Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grace increased all the more

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:20-21

I don't know if you remember having bath-time as a little kid (that was pretty far back for some of us), but if you do chances are that you remember taking a small cup and pushing it below the surface of the water so you could watch all the water rush in to fill it up. If you were anything like me you probably immediately dumped this cup out and did it again. There is a simple beauty in the way water rushes in to fill a void. It is quite mesmerizing in fact.

This is the image I get when I consider what Paul says about God's grace in Romans 5:20-21. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more!” God's grace is like the water flowing into that cup. Wherever the void of sin appears in our lives, there is always enough of God's grace to fill it. 

Grace means "unmerited favor." It means that God loves us even though we don't deserve it. Paul has spent most of the first five chapters of this book convincing us that we could never be good enough to earn God's grace; now he tells us that we could never be bad enough to lose it. His point? God's love doesn't work on a bartering system. We don't attain it by being good or lose it when we are bad. This is what makes God's grace unmerited

This is a profound truth of the Christian faith with major implications for fallen people like you and me. We can never out sin God's grace. We have never done anything so bad that God won’t forgive us. In fact, it isn't possible for our sin to be greater than God's grace, because whenever sin increases, grace increases all the more. Our sin can never put us outside of God's grasp! Praise God for a love unlike anything other love.

This all reminds me of a passage that comes later in Romans. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.” (Romans 8:38-39) Nothing separates us from the love of Christ, not even our own sin!

For further reading this week...
   - II Corinthians 12:9-10: God's grace, our weakness.
   - John 1:14-17: Moses brought the law.
   - II Corinthians 8:8-9: For your sake he became poor.
   - Ephesians 2:1-10: Look at all that God's grace in Christ has
     accomplished for you.
   -  Notice that all of these books of the New Testament have “Grace” as
     the first thing that they say to their audience. That's pretty powerful.
     Galatians 1:3, I Corinthians 1:3, II Corinthians 1:2, Romans 1:7,
     Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, I Thessalonians 1:1,
     II Thessalonians 1:2, I Tim 1:2, II Tim 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1:3,
     I Peter 1:2, II Peter 1:2, and II John 1:3.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Christ: the New Adam

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Romans 5:18-19

In 1487 Leonardo Da Vinci drew The Vitruvian Man (pictured above) based on the ideas of  the famous ancient Roman architect  Vitruvius Pollio who believed that the human body was  "the principle source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture."* This sketch is so famous now that I would be surprised if any of you hadn't seen it before. It was even included in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.  In pop culture it has often been used as either a representation of the ‘ideal’ man or as representative of mankind as a whole. In this way The Vitruvian Man is much like Adam. Was Adam simply the first man (i.e. a general representation of what humanity is) or was he supposed to be the ideal man? Your answer to this question is important because it affects what you think it means for Christ to be the new Adam.

The Biblical answer to this question is that Adam was supposed to be the ideal man, but he failed. Instead of  choosing obedience to God, he chose sin. It is in light of this failure that we most clearly see how Christ was the ‘ideal’  human that Adam failed to be. Moreover, it is through Adam's failure that we see our need for Christ. It is because of his sin, passed on to us, that we need the life that Christ offers.

Romans 5:12 says, “…Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…” Can you imagine a world without death? The Bible says that death entered the world through Adam. It wasn’t a part of the world before that. Death is the result of sin (also see Romans 6:23). This means that when we walk in worldly ways and rebel against God, we follow the pattern of our father Adam and we take a deep drink from the well of death.

But now we have a new pattern to follow, a new ideal man in Christ. Christ has ushered into existence a new form of humanity. We used to look to Adam to see what it meant to be human, but now  we must look to Christ in His resurrected form. Christ has literally ushered in a new way of living life, a new way to be human. (The Christian band Switchfoot actually had a song by this title.) You see, you and I are not what we were always intended to be. Physically and spiritually we bear the mark of  sin and death that were passed down to us from Adam. But in Christ we have the opportunity to be freed from the power of sin and to become what God always intended us to be.

This is part of the Christian hope. Those of us who are Christians are being conformed to the image of Christ. We are being made into what Christ is. That process has started now but it will not be completed until Christ returns. Then we will be fully conformed into his image, fully made new as a part of His new creation. This is one reason why Bible study is so important. It tells us who we are. We are reading our heritage, our story as the people of God. It tells us who we are and who we ought to be. And it causes us to groan with anticipation for the day when we will be united as a people, fully human, in the new creation.

So if you are tired of the results you have been getting living life your way, try living life a new way. Look to Christ. Repent and leave sin behind. Turn to God and ask for forgiveness. Look to Christ for new life. He will wash you in the blood of the Lamb. You will be made white as snow, spotless and new. You will be forgiven, and you will have a new life stretching out in front you with nothing but time...time to be conformed into the image of the ideal man. 

For further reading this week, check out these passages...
   - Romans 5:12-21: Read the full passage.
   - I Corinthians 15: The hope of resurrection.
   - Philippians 2:1-11: This is a direct contrast between Christ and Adam.
   - Romans 8: The Christian's hope.

* see Wikipedia's entry on "Vitruvian Man"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This is Love

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8

Legend has it that the Apache war chief Geronimo, who led a small band of followers and avoided capture for years, once made a daring escape when he was trapped by the U.S. Cavalry at Medicine Bluffs, OK. Backed up to a cliff, the warrior chose to ride his horse off of that cliff into the river below instead of being captured. This is why people yell "Geronimo!" when they jump off of something. What he did was so memorable that his name has become synonymous with jumping from great heights.

Christ’s death is the same for us as Christians. It so encapsulates what love is that it has become synonymous with the word. I John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Its not that love didn’t exist before Christ died on the cross, it’s just that love like this never existed before Christ.   

Romans 5:6-8 spells this out for us when it says, "Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die." For the longest time this passage of Scripture confused me, but the main point is very simple. How often is a person willing to die for another person? Not very often, right? Maybe, if somebody was a really good person, you might consider dying for them. But look at how amazing God's love for us is. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

This is the good news of the gospel. God knows all of your deepest darkest secrets: all your shame, and all your guilt. But he loves you anyway! In fact, he loves you with a kind of love that you have never experienced before. You don't have to clean yourself up for him or pretend to be something you're not. He loves you at your worst. He died for your even when you were still a sinner, even when you were his enemy. Consider this. Christ even died for the salvation of the men who were crucifying him. He turned to his Father and said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:24). Is there any greater love than this? 

If you haven't yet accepted Christ as your Savior, then what are you waiting for? I can promise you, you will not find love like this in our world. It is one of a kind. Romans 10:9 says, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Don't waste another day of your life living outside of this amazing love.

If you are a believer, then rest secure in God's love for you. He has already seen you at your worst. He knows the depths of your sin better than you do, and he chose to love you anyway. So do not live in fear of losing God's love, bask in the immensity of it. Thank him for it. Rest in it. And go share his love with others. It is too good to keep to ourselves.

For further reading this week, check out these passages...
   - John 18-19: Take a closer look at the love of God. 
   - I John 3:1-3 & 16-20: This is how we know what love is.
   - I John 4:7-21: God is love.
   - John 15:13: Greater love?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Life of Hope

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations…Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness."
Romans 4:18a, 19-22

The Lord first promised Abraham that he would be made into a great nation when he was 75 years old.  It wasn’t until Abraham was 99 years old that the Lord told him it was finally time for his son to be born. For 24 years Abraham trusted in the Lord. Even though he knew that he and his wife were well past the age of fertility, and even though Sarah had been barren all her life, Abraham still believed the Lord. Romans 4 puts it this way, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” I think it is hard for us to understand how hopeless this situation must have looked to Abraham. For us it is just words on a page. We can flip over a few pages and see the outcome. Abraham had to wait 24 years! Yet, in spite of the insurmountable evidence to the contrary, Abraham chose to believe God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

This one little story has a lot to say about the Christian life. God promised Abraham a life filled with hope and joy. For a man to become the father of a great nation was perhaps the greatest blessing one could achieve in Abraham’s time, but this joy filled life lay at the end of a difficult road. It would have been easier for Abraham to have stayed in Haran with his family. It would have been easier for him to have believed what seemed certain, that he and his wife would never have a child. But Abraham made the decision to hope against hope. I think at some level he must have realized that the joy set before him was worth the risk.

Christ made this same decision. Hebrews 12:2 says that Christ endured the cross “for the joy set before him.” Christ Jesus counted the cost. He weighed all the pain, ridicule, and difficulty that the cross would cause Him and He decided that we were worth it. He considered the joy of saving our souls, defeating the power of Satan and securing His own exaltation as more than worth the suffering He would endure and He took up his cross willingly.

This same decision lies before you today. The Lord has promised you freedom from bondage to sin. He has promised to adopt you as his own son or daughter, if you will believe. He has promised that this world will be made new, that every tear will be wiped away and that the stain of sin will be washed out. You will become what you were always meant to be, but what sin has kept you from becoming. But all of this joy lies at the end of a difficult journey of faith. Christ said, “take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). At times you will have to hope against hope. Are you willing to choose hope over ease and comfort? Do you believe that the joy (reward) set before you is worth it? Whether you are just starting your journey toward God, or if you have been walking with Him for years, know that faith is not simply the only way to salvation, it is also the only way to live the Christian life. I urge you then to live by faith.

For further reading this week…
    - Romans 4: Read all of what Paul has to say about Abraham's faith.
    - Hebrews 12 & Hebrews 13:11-14: Persevere like Jesus persevered.
    - Luke 9:21-26: Take up your cross.
    - Romans 8:18-25: Our present sufferings are not worth comparing to
      the glory that awaits us.