I don’t know about you but I keep trying really hard. I really believe that one of the greatest weaknesses of Christians today is that they keep trying really hard to earn something they can’t earn.
Let me explain.
Throughout the New Testament, we read over and over that salvation, faith, justification and pretty much all that has to do with God and how He relates to us is a gift. I have a really hard time accepting gifts from people. Don’t you? I mean, I have no problem giving gifts to people but I don’t want them giving them to me.
Why is that? Why do we struggle so much with accepting things that are freely given?
I really think this is one of my problems with the gospel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the gospel. I’m saying this is one of my problems with grace. We too often operate on the American ideal of “no such thing as a free lunch.”
When it comes to lunch that may be true but it is not true of the grace of God.
This year I am undertaking a venture I’ve never done before. I’m spending the entire year of 2017 in one book of the Bible. My book for 2017 is Romans. We’re in May and I’ve made it all the way to chapter 4. This has been a rich time in what is probably the Apostle Paul’s greatest theological work.
So this morning I read Romans 4:13-25. I had some thoughts I wanted to share in hopes that it will encourage and challenge you as much as it has me.
1. Adherence to the law will not produce blessing.
Now before you push back too much, let me explain what I mean by this statement. Our adherence to some type of “be better” mentality is what I’m referring to. See, too often in modern American Christianity, we hear this false gospel of works preached. Oh, these so-called “preachers” may not precisely say these words of “work hard and you’ll earn God’s favor,” but that is precisely what is being espoused from too many of our modern day preachers. Paul, in Romans and many other writings, will have none of that.
We think that if we just work harder, do more and be better, we will have God’s blessings. And that is simply not the case. What brings God’s blessings is faith. Faith is pretty simple. Look at this text. Faith is described as simply believing that God will do what He has said He will do. God made a promise to Abraham. Abraham believed that God would do as He promised. That, my friends, is faith.
That faith is both the gift of God and the vehicle He uses for our justification. Without faith, we will not see God, no matter how many rules we follow.
Only grace by faith can save.
Without grace, the law produces a dead promise and dead men. Only faith brings life.
2. You cannot fulfill the works of the law.
You may think you’re a good person. I’ve heard that so many times I wanna throw up. Let me correct some faulty theology real quick. You’re not good. Neither am I. We are sinners in the hands of a holy God who hates sin and we have no hope on our own. We’re in the middle of the Pacific with no life vest surrounded by sharks and the waves are choppy.
You, me, we are dead in the water.
One of the problems Paul was addressing here was the Jewish notion that doing what the law required produced righteousness. Paul is saying that’s not true. The reason it isn’t true is because the law is impossible for you or me to fulfill. The law was never meant to save; it was meant to point us to the One who could fulfill it. Only One has been able to fulfill the law. Without faith, the promise of righteousness is only available to those who fulfill the law and no one, except Jesus, has been able to do that so far.
Only the grace of God secured by faith in Jesus can save you or me.
3. Faith brings glory to God.
Faith brings glory to God because faith, by its very definition, takes God at His word. Faith brings glory to God because faith believes that only God can accomplish what He has promised. We cannot produce what God has promised. Only God can do that. Faith brings glory to God.
I really love verse 23 and the beginning of verse 24 here. Paul gives us some much needed encouragement. The Bible was written for a number of reasons that would take too long to explain all of them but one of the reasons is in verses 23 and 24. Look at what Paul says here, “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”
That is so good. In His kindness, God reminds me and you in these words that the gift of faith and our subsequent justification are His work alone and have been applied to you and me if we are “in Abraham” by faith in Jesus. If you are in Jesus, His very righteousness has been counted to you. What grace! What joy is ours!
Preach the gospel to yourself, friends. Read His Word, see His good gifts. Stop trying to earn His favor. If you are in Jesus, His favor and righteousness are yours by faith. Revel and rest in His grace!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Once upon a time, I felt like I was invincible. I mean, I got hurt a lot doing what I was doing for a living (I was a police officer) but I never really felt like death or pain or anything like that could touch me. Despite the pain and death and violence I saw, sometimes on a daily basis, it just never seemed to affect me. The risks I took seemed perfectly normal to me.
I also found out during that time in my life what work ethic meant. I mean, I kinda knew because I came from a long line of workaholics. The whole male side of the Garrison family was really hard workers (for the most part). So I grew up knowing what hard work was and knowing that hard work paid off in the end…well, believing that anyway.
Isn’t this the American way? Work hard. Then when you’re tired and worn out, work harder. After all, the harder we work, the more we earn and therefore the more we matter.
Let me give you a rundown of the last five years of my life. In the last five years, my wife and I have moved to North Carolina for seminary (with no jobs and no place to live), started our own business, went to seminary full time, had two kids, moved to three different states, planted a church (see below). We’ve been busy.
Over the last two years, work has ramped up to a whole new level for me. From May 2015 to June 2016, we were church planting in Indianapolis.
Well, we were trying to anyway.
I discovered a whole new level of work while church planting. I found out that there is some work that our enemy, Satan, hates with all his wicked heart and he will do everything within his power to stop us from doing. Church planting is one of those things. The gospel of Jesus going out, people hearing that gospel, repenting and believing is something that Satan will not stand by and watch happen.
But, we were working hard. I was working a ton; meeting people, sharing with them about Jesus and His good news, trying to fund raise and form partnerships with local pastors and others. I was working a lot. It was hard.
When it was over, I crashed.
Like physically crashed to a level I had never experienced.
I was so sick and spent that my wife literally asked me, “Are you dying?”
I felt like I was. I felt like I did, at least a part of me. Then, the company I currently worked for called me and offered me a job. We needed groceries so I took it. So we moved…again. When I took over management of the job I now have, the situation was kind of a mess. I ended up having to fire one employee, suggest another one find another job elsewhere and generally cleaning up a mess left behind by the former manager.
I was working a lot. Like 60 plus hours a week a lot. I was tired, angry, frustrated. So was my wife. We had a newborn and a three year old and it was crushing her to basically care for the kids on her own while I worked like a man possessed. It would seem that I had learned nothing from the past.
Then 2 weeks ago happened. I had a bit of a medical scare. I won’t go into gory details but we’ll just say there was blood emitting from places blood isn’t supposed to emit from. Off to see the doctor I went. ‘We need to do a colonoscopy’ they said. I thought everything…cancer, death, my wife a widow, my kids orphans…it was not good.
The results came back.
My doctor said, “There is no medical reason for you to have ulcers so it must be something else.” I know what it is.
I’ve spent the last 21 years of my life in a pressure cooker. First it was law enforcement, then small business ownership, then parenthood, then church planting, then move and new pressure packed job…I was stuck on the merry-go-round of effort and success.
My wife and I talked about some things and my boss and I talked and I’m grateful that he’s understanding and gracious. I need to work less and play more.
I think it’s the same with the gospel.
See, we too often fall into the temptation to work for our own salvation. Now, we good reformed types will never say that. But I think we’re really doing that in actuality. I think we try hard, hoping that we will somehow earn God’s love and favor. The truth is you can’t.
You earn nothing when it comes to the gospel. It’s all given to you. You and I literally bring absolutely nothing to the table when it comes to relationship with God. He has done, is doing and will do it all. Now please don’t think I’m espousing some type of antinomianism (see previous post ‘Walk This Way’).
What I’m saying is this:
If you are my brother and sister in Christ, do yourself a favor. Just rest. Be free in the love of God for you. If you are in Christ, there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more or less. After all, you are clothed in the very righteousness of Christ. You are, in the eyes of God, the same as Christ.
Think about that for a minute. Let it soak into your soul. This is amazing grace! Not only has Jesus laid down His life for you but, by your faith in Him, you have been clothed in His righteousness. Put that in your work pipe and smoke it.
Stop trying so hard. He’s not gonna love you more or less. You’re gonna give yourself an ulcer. Just rest, bask in the righteousness of Christ that is yours. Then, from that overflow of love and grace, get up and work with joy!
Soli Deo Gloria!