The Motivation to Give

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philippians 4:14-23 ESV

Paul was grateful, and he expressed that gratitude to the Philippian church. They had lovingly and generously reached out to him in what they believed to be was his time of need. Paul didn’t want his admission that he had no needs to come across as ungratefulness or to offend his brothers and sisters in Christ. They had seen Paul in trouble and had reached out in love and concern.

And Paul wanted them to know that he was appreciative because not every church had been as kind and caring. Not only had some of the places in which he had preached failed to give toward his ministry, that had rejected his message. While Paul had been in Macedonia and Thessalonica, it had been the Philippians who had donated toward his ministry and provided for his needs.

Yet Paul, always trying to keep their minds focused on what is truly important, reminds them that their eternal reward is of far greater importance value than any temporal benefit he may have received from their gift. God was going to reward them for their generosity. He would bless them for their willingness to sacrifice on Paul’s behalf. The gift was not the important thing. It was the condition of hearts behind the gift.

The generosity of their gift had left Paul well-supplied and in need of nothing. But,  more importantly, their gift had been “a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18 NLT). Paul was blessed, God was pleased, and the Philippians were fruitful. What more could Paul ask for?

And Paul wanted the Philippians to know that the God who had met for his needs through them would be faithful to do the same for them.

“…this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19 NLT

God loves a cheerful giver. And God expresses His love for that giver by generously meeting their needs. Paul expressed this very same idea to the church in Corinth.

Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NLT

Paul was not preaching a prosperity gospel. He wasn’t suggesting that we should give to get. Personal reward should not be the motivation behind our generosity. That is a totally self-centered and selfish approach that does not gel with Scripture. But it is important that we understand that gracious, selfless giving is proof of the Spirit’s work in our life. It reveals His presence and power.

But if the things we do are motivated out of a desire for reward and recognition, we will never enjoy the blessings of God. Jesus made this perfectly clear in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Paul expressed his thanks, but he didn’t want the Philippians to mistakenly assume that it was the nature of their gift that had earned them a reward from God. He didn’t want them to think that God was now somehow obligated to them or owed them a blessing. It was their love for Paul that was important. The gift was simply an expression of that love. We can all give, pray, and fast, expecting God to reward us for doing so. But if we don’t do it out of love, our giving, praying, and fasting have no value in God’s eyes.

Paul was able to declare that God had met each and every one of his needs. And Paul knew that God would continue to do so. God Almighty wasn’t reliant upon the Philippians to meet Paul’s needs. He could have sent an angel to minister to Paul. But God allowed the Philippians the joy of knowing what it is like to be used by Him. They got to experience the blessing of being His hands and feet. And their sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, as evidenced by their gift to Paul, was meant to remind them that God was at work in them. And this brings us full-circle to a statement Paul had made earlier in his letter to them.

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:12-13 NLT

They were, and God was. Their gift blessed Paul, pleased God, and rewarded them.

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Until the Spirit is Poured Upon Us

Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice;
    you complacent daughters, give ear to my speech.
10 In little more than a year
    you will shudder, you complacent women;
for the grape harvest fails,
    the fruit harvest will not come.
11 Tremble, you women who are at ease,
    shudder, you complacent ones;
strip, and make yourselves bare,
    and tie sackcloth around your waist.
12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields,
    for the fruitful vine,
13 for the soil of my people
    growing up in thorns and briers,
yes, for all the joyous houses
    in the exultant city.
14 For the palace is forsaken,
    the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower
    will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys,
    a pasture of flocks;
15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
    and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
    and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
    and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
    in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
19 And it will hail when the forest falls down,
    and the city will be utterly laid low.
20 Happy are you who sow beside all waters,
    who let the feet of the ox and the donkey range free. – Isaiah 32:9-20 ESV

Isaiah has announced the coming of a righteous king and has called the people of Judah to “Return to the one against whom you have so blatantly rebelled!” (Isaiah 31:5 NET). He has delivered God’s stinging indictment against the leaders of the nation, labeling them as “stubborn children…who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit” (Isaiah 30:1 ESV).  Now, the prophet directs his message to the women of Judah. This is intended to reveal that Judah’s problem is pervasive, and not relegated to a particular class or gender of people. Even the women of Judah are guilty of rebellion against God. So, Isaiah calls them out.

You complacent women,
get up and listen to me!
You carefree daughters,
pay attention to what I say! – Isaiah 32:1 NET

He uses two words to describe these women. The first is sha’anan, which portrays them as being a bit haughty and aloof, living with a false sense of ease and confidence. The second word he uses is batach, and it paints them as having a false sense of security. To put it in more modern terms, Isaiah is saying they are “fat and happy.” Which is somewhat similar to the words the prophet Amos used when he called out the women of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Listen to me, you fat cows
    living in Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor
    and crush the needy,
and who are always calling to your husbands,
    “Bring us another drink!” – Amos 4:1 NLT

Isaiah attempts to light a fire under these carefree and complacent women, pleading with them to listen to what he has to say. Time is running out. Judgment is coming. In fact, Isaiah warns that “In a short time—just a little more than a year—you careless ones will suddenly begin to care” (Isaiah 32:10 NLT). God will get their attention. Their false sense of security will be suddenly shattered. Their smug demeanor will be replaced with fear.

Tremble, you women of ease;
    throw off your complacency.
Strip off your pretty clothes,
    and put on burlap to show your grief.
Beat your breasts in sorrow for your bountiful farms
    and your fruitful grapevines. – Isaiah 32:11 NLT

Isaiah calls on these women to repent. He warns them to change their attitude now before the judgment of God falls on them. They need to replace their false sense of security with a fear of God. They need to remove their fine clothing and put on the garments of mourning, as a sign of their sorrow for having offended a holy God. They need to repent over their misplaced trust, as illustrated by their over-confidence in their bountiful farms and fruitful grapevines. These women, like everyone else in the nation, had come to believe that they were somehow invincible and their material prosperity was a sign of God’s favor.

Yet, Isaiah lets them know that everything in which they have trusted will suddenly be taken from them. He depicts a dramatic reversal of fortunes for these women and the nation.

For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers.
    Your joyful homes and happy towns will be gone.
The palace and the city will be deserted,
    and busy towns will be empty.
Wild donkeys will frolic and flocks will graze
    in the empty forts and watchtowers – Isaiah 32:13-14 NLT

Their material world was going to be rocked. Nothing will be left untouched. Houses, towns, palaces, and pastures, will all bear the brunt of God’s righteous wrath. Because these things represent the source of their security. Their material possessions had become substitutes for God. They found peace in the shelter of their houses, not the arms of God. They felt safe because of the fortifications of their cities, not because of their God. They relied on the fruitfulness of their fields and orchards for sustenance, rather than God. In short, they worshiped the gifts rather than the Giver.

But God was about to change all that. In the relatively short-term, God would bring destruction upon the nation of Judah. In 701 BC, Sennacherib besieged the city of Jerusalem, creating extremely difficult conditions within its walls. Even before the siege began, the emissary for the king had warned the people in the city:

“Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine.” – 2 Kings 18:27 NLT

As we have seen, God eventually spared the city of Jerusalem, miraculously defeating the Assyrian army. In the middle of the night, an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of the enemy’s troops, forcing Sennacherib to call off the siege and return to Assyria. But 115 years later, the destruction of Jerusalem would finally come. In 586 BC, after another lengthy and devastating siege, the Babylonians, under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar, breached the walls the city and completely destroyed it.

At this point, as Isaiah addresses the women of Judah, all of these events had not yet happened. They lie somewhere in the future; as yet unfulfilled, but unavoidable. Because they did happen. God’s judgment did come. Homes were destroyed, palaces demolished, the temple burned and razed, and the people taken captive. And Isaiah warns that the desolation of Judah would continue until another, as yet unfulfilled event took place. He describes the desolation of Jerusalem continuing “until at last the Spirit is poured out on us from heaven” (Isaiah 32:15 NLT).

With the coming of this future day, another incredible reversal of fortunes will take place. Isaiah describes the wilderness becoming a fertile field yielding bountiful crops. And the most abundant fruit to be found will be justice and righteousness. It will be a time marked by peace. And in place of the cocky confidence of the women of Judah, will be a quiet and confidence that comes from God.

And this righteousness will bring peace. Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest. – Isaiah 32:17-18 NLT

Rather than trusting in material things and finding their hope and security in the gifts, the people of Judah will turn to the Giver of all good things. And He will bless them.

the Lord will greatly bless his people.
    Wherever they plant seed, bountiful crops will spring up.
Their cattle and donkeys will graze freely. – Isaiah 32:20 NLT

This day has not yet come. This prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. But it will be. Just as the Assyrians besieged the city and the Babylonians destroyed it, the day will come when the Lord pours out His blessings upon Jerusalem and the people of Israel.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

And that plan includes the future restoration of His people. He will pour out His Spirit upon them and they will become all that He has intended for them to be all along.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

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

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blaspheming the Spirit.

 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:22-32 ESV

Matthew continues to arrange the events of Jesus’ life in order to provide further proof of His claim to be the Messiah. He had come declaring Himself to be the long-awaited King of the Jews and calling the people to repentance. The Kingdom they had been eagerly and patiently anticipating had come.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV

Mark records that, immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

But the Jews were having a difficult time reconciling their expectations of the promised Messiah with what they were witnessing in the actions of Jesus. Yes, they were amazed by His miracles and attracted to His message, but He did not act or look like a king. He had no royal retinue, only a small, ragtag group of disciples made up of former fishermen, a tax collector and other assorted nobodies. Apart from His miracles, there was little about Him that would have led the people to see Him as the Messiah. Which is why, even after having watched Him cast out another demon, they responded, “Can this be the Son of David?” Actually, their question can best be translated as, “He can’t be the Son of David, can He?” They were filled with doubt and misgivings. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah, but they were having a difficult time resolving their dreams with reality.

The Pharisees, fearing that the people were being swayed by Jesus’ miracles and rhetoric, declared Him to be operating in the power of Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

Beelzebul was another name for Satan. These religious leaders could not deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles. They had been eye-witnesses of many of the healings Jesus had performed and had just seen Him cast the demon from the blind and mute man. But they were unwilling to attribute the power of Jesus to God, instead accusing Him of being under the influence of Satan.

Jesus responded by revealing the non-sensical nature of their accusation. Why would Beelzebul, the prince of demons, provide Jesus with power to cast out demons? What benefit would Satan gain from such an arrangement? In fact, Jesus reveals the self-destructive nature of such a plan.

“…if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” – Matthew 12:26 ESV

Then Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees, asking whether their own “sons” were casting out demons by the power of Satan as well. Jesus had not been the first to exorcise demons. We know from the book of Acts, that there were others who at least attempted to do so.

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. – Acts 19:13-14 ESV

So, how did the Pharisees justify the actions of such people? Were they also under the influence of Satan? Jesus concluded that the reasoning of the Pharisees was flawed and highly biased. They were rejecting Him, and in doing so, they were rejecting the arrival of His Kingdom. And Jesus blatantly contradicted their assessment, claiming to be operating by the power of the Spirit of God. Not only that, His demonstrations of that power were proof that the kingdom of God had come.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28 ESV

With the arrival of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had broken into the earthly realm. In the opening chapter of his Gospel, Matthew recorded the announcement of the angel regarding the virgin birth of Jesus, a fulfillment of the promise of God.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:22-23 ESV

Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. His birth made the presence of God tangible and touchable.

He is the image of the invisible God… – Colossians 1:15 ESV

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

But they refused to acknowledge Jesus as God. And rather than admit that Jesus was operating under the power of the Spirit of God, they attributed His actions to Satan, an action Jesus described as blasphemy. But He was very specific in His accusation, declaring them to be guilty of “blasphemy against the Spirit.” And then He dropped the bombshell that this kind of blasphemy was unforgiveable in nature. They could say all they wanted against Him and be forgiven, but their decision to blaspheme the Spirit of God was unforgivable.

In essence, Jesus was declaring that His power to heal had been given to Him by the Spirit of God and was proof that He was the Messiah. To deny this proof was to reject the testimony of the Spirit of God. It was to refuse to accept Jesus as who God, through the Spirit, declared Him to be. If you recall, when Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove, and God declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus had been accompanied by the verbal, audible testimony of God. Jesus was His Son.

By attributing to Satan, the works done by Jesus, made possible by the indwelling Spirit of God, the Pharisees were rejecting the power of the Spirit and the testimony of God. The unforgiveable sin is the rejection of Jesus as Messiah. For this sin there is no forgiveness, “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32 ESV). The Pharisees would be forgiven their verbal abuse of Jesus, if they eventually accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. But if they continued to deny the testimony of God and the visible proof of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, they would not be forgiven.

The interesting aspect of this whole encounter was that the Pharisees were blind to the reality of Jesus’ claim because they denied the proof of the Spirit of God. They were devoid of the Spirit themselves. The apostle Paul would later write:

So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT

And John would also provide further insight into the Spirit’s illuminating role in man’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh.

This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT 

But the Pharisees, lacking the presence of the Spirit of God, were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. And Jesus declared them to be aligned against Him, operating in direct opposition to His divine mission.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30 ESV

The battle lines were drawn. The King had come. The Son of God had taken on human flesh and was in the process of fulfilling the divine will of His Heavenly Father. But the Pharisees represented the forces of this world, aligned against the redemptive plan of God. And their hatred of Jesus was going to end up destroying them. While they would eventually succeed in putting Jesus to death, they would fail in their efforts to put an end to His rule and reign. They could deny His claim to be the Messiah, but they could not deny His right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.

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

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Talk, No Power.

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? – 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 ESV

Paul wasn’t out to embarrass or demean the believers in Corinth. But he simply wanted to lovingly expose the error of their way. He refers to himself as their “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15b ESV). He calls them “my beloved children” (1 Corinthians 4:14b ESV). He wants to remind them that it was he who had originally brought the good news of Jesus Christ to them and presented to them the life-altering message of reconciliation with God made possible through faith in His Son. At each of their conversions they had received not only the forgiveness of their sins, but the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. Their salvation had been the work of God from beginning to end. It was only by His grace that they could claim to be His children. And so there was no room for boasting, pride or arrogance of any kind.

Over time, since accepting Christ, they had been privileged to have “countless guides.” Paul is referring to men like Cephas and Apollos, whom God had used to instruct and guide them in the faith. Paul uses the Greek word, παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which refers to…

a tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood. (“G3807 – paidagōgos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

But these teachers and tutors were not to be a replacement of the father of the son. He held a special place in the lives of his children. They owed their very existence to him. And it was this thought that Paul seems to have in mind. He is not bragging, but simply stating the fact that had he not come to them with the message of the gospel, they would still be in their sins and separated from God. Paul is not asking for special recognition and, based on everything else he has written, he is not expecting them to idolize him. He only wants them to stop their pointless arguing and prideful posturing. There was a spirit of pride that had begun to permeate the church in Corinth and Paul wanted to put a stop to it.

Interestingly enough, Paul invites them to imitate him. This could easily come across as a prideful statement if we did not know so much about Paul and his life. His was not a life of ease and comfort. He had a reputation for serving Christ in humility and obedience. He was the consummate servant, sacrificing even his health for the sake of the body of Christ. That is why he could say, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16 ESV). And because he could not be with them, he had sent Timothy “to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17b ESV). Paul wasn’t just interested in promoting the teachings of Christ, he wanted to model them. He wanted to show through his very own life what Christ-likeness really looked like. Paul insisted that “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV). Anyone can teach and talk a good game, but if what they teach does not show up in their day-to-day life, their words lack power. The pastor who can craft a good message and wow the audience with his rhetorical skills, but who does not live out the power of the gospel in his life, is all talk, no action. Later on in this letter, Paul challenges the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). So Paul was not making this stuff up. He wasn’t encouraging them to ”do as I say,” but to “do what I do” because he was following the example of Christ.

How many of us could issue that same challenge with confidence? Are our lives a reflection of the life of Christ? Are we following His example? Or are we all talk, no action. They say talk is cheap. I can know all that Christ taught, but if I don’t put it into action, it means nothing. Paul was fully confident that his life was worthy of emulation because his life was modeled after that of Christ. He was not claiming perfection or sinlessness. He was not putting himself up as an icon of virtue or moral excellence. He was a work in progress. God was continually molding and making him into the likeness of Christ. He told the believers in Philippi, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). At one time, Paul had told Timothy, his young protegé in the faith, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT). Paul was an example of the patience and mercy of God. He had not deserved salvation, but God had graciously extended it to him. His life was an example of the mercy and grace of God, but also of the presence of the Holy Spirit as His sanctifying power continued to change his life.

Paul was so passionate about this issue, that he threatened to show up like a father ready to discipline his wayward children. He loved them too much to watch them live their lives in arrogant pride rather than in humble submission to God’s divine will for them. The time for talk was over. It was a time for action and for the life-altering power of the Spirit to show up in their daily behavior.

Justification and Sanctification.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:1-9 ESV

Paul describes the Galatian believers as “bewitched.” The Greek word he used is βασκαίνω (baskainō) and it can mean “to fascinate by false representations” (“G940 – baskainō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was as if they were under some kind of a spell, cast on them by those who were teaching that they must submit to circumcision and the keeping of the Mosaic law to be truly justified before God. They were being coerced into believing that faith in Christ alone was not enough. And Paul was frustrated that they would so easily succumb to a message that was so contradictory to the one he had preached to them. Paul had gone out of his way to vividly portray the significance of Christ’s crucifixion and its one-of-a-kind role in their justification before God. As Paul made clear to the believers in Rome: “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT).

The law was incapable of justifying anyone before God. Not because the law was at fault, but because of man’s sinful nature. Justification by the law would have required absolute adherence to each and every one of God’s commands. As James makes quite clear, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10 ESV). No one could be justified by keeping the law. It was impossible. Except for one individual, Jesus Christ, who kept the law of God perfectly. It was His sinless adherence to the law that made Him the perfect, unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind. So rather than men having to put their faith in their own ability to keep the law, they would be able to place their faith in the finished work of jesus Christ. And Paul will elaborate on this very point just a few verses later: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Galatians 3:11 ESV).

Paul even uses the Hebrew patriarch, Abraham, as a point of reference. He reminds his readers of what the Old Testament states about Abraham: “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’” (Galatians 3:6 ESV). This is a direct quote from Genesis 15, where God confirmed His covenant promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation. Abraham had just attempted to coerce God into considering Eliezer, his servant, as his heir. Since Abraham and Sarah were both old and she was barren, it seemed obvious to him that they would never have a child of their own, so in order to help God fulfill his promise, Abraham offered a plan B. But God would rejected Abraham’s plan, and said to him, “‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:4-6 ESV).

Abraham placed his faith in God and in His promise to do the impossible. And what is important to recognize is that God deemed Abraham as righteous long before the law was given. It would be well over 400 years before the tablets of stone were carried by Moses down from Mount Sinai – “the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18 ESV).  God’s declaration of Abraham as righteous had nothing to do with the law, it was based solely on his faith in the promise of God. God had promised to make the “offspring” of Abraham a blessing to the nations. Paul emphasizes that the offspring or seed is to be understood as singular, speaking of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who was a descendant of Abraham. And to make sure his audience understands what he is saying, Paul makes it quite clear. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV).

So what’s Paul’s point? What is he really trying to say? That justification, man’s right standing before God is through faith in Christ alone. It is not through law-keeping. And if our justification is by faith, so is our sanctification. Our progressive growth in holiness is not based on human effort or attempts at living up to a particular standard. Sanctification is a work of the Spirit of God as He produces within us and through us His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Yes, it requires that we submit to the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are to pursue righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11). We are to strive after holiness (Hebrews 12:14). But our sanctification is ultimately based on faith – faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Like Abraham, the man of faith, our righteousness before God is based solely on faith, not works. And in the same way, our sanctification is based on faith, not works. This does not invalidate the need for works, but simply puts them in their right place. Our obedience to the will of God is a result of His justifying, sanctifying work in our lives made possible by our faith in the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Bad Fruit.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.– Galatians 5:13-21 ESV

One of the accusations the party of the circumcision leveled against Paul and his message of grace and freedom from the law was that it produced license. They most certainly used the teachings of Paul against him at this point. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). And yet, Paul went on to say, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV). Grace was not a license to sin. The freedom it provided from the Mosaic law was not ticket to live as we pleased. It freed us from having to keep the law in order to earn favor with God. The law held us captive to our sin and in bondage to our own weakness to do anything about it. But the salvation offered in Christ set us free. It was William Barclay who wrote, “the Christian is not the man who has become free to sin, but the man, who, by the grace of God, has become free not to sin.”

That is why Paul warned his readers to not use their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Their new-found freedom from having to keep the law did not mean they were free from having to live in keeping with the law. At one point in His ministry, Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of God was. He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV). Paul used these very words of Jesus to admonish his readers. Loving God meant living according to His holy will. Loving others required loving them selflessly and sacrificially, which is why Paul said, “through love serve one another.”

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul provided an entire chapter on the subject of love. In it he wrote, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-7 MSG).

But this kind of love is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Without His help and our reliance upon His power, we will tend to live in the power of our own sinful flesh. We will become selfish and self-centered. We will tend to gratify the desires of our old nature, which Paul describes with painful accuracy. These fleshly desires are the exact opposite of what the Spirit wants to produce in us. They are counter to the will of God and reflect a love for self more than a love for Him. They most certainly don’t model a love for others. Look at Paul’s list: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, and wild parties. Each of these “works of the flesh” reveal a disdain for God and a dislike for those around us.

The moral, ceremonial and civil sections of the Mosaic law were designed to regulate the lives of the people of Israel regarding their relationships with God and with one another. But as Jesus said, all of the commandments could be summed up by two simple commands: Love God and love others. Loving God meant not loving other gods. Loving others meant not becoming jealous of them, getting angry with them, lusting after them, or taking advantage of them. Notice that his list has more to do with our relationships with one another than our relationship with God. There is a reason for this. The apostle John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 ESV). The greatest expression of our love for God is to be found in our love for those whom He has made. When we love one another, we are loving God. When we live selflessly and sacrificially, we are exemplifying the very character of God. When our lives are marked by self-control and a focus on the needs of others, we reflect the nature of God. But all of these things are only possible when we live according to the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.

A life continually characterized by the works of the flesh is a life devoid of the Spirit of God. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have received the Spirit of God. They are no longer slaves to sin, incapable of living righteous lives. They have been given the Holy Spirit and have the power to love God and love others. That’s why Paul told the Romans, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all)” (Romans 8:9 NLT). The presence of the Spirit within us does not guarantee that we will live sinless lives, but it does mean that we don’t have to live sin-dominated lives. Living according to our own sinful flesh will always produce bad fruit. But living according to the Spirit of God produces good fruit that pleases God and blesses others.

 

Born to Love.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers,and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. – 1 Peter 1:22-25 ESV

Peter wanted his readers to understand that they had already been purified by the blood of Christ because of their “obedience to the truth.” The author of Hebrews told his Jewish audience something very similar. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14 ESV). It is the purifying nature of the blood of Christ that enables us to live obediently. Because of Christ’s sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross, we have received new natures. We have been set apart by God for His use and equipped to live in willing submission to His will. And as the author of Hebrews says, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

As a result of our new standing with God, we are to love one another from a pure heart. That is the key. Those who have placed their faith in Christ have had their hearts purified. We have a capacity to love like we never did before. We have been born again. We have experienced what Jesus described as a second birth. He told Nicodemus, the Pharisee, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). When Nicodemus revealed his confusion and consternation over this statement, Jesus replied, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). It is our new birth, our second birth, that makes new life possible. The work of God in our lives, through His Spirit and His Word, is imperishable. It is eternal, not temporal. It is spiritual, not fleshly. It is of heaven, not of this earth. The Word of the Lord, which reveals the good news concerning Jesus Christ, is powerful and eternal. It’s transformative influence on our lives is not dependent upon our flesh. Which is great news, because Peter reminds us that our human flesh is transitory and temporal. It will fade away. It is destined to decay and die with time. But the Word of God lasts forever. It is eternal and its impact on our lives is everlasting.

We have been born again. And Paul reminds us, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 ESV). In the very next chapter of his letter, Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). Our new standing before God as His sons and daughters should prompt us to live our lives in such a way that they bring glory and honor to Him. And we are not left to depend upon our own human strength to pull it off. We have been given the Spirit of God and the Word of God to make our obedience possible. We can and should live differently because we are different.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4 ESV

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. – Galatians 5:24-25 ESV

Living for Christ is possible only because we died with Christ. We are now dead to sin and alive to Christ. So our lives should reflect our new identity and expose our new capacity to live and love like Jesus did. We now are able to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”

Resurrection Life.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:8-11 ESV

Paul has made it clear that we are to live according to the Spirit of God who lives within us, not according to our old sinful nature. But as he so honestly confessed in chapter seven, there will be times when we find ourselves giving in to that old nature, doing the very things we do not want to do. Our minds, while well-intentioned, will give in to our sin nature – if we attempt to live holy lives apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit. That is why Paul opens up verse nine with the statement: “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” In other words, those who had placed their faith in Christ had died along with Him on the cross. And because they died with Him, their spiritual natures had been set free the control of their earthly bodies. Christ “condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). To walk according to the Spirit simply means to live in submission to His will and in dependence upon His power. When Paul says, “you, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit,” he is not saying our sin nature is gone and all fleshly desires are done away with. He is saying that we have a new way of living provided for us by God. It is the law of the Spirit of life that has set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

And Paul makes it clear that if anyone has placed their faith in Christ, they have the Spirit of God living within them. NOT to have the Spirit is to be unsaved and unjustified before God. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9 ESV). The Spirit is given by God to every believer at their conversion. Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV). It is the indwelling presence of the Spirit that provides proof of our justification before God. He places His Spirit within us, signifying our new status as His children and providing us with a new capacity to live holy lives that is no longer externally, but internally driven. And while we still live in these earthly bodies that are destined to die because of sin, the Spirit provides us with life because we are now righteous before God. We have the guarantee of eternal life, never-ending fellowship with God, but also abundant life here and now. Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). Satan, our enemy, wants to rob us of life. He wants us to live according to our old sin-enslaved nature, which is driven by the passions of our earthly bodies. But Jesus died so that we might have life, and the Spirit provides us with the power to enjoy that life, right here, right now. Zane Hodges nailed it when he wrote, “. . . whenever you see a Christian living the Christian life, you are witnessing a resurrection miracle!” (“The Death/Life Option,” Grace Evangelical Society News). Because we have been made right with God through the death of Christ and have received the Spirit of God as proof of that newly restored relationship, we can walk in newness of life. We can live differently. We can actually live holy lives, not based on our feeble human effort, but because we have within us the very Spirit of God. And as Paul reminds us, the Spirit who lives within us is the very same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. And, Paul tells us, “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11 ESV). 

There is a day coming when we will be given new, resurrected bodies. We will no longer struggle with sin, sickness and pain. Death will no longer be a looming reality hanging over our heads like a sword. The apostle John tells us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). But while we wait for that day to come, we can still walk in newness of life. We can enjoy abundant, rich and satisfying life on this earth, even while saddled with these earthly bodies and our old sin natures. Why? Because we have resurrection power living within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. He is not dormant or biding His time until the Lord returns. He is alive and active in every believer, providing guidance, encouragement, and death-to-life kind of power that makes our transformation into the likeness of Christ possible.

Dead to the Power of Sin.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.. – Romans 6:5-11 ESV

For Paul, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus were more than mere events that took place. They were the key to his salvation, sanctification and ultimate glorification. As he stated in chapter one, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 ESV). The gospel, God’s abounding grace as revealed through the sacrificial death of His own Son, had not only justified Paul in God’s eyes, it had provided him with the power needed to say no to his old sin nature that waged war against the Spirit of God within him. But Paul knew that, for believers, “our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its lower in our lives” (Romans 6:6 NLT). Paul stresses that, in placing our faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf,  we are united with Him “in a death like his.” And if that is true, then we are also “united with Him in a resurrection like his.” From God’s perspective, we died alongside Christ. Not only that, we were raised with Christ, to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:5 ESV). His death put an end to sin’s control over mankind. No longer do we live as slaves to sin, unable to resist its influence in our lives. Because we died with Christ, sin’s claim on our lives has been broken. We have been ransomed out of slavery and have been freed to live in the newness of who we are: children of God.

Paul brings up the logical conclusion that anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Dead people don’t sin. This is why he states, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing” (Romans 6:6 ESV). When Christ hung on the cross, He took on our sins. And He died a gruesome, painful death. When He was placed in the borrowed tomb, He was lifeless, limp and powerless. Death had been victorious over Him. But then, three days later, something remarkable happened. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was brought back to life. But He was not just resuscitated. He was resurrected to new life with a new body. Yes, it had the nail prints in His hands and the wound in His side. He was still recognizable to the disciples, but He was also different. He was no longer susceptible to pain and death anymore. He had the capacity to move about freely, unencumbered by the physical constraints of the normal human body. He had conquered death and, in doing so, He had made it possible for those who believe in Him to undergo a spiritual resurrection to new life. And, as Paul puts it, “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7 ESV).

In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul encouraged them, “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3 NLT). He went on to tell them, “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). This new life in Christ is not without its struggles. We still have our old natures living within us. We still have the capacity to sin. But Paul’s point is that we are no longer slaves to sin. We have a choice. The key is that we must remember our new life in Christ. Paul put it this way to the church in Galatia: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). It is a matter of faith. I can no more conquer my old sin nature on my own than I could have saved myself on my own. Martin Luther described it this way: “Our spiritual life is a matter not of experience, but of faith. No one knows or experiences the fact that he lives spiritually or is justified, but he believes and hopes in this. We live unto God, that is, in our spiritual and new life to eternity” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans).

Paul’s main point in this section seems to be that we must recognize that our new life, made possible by Christ’s resurrection, is to be lived to God. We are to “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” As Paul stated, each believer is to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” He tells us to “put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Galatians 3:10 NLT). Our new life in Christ requires a constant vigilance that includes putting off the old and putting on the new. We are to pursue righteousness and flee from sin. We are to constantly consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. We belong to Him. We exist for His glory. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

 

The Gospel of God.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 1:1-7 ESV

Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome from the city of Corinth during the winter of A.D. 56-57. It would be another three years before Paul actually set foot in Rome and, when he did, he would do so as a prisoner of the Roman government. It is not clear how the church in Rome got started. Paul obviously played no role in it, having never been there before. And there is no indication that any other apostle had ever made it to the Roman capital to share the gospel. But nevertheless, the gospel had arrived, perhaps as a result of some who had been eyewitnesses to the events that took place at the Feast of Pentecost. Regardless of how the church was started, it had gained a world-wide reputation and Paul acknowledged it. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8 ESV). No doubt, Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and with the desire to provide them with a solid understanding of the doctrine of the gospel of God. He knew the incredible influence this church would have because of its location within the capital of Rome, the most powerful nation in the world at the time.

Paul began his letter with an introduction of himself, even though the believers in Rome would have been well-acquainted with him. He referred to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. He did not operate on his own initiative, but as a willing slave to the one who had saved him. He served as an apostle, having been called to that role by Jesus Himself. And he acknowledged that he had been set apart or appointed for a singular purpose: the gospel of God. The entire letter of Romans will elaborate on the remarkable significance of the gospel of God, the good news concerning His Son. Paul boldly and unapologetically claims both the deity and full humanity of Jesus, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God” (Romans 1:3-4 ESV). Paul emphatically declares that Jesus was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was that one miraculous reality that had made salvation possible and the grace of God available to sinful mankind. The resurrection of Jesus is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. Without it, we have no hope, which is what led Paul to write, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV).

Paul never missed an opportunity to share the gospel, but he also took advantage of every chance he was given to strengthen the local church. He not only wanted to see people saved from sin, but he desired greatly to see them grow up in their salvation. In verse seven, Paul refers to his readers as saints, which means “set apart or holy ones”. In Paul’s mind they were positionally holy, but they were also to be practically holy in their behavior. They had been “called to belong to Jesus Christ” and so their actions and attitudes should reflect that calling. A big part of what Paul writes to them in this letter has to do with what practical holiness looks like. They are to live as if dead to sin and alive to God. They are to live by faith and not by works. They are to live according to the power of the Spirit of God and not the flesh. They are to recognize their position as heirs of God. They are to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God and are not to be conformed to this world. The gospel of God does not stop with our salvation, but carries on throughout our lives as God continues His work of sanctification in our lives, “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5 ESV).

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are loved by God. The very fact that He sent His own Son to die in our place is the greatest expression of God’s love He could have shown us. But not only are we loved by God, we are called by Him to be saints – set apart ones. We are to live our lives in the power of His Holy Spirit and allow Him to continually transform us into the likeness of His Son. It is His miraculous transformation of us that gives proof of His Son’s salvation of us. Not only have we been saved, we are being changed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29 ESV). The transformation of our lives by God is one of the greatest testimonies to the reality of the risen Christ and the power of the gospel of God.