30. On to More Than

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.30: On to More Than …

Rom 8:30those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

I love the flow, the order, here. Predestined – declared from the outset (from His viewpoint). Called – the work of His convicting Spirit when we’ve arrived on the scene that brings us to surrender on our knees. Justified – put right in the eyes of Justice. Glorified – made like Him when He gives us His Spirit. What a wonderful flow of mercy and grace, that started with scruffy sinners and opened the way and enabled them to become super saints. Incredible, wonderful, glorious.

Okay, let’s let it sink in a bit more. Yes, we are predestined, planned from before the start of Creation when God looked into the future of what He could create – human beings with free will – and saw the inevitability of Sin as they exercised that free will contrary to His design, the built-in risk behind that free will. Then and there the Godhead decided on the plan of redemption, of the Son leaving heaven and coming to earth to step into our place in the courts of heaven before justice and take the punishment for all sins.

Then through time, Israel were created and a God-aware environment created into which the Son could come. His death, resurrection and ascension opened the way for the Spirit to be poured out on every new believer from then on, starting with that Day of Pentecost.

From then on it was just a case of calling each open-hearted individual and when they responded to the call on their knees, they were justified by the prior work of Jesus on the cross and with that justification came the indwelling Spirit, glorifying each one, and carrying them in the flow of eternal life to eternal glory. What an incredible plan! But there is more.

Rom 8:37 we are MORE than conquerors through him who loved us.”

We’ve just seen the outworking of those earlier chapters summarised, our earlier studies that focused on our need as guilty and helpless sinners, and shown God’s plan, prefigured by Abraham, of us being justified by faith. We saw the effects of sin and our helplessness to be good, and we ended up seeing the work of the Spirit to energize us so we could appropriate the work of Christ on the cross and take it into our lives and live them out in relationship with God.

This leaves him giving a new description of us – “MORE than conquerors”. Conquerors are those who have to fight to overcome.  Receiving trumps conquering. It means siting there in the dirt and rubble as The Conqueror (Jesus) picked his way through the shambles of your life, reached down, lifted you up and said, “Come into my palace and let’s get you cleaned up, so you can sit beside me on my throne.”  And so it began. Much of the time it feels like a dream, it seems surreal, but THIS IS the reality, this IS who YOU are! Okay, now you can sing and dance!  Lord, how do I overcome? You don’t, I have. You’re more than an Overcomer, my child, you’re a Receiver. Hallelujah! 

29. The worker of good

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.29: The worker of good

Rom 8:28 we know that IN ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

There is a flow of truth here, I believe, that we often miss. In the previous study we focused on the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit, after majoring on His presence in the believer in the previous study. But in the consideration of yesterday’s study, we saw the Holy Spirit empowering, motivating and emboldening the disciples-now-apostles. But something we may not have picked up on was the fact that in Acts it is a case of Jesus by his Spirit leading them and he is leading them to act out the will of God in any situation they found themselves in.

So Peter finds himself confronted by skeptical Jews and preaches on the Day of Pentecost and God saved thousands (Acts 2). Peter and John then find themselves accosted by a lame beggar – who they heal (Acts 3). And so it goes on, situation after situation where God by His Spirit enables them to confront the situation in a kingdom manner. It is God working out His purposes for their good and for the good of those they encountered.   

Now Jesus had previously taught, My Father is ALWAYS at his work to this very day, and I too am working,” (Jn 5:17) and then added, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father DOING.” (Jn 5:19) I have emphasised two key issues: first the Father is active ALL THE TIME and, second, this activity means He is positively doing things to bring good, to bring His will for mankind to bear.

Now I think we need to view this famous starter verse in this context. Yes, it is all about God constantly working and the fact that He is working to bring good but here, in its continuation, is the most staggering truth, that whatever mess up we’ve got into, whatever disaster is going on around us, however the sky seems to have fallen on us, God IS working on your behalf, IN the midst of it, to somehow bring good to you out of it. It may take a long while to realise that or see the fruits of it, but I am utterly convinced they will always be there to be seen by those with eyes to see. The past, I suggest, sets in concrete the declaration: “God was here, working for good!” The Bible is made up of God-accounts, God working for the good of His people, for example in the Exodus to deliver them from the slavery of Egypt or the Exile where He delivered them from the slavery of superstitious idolatry back to become the believing children of God again. But it’s not just in the Bible. Ask Him to show you how He’s been working throughout YOUR life, and when He shows you, be prepared to be blown away by the staggering wonder of it. I’ve done it and it’s true! Go for it.

28. A Spirit-led Person

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.28: A Spirit-led person

Rom 8:14 those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”

We have moved on from the basics in the earlier chapters of how God has dealt with our sin, to how He has provided for us so that we can live out the holy, God-led life He has called us to. I wonder if you have ever noticed the difference between the disciples in the Gospel and the apostles in the Acts. The same men but very different.

There are, I suggest, three major differences.

First, and most obviously, Jesus is no longer with them in the flesh. He had ascended back to heaven and left them alone (Acts 1:9), and it is clear by the way they retreat to the upper room and stay there, they are not only being obedient to Jesus’ instruction to wait (Acts 1:4) but they were very much aware that it is now down to them. Peter, taking his natural role as leader, starts the process of getting the number of the sent apostles back up to twelve, after having lost Judas (Acts 1:15-22).

Second, and this becomes obvious by the events on the day of Pentecost, they are now Spirit-empowered and, equally importantly – and this is part of what our present verse is about – they are led by the prompting of that same Spirit, so they speak out, they perform healings and signs and wonder – AS they are LED by the Spirit. This is completely different from when they were mere disciples ‘tagging along behind Jesus’, just doing what he told them to do.

Third, they have a new confidence that is Spirit-inspired that, I suggest, comes from this sense of being ‘led’ or inspired. They have, if you like, a new sense of identity. They don’t refer to it in those days, but it is what Paul says here, and the apostle John points out in his Gospel (Jn 1:12,13) and his first letter (1 Jn 3:1), they are children of God, loved by the Father, sent by Jesus and now empowered by the Spirit. No longer are they pushed around by the whims and fancies of the religious leaders of the day (see Acts 4:5-12, 18-20).

One of the difficulties of the young believer is believing this truth – we are ALL led by the Spirit of God. Much of the time we may not be aware of it, but those thoughts, ideas, promptings, nudges, that we hardly notice, but which lead us to say or do things which bring blessing (again which we either take for granted or simply miss), you know where there come from? Him! Oh yes, and that’s just another of those things that indicate we are the child of God we’ve just referred to (1 Jn 3:1) with a unique relationship with the Trinity. Unique? Of course, you’re so special you’ll have your own experience of them, they indwell YOU.  Awesome! Trinity? Well yes, we’ve being referring to The Spirit but He is the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), the Spirit of God (1 Cor 6:11, 12:3). Wow!

27. A Spirit-person

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.27: A Spirit-person   

Rom 8:9 if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.”

Paul has been picking up various facets of being a believer. We saw back in chapter seven how he faced the fact that because we were once locked into this propensity of godless self-centredness, although we have been freed from its power, nevertheless it is only by the presence of Christ can we resist it on a daily basis. Now here in chapter 8 he is focusing first on the reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit who now indwells us, who enabled us to be born again (Jn 3:3-8), empowered to live the new Christ-life.

Our starter verse is Paul’s way of emphasizing it and he does it by this negative. The JBP version puts it, You cannot, indeed, be a Christian at all unless you have something of his Spirit in you,” while the Message version declares, “Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about.” Whether it is because these are paraphrase or it is something about the background of J.B.Phillips (an English Anglican vicar) or Eugene Peterson (an American Presbyterian minister) but both miss the point of what is being said here by Paul (the danger of paraphrases as useful as they so often are). “Something of his Spirit”? Pardon? “not welcomed”? What does that mean?

Look more carefully: “if anyone does not have”. It’s about the fact of the presence of the Spirit who only is given to believers at the point of their surrender to God through Christ, making Jesus both Saviour and Lord. UNLESS this has happened, the person does NOT have the indwelling Holy Spirit, they do NOT have His power to change.  This is the dynamite in this chapter, the potential to blow up and transform the individual. Okay, that’s a bit of an over-statement but it is the Spirit who utterly transforms the individual by His Presence. Jesus has done the work on the Cross to enable this to come about and guides and directs his Spirit on behalf of the Father, but it is the Spirit’s presence that empowers the change. But that poor unbelieving family member, neighbor, or friend, is not a receiver, is powerless, not indwelt by transforming love. We believers are not different from our unbelieving neighbors just by beliefs, but by this amazing reality, WE are indwelt by the incredible Spirit that IS God. It’s a claim that is unique to Christianity and the New Testament is full of it, so rejoice in it, be thankful and worship the One who loves you so much that He has made this part of the Salvation package, so that it is no longer just a case of believing or of speaking words, but a life being transformed by the indwelling power of God. Hallelujah! 

26. Condemned? No way!

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.26: Condemned? No way!

Rom 8:1 there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

You don’t have to be an Einstein or a Hawking to understand these things, they are very simple. Yes, they need a little thinking about but that’s it. Have you noticed the flow in the Christian life sometimes: you start the day with the desire to be all out for Jesus, to be righteous in all you say and do (having that good attitude actually makes the outcome worse), then some way into the day, the pressure is on and before you know it, you make a wrong decision, say something unpleasant, let someone down, or a whole host of other negative possibilities?

What follows? Suddenly there is the whisper in your mind: “Blown it! What an idiot! Call yourself a Christian? What sort of witness is that? Watch out for God to smack you down and punish you.” Now whether you want to attribute that ‘whisper’ to the enemy or to poor low self-esteem, I leave up to you, but you can summarize it under sone very simple heading – condemnation. And what is that? Serious disapproval, blame, judgment, and sentence-passing.

The other day, I had a brilliant time with the Lord and in writing, early in the morning, and I came out of my office going in my mind, “Wow, what an amazingly incredible morning, that’s fantastic,” and I could almost hear the whisper out loud, “Yeah, so it can only go downhill from now on!” Fortunately I spotted its origin and declared out loud, “No way, it’s just the start of an ongoing brilliant day!” And it was.  

The enemy delights in ‘fly-tipping’, dumping the old rubbish of past condemnation into our minds. We need to recognize it, reject it, heave it out and replace it with a large dose of spiritual reality: “Jesus has taken my sin, my guilt, my shame, my failures, and so God doesn’t hold them against me anymore. I’m free from condemnation, from heavenly blame, criticism, censure, and disapproval.  No, I’m cleared, spotless, approved, utterly accepted, rejoicing in being loved and being able to love.” Wow! Awesome! Wonderful!

THAT is what this starter verse is all about, “there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Why? because when Jesus died on the cross it was to carry EVERY single sin, failure, mistake, wrong judgement etc. etc. of mine. My role now is simply to believe it and when I do get caught out, trip over my feel, so to speak, fail, transgress, etc., I rely on and speak out the apostle John’s teaching, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Confessing means owning up to it, facing it and bring it to God for Jesus to deal with. Done deal! No room for condemnation here, just a new chance to get it right.

25. Frustrated by me

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.25: Frustrated by me

Rom 7:15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Often, it seems, in Christian circles you hear that verse from Proverbs, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Prov 13:12) and I sometimes wonder if this is what makes some Christians feel down.  One translation of that verse says, “When hope is crushed, the heart is crushed.” We enter the kingdom of God, everything is going well, and then we blow it. Guilt comes like a black cloud, and we feel ‘down’.

However, at such times I suspect we are empathizing with the apostle Paul. Commentators often struggle over this chapter – is it just referring to life before we met Christ (because it does lead on to that cry, “Who will save me?” v.24) or is it a reminder that throughout the Christian life this is the reality, we struggle to overcome, often fail, and it has to be Christ who forgives, energizes us afresh, and saves us. I believe the answer is both. 

Paul looks back to how it had been, the reality of life before Christ. He had wanted to be righteous, do the right thing all the time, he had good intentions, but they kept on falling short, he had goals but never seemed to manage to get to them. He was a good Pharisee, after all. What was worse he found himself saying or doing things he knew were not right, things he didn’t want to do, he was stuck in it. What a clear picture of the ‘life-before-knowing-Christ’.

But when he was writing to his young protégé, Timothy, he wrote, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) Note the present tense. Paul knew he was a sinner who needed saving from the old life on a daily basis. I would suggest that what he says in our starter verse is what he experiences daily, which is why, to the Romans, he wrote, “count yourselves dead to sin,” (Rom 6:11) but also, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body,” (v.12) and to the Colossians, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Col 3:5) These are calls to a right outlook and understanding AND calls to action, to make an effort to reject and overcome the old temptations to self-rule that lurk in the background waiting for an opportunity to rise up. Someone is unpleasant to us. The old self rises up and tells them what you think – not graciously and not Jesus-like! Put the inclination to death before it comes out and causes havoc. But the point of this verse is that it is still there, but Paul has already shown it no longer has any power over us, so we can reject it and forbid it room in our life. The secondary point that is shortly to come out, is that it is only by the power of the Spirit can we live in freedom from the old past. Remember that.

24. Taking your eye off the ball

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.24: Taking your eye off the ball

Rom 7:7 I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.”

We said yesterday that we are moving into a part of Paul’s letter where he addresses the practical outworking of the work of Christ in us, and he’s going to get us to face the powerless lives we used to have, as he leads us to thinking about the wonder of the Spirit being imparted to us. So, I’m afraid, we go back to more references to sin, to that old propensity to be self-centered and godless and getting it wrong.

But let’s see why he does that. The first time your parents said, “Don’t do that!” you realized there were right ways and wrong ways and they expected you to follow the right. (Heaven help the child with no one who corrects them and shows them the other way!) But rules simply show the wrong way, good to start off, but not to live out a life of love.

Now I was just about to go off on an exposition of rules versus love, but this verse isn’t about that, it’s about that same old subject – sin. Yes, as we’ve seen before, Paul has majored somewhat on this subject. I won’t rerun the list of subjects and verses again, you can check them in Study No.20 if you like but, whether we like it or not, sin is a major subject to be confronted according to Paul and he’s going on to give an illustration about the Law.

“For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.” (v.7,8) Coveting is simply wrong desiring, which may turn into craving which, as drug addicts know, can lead us into really bad behavior to satisfy that craving. How are you doing on chocolate or coffee? Ah, but coveting is all about desiring what belongs to someone else.

The problem, says Paul, is that if you stick that Law in front of me, I just get fixated with thinking about what I should not be coveting and find I keep thinking about that thing and, oh, there I go again, I’m coveting! So if coveting is sin – and the Ten Commandments declared, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” etc. (Ex 20:17) – if I constantly focus on that law, all I find myself thinking about is how my friend has a nicer house than me and, wow, how did he end up with such a wonderful wife? A serious recipe for a dissatisfied life and one which leads into a host of wrong actions. No, putting up a list of rules to be obeyed, just makes me focus on the wrongs and the wrongs just emphasize to me that I’m a sinner, and then that I’m a failure and guilty, a total disaster. No wonder so many seek to work on overcoming conscience, but the truth is they had taken their eye off the ball – God’s love!

23. Means & Motivation

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.23: Means & Motivation

Rom 7:6  we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

We’ve moved on from the constant references to sin that has been overcome by Christ on the cross, and moved into the more positive, I was going to say (but all before is very positive, all the explanation of how believing brings righteousness), but this part of Paul’s letter addresses the practical outworking of the work of Christ in us, and he’s going to get us to face the powerless lives we used to have, as he leads us to thinking about the wonder of the Spirit being imparted to us.

We need to put our starter verse in context: But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” We covered the death aspects, our dying to self, in earlier studies and so now he deals with that other hindrance to God’s salvation – the Law. Yes, He had given it, but it had been for a limited time as a guide for Israel, a written code that they could refer to for daily life and for dealing with the mishaps of life. But that was then.

Now, Paul is teaching his readers, it is not the Law we rely upon, look to for life and energy and direction, it is the Holy Spirit. Yes, we once followed rules which were often expectations laid on us, mine, imposed by me to try to make me look good, and of others who wanted me to comply with their standards to share in whatever part of the world we were in – church, club or whatever.

But the trouble with that was that I kept getting it wrong and felt bad, when I failed to live up to the standards and expectations I and others had imposed on my life. That was how the old life used to be, often following these roles for cosmetic purposes, to appear to look good, but that never dealt with what I was feeling on the inside.

However, when we came to Christ, he simply said, stop doing that, it’s not helping you. Instead receive my Holy Spirit and let Him empower you, guide your, teach you, help you. Suddenly we realized we had a new life, born again into a new world, it seemed, and guilt was replaced by hope, shame was replaced by new vision and purpose. Grace is about reaching up and receiving the vision that God puts before, reaching up and receiving the resources He has provided for us. Have you noticed, preachers who preach rules impose burdens and create guilt, but preachers who preach grace and impart the Spirit, create visions of what can be and then help us to receive the power that enables us to reach those visions?  So let Him inspire you, teach you when you open His word, or you pray. It’s a new day! Look up and see the wonder of what He offers you.  

22. Fruit-bearers

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.22: Fruit-bearers

Rom 7:4“Christ …. him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when we realise who the writer is – Paul, apostle, trained Pharisee (Phil 3:5), a man with a big mind – that there is such a sharp logic that flows through these pages of Romans. He’s actually moved on to talk about how we have been released from the Law but along the way he says this about Christ and us.

Paul says this is how it is because we “died to the law” (7:4) Okay, we need to read the whole verse: you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” We’ve considered previously that we died when we saw Paul talking about us having been crucified with Christ (see studies 16 & 17) and now consider ourselves having died with him (study no.18) and so he now says we belong to God (which is important – owners have rights as well as concerns) and this ‘ownership is expressed through Christ, he’s the one who is Lord over us, leads, guides and directs us so now we ‘bear fruit’.

See the big picture. We realised ‘keeping the rules’ didn’t help but just confirmed what we knew deep down – we were failures getting it wrong – so when Christ was raised we saw there was another way, a Spirit-empowered way at the hands of the Father and when we let Him do that – bring us new life – we found there was a whole new source of goodness flowing – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How wonderful!

But this talk of bearing fruit has some other wonderful aspects to it. We are no longer purposeless individuals. Originally, we had no purpose than to exist and survive – make money, have careers, to get us through life, comfortably if possible, to take us into a comfortable old age. Come on, be honest, that is what it is about for most people. But now, in this new Spirit-empowered, Jesus-directed, Father-glorifying life, we have both purpose and direction. Now, okay, to be real, we often don’t realise fully what that is, but in general terms it is simply to be available and obedient to his leading, his envisioning and his enabling. So, yes, we may still outwardly be on that ‘exist and survive’ track that I just described, but behind that, underpinning it and overshadowing it will be this greater purpose of being available and obedient to the one we call Lord, the one who moment by moment is saving us. Consider the outworking. You get to the end of life and instead of nothingness but a history of self-concern, when you get to heaven and He allows you to look back, you will see the fruit of changed lives, some in small ways, other bigger ways. You have changed the world! 

21. The Eternal Gift

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.21: The Eternal Gift

Rom 6:23 the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,”

So you might be excused for feeling a little fed up with this subject of Sin that Paul keeps on about, but that only goes to show its seriousness and maybe our inadequate understanding of its significance, both as a pointer to our eternal destiny and a blight on our present lives. But when we looked at this starter verse yesterday, we only considered the first part so today let’s pick up the second half.

A two-sided coin: on one side the awful picture of the propensity to self-centred godlessness (Sin) expressed in multiple ways (individual sins each earning their own reward) that all lead to spiritual and eternal death, that’s the bad news. But now, on the other side, a great life on earth (with limited God-experience) that goes on and on and passes through death becoming life in another glorious dimension with unlimited God experience. Who would knowingly choose the former?

But to really take it in, let’s take it bit by bit. Observe, first, a simple little word that summarizes much of what has gone before – ‘gift’. A number of versions preface it with ‘free’ to doubly emphasize the point; it is not earned, we don’t deserve it, it is something that comes freely from God.

I was going to say “with no strings attached”, but actually it comes with two thick cords, to use the same metaphor – we have to receive it and we have to appropriate or take and enter into it for it to mean anything in our lives, otherwise it is just sitting there, a package from God left on your front doorstep, waiting for you to open the door, pick it up, open it up and use and experience it. Many people don’t even open the front door, and others (‘initial believers’) don’t pick it up and open it up and then enjoy it. Our meditating is, hopefully, part of the opening it up. Yes?

And this gift? Eternal life – life with no beginning and no ending – God Himself, His Spirit indwelling you. Note what you might have thought was an addition – no beginning. Life that is eternal takes us outside time, life, reality, experience, that is not bound by time limitations, it is just there – ALWAYS – for the living. It began when you were born again and were indwelt by the life-bringing, life-changing Holy Spirit. Suddenly part of you was plugged into eternity and in a new way you became part of the life flow of God that has always been and always will be. This gift we’ve been considering is you made one with this so the real ‘you’ has no ending, so your body stops one day, but ‘you’ don’t’ Wow!  How did this come about? “in Christ Jesus our Lord”. As we made him our Lord, he also became our Saviour and his work on the Cross meant we could now fully become part of the eternal plan. Hallelujah!