Three Hints of Sanctification

In the Recovery Version’s outline of the book of Romans, 5:12 marks a major turning point in Paul’s epistle. Before this point, he has laid out the situation of fallen man and then shown God’s righteousness in justifying those who believe the gospel, based on Christ’s redemption. From this point, there is a turn to the matter of sanctification. The footnote on sanctification in 6:19 is important here:

Sanctification (see note 23 in ch. 1) involves not only a change in position, that is, a separation from a common, worldly position to a position for God, as illustrated in Matt. 23:17, 19 and in 1 Tim. 4:3-5; it involves also a transformation in disposition, that is, a transformation from the natural disposition to a spiritual one by Christ as the life-giving Spirit saturating all the inward parts of our being with God’s nature of holiness, as mentioned in 12:2 and 2 Cor. 3:18.

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Love Poured Out

One of the most beautiful and deeply comforting verses I have ever read is Romans 5:5 –

And hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

After writing to the believers in Rome of the awesome power of God revealed in the gospel, and presenting justification as a living experience based on the life of Abraham, Paul here draws a connection between grace and tribulation (vv. 2-3). As we stand in God’s grace, enjoying Him as our portion, we should also be able to boast in tribulation, seeing the trials we pass through as opportunities to know God’s supply.

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Walk In the Steps

Almost every day, I walk to the UCLA campus with a crowd of students. Outwardly I walk in the steps of hundreds of people of every kind, but at the same time I have an inward walk. There is something directing the way that I take. Whose steps do you walk in? Whom do you follow? Romans 4:12 contains the phrase “walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham.” To see how we can walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith, we need to look further into his experience recorded in Genesis.

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The Promise and the Purpose

What does “righteousness” mean to us? At first it may be an irritation, an easily-dismissed concept that seems impossible to attain. Who, the world tells us, is to say what is right? In the light of God’s Word, however, we find that Jesus calls His followers to righteousness, even perfection. We also find forgiveness of our sins through His death on the cross. We find, in Romans 3, justification! For a long time, my understanding of justification and righteousness went this far. I was secure in the accomplished fact of Christ’s redemption and rejoiced in God’s grace, but I located justification as something that had taken place, and I had already experienced in my life. There is, however, a wonderful view of justification in Romans 4 that I had never seen! It’s a view illustrated by the example of an impossible promise and an unsearchable purpose at work in the life of Abraham.

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Short of the Glory

It’s over. Case closed. After cataloging the evidence against men who reject God, and then describing the emptiness of a self-confident attempt to please God, quoting verse after verse from the Old Testament and keenly describing man’s experience, Paul sums things up in Romans 3:23:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

All have sinned. This is basic to our understanding of the good news of God. It is also a basic challenge to the common attitude of simply trying to do the best we can in challenging circumstances. It is so far removed from our daily experience that it is difficult and in some ways awful to contemplate an entirely righteous Being. Either we reject Him, or we attempt to follow methods and practices that manage God for us, making Him understandable and bearable. However, the sentence quoted above is not finished. Continue reading

Without Excuse

I don’t know a single person who likes to hear what they have done wrong. Our defenses instantly go up: we bristle in indignation, mount a counteroffensive, or perhaps we simply silent disengage. At the same time, we are quick to see the small faults of others, as well as the larger problems of evil and injustice endemic to human society. What he does is inexcusable; what I do is understandable. I may have done this, but at least I have never done that. In Romans 2:1, after speaking of God’s condemnation on those who reject Him, Paul turns the tables on those who are, perhaps, nodding along smugly:

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The Truth Held Down

You and I are not meaningless. The universe is not simply a flexing something that came from and will return to nothing. There is God, and His being gives meaning. There is, however, no shortage of vocal deniers of God’s existence. Faith in a revealed and speaking God is increasingly under attack, and even those who do not actively disbelieve often find the entire question of God irrelevant.

This state of affairs is not new. In Romans 1, Paul begins to explain the human condition that causes men to “hold down the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). This is not simply telling a lie, or not acknowledging a true thing, but holding down the truth.

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Shame and the Gospel

I think it was my freshman year in college when I was asked to go out to preach the gospel. I walked around my campus with a very enthusiastic brother, approaching people and being rejected as soon as they heard we wanted to talk about Jesus. The more we were scoffed at, the happier he seemed to be. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I disliked being approached myself, how I could tell when someone I didn’t know had marked me out to ask for money or a signature on a petition. If only, I thought, it wasn’t so impolite. 

Several years later, a good friend of mine asked me about God. It was late at night, and our conversation had drifted toward the Big Topics of being. He knew that I was a Christian, and admitted that he didn’t know much about the Bible, about Christ, but he wanted to learn. At the time, shadowed as I was by profound doubt, I said something noncommittal and the moment passed. It never returned. The techniques or particulars of preaching weren’t the problem. I was ashamed of the gospel.

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Paul’s Worship Service

Before his conversion, Paul had much experience in serving God. He passed many in his zeal for the law, and even considered himself blameless in his effort to please God.1 However, something was wrong. In his misguided desire to do God’s work, he persecuted Christians, approved of their killing, and directly opposed the Son of God.

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