Massive Promise: Romans 828

Most Christians know Romans 8:28. It is one of the greatest promises in the Bible. It provides us with comfort when life is confusing and anxious. It is the shelter we run into for safety when the storms of life surprise us.

In my Bible this promise is in the middle of a paragraph of chapter 8. Let’s consider its context. So what is written before and after this great promise?

Before R828: The Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us according to the will of God. Our weakness is our ignorance. We do not know how to pray according to God’s will. When we are praying according to our desires motivated by our anxieties, the Spirit corrects our prayers and intercedes for us according to God’s will. All things work together for good for those who are called according to God’s purpose because the Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will. The Spirit’s intercession ensures that all things, good and bad, work together for our good and God’s glory.

After R828: The “all things” that the Spirit’s intercession works together for our good are foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. These are the BIG “all things” that work together for the ultimate good, which is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The Spirit knows and carries out God’s will in foreknowledge and predestination. The Spirit calls us to salvation and gives us justifying faith. The Spirit daily works to conform us into the image of Christ until the day we are glorified in heaven. The Spirit’s daily intercession to conform us into the image of Christ is sanctification. This is the missing link in the golden chain.

The “all things” includes daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly things that happen in our lives. It includes all pain and sorrow and tests and trials. It includes the past, present, and future. It includes the things we know and do not know, the expected and the unexpected. It includes gains and loses. It includes sickness and health. It includes all our prayers. The Spirit’s intercession ensures that all things work together for those who love God and are called to salvation in Christ. Don’t lose sight of the ultimate good – conformed to the image of Christ – in the all things of life.

In his book Future Grace, John Piper wrote about Romans 8:28: “If you live inside this massive promise your life is more solid and stable than Mt. Everest. Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside of Romans 8:28 all is confusion, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Outside this all encompassing future grace there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol, numbing TV, and dozens of futile diversions. There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans. There are cardboard fortifications of deadbolt locks and alarm systems and anti-ballistic missiles. Outside are a thousand substitutes for Romans 8:28. Once you walk through the door of love into the massive unshakable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply can’t be blown over anymore. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.”

Doing what Jesus did: Mark 7:31-37

Can a Christian do what Jesus Christ did? Jesus healed a deaf and mute man with a command, “Be opened.” If I had the opportunity to heal a deaf and mute person then would I be able to do it with a command? Can I do it like Jesus did it? Jesus always healed by command.

My first thought: “No, because I’m not God. Jesus was able to do it because he is God.” What if Jesus did not do miracles by command because he was God? What if Jesus did miracles as the “Son of Man” who walked in perfect obedience to his Father? What if he did miracles from his human nature anointed by the Holy Spirit, and not his divine nature. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit at his baptism (Mark 1:9-11). If Jesus did miracles from his human nature anointed by the Holy Spirit, then it is not unreasonable to expect a Christian who is empowered by the Holy Spirit and living in obedience to Christ to do what he did and heal by command.

My second thought: “If Jesus did miracles from his human nature anointed by the Holy Spirit, then he did them from his sinless human nature. I will never have a sinless human nature, therefore I will not be able to do what Jesus did.” The disciples did not have sinless human natures, but Jesus gave them power and authority to heal the sick and cast out demons even before Pentecost. They healed and removed demons by command after being empowered by the Holy Spirit. The ability to heal the sick and cast out demons by command does not depend on having a sinless human nature like Christ. It depends on the transfer of power and authority from Christ to obedient Christians for the purpose of acting as “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17), preaching repentance, advancing the kingdom of God (Mark 6:7-13), and obeying the Great Commission (Mark 16:9-20).

Jesus always healed by command. He never prayed for people to be healed or delivered from demons as I do, leaving it up to the merciful sovereignty of God. I’m running out of excuses to do what Jesus did as he did it. Now it’s a matter of belief or unbelief (hardness of heart). I am earning a Doctor of Ministry, but I do not want any inaccurate theology to blind me to a straightforward understanding and practice of Scripture, to bind my belief, and prevent me from doing what Jesus did as he did it. If Jesus commands me to do it, then I must believe and do it in obedience.

Jesus’ expectation: John 14:12-14: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

More to come as I contemplate this, believe and practice Scripture, and learn from Christians who are doing what Jesus did as he did it in order to fulfill the Great Commission before Christ returns.

Walk On By: Mark 6:45-52

Two incidents in this story bother me.

First, Jesus walked on water. This is the hardest miracle for me to believe. I believe Jesus healed people (6:53-58). I believe he resuscitated people who were in the ‘sleep’ of death (5:35-43). I can even believe he multiplied bread and fish to feed 10,000 people (6:30-44). I believe he can calm storms (6:51). But walk on water!? Nobody does that. Nobody does that unless he controls the laws of nature. He can only control the laws of nature if he created the laws of nature and they obey his command. If Jesus swam out to them, then the story would not bother me. But why swim when he can walk on water?

Second, Mark wrote “He meant to pass by them.” Jesus saw them in the boat struggling against the headwinds. He walked out to them on the water and walked right past them. Why would he pass by them when he knows they are struggling against the wind? Maybe he wanted to beat them to the other side of the lake: “I’ll race you to the other side!” Jesus let the disciples see him walking past them. They thought he was a ghost because ghosts are lighter than water. They were terrified. I think Jesus wanted to see what the disciples would do. Maybe it was a test. How would they react? Would they keep struggling on their own against the wind or would they cry out to him for help? Mark wrote, “They thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they saw him and were terrified.” They cried out in terror. They did not cry out to Jesus. But Jesus did not walk on by and saved them anyway.

Maybe Jesus will pass by us when we are in trouble, unless we cry out to him for help. Jesus waits to see whether we will react in fear or faith. When we react in faith then he comes to our aid and says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  

Stop Fearing: Mark 5:35-43

Jairus, motivated by love for his daughter, earnestly implored Jesus to heal her. She was “at the point of death.” While she was still alive, Jairus believed Jesus could make her well. While on the way to Jairus’ house some family members stopped him and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Rabbi now? It’s too late.” While Jairus’ daughter was still alive, he believed. He had hope while she was still alive, even at the point of death. When Jairus’ daughter died, his belief died with her. Death was he dividing line between his belief and unbelief, between the possible and the impossible.

Jairus’ faith was quickly crushed by fear. Jesus felt Jairus’ fear and said, “Stop fearing, keep believing.” (The tense of the Greek verb means to stop an action in progress.) Jesus knew it was the Father’s will to make her well and to glorify the Son in front of the father and mother, and Peter, James and John (v.37). Jesus said, “The child is not dead but sleeping” and then held her hand and commanded her to arise.

Why did Jesus say, “She’s not dead but sleeping.” He’s not using sleep as a euphemism for death. He’s referring to an intermediate state between life and complete death. (Lazarus was dead four days. That’s complete death.) “Jesus’ statement means that in spite of the girl’s real death, she has not been delivered over to the realm of death with all of its consequences.” (NICNT, The Gospel of Mark, William Lane, p.197.) The girl’s spirit remained in the room. Luke confirmed this when he wrote (Luke 8:55), “And her spirit returned, and she got up at once.” Jesus had the faith and authority to call her spirit back into her body (according to the Father’s will).

While serving as a chaplain at Baptist Hospital my supervisor told me a true story. A patient had a heart attack in a trauma room. The heart monitor flatlined, but the EMTs and nurses attempted to restart his heart for almost 30 minutes – a longer than normal attempt. A new nurse was present in the room and this was her first experience with death. She was afraid and stood in a corner of the trauma room. She prayed for the patient. After 30 minutes the flatline jumped to a pulse and the dead patient suddenly came back to life. A day later the same nurse entered the patient’s room to do something. The patient said to her, “I know you. You’re the nurse who saved my life.” She was confused. The patient said, “I saw you in the corner praying for me. The Lord answered your prayer. Thank you.” The patient’s spirit was out of his body and remained in the trauma room. He was conscious and observed what was happening. He wasn’t completely dead, only sleeping. His spirit returned and his heart started beating.

The lesson: Keep trusting in Jesus Christ even when the situation looks impossible. It may not be completely dead, just sleeping, and waiting for Jesus to command, “Arise!”

Faith Touch: Mark 5:21-34

Is this just an interesting story from Jesus’ life or is there a spiritual principle to apply?

Faith is expectation of healing. The bleeding woman expected to be healed if she touched Jesus’ robe. She said, “If I touch even his robe, I will be made well.” She had no fear and no doubts. She wasn’t saying, “If I can touch his robe then maybe I will be healed. I don’t know, but I will try.” This is how we normally pray because we don’t know the will of Jesus Christ. Our faith is not an expectation of healing as this woman demonstrated. Jesus’ (sovereign) will didn’t play any part in this healing. When Jesus said, “Be healed of your disease,” it was an affirmation of her faith and the healing she already received (v.29). It happened because her faith made her well.

She touched Jesus’ robe and felt the healing power in her body. Her faith contacted Jesus and his power flowed into her body. Her faith was like a channel for the flow of Jesus’ healing power. Faith is like a battery cable from a live battery to a dead battery. Jesus was the live battery and she was the dead battery and her faith was the cable.

Jesus felt the power go out of his body and wanted to know who touched him. Jesus said, “Who touched my robe?” The disciples thought that was a strange question. They said, “There’s a large crowd and people are brushing against you. Everyone is touching you!” Jesus knew someone touched him with faith, the expectation of healing. That’s a touch Jesus felt. Jesus always knows when someone touches him with faith and draws out his compassionate power.

Why did she bow before Jesus with fear and trembling? She felt the healing, so maybe the residual power was still coursing through her body and healing her disease. Or maybe she thought she made (Rabbi) Jesus unclean by touching him and he would berate her in front of the crowd. But Jesus’ healing power removed her uncleanness and made her clean.

The compassionate Christ wanted to reassure her of her salvation. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” He called her ‘daughter’ and showed his loving compassion for her. She was ‘made well’ both physically and spiritually.

What’s the spiritual principle? Your faith in Jesus Christ will always make you well (save you). Faith is the expectation of being made whole by Christ’s loving and compassionate power. Reach out and touch Jesus today!

Cowardice or Christ: Mark 4:35-41

The disciples were in the will of God. They were following Jesus command. Jesus said, “Let’s go across to the other side.” If we are in the will of God when the storm hits, then we will be saved.

In this story there are two kinds of fear directed at two different realities.

Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith?”

The first GR word for fear has a meaning of timidity or cowardice. This fear was directed at the storm. The disciples fear of the storm was cowardice. (The soldiers of Israel were cowards. They were intimidated by the size of Goliath and David wasn’t.) This fear is backing down in the face of opposition. Instead of facing the opposition with faith in Christ, the fishermen acted like cowards who have never been in a storm before. It’s like Jesus was saying, “Of course, I’m concerned! Do not be cowards! Use your faith.”

The second GR word for fear is true fear. This “great fear” was directed at Christ and his authority to command the forces of nature. This is a good fear. It has the meaning of holy respect. They respected the power of Christ. The disciples knew Christ could heal and cast of demons, but they had never seen him command nature. They were still learning about Christ. “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” They feared him more than the storm and that’s good fear.

Cowardice or faith in Christ? When you are caught in a storm, a crisis, do you doubt Christ’s concern for you? Do you act cowardly or act with faith? Do you use the storm to learn more about Christ and respond to him with holy respect? Which reality grips you more – the reality of the storm or the reality of Christ’s love and power?

Angry Christ

Angry Christ: Mark 3:1-6: A man with a withered hand

The scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, set up a test to see whether Jesus would heal on the Sabbath, so they could accuse him. The religious leaders didn’t care about the man with the withered hand. They had no compassion for him. They wanted to use him to accuse Christ. They only cared about their rules. They added hundreds of rules to the Sabbath ‘do-not-work’ commandment. When God gave the Sabbath commandment he never added a rule that nobody can be healed on the Sabbath. Religious people are compelled to make rules that obscure the mercy and grace of God.

Jesus accepted their test. He healed the man right in front of them. The religious leaders never even asked where the healing power came from. It had to come from God. Satan doesn’t heal broken people. If it came from God, then God was healing through Christ. If God was healing through Christ, then the rules of the religious leaders were idolatry. Their rules were like barnacles growing all over the hull of a boat or barnacles covering the rock of God’s commandment.

Jesus was angry. It must have been holy anger because Christ was sinless. Christ as God in the flesh displayed the anger of God at religious idolatry. Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart. Mercy and grace are always grieved by the hard hearts of religious people.

Questions: Does the same religious spirit that resisted Christ in the synagogue exist in the church today? If it does, then what does it look like and how does it obscure mercy and grace?

What is your life’s motto?

Part 3: To DIE is gain.

The Greek word ‘gain’ means to gain an advantage, to profit, and win. “If I die, then I win!”

Paul preferred death over life. Paul emphasized that it was his desire to die and “be with Christ” rather than to continue living, 1:21: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. After noting that continuing to live will imply fruitful labor he expressed his inability to choose, 1:22: If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two.  In the next verse he made his preference very clear, namely to “depart and be with Christ,” which is “very much better.” Philippians 1:23: My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Death for Paul was therefore positive not as an event in itself, but rather as a means to an end, “to be with Christ.” But in 1:24 practical necessity wins the day: it is “more necessary” to “remain in the flesh” for the encouragement of the Philippian believers.

I have felt this tension at times. I would like to die and be with Christ, but Christ is in control of my life and I leave the choice to him. If Christ has a plan for me to stay in this world to defend the gospel and encourage other believers, then he will protect and provide.

Note: Paul was not saying religiously motivated suicide or martyrdom are better choices. Suicide was not negative in the Greco-Roman worldview. Socrates committed suicide to show no fear of death and become ‘immortal.’ No Christian should choose martyrdom. Life and death are in the hands of Christ. When Jonathan Chau was martyred on a remote island trying to share the gospel with a hostile tribe, he knew he would die. He had a desire to share the gospel with an unreached tribe. He chose martyrdom. Was it Christ’s will? Only Christ knows the answer. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

So let’s say you make your life motto “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Does that mean you must become a missionary like Paul or Dr. Bill Wallace? No, only if Jesus calls you to do it. It means live for Christ whatever you do. It means your work place or career is your Jerusalem mission field. It means you must also look for and serve in your Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth mission fields.

To live is CHRIST, to die is GAIN. We only gain with Christ! We lose our sin and death and gain redemption and eternal life.

Other excellent biblical mottos:

  • Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:7: We walk by faith and not by sight.
  • Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ.

What is your life’s motto?

Part 2: To LIVE is Christ, to DIE is gain.

Paul is facing two alternatives and it’s a tough choice. But which alternative becomes reality isn’t really up to him; it’s up the God’s will. IF I really could choose between the alternatives, to live or die for Christ, then it would be a tough choice. The Philippian believers are praying for Paul to live, and Paul seems confident that he will be delivered from prison and have more years of fruitful labor. Paul is waiting to know whether it will be life or death. He also feels the anxiety of waiting. Waiting is the hard part!

What two alternatives are before you? You may desire one alternative over the other, but God’s alternative will prevail. You want God’s alternative to prevail because it will be what is good for you and glorifies God (Romans 8:28).

To LIVE is Christ.

Paul is referring to life in this world and maybe also eternal life with Christ. He gave three reasons for his hope to stay alive.

1) He is living to share the gospel with the Gentiles. 1:12-13:  I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. The imperial guard may have included several hundred soldiers. They talked about Paul’s gospel in the barracks.

2) He is living for the “defense” of the gospel. 1:7: It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  1:15-16: Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

3) He is living to encourage other believers. 1:22-26: If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me (me serving you). Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

What does it mean to live? Biological existence isn’t enough. Animals only need biological existence (with the exception of dogs!) People need meaning and purpose. In chaplaincy we learned to assess patients for four things: holy, hope, meaning, and support. What gives a person’s life meaning? Meaning and purpose is found in relationships and accomplishments (the people we know and the work we do). While serving as a chaplain I met an older cardiac patient who used a table saw to create wooden toys and puzzles for his grandchildren. That was his meaning and purpose. I met a woman with malignant brain cancer. She lost her ability to drive her Camaro and one of her relationships was painful. She cried as she thought about her estranged daughter. That is a hard loss of meaning and purpose, but she still had her most important relationship with God.

To live is Christ means our ultimate meaning and purpose is found in Christ. Our most important relationship is with Christ and our most important accomplishment is whatever we do to fulfill His commands – love one another and go and make disciples of all nations.

To be continued…

 

 

What’s your life’s motto?

We all know some famous mottos:

  • Nike: “Just do it.”
  • Apple: “Think different.”
  • McDonald’s: “I’m lovin’ it.”
  • Baptist Health Care motto: Helping people throughout life’s journey.

What’s a good motto for a Christian?

God works in mysterious ways. I picked up a free book at NOBTS about Christianity in China after the Cultural Revolution titled The Dragon and the Lamb. It briefly told the story of Dr. Bill Wallace. Then I bought the rare reprinted book Bill Wallace of China (by Jesse C. Fletcher). Dr. Bill Wallace served as a missionary doctor at a hospital in China during the Japanese invasion 1930s-40s. He was murdered by the Communists in China. Chinese believers erected a pillar on his grave with the inscription “For to me to live is Christ” in Wuchow, China, 1951. Wallace’s bones were reburied 1985 in Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Philippians 1:21:  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. This is a good motto.

Where was Paul and what happened to him when he wrote Philippians? Best evidence favors Rome as the place of origin and the date as c. 61. This fits well with the account of Paul’s house arrest in Acts 28:14–31. When he wrote Philippians, he was not in the infamous Mamertine Prison as he was when he wrote 2 Timothy. He was in his own rented house, where for two years he was free to impart the gospel to all who came to him. Paul wrote the letter after facing death in Jerusalem and waiting for his trial in Rome.

If you lived for money, material things, pleasure, fame, vacations, or even family, then what would be your motto? “For to me to live is money, and to die is to lose it all.” “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.” (He doesn’t win.)

What is the significance of For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?

To be continued…