Romans 3:21-31 – 8 Words That Can Change Your Life

Statue of Martin Luther in Dresden, Germany

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (NRSV)

Five-hundred years is a long time. It was that long ago when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church door in Germany. It sparked the flame of Reformation, a legacy we still live with today.  Protestant Christians have a rich spiritual heritage in acknowledging and affirming the veracity of Holy Scripture and its central message of Christ’s good news of salvation.

Eight words changed Martin Luther’s life, changed the course of history and Christianity, and can change our lives, too.

Law

The role of the law is neither to save nor sanctify but to reveal the true state of our hearts. The law can only condemn; it cannot save. Obedience is important yet cannot be done by sheer willpower. Deliverance does not come by turning over a new leaf; that approach only gets one caught in cycle of regret, promising not to do it again, and then returning to it. Law makes us feel the great weight of our darkness. We need to feel and know what that darkness really is….

Sin

Sin means missing the mark, falling short. We must face what sin really is, without sugar-coating it.  We tend to think of sin as some terrible action like assault or murder, yet sin is primarily thought of in Scripture as attempting to de-throne God with a replacement. You and I need to be realistic about the bad news of sin before we can ever receive the good news of forgiveness. Forgiveness will be elusive until we admit what we have done, or not done, something that warrants needing to be forgiven. Moving forward in hope can only happen when we possess…

Righteousness

Righteousness means right relationships; unrighteousness means broken relationships. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for right relationships. Like illegal aliens who cannot make themselves citizens, God grants us spiritual amnesty because we cannot make ourselves legal or righteous. Through righteousness God has made it possible for us to live in harmony. Holding onto bad relationships is like a dog returning to its vomit; there is no need for it because God has given us…

Justification

This term is a picture of the court of law. It is a metaphor communicating that righteousness comes because God justified us, that is, did for us what the law could not do – God sent his Son to be a substitute for us. We cannot justify ourselves by obeying the law or simply by being sorry. Without the next word, we will wallow in our guilt because we need this for our justification to really live…

Faith

Faith is a gift given by God. We are unable to generate faith within ourselves because sin estranges us from God. We need divine action. God’s righteousness can only become operative through faith. We must hold out our hands and receive a gift to possess it. We must come to the end of ourselves to exercise faith. We need to see that sin is bad enough to have made life unmanageable and that we have dug a hole too deep to get out of by ourselves. If one thinks they can handle it, then they are going back to the law, living in denial and not by faith.  We also need…

Grace

Faith must have an object, and that object is the cross of Christ. It is grace which gives faith and saves us. Our denial is so great about our sin that we cannot reach out to God unless God acts. Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Opening the gift given to us, we find that we are given…

Redemption

Redemption is a word referring to a slave market. We are slaves to sin. We need someone to purchase our freedom. The blood of Christ paid for my sin. Jesus bought me through his death. Jesus has taken care of the sin issue through…

Propitiation

“Sacrifice of atonement” is the meaning of propitiation. It is the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin.  Because God loves, God has wrath – God is not okay with sin running amok in this world. We are forgiven through the blood of Christ. We are free to live into the gracious joyous life of God in Christ. Yet not all of us do so. For example:

If the institution that gave me my car loan came along and forgave or satisfied the debt I have on my car, it would be weird if I kept making loan payments. But that is what many people keep doing with their lives because they do not really believe they are forgiven and loved by God. We think God is constantly upset or, at least, agitated with us since we screw-up so often. So, we live by law hoping that God will applaud our sincerity and our effort, wishing that everything will be okay. But everything will not be okay with that approach because God wants our faith, not our promises to be better. The Lord asks us:

Do you trust me?  Do you trust me to deliver you from your sin?  Do you trust me to work out the situation that you have made a mess of on your own?  Do you trust me to provide for you everything you need? 

Live into your spiritual heritage. Do not return to the law. Bask in the gracious gift of your freedom in Christ.  Live and enjoy Jesus because you have been made righteous, justified, and redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit so that we may perfectly love you, and magnify your holy Name in a worthy manner, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Matthew 4:1-11 – Facing Temptation

Jesus Tempted by Russian painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930)

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a remarkably high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (NIV)

In our most vulnerable moments, the devil attempts to swoop in and offer his demonic delights for us to consider. We call it “temptation.” Indeed, it can be quite alluring to entertain ways of getting what we need and want through avenues other than God.

In the desert, the place of preparation for ministry, Jesus fasted and prayed forty days. If ever there was a time when Jesus would be vulnerable to alternative religion, the devil mused, wringing his demonic hands together with wicked delight, it would be out in the desert by himself. So, Satan tempted Jesus with three whoppers he thought would get to Jesus, for sure. Having tempted Jesus with food and a way to fame, and having failed both times, Satan gave his final temptation.

To us this temptation to bow down and worship Satan seems like a no-brainer. Well, of course, no one would do such a thing as this, especially Jesus. And he did not. But it was still tempting. It really was. Jesus knew very well what was ahead of him. He had just spent forty days in an intense orientation for an upcoming three years of hard ministry with an end of tortuous death to look forward to. 

Satan presented to Jesus an alternative way, a different path to achieve his purpose for being on this earth. Jesus could have it all without the three years, without the hard slugging to communicate the kingdom of God has come. Most of all, Jesus could circumvent the cross and establish his rule over all the earth – all pain free! The temptation, yes, was very tempting. Become King Jesus now with no suffering.

This has always been one of our great temptations, as well: Take the easy path. Get what you want, what you deserve, now, with no hardship. 

The values of God’s kingdom include trust, patience, and perseverance. Temptation insists we need none of those hard things to be successful. Satan is the original slickster, marketing his quick and easy wares for people to buy into the notion that life can lived without pain and hardship, and with wild success, right now. The scary thing about it is that Satan can deliver… but it will cost us our very lives. Slavery to sin is the price we pay for hitching our hopes to the quick and easy.

The Christian season of Lent is a time for the slow, patient, deliberate development of the soul in attachment with the Lord Jesus. Engaging in spiritual disciplines is hard. It is difficult to fast and pray. Growing in Christ is slow and takes a great deal of learned perseverance. Far too many of us are tempted to circumvent the hard work of discipleship and simply have a spiritual professional distill everything we need into one hour on Sunday morning. Or we fabricate our own religious practice and beliefs, picking and choosing what fits our lifestyle, as if convenience and comfort are the summum bonum of life, instead of worship.

Christ was able to face down temptation because the desert strengthened him. Yes, he was vulnerable. But he was not weak. If we want to handle temptation, it will take Lent to help us. It will take the desert to spiritually form us and prepare us for godly ministry that puts the devil in his place.

Lord Jesus, you are the king of all creation. Just as you chose the hard path of God’s kingdom, so help me to persevere with faith and patience. May my life reflect your words and ways, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Peter 3:8-18 – How to Live in a Messed-Up World

Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves. Do not pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.

For those who want to love life
    and see good days
should keep their tongue from evil speaking
    and their lips from speaking lies.
They should shun evil and do good;
    seek peace and chase after it.
The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.

Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Do not be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human but made alive by the Spirit. (CEB)

If there were a sign-up sheet for suffering, I am confident no one put their name to it. We like to avoid suffering. After all, it hurts! I would make a terrible masochist. I am not a high tolerance for pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a Tylenol at the first sign of discomfort. Yet, I know there will be times when I am going to have to experience pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it. To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The stark reality of the New Testament is that there must be suffering before glory. Just as Christ suffered, we ought to expect we will suffer as his followers. As Christians walk with Jesus during the season of Lent, they journey through the desert full of temptation and hard circumstances. At the end of the journey will be the glory of Easter, a celebration of the resurrection. Christian theology confidently practices hope based on the redemptive events of Christ’s cross and resurrection, suffering and glory.

Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

We are not above our Master. We, too, will suffer. The real question is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we avoid responding with insults of our own. Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ. Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason. God takes a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not shame-laced bad news. If we suffer for being Christians in solidarity with our Lord, we shall receive blessing from God. But if we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it. Christians are to be on the frontlines of the mobilizing others for mercy, leading the charge of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. Jesus said that it is no problem to show love and respect to people we like. However, it is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers. God will handle the hate-filled person; judgment is for neither you nor me to dish out. Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we do not.

I encourage you to take some time today or in the next few days to read the epistle of 1 Peter slowly and carefully in one sitting. It is a short book. Pay attention to how the adversity of living in this fallen world gives Christians the opportunity, hope, and encouragement to live well. 

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering. I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits. Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I must face in this fallen broken world. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Saved for a Reason

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead because of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It is not something you possessed. It is not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (CEB)

Christians are not saved so that they can just sit in a worldly holding tank until Jesus comes back. Deliverance is only one side of the salvation coin. We are saved so that we will engage in good works for in the here-and-now.

Christians know they are saved from sin through the forgiving work of Jesus Christ. It is an act of sheer grace on God’s part. A believer is not born again through personal effort any more than a baby is birthed because of her own doing. Salvation is thoroughly the work of God. Even the faith needed to believe is a gift graciously provided by God.

There is more. The Lord also has some plans and purposes in mind for the people of God. Christians were birthed into a new spiritual community with new commitments to do all kinds of good deeds. It is as if sin were a weight or an obstacle that has been removed so that living a life full of goodness can now move ahead and do its work. To be saved is to be freed for a vigorous moral life.

The great problems of our world are, at their core, spiritual problems which are an opportunity for believers in Jesus to take the lead in agitating for change. Expecting human governments or corporate systems to take the lead in moral transformation is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

Christians, churches, and faith communities can and ought to storm the gates of hell for the lives of women caught in sex trafficking; provide uplift and the tools to a better life for those in grinding poverty and hunger; challenge the idolatry of the American gun culture; speak up and step out for equality and an egalitarian culture; care for the sick and dying; reform morals; hold the world ethically accountable for its actions; and, hundreds of other realities of living in a fallen broken world.

In essence, when stripped to the center of the issue, these problems are not political, social, or cultural concerns – they are spiritual. Mass murder violates God’s command to not kill. Hunger and poverty too often result from greedy leaders in power who covet resources for themselves, violating God’s commands to provide for the poor and needy. Sexual slavery treats persons as chattel property and not as image-bearers of God. 

God has delivered us from the vice grip of sin so that we are free to tackle the immorality of the world around us. Perhaps you have a boss who is nothing more than a master of a small world and bullies and manipulates his employees. Maybe your local municipal authorities turn a blind eye to moral evil and cannot see they are public servants. It could be that within your own family there are problems of addiction which need to be graciously confronted and dealt with. 

Whatever the issues are in your sphere of influence, God has providentially placed us in the places we inhabit for just such a time as this so that we can do good works, both big and small, taking on immoral establishments as well as little acts of kindness. Doing good comes in all sizes, and all of us are to share our lives for the betterment of others.

Saving God, you have only good plans for your world and your people. Use me today and every day to be an agent of blessing and goodness, working for the benefit of others who need the freedom of Christ’s redemption and the power of his resurrection in their lives. Amen.