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  • Galatians 4:1-7 - Complexly Simple

    Take a breather: enjoy the peace & comfort given in very simple language. Galatians 4:1-7 (NIV) ...As long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Man We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him. And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, “born of a woman,” to crush the head of the serpent, and to make him blessed. Summary Paul here is comparing life in general to the heir to a large fortune. Although the fortune legally belongs to the heir, he often doesn't have access to it until he reaches the age of maturity that his father had predetermined. In the same way, you are an heir with an ownership claim in the Kingdom of heaven, but as Peter reminds, "This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5). But in order for us to be made heirs, a transaction needed to take place. God sent His Son "to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (v5)." Notice how many terms related to your salvation have financial overtones: heir, redemption, atonement, ransom, debt forgiveness, treasure in heaven, etc. Yet the price required for your salvation required something more from the buyer than just the ability to write the check, so to speak. The buyer needed to have standing. In other words, the buyer for man needed to be a man. And so it is that our Savior, God's Son, needed to be "born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law..." Jesus was made like us in every way, but since He was born of a woman, yet had no earthly father - no tie to Adam, and so was not infected by the disease transmitted from fathers to children called original sin which we read about a couple of weeks ago. Dig Deeper The more we unpack our salvation and begin to examine piece by piece, it can seem confusing and overwhelming. We use all sorts of complicated terms that we don't normally use in everyday language, we make distinctions in how and when those terms apply, and on top of all that is the nuance of ideas that are often in tension with one another, like how we understand that God elected us before time began to be saved in Christ, but yet at the same time we must "make every effort" to make our salvation sure. Although it's good to push ourselves mentally to understand this theology, just as it's good to push our bodies so they remain strong, it's nice to take a breather and enjoy the peace and comfort given to us in very simple language. Because you are now God's son (yes, even you ladies are considered 'sons' of God), God sent His Spirit into your heart, which causes you to call out to your Father. Paul uses a very tender word to describe your Father here: Abba, which conveys an intimacy between father and child (v6). So know that the end result of the fantastically complex theological formula required for your redemption is the fact that you have been made a bona fide child of God (v7). AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who sent His Spirit into our hearts that we would call out to Him; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you would not be as enamored with the riches of this world, knowing that you're an heir of the Kingdom of Heaven; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 9

  • Genesis 3:10-15 - Protoevangelion

    God brings the gospel even in the midst of curses. Genesis 3:7-10 (NIV) CONTEXT: We began this passage earlier this week. Adam and his wife have just eaten the forbidden fruit. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Man We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him. And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, “born of a woman,” to crush the head of the serpent, and to make him blessed. Summary Adam and his wife heard the familiar sound and knew just what it was. Their God and Father, the One who had created them in His image to have dominion over all of creation, had come down to walk in the garden and enjoy the cool of the day in and with His perfect creation. Only things were different now, and the very ones He came to enjoy the day with were hiding from Him, naked and afraid. Notice that as he blurts out to God, Adam only confesses the reason for his fear, not his sin. So God asked Adam point blank if he had eaten from the tree that God had said not to. Understand that God here wasn't trying to get His facts straight or get Adam's side of the story. Yet instead of taking the opportunity to fully confess and repent, Adam initiated the blame game, blaming his wife, and even God in a sense, since God had put the woman there with him. The woman then passed the buck to the deceptive serpent. The ramifications of their rebellion were both immediate and profound. Although we only read of the curse upon the serpent today, God goes on to curse the woman and Adam, doing so in the opposite order that the blame had been placed. Dig Deeper Although the curses are severe and life altering, they are not our focus today. We're going to hone in on the tiny sliver of good news that come as God condemns the serpent. Theologians refer to verse 15 as the protoevangelion, a Latin word which literally means the 'first gospel.' First, God mentions the "offspring" of both the serpent and the woman. Both would continue living and would multiply, filling the earth! That certainly fulfills one of God's purposes for man - to fill the earth - but the second half of God's intention, for man to have dominion over the earth, was now twisted into an ongoing enmity between the manifestations of evil and the children of the woman. The gospel (good news) here is that life will continue, but in perspective this is barely good news at all. It's the second aspect of v15 that truly contains the gospel. The word offspring can be understood two ways. On one had, in a collective sense it includes every person who's been born of the woman, which of course is all of us. But the word used here, which can also be translated as seed, has a singular aspect as well. In other words, it doesn't just refer to all people, but it also refers to just one man. We know that because of how God describes the conclusion of this ongoing enmity: He (the offspring) will crush your head, you (the serpent) will bruise his heel. So praise God that you belong to the offspring of the woman: not just humanity in general, but Jesus Christ in particular, and remember that until Christ returns, you must live in enmity with the serpent. AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who brings gospel even in the midst of curse; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you will remember your identity as being in Christ as you navigate a life in enmity with the evil one; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 8

  • 1 John 4:7-10 - Loopy Love

    John's poetic style defines God's love and grace. 1 John 4:7-10 (NIV) 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Man We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him. And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, “born of a woman,” to crush the head of the serpent, and to make him blessed. Summary It often seems like John writes in big loops, like he's repeating the same thing over and over in slightly different ways. This is by design. In our western style, we tend to organize our thoughts like Paul, using an outline format like what you learned in school: Point 1 Subpoint Subpoint Point 2 Subpoint Subpoint John, on the other hand, writes in a more near-eastern style, using a chaisitic format. Here's how the passage we just read is organized: We must love one another. Here's why: A: Definition of love: it comes from God B: People show love: indicate they're born of God C: If you don't love you don't know God C': because God is love B':God shows love: by sending His Son that we might live through Him A': Definition of love: Not what we do, but what God has done. Chiasms are recognized by the wedge shape of the outline. The upper portion looks similar to the outlining style we're more familiar with, in the typical A, B, C pattern. But then the lower portion reverses the order: C, B, A. Each of the letters in the upper portion correspond to the same letter in the lower portion. One of the biggest difference in this chiastic style is that the primary meaning of the passage doesn't come at the end, where we would normally expect it, but right smack in the middle. In the case of this passage, the primary message that John wishes to convey is that God is love, and that if you know God, you will love too. Dig Deeper Ironically, it's the final line in John's passage that attracts our attention today. Although it's not the primary point in this passage, it still is certainly true! This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. But even this single verse is organized chiastically! A: Definition of love: This is love B: How we showed love: not that we loved God, C: Who God is: but that he loved us B': How God showed love: and sent his Son as A': Definition of love: an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This means that the key to our salvation is certainly not rooted in our ability to turn to God on our own, but is fully based on God's character and attributes: God is love, and he demonstrates this love by sending His Son, and He defines love by giving us the atoning sacrifice we need to have peace with Him. So according to John, who's chiastic writing style can sometimes confuse our western sensibilities, the key takeaway from these doctrines of grace we've been studying these last few weeks is that you must demonstrate the very same love of the God whose image you've been created in by loving others in a way that defines what it means to be at peace with Him. AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, God, who is love; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Ask God for the ability to love others as He has first loved you; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 7

  • Matthew 18:10-14 - Sought & Saved

    You're a child of God, and He will not let you stay lost. Matthew 18:10-14 (NIV) 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”] 12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. Verse 11 is not in many of the earliest and most reliable manuscripts, but it is in some and also is included in the parallel to this passage in Luke 19:10. Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Man We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him. And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, “born of a woman,” to crush the head of the serpent, and to make him blessed. Summary The parable of the lost sheep is found both here in Matthew's gospel as well as in Luke. Since Jesus would likely repeat parables as He traveled from one town to another, it makes sense that both Matthew and Luke report Jesus telling this particular parable in far different contexts. Whereas Luke portrays Jesus calling out the Pharisees for not seeking those falling away from the flock, Matthew places this account in the same context that Jesus was speaking to and about little children. These different contexts change the meaning and application of the parable. Whereas when Jesus spoke this angrily to the Pharisees as Luke records it, it become a lesson for leaders in the church to go after wayward members before they get completely lost or injured. But as He tells it here in Matthew's account, likely still having the little children on His lap, He's telling us something important about His Father in heaven. What Jesus means here is that our Father is not content with having secured the salvation of 99% of His people. He will do whatever it takes to be certain that each and every one of His 'sheep' are made safe. We also get some insight about how God feels about finding His sheep. We might expect Him to be rightfully angry and even discipline the sheep for wandering off and putting itself at risk, but rather He rejoices at having found the sheep just as the prodigal son's father rejoices upon his return. Dig Deeper We're coming to this parable today in the context of learning that, as our Confession puts it, "Our good God... set out to find [sinful, rebellious man], though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from Him." Just like the shepherd in Jesus' parable, your Father set out to find you, even though you were actively running away from Him! Everyone reading this was found by the Good Shepherd in a different spot. Many, if not most of us, were found by Him at such a young age we don't even really specifically remember it; By His grace, we've spent most of our lives with the 99 back in the safety of the flock. Some of you had wandered off a bit farther. Perhaps you were more seriously injured by sin, or maybe God found you just as the wolves were set to pounce. Either way - whether you were found early in life, or whether it's been more recently, the result is the same: Our Father is happier about finding you and rescuing you from sin than He is about the 99 who are already safe (but each of those 99 could say that same thing about when God found them!). The point of our Confession, and the point of Jesus' parable is that we have a God who loves us so much that He "is not willing that any of these little ones should perish." So He sent His Son, the Son of Man, to seek and save the lost. AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who comes looking for His fallen and broken children; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that having been found, you will be a faithful member of God's flock; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 6

  • Genesis 3:7-10 - Hide & Seek

    You can't hide from God. But you can know He comes offering grace, mercy and peace. Genesis 3:7-10 (NIV) CONTEXT: We'll begin this passage today and come back to it later this week. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring a and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Man We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him. And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, “born of a woman,” to crush the head of the serpent, and to make him blessed. Summary What a tremendous thought of what paradise will be like: The LORD God, walking amongst His people in the cool of the day. We're at that time of the year here in the upper Midwest again, where the evenings get longer, the sunsets are spectacular, and we often get a chance to set our work down and relax in the cool of the day. Imagine doing so in the direct presence of our loving heavenly Father! But this particular evening recorded in Genesis 3 was anything but relaxing. God came to walk, as was His habit, but this time He walked alone. His image bearers trembled in fear, having gotten exactly what the serpent promised: opened eyes. But the only thing their eyes could see was their own nakedness and shame. It's what happens next that sets the tone for the entire rest of the Bible. The omniscient creator and sustainer of all things called out to them, asking where they were. Certainly God knew the answer. He knew that these two, to whom He given dominion over everything He had made, had rebelled against Him, having taken the one thing they'd been commanded not to. He would have been perfectly justified to send fire and brimstone down upon them from on high. But He came looking for them, beginning a pattern that He would follow countless times throughout history with His wayward people. And instead of the wrath they deserved, He met them with the same grace, mercy and peace that He offers to you. Dig Deeper It's not that God ignored the awful sins Adam and Eve had committed. There would be no more sunset walks with their loving Creator. Life in paradise was over, and now they'd never really experience true rest again. The work that they'd been created to enjoy would be cursed, and in its place would come thorns, sweat, and rebellious children who'd be born infected with the sin they'd unleashed. Adam's sin ruined God's good and perfect creation. His instinct was to hide the resulting shame from God. I wonder if as he hid from God he thought for a moment he might get away with it. But he couldn't stay hidden. God came looking for him. Notice here that Adam never once asked for God's help. Adam would have kept right on hiding and covering up his shame with fig leaves. But God saw what Adam needed, because God came looking for him. This is the essence of the Christian gospel: that the perfectly holy Creator of all things comes looking for his image bearers who are hiding from Him in their sin and misery. There's all sorts of different reasons why you're here today, reading these words, but never forget the primary reason: God came looking for you. AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who comes looking for His fallen and broken children; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for coming to find you; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 5

  • Romans 9:16-24 - Who Do You Think You Are?

    If you believe God softened your heart, why is it so hard to accept He hardened others? Romans 9:10-24 (NIV) CONTEXT: We began this passage yesterday. We'll pick up in the same place we left off. 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. 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 man's 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, o man, 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? Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 16: The Doctrine of Election We believe that— all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man— God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves. Summary Hard work; dedication; blood, sweat and tears. These attributes define the ethos of so much of our success in life. We enjoy the fruits of our labors and savor the pride that our accomplishments brings. Since we've so clearly seen how God has blessed our efforts in so many different arenas and ways, it's so easy to transfer these attitudes to our salvation and conclude that God gives us His grace because the strong faith we've built up deserves it. After all, we mistakenly conclude, we had that instinct and insight to respond to God's gracious call, whereas so many others either ignored or outright rejected it. But those are exactly the attitudes the Bible seeks to dispel here when it comes to your salvation. In the most clear and unequivocal terms it says that it - that is, God's saving compassion - does not depend upon your desire or efforts, but rather, upon God's mercy. There's literally nothing you can look at in regards to your salvation and claim that you made it happen. Certainly there are actions you took - you confessed your belief, for example - but the point here is that the only reason you could do that is because God in His mercy enabled you to do so. Paul elaborates by using Pharaoh as an example. God raised Pharaoh up, meaning that God engineered every aspect of Pharaoh's life to put him in a position of power over God's people. Not only that, but scripture reports over and over that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Those are tough words to digest, but should they be? After all, you're likely quick to admit that God softened your heart so that you would accept and believe the gospel, so why should it be so difficult to swallow that God could, would and has done the opposite? Ultimately, the reason you are a Christian and others are not comes down to God's sovereign decision. "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." Dig Deeper Next Paul does what he's so good at doing: he anticipates his reader's objections, and right now, if you get the implications from the preceding paragraphs, you're likely objecting. If God softens the heart of this guy, but hardens another, why should the first guy get rewarded and the second guy face eternal punishment. Aren't they just doing exactly what God programmed them to do? It's not fair. "Why does God still blame us," Paul hypothetically asks. Although this objection seems reasonable, Paul immediately squashes it. Who do you think you are "to talk back to God," he asks. In other words, how could we, as mere creatures - and fallen ones at that - make accusations against the One who not only created all things but who also defines the very concept of goodness and fairness itself? This concept of God's sovereign predestination in which he determined before creation who He would show grace to and who He would leave in their sin is amongst the most difficult doctrines in the Bible. It's meant to humble us and leave us to wrestle with unanswered questions and objections. Good theology is meant to be wrestled with (hence the name of God's covenant people: yiś·rā·ʾēl - the ones who wrestle with God). So let predestination humble, and even at times frustrate you. But also realize the unsurpassed comfort this doctrine provides: That although you'll never fully understand why, God chose you to be His own and since He never changes, He'll never let you go. AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you will be both humbled and comforted by God's saving grace in your life; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 4

  • Romans 9:6-16 - Humbled Confidence

    This chapter is more than just fodder for late night conversations - it's the basis for your peace. Romans 9:6-16 (NIV) CONTEXT: Romans nine is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible, dealing with why it is that God has chosen some to salvation, but left others in their sin. 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. 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 man's 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, o man, 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? Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 16: The Doctrine of Election We believe that— all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man— God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves. Summary For all of history there have always been two types of people: those who are in, and those who are out - the ones who have faith in God for their salvation, and the rest who stubbornly rebel against God for eternity. And for centuries, that boundary marker was delineated by (mostly) one thing: nationality. You were either a child of Abraham and thus one of God's people, or you weren't. But Paul points out some flaws in this 'saved by DNA' theory. "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (v6)," he writes. Ishmael, Abraham's oldest son, was out, but his half brother Isaac was in. That sort of makes sense, given that God made His promise to Isaac's mother Sarah and not her servant Hagar. What doesn't seem to make sense - from our perspective - is the difference between the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. If you know anything about their story, you know that often Esau was the honorable brother, while Jacob was a cheating scoundrel. If salvation was decided by popular vote, Esau would win. But there was only one vote in this election, and God cast it. Paul, writing words breathed into Him by God, writes that God's election occurred "before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad." In other words, God doesn't choose based on pedigree or potential. Salvation has nothing to do with our works, but is wholly dependent upon Him who calls. Dig Deeper We haven't even gotten to the toughest verse in this passage yet. How could the very God who defines love say that He loved Jacob but he hated Esau? Why would the scoundrel be included in God's ḥěʹ·sěḏ (never ending covenant love) while not only Esau, but also his descendents after him, would be set apart from it (Malachi 1:2-3, the passage Paul quotes in v13)? The Bible doesn't answer that question outright. God isn't obligated to explain Himself to us. Paul anticipates our frustration here and cuts it off, reminding us that God is sovereign - He will have mercy on only those whom He designates - but also that He is just. Paul doesn't elaborate on this, but he does make it crystal clear. God's sovereignty not seem fair to you, but ultimately remember: God is not unjust (v14). Passages like Romans 9 are not put in the Bible just to give you a headache or to provide fodder for late night discussions about how God's sovereignty relates to man's responsibility (we'll unpack this tomorrow). Romans 9, like every other chapter in the Bible, is there to build up your comfort and confidence in Christ. You can experience this peace by memorizing v16 in a very personal way: My salvation does not depend upon my desire or effort. It completely depends upon God's mercy. AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, whose purposes will always stand (v11); ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for His sovereign mercy in your life, and pray that these difficult truths will make you humbly confident; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 3

  • Acts 13:42-48 - All Appointed

    Preaching God's Word has a powerful effect on all who hear it, but only the appointed believe it. Acts 13:42-48 (NIV) CONTEXT: Paul & Barnabas preached the gospel in a synagogue in Antioch, and the people there invited them back to preach the following week. 42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 16: The Doctrine of Election We believe that— all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man— God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves. Summary Verse 44 is every preacher's dream - that the entire city would show up to listen. Of course, Paul would be the first one to tell us that they weren't coming to hear him speak; after all, he admits often in his letters that he wasn't an impressive speaker. It wasn't a celebrity preacher the people came out for, rather, they "gathered to hear the word of the Lord." God's Word contains immense power, especially when it's proclaimed to people as Paul and Barnabas were doing. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel - that is, the message of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ - is the very "power of God!" We picked up our reading today at verse 42. Most of the verses that come before today's passage in chapter 13 record the first powerful sermon Paul preached in Antioch. Like any good sermon, it's full of scripture references, and it has a clear gospel call in v38-39: ...through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin... But a few verses later, the sermon ends and nothing really happens. There's no emotional altar call as Barnabas quietly strums his guitar to the tune of Just As I Am, and Paul doesn't ask for a show of hands while everybody's eyes are closed from those who accepted Christ. There's just a cordial invitation for Paul and Barabbas to return the following Sabbath. If preaching is so powerful, why wasn't anybody converted in that first sermon in Antioch? Why are there so many people who let these powerful, life bringing words just bounce off of their ears? Dig Deeper Something resonated with people the first time Paul preached there; enough that word spread and the whole city - not just the Jews - showed up to hear Paul & Barnabas preach the following week. And it was at this second time that the work of the Spirit suddenly became visible. But the first manifestation didn't look the way we might expect. Rather than a people rejoicing in their newly discovered forgiveness, we see a group of Jews who saw the crowds and "were filled with jealosy (v45)." That's the thing with the Holy Spirit: when He moves upon people, they certainly react, but only those who are "appointed to eternal life believe (v48)." And so it was with the Gentiles who "honored the word of the Lord (v48)." These, the unlikeliest of converts, people who had probably never heard a verse of scripture before this day, these were people who had been appointed for eternal life by our loving Father before the world had even been formed. Remember these ancient Gentiles from Antioch. Your salvation doesn't come because of your commitment to serving your church (the Jews had much more), and it doesn't come because you have an awesome preacher (although God does use him). Your salvation comes to you simply because, as our Confession puts it, God "elected and chose you in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of your works." AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who appointed us to salvation and provides the means for us to recieve it; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that the doctrine of election will humble you so that you might better serve God; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 2

  • Ephesians 1:3-6 - Predestined Praise

    You were predestined to read this post. Ephesians 1:3-6 (NIV) 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 16: The Doctrine of Election We believe that— all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man— God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves. Summary The concept of predestination - the idea that God determined, as v4 says, "before the creation of the world" who would receive His grace - is amongst the most difficult doctrines of the Bible for most people. Yet that's not the category Paul frames it in here at all! Rather, this is the first thing Paul writes to the Ephesians; not as a matter of profound mystery, but as the primary basis for doxology (words of praise). "Praise be to God," Paul begins, "for he chose us in Him before the creation of the world..." There is absolutely nothing you can be told or discover about yourself that will give you more of a sense of self worth than this: to know that before God called light itself into being, He knew who you were and had chosen you to be His own! No wonder Paul places this difficult to digest doctrine as the primary foundation of our praise for God! One of the reasons we have trouble understanding this is because we know ourselves all to well. Other people easily see the myriads of sin and faults in our daily lives, and you yourself know that the stench goes way deeper than what others can see. Why would God want someone so broken? The short answer is that He doesn't. He does for sure want you, but He wants you "to be holy and blameless in His sight." This is why Jesus came to be Immanuel - God With Us - and why our Father, in His eternal love, "predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ." That is, He set us apart so that the holiness and blamelessness of Christ would belong to us and we would be made eternally acceptable to our Father. Dig Deeper Because this doctrine of predestination is so hard to wrap your head around, there have been all sorts of cooked up explanations to help make it conform to our idea of fairness and logic. One of the most famous erroneas explanations is this: Predestination means that before God created the world, He looked down the corridors of time and chose those whom He saw would be faithful and obedient to Him. This seems to make the whole idea easier to swallow, since it seems way more fair and not so arbitrary. But if this were the case, why would it form the basis for our doxology, as Paul presents it here at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians? All God really did is look into the future to see how awesome we were; He simply recognized we were better than everyone else in the world, and so really His choosing us is how God praises and honors us! See how quickly false doctrine turns into idolatry? The Bible tells us here that God did something much more impressive than just looking down the corridors of time. He doesn't just look down them, rather God formed and directed the corridors of time before time began so that all of the experiences you've had ultimately direct you to Christ! As we've read in Romans 8:28, "In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Understanding the doctrine of predestination will never be easy, nor even completely possible. There will always be a mysterious aspect to it. But ultimately remember that this doctrine isn't meant to confuse or frustrate you, rather it's to move you "to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that as you wrestle with difficult doctrines, you will respond in praise and glory to the One who chose you to belong to Him; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 1

  • Deuteronomy 7:7-10 - Fully Merciful and Fully Just

    Don't fall in the trap of thinking God's mercy will negate His justice! Deuteronomy 7:7-10 (NIV) 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your fathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 10 But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. Listen to passage & devotional: Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 16: The Doctrine of Election We believe that— all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man— God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves. Summary God's chosen people. What a way to think of ourselves! Often the word 'choice' conveys quality and superiority, as in the USDA's grade of 'choice' for meat or a 'choice' bottle of wine. So it's easy to begin to think that there was something that set us apart from the common herd of humanity that God saw when choosing us for Himself. But God quickly snuffs out any notion that people like us are any better than people in general. He makes plain to His newly freed covenant people as they began their trek to the Promised Land not to think that they "were more numerous" than other groups, because the were actually "the fewest" (literally: the smallest). In other words, God didn't choose Israel because they were the biggest, strongest, most advanced nation in the world, because they were actually the smallest, weakest and nothing more than a bunch of escaped slaves. Fast forwarded to the book of Acts, which chronicles the early development and growth of the church, and you'll see that God followed the same pattern as He called an eclectic, but in no way impressive (as least according to the world) group of people to salvation. So you need to continually stuff away any sort of pride that sneaks into your psyche trying to convince you that somehow you were more worthy of saving than others. God tells us here exactly what His criteria is for whom He elects to salvation: His own faithfulness to the covenant. He is faithful to save those He's obligated Himself to, as by His grace they love Him and keep His commandments (v8-9). Dig Deeper It's popular to pit God's mercy which brings people to salvation against His justice by which He will repay those who hate Him with eternal destruction. Somehow, His merciful, covenant love will strengthen as His anger towards sin diminishes until all that's left is His gracious mercy and blessings. But this is not at all the message of the Bible. God reveals Himself as both fully merciful and fully just. There are countless accounts in scripture and in our own histories in which God demonstrates His merciful, covenant love to His people, as He had just done for the Israelites in today's passage. Yet at the same time, He remains true to His justice by repaying sin (notice the word 'repay' was used twice in v10 - sin must be paid for, either by the sinner or a substitute). The Heidelberg Catechism, which we used as our Bible reading road map last year, says it the best. Question & answer 11 says, God is certainly merciful, but he is also just. His justice demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty— eternal punishment of body and soul. This is why in His endless mercy for His covenant people, God sent His one and only Son to pay with His life to fully atone for your sin and fully satisfy God's justice. This means that all those who are in Christ will forever experience the never ending mercy of God, and all those who remain in sinful Adam will experience nothing but God's holy wrath and justice. Make sure, by the profession of your mouth and the belief in your heart (Romans 10:9) that you are in Christ! AAA Prayer (About) ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, the Lord your God, is God; He is the faithful God who keeps His covenant of love; ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for choosing you to belong to His covenant and showing you His mercy in Christ, and pray that His election will humble you rather than stir up false pride; ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Matthew 28

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