Romans 8:1-4 “No Condemnation”

Romans 8 is one of the most glorious chapters in all the Bible.  One writer put it this way, “If Holy Scripture was a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans a precious stone, chapter eight would be the sparkling point of the jewel.”  Another writer also uses picturesque language to describe this chapter, “In this surpassing chapter, the several streams of the preceding arguments meet and flow in one ‘river of the water of life, clear as crystal proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb’, until it seems to lose itself in the ocean of a blissful eternity.”  Suffice it to say, that this is an awesome chapter of God’s Holy Word!  And, it starts with “no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8:1)  Jesus did what the law could not do.  The law points out our sin and condemns us.  Jesus became a man and took on our sins upon the cross.  He became sin for us and bore the awful punishment.  He died so that we could live.  He bore our sins so that we could be forgiven.  He was condemned upon the cross so that we could be justified.  God has already condemned my sin in Christ.  There is no more condemnation left for me!    This sublime chapter begins with the fundamental truth that a Christian is free from condemnation.  The Christian is not freed from condemnation so that he can continue in his sin.  The Christian is freed from condemnation so that he can become more like his Savior.  That is the process of sanctification.

Ephesians 4:7-13 “Spiritual Gifts”

Spiritual gift
God is a very generous giver.  In Ephesians 4, Paul quotes from an obscure passage in the Old Testament (Psalm 68), “When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”  It is somewhat difficult to understand, but the general idea is that of a returning conquering hero.  When a King successfully conquered another city, he would return to his people with a grand parade.  He would proudly display his newly captured slaves, and publicly showcase the riches of his spoil.  Then, he would generously distribute the spoil to his supporters and friends.  In Psalm 68, King David was praising God and celebrating the glorious conquest of Jerusalem.  God gave Israel a wonderful victory over the Jebusite city, and it became the capital city of God’s people and the dwelling place of God’s glory.  The spoils of Jerusalem became blessings to the entire world.  In Ephesians, Paul applies these words to Jesus.  Jesus descended from His heavenly throne to come to earth as our Savior.  After His humiliating suffering and death, he arose triumphantly from the grave as our Eternal Savior.  He ascended to heaven and He now generously distributes gifts to His church.  Salvation itself it a glorious gift.  But, on top of that, God bestows spiritual gifts upon those who are saved.  But, there is a catch.  The spiritual gifts that God gives you are not really for you.  They are for the church!  They are not given to you to make you happy and fulfilled.  They are given to you so that the church can be edified.  God wants you to be just like Him.  He sacrificed everything to build His church.  And, he desire that you use your spiritual gifts to continue to build His church. 

Ephesians 3:14-21 “Why Pray?”

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays one of the greatest prayers in all of the New Testament.  He introduces the prayer with the phrase, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This raises the question, “For what reason?”  Why did Paul pray?  It might seem like kind of a silly question, but there is theological and practical significance to the answer.  Paul already asserted the sovereignty of God.  He already reminds us that the manifold wisdom of God is demonstrated in the church, “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  If God has an eternal purpose.  Then, we can’t change that with prayer can we?  We can’t change God’s mind or God’s eternal plan.  So, why pray?   There are many different opinions about what Paul’s “reason” was to pray.  He could have been speaking of the verse which immediately precedes this.  In that verse, he did not want the believers to lose heart because of his persecution and imprisonment.  Is that why he is praying?  Perhaps that is part of it, but there must be more.  Personally, I think that Paul’s “reason” refers back to chapter 2 of Ephesians.  In fact, the first 13 verses of chapter 3 represents a parenthesis, or an interruption in his thought.  He begins in verse one with “for this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles–”  There is a dash after Gentiles.  Paul interrupted himself and launched into a lengthy description of the “mystery” by which God included the Gentiles in His church.  Then, he continued his train of thought (finally) in verse 13, “For this reason I bow my knees . . .”  I think that the “for this reason” in verse 13 is the same “for this reason” in verse one.  There is just a parenthesis in between them.  So, really, the reason Paul prays refers back to the end of chapter 2.  There, he was describing the beauty of the church.  In the church, we are citizens of God’s people, part of His household, and God is building us into a Holy Temple in which the presence and glory of God dwell.  Now that is a reason to pray!  Since God is building his church, and the very power and glory of God dwell in us, we can speak to Him at any time.  He is the sovereign God of the universe.  But, He hears our prayers, and He is pleased to answer our prayers.  For this reason, I bow my knees.

Daniel 6: “Prayer Changes Everything”

daniel and lions

The story of Daniel and the lions’ den illustrates the awesome power of prayer.  Daniel was an old man.  He had lived in Babylon for over 70 years.  He faithfully prayed to the God of Israel every day (three times a day!).  Even his enemies knew the details of his prayer routines.  Every day he would look out his window facing Jerusalem.  Hundreds of miles from home, his city walls were broken down, God’s holy temple still lay in ruins, and God’s chosen people were scattered like sheep without a shepherd.  Yet, every day he would pray to the God who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He believed the promise that God gave to king David, that a descendant of David would reign upon the throne of Israel forever and ever.  For seventy years of captivity he believed and he prayed.  His prayers strengthened his faith and drew him closer to his God.  His prayers were a public testimony to the power and wisdom of God.  His prayers forged his godly character and influenced his friends.  And, most importantly, his prayers were answered.  God was pleased to hear every word that Daniel spoke to Him.  God desired those times of personal fellowship with Daniel.  God was honored by every request that Daniel made.  (The bigger the request, the more honor!)  In fact, Daniel wasn’t asking God for anything selfish.  He just wanted God to remember His covenant and fulfill His promise.  His prayers aligned him with God’s sovereign purpose and with God’s omniscient wisdom.  He lived and worked in the most wealthy and powerful city in the world.  Yet, his prayers kept him connected with the real power of the universe.  Daniel was certainly not going to stop praying just because some government officials hatched some nefarious scheme to ban any prayers to any other god but the King.  Daniel’s God was way bigger than these scheming officials.  So, Daniel kept praying, God kept answering, and the officials (and their families!) were devoured by lions.  Shortly after that, the decree was issued for the Israelites to return to their land.  The walls would be re-built.  The temple would once again offer daily sacrifices to God.  And, generations later, a Son would be born who would reign forever and ever on David’s throne.  Prayer really does change everything!

Bargaining or Believing?

fiery furnace

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are heroes of the faith.  Their single-minded courage and unwavering faith has been an inspiration to generations of Christians.  They resisted the overwhelming temptation of peer pressure and stood alone when everyone else bowed before a false image.  They refused to flinch when given a direct order from King Nebuchadnezzar.  Knowing that their fate would be instant death in a flaming furnace, they remained true to their convictions and trusted God for the outcome.  This is true faith.  It is the opposite of what many people do in similar situations.

Have you ever known anyone who bargained with God?  Some people find themselves in impossible situation and attempt to negotiate with the Most High.  “If God heals me, then I will faithfully serve Him!”  “If God saves my marriage, then I promise I will go to church and read my Bible!”  “If God lets me win the lottery, then I will give Him the tithe!”  Three young heroes of the faith were in a similar situation.  They could have bargained with God, but instead, they believed God.  No matter what.  King Nebuchadnezzar was threatening to incinerate them.  They boldly asserted “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17)  In other words, they believed that God had the power to save them from the fire, but they did not know if it was God’s will to save them from the fire.  Either way, they trusted God, and they knew that He would deliver them from the evil King Nebuchadnezzar.  If they are consumed by fire, they are safe in the loving arms of God, having stood firm in their faith.  Or, if God chooses, God will deliver them from the fire.  They did not fear Nebuchadnezzar, but they had absolute trust in the Almighty God.  Without any hesitation or reservation, they cast themselves upon the wisdom and mercy of the God of Heaven.  There was no bargaining, just unshakable faith.  They did not offer up any conditions.  They simply believed.  They were like the venerable suffering saint, Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)