they were in bondage, and they were now free, but they were starving in the desert, not sure of what would happen to them. So when they complained to Moses about this, Moses talked to God and God provided for them by raining down a bread-like substance from heaven each day. And He did this for them for 40 days.

So they bring up this example to basically say that multiplying bread and fish isn’t as great a sign as bread raining down from heaven for 40 years. But if He wanted to prove He was who He was implying He was, then He could do something dramatic like that so that they would believe Him. And perhaps they suggest this in hopes that Jesus will feed them everyday as God did with the Israelites in the dessert.

32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. 34 “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty

Rather than put them in their place, Jesus uses this as a springboard to try to help them understand who He is and what He is actually saying.  He gets to the point he has been trying to make the entire time. Manna, which they called bread of heaven, was physical. It was temporary. Just like any other physical provision we have, it could spoil and it wouldn’t satisfy their hunger for more than a day, and then they would need more. So He tells them, there is only ONE true bread from heaven, one life giving provision that rains down from heaven from God, and that is Jesus. He is the bread of God which comes from heaven to give eternal life to all who partake of it. And God gives it to us to satisfy our spiritual hunger for eternity. Just as we can’t live physically without physical bread, He is saying we can’t live spiritually without the bread of heaven, Jesus.

What is this “life” that Jesus gives?

When Jesus says He came to bring us life, what does He mean?

Eternal Life – First, He means eternal life. Salvation. That when we die and face judgment for how we have lived, Jesus will stand in our place. When He died on the cross He paid the penalty for our sins on earth. So when we die and stand before God, instead of facing the penalty of hell and eternal separation from God which we deserve for our sins, we instead receive eternal life because Christ’s sinlessness has been transferred to us. And this is for anyone who puts their faith in Jesus, believes in the one God sent.

Life with the Father Today – But secondly, the life that Jesus gives us as we put our faith in Him refers to our relationship with God being restored so that we may walk with Him each day similar to how He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. When we put our faith in Christ we then are given the ability to talk to God, to listen to Him, to see His hand in our lives. This new life we receive through Jesus is one where we not only live in relationship with God, but we live depending on Him, seeing Him meeting our truest and deepest spiritual needs, viewing life with an eternal perspective, praying not for our own will but for God’s will to be done in our lives. This is the life Jesus came to give us. And it is only when we live in this way that our souls will be satisfied on earth, that we will no longer hunger and thirst spiritually.

How do we receive the life Jesus offers each day?

How do we partake of this bread of life each day? How do we actively receive this life through Jesus each day so that we may be filled up? I want to look at the account in the dessert when God provided the manna for the Israelites because I think it gives us a picture of what it looks like for us today. In Exodus 16:16-18 it says,

“This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much [manna] as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ 17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.”

How do we receive the bread of life?

As we look at the picture of the Israelites and the manna, we begin to understand that we must play an active role in “collecting the our manna.” Although God provided it for them each day, it didn’t magically appear in their stomachs, they still had to go out and collect it. In the same way, even though you have put your trust in Christ, you still must wake up each day and learn to actively collect the manna that God provides you.

What is our Manna today?

If Jesus is our true bread of life, then what is our manna today? How do we come to Him to have life each day? First it comes through reading God’s Word, knowing who Jesus was, understanding the scriptures and how God calls us to live. God also gives us our “manna” as we pray and talk to God, going to Him to give us guidance in life. Spending time in God’s presence. And finally, it is living in the spirit. Paul tells us over and over to “live by the Spirit.” Train yourself to be spiritually sensitive, to recognize when the Spirit is speaking to you and leading you.

He gives us what we need each day

The third thing we can learn about receiving life from God in this story is that each day He gave the Israelites exactly what they needed. No more, no less. At the end of the day any manna that was left went bad, so the next day they would have to actively go out and collect it again.

It is the same with us. God gives us each day exactly what we need, no more, no less. Not only must we be active in collecting from Him what He has for us, but we have to do it every single day. He only gives us what we need immediately so that we will keep looking to Him and depending on Him to give us life and sustain us. Knowing this is what motivated the Israelites to get up each day and collect the manna God had provided for them for that day….and in the same way, this should motivate each of us to wake up everyday and collect the manna He has for us that is going to get us through that day, to wake up and be in the Word, talking to God, and looking for His Spirit to lead us through the day.

Conclusion:

And really, this brings us back to where we began in this study. In order to receive the life God offers us, we must come to Jesus. We must learn to encounter Him in our lives every single day, in the midst of our circumstances, in the context of our individual stories and lives. No matter who we are or what we have done, Jesus invites each of us to bring our lives to Him so that we can find true life. And as we do this our faith will be strengthened, we will continue to believe, and we will learn to see life with an eternal perspective, looking beyond the physical to the spiritual. And as we tell others of these encounters we have with God, or share how we see Him in our lives, others are drawn to encounter Christ for themselves.

Questions for Discussion & Application

●       How does this passage apply to a physical need/desire that you are asking God to meet in your life right now?

●       How has God’s manna filled you up and sustained you recently?

Two Healings – By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Introduction

Tonight we’re looking at two different healing stories. In the first story, John 5:1-15, we’ll see that Jesus heals even the most “hopeless” people and calls us out of our patterns of sin. In the second story, John 9:1-12, 35-41, we’ll see that Jesus heals physical and spiritual blindness so that we may see God’s glory in our lives. We’ve chosen these healings because they have some common patterns in the stories, such as: Jesus deals with each man differently; Jesus heals them both, but in different ways; Jesus sends them both out from where they are, and they must tell their story; and we see Jesus discuss both physical and spiritual conditions. Jesus’ heals our seemingly hopeless conditions, so that others may see God’s glory in our lives. Let’s look at each story, ask the same 5 questions of each, so that we can compare and contrast them, and then we’ll see the different responses of the men and the ways that Jesus interacts with them.

STORY 1: READ John 5:1-15.

What is the Situation?

We encounter in this story a paralytic, a man paralyzed in his legs, who is waiting by the Bethesda pool.  There is a story of healing associated with this pool where when an angel would stir the waters and the first one in would be healed (see verse 4 in your footnotes).  This man is here hoping to be healed by this water.  It is his only hope.  He had been lame for 38 years (no telling how long he had been coming to this pool hoping for a miracle). This man is physically broken.  Also, this man was utterly alone.  He had no one to help him in the pool because someone would always get in ahead of him.  He is spiritually sick as well, because he blames others for his not being able to be healed.

How does Jesus’ interact with him?

Jesus passes by and notices him.  Jesus seeks out this man.  Jesus initiates this encounter.  Jesus asks him a rather intuitive, but highly significant question: “Do you want to get well?” (v. 6).  This man has been unable to use his legs for 38 years, and Jesus wants to know if he wants to be healed and be better?  The obvious response would be “yes, but how?” But instead this man responds sort of with a “yeah, but…it’s not possible.”  The man doesn’t know that the person talking to him is able to perform miracles.  We see in his response a resignation to his fate of never being healed.   So when Jesus asked him this question, why didn’t he just answer with “yes” instead of what he did say: “I have no one to help me” (v. 7).  Jesus is challenging him to awaken; to see the possibility of another way of life.  Jesus asks him to believe that he can be made whole again, that he can be restored.

Jesus then speaks and performs a miracle.  Jesus says: “Get up, pick up your mat and walk” (v. 8). Jesus is challenging him to believe and accept a new way of life.  The man is healed at once (v. 9).  He picked up his mat and walked.  These words Jesus speaks are the same words he spoke to the paralytic who was let down through the roof in Capernaum to be healed because the house was so crowded.  Jesus said first “your sins are forgiven,” so that they would know he had the power to forgive sins, then he said “get up, pick up your bed, and go home” (Matt 9:6; Mark 2:11; Luke 5:24). Here too (John 5), we see that Jesus is concerned with this man’s sins.  He’s concerned that the man is blaming others and has given up hope.  The man is spiritually broken, in addition to not being able to walk, and Jesus calls him out of this way of life.  So Jesus heals the man, and what seemed like a hopeless condition, then sends him out on his way.

How does the man react?

He obeyed, but right away, he attracts attention from the Pharisees for carrying his mat on the Sabbath (local Jewish traditions had a rule that you could not carry a “load” on the Sabbath).  He comes under fire from the authorities, but he responds by resorting to his former patterns: he blames Jesus.  “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” This paraplegic has just experienced a miracle performed by Jesus, but he responds out of fear of what they might do to him.  He’s afraid of the Pharisees, so he throws the blame off of himself and onto the man who healed him.

Jesus continues pursuing him. Jesus finds the man in the temple and says “See you are well again.  Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (v. 14). Jesus made the man well, he healed him, restored his ability to walk, but the man persisted in his sin.  He did not learn from the encounter with Jesus and we do not see him making a confession of faith. Jesus had just warned the man to stop sinning, yet he keeps on.  He fears man and what they can do to him, more than he fears the man who has just made him well.  Conflict begins to pursue Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees begin to persecute him and even seek to kill him (v. 16, 18).

What is the Significance of this story for us?

This story points out the link between physical healing and spiritual healing.  The man was healed physically, but he refused to turn from his past way of life and enter into relationship with Jesus.  His sins ended up being the real problem.  He forgot the amazing fact that he could now walk because of Jesus.  We need to see that sometimes there is a link between our personal sin and our spiritual suffering, but Jesus offers forgiveness and we need to accept it.  We have to change our way of living and viewing the world.

This story also shows us God moves toward us in our sin and in our suffering and calls us to live with him and to have wholeness.  Jesus recognizes that there are the different levels of brokenness in our lives—physical and spiritual.  He wants us to stop blaming God for our aches, stop blaming others for our problems, and to stop waiting for someone else to take care of us.  He calls us to stop sinning even as he heals us.

How do we apply the lessons of this story?

See yourself in new way, respond to God asking us to be healed, whether physically or spiritually.  We need to ask for insight and confess our sins and receive, truly receive, his forgiveness. Where have you felt physical pain and suffering or spiritual struggling?  Think about it…Respond to Jesus and ask him to make you well.  Examine your life and sin patterns, and ask his Holy Spirit to help you see and change. Recognize that Jesus heals even the most “hopeless” people (like he did with this man who endured 38 years of suffering and he can for you) and calls us out of our patterns of sin.

STORY 2: READ John 9:1-12, 35-41.

What is the Situation?

We encounter in this story a man who was born blind.  He has lived his entire life without sight.  He has never seen the light of day.  He has lived in darkness.  (Close your eyes and imagine that you can’t see…See how quickly, when without something to distract you, you want to open your eyes again.)  This man is physically broken.  He also is a beggar (v. 8), who had to sit on the streets and beg.  He couldn’t support himself, so he had to live off the streets and off other people’s generosity.  Like the paralytic, he too would experience great loneliness and lifelong suffering.

When the story begins, the disciples ask a theological question.  They, seeing the man, want to know who sinned, his parents (at some point in their life) or him (this would have to imply in the womb somehow), so that he was born blind?  They assume that his disability and suffering must be the result of someone’s sin and so God must be punishing him for that sin (as Job’s comforters accused Job of sin in his suffering, which he denied).  Jesus, here, denies that anyone sinned.  This man was just born blind.  In fact, Jesus says (v. 3) that the world would see the work of God displayed in his life.  There was a greater cause to his suffering.  Jesus was doing the work of the Father who sent him.  He was in the world to be a light to those in need of restoration.  Jesus says (v. 5), “I am the light of the world.” He shines light into darkness.  He gives sight where there was none.

How does Jesus’ interact with him?

Jesus also sought this man out.  Jesus pursued him.  In this encounter, Jesus simply announces that this man has not sinned, that Jesus is the Light of the world, and then he performs the miracle.  He literally shines light into this man’s eyes.  Jesus spits on the ground to make mud with the saliva.  Saliva was considered to have healing powers—this was an ancient custom and belief.  Jesus uses ordinary means, like physicians today, to heal this man.  He spit, put the mud on the man’s eyes, and told him to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (v. 7). The Sent One, Jesus, now sends this man out.

Jesus heals his physical brokenness and sends him out.  He opens his eyes so that he can see (literally), but also begin to truly see (spiritually).  Jesus heals his physical blindness so that we may see God’s glory working in his life.

How does the man react?

He responds to Jesus’ command by going, washing in the pool, and then going home, seeing. We learn from the section I didn’t have us read, that a lot of controversy and conflict also pursues as a result of this healing.  I’ll just say that again, people want to know who healed him, and he says “Jesus.”  His neighbors were involved, the Pharisees were brought in to question him, his parents were summoned, and the man himself was interrogated two times.  Again, the conflict is over Jesus breaking the Sabbath and doing “work” by making the mud.

In verses 11-12, the man at first is not entirely sure who Jesus is or where he is now, but then (look at verse 25) in an amazing statement of testimony, the man says, “Whether [Jesus] is a sinner or not [for breaking the Sabbath], I don’t know, One thing I do know.  I was blind, but now I see!”

We see a spiritual awakening also occurring in this man.  He progresses in his knowledge of who Jesus is.  At first the blind man just said Jesus was a man (v. 11), then he calls him a prophet (v. 17), then “Lord” (v. 38), and finally, from verses 35 and 38, we see that he believes that Jesus is “the Son of Man.” He believes; then worships Jesus.  This man was blind; then healed.  He falls on his knees and worships the man who has made him whole again.  What a contrast with the paralytic of the other story!

In the aftermath of this encounter, even though the man was kicked out of the synagogue, he stood firm in his testimony of Jesus and witnessed to what God had done, and Jesus never leaves him alone.  Jesus continued to pursue this man too. He comes back to him and reveals even more of who he is.  Jesus gives this man spiritual insight in addition to physical sight.

What is the Significance of this story for us?

This story again points out the link between physical healing and spiritual healing.  The man was healed physically, and because he desired to enter into relationship with Jesus and know him better, Jesus pursued him and revealed more and more of who he was.  Jesus opens the eyes of the physically blind, like the Isaiah prophesied of the day when the deaf would hear and the blind would see (Isa 29:18; 35:5; 42:7). Jesus heals physical and spiritual blindness.

We also learn that suffering is not always the result of sin.  This is important to know.  Just because we suffer does not mean God is punishing us for some wrongdoing.  We must be careful to first examine ourselves (like the man in the first story should have done), but we cannot assume that suffering is just punishment from God.  Jesus doesn’t tell us in this story why people suffer; only that this story was to show the work of God.  God is concerned for sufferers and he meets them.  God pursues, he heals, he forgives, he comforts, and he reveals (or gives insight).

How do we apply the lessons of this story?

Do you ever feel like you don’t know the Bible well enough to tell someone who Jesus is, this man didn’t either at first, but he told what he did know, then he learned more and became more spiritually aware.  Ask yourself if you know Jesus well enough to tell others what he’s done for you and how others can find him.  Tell what he’s done for you, how it happened, and what’s the difference in who you were before and who you are now.  This man was not afraid of confessing who Jesus was.  He was not afraid of man.  What a great testimony, “I was blind, but now I see.”

I want to share a personal note about how I really wrestled with these texts.  I woke up Monday night at 2:30am, tossing and turning, wondering how I was going to teach these texts, because I didn’t want to over-spiritualize them, but I wasn’t sure whether I really believed Jesus truly physically healed us today.  I finally got out of bed around 6am to begin working, and once I did, God began to reveal to me how we could look at these texts, how to make them relevant to you and your situations, and what he wanted me to know about them.  During this time, I ran across in some of my old files a prayer that I had written 2 1/2 years ago.  It was called “My Prayer for Healing” (see below).  I was amazed to find this prayer I had written years ago for physical healing.  God had answered this prayer for me in my life, and he was now showing me how he knew that I really do believe in his power to heal us physically as well.

So, see that Jesus meets these people face-to-face, like he meets us and wants to meet us even they don’t know how to view the world.  They are just living life, struggling to get by, hoping someone else will give them a hand, or begging for their survival.  Jesus saw their need.  He cared.  He approached them.  He approaches you and me each day because he has sent his Holy Spirit to live inside of us.  He reaches out each day.  He is there and with you.

Jesus came to give us light, to shine in the darkness and to open our eyes.   Open your eyes to see him. Psalm 119:105 says that “[God’s] word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto the way.” Jesus is that light, that lamp, that way.  And we encounter him in his word and his community.  If you’re struggling to be in his word, remember that it’s not just a duty or something all good Christians should do, but it’s the lamp, the light, the way that we come to know Jesus (who is all those things).  If you’re struggling to know him or see him really in your life, are you spending the time it takes to get to know him?  Is it a priority for you to daily encounter the man that loved you so much that he went to the cross to show you what love means?  Come to Jesus.  Meet him.  He will heal you in ways that you didn’t even know you were broken.  God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up all their wounds” (Ps 147:3).

Recognize that Jesus heals physical and spiritual blindness so that we may see God’s glory in our lives.

Conclusion

In conclusion, see that these stories are about hope… hope for those who suffer.  Jesus cares about our deepest pain, our deepest wounds, even our deepest sins.  He calls to us, he meets us face to face, and he heals us.  On the cross, he enters into our suffering and redeems it, he identifies with us.  He died to make us whole.  He gives up his life to give us new life.  Jesus himself suffered so much for us on the cross.  He knows pain and loneliness and alienation.  His suffering showed the works of God to the world.

And like he does for the paralytic and blind man, Jesus offers us a way out too.  He offers to make us whole.  Will we let him?  “Do you want to get well?” he asks.  “Do you want to get well?”  Jesus is able to heal even you and me today.  1 Peter 2:24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Physical and spiritual healing is offered in the name of Jesus and in his death. 

Jesus’ heals our seemingly hopeless conditions (by his own wounds), so that others may see God’s glory in our lives.

My Prayer for Healing:

I want to share with you a prayer I wrote when I was suffering from a mysterious knee injury that would not heal.  I did not know if I would be able to live without pain, bend my knee, or walk without crutches again.  Take these words and make them your own for your own life’s pain, whether physical or spiritual.  Let’s pray them together.

My dear heavenly father,

I come before you today broken and ailing.  You know my pain and you know its cause.

I pray for my heart and mind and soul during this time of uncertainty.  Lord, I pray that I will seek you out as my comforter and my healer.  I pray that you will show me your love and point me to you.  I pray that I will be diligent in my prayers to you.  Lord, I need to be aware of your presence now more than ever.

I pray for all of those who hear my story.  I pray that they would be compassionate and that I wouldn’t be complaining.  Help me be more thoughtful about my communication.  Lord, let me point to you with my words.

I pray that someday soon I will be able to walk fully again and without aid.  Lord, I long for the day when I can delight in running again.

Lord, I plead with you to show me your love.  Work for the good in me, for I love you.  I pray for healing.  I pray for a solution to my pain.  I pray for an end to this period of pain and disability.  Lord, I pray that you will be with me.  Lord, I pray that you will comfort me.  Lord, I pray that you will heal me.  Stand beside me and help me through this.  You know I love you.  You know I seek you.  Lord, you are my all.  Grant me rest.

Lord, I thank you for Jesus who knows extreme pain.  I pray that I will seek solace in knowing that his pain was suffered on my behalf.  Lord, I do not have a god who knows no pain, but You have experienced and suffered just as I do now.  Lord, I thank you for the cross.  I thank you for Jesus.

In His precious name I pray,

Amen

Questions for Discussion & Application…

  • How do you relate to these two stories?
  • What is a way that you have witnessed Jesus’ healing power in your life lately?



Nicodemus – By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Last week in Ashley’s lesson on John 5:39-40, we saw that the people thought that by studying and following the rules of the scriptures, they would possess eternal life.  But Jesus said “these are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” This week we want to examine the question: “What does it mean to come to Jesus to have life?” We’re going to look at how Jesus personally answered this question for Nicodemus, and how Nicodemus moved toward faith.  We want to think about how Jesus meets us in our lives just like he met Nicodemus.  When you listen tonight, think about how this message is true for you (not for someone else).  Our goal is to see that Jesus speaks redemptively into our lives, uniquely calling us to believe, to be born from above, and to receive life.

READ John 3:1-21

I want to start with giving a little background information on who Nicodemus was.  Nicodemus was a man, a Jew, a member of the Pharisees (a religious group that interpreted and followed Torah (1st 5 books of our OT) in a specific way; they were rabbis and leaders of the people).  Nicodemus was also in a very prestigious group of ruling rabbi as well.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a group composed of men respected in the community, well-known, and of the upper social strata, and it was a group that Rome has given civil authority to carry out their own laws, based on Torah, in the midst of Roman occupation.  As a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, he would be expected to be a religious teacher and academic, an expert in the law.  He would be an intellectual, one who studied the Scriptures, lived by them, prayed by them, and believed that they gave life.  To follow the rules would give them life.  He was well-trained in his field, a specialist, per se.  This is who Nicodemus was.

Confrontation: Nicodemus’ Interaction with Jesus

Next, let’s look at what Jesus and Nicodemus’ interaction or “confrontation” was like. We see in verse 2, that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.  He comes under the cover of darkness.  The book of John carries a theme throughout it of light versus darkness where Jesus is the true light that shines among and enlightens men.  He is the Light of the World.  In verses 19-21 of this section, Jesus says “Light has come into the world [referring to himself], but men loved darkness instead of light” and that they “will not come into the light for fear that [their] deeds will be exposed.”  It is important to note that Nicodemus approaches Jesus during the night, under the cover of darkness.  John is making it clear that Nicodemus and wants the reader to be aware of this fact.  Because Nicodemus was a religious scholar, he should have understood who Jesus was, what his mission was, and he should have recognized him as the promised messiah.

Two aspects of their conversation that I want to look at tonight are: The Misunderstanding, and What Jesus Offered. First, the misunderstanding. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in verse 2, speaking in the plural and probably on behalf of his peers, saying “we know you are a teacher who comes from God.  For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Just prior to this story, John records at the end of Ch. 2, verse 23: “many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” Four verses later, Nicodemus is stating that he’s seen the signs, but it’s obvious that he hasn’t believed; he’s only there to investigate them further.  Jesus, instead of verifying the signs, cuts right to the heart of Nicodemus’ true need: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 3).

Nicodemus is confused though.  He asks, “What do you mean? How can a man be born when he is old? Is he to reenter his mother’s womb?” He doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying.  A reason for the confusion and misunderstanding comes from the Greek word that Jesus used to mean “again.”  This word has several meanings, “again” is one of them, but so is “from above.”  So when Jesus says the word, he means one thing: you must be born from above, but Nicodemus takes it to mean again: you must be born again.

Jesus then repeats his statement and elaborates that to be born from above (or again) meant that one must be born of water and the Spirit.” Again, Nicodemus doesn’t understand what Jesus means, but Jesus says he shouldn’t be surprised, since he’s Israel’s teacher.  Jesus is referring to the ultimate renewal promised by the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:25-27.   Jesus uses OT Scriptures (which Nicodemus would be an expert in) to teach what they really mean and what Nicodemus should have known.  The passage says:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you [here’s the water aspect], and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…I will put my Spirit in you.”  (Ezek 25:25-27)

This is what spiritual rebirth is about: being cleansed with God’s water and being given God’s spirit living inside us and our hearts.  It’s about regeneration (the theological term that means renewal, which happens first in our lives to bring us to Christ, and second at Christ’s return to bring final and complete renewal and restoration).  If Nicodemus were a true religious teacher and really knew God, then he should have understood these things.

Jesus speaks uniquely to Nicodemus about redemption and his own needs.  Nicodemus needs belief, rebirth, and the Spirit.  These words speak specifically to his heart issue and need.  Being “born again” is not about living a good moral life.  It’s not about being a good person.  It’s about relationship with God, having his Holy Spirit living inside of you.  In this manner, all true believers and followers of Christ are “born again,” because you are born from above of God’s Spirit.  Jesus challenged Nicodemus at his core.  His identity would have been in his commitment to Torah, to prayer, to sacrifice, to fasting, and other things involved in following the law.  Jesus challenges this identity and says that those things are not how one will see the long-awaited Kingdom of God, it’s not in outward religiosity, but only through this rebirth, being born from above, could one see the Kingdom.

The second part of this interaction is what Jesus offered to Nicodemus: Eternal Life. We’ve looked at how Jesus offers redemption to Nicodemus through asking him to come into the light and follow him, and to be born from above, but now Jesus holds out eternal life to him as well (in verses 14-21).  This goes back to our initial question tonight: “What does it mean to come to Jesus to have life?”  Jesus wants Nicodemus to understand eternal life, but he must be able to understand heavenly things and come into the light.

In verse 14, Jesus says “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus uses another OT story that Nicodemus should be familiar with to make his point.  In Numbers 21:9, the Israelites were grumbling about God and Moses, so God sent poisonous snakes against them, killing them as judgment.  Once they repented and Moses asked forgiveness for them, God told Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole and hold it up and anyone who looked on it would not die, but receive life.  God offered them redemption from their sin even here and held out life to them.  In the same way, Jesus uses this story to refer to his death, where he is lifted up on the cross for all to see and have life as a result of believing in him.

God sent his son to save out of love, so that we could have eternal life.  He’s telling Nicodemus about it here “that God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). He was sent, not to condemn (like the Pharisees did), but to save.  Jesus doesn’t want Nicodemus to end up disbelieving, so he shares with him even the heavenly things about the Son of God.  Jesus ends this section saying that whoever “lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (v. 21). But Nicodemus will have to come out of the darkness and into the light to experience this truth and eternal life.

As Nicodemus leaves, we learn that he does not immediately receive Jesus’ testimony (3:11).  He holds back from believing and confessing Jesus as the Christ.  He was not born from above and did not accept eternal life.  In verse 19, Jesus infers that Nicodemus “loved the darkness rather than the light.” Nicodemus’ theological understanding of God actually kept him from recognizing Jesus as God’s son rather than receiving him and believing in him.  His intellect and learning and training, his life, who he was, and his peers all actually held him back, because he couldn’t recognize and receive the person of Christ as the Son of God.   Jesus spoke redemptively into Nicodemus’ life, uniquely calling him to believe, to be born from above, and to receive life. But Nicodemus did not receive it at this point.

What does Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus tell us about how he encounters us?  How does he speak uniquely to us through these same words to Nicodemus? Jesus met with Nicodemus at night—the Light of the World met him where he was.  Jesus met him where he was.  Jesus comes into the darkness of our lives as well.  He wants us to relinquish it to him and allow his good and saving light to shine in that dark place. Jesus met Nicodemus at his point of need.  He spoke uniquely to him.  He needed to believe.  He needed rebirth.  He needed the Spirit.  We need to learn to recognize Jesus in our own lives, seeing how he meets us in the church body, in our small groups, in our lives and friends, and our Christian community.

Jesus challenged the way Nicodemus was interpreting scripture and living his life—his theological sophistication got in the way and kept him from encountering the living and true God.  Jesus wants us not to be so caught up in the minutiae of the law and theology that we forget his grace and love and personal call to our lives. Jesus challenged the idea that faith is about a tradition that we follow.  Jesus longs to see your life transformed and changed and to have beauty because it is characterized by true spiritual renewal—by new life.

What happens after his encounter with Jesus?

Let’s briefly follow the rest of Nicodemus’ story.  He appears three times in John’s gospel.  First in John 3, then John 7:48-52, and finally in John 19:38-40.

“Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” John 7:48-52

After the Pharisees ask rhetorically, “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in [Jesus]?” Nicodemus speaks (it’s as if to say, “I do, I believe,” but he doesn’t, but he does defend him).  He asks the Pharisees “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him?” He wanted Jesus to be able to have a trial or a hearing before the leaders automatically condemned him.  Nicodemus is pointing out their hypocrisy in not even following the law in which they claim to be experts.  They replied “Are you from Galilee too?” (i.e. are you one of his disciples? why are you defending him? they want to know). BUT, it seems as if where Nicodemus is right now, still isn’t enough.  He hasn’t publicly confessed Jesus, in fact, John writes later (in Ch. 12, verses 42-43) that

“many even among the leaders believed in [Jesus].  But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

They wanted to fit in and be normal, doing what all other good, religious Jews did. Jesus says going back to the light/dark contrast “no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (12:46). Nicodemus is moving toward Jesus and defending him, but he hasn’t publicly confessed him, so he’s not there yet; he hasn’t come out into the light.

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” John 19:38:40.

The final time we encounter Nicodemus in John’s gospel is in 19:38-40. We see Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea providing for Jesus’ burial.  They both were members of the Sanhedrin, but we learn now that both were also “disciple[s] of Jesus”, but secretly “for fear of the Jews.”  For the burial, Nicodemus “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds,” as part of the traditional and customary burial for a Jewish person. He provides what is needed in order to bury Jesus properly and with great honor (we can tell by the amount of spices he brought!).  This duty was customarily carried out by a Jewish rabbi’s disciples.  By burying Jesus in this way as one of his disciples would, he defied the Sanhedrin who had just condemned him.   So, Nicodemus finally stepped out, took courage and acknowledged that Jesus mattered.  He finally identified himself with Jesus through public actions, joining the ranks of true disciples.  He was no longer afraid of the Jews, but he made the commitment of true faith.  He moved from darkness to faith and Jesus’ light.  Jesus spoke redemptively into Nicodemus’ life, uniquely calling him to believe, to be born from above, and to receive life. And Nicodemus answered.

Some questions for us to ponder after studying the story of Nicodemus…what about you? Are you an intellectual, or do you get caught up on theological issues? Don’t make the mistake of getting your theology right but never learning to get your relationship with God right.  God is not distant and abstract, but we encounter him everywhere when we have spiritual eyes to see him at work in our lives. Or are you on the opposite intellectual spectrum, requiring proofs and signs to believe? Recognize that Jesus is calling you too into his light so that he can show you what it means to have true life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, not everyone will relate to where Nicodemus was.  But, it’s important to see that Jesus met him where he was—at the point of his need.  Jesus will meet you and me at our own unique points of need as well.  Jesus speaks redemptively into our lives, uniquely calling us to believe, to be born from above, and to receive life.

Questions for Application & Discussion:

●       How has Jesus “spoken” uniquely into your life lately?

●       What are some misconceptions about Jesus you struggle with?

●       How can you recognize Jesus’ voice better?

Character Defined: Wisdom

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Last week we kicked off our study on character, or virtue. And we laid the groundwork for our study establishing that as believers we must recognize that there is the world’s version of character which is faulty because it lacks a foundation, and then God’s version of character which is founded on God’s Word. And as we saw in 1 Peter, character is not only seeking to be like Christ, but it is also what gives us a Biblical perspective in life. So for the next 2 weeks, we are going to look at what makes up character. What are the traits that the Bible says make up character?

Hopefully some of you took the time to look at the blog and think through the application questions for last week. The last one asked you to make a list of all the traits that you think make up character. I’ve begun a chart of character traits and the resources that list them for us. It is a work in progress but I wanted us to look at it briefly tonight. CLICK HERE FOR CHARACTER CHART

As you look at the chart, is there anything missing? A trait that you believe should be on here? Is there anything you are surprised to see on there that maybe you don’t think is involved in character? Are there any on there that you think mean the same thing? Should generosity be there? Temperance? Is righteousness the same as goodness & godliness? Is it all the same as moral? Are discipline and self-control the same? Is peace different from being a peacemaker?

Next week I’m going to give you an expanded version of this chart that will include synonyms and definitions of each trait that is in the Bible. But, I wanted you to get your mind thinking in this way as we continue in the study. Rather than spend our time during the study going through each trait, we are going to look at some overarching ideas that encompass or breed many other traits. So tonight, we are going to talk about wisdom. In the Character Strengths and Virtues handbook they explain that in philosophy wisdom has always been seen as “the chief virtue making all others possible.” (p.95) Last week I said that one of the ways we recognize someone with character is that they “seem to know something that we don’t, and it shapes their lives in such a way that we would describe them as being a person of strong character.” When we say that about someone, I believe what we are recognizing in them is wisdom, so this is what we are going to look at tonight.

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

One of the first questions that we ask when thinking about wisdom and what it is, is What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Is wisdom the same as knowledge? So to answer this question I want us to turn to one of the passages we read last week…

READ MATTHEW 7:24-27

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In this parable Jesus compares two types of people. What they have in common is that they have both “heard God’s word.” This is knowledge, hearing and knowing God’s truth

What differentiates them? It is whether they put that knowledge into practice or not. And Jesus says the one who put God’s word into practice is the wise man, and the one who does not is the fool.

Knowledge – So in the Bible, knowledge refers not to education in general, or knowing all things, but instead it refers to knowledge of God and His word. We gain knowledge by reading, studying, discussing, and thinking about God’s word. And the result is being able to distinguish cognitively the difference between what is right and true, and what is false and not from God.

Wisdom – But then wisdom is actually acting on that knowledge. Living it out in your life. So really, the difference between knowledge and wisdom can be found in what it takes to get you from just knowing, to actually living it out.

The “in-between” – One person I read said that difference is found in whether you have come to believe that God’s word is necessary to life or not. Job is an example of this. If you look in Job 23:12, he says that he treasures the words of God’s mouth as more necessary than food. And of course Jesus explained that He was the bread of life (John 6:35). When you see God’s word in that way we will cherish it and that will result in us being committed to knowing it and seeking to live it out. So for each of us, as we come to understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom, we should look at our own hearts and lives and ask ourselves whether we see God’s word as what we need to live, as more important than food. Because that’s what will be necessary to walk in wisdom.

Biblical Description of Wisdom

Now that we understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom, let’s turn to Proverbs 2 and read a description of what wisdom is.

READ PROVERBS 2:1-22

1 Kings 4:29-31 tells us,

“God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.  30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.  31 He was wiser than any other man…”

So while what we are reading are words written by Solomon, we must remember that they were inspired by God and that God was the one who gave Solomon this wisdom. It was not the wisdom of the world/man, but the wisdom of God.

In the first four verses Solomon urges his readers to not just desire wisdom, but also to seek it. To strive for wisdom. Turn your ear to it. Apply your heart to it. Call out and cry aloud for it. Look for it as you do for your income or like it’s a hidden treasure. Similarly in the New Testament we are told in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

And in verse 5 he says when you do this, you will find at the center of it the fear of God and the knowledge of God. So wisdom goes hand in hand with knowing God and fearing God. This is what we just talked about, fear of God is understanding who He is which leads to a fearsome respect, honor, that shapes and directs our lives.

Then in verse 6-8 Solomon reiterates for us what we talked about last week in reference to character, that true wisdom comes from God. He is the source. True wisdom cannot be found apart from God. When we see wisdom in another person, we must acknowledge that it is not the person who is wise, but they are simply a vessel of God’s wisdom. We don’t lift up the person, we lift up God.

Then in verses 9-11 Solomon explains some of the benefits of wisdom, why we should seek it. He says…

1.     It helps us to understand the difference between what is right, just, and good. The word we use for this is discernment. So wisdom breeds discernment.

2.     It will seek to take us over, to take over our hearts which are naturally deceptive without God. But when we walk in wisdom, wisdom will begin to take over our hearts and minds, as we walk in wisdom we will also grow in wisdom. And Solomon says it will be “pleasant to your soul.” As you walk in wisdom you will love it and that will drive you to continue in it.

3.     Then finally, in verse 11, he says that God’s wisdom which gives us discernment, or discretion, will protect us, it will guard us. Then he explains in the following verses two ways that it does that….

v.12-14 In verses 12-14 he explains that wisdom helps us to not sin. It keeps us from making bad decisions to walk in wickedness, to join others in their sin. And we all know that this is a great temptation for all believers, when we see others sinning we are tempted to also sin and drift from God. But Solomon says that wisdom is what will keep you from falling.

v.16-19 Then in verses 16-19 he gives us a second way that wisdom protects us. He says that it protects us from the adulteress.  The Old Testament often uses the concept of adultery as a picture of how we give ourselves to things other than God. So here, Solomon is referring to the things of this world that subtly try to seduce us away from God. So not outright sin, but things that may seem gray at first and deceive us into thinking they are no big deal, but eventually lead us away from God. And Solomon says, wisdom is what will protect you from that.

v.20-22 Solomon concludes by saying that walking in wisdom will keep you on the good path, in righteousness and blamelessness. There are only positive benefits to wisdom, so that is why throughout the Bible we are urged to seek it and walk in wisdom!

What Proverbs 2 is saying…

So what we have learned here is that wisdom comes from God, that at the center of wisdom is an understanding of who God is and reverence for Him, that He will give it to us if we desire it and seek after it, that as we walk in it we will also grow stronger in wisdom, and that it will give us discernment and protection from sin and temptation. If we had time to continue to study the book of Proverbs we would see that wisdom is not a free standing concept, but that Solomon is laying the foundation upon which he will build many other character traits. Discernment/Discretion, integrity, prudence, discipline, etc….all of which could not exist without wisdom. So as we seek to understand what the Biblical’s view of character is, we must pay close attention to wisdom and really understand it.

Now let’s turn to James for a further description of Biblical wisdom…

READ JAMES 3:13-18

James begins in verse 13 with something we have already talked about tonight. That true wisdom is seen in action, it is not just knowledge, but it is actually living out that knowledge in our lives – it’s seen in our “good life” our “deeds.” But then James unfolds another aspect of wisdom for us, humility. He says our wisdom is not just seen in deeds, but in deeds characterized by humility. The literal here is “deeds [done] in the gentleness of wisdom.” So gentleness, or humility, is an aspect of wisdom. Wisdom cannot be present without it. Proverbs 11:2 says,

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

Humility and wisdom cannot be separated.

Now, in verses 14-18 James is going to explain that there are two types of wisdom. The wisdom of the world, false wisdom, and the wisdom of God, true wisdom. And he is going to show us what wisdom of the world looks like and then compare it to the wisdom of God so that we can learn to recognize when we are operating out of the world’s wisdom instead of God’s. So that we can repent of it, not boast in it or try to justify it as he says in verse 14.

Look at verses 14-16, how does James say we can recognize the wisdom of the world? Traces of bitter envy, or jealousy, and selfish ambition are there. Boasting which comes from self-focused arrogance. I’m sure we have all seen this before, even in ourselves. When someone is trying to come across as wise and instead you see their arrogance and pride. James explains that this kind of wisdom is not from God, it is earthly, unspiritual, and from the devil. The Greek literally says it’s “demonic.” It’s pretty sobering to think back on times when we have behaved that way and realize that we were satisfying the desires and will of Satan. And James says in verse 16 the result of that is disorder and every evil practice. So another way to recognize the wisdom of the world is by the fruit, by the result will never result in fruit that is glorifying to God, but instead will always result in more evil. And James tells his readers in verse 14, that when they do this they not only need to recognize it, but also not to boast in it or deny it. The literal that is translated as “deny the truth” is actually “lie against the truth.” So when your “false wisdom” is revealed, don’t try to justify it….but repent of it and seek God’s wisdom.

In verse 17 James tells us how to recognize God’s wisdom by listing it’s characteristics and fruit. The wisdom of God is…

●       Pure – untainted, of one substance with nothing else mixed in

●       Peaceable/Peaceloving – avoiding/free from argument or conflict

●       Gentle/Considerate – being careful in how you handle others

●       Submissive/Reasonable – sound judgment, fair, sensible; willing to conform to the authority or will of God

●       Full of mercy – showing grace, mercy, forgiveness easily to others, not holding grudges

●       Full of good fruit – walking in wisdom will always bear good fruit, not evil deeds.

●       Impartial/Unwavering – treating all equal, not wavering in your treatment of others

●       Sincere/Without Hypocrisy – free from pretense (attempt to make something that is not the case true) or deceit

Why is wisdom all these things?

A key question we need to ask right now is, Why is wisdom all these things? I touched on the answer earlier. Wisdom is all these things because it chooses to see the bigger picture, what we call the eternal perspective. A non-believer would categorize that as the Christian worldview. And this understanding of wisdom as our perspective is something that Christians and non-Christians observe and agree upon. When defining the character trait of wisdom in the Character Strengths and Virtues handbook they use wisdom and perspective interchangeably and explain,

“Perspective (wisdom) refers to the ability to take stock of life in large terms, in ways that make sense to oneself and others. Perspecitve is the product of knowledge and experience, but it is more than the accumulation of information. It is the coordination of this information and its deliberate use to improve well-being. In a social context, perspective allows the individual to listen to others, to evaluate what they say, and then to offer good (sage) advice.” (p.105-106)

While their reason for why you employ your perspective is different from ours, it is the same concept. In his book, Essential Virtues, Jim Berg explains this exact reality and further explains how it is different for believers. He says our biblical worldview/perspective…

“…helps us make sense out of our world and gives meaning and direction to our existence and our morals…a biblical worldview ‘views’ everything in the ‘world’ through the lenses of God’s person, purposes, and plans as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ…A Christ-centered worldview puts [the eternal and the temporal] in their proper place and gives meaning and significance to our lives.” (p.45)

So going back to my original question here, why is wisdom humble, pure, peaceable, gentle, etc…? It’s because when we have God’s wisdom we have God’s perspective. And God’s perspective sees a bigger picture, sees what matters most, understands what is eternal and what is temporary, and acts out of that understanding. Someone who is seeking God’s wisdom will not only find God’s perspective, but will also come closer to understanding God’s will. Colossians 1:9 tells us,

“…the knowledge of [God’s] will [comes] through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

This is the same thing that Romans 12:2 tells us happens when we allow God to renew our minds instead of conforming to the wisdom of the world, we are then able to know God’s will. So wisdom is another way of saying biblical perspective. Those who have a biblical perspective and live it out are the same people who are walking in the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of the world.

Example

Recently I was talking to someone who was angry with her friend for something that they were doing that they should know they shouldn’t be doing. And as my friend shared her feelings with me I understood what she was so upset about, but I could hardly find a hint of love, humility, purity, gentleness, mercy, etc… all of those things that James lists. And so I gently tried to explain this to her, that the “wisdom” she was claiming to have was not of God, because she was lacking the things that characterize God’s wisdom. And as soon as I pointed that out to her and helped her to see her situation through a biblical perspective, she got it and saw that she was speaking out of her own flesh, rather than God’s spirit. It didn’t change the issue at hand, but it did change how she viewed it and how she would treat her friend.

In verse 18 James concludes his explanation of wisdom by explaining that while our circumstances or the issues of life remain the same, it is whether we walk in God’s wisdom or not that will change the outcome. The literal translation of this verse says,

the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

If you want an apple, you plant an apple tree seed. If you want an orange, you plant an orange tree seed. If you want righteousness then you must sow the right seed….the seed of peace sown in peace. If we want the fruit of God’s wisdom in our life then we must choose to live in God’s wisdom and not the wisdom of the world. James 1:22 says, ”Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves” Don’t just stop at knowledge!! “Do what it says.” Live it out. Choose wisdom.

Conclusion

While there is an aspect of wisdom that is communal, I believe that wisdom is primarily personal. Even though we learn from watching others, we become wise by seeking it from God on our own. So, we must make seeking God’s wisdom a priority. Last week I mentioned the Bereans, and that in the book of Acts Paul calls them men of character. Well, the reason they were men of character is because they choose to not just believe what others told them but to seek it out for themselves. To seek truth from God and make it personal. Make your quest to be a woman of character personal. Ask yourself the hard questions, ask others how you can grow, ask God to refine you as David does in the Psalms. When you mess up, don’t pretend it never happened, deal with it, apologize to those you need to apologize to, confess it to God and repent. Because that’s the only way it’s ever going to become a reality in your life.

Everything we have talked about tonight describes the character of Christ. So as you wonder what it means to be Christ-like, look to descriptions like this in the New Testament. We are not called to embrace these things so the world will think Christians are nice and therefore want to be one, but because this is who the son of God was and who we are called by God to be like. And these are what makes up Christian character and wisdom.

Questions for discussion & application:

●       Can we have true knowledge without wisdom? Explain…

●       When talking to believers who had fallen into sin in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul says: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” He is actually quoting a Greek (non–Christian) writer, which shows this concept is universal. Discuss this statement and how it applies to our desire to be women of character who walk in wisdom.

●       Proverbs 4:7 says, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” How might seeking wisdom as a Christian be costly?

What is Character?

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The two most important questions that we need to deal with before we really look at character, is “Why study character?” and “What is character?”

Why Study Character?

The first question may be the easiest, but most vague to answer. We are each here tonight because we are drawn to it. Plain and simple. When the Bible talks about character and becoming a person of strong character, we each hope that could be us.

Ruth 3:11 Boaz says to Ruth, “…All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.”

Prov. 12:4 “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown,

but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.”

Prov. 31:10 “A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.”

Acts 17:11 “…the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians..”

Wouldn’t you love it if someone walked up and told you that others were talking about your noble character? When you read those verses in Proverbs don’t you long to be that woman of noble character who is like a crown to her husband and worth more than rubies? And the thought of being decay to your husband’s bones is frightening. When we read Paul’s description of the Bereans in comparison to the Thessalonians we hope to be able to be identified with them and compared to others because of our noble character.

Not only do we long to be a person of character, but there is also something inside us that longs to be near someone of character. Right? When we meet someone who strikes us by their strength of character, we want to know them and be known by them. Think about it. What is it that draws us to a person of strong character? Why do you think we want to be around them? What is it about them that draws us to them? For me, it’s their stability. They are what we would call “steady.” They are consistent. They are wise. And it’s like they’ve figured something out and I want to know what it is! I want to be around a person of strong character because I want to be a person of strong character.

There is a group in our nation’s capital called International Justice Mission that fights for the freedom of human slaves in other countries. And they recently had a fundraising benefit here in Dallas and something the founder, Gary Haugen, said during his keynote struck me because it was so related to what we were about to study this summer. He said that character makes us feel “big” and “strong.” That good character gives us a great sense of purpose in life.

Similarly, I was reading in a leadership book by John Maxwell and he illustrated this exact phenomenon with an allegory,

“A man took his young daughter to a carnival, and she immediately ran over to a booth and asked for cotton candy. As the attendant handed her a huge ball of it, the father asked, “Sweetheart, are you sure you can eat all that?” “Don’t worry, Dad,” she answered, “I’m a lot bigger on the inside than on the outside.” That’s what real character is – being bigger on the inside.” The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, p. 7.

When we study a topic each summer I love to take time to just google the topic and see what comes up, it’s always very interesting. When I did that in regard to character a web page called “The Virtues Project” came up. Basically it’s a multi-faith organization whose goal is to help people understand and live out virtues in their life. And one of the reasons they do this is that they say, “The virtues are the very meaning and purpose of our lives.” (www.virtuesproject.com/about)

Now I don’t agree with what that statement is saying ultimately, but what I want us to see is that the longing for character, or virtues, is a universal human longing. Despite religion or culture, whether we actually strive to be a person of strong character or not, we know it when we see it, and we like it. And deep down inside we know that it is best and we wish we had it.

One of the most famous Salvation Army preachers of the early 20th century was Samuel Brengle, and this is how he put it,

“The final estimate of men shows that history cares not an iota for the rank or title a man has borne, or the office he has held, but only the quality of his deeds and the character of his mind and heart.” Samuel Logan Brengle, by C.W. Hall  p.274

Point #1 – So our first point tonight is this. Why study character? Because we want to. Because there is something about it that draws us to it. Because we want to be people of strong character, but we don’t know how. Because we know that somehow it gives us purpose and meaning to our lives, and makes us feel big and strong. And we also know that in the end, life is not about the “worldy successes” we had, but about who we were, as Samuel Brengle said, the character of our minds and hearts.

What is Character?

So the second question we need to look at tonight is, what is character? We know it when we see it, we even know it when we live it, but can we put it into words? The most obvious way to define it is by saying that character is made up of many different traits. The Greek word for character in Greek mythology and the Bible is the word arête. It is often translated as “excellence” and it was used in ancient writings to describe the sum of all desirable character qualities.” Character is the overarching term to refer to the sum of many different traits/qualities that are considered good, or desirable. While we understand that, is there a way to define character without listing all the traits that the word refers to?

The Oxford American Dictionary defines “Character” as,

“the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual” and further down the definition adds, ”strength and originality in a person’s nature…a person’s good reputation.”

Another word often used interchangeably with the word character is, “virtue.” The definition of virtue is,

“Behavior showing high moral standards…a quality considered morally good or desirable in a person.”

While these definitions are nice and short, they are lacking. The heart of these definitions is “morality,” being good and right, but you and I would agree that not all moral people have strong character. Morality and character are related, but they are not the same thing. So there’s got to be more to it.

In 2004, the American Psychological Association published a handbook and classification system of “Character Strengths and Virtues.” They did intense research and even after that they too could not come up with a precise definition of character. They say, that the term character “does not have a fixed meaning.” So to solve that problem they came up with a list of criteria to determine what makes up character and virtue. In addition to the criteria of morality, which we have seen is universally agreed on as being central to character, they offer two criteria that involve outcome,

1.      That it contributes to the “good life, for oneself and for others” and “fulfill” us. (p.17)

2.      That when displayed it doesn’t diminish others, but instead elevates them (p.21)

In summary they say at the beginning of the book, “This handbook focuses on what is right [meaning good and moral] about people and specifically about the strengths of character that make the good life possible.” So we see that mankind has sought to define character or virtue by morality and outcome. But what really is character? What is virtue? Is it the same as morality? Is it simply a means to a better life? If someone asked you these questions, how would you answer?

Going back to John Maxwell’s book on leadership, he dedicates a chapter to character and he also has a hard time putting “character” into words and resorts mostly to telling stories of how to recognize it in others. But, he does offer four things that everyone must know about character that helps us to identify it in ourselves and others. (p.4-5)

1. Character is more than talk – We don’t recognize character in a person because they tell us they have character, we recognize it because of the way they live. Maxwell says, “action is the real indicator [and] your character determines who you are.”

2. Talent is a gift, but character is a choice – It is easy to believe that character is a result of someone’s upbringing, genetics, and personality, like talent. But the truth is, character is something we choose, and not just choose once, but choose continually throughout our lives…and it grows and develops each time we choose it.

3. Character brings lasting success with people – here’s what Maxwell means by this, if you have true character then other’s will be drawn to you. That is one of our greatest gauges. If we trust someone, seek them out, ask for their advice, follow them, then most likely they have strong character.

4. [People] cannot rise above the limitations of their character – this last thing means that when we are called to a higher standard, a higher level of success or calling in life, if the character qualities that are required to sustain us in that place are not truly there, then we will not be able to withstand the pressure and stress of that position, and we will fall apart and our weak character will be revealed. So, in a sense, this is the ultimate or final gauge of true character.

All of this sounds good, it sounds like what I would say if I were able to put into words what character is. But, there is still something missing. The conclusion of the American Psychological Association in regards to character was,

“…virtues, we believe, are what allow the human animal to struggle against and to triumph over what is darkest within us.” (p.52)

While this statement is humanistic at it’s core it gets us a little closer to where we are going tonight.

Is there a difference between Man’s definition of Character & God’s

The last question we need to ask tonight is, Is there a difference between man’s definition of character and God’s? I think the answer is yes, and I believe we find it when we look at the foundation of each. Why does man believe we should strive to have strong character versus why does God say we should strive to have strong character?

Man’s Goal

In all of my reading and research in the secular realm there were only a few reasons I came across for why we should seek to be people of character. The primary one being, to find “the good life,” to improve the quality not only of your life but also of others, some even say to live a full life. So basically for the betterment of mankind. The handbook also explains that it lines up with “survival of the fittest,” those who upheld the traits that make up a strong character were the ones who survived and the cultures that thrived. So you seek it for your legacy and that of your people group. And the vast majority of what I read also taught that you seek it because it is what is moral and right, and that is what is good. But if these reasons are the foundation of your character, then you are in trouble. Let me explain why…

William Bennett

The very first book I grabbed a couple months ago to use as I prepared to teach this study was a book that my In-Laws gave to my husband back in 1994. I had seen it in our house and was excited to have a reason to read it. The title is The Book of Virtues and it was written by William Bennett in 1993. In the 80’s during Reagan’s administration Bennett had served as the United States Secretary of Education, and then later as the Director of the office of National Drug Control Policy. This book is full of stories for parents to use to teach their children good moral virtues. Bennett says in the opening that it is, “…a kind of antidote to some of the distortions of the age in which we now live.” (p.14)

I was excited to have this resource but when I told Michael I was going to use it he told me something very ironic about Bennett. In 2003, a decade after publishing a book about virtue and strong character, it became public that he was a high-stakes gambler who had lost millions in Las Vegas. The public saw this as conflicting with his public image that he put forth and with his writings. He never publicly apologized or admitted what he had done was wrong, he simply justified it and then said at worst he was setting a bad example and that he would never do it again. A couple years later he was caught in a similar situation and his response was the same.

The Difference

Now, I do not bring this up to say that Christians will never fail to uphold strong character or even to fault Bennett for messing up. But in his actions and his response we begin to see a little more of what the difference is.

When man is at the center, when we are striving to have strong character in order to have “the good life”, be fulfilled, be seen as moral, to succeed, or simply to be liked, it won’t be enough. That standard, that goal, that foundation is faulty. Let me lay out what this looks like and why it doesn’t work.

1. The first crack in that foundation is that we are the ones who decide what constitutes good character and what does not. Next week we are going to talk about the traits that make up strong character, and what we will see is that there isn’t one set list out there in the world. So then we are the authority and we get to decide what is and what isn’t character.

2. The second problem is that sometimes I don’t want to live for the good of others, or my own good even. Sometimes I just want immediate satisfaction. Sometimes I don’t want the moral choice. And in those moments, because I have made myself the authority and put myself at the center, I will simply choose to go along with what I want. It is not enough to make the good of myself and mankind my foundation.

3. And so, like Bennett, not only will we fail, but when we fail we will not owe anyone an apology. We will have no need for repentance. We answer only to ourselves and so we decide what is ok and what is not. And along those lines, when we do fail, if we do acknowledge that we have messed up it is up to us to decide whether we are forgivable or not and then to offer ourselves the grace that we need to pick ourselves back up and try again.

4. And then finally, what most Christians would be thinking now, is that the truth is we will always fail. No matter how much we try, we can’t do it on our own so those who are depending on their own effort and ability will never be able to do it. There is no hope of them ever achieving the fullness of character that they are striving after.

The bottom line is that seeking to build character on the world’s foundation will leave us hopeless and in despair.

God’s Goal

But in Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus tells us that the difference is found on the foundation we lay.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Do we build who we are upon sand, or rock? If you have been striving to be a person of character for the reasons we just talked about, and with yourself at the center, then the reason it isn’t working is because you have been building upon sand. And the only way we will ever begin to build true character and see change in ourselves, is if we choose to build upon the rock.

And Peter tells us very simply in 2 Peter 1:3-9 what that rock is.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”

We are going to spend more time in these verses in the following weeks, but for tonight I just want us to look at 4, 8, and 9.

The first reason that Peter gives for why we seek to grow in our character, in verse 4, is to become more like Christ….to “participate in the divine nature.” We want to become more like Christ and it is His character we are seeking to emulate. And in the same sentence Peter says that as we do this it will help us to escape the corruption of the world around us. So we seek the character of Christ to help us not give in to the evil and temptation that is all around us that wants to drag us away from God.

The second reason Peter gives for why we seek character, in verse 8, is that the effect and the product of our knowledge of Christ is becoming more like Him. In other words, we seek and desire to grow in character and virtue, not for our own good, but for the sake of Christ and the kingdom. It is not about self as the world would say, and it’s not even about others first, but instead it’s first all about God.

And Peter also tells us in verse 8 that if you are not growing in these ways then you will feel that your Christian life is ineffective and unproductive. So becoming a person of character is actually central to being a follower of Christ, it is what we are about and it is a gauge of how we are doing in our relationship with God.

Thirdly, in verse 9 Peter says that if a Christian is not growing in their character then it is because they have forgotten what Christ has done for them. If you look at your life and you don’t see the character of Christ developing within you, then there is a very large chance that it is because you no longer dwell on and study what Christ has done for you. Because if we do this constantly then we won’t be able to stop growing in character and becoming more like Christ.

Peter also says here that if you aren’t growing in your character, or if you stop growing in your character, then you will begin to lose your perspective, you will only be able to see what is right in front of you, you will lose that eternal perspective which is so necessary for surviving in this world as a believer. Which spiritually means you have become blind.

Conclusion

We are going to talk about these verses more in the weeks to come, but I hope you are beginning to see how interconnected it all is. Our growth in Christ, our character development, our faith, the impact that we have on the world for God, our ability to see life as God does, our effectiveness and productivity in life….some may call that purpose and meaning. All of it goes back to Jesus. Knowing Him and pursuing Him.

So as a Christian we must learn to view the building of our character and virtues in a very different light than the rest of the world. It is not about us, it is about God and bringing Him glory. This perspective is what is going to shape our study over the next 5 weeks. We aren’t just going to ask, what makes up character, we are going to ask “Who does God want me to be?” “What does His Word say about character and what true virtue is?” “How does God say we can develop and maintain strong character?” “What is the Spirit’s role in it?” and “What does God say is the outcome of good character?” And this is what we are going to do each week, really look at the whole of Scripture and try to understand character from a Biblical perspective.

Questions for Application & Discussion:

●       What character means to you. What does it look like?

●       Is there a difference between morality and character?

●       Make a list of the qualities that you think make up character.

Romans 12 by Keeley Chorn

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Discerning Good and Evil: Read Rom 12:9-21

Where we’ve been in this 6 weeks of Romans: In Chs. 1-11, Paul was laying out his theology, such as the gospel of God’s grace for sinners, union with Christ and its benefits (i.e. adoption, justification, sanctification, glorification, and election).

Where Paul has gone in Chs. 12-16: transitioned from major theology and now he is giving practical advice or exhortations on how to live as Christians.  He gives discrete units of thought and instruction, but they must be seen within the larger context of both his theology and his practical advice.

The ESV calls this section “Marks of the True Christian,” meaning these are characteristics that should be evident in the life of a believer.  They are instructions for every believer.  Some people will be better at these than others, the more we mature, the more we will see evidence of them all, but these are marks that all Christians should have or should be attaining to.  We also know that this section is about good and evil because the book end verses of this section (12:9-21) are about good and evil.  Verse 12: “abhor/hate what is evil, cling to what is good;” verse 21: “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

What are some popular or cultural ideas of good and evil?

Illustration

The popular TV show Grey’s Anatomy presents a view of good and evil in its season finale last week.  The show begins with a man coming into the hospital looking for the chief of surgery, Dr. Derek Shepherd.  He is looking and asking for Derek, but as people are too busy to help him, he gets frustrated and angry.  At one point when a doctor blows off his request for help, the man pulls out a gun and shoots her in the head.  Next he shoots another man just for walking in.  We begin to see that this man is a killer on the loose with a mission and his purposes are definitely evil.  From earlier in the season, we begin to remember that this man’s wife was declared legally brain dead, and per her advanced directive, she was not to be kept on life support.  Derek and the hospital executed her orders and took her off life support.  The man, however, was not ready to see his wife die, and so he saw Derek as killing her.  He tried legally suing Derek and the hospital after her death, but it was unsuccessful.  So now, he enters the hospital, clearly seeking revenge for his wife’s death.  He is seeking justice and revenge for his wife’s death, and he is set on finding Derek Shepherd to exact his revenge.

Finally, the man finds Derek, and there is a showdown on a walkway.  The man is pointing the gun at Derek, but he is shaking and clearly upset about his wife’s death.  You can see his pain, but he is intent on killing.  Derek, in a plea to save his life, says to the man, “You want justice—you want someone to pay…you’re a good man—I can see it in your eyes, can you see it in mine?”  Derek appeals to the goodness in the man, trying to overcome the evil in him by appealing to what is good.  This is an example of what the culture says is the difference in good and evil: how we choose one or the other, but that both reside in us and we have to choose which one to follow.  We try to “well up” the good to overcome the evil.

Already, we can see a difference in this account and the biblical account.  God’s people are not innately good- we’ve been studying this: Rom 3:12 “All have turned aside, there is none who does good, not even one.”- Only through God’s spirit and being reborn can we become capable of doing good.

The Biblical view of discerning good and evil

Go to the passageto see what the biblical view of good and evil is.

Verse 9: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Paul starts with love.  “Love must be sincere.” Love is a key component of discerning good from evil.  The NASB translation says, “love must be without hypocrisy;” and the ESV: “let love be genuine.” This love is not the same as an emotional feeling you get when you’re around someone you like or are attracted to.  This is a deeper, more genuine, more godly form of love.  In the context of Romans, we see that in the next chapter (Rom 13:8), Paul says “to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” verse 10 says, “love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  Also, in 1 Tim 1:5, we see that  “love [comes] from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” So, faith is an integral component of godly, biblical love. Only a renewed/reborn Christian can have this pure heart (one that is declared good in God’s eyes).

Next he says “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” How we love is going to show the difference in good vs. evil.  Good and evil is a major theme in the Bible.  If we go all the way back to the garden, in Gen 2-3, we see the serpent saying: eat from this tree and you will be like God, knowing good and evil; the serpent is a tempter.  He doesn’t bring Adam and Eve to enlightenment, but rather he exposes them to evil.  He presents the idea that we can be our own gods, or know as much as the true living God.; this is what “knowing good and evil” apart from God is like—it’s our own discernment, it is being wise in our own eyes.

In verse 9, he then says that we hate what is evil/abhor it (NAS), and cling to what is good.  The idea is repeated in 1 Tim 1:5- “test everything, hold fast what is good.” We can’t just assume that things are good or evil, we must test them, we must have a standard by which to judge them (God), and then we hold fast to them.  Heb 5:14 says “[our] powers of discernment [must be] trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” We need constant practice- it’s not: believe, then know forever good from evil; not: read bible once and get it, not: go to church 5 years when younger and get it, but we all need constant practice…  We’re too bombarded by culture and their view of good and evil. We need to be practicing learning discernment.  We may see glimpses of God’s truth in the culture, but they can’t be taken in isolation from God.  So we must learn to distinguish good from evil, then learn to actively choose the good in all situations in our life. And later in v. 21- it’s this good that will overcome evil.

In the following verses, Paul will lay out some aspects of positive Christian ways of behaving and negative ones—ones that are not to at all be characteristic of a Christian.  We’ll see in this passage how the biblical view of good and evil is different from the popular cultural way of seeing good and evil.

What are some of the positive ways Paul lists that are considered “good”?

Verses 10-13: 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

These are positive actions that Paul wants God’s people to do.  These are all considered good.  These are characteristics that God’s people should have. We should strive towards these (we most likely don’t excel in any of these).  They are a part of our growing in holiness, growing to be more like Christ, they are a part of our sanctification, our being made holy.  [v. 10a] We are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Brotherly love or Christian love is this: it’s  about friendship, community, caring for others genuinely.  Paul in the letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 4:9) says “you are taught by God to love one another;” we are taught by God, not by Grey’s Anatomy or Gossip Girl or Oprah.  We have to be taught how to love each other in this way- it’s not innate, we’re not born knowing how to love in this way.  [v.10b] We are to honor one another above yourselves.  To honor is to show respect for someone’s authority or worthiness- all believers are worthy of your honor.  We need humility to do this.

Then (v. 11), we must be active in our affections, in our zeal, in our love, we must have fervor or spiritual intensity- this is how we serve the lord.  We serve God, again, with humility, just as we serve and honor our brothers and sisters.

We are to (v. 12) Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. We are patient in affliction- or the NASB says, “persevere in tribulation.”  After coming to faith in Christ, Christians will experience persecution from others (especially if came to faith later in life).  For example, one might receive subtle looks fro others, or people don’t understand why want to go to bible study and hang out with “those people,” or maybe you lose friends because you don’t want to go out late or drink just to get wasted anymore.  Maybe you are called names like “bible banger” or “holy roller,” or there may be more overt acts, such as shunned from certain groups.  This also means that non-Christians will have different ideas of how life should be lived, you live by different standards, even your idea of good and evil can be different.  We need endurance as we struggle through these things.  Where do we find the endurance??

And we are to (v. 13) share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. We are also to share with God’s people who are in need: this means serving the needs of others (Rom 15:25), devoting ourselves to ministry and to ministering to each other (1 Cor 16:15; 2 Cor 9:1; Heb 6:10), engaging in living life with Christians.  We must share our struggles, share our material blessings, and share emotional love and support.  W must be a community to one another.  Finally Paul says practice hospitality.  From the mouth of Jesus (Matt 25:35), we hear: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;” Hospitality isn’t about who’s house is cleanest or biggest, or who serves the best meal or has the fanciest china, but it’s about meeting needs, basic needs: hunger, thirst, shelter.   Jesus’ discourse on meeting these needs is concluded with “as you did to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Hospitality is about so much more than just being a good hostess of parties.  It’s an encounter with Christ.   These are all things that are part of God’s definition of “good”- notice that serving the lord and being in prayer are a part of this, we must be near and following the Lord to be truly good. If we just take one of these good characteristics in isolation from God, we distort the meaning and it is not good in God’s eyes then.

See how a nonbeliever is unable of fulfilling these?  They may be doing good in their own eyes, but God wants service, prayer, love, patience, etc.

Verses 14-16 set up some contrasts between good and evil behavior.  What it means to be “wise” in God’s estimation, in God’s eyes.  14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited. First, we bless those who persecute you and do not curse them.  This is counter-intuitive.  Maybe we know it from hearing it in church, but it’s not the way we want to respond.  When someone cuts me off, or doesn’t like the way I do things , Or if someone attacks my character , I want to say “who cares what they think anyway”- or I think I know better anyway, but Jesus says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute [or mistreat (Lk 6:28)] you” (Matt 5:44).

Even rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn can be counter-intuitive.  Paul’s not necessarily saying, “empathize with others,” or be compassionate (that’s a part of it), BUT rejoice when you don’t want to rejoice (ie. friend’s job promotion, able to afford more than you, when your younger sister gets married before you do), and mourn when you don’t want to, like when you rather think positively so you don’t get down, or a friend has been depressed for so long that you don’t want to deal with her anymore.  Weep when she weeps.

Paul say do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  He wants people to get out of their comfort zones in associating with people of low position, and not just one Saturday a year. This is why we make it a point to be involved in PCPC’s mercy ministries, especially Union Gospel mission.  He wants us to love and be friends with people who have less than we do- this is godly wisdom.

Finally, verse 16 says never be conceited. the NAS translates this as “do not be wise in your own estimation.” Don’t be wise in your own eyes (that’s what Adam and Eve were trying to be), from your own learning or understanding, but learn to be wise in God’s eyes, we must learn to discern, practice and be trained in godly wisdom, in discerning good from evil.   This summer our study is going to be on godly character.  It’s a further way to learn to discern character as we’re taught in the media from what is true biblical character.  We must learn from God, sit at his feet and listen: hear his love for you. Being truly wise is clinging to the good.  Clinging to God.

Verses 17-21 speak to ways we are naturally tempted to respond, but to which we must use godly wisdom, which can be unconventional, in responding.  We must use wisdom discerned from following God, not from what we learn around us.  17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Verse 17 is like verses 14 and 16, instead of naturally wanting to return evil for evil, we are to bless those who wrong us. We must be careful to do what is ultimately right in God’s eyes, but here, even in the eyes of greater mankind.  So if a friend is telling you to respond in one way, and it seems like a good idea or it feels right, question whether everyone else would think this was the right way to respond, and test if it’s the way God would have you respond.

19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d]says the Lord. We must wait on the Lord (Prov 20:22).  We can’t repay that person what we think they “deserve,” and we can’t do to someone else what they did to you (Prov 24:29).  In Grey’s Anatomy, the killer said “an eye for an eye” (he quotes the Old Testament).  He says, “I came here for justice.”  But, he missed the message of Jesus though, who said “not an eye for an eye” but rather turn the other cheek.  See how he misses the context and full story of the Bible and God’s redemption through Jesus Christ?  This is an example of how the culture distorts God’s message.  It sound biblical, because he’s quoting the Bible, but he’s quoting only one piece in isolation from the rest of God’s word.  This man’s revenge is his only resort in a world without God—it’s his only resort and only hope for justice.  He wants someone to pay- he’s repaying evil for evil.

But, in Deut 32:35 (which is also in the Old Testament, and near what passage the killer was quoting), we see that God says “it is mine to avenge” or “vengeance is mine.”  Verse 19 is a quote of this Old Testament passage.  “I will repay,” God says.  In the following verse says that the Lord will “vindicate his people and he will have compassion on his servants.” It’s not that God doesn’t see or care what this person has done, but that repaying one’s deeds is God’s job alone.  He is the judge, he is the avenger.  He loves his people, and he has compassion on them.  As Christians, we know God cares deeply, he will take care of any revenge for wrongs committed against us.

The passage follows: 20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Verse 20 sets up a contrast to how we respond (it’s an elaboration of verse 14).  This verse is also quoting an Old Testament Proverb (Prov 25:21) word for word.  And, these were the same words Jesus used in telling others how to live in an unjust world.  He says to pray for those who abuse you.  The book of proverbs is about learning godly wisdom, learning to discern, good from evil, what is right and just.  A favorite passage in Proverbs for many is Ch. 3:4-5- “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”   The very next verse says: “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”  That’s what Proverbs is about, not being wise in your own eyes, but in God’s eyes.  That’s also what this passage in Romans is teach.  They both say that we must learn to be wise in God’s eyes and not in our own eyes.  Our own judgment is not reliable.

Finally, we come back to the same idea which began this passage: 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. We are not to let this evil overcome us: it could if we aren’t discerning, aren’t practicing, aren’t learning from mistakes.  We need to be asking for forgiveness and moving toward God.  With practice, we can learn to test what is good and evil and overcome evil with good.  Now, there are many situations where there may seem to be no clear right or wrong.  This is why we must learn to turn to God, his scriptures, and our community to grow in our ability to discern good an evil in a situation.

Flip to Romans Ch. 16, verse 19 (we’re using the context of Romans 12-16 to help us understand this passage): “19Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Paul knows that the Romans are heard to be good people (he is satisfied with their goodness as believers), they are obedient to Christ and to the gospel (they are filled with all knowledge and able to help teach one another- Rom 15:14), and he is overjoyed at the news.  He still wants to write to them about these things because there are false teachers among them, and people trying to teach doctrines that are different from what Paul laid out in Chs. 1-11, so in Chs. 12-16, he wants to teach them about the truth of what is good.

Back to the Grey’s Anatomy story: so we can’t look in a man’s eyes and just see that he’s a good man.  Derek is trying to appeal to the killer’s shared humanity with him, but this isn’t what good is: it’s not a sparkle in your eye, tenderness because his wife died, but goodness is following God and having relationship with him.  We can’t listen to popular culture and their view of good and evil, because they are teaching us false messages.  The culture is going to teach a false view of good and evil if it’s separated from who God is—that’s why Paul writes these things in Chs. 12-16.  Paul wants them to be innocent about what is evil.  “Innocent” can also mean “blameless” “free from guilt.”  He wants them to move from being easily tempted by it to being free from falling into its traps.  He wants them to live in light of their justification (being declared innocent in God’s eyes).  He wants them to learn to be “wise” about the difference between good and evil.

The next verse speaks of the ultimate defeat that is coming: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” This is why we don’t worry about taking our own revenge right now—we know evil was defeated at the cross, and Jesus will soon ultimately crush it—but we need God’s grace to live in the tension of feeling the evil now and waiting for it’s ultimate destruction.  So then if this good we discern from God is capable of overcoming evil, then what is this ultimate good?  It is God himself – overcome evil by clinging to what is good—to God.  To Christ: look at Rom 15:3:3For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” It’s not that evil is ultimately happening against us (though we feel it), but it’s ultimately against God—that’s why it’s God’s job to avenge.  Don’t repay evil for evil: God will settle it and he already has on the cross.  Overcome evil by clinging to what is good- to God.  To be truly wise means to cling to Jesus Christ for our understanding of good and evil and for the power to discern the good.

Question- How do you find this to be hard to live up to?  If so, how?

We want to be careful to not read this passage in isolation from its context (we need to read the surrounding passages).  An isolated reading can lead to moralism.  Strive harder to choose good over evil, work harder, try to please God by excelling in these things.  This is moralism.  We must read this passage in context and understand how God is telling us to live our lives.  We must read it in light of the gospel and what God has done for you in Jesus’ death, his taking on himself the insults that come against us, and ultimately crushing Satan.

The good news for living this way is this: Rom 15:4-5- “4For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.”  Scripture teaches us, God, through the scriptures, gives us the endurance and encouragement of scripture to endure the suffering, the evil that comes our way.  Our hope is this: that God gives us this endurance and through knowing Jesus and being united to him, we are able to learn true good from evil.

Application

How do we live this way then? We must recognize where we fall short or bear the evil traits.  where we want revenge or just to “warn” people against someone who has hurt us.  We need to ask forgiveness (and truly repent) when stumble.  This may mean seeking someone out and telling them that what they did hurt you.  We need to see true reconciliation modeled for us in our community.  We must ask to be shown where our hearts seek after these evil things, or want revenge, or to gossip about someone.  We must also seek to see where we think we instinctively know what is good, and ask for true discernment.

Remember God’s truths of who you are- you are a new creation in Christ, God has promised his spirit to guide us, he has given his word and his church community for us to discern good from evil.  Meditate on his promises, such as that he has taken on himself the insults that come against us.  Pray that you will remember who you are in Christ: you have moved from death to life, we’ve moved from the good/evil schema of the world, to understanding the truth about good and evil, that God is truth, God is good, and we cling to this…

Pray for the Holy spirit to fill you and to help you practice where you are weak, even where you don’t feel like you do a good job; we are able to do it because it is already true of us in God’s sight.  Pray that you will be able to move toward the “good” described in this passage.  We must discern good (need to be in an active community, learning God’s word, being fervent in prayer), then actively choose good over evil.  Pray for the strength to change which comes through the Holy Spirit.  Eph 3:20 says “20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” The power at work in us is the Holy Spirit, teaching us all that Christ taught us—we have this power now.

Conclusion

In Conclusion, we learn from this passage and from the context of Romans, and from Jesus’ life that: Unlike popular ideas of good and evil, and how to live life, to be truly wise means to cling to Jesus Christ for our understanding of good and evil and for the power (through the Holy Spirit) to discern the good.

Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       What are some other cultural ideas of good and evil?  How do you struggle in knowing the difference in what God says is biblical good and evil?

●       How do you struggle to grow in some of these positive ways of biblical “good”?  Give examples.

●       What are other ways you can grow in learning biblical discernment?  Give specific ways that relate to your life.

Romans 6:1-14 By Keeley Chorn

The Following Study and Audio are by Keeley Chorn, Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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BELIEVERS ARE DEAD TO SIN, ALIVE TO GOD

Let’s begin tonight with a summary of what we’ve looked at so far in Romans…In the first week studying Rom 1-2, Ashley talked about Disconnected Religiosity, meaning our faith is not about how we outwardly look, whether we’re measuring up to being good and faithful Christians, but it’s what’s in your heart that matters and counts to God.  In the second week in Rom 3-4, Paul lays out the gospel message.  We saw that no one is righteous—we can’t follow God on our own, but we need God at the center of our lives.  God in his infinite love and grace towards us, brings us out of sin and makes us righteous by giving us Christ’s righteousness.  Ashley talked about living our lives as though we have been set free sin and then living in relationship to God.  This will also be the subject of today’s lesson.

Tonight we’re going to focus on Romans 5:20-6:14, but before we look at Rom 6, I want to point out some of the groundwork that Paul is laying in Ch. 5.  I’m only going to have time to briefly outline it here, so that we can get into Ch. 6, but Ashley’s lesson last week on Ch. 3 was also a great understanding of the groundwork of how God justifies believers.  If you didn’t hear it, I encourage you to go to her blog and listen to it.

The main point of Rom 5:1-11 is that the major mark of justified believers is joy, especially joy in God himself (Stott, The Message of Romans, 148).  What does it mean to be justified? Justification is a legal term.  It refers to the divine act where God makes those worthy of condemnation (he makes those people) acceptable before God’s self, who is holy and righteous. A sinner is pardoned from the punishment of sin, and brought into relat. w/ God by faith in God’s grace alone (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 69).  It is a legal act in which the truly guilty is pardoned and considered innocent, despite their guilt.  This is what God has done for those who believe in Christ.  This justification is the basis for Paul’s further arguments.

Next, in Rom 5:12-21, Paul’s main point is that man receives death by virtue of being in Adam, but receives life when joined in Christ.  Paul talks about the difference between death and life in this second half of Ch. 5.  First: death.  All men are in Adam, are in his death, and are in sin.  Paul lays out original sin here and in verse 12 notes that we all sinned in this act because Adam was the representative of all mankind, so we all partook of that sin and all received the sentence of death for it.  Second, he talks about life.  Many, that is, those who believe, are in Christ, are moved to life, are given Christ’s righteousness as their own, and are legally declared innocent: they are justified.  So Paul sets up an absolute contrast here: you are either left in Adam and in death, or you are taken out and brought into Christ and given life.  Paul carries this theme into Ch. 6 and builds on it, showing what this means for those who do believe.  So Ch. 5 is about all people, nonbelievers and then those who are in Christ and are believers.  But Ch. 6 is going to be specifically for those believers in Christ, those who have been taken out of life in Adam and in death, and who have been given true and eternal life.

Let’s preview the main point of Romans 6 (which is union with Christ means: dead to sin, alive to God).  Paul is going to talk about the current state of believers who are no longer dead, but who have life in Christ.  These believers are those who through faith have been united with Christ.  Paul is describing what has been called union with Christ and what it means.  There are two aspects to believers’ new state of union with Christ: first, they are dead to sin, and second, they are alive to God.  Let’s look at Romans 6 and how Paul paints this picture for believers.

Ch. 6 presents two sides of the same pressing question.  Our discussion of Romans 6 will focus on 6:1-14 as the question is addressed in the first part of ch. 6.

Read Romans 5:20-6:14

Verses 5:20-21 talk about grace reigning.  Paul has been explaining that the law made sin more evident than before the law, sin existed in the world, but until there were rules and names attached to the sins, they weren’t counted against man in the same way as once the law came; but where sin increased (under the law) God’s grace, his free and unmerited favor, his undeserved, unsolicited, and unconditional love, was ever more apparent in his forgiveness.  This comes to ultimate fulfillment in Jesus who moves us from the realm of law and death and into the realm of grace and life.  It is God’s grace, this free gift, that brought about our justification, our acquittal from our sins, our being declared righteous because of Christ.  So Paul makes the point that where there was sin, God’s grace was made ever more present and real because of his forgiveness of that sin.

In verses 1-5, we learn about union with Christ in his death and resurrection and what this means.

Verse 1: “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Paul is answering his critics who think grace is cheap—just get it, then go on living life, but more importantly, why stop sinning if we get even more grace from God when our sins increase?  This question is natural if the gospel is being taught well.  God does freely forgive sins.  If so, why should we stop sinning?  Wouldn’t our further sinning just bring him more glory?  What is sinning?  Not just list of rules, but anything that takes you further from God.  Ashley told a story last week of the girl at Young Life camp, who had been hearing the gospel, but then wanted to know if we’re forgiven already for our sins and we can’t lose our salvation, why would we need to stop sinning? or to put it another way: why not keep on sinning if God keeps on forgiving?  This girl wasn’t the first to ask this question, and she won’t be the last.  For mature believers, it may sound like a silly question, but it’s so important, that Paul wrote about it to the Roman Christians, and we have his message today about how to answer that same question that will come up in our day and sometimes even in our own hearts.

Verse 2 gives the simple answer to the question of whether we should continue in sin; “By no means!” or some translations say: “may it never be!”; (J. B. Phillips: “What a ghastly thought!”) This phrase is the 2nd strongest way of negating something in the Bible.  Paul is clear that this way is not an option.  Paul then sums up what this new life of the believer is and why we can’t go on sinning: “we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Paul makes the assertion that we have died to sin, it is dead in our lives, dead. we should no longer live in it.  But how??

Now, my personal experience doesn’t seem to tell me I’m dead to sin, in fact, I seem alive to it, I’m tempted by it often, I fall into its traps, and a lot of times I’m not even aware of its presence in my life until I’m convicted by my anger or by snapping at my husband or by him or someone else confronting me with it.  Our immediate experience can’t teach us this cosmic truth.  We have to begin to understand just how full the plan of God is and just how big it is and how hard it is to even understand.  We must allow scripture to shape our understanding of who God is and to shape our experience.

So how can we be dead to sin?  Verse 3 says “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  Our baptism is the means by which we are united to Christ.  An explanation about what Paul means by baptism here.  He is not saying that you are saved by baptism.  Faith is taken for granted in Paul’s argument.  Baptism and faith are inseparable for Paul’s argument: baptism is outward, faith inward.  Paul is referring to this dual event.  So for adults who made a profession of faith and then were baptized, this would be the normal experience, but for covenant children (like many raised in the Presbyterian church), the order is a little different.  The baptism of infants is into God’s family, making you a covenant child, you are promised to God, but only sealed with the holy spirit when you make a full commitment of faith.  It’s this moment that we become full children of God and this moment that we are considered truly baptized into Christ Jesus and his death.  So we see two things happening in this verse:  One, Jesus death occurred at a point in time.  And two, at our baptism/ conversion event, we enter into Christ’s own death.  The benefits of it (such as the defeat of death and sin) are applied or given to us.  So at our baptism/conversion, we enter into all that Christ’s death signified and accomplished.

So if our union with Christ happens at the time of our baptism and conversion event, what do verses 4 and 5 have to say about what the two aspects of our union might be?  Verses 4-5 talk about the two aspects of our union with Christ: we are dead to sin and alive to God.

Verse 4: “we were buried with him.” Did you hear that, Paul says we were buried in the tomb, with Jesus, have you ever thought of this? Why does he say this? “So that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may live a new life.” We have been given resurrection life.  How would we live our lives differently if we thought of ourselves as literally lying in the tomb with Jesus and being raised with him?  So, we are dead to sin and alive in God.  And it’s God’s Holy Spirit that makes this possible.  Romans 8:11 says: “If the Spirit of(A) him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies(B) through his Spirit who dwells in you.” It is the Holy Spirit that gives us this life which we received at the time point of our baptism/conversion event.

Verse 5: “If we have been united with him in a death like his” (and we have, that’s what verse 3 was saying), “we will also certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” We have a preview of what will happen to us—we have seen it in Jesus, it is possible because it has already happened, Paul isn’t just making this up.  Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our own.

Now, verses 6-7 discuss the first aspect of union with Christ: what our death means, the results of dying with Christ.

Verse 6: “for we know that our old self was crucified with him, so that this body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” So before our baptism and faith conversion, we were slaves to sin.  Last week, Ashley talked about Ch. 3, where Paul says “none is righteous, no, not one, no one seeks God, all have turned aside.., no one does good, not even one.”  Not even one!  What does it mean to be under the power of sin, or to be a slave to it?  Do we think of ourselves as having been slaves to something?  Probably not.  We think: I can do this or I can do that, I choose.  I could have pleased God if I tried, or if I didn’t break his rules, if I just live a good life, but we saw last week that no one could measure up, we need God to set us free from this.  When Paul talks about our old self being crucified, or this body of sin, he means the body that was in Adam (Ch. 5) that was in death.  This is what he means is put to death.   Our slavery to sin ended on the cross and when we entered into Christ’s death on the cross, which became our own at our baptism/conversion.  We moved in that moment from death to life (from a child of Adam, to a child of God). This is why people speak of being reborn: we died to the old way of life, where we were trapped in our old patterns, our old ways and methods, our own self-righteousness.

An analogy. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British pastor of the previous century, spoke of the analogy of two fields.  There are two fields, one of which everyone is born into.  This field is dominated, controlled and run by Satan.  We are all born into this field by virtue of being sons of Adam and being sinners (Rom 5).  Next to this field is one loving controlled by God.  The wall between the two fields is so high that no one can scale them.  The only way to move from the field of Adam and into the field of God and Christ is to be lovingly picked up, by God, from the one field and transported into the other.  And once in God’s field, you obviously can’t climb back into the other sin-dominated one.  There is a shift in your status before God.  This is what effect is being described in Ch. 6.  Believers have been moved from the field of death into the field of life.  One can still hear the Tempter’s voice over the wall, and sometimes we even obey it, but because we are in this new field we are no longer obligated to obey the Tempter’s voice.  We are now God’s subjects and it is his voice that we obey.

Back to the passage, verse 7 answers why we should not be slaves to sin, because we can’t any longer, because we’ve died to it.  We’ve been “freed from sin.” We have been picked up and put in the new field in which sin no longer reigns. So verses 6-7 talk about what this death means to us.  It is a literal death to the old way of life, a death to being a child of Adam, a death to sin and to being controlled by sin; it is everything that Christ’s death on the cross meant.  Hear that statement: our death is everything that Christ’s death on the cross meant.  It is victory over sin because sin does not reign in us because we are dead to it.

A word about some extremes. We can’t assume that we no longer have a sin nature or aren’t tempted and pulled by it, and we can’t assume that because we are made new, that we will naturally live a pleasing life to God by just letting go and letting our new self take over.  Neither of these will work.

Verses 8-10 discuss the second aspect of union with Christ: what new life means: the results of being raised with Christ.

In verse 8, Paul reiterates some of what he’s previously said.  He says, “Now if we died with Christ,” which is true, he’s already said this in verses 2-4, so if this is true, and it is, “we believe we will also live with him.” This is similar to verse 4 and 5 which said: so we might walk in newness of life and be united also in his resurrection.  Paul is getting into the results of union with Christ that we have.

So in verse 9, Paul plays on because Christ died, and we died with him, he was raised from the dead, he cannot die again, death no longer has mastery over him, and so therefore, all these things are also true of us—we have been united with him in his resurrection, but we haven’t yet fully experienced this yet.  This is what we are waiting for, the ultimate and sure promise of God that he will bring us into full resurrection life, just as he already has for Christ, because we have been united to Christ.  This is what gives him the basis for saying we have been crucified with him and freed from sin, because we experience even now as we await Christ’s return, even now we experience what resurrection life looks like.  In our discussion groups tonight we’re going to look at instances of our own experience of this resurrection life, of moving from death to life, and if you’ve ever seen this work in your life.

Continuing in verse 10, Paul says “the life he lives, he lives to God.” Christ lives his life to God, not just because he is God, because when he became man, he became subject to death, just like we are, but on the cross, when he conquered death, it no longer held any power over him, and he is able to live every moment to God.  Paul wants us to know that we already have this exact same power.  We are united with Christ in this new life.  We are to live our lives to God, not to get bogged down in the sin of life.  Not to be tempted to do XYZ, and to do it, but to live.  To truly LIVE.  And living, means life given to God, life lived for God, love for God, following God, service to God…Because Christ is resurrected, he lives this life.  Because we too have this newness of life, this is what are lives are to look like.  But why don’t they then??

Let me tell you a story about they way I lived life when I first really started believing in the gospel after college.  My life didn’t change overnight.  I had always been a Christian, but I was just now starting to get what “the gospel” meant.  I was starting to understand that Christ’s death and resurrection weren’t just abstract events that had been so stripped of meaning that I just took them for granted.  The Bible wasn’t just a bunch of rules we followed because God said so.  I began to understand what it meant for Christ to hang on the cross just for me, just because he loved me.  I began to understand this.  So, I was learning all this and understanding it, but my life still hadn’t changed.  I lived in NYC and like most other New Yorkers, I was a partier.  I would go out 3-4 times a week, sometimes (well, most of the time) until 4 in the morning.  I would drink, look for guys, kiss guys, hope one of them would fall in love with me for who I was (but how could they when all they knew was the party side of me, which wasn’t what I wanted them to love …).  One day a friend familiar with Christianity, but not a believer, challenged me and said something to the effect of why I lived my life the way I did if I truly believed in God.  I offered some lame excuse to the extent of “Well, God forgives me for what I’m doing, and I’m not really sure everything I’m doing is wrong.”  I knew that God had offered me unconditional grace and forgiveness and he would keep forgiving me, but I hadn’t yet realized that he had offered and given me so much more.  This is what Romans 6 is about.  He had given me the way to change and he had given me new life.  I just couldn’t see it.  But my friend’s question really stuck with me.  It challenged me and it challenged the way I was living.  It made me start to do some reevaluating and soul-searching about the difference in being forgiven and in living life for God…

So, verses 11-14 talk about how do we live this way?  How do we put our new status into action?

Verse 11, “In the same way” (the same way!), “count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 7:4 says the point of our union with Christ is so that we may bear fruit for God.  “The major secret of holy living is in the mind…We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable.” (Stott, The Message of Romans, 180)

Verse 12: “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires”– don’t let it rule you or control you; we don’t have to obey sin or its desires.  Sure, sin is a strong tempter, and it can be fun, but ultimately it leads to separation from God and others, it leads to alienation, and this is just what Christ came to get rid of.  Why do we keep going back to sin when Christ has already brought us to him?  This question really brings out the Christian struggle…

Verse 13: “do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life,” and “offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” There is a contrast of loyalty: are you offering yourself to sin or to God, to wickedness or to righteousness?  If you’re still offering yourself to sin, is it because you don’t understand that you have moved from darkness to light?  We’re also going to talk in our groups about this: what changes we need to make.  This will be one of the questions, always feel free to come talk to me or Ashley if you still don’t understand.

Finally, in verse 14, Paul says, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” So sin is not our master, “thanks be to God” (Rom 6:17).  We are no longer under law, but we’re under grace in Christ Jesus.

Here is how we apply this message: So living our lives out in light of our union with Christ means that:  One, we must recognize who we truly are, not who you feel like you are: we are dead to sin, we have died with Christ, our loyalties have already changed—we need to see them this way; we must change our mindset.  Two, we must recognize what our true state is: alive to God and dead to sin, no longer in Adam but now in Christ, living in his death and resurrection.  Three, we must change the way we live. Paul gives these commands to the believers, because he knows the power of sin and that they will be tempted to fall back to its power until they can understand their new life (and even then it will always be a struggle), but they must “count themselves dead to sin,” “not let it reign or rule,” and they must not “offer themselves to sin”- these are all active statements about what we must do.  I love the passage in 1 Cor 10:13 where God says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” We first recognize who we truly are and what our real state is, then we live this way by God’s power

A note: we also must recognize the power of sin in this world. Just because we have died with Christ and are dead to sin does not mean that we won’t ever be tempted again, or that if we act as if sin doesn’t exist then it won’t, or that we won’t fall, stumble, and forget, but this is where God’s grace and forgiveness come in.  Sin and Satan are very powerful.  He wouldn’t be called the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), the ruler of this world (Jn 12:31) (as opposed to the ruler of all creation), or the powers, world forces of darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph 6:12).  But thanks be to God that we are no longer subjects of him, but we are subjects of a most merciful ruler, king, and God, the one who came to die on our behalf, to rescue us from the pull of these forces.  We have moved from death to life, so we should live this way.

Now in my own story, I began to experience this change from death to life.  I didn’t understand it at the time, but God used this friend’s question in my life to make me question the way I was living.  Who was I living for?  Myself? or God?  I was living as if I could keep on sinning so that God’s grace could increase in my life.  I didn’t know then what life lived to God really looked like and I didn’t know how to live it either.  But God pursued me.  Over time, my life did begin to change.  I would wake up with a crazy hangover on a Saturday and lie there all day, but the Holy Spirit would nudge me saying, this isn’t the way God wants you to live your life.  You know this, why do you keep doing this?  Eventually, that thought became so forceful, that after a series of bad incidents, I ended up giving up alcohol altogether.  I joked with friends saying, “

Well, I wasn’t very good at drinking,” but the truth was that God was working in me to show me what a clear-headed life looked like, and from there I began to realize more his love for me, and his support for me in that transition time.  God was working, as my mindset was changing, to move me from a life of death to one of life.  To one that more truly reflects what it means to be “alive to God” (I want to make the point that I’m not saying alcohol is bad, but the way I was using it in my life was bad.)

Looking back on the girl’s question in Ashley’s story: why don’t we keep sinning? Because that would betray everything about who we now are. It would be foolish and contrary to God’s love.  Why would we even want to stay in the way of life from which Christ has delivered us?

What are some practical ways that you and I can change our mindset? We must recognize sin in our life.  We must repent.  We must ask God and his Holy Spirit to further convict us of where we are living our life separate from God.  And with repentance, we must hold onto the promises of God.  Romans 6 is a promise of God.  He promises to give you life and he tells us that we already have glimpses of that fullness even now.  We must remind ourselves of these promises, pray these promises, teach them to ourselves, read the passage over and over thinking about where our life needs change.  Ask believers who you trust for feedback.  Most importantly, we must acknowledge our dependence on God for this change.  If we continue in this way, know that God is faithful.  He will convict us, he will remind us of his promises, he will remind us of who we truly are, he will help us change, and he will produce true life.

To close and summarize again how we live out our lives in light of Romans 6, I’m going to quote John Stott who puts it this way: “We should constantly be reminding ourselves who we are.  We need to learn to talk to ourselves, and ask ourselves questions: ‘Don’t you know? Don’t you know the meaning of your conversion and baptism? Don’t you know that you have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection?…Don’t you know these things? Don’t you know who you are?’ We must go on pressing ourselves with such questions, until we reply to ourselves: ‘Yes, I do know who I am, a new person in Christ, and by the grace of God I shall live accordingly.’” (Stott, The Message of Romans, 187)

Questions for Discussion & Application:

1.     How have you seen the resurrection power of Jesus in your life?  Have you?

2.     What changes do you need to make in your thinking to live in this way?  What changes in your life?  Be specific.

Romans 3:9-26, 31 ~ The Gospel

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Tonight we are looking at Romans chapter 3 and 4. In the chapters leading up to this point, Paul has exposed the problems, or sins, of every people group on earth. He has touched on those who are openly wicked, the morally self-righteous, those who have never been evangelized, and then finally, the group we looked at last week, the Jews who were religiously pious outwardly, but lacked the same inwardly. And now in chapter 3 Paul is going to pull all these groups together by explaining this universal problem that all of mankind shares because of sin and then explain what God has done in light of this.

No One is Righteous

Read Romans 3:9-20

Paul begins in verse 9 by summarizing what he has just gone over in chapters 1 and 2…. ”Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” And now Paul is going to show how Scripture has always attested to this truth. If you know what a concordance is, it’s like he’s going to look through his concordance and show all the verses that appear under the topic “sin” to support what he is saying. Paul begins in verses 10-12 by quoting from two almost identical Psalms….Psalm 53 and Psalm 14. Turn to the first 3 verses in one of those Psalms just to see how Paul is really simply quoting God’s Word here.

“There is none righteous, not even one;” v.10

One of man’s greatest hang ups when it comes to being acceptable to God, is trying to earn God’s acceptance. But what Paul is saying is that not even the most moral man is considered righteous before God.

“there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” v.11

Not only is no one righteous, but no one understands God or His truth on their own, and no one who seeks God on their own. So in two verses Paul has stripped away all of our crutches….our morality, our understanding, and now our desire for God. Paul says, in and of himself, man has none of this.

“All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” v.12

This is the point Paul has been trying to make since the beginning of his letter to the Romans. All of mankind has turned it’s back on God. On his own, Paul says man is worthless/useless…meaning, he is incapable of achieving the righteousness that God requires. There is not even one man who is good in God’s eyes.

Then in verses 13 through 18 Paul describes the depth of man’s condition, just how far man has turned from God, in case someone is thinking to themselves, ok, I can see what he is saying, but it’s not that bad…

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. 14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.

More words from the Psalms explaining that the sin of man is seen in his words, what comes out of his mouth flows from what is inside. If you don’t believe that man is truly that wicked, listen to what people say, what is at the root of our words.

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.

Verses 15-17 are references to what is written in Isaiah 59:7-8 (flip there). These are the very words of God to His people. These descriptions of mankind are not Paul’s, they are God’s! When we read this in Romans we might think that Paul is exaggerating to make a point….but then we would have to say that God is an exaggerator as well when we realize Paul is just quoting God. And God says here that without Him, man is quick to slay others, to bring about ruin and misery, and to never seek peace.

If you look at the second verse of Isaiah 59 it explains why man is like this…“your iniquities have separated you from your God…” This is at the heart of the gospel, our sins have separated us from God. Many of us experienced that separation before putting our faith in Christ, but even now as believers we experience that. When we sin or live in sin, we really do feel that separation don’t we, we verbalize it when we say we “feel far from God.” It is a very real and very tangible experience, we often use the word “void” to describe that feeling of separation from God before we know Christ. When my father put his faith in Christ in his mid-fifties, he stood up before a group of people and explained how there was a void in his life and he realized then that Christ and God were the only ones who could fill it…he had not been a believer yet he felt that separation.

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Turn to Psalm 36. Paul’s final description of mankind without God, is that he doesn’t fear God. This means man on his own would never look to God as God, he would never honor, respect, or worship God. On our own instead of worshipping God and living our lives according to His ways, we would worship ourselves and live according to our own desires and what we think is right. The psalmist explains the result of this…

Psalm 36:1b-2 “There is no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” Instead of worshiping God, man without God worships himself, he replaces God with self. This is the root of sin: pride. Think of the sin in the garden that Eve committed…her motivation was that in eating the fruit she would become like God. And the Psalm here says the result of replacing God with self is a failure to even recognize sin, much less hate it enough to repent of it. And we also saw that Adam and Eve both justified their involvement in eating the fruit by blaming another. And the truth here that we need to understand is that without repentance man will never turn to God in need of a savior. Which means, on his own man is hopeless.

Last week I made the statement that: “I’ve begun to believe…the most true sign of a spiritual problem [is] lack of repentance and justifying our actions. Let me offer an analogy. My mom is a very anally clean woman and as long as I’ve known her she has always cleaned house 2-3 times a week (she never really believed in housekeepers). But my dad never helps her and so she finally stopped cleaning in hopes that it would motivate my dad to help with the cleaning or at least hire a housekeeper. But anyone in this room who is married knows that that tactic NEVER works. So, the result, an inch of dust on everything…and they have 3 cats so you can only begin to imagine how bad it was. But what I found most interesting was that over time it didn’t seem to bother my mom anymore. It was like she didn’t even notice it. But the truth was, whether she acknowledged it or not, it was there, and the longer she ignored it the less she had the ability to even notice it…which means she was never going to be disgusted enough to clean it!

And this is what we do with sin – we try to ignore it, even justify it, and eventually we’ve ignored our sin enough that as the Psalmist says, we fail to even detect our sin anymore, much less hate it enough to repent of it. And the root of all of it is pride, love of self. We don’t want to acknowledge our own failures and inability to do good and be in control.

So then in verses 19 and 20 Paul explains the result of our condition, the result of sin. He explains how it happens. First, we fail to live by God’s law and commands. So we can’t make it right, we lack the ability to be righteous/holy/perfect on our own. So the law and our inability to uphold it silences us. As we stand before God in light of this truth we are left without excuse or exception. All are sinners and all fall short. It is through our inability to live according to God’s law on our own that we become conscious of our sin and the reality that we can’t do it.

Application

Before moving on to the rest of our passage I want us to stop and think about this. What does this mean for us practically? Daily? It means that when we fail to live up to God’s law we must make a decision on how we will respond. We have two choices.

1. Self at the Center – First, we can respond by putting ourselves at the center. Self-protectively and pride-fully choosing to not focus on our sin, as I have said before, justifying it, ignoring it, and failing to hate it and repent before God. We can pretend that we are not all that bad and we are doing the best we can, avoiding any conviction God may put on our hearts or on others’ hearts. Or we can keep picking ourselves up, punishing ourselves for our failures, and try harder and harder to please God in our own strength and ability. And we can try to draw close to God through our own efforts and doing the right thing.

2. God at the Center- Or, we can respond by putting God at the center. This means that we not only allow God’s law to expose our sin and inability to uphold it, but we also acknowledge how we have failed, hate it, and repent of it. We can choose to depend on God’s grace and strength rather than our own. To respond in repentance when we feel His conviction on our hearts. And allow that humility and dependence on God be what draws us near to Him.

Earlier we talked about why we should serve and most of us are tempted to quickly come up with a reason or justification of why it doesn’t apply to us. But what God’s Word teaches us is that our response instead should be one of humility, willing to accept that it probably does apply to every single one of us because of our sin nature…and then to take that conviction and put it into action, letting it motivate us to humble ourselves before Him and listen to His voice, not our own.

The Good News

In Young Life we had a series of “talks” that we gave at club every Monday night. And one of the things I loved and hated about it most was how we would talk about sin and our separation from God one week and not tell them about Jesus until the next Monday. It was painful but we really wanted to kids to think about it and let it sink in, because without an understanding of our sin and inability to be in relationship with God we can’t even begin to understand our need for a savior and what God did for us. But luckily, Paul is much nicer and he immediately tells us the good news.

Read Romans 3:21-26

a righteousness from God, apart from [obedience to] the law, has been made known”

There is hope, God has another way for man to be justified and restored to a right relationship with Him….and not only that, Paul says that God has been trying to tell mankind about it since the very beginning through the law and the prophets…this new way to righteousness had been prophesied And then Paul tells them what you and I already know. That God’s way of righteousness comes through faith and belief in Jesus. And this is for all of mankind, not just the Jews, but also the non-Jews….just as all fall short, all can receive this free gift from God. It is through the grace of God that we receive Jesus, and it is through Jesus that we receive redemption. Whether you believe in predestination or not, this is the truth of God, and how this works in light of election is a mystery to us, but it doesn’t change what Paul is saying here.

And very briefly here in verses 25 and 26, Paul explains how God did this. To you and I it sounds foreign and strange, but to the Jew it made perfect sense.

“God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

Every time the Jews sinned by not obeying God’s law, they had to go to the temple and make a sacrifice for forgiveness and to be made right before God. It was constant because as Paul said, we are unable to uphold God’s law on our own. So in the most simple terms possible, Paul explains that God sacrificed His own Son to cover over all sins for all time, so that if someone accepts Christ’s sacrifice for them, then they are restored before God for good. Think about what that meant for the Jew hearing or understanding this for the first time.

“He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Paul explains that it is because of the justice of God that He did this. God is not able to do anything that isn’t true to His nature. So God can’t lie because He is truth, and that would go against who He is. Along those same lines, God is perfect in His execution of justice because he is perfectly just. So Paul explains that God had held back and “passed over” the sins of mankind because of the justice that He planned to carry out through Jesus Christ and those who would put their faith in Him. So God endured the sins of the past because He knew that through Christ, those sins would be atoned.

Finally, in verse 31, Paul answers a question that many at the time, and even now, were wondering….and here’s how Eugene Petterson words it in “The Message,”

“By shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.” 3:31

One of the first time I took a group of High School girls to Young Life summer camp I got a question similar to this during cabin time. It had been an incredible week and I was seeing God really changing their hearts and their minds. And during one of our last cabin times together one of the girls said something to the effect of…So, if our sins are always going to be forgiven, and we can’t lose our salvation, then why stop sinning? I had only been a Christian for about 4-5 years and this question stumped me, I had no idea what the “right” answer was! But this is a question that is common to man and that Paul deals with here knowing that it would be an issue. So, in other words, they wanted to know if they no longer had to uphold the law since they were made right before God through faith in Jesus. And Paul’s answer is….no!! And I want to offer three reasons why…

1.     Now that we are set free to live according to the Spirit we can strive to uphold the law. And we do this knowing that we will still fail because we still have our sin and our flesh, but we also have the spirit and as we yield to Him we are able to live for God. And so we uphold God’s commands and ways with joy because of what He has done for us, not out of fear or condemnation, and because we long to please God and live in His ways.

2.     And not only that, but we also are told in the New Testament that it is by living in God’s ways that we are able to live life to the full, experience God’s blessings for us in Christ, and have an abundant life. So when we view the law like that we see that it is a gift not a burden.

3.     And lastly, when we strive to uphold God’s laws and fail, that is when we are reminded most of our need for God. It is His law that reveals to us our sin, keeps us grounded so that we always acknowledge our sin, and opens the door to repentance. The law has the power in our lives to turn us back to God when we have strayed and live lives that are fully dependent on Him.

A Word About Chapter 4

So based on what Paul has explained here in chapter 3 he goes on in chapter 4 to speak pretty specifically to the Jews. As we talked about last week, they often depended on things other than faith to make them righteous….obedience to the law, circumcision, and their ancestry from Abraham. But now Paul takes what he just said and shows how each of those things were not meant to be built upon human striving, but on faith in God and His Word. He shows how Abraham’s righteousness came because he believed God, not because of his works. Abraham’s works flowed from his faith. So Paul is basically telling the Jews that if they look to Abraham as their example then they need to see and understand that the example he set was one of faith and belief.

Conclusion

As we close tonight I want to tell you something that I read in one of the commentaries as I was preparing. It said that this truth that Paul presents is not about how we feel, but about what we believe. When we are feeling condemned by our sin nature we must realize that that is not from God, because God sees those who are in Christ as justified. When we feel far from God we need to remind ourselves of the truth that in Christ we are no longer separated from Him. We must learn to recognize the truth daily, believe it, live in it, and view our lives through it. Do you live as someone who has been set free or as someone who is still in bondage? I am not asking you if you still sin, I already know the answer to that. But I am asking you if you are choosing everyday to strive in the Spirit to live in the righteousness that Jesus purchased for you on the cross? Do you understand what Christ did for you and who you are now because of it? He died so you could be set-free from sin and live in relationship with God. Do you receive that gift with joy each day?

That is the gospel. Someone asked me once what people meant when they referred to “the gospel?” This is it – that our sin separates us from God, but He sent Jesus to pay the cost of our sins so that those who believe in Him will be restored to a relationship with God, saved from Hell, and given eternal life. We should strive everyday to ground ourselves in this truth and live it out in our lives.

Questions for discussion & application

●       What are some ways we avoid repentance and instead justify our sins? If you have a personal example you feel comfortable sharing please do.

●       What does it mean to live out the gospel in our lives? Give some examples.