The ADHD Sacrifice (Romans 12:1-8)

The great, old one-liner about Romans 12:1 is that the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. In totally modern terms we might say that such a sacrifice has ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder!

In a recent kids musical performance at our church, the kids sang a great “Romans 12:1+2” song for the program. And they were awesome in their performance! But some of the rehearsals … oh my!  I was working with the acting kids, and they would run from side to side on the stage, making up new lines and being, well, wild boys in particular. One of the calm girls would just look at me kinda wide-eyed with amazement at these antics and just shake her head as if to say, “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this!”

I would guess that God has the same feeling with many of us, much of the time. We are called to sacrificial service within whatever capacities and gifts that we have. But then when it gets a bit difficult and painful to carry out that service for the Lord, like the ADHD sacrifice we’re off the altar and running around aimlessly.

Have you noticed that serving God can sometimes be painful? That is because it involves the totality of oneself. There’s no such thing as being a partial sacrifice. But total commitment is the way to go in life that will yield the greatest of success and satisfaction.

The easiest and most natural way to live life is to conform to the pattern of this world. This involves a great deal of going along to get along, with a strong dose of serving self and personal needs and interests. We fit into this mold quite easily with little contortion or thoughtful discipline.

Paul rather says that the believer should be transformed with a renewed way of thinking. The word for this is the one from which we get “metamorphosis.”  So it speaks of being changed from the inside-out. The result will be that such a process confirms God’s will for life – the best way of living well.

Verses 3-8 describe the primary function of living well, that of understanding God’s unique personal gifting and then deploying it faithfully to serve others.

Everyone should be humble in service because though each has gifts to use, none has anything close to having them all. Some gifts may be more dramatic and evident than others, but all are needed in order that together there may be mutual benefit.

It does not matter how incredibly talented a quarterback is if his offensive line does not protect him long enough to find an open receiver for a pass. It is difficult to throw a football with a 300-pound defensive lineman hanging on your arm. And the fastest running back will gain few yards without blockers who successfully keep defenders from dropping the ball carrier before he gets across the line of scrimmage.

Just as it is the team effort of each player performing his unique function successfully, so in the church family there is the need for all of the gifts to function for mutual benefit. Some are more public than others, but the more outward gifts cannot find a platform for successful execution without others performing their role with all-out energy.

So be faithful to use whatever gifts God has given you for the benefit of others. True inner satisfaction comes from serving others, and along the way of living sacrificially, we find that our deficits and needs are met by others who sacrificially gave of themselves as well. So stay on that altar … don’t be crawling off.

12:1 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

12:3 – For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Never Forgotten (Romans 11:1-36)

In this our third of three days of looking at chapters 9-11 of Romans, we see of Israel’s future as a nation. Their disobedience and disbelief was grievous. As stated in the previous two chapters, they were God’s chosen and special people who had not received God’s truth and plan. Therefore through the rejection of Christ, a larger plan of God for the expanse of the Gospel to Gentile peoples was accomplished.

But did this mean that all Israelites were now lost … that God had forgotten and totally rejected his people? Well certainly not. As Paul argues immediately in the first verse, he himself as a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin had come to faith by God’s divine call and personal intervention. It was not God rejecting; it was a matter of the chosen people rejecting God.

Paul turns quickly to another Old Testament account, that of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. It is one of my favorite OT stories. Here is Elijah, feeling sorry for himself, believing that he was just about the only one remaining who was faithful to God … “and those bad boys are trying to kill me now!” he wails. And God answers him by essentially saying, “Shut up with your whining, I’ve got 7,000 others who are yet faithful, pull up your socks and get to work because I have an assignment for you.”

Though as a whole the nation of Israel had rejected Christ and the gospel message, there remained even in the early church more than a few who knew and followed the truth. The gospel was good for Jews and Gentiles, though the church age would be a time where the gospel would particularly spread ultimately around the world to every tribe and nationality, as it has for the past 2,000 years.

The argument of the rest of the chapter is rather complicated, again accompanied by a bevy of Old Testament quotations. The primary issue is to communicate that God has not forgotten or permanently rejected the nation of Israel. The Gentiles who were the majority people receiving this letter should remember that it is they who were grafted into the “tree” of God’s family as spiritual descendants of Abraham. But a day will yet come (after Christ’s return) where there will be a national turning back to God of the Jewish people.

Again, for our devotional purposes and in an effort to keep us today out of the deep theological weeds, there is an interpretation of passages such as this one (along with others that speak of the nation of Israel) as saying that the church is “spiritual Israel” … that the promises given literally to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament are being spiritually fulfilled in the church. Though it is true that we are all one people of God in terms of our salvation being based in the work of Christ, God still has a literal future for the nation of Israel where his promises to them will be literally fulfilled.

Along with the overarching emphases within these complicated chapters that God is sovereign and has a sovereignly-designed plan that will come to fruition, we see the great grace and mercy of God. He does not forget his promises and his word. And we may fully bank on that! As time goes by, God’s master plan is being fulfilled toward a glorious end. This truth leads Paul to a doxological praise in the final four verses. And in our lives it leads us to confidence and trust in worship of the One who faithfully is working in all things and all times and all places … including in our lives. Amen!

11:1 – I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”

9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. 10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”

Ingrafted Branches

11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

All Israel Will Be Saved

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Doxology

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,     and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Zealous for the Right Thing (Romans 10:1-21)

In Romans 10, Paul continues his (later to be identified three-chapter) excurses on God’s sovereign dealings with the nation of Israel. As well, Paul continues his “hit parade” of Old Testament Scripture quotes and allusions, adding an additional 12 such references in these 21 verses. Again we also see Paul’s own heart’s desire for the Israelites to truly know God through Jesus Christ.

By the time of the early church era when Paul is writing this letter to the Romans, though there were Jewish believers in churches throughout the Mediterranean world, the vast majority of Jews had rejected the gospel offer. So it is reasonable to say that Christ had truly been rejected by the nation.

Paul understood this rejection and hostility, having participated in it significantly prior to his dramatic encounter with Christ and his own conversion. He speaks here of the zealous nature of the Israelites. Indeed, they had a profound sense of their own history and deep reverence and affection for the Law of Moses. But Paul writes here that their knowledge was deficient and inaccurate. Their belief was that righteousness could be and should be attained by strict adherence to the Law. The truth is that the Law was not an instrument to give righteousness, but rather its purpose was to show a person that they could never attain it on their own – hence needing to look outside of themselves toward God for forgiveness. And the rest of Romans is arguing that this righteousness is perfectly found in Jesus Christ and his work.

Christ presented himself to Israel as their king, yet he was rejected. And in the master plan of God, this rejection and subsequent death, burial and resurrection provides the perfect payment for sin and basis for salvation of all mankind, Jew or Gentile. A wonderful summary of the gospel message is provided in verses 9 and 10: that whoever truly believes and confesses that Jesus is Lord and the one raised from the dead by God … that person will be saved, Jew or Gentile.

This message is proclaimed and spread through those who believe and strive together to see that it is promulgated near and far. Verses 14 and 15 have served as the theme Scripture for many a missions conference in churches over the years, and rightly so. There needs to be a proclamation of the gospel for people to believe, and this requires “preachers” (professional or otherwise) who are missionally sent for such communication. Surely it may be across the sea to far-flung regions, but the same principle applies to taking the gospel to the neighborhood just on the other side of the tracks. (#ForOurCity)

The final verses of this chapter bring out the Old Testament anticipation that this expansion of followers of God would extend beyond the nation of Israel to include all the peoples of the world. Israel had the first shot at seeing, experiencing, and following God’s expansive heart for the world. And even now, individually they are not rejected, as belief in the gospel applies to them as well.

How thankful we should be (most of us being of Gentile extraction) that God’s heart was so expansive, even if his original “people” did not see it or largely understand it. We inherit God’s grace, it having come to us on the words of others who received it upon the words of others before them. It is a wonderful opportunity to be an active part of this universal program of God. Do you have a sense of that passion that drives you as you consider the peoples of the world, near and far?

10:1 – Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

20 And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

More than Mere Genetics (Romans 9:1-33)

In turning over today to look at Romans chapter 9, we enter a new section in Paul’s communication. Back at the beginning of this series we spoke of an oft-used simple outline of Romans with five “S” words: Sin, Salvation, Sanctification, Sovereignty, Service. This chapter begins the “Sovereignty” section as Paul presents Israel’s past (chapter 9), present (chapter 10) and future (chapter 11).

These three chapters are among the more difficult passages of Scripture. There is a tremendous amount of detail in them and some complicated reasoning involving many Old Testament texts – a total of 14 just in this 9th chapter.

Paul begins the chapter by expressing his anguish over the nation of Israel and the people of his own race …

9:1 – I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

The sad truth was that the bulk of the nation of Israel had already rejected Christ as Messiah and the gospel message as the channel of truth through which God was working through the ages. This grieved Paul deeply. He acknowledged that Israel had every advantage as God’s chosen and special people.

This raises the difficult question as to how this could possibly be!  It would appear that God’s choosing of Israel wasn’t so great, or else the rejection of Christ by the majority of Israel proved that Paul’s gospel message was invalid.

But the fact of the matter is that quite honestly, most of the time in Israel’s history there was a minority who truly believed. Sometimes it was a small remnant. Paul makes the point that being truly an Israelite in the fullest sense meant more than just mere genetics and physical descent, there was also the matter of trusting personally in God’s promise and plan …

9:6 – It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Let me illustrate it with a story. In my extended family there was a situation where a particular individual was absolutely certain that he was going to be included in what he believed (far beyond factual reality) would be a large estate inheritance. By blood relationship he stood to be in line for this remembrance. However, years and years had gone by with little to no personal effort for connection and relationship with the older generation. When the time came for the execution of the will of the deceased, he was not remembered. Simple genetics was not enough; there was the need for a true relationship.

And so it was with the nation of Israel. Throughout its history, God had chosen one over another to be the line through which his redemptive plan would eventuate. God is God. And He can choose to work through whomever he desires.

So the rest of this chapter rehearses a large swath of Jewish history, recalling both God’s sovereign plan along with accounts of either faithfulness or faithlessness among the nation. Ultimately, God’s plan moved on to include the gentiles.

9:9 – For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”  21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”  26 and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”

27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea,     only the remnant will be saved.

28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”

29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”

Israel’s Unbelief

30 – What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Questions and Answers (Romans 8:31-39)

Calvin Coolidge was famous for being a man of few words. Someone once told him, “I’ll bet I can make you speak more than two words.” To which the 30th president responded, “You lose.”

Among his quotes about listening much and speaking little are these: “I have never been hurt by what I have not said,” and, “No person ever listened themselves out of a job.”

I think it was perhaps also Coolidge who was asked, “Why do you always answer a question with a question?”  And he responded, “Why not?”

The Apostle Paul occasionally used this device as a communicative tool, as he does in our passage today. Paul asks a single question, and he then responds to it with a series of six additional questions that provide the answer.

Reflecting on God’s plan of salvation just spoken of – a plan with a scope from eternity past to eternity future – Paul asks the opening question …

8:31 – What, then, shall we say in response to these things?

God’s plan was pretty amazing. It was laid out before it was even necessary due to the entrance of sin. Nothing catches God by surprise. He is never in a position of needing to alter the direction of his will due to some unforeseen contingency. God is a category of one! This leads to a series of profound questions in Paul’s mind…

#1 – (verse 31) If God is for us, who can be against us?

It is all about who you know. It is like working for a company where you know the owner personally, and better yet, he really likes you. It therefore doesn’t matter what the immediate boss thinks and how he might attempt to harm you.

#2 – (verse 32) He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

If you gave $10 toward a benevolent agency and then it folded and your money was lost … oh well, bad things happen. But if you gave your whole fortune to a cause, you are going to be entirely supportive and invested in the success of that endeavor. God gave even more: His Son. Therefore we can count upon him furnishing us with all we truly need toward our ultimate salvation and glorification.

#3 – (verse 33) Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.

Well, we know the answer to that is Satan. But what real authority does he have to accomplish anything other than to make a lot of noise? It does not matter what the prosecuting attorney says about you when the judge has already personally paid the price for your justification.

#4 – (verse 34) Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Additionally, what standing does the evil one have? None really. The one who paid the price personally is our defense advocate who is right next to the judge to personally intercede for our cause.

#5 and #6 – (verse 35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

The presumed answer to the fifth question is “nothing.” Paul lists some items with increasing gravity, including the very real threat of being put to death by the sword. The Apostle wrote in 1 Corinthians 11 about how he faced all of these perils in the course of life and ministry. Frankly, that is the normal experience for the believer, as Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 concerning spiritual warfare. Peter affirms that if the enemies of the cross hated Christ, they will hate us also.

Paul includes a quote from Psalm 44:22 …

36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

The world has little regard for God’s people. To them we are nothing but sheep waiting for the slaughter. But even if the worst imaginable thing happens, the best thing happens immediately as well: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. All of this is the outworking of the “all things” of 8:28.

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The final verdict is that we cannot lose, no matter what happens. I like that!  I like winning and I hate losing! We are secure in Christ’s love and in relationship with God for eternity. Let’s conclude with some questions: Who would not want this? Who would not be thankful for these truths? Who would not find peace in the midst of any circumstance by knowing this provision?

Things ARE Going to Get Better (Romans 8:18-30)

Think of the many things that you have gone through in your life that were less than pleasant, though you endured them to get to a better time and situation.

I look back on my educational years and still marvel that I put up with nine consecutive years of post-high school pressures and continual life transitions. I often wondered if I was ever going to grow up!  There were five years of a double major in college (although I was encouraged to have gained a wife out of that time). And then there was the oft terror of seminary and its high-level academics and language study demands. Along the way were jobs as a painter, UPS package sorter, North American Van Lines, and swimming pool maintenance. A great music ministry position in a wonderful church gave me a breeze of hope that all of this might someday lead to a ministry career, which it did, now totaling 35 years.

Or think about medical things we might endure. Something is amiss physically and you have to give attention to a remedy that might be a bit painful. Someday, some year, somewhere, somehow I’m going to get my dumb arthritic knees fixed. It ain’t going to feel good. But the hope is that on the other side of a season of suffering will be a longer time of being a healthier beefcake than I am already!

If you listen to financial guru Dave Ramsey, he is always encouraging the life disciplines that will help one pay off debts. He will say, “Until you pay off that debt, it’s going to be beans and rice, rice and beans every night for dinner.”  He is saying that you need to endure hardship now for the promise of a better tomorrow.

The better tomorrow – when does that really arrive?  It is a general pattern of life that wise living leads to successful outcomes, but there is no guarantee. You might get a rare cancer or be run over by the drunk driver who missed the red light. Even without randomly grave circumstances finding their way to you, life is filled with more than a few challenges and inevitable sorrows. Though some few folks may appear to live a charmed existence, nobody escapes difficulties and sadness.

But for the child of God, it is all worth it. The pain of this life is real for sure, but it is so small in comparison to the eternal glory that awaits in the promised future. So, my 9 years of educational suffering will result in something like 4x as many years of joy in service. The several months of knee surgery and associated recovery may result in perhaps 20 years of pain-free greater mobility. Financial moderation by folks now should result in decades of greater stability and reward. Those are good ratios … up to maybe like 60:1 in the one instance.

But think about suffering here now, as compared to eternity. If you have 70 years of difficulties and the accumulated sadness of the human condition in a sinful and fallen world, what is that compared to, oh, say about 7 million years of eternity?  The ratio is 100,000:1 … and that is just the bare beginning. So Paul writes in Romans 8 …

8:18 – I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

8:22 – We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

For both the creation and for us as redeemed, adopted children of God, the current situation is far from perfect. Paul describes it as “groaning.”  The pain and difficulty is real. But bigger than all of this is the “hope” we have that is a part of our waiting. Just because we don’t have the perfection of heaven as a present reality does not mean that God is not good.

And we’re not without resources. The text above says that we have the ministry of the Holy Spirit as a “firstfruits” of the full crop of God’s eternal reward that is yet to come. Paul describes how this works practically, even in a fallen world …

8:26 – In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

There are those times in life where we do not know how to pray for ourselves or for someone else. We might say that “it’s complicated.”  Do we pray to have God give us that job that will move us 500 miles away from our family and a happy place of serving Christ in the church? What is better? We want God’s best for us, and we can be assured that the Spirit of God prays for us in a wordless way that is understood by the Father. And that’s just one ministry of the resource of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Hey, let me throw at you some of that painful Greek language education I endured 36 years ago. You’re going to like this one! The word for “helps us” in verse 26 is “synantilambanetai” (let me hear you repeat that three times quickly!), and it has the literal picture of someone who comes alongside another person to help them carry a heavy load.

Beyond this, God has a plan for us, and it is a good plan …

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Even in a sinful world, even in a place where not all things that happen to us are good, God harmonizes all of those “lesser experiences” in a way that is ultimately good for us. The Greek word for working things together is “synergei” … from which you don’t need to be a language scholar to see the roots of English words like “synergy” or “synergize.”  Yep, there is a synergy to God’s plan for us.

And it is a plan, step by step. God foreknew us – meaning He took the initiative to establish the relationship we have with him. Then he predestined or predetermined that we would know him and follow a path that would bring us into relationship with Christ and growth in his likeness. And this works out by us being called, being justified (declared righteous), and ultimately glorified.

Yep, there’s a plan. It hurts a bit right now. But the big, guaranteed truth is that THINGS ARE GOING TO GET BETTER!

Be Who You Really Are (Romans 8:1-17)

Something that has always amazed me over the years is the way that so many people repeat as adults the foolish things they saw parents and other adults do when they were children. Having lived around dysfunction and horrible life choices, even experiencing the pain and suffering that extended to an entire family system, surely a child who grew up in such a setting would be highly energized to not repeat those same mistakes as they grow older! Yet sadly the most common story is that they grow up to so often repeat the very same painful actions.

As I’ve thought about this phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the repeated behavior is because the person has no experience with something that is different or better. It is easier and more comfortable to repeat the known environment than it is to figure out how to live in a way that is categorically different and experientially unknown.

A 2015 article in Psychology Today entitled “8 Reasons It’s So Hard to Overcome a Tough Childhood” essentially affirms this observation immediately in point #1.

“The traumatized person may be slow to realize the source of their pain. Children have no frame of reference when traumatic experiences occur, so they come to see their reality as normal, especially if their caregivers are the source of their distress. Often, it is only much later—when exposed to healthier families or when raising children of their own—that they see how damaging their childhood was. Unfortunately, the longer a person waits to get help, the tougher it becomes to heal.”

Beyond this, recent studies have shown that there are biological factors that affect children who grow up in dysfunctional settings. Trauma in childhood can alter brain structure and change certain genes, with events such as abuse or the loss of a parent being found to alter the programming of genes that regulate stress, boosting the risk of developing issues such as anxiety and depression. Trauma-induced brain changes have been linked to a diminished ability to moderate negative impulses. Childhood trauma can also affect the brain’s neurotransmitters, boosting the reward felt when drugs or alcohol are used—and making dependence more likely.

The reason we are so blessed by stories of those who have overcome difficult childhoods—like a Ben Carson, for example—is because they are comparatively rare. To break free into a new and different sphere of living requires a uniquely new empowerment or opportunity.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 7 described the downward draw and power of “the natural man” or the sinful nature. He speaks of the war within, having at once a desire to live for God, yet also a long-term gravitational pull to an older self.

Turning to chapter 8, Paul begins with the firm assertion that there has been a radical change…

8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The believer is free from the condemnation of sin due to the liberating payment of the work of Christ. This is a new life category completely!  As it says elsewhere in Scripture, the believer in Christ is a new creature … part of a new family … empowered within by a new understanding that can govern the mind and life of the one who will yield to this. It is a matter of choice as to how to live – in an old way that gives in to the flesh, or a new way that yields to the Spirit…

8:5 – Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Perhaps we could illustrate it this way: Imagine you grew up in deep poverty, not having sufficient resources for your basic needs and even foraging and stealing to meet the hunger cravings of your life. You had absentee parents who really did nothing to help you but only ultimately accused you of being a failure. Along came a wealthy man who in love and mercy stepped into your life and situation and adopted you out of it and into his family. You now had a new place and way of living that guaranteed your basic needs and presented an entirely new realm of possibilities for living a completely different and successful life. You would be pretty crazy to not take advantage of that new opportunity, choosing rather to just live too frequently within older patterns you used to know.

But this is our experience in Christ. We were before our adoption by him living as the children of the evil one who accused us and provided only for our demise. But now being a part of a new family, we have the opportunity to live as an heir of God and co-heir with Christ. And this is exactly how Paul finishes this section of thought …

8:14 – For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

It is all a matter of living out who you truly are. Yes, there is a gravitational pull toward a foolish, older way of life that has a natural bent. But wisdom informs us that this is personally destructive, that we don’t need to live this way, that we are positionally different than that, and we have a new power within to help us live in a new way that is life indeed. Eternal life, with eternal values. It would be pretty crazy to not strive to live in this way!

And knowing this truth as members of #ForOurCity churches, it would be pretty crazy to not share this truth with the community around us. This area is sadly known for many of the pervasive dysfunctions we’ve referenced today. And while we are thankful for the services and agencies that exist to battle these ills, the true and final answer is the Gospel. That is how we can assist people to truly become “Overcomers.”