Missions, Romans, and Bethel Church

Gospel Mission was Paul’s “Oblitunity” (and Ours as Well)

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:14–15 ESV)

“Oblitunity” is a word we like to use around Bethel. I made it up. It is a mashup of obligation and opportunity and it describes Christian duties which also are our delight; when what we have to do is what we also very much want to do. Kissing our wives. Duty or delight? Both. Caring for our children. Duty or delight? Both. Obligation and opportunity. Oblitunity.

Missions and gospel ministry was for Paul his greatest oblitunity. We see it here. I am under obligation to preach the gospel to everyone. The word for obligation comes from a Greek word that means “debtor.” A debt is something you have to pay. It is something you have to do. Paul HAD to preach the gospel. Christ had commissioned Paul. God’s grace deeply moved Paul to want to share. Yet the next verse shares his heart. “I am eager to preach…to…Rome.” Eager means “joy, glad, happy.” Paul was enthusiastic about the opportunity.

This, of course, reflects the heart of Jesus who was no begrudging Savior. Rather he came with joy to save us. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Paul was a happy apostle and Jesus was, and is, our joyous Savior. The Great Commission is rooted in this joy. Indeed, the word gospel means, “good news.”

Listen to the words of the great pioneer missionary to Africa, David Livingstone, who suffered so many things in his pursuit of Africa for Christ in the mid-1800s.

“People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa…. It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”[1]

What turns sacrifice into joy? Love. Joy. Gladness in God. Romans is a letter animated by joy in God’s gracious mission to save sinners.

Why is Missions Urgent? The Reality of the Wrath of God

Paul begins the greatest explanation of the gospel, not with the good news, but with the bad news. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18) It is a hard doctrine, but the plain fact is that without a personal belief in Jesus as Savior, every single person who has ever lived will experience forever God’s wrath and judgment.

The final place for this is hell. Jesus spoke of eternal punishment often describing it as:

  • A place of fire and burning (Matthew 3:12)
  • Eternal weeping and “gnashing (grinding) of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42)
  • The gulf between heaven and hell is “fixed” (Luke 16:26)

Every description of hell is terrible beyond anything we can even imagine. You don’t want to go there for one second, much less forever.

This creates missional urgency. This prioritizes reaching our children and neighbors for Christ. This motivates pioneer missions work in places where the gospel has not been heard. The wrath of God urges on Wycliffe Bible Translators to translate the Scriptures into obscure languages. The gospel forces us to look at the people of the world through the lens of impending wrath and judgment.

Stop this week sometime and just look at the bustling people around you in the restaurant or at college or on the interstate. Take a moment and consider the incredible reality that every person you see will spend eternity either in torment beyond what we can imagine or eternal bliss and joy beyond what our minds can conceive. What determines that destiny? Whether they are under God’s wrath as the due punishment for their sin or under God’s grace by faith in Jesus. That’s the bottom line. And most of what you and I worried about this week won’t matter one bit one second after we die, and these realities are unchangeably fixed forever.

Missions is motivated by the wrath and grace of God.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

 

[1] David Livingstone as quoted by John Piper, “I Never Made a Sacrifice,” www.desiringgod.org, March 19, 2018.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Advertisements

If Abraham was Saved by Faith Alone, Then…

All Jews and All Gentiles Can be Saved by Faith Alone

“Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.(Romans 4:9-12 ESV)

Here is the power of Paul’s argument. He merely points out that Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised. There’s no way to get through Romans without getting over the awkwardness of talking about circumcision. There. I acknowledged it. I won’t again and hope we can see circumcision maturely and theologically. For the Jews this had become more than a sign of the covenant. It was a sign of God’s favor and blessing; dare I say a guarantee of eternal forgiveness and life. Similarly, the lack of circumcision was seen essentially as a sign of divine disfavor. So, all the Gentiles were under God’s wrath. They were uncircumcised.

What does Paul do? He points out the obvious. God reckoned Abraham righteous while he was uncircumcised. At least 14 years before, maybe 29 by some opinions. For up to three decades, the not-yet-circumcised Abraham lived declared righteous. Here is the skeleton in the Jewish closet: Abraham was saved without the sign!

Human Pride and Salvation by Faith Alone

Look who I am!

“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:29-30 ESV)

The key phrase here is, “since God is one.” He is clearly addressing the Jews at Rome since the oneness of God was and is to this day the central truth of Judaism. Every practicing Jew quotes each day the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Paul applies the singularity of God to salvation and says, because God is one there is only one way to God. What’s that? Justification through faith. See it, “who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith.” (Romans 3:30) “Circumcision” is code for Jews. “Uncircumcised” is code for Gentiles. In other words, one God. One way to God that is the same for everyone.

Here Paul is challenging ethnic pride or the assumption that so many Jews had, which was that because they were physical descendants of Abraham, the chosen people of God, their ethnicity was a basis for saving favor from God. We are Jews! God likes us more!

No. With God there is no discrimination or partiality. The most non-racist person in the universe is the one who made all the races and loves them—God. This was the lesson Jonah had to learn in Nineveh. This was the lesson Peter had to learn with his vision of the sheet coming down. Are we better than the prophet and the apostle? Do we subtly assume God’s favor because of some category we find ourselves in?

Christ Appeases the Father’s Anger

“Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26 ESV)

Forbearance

Our sixth word in the text is forbearance. You see it here. Divine forbearance. Paul anticipates the person who is tracking with propitiation saying, so God is angry with our sin, right? Yes. Jesus died for our sins, right? Right. What about all the people for centuries who sinned before Jesus was even around? What about them? Great question. What about them?

God would have been completely just to immediately usher the sinner into eternal punishment. Adam and Eve, you sinned. To hell you go. Complete justice. But what did God do with Adam and Eve? He promised that from Eve’s offspring one would come who would crush the serpent. (Genesis 3:15) He made them clothes to cover their nakedness and their shame. He gave them children: Cain, Abel, and Seth. He gave them long life. How could God do that when their sin seemed to demand immediate punishment?

The answer is forbearance.

Our Righteousness from God

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21–24 ESV)

Redemption

This word has so long been associated with the gospel that we miss its origin related to slavery. Historically, redemption was to make a payment to set a slave free. Slaves had a redemption price. Someone could pay the price to set the slave free. When he did, the slave was “redeemed.”

This is the answer to the justice warriors who look at biblical justification and protest, God is unjust in making us just. God is unrighteous in making us righteous. Our freedom must cost something.

The parallel on Memorial Day is profound. Why do we celebrate Memorial Day? It shapes our understanding of our freedom as Americans. We live in a free society. Free from what? Free from tyranny. Free from fascism. Free with rights granted to us by our constitution.

We are free, but is our freedom free? Memorial Day reminds us that our freedom has come at a tremendous price. According to one study, the total number of servicemen and servicewomen killed in wars in US history is around 1.1 million. 1.1 million people died so that we could be free. Is freedom in the US free? A tremendous price has been paid so we can worship freely, speak freely, vote freely, and live freely.

God offers forgiveness of sins freely. God offers justification freely. God provides salvation freely, but that doesn’t mean it is free to God. An unimaginable payment had to be made. “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24) Just like 1.1 million have paid the ultimate price for our “free” freedom, Jesus Christ paid the ransom price by his death on the cross. This payment allows God to be both, “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)

Jesus’ death fulfilled the righteous requirement of God’s moral law, and his death in our place allows God to give what is free to us while maintaining his own righteousness in giving it. He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)

So, we end where we often do. What about you? Christian, can God’s Word bring you again to a point of profound gratefulness for righteousness given to you as a gift? To once again stand amazed that God would pay such a price for your redemption? To look to Jesus and see in his death the ransom payment for you? To see yourself standing in eternity righteous and forgiven experiencing the joys of eternal life and eternal bliss knowing you don’t deserve it? It is the ultimate gift.

And for the not-yet-a-Christian, understand through God’s Word that this glorious salvation comes only by faith—not by your doings or goodness or accomplishment—but simply by trusting in this gospel that all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Redeemer will be justified in God’s eyes.

So, may Christians be amazed, humbled, and grateful. May sinners be saved today by putting their trust in Jesus and receiving this free gift. May God be glorified as just and justifier of all who believe in Jesus.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

None Righteous Before God, Only One

The Verdict

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:9–20 ESV)

The Jews trusted in the Law to save them. Instead, it serves to condemn them, and us too. If even the chosen people of God are under his condemnation, then the whole world is. The Law shows the moral line God requires and how far short of it we all fall. He will summarize this in a few verses, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Think of how a laser level works. Construction guys use this when they want to know where plumb is. Where straight is. Where flush is. That’s what the line is. It’s a decisive line. If you’re building something and you put the laser level up and you realize that the wall you’re building is off, you can say that the problem is the laser level. I’m gonna play with my laser level so my wall looks better. And then you’re promptly fired.

Construction guys who stay in the trade are the ones who see the line and they see what they’re doing according to the line. Human being, listen. If you’re going to somehow be righteous before God, the entire Law of God, all 613 commands must be fulfilled perfectly your entire life in action and in attitude; that’s the line. You must morally be at the line. But there’s none who make it to the line. Not even one.

And the result is that when the Law is laid out before us, it shuts us up.

Mr. Synagogue Confronts Mr. Apostle

Is Israel’s Unfaithfulness an Indication of God’s Unfaithfulness?

“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” (Romans 3:3-4 ESV)

 What does human failure say about God’s supposed faithfulness? Or what does it say about God when the Jews, in particular, ended up deported to Babylon and their temple was destroyed? Was God unfaithful? Was the Jewish experiment an epic divine failure? God’s Waterloo?

Paul’s response is strong, “By no means!” We may say, “No way!” To prove God can and should judge, he quotes from Psalm 51 and King David’s acknowledgment of his sin and that God’s words and judgments are true.