a relationship, not a process

The Word for today:

Romans 4:16-25

Paul goes to great lengths in Romans chapter 4 to describe the faith that saves:
God will credit righteousness to those who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Romans 4:24)

Now look more closely, paying attention to the order of the words:
God will credit righteousness to those who believe in him

Stop right there! If you were to ask me what saving faith is, the question itself points to a fundamental error, for it is never a question of what saving faith is, but who saving faith is.

I point this out because it’s so obvious that we can lose sight of it. But when we think of salvation in terms of what (the work of God) instead of whom (the person of God), we start to slide into an error associated with idolaters, who worship the creature (God’s work) rather than the Creator (God himself). (1)


Stand in the Rain is not in the hair-splitting business. Certainly those of us who say we believe in the cross and the resurrection are proclaiming saving faith.

But we can so focus on the saving work of God–rather than the Savior Himself–that we unconsciously approach the subtle idolatry of medieval believers who attributed spiritual power to slivers of wood that were said to have been part of “the true cross.”

But a cross never saved anybody. It was only an altar which held the sacrifice.

And the blood of a sacrifice never saved anybody–until the blood was His. (2)


The Bible is the story of salvation. Like any story, it consists of two components–plot and character. Our salvation emanates from the character of God. The plot elements–the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–are the inevitable after-effects of the saving nature of God.

Thus God was a Savior before he ever saved a soul–he is the Lamb who was killed before the world was made (3)–because salvation is a Person, not a process.

(1) Romans 1:25; (2) see Hebrews 10:4; (3) Revelation 13:8

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a better question

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Romans 4:1-15

mark this: Romans 4:3
“For what does the Scripture say?”

“What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD?)”

This is a phrase that was originally made popular in the late 1890′s. It came from the book, In His Steps, written by Charles Sheldon. I am not going to get into the book– seeing as it has sold over 30 million copies, it’s easy enough to obtain. Suffice it to say that the plot of this best seller involves the dramatic change in people’s lives as they attempt to live a year of their lives, asking “What would Jesus do?” before any action or decision.

Then, about 100 years later, there was a new emphasis on WWJD? A fad swept across American Christendom. WWJD? became the new catchphrase, and these four little letters made millions of dollars by appearing on anything and everything (t-shirts, bumper stickers, bracelets, hats, buttons, teddy bears, pencils, coffee mugs, hula hoops, board games, blenders, hang gliders, accordions etc.)

The problem is that while this question can be beneficial, it is certainly not the best one. The truth is, so often, I have no idea “what would Jesus do?” I could guess. I could speculate.

But the honest answer often is, “I don’t know.”

We can certainly know what Jesus did do, but to assume what He would do can be a mistake. Think of His reactions to the Pharisees, or Pilate, or Zaccheus, or the money changers in the Temple, or the woman caught in adultery. Not one of us could have accurately predicted “what would Jesus do? ” in those situations. He constantly mystified His own closest followers (1). The Second Person of the Trinity cannot, and will not be limited by some catch phrase.

So here is a much better question: “What does the Scripture say?”
Now there is something that we can somewhat grasp, there is something much more concrete and verifiable. Something that does not rely upon my own opinion or interpretation.

In today’s reading, the apostle Paul is defending the basic truths of the Gospel message. In the previous three chapters of Romans, he has made many bold claims about:
- the sorry condition of humanity (1:18-32)
- the limitations of the Law and moralism (2:1-29)
- the consequences of sin (3:9-20)
- the justification through by faith in Christ (3:21- 31)

Now, he’s trying to prove these points, and he does so by using examples from the Bible. Both Abraham and David demonstrate that we are justified (or counted as righteous) by trust in God, not by external acts or ceremonies. David speaks of the amazing mercy of God’s forgiveness (from Psalm 32), mercy that is dependent on God, and not our good deeds. And Abraham’s faith in God came before any kind of religious action such as circumcision. All this to bolster the claim that we are “justified by faith, apart from the Law.(2)”

But notice that Paul bases this claim not on intuition, tradition, common wisdom, public opinion, or even his own powerful experiences. These things all have their place, but he goes out of his way to make sure that his statements are rooted in Scripture.

We must follow his example. It’s fine to have an opinion, a tradition, a speculation about something, but we must always defer to the Bible as the ultimate authority. Whenever people have failed to do so in the past has resulted in all sorts of nonsense, and the same is true of our lives when we fail to ask the better question: “What does the Scripture say?”

(1) see Matthew 8:27, Mark 9:32
(2) Romans 3:28

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the one clear voice

The Word for today:
Romans 3:21-31

mark this:
Through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20)

Paul asks this question in Romans 3:1:
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? (Romans 3:1)

Paul’s answer:
Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Romans 3:2)

We might ask the same question:
What advantage is there in reading the Bible and going to church?

And the answer is still the same:
Much in every way!

The only thing that will redeem any man in the eyes of God is faith in Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God said,
“When I see the blood I will pass over.” (Exodus 12:13)

That blood in Exodus is a prefigurement of the blood of the cross. If God sees that we have placed our trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, he will forgive us.

His forgiveness is granted on the sole basis of Jesus’ blood. He will not ask us if we belonged to a church, or got baptized, or read the Bible, or went to Sunday school. So if those things don’t save us, is there any value in them?

Let me say it again: Much in every way!

When we read the Bible, or go to a church where the Word of God is preached and taught, it can make all the difference.

None of these things in themselves can make us right before God. But the Bible will point out our need for God, and then point the way to the blood of His cross.

So the advantage of our interaction with God’s Word is summed up in Romans 3:20:
Through the law we become conscious of sin.


The advantage of having God’s Word is also summed up in a well-known story called “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” by Hans Christian Anderson:

A certain emperor was fond of appearances. So when some clever swindlers (posing as philosophers) offered to weave him a rare and costly garment, he was receptive to their offer. He was especially intrigued by their promise that the garment would be invisible to all but the wise and pure of heart. So the emperor commissioned the new clothes at great expense, and the con men sat before empty looms, pretending to be weaving.

Soon the emperor’s curiosity was such that he sent his chief counselor to see how things were progressing. Seeing no cloth on the busy looms, and not wanting to be thought unwise or impure of heart, the official returned with a report of the fabulous beauty of the cloth. When the weavers asked for even more money, the emperor sent his second most important counselor, who returned with another glowing report. Next the emperor himself went. Seeing nothing, but not wanting to appear unwise, he too proclaimed the clothing magnificent and gave the weavers medals!

When the day of the grand parade arrived, the con men dressed the emperor in his nakedness and then skipped town. As the emperor paraded before his people in the altogether, the entire populace joined in praise of his beautiful clothes–lest they be thought of as stupid and impure. Thus the absurd parade continued, until in a moment of quietness a child was heard to say, “The emperor has no clothes!”

At once everyone knew the truth, including the emperor. An honest remark by a child who did not know enough to keep his mouth shut stripped away the pretense of an entire nation.


Without God’s Word, we hear only the word of the world, which conspires to tell us that our “garment” will suffice. The word of the world is a lie, an echo of Eden, which seeks to pull God down to our level, or push us up to his. If that word is all we hear, we remain naked without knowing it:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

But God’s Word tells us that our righteousness is as filthy rags (1), and that only those clothed in the righteousness purchased at the cross of Christ can live forever with God:
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18)

If there is no open Bible in your life–in your hand, in your home and, yes, in your church–then you live, as it were, in a city without the one clear voice which told the emperor he had no clothes.

(1) Isaiah 64:6

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sometimes talk isn’t cheap

The Word for today:
Romans 3:1-20

mark this:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (from Romans 3:23-26)

Yesterday, we wrote that only the cross can make sense of seemingly irreconcilable ideas in the Bible. We pointed to Romans 1:17 and 1:18, back-to-back verses which would logically nullify one another, were it not for the cross.

Then we pointed to Numbers 14:18, which twists our intellects into pretzels, were it not made coherent by the cross.

Today we see one more example of a scripture which renders our logic useless:
God is both just and justifier… (Romans 3:26)

“God is just” means that he enforces the distinction between right and wrong by rewarding the former and punishing the latter.

“God is justifier” means that despite my sin, he sees me just-as-if-I were Jesus!

So how can God be both just and justifier? Because the cross dissolved the contradiction.


God can’t forgive like we do. When we say, “I forgive you,” what we mean is that we will overlook a transgression.

But that’s something God can’t do! If he were to overlook the distinction between right and wrong, then he would nullify his moral authority and effectively cease to be God.

God can’t just wink at sin, because the wages of sin must be paid (Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:20). With this in mind, we can no longer get so familiar with some “familiar” verses. Consider Jesus’ remark to the Pharisees when they questioned his ability to forgive sin:
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic– “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mark 2:8-11)

Jesus, we’re generally taught, was illustrating the principle that talk is cheap–but that the proof of the pudding is in the visible miracle, when the paralytic rises and walks home.

But I don’t teach it that way, because throughout scripture we see instances where diabolical forces can exhibit miraculous powers (1).  Meanwhile, only God can say “Your sins are forgiven”– and only because he paid the price.

Sometimes, talk isn’t cheap.

(1) For examples, see Exodus 7:11; 7:22; 8:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:14; 16:14.

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I never understood the caption until I saw the picture

The Word for today:
Romans 2:17-29

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been accused of having deep scriptural insight. I sort of play along with my accusers because their accusations momentarily bolster my puny ego.

But here’s a revelation that God has confirmed and reconfirmed: if it weren’t for His Cross, I wouldn’t be able to understand anything about His Word. And neither would you.

The Bible–all of it–can be thought of as the caption to the picture of the cross. I know it’s a long caption, but without the picture we wouldn’t understand a word.

For an example of how intellectually (let alone spiritually!) lost we’d be without the cross, I refer you to these back-to-back verses from Romans chapter 1:

For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” (verse 17)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. (verse 18)

The righteousness of God is revealed / the wrath of God is revealed–back-to-back, simultaneously. How’s a man to understand?

God’s Word in general and the book of Romans in particular is just too much for us to comprehend, unless we run every idea past the cross.

For it was at the cross that the righteousness of God was given to every believer at the very same time the wrath of God was being poured out on God Himself. The cross is the only way to make any sense out of seemingly irreconcilable verses like this one:
The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Numbers 14:18)


Without the cross, we’d be thoroughly lost!  The cross is not only the one way to salvation, but it is also the one window that is open to spiritual enlightenment.

So don’t scratch your head over the complexities of the book of Romans.  Just take every idea to the cross, and it will all come into focus.

And pretty soon, people will be accusing you of deep scriptural insight! Enjoy their accusations for a while, but then you must confide to them your secret–The Secret of the Cross.

You must admit to one and all that you never understood the caption, until you saw the picure.


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