Returning to Romans: An Epistle of Faith, Hope, and Love

kelly-sikkema-GPoh17DxqdM-unsplashIn the Fall of 2019 our church began a Bible study in the book of Romans. It ran through the first seven chapters of Paul’s magnum opus, but in March 2020, when the world shut down, we pushed pause on this book. When we returned to church, our Bible study shifted to Leviticus. But with that study completed, we are now returning to Paul’s largest letter. And for those interested in following along, they can find previous lessons here. New lessons will also be posted on the same page each week through the Spring.

For this blogpost, I want to offer a brief sketch of the book and how Paul’s triad of Faith, Hope, and Love organize his magnificent exposition of the gospel. For those studying Romans (again), this will help acquaint you with the book as a whole. And it also will provide a way of seeing the gospel, and what the gospel achieves, in this whole letter. Additionally, this approach to Romans may also remind us of how Paul brought unity to the church of Rome, when it was facing divisions. Today, we face the same. And thus, we need to learn as much from Paul as we can about what the gospel is and what the gospel does.

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What is Saving Faith?

faithOn Easter as we call people to repent of sin and believe on Christ, it is worth our time to consider the essential nature of saving faith. Therefore, from Romans 4 I have gleaned eight truths about saving faith. I am sure this list is not exhaustive, but I pray it will help you think about the kind of faith you have in Christ.

Saving Faith

1. Saving Faith responds to the one, true and living God. 

Verse 3 says, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'” In context, this citation of Genesis 15:6 is the driving force for Paul to appeal to Abraham. In Romans 3 Paul wrapped up his argument that every Jew and Gentile has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (v. 23); the wrath of God stands to condemn all men for their sin (1:18; 2:5; 3:18), unless they have faith in God.

Thus as Paul explains what saving faith is in Romans 4, he quotes or alludes to Genesis 15:6 at least nine times (vv. 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24). Paul’s point is to show that those who believe in the God of Abraham will find legal pardon—i.e., God will reckon them righteous by means of faith in him. What follows are the stipulations attached to that justifying faith, but first foremost saving faith is faith in God. Continue reading

The Gospel on the Ground

Toby-and-Sonia-300x225Tomorrow, my good friend Toby Jenkins will be coming to preach at our church. I first met Toby when I served at Southern Seminary in the office of financial aid. After pastoring in Mississippi for a number of years, the Lord brought him to Louisville to attend Boyce College. Shortly after his arrival, in 2009, he was called to the First Baptist Church of Henryville, Indiana.

In the first few years of his ministry, he had been praying for God to do something that no man could get credit for. Apparently—and why should this surprise us (me)—God answered his prayer.

On March 2, 2012, an EF-4 tornado plowed through the town on Henryville. It was on the ground for fifty miles and left a line of devastation in Henryville and surrounding towns that can still be seen today. In the aftermath of that storm, God used FBC Henryville as point of contact of for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Aided by churches from all over the nation, Southern Seminary, and the Disaster Relief of the Southern Baptist Convention, FBC Henryville ministered to the physical needs of Henryville. Still, in the aftermath of the tornado, it was the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that had the greatest long term effect.

Under the invisible hand of the Lord, Toby had preached about the wrath of God in Romans 1:18-20 the week before the tornado. And in the weeks that followed the storm, as Henryville sought to rebuild, and many came to FBC Henryville, God brought many to himself by the verse-by-verse exposition of Romans.

Two years later, the church is still growing and Toby is still preaching from Romans—Romans 9, to be exact. God has honored the faithful preaching of his Word and he has answered (and continues to answer) Toby’s earnest prayer—that God would do something that no man would get credit for.

Tomorrow, Toby will share about “The Gospel on the Ground,” and how the gospel has brought life to many devastated by the Fall and its effects including the 2012 tornado.

I love this brother. I love how God has saved he and Sonia (see her testimony below). I love their passion for God’s glory, for God’s church, and for God’s gospel. Toby’s life and ministry has spurred me on to pray bigger prayers and trust more simply in the power of the preached Word. And so I am both excited and hopeful about our service of worship tomorrow.

Please pray for Toby as he brings God’s Word tomorrow. If you are anywhere near Seymour, Indiana, please join us.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Logic and Revelational Beauty: John Stott on Romans 1:16-20

Rom 1On Sunday I preached from Romans 1:16-32. Earlier this summer I preached from Romans 1:16-17. Last year, I preached from Romans 1:1-7. In each instance, I found great help from John Stott.

For those unfamiliar with Stott’s work, he was an evangelical Anglican who during the latter half of the twentieth century preached the gospel, championed missions, and published numerous books, especially commentaries on the New Testament. His commentaries are always brimming with insight and full of crisp clear exposition. Thus, I share a few of his remarks on Romans 1:16-20. They helped me unpack Paul’s opening argument about the gospel, and I trust they will help you as well. Continue reading

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

If we define Gospel Logic as the mental act of interpreting life in light of God’s promises, the first major figure in the Bible who engaged in the activity was Abraham.

Called from worshiping idols in Ur, to become the father of God’s chosen race, Abraham was a man who must have grappled with God’s unfolding plan of redemption through his lineage.  Coming out of his pagan background, Genesis 12-22 shows the unfolding of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham.

Genesis 12, 15 and Romans 4

In Genesis 12, YHWH gives Abraham a three-fold promise: a land, a people, and his blessing.  The rest of Genesis, indeed the rest of the Bible, unfolds this tripartite promise.  In Genesis 15, YHWH comes to Abraham, who is still childless, and he tells him again that he will have offspring.  Genesis 15:6 records this pregnant statement: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  God’s promissory word came to Abraham in power.  The patriarch believed, and the rest of the Bible points to this man as the father of faith because of his trust in God’s word (offspring that would outnumber the stars), not his present circumstance (childlessness).

In this simple retelling, it is evident that Abraham had already started the activity of Gospel Logic.  He looked at his body, as good as dead Romans 4 tells us, and in spite of his sagging skin and aching joints, he believes God.  Romans 4:18 quotes from Genesis 15:5, and Paul comments, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barreness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:19-21).

Clearly, the way in which Abraham came to faith was not because of some magical experience which made him believe out of sheer serendipity.  Rather, he wrestled with the promises of God in his mind, and he cast aside doubt on the basis of God’s greater word.  Reality became God’s promise, not his own perception.  This is Gospel Logic.

Genesis 22: An Unbelievable Test of Abraham’s Belief

Later, this kind of Gospel Logic would be tested again. In Genesis 22:1, Moses records the fact that God was going to test Abraham.  In an event that baffles the modern reader, Abraham is requested to offer up his son as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah.  Without getting sidetracked on the ethics or repeatable nature of this passage (for the record: this is an inimitable request), Abraham clearly perceived God’s intention and command.

Promptly, the aged patriarch set off with his young son.  Genesis 22:3-5 records,

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

Now Moses obviously is selective in his record-keeping, but it is evident that something happened in Abraham’s mind between God’s initial command (v. 2) and Abraham’s statement to his caravan that he would return with the son whom he was intent upon killing  (v. 5). What was it?  What kind of mental process enabled Abraham to obey God, and with such confidence tell the world, that his son would live? Hebrews 11 tells us.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Thru Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered (logizomai) that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau (v. 17-19).

As in the case of Abraham’s justifying faith, Abraham’s obedience exhibited the same Gospel Logic.  Abraham knew that God’s command was irrecovable, but he also knew that the salvation of the world (i. e. blessing to the nations) was dependent on his son of promise.  Now, he did not know how these two things reconciled, but he knew that God would not overturn his promise.  Thus, he reasoned that God could raise the dead, and as Hebrews says, “figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

The Takeaway

There is an incredibly important lesson here: Christians are not called to obey based on what they see.  They are called to obey what they hear.  Today, we look not for God’s revelation through angelic visions or extra-biblical commands.  No.  But we do look to the word of God, and in God’s sufficient Scripture, we have many imperatives and wise counsel to live in a way that will call us to decisions that are based on God’s unseen promises, not our visible provisions.

This is the Christian life.  And it demands Gospel Logic.  Reasoning from God’s word unto our life circumstances in such a way, that we, like Abraham, believe that God will figuratively speaking raise us from the dead, as we daily carry our cross and die with Christ.  In this way, the gospel of Christ comes alive to us, and the world around us sees a visible display of Christ’s sufficiency for us, even in our poverty.

Abraham’s examples is a powerful one.  He helps us see what true faith is.  It is not passive in any way.  It is deeply Scriptural, and one that calls us to think deeply about God’s word, with the absolute confidence that what we think about, God will reveal to us, as his Spirit leads us by his Word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss