The Counselor Has Come To You (John 16:7-14)

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (or Advocate) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince (or convict) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-14)

This is part of the last recorded teaching of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John, which was the last of the gospels to be written.[1] If there was ever a time to look for Jesus to bring home the most important things, it’s during this teaching. This passage is not long, but it’s loaded.

“It is to your advantage that I go away.”

So this is a big deal. Here’s Jesus, the one and only incarnation of God in the flesh – and he’s telling his disciples it’s to their advantage that He leave so that the Holy Spirit’s presence will now be a part of their life in some way that it was not before. That’s huge. It’s not that the Holy Spirit is more important that Jesus; it’s just that Jesus had done Jesus’ work, and it’s time for the Holy Spirit to do the Holy Spirit’s  work. So what is this work?

  • Bringing conviction or convincing to the world of humanity’s sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and the coming judgment
  • Giving the inspiration for what would become known as the New Testament[i]
  • Pointing toward the glory of Jesus, which seems to be a direct reference to how the written Scripture will glorify Jesus – something which John explicitly claims to be doing at the end of his gospel.[ii] (John 20:31)

I have some extra explanation for the second two points at the end of this post. My main focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do for the world.

The conviction of our sin, because we do not believe in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit convicts of sin in a way that drives us to the only one who can forgive us and save us. This requires a conviction about who Jesus is, obviously, but it also requires a conviction about the reality of sin. How can we appreciate a Savior when we have no idea we need saving?

It’s the lead here in Jesus’ teaching. If you want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work in you, you will know this because God will put the reality of your sins in front of you. We can walk away from the work of the Holy Spirit with a lot results – hope, peace, encouragement, conviction -  but no one walks away from a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit proud. “Godly sorrow brings repentance.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Before the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we might think we’re not that bad. We might think, “I’m doing pretty good on my own; my sin is not that big of a deal.” Not when the Holy Spirit is working in us. Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon:

The Holy Spirit does not come to make sinners comfortable in their sins, but to cause them to grieve over their sins. He does not help them to forget their sin, or think little of it, but He comes to convince them of the horrible enormity of their iniquity. It is no work of the Spirit to pipe to men’s dancing. He does not bring forth flute, harp, dulcimer and all kinds of music to charm the unbelieving into a good opinion of themselves, but He comes to make sin appear sin, and to let us see its fearful consequences. He comes to wound so that no human balm can heal, to kill so that no earthly power can make us live.

The flowers bedeck the meadows when the grass is green, but lo, a burning wind comes from the desert and the grass withers and the flowers fall away. What is it that makes the beauty and excellence of human righteousness to wither as the green herb? Isaiah says it is “because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it.” There is a withering work of the Spirit of God which we must experience or we shall never know His quickening and restoring power.

The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are not just mistake-prone; we are rebels at war with a holy and righteous God. The Holy Spirit shines a light on our sins and then makes us look at them in all their ugliness. If you pray for the Holy Spirit to get to work in your life, buckle up, because you are going to end up on your knees at the foot of the cross.That’s a daunting but beautiful thing. As several testimonies highlighted the past several weeks, repentance is a gift. In the great awakening of 1860-61 in Great Britain, a high-ranking army officer described the conviction of sin in his Scottish town:

"Those of you who are ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man's eyes to see the real state of heart. Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people . . . have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven." (J. Edwin Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain) https://enduringword.com/commentary/john-16/

Godly sorrow brings repentance, and repentance is crucial not just to entering into the Kingdom of God but experiencing life within it to the fullness.

I want to be careful here. If we are crushed into hopeless despair by our sin, that’s a different thing. Satan can distort our awareness of our guilt  (the debt we incur because of our sin) so that it drives us to self-destructive despair.  When that happens we increasingly see us and our sin, and we just spiral downward into self-loathing.

Godly sorrow always points us to God, which means we will always have hope in the midst of our conviction. God will make us kneel before He raises us up, but he will never make us grovel and then kick us while we are down. If that’s what you are experiencing, that’s not the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Holy Spirit will free you from.

Repentance is a gift. So is the conviction that brings us the initial awareness of our guilt. This godly awareness is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. It is a gift of love. It’s in our awareness of our guilt that we know God has not given up on us; he is pursuing us like ‘the hound of heaven’ - relentless, close, involved. He’s not an Orwellian Big Brother, waiting to stomp a holy boot in our face and grind us under his tyranny. He’s a loving Father who wants spiritual boys and girls to grow into righteous men and women; he’s a Master Builder who never stops turning the shack of our lives into a mansion.

In our peace we feel God’s presence; in our hope and joy we feel His presence. We can’t forget that in our awareness of our guilt we feel His presence too. It’s a sign that God is at work in us. Spurgeon again:

“A sinner is a sacred thing: the Holy Ghost hath made him so… a man truly convinced of sin by the Spirit of God is a being to be sought after as a jewel that will adorn the crown of the Redeemer.”  http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols28-30/chs1708.pdf


The conviction of Jesus’ righteousness

Righteousness is another way of saying ‘being right with God.’ We have what the Bible calls a Counselor or Advocate in Jesus. This is a legal term; we have someone who defends us in God’s court. He is the attorney for the accused – us – and on our own, we have only plea: “Guilty.” Jesus is not there to excuse or explain away what we have done; he’s not there not to argue for our awesomeness. He’s there to display His.

Jesus makes it so that His intrinsic righteousness – that is, the holy perfection of his nature in which there is not even a smudge of sin or evil – is given to us through his forgiveness and by his grace.  In Jesus, we see how a God whose holiness demands that He judge sin and evil is also a God whose holiness demands that He provide a way of escape. So God did not turn a blind eye to our sin; instead, He satisfied His own demand for justice.

  • “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  •  “So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)
  • “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
  • “There is, therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • “God has united you with Christ Jesus… Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

When we are convicted of sin, we will feel the daunting weight of justice. We will be convicted of the impossibility of paying for our own sins. But this godly conviction will turn our eyes to Jesus, and we will be amazed by the goodness, holiness, and righteousness of the perfect savior who took our sins upon himself, who died that we could live.

One way you know the Holy Spirit is at work in you is that you are convicted of sin. The next way is that in the midst of that conviction there is a growing appreciation for the righteous love and provision of Jesus.


The conviction of a final judgment of evil

First, God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world (Act 17:31). Jesus singles out the  ‘ruler of this world,’ another way of referring to Satan, but this includes all that has plagued the world because of Satan’s destructive work.  It’s not just Satan; it’s the havoc he has unleashed on the world.[2]  All injustice, pain and suffering will one day have their reckoning.

Tim Keller likes to say that in the day of final judgment ‘all that is bad will be undone.’ The answer to the question, “What will God do about evil?” is that He will judge it.  Why He waits as long as He does is not necessarily ours to know. But what He will one day do is known. God will have the final word. God wins.


So how does this impact our life today?

First, if you are not aware of your sinfulness, pray to God that the Holy Spirit convicts you. You need to be at the foot of the cross.

Second if you are aware of your sinfulness, don’t be discouraged by it. Remember that God loves you enough to convict you. If you are retreating into shame and despair, pray that the Holy Spirit’s conviction brings about a godly sorrow, one that leads you to repentance and takes your eyes off of your sin and onto Christ.

Third, pray that God uses His Spirit to increase your appreciation of Jesus. Pray that you can truly appreciate the goodness, holiness and majesty of Christ.

Finally, don’t forget that one day evil will be judged. Satan’s power will be obliterated. One day there will be a New Heaven and New Earth where God will wipe away all tears and all sorrow, and we will live in its fullness with our Savor.


[1] https://carm.org/when-were-gospels-written-and-by-whom

[2] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/revelation/20-14.htm

[i] In verses 7-11 Jesus talked about what the Holy Spirit will do for the world; in versed 12-14, Jesus appears to shift and talk specifically now to the disciples about how the Holy Spirit will help them in their writing of Scripture (John 16: 12-14; John 15:26). As I have been studying commentaries on these verses, almost everyone is in agreement that, considering the context, this is about God’s role within the writers of Scripture so that they get the sacred text right. This particular passage was a promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be present and faithful in the apostolic founding of the church so that they could record and teach all that Jesus had taught, and even inspire them on issues that Jesus had not directly addressed. Lots of good commentaries that further explain this are available at biblehub.com.

The Holy Spirit would even instruct them on “things to come,” which most likely includes two things: insight into the future as we look toward the judgment followed by the rebuilding of the New Heaven and Earth, as well as guiding the founders of the church by helping them understand how the Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and teaching will impact the newly formed church that is now inhabiting God’s spiritual kingdom here on earth.

Some commentators note two potential implications of this passage: First, an ongoing sense that the Holy Spirit leads us into truth as we study that same Scripture. In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to record truth, and the Holy Spirit also works within us so that we understand it. Second, an implication that the Holy Spirit will work from then on in all believers to lead them into truth, which typically means giving personal guidance or insight.

Both of those inferences offer truth about how the Holy Spirit works within believers. If I look at this teaching in this context, it's hard for me to see that was what Jesus intended to convey in this particular passage. However, I believe support is found elsewhere in the Bible.


[ii]He will glorify me.” The Holy Spirit always points toward Christ. There are different ways this happens – through the convictions I mentioned earlier, through the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, or through the fruit of the Holy Spirit displayed in our lives. But in all these things, we know the Holy Spirit is at work if Jesus is glorified.

If people are glorified, or churches, or ministries obscure the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If events overshadow the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If the gifts and their manifestation point toward the people using them, or if people are inclined to seek the gifts and not the giver, that’s a problem. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is not at work, but if anything or anyone increases while Christ decreases, something has gone wrong.

Life Together To The Glory Of God (Philippians 1:1-11)

Philippi was established as a ‘gold rush’ city. It was named after Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. Some historians described it as a gate between Europe and Asia.

" In a series of battles there in 42 B.C.E., Mark Antony and Octavian ('Augustus') conquered the forces of the assassins of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus. In some ways this battle marked the turning point between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire (which meant the emperor would now be deified)…  Augustus turned Philippi into a Roman colony… Here he planted veterans of the civil wars and the supporters of Mark Antony… Special privileges were allowed to these Roman colonists, such as exemption from taxes and the right to own and market property." (Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible)

By the time Paul got there, Philippi was highly Roman, highly militarized, wealthy, and because of where it was situated geographically, one of the hubs of the modern world intellectually, economically and spiritually. In Acts 16, we read an account of how the church started in Philippi.[1] (This version is The Voice. You can read it at biblegateway.com)

 11 We set sail from the port city of Troas, first stopping in Samothrace, then the next day in Neapolis, 12 finally arriving in Philippi, a Roman colony and one of Macedonia’s leading cities.We stayed in Philippi for several days. 13 On the Sabbath day, we went outside the city walls to the nearby river, assuming that some Jewish people might be gathering for prayer. We found a group of women there, so we sat down and spoke to them. 14 One of them, Lydia, was a business woman originally from Thyatira. She made a living buying and selling fine purple fabric. She was a true worshiper of God and listened to Paul with special interest. The Lord opened her heart to take in the message with enthusiasm. 15 She and her whole household were ceremonially washed through baptism.[

Lydia: If you believe I’m truly faithful to the Lord, please, you must come and stay at my home.

We couldn’t turn down her invitation. 16 One day, as we were going to the place set aside for prayer, we encountered a slave girl. She made a lot of money for her owners as a fortune-teller, assisted by some sort of occult spirit. 17 She began following us.

Slave Girl (shouting): These men are slaves like me, but slaves of the Most High God! They will proclaim to you the way of liberation!

18 The next day as we passed by, she did the same thing—and again on the following days. One day Paul was really annoyed, so he turned and spoke to the spirit that was enslaving her.

Paul: I order you in the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed: Come out of her!

It came right out. 19 But when her owners realized she would be worthless now as a fortune-teller, they grabbed Paul and Silas, dragged them into the open market area, and presented them to the authorities.

Slave Owners: 20 These men are troublemakers, disturbing the peace of our great city. They are from some Jewish sect, 21 and they promote foreign customs that violate our Roman standards of conduct (codes of worship – all publicly worshipped gods had to be approved by the Roman Senate – and Caesar needed to be at the top).

22 The crowd joined in with insults and insinuations, prompting the city officials to strip them naked in the public square so they could be beaten with rods. 23 They were flogged mercilessly and then were thrown into a prison cell. The jailer was ordered to keep them under the strictest supervision. 24 The jailer complied, first restraining them in ankle chains, then locking them in the most secure cell in the center of the jail.

25 Picture this: It’s midnight. In the darkness of their cell, Paul and Silas—after surviving the severe beating—aren’t moaning and groaning; they’re praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners in adjoining cells are wide awake, listening to them pray and sing. 26 Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and the prison foundations begin to crack. You can hear the sound of jangling chains and the squeak of cell doors opening. Every prisoner realizes that his chains have come unfastened. 27 The jailer wakes up and runs into the jail. His heart sinks as he sees the doors have all swung open. He is sure his prisoners have escaped, and he knows this will mean death for him, so he pulls out his sword to commit suicide.

28 At that moment, Paul sees what is happening and shouts out at the top of his lungs,

Paul: Wait, man! Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here! None of us has escaped.

29 The jailer sends his assistants to get some torches and rushes into the cell of Paul and Silas. He falls on his knees before them, trembling. 30 Then he brings them outside.

Jailer: Gentlemen, please tell me, what must I do to be saved?

Paul and Silas: 31 Just believe—believe in the ultimate King, Jesus, and not only will you be rescued, but your whole household will as well.

32-34 The jailer brings them to his home, and they have a long conversation with the man and his family. Paul and Silas explain the message of Jesus to them all. The man washes their wounds and feeds them, then they baptize the man and his family. The night ends with Paul and Silas in the jailer’s home, sharing a meal together, the whole family rejoicing that they have come to faith in God. 

So that’s the background to the young church Philippi. Now, here is the opening of the letter Paul wrote to the Philippian church several years later:

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus the Anointed One, greet you, our friends in Philippi—those set apart by Jesus the Anointed—and we greet the elders and deacons who serve with you. Grace and peace be with you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Anointed. Whenever you cross my mind, I thank my God for you and for the gift of knowing you. My spirit is lightened with joy whenever I pray for you (and I do constantly) because you have partnered with me to spread the gospel since the first day I preached to you. 

I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world. It is only right that I should feel such admiration for you all—you hold me close to your hearts. And, since we are partners in this great work of grace, you have never failed to stand with me as I have defended and stood firm for the gospel—even from this prison cell. Before God I want you to know how much I long to see you and love you with the affection of the Anointed One, Jesus.

Here’s what I pray for you: Father, may their love grow more and more in wisdom and insight— 10 so they will be able to examine and determine the best from everything else. And on the day of the Christ, the day of His judgment, let them stand pure and blameless, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed. All this I pray, so that God will be glorified and praised.


 Let’s consider three main elements in this greeting in light of the background of Philippi and the origins of the church. In many ways, it’s going to set the table for the rest of this series.

1.Paul applauds and encourages their partnership, community and unity.

This must have been a daunting issue in this church. Look at the diversity in just the first three converts: a wealthy widow in the fashion industry; a demon-possessed slave, and a jailer.

Roman elite society was highly stratified… Elite males engaged in a relentless quest for personal and familial honor. These concerns generated a consuming passion to identify persons publicly according to social status… Based on their social status individuals wore different clothing, occupied different seats at public events, and experienced different treatment at the hands of Roman magistrates… Public banquets and food distribution in the provinces were administrated in such a way as to ensure that resources were given according to rank, not according to need. All such practices served to reinforce the values of the elite society.[2]

Different backgrounds, social class, different rank, different clothes, food and places to sit. Add to that different methods of entering into discipleship. Lydia appears to be a classic example of finding Jesus through education and intellect; the slave girl through the supernatural deliverance from demonic forces; the jailer through Paul’s selfless act of character, integrity and concern.

It’s often noted that what brings a person to Jesus is often the thing that continues to primarily nourish or build them.  That’s to be expected, right? The problem is that it is easy to assume that whatever brought you to Christ or builds you in Christ will have the same impact on others.  

  • If you became a Christian through a supernatural experience (like the slave girl), you are probably inclined to think that should be the heart of the church.
  • If you became a Christian through theology and reason (like Lydia), you are probably inclined to think that should be the heart of the church.
  • If you came to Jesus because somebody showed you God’s love through acts of kindness, you are probably inclined to think the church will flourish when that is at the heart.
  • If you grew up in a Christian community that encouraged you or even steered you toward a commitment to Christ, you are probably inclined to think that a tightly knit church community is very important.
  • If you grew up constantly asking questions and searching and ended up at the foot of the cross, you probably think an open environment where people are free to ask question and express doubts in important. If you grew up constantly getting answers, questions make you very uncomfortable and might even seem ungodly.

We have this range of experiences (and far more) here, in our church, right now. Is there ever tension as we try to do life together? You bet. That makes us normal. One of the earliest churches in existence felt this immediately. This is also one way in which God works through His church to bring transformation. Matt Chandler wrote in To Live Is Christ:

“We tend to prefer to do life with people who are similar to us. We live in neighborhoods and associate with people who look like us and act like us. Most of us go to church with people similar to us. This is the natural tendency of all people. But the gospel is not natural… the gospel creates a new reality that deepens our understanding of the world and our place in it.”

2. Paul prays for a love that overflows with knowledge and wisdom.

It’s worth noting he doesn’t just pray for love. That’s a pretty vague term on it’s own. He prays for a very specific kind of love.

  •  This knowledge is contact with others; first-hand, experiential knowledge. It’s a knowledge that comes from rubbing elbows and butting heads and walking together. Considering different personalities, gifts, backgrounds, expectations, priorities, and passions, this is hardly a surprise. If you really join a church and invest in it, you will spend a lot of time very close to people who make you uncomfortable and maybe a little angry at time. It's what life together looks like. It's messy, but it's good  - if it is characterized by wisdom. 
  •  This wisdom is a discernment from God that cuts through hazy moral and ethical matters. This is a the godly application of the knowledge of others and of God’s word. They aren’t asking the Romans what to do and they aren’t voting. They are praying that they are led by God’s Holy Spirit to properly understand His Word and His commands.
  •  Put together, this is a love that manifests in living holy lives close together, getting to know others, getting to know the mind of God for us and for the world, then blending those two things. This kind of love is crucial in supporting unity, partnership and community.

We got a game called Smash Up over Christmas. It’s called that because there are all these decks of cards with different powers and abilities, and in every game you pick two decks and ‘smash them up’ so they work together. That’s the idea about life together in the church. We have to ‘Smash Up’ very different followers of Christ for our good and the glory of God.

  • supernatural experience needs to partner with acts of kindness
  • theology and reason needs to work with Christian community
  • constantly asking questions needs to join with constantly getting answers
  • Extroverts join introverts
  • The artists join the social workers who join the builders and the homemakers.

 You can mix and match them all. We need each other to accomplish the work of the Kingdom. I don’t mean we all have to become “besties” (we will see later that there was clearly tension in a church that Paul applauds for unity). But we have to purposefully commit to godly interaction that acknowledges and honors the diversity in our church.

3.  Paul prays that they be filled with a ripening fruit of righteousness (a life approved by God) for God’s glory.  

 The Voice uses the phrase “the ripening fruit” of righteousness. Other translations use a verb tense that implies an ongoing process of being filled with righteousness. In other words, it’s not a one-and-done experience. An ongoing work of Jesus in their life was needed, I’m sure. I can only imagine the discussions that took place when that church started.

  • There’s a soldier, a slave, and one of the cultural elites.
  • There’s the tension of the roles of men and women in Roman culture.  
  • There’s a Roman who was raised to worship Rome and all it stood for, a slave raised to hate it, and a merchant who probably had gained an appreciation for all kinds of cultures.
  • There’s the constant fight for status in Philippi (people would inscribe their history on columns just to show how upwardly mobile and important they were).
  • There’s the separation by food, clothing, and seating.
  • There’s the incredibly different ways in which they encountered the gospel and committed their lives to Christ.
  • There's the problem of Paul: the church's founder had angered the entire town. They were likely under intense scrutiny – a lot of pressure to stand pure and blameless.

How on earth do you make that work? By being “filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed, with a view to God’s ultimate praise and glory." This is really the heart of the rest of this series in Philippians: Healthy church life – that is, a healthy representation of God on earth as seen in His body, the church – will be manifest through purposeful unity, love overflowing with knowledge and wisdom, and the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus and builds the praise for and glory of God.

So that’s what we are going to unpack in the weeks ahead. As we go through this series, I am recommending that we all pray this together: 

Father, may our love grow more and more in wisdom and insight— so we will be able to examine and determine the best from everything else. And on the day of the Christ’s return, let us stand pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed. All this we pray, so that God will be glorified and praised. Amen.


[1] I owe a lot in this entire series to Adam Clarke’s commentary on Philippians; Matt Chandler’s book on Philippians (To Live Is Christ); a fantastic website called Precept Austin; an article entitled “The Theme and Structure of Philippians," by Robert C. Swift; N.T. Wright’s Bible study Philippians for Everyone; IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; and plenty of other sources I have failed to record. Shoulders of giants….

[2] The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, Joseph H. Hellermana


Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”


  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.

The Community of the Righteous: Refreshing Rest

The book of Romans was meant to establish peace between the believing Jews and Gentiles in two ways: By highlighting the mercy of God to both (salvation, justification, sanctification and righteousness), and by showing them their mutual obligations of service. Before Romans 12, Paul wrote about the importance of holy living. 

Next, Paul shifted his focus to getting along in religious matters not essential to salvation (such as eating habits and the observation of holy days).

“None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone... don’t put a stumbling block or obstacle in anyone’s way… Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (building up; growth don’t cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:5-20)

This call to service was not a passive call. No, this was a call to actively create a community characterized by people committed to peace as well as helping each other grow, build and encourage each other. What has to happen for a community like this to grow?

1. We must embrace essential Christian beliefs (14:22) 

“How blessed is the person who has no reason to condemn himself because of what he approves!” Think of the core claims in the historic creeds in the church: Jesus is God incarnate; because of His life, death and resurrection our sins can be forgiven and we can be redeemed. Paul wrote that Jesus “is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14) and has broken down the walls between Jews and Gentiles, between those near and far from Christ. If that's true, it’s important that our beliefs about Jesus – and salvation, righteousness, and justification - are in agreement with Scripture. Otherwise, peace will always feel elusive.

2. We must keep non-essential beliefs between ourselves and God (14:22), but live them  in faith (14:23) 

 “If you have a conviction, keep it to yourself before God... whoever compromises their convictions is condemned… but everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Have you ever said or thought and of the following:

  • “You know, I really need to correct Bob’s view of end times. All true Christians are pre-trib (or post-trib.)”
  • “Sally should know that she is wrong about the days in Genesis. I think I’ll argue and hurt our friendship.”
  • “I think all secular entertainment is wrong (or all Christian entertainment should be whole-heartedly supported)!”
  • “Christians should never drink alcohol.”
  • “You should boycott (or support) company X or you are out of God’s will.”

 If you have ever said or thought something along those lines, Paul is talking to you. If God has convicted you on one or more of these matters, you must be faithful to this conviction. But others are not necessarily required to agree with you. Own them boldly – but not coercively. They are not essential doctrines of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

3. We must accomodate the failings of those who are “weak” - for their growth (15:1-2) 

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should all be concerned about our neighbors and the good things that will build their faith.” Let’s say you are spiritually strong. What follows from that? Sacrificial service. This is actually the attitude Christ had toward us (15:3-5). The more we live in sacrificial service, the more we embody the heart of Christ for the world. What will happen if we do this?

"So accept one another in the same way the Anointed has accepted you so that God will get the praise He is due. For, as I am fond of saying, the Anointed One has become a servant of the Jews in order to demonstrate God’s truth. Effectively this confirms the promises He made to our ancestors and causes the non-Jewish nations to glorify God for His mercy… I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:7-13, excerpted) 

And then, just before Paul wraps up Romans, we see why Paul longed to see this:

"My brothers and sisters, I urgently plead with you by the name of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, and by the love of the Spirit to join together with me in your prayers to God for my success in these next endeavors. Pray that I will be rescued from those who deny and persecute the faith in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem will meet the approval of all the saints there. If that happens, then my journey to you will be filled with joy; and, if God wills, I can find refreshing rest in your presence. I pray the God of all peace will be with you all. Amen." (Romans 15:30-32)

 Romans 15:32 uses a word for “rest” that in the original writing is unique in the entire New Testament. It's synanapaúomai, a mix of sýn (“identify with”) and anapaúō, ("pause completely"). To rephrase it,

“If that happens, then my journey to you will be filled with joy; and, if God wills, I can pause completely with those who identify with my struggles. I pray the God of all peace will be with you all. Amen.”

We talk a lot about the role of the church in our culture as one of taking a stand and being a moral voice for God, of raising the bar in personal integrity and morality, and/or being evangelistic. In plenty of other places Paul challenges the church in these areas. But we see here two crucial roles that often get overlooked.

We need to struggle together so we understand each other. 

  • This means honesty about ourselves. If we have never been stunned by seeing our sinful self clearly, we will never understand the anguish others feel when God’s Spirit enlightens and convicts them.
  • This means accountability. If we have never experienced how humbling it is to confess our sins to human ears, we will never understand what it costs someone to confess to us.
  • This means acknowledging our pain, grief, shame and disillusionment. If we have never wept over the hardness of this world, how will we weep with those who weep? If we have never taken the measure of our own burdens, we will never ask others to help us, and we will never understand when someone else asks us to help them.
  • This means boldly living our faith. If we have never suffered fro the sake of our commitment to Christ, we won’t be able to identify with those who have. Maybe it’s Lent…tithing our time and money…being bold with friends about our faith…taking a stand in college or at work… 

We need to “pause completely” (rest together) so we can refresh each other at certain moments in our lives. 

  • Comforting instead of confronting.
  • Listening to a problem instead of fixing it.
  • Letting a conversation wander instead of making it pointed and purposeful.
  • Putting aside our differences about non-essentials and simply resting in the peace that comes from a unity about Jesus.
  • Entering into someone else’s world by asking about their stories, their hobbies, their family, their lives, their hopes and dreams – simply because they are people of worth, who bear God’s image, who are flawed and imperfect but loved by God anyway.

The Evidence of Righteousness: Service (Romans 12-15)

How do we know beyond doubt that we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?”  In the face of all kinds of opinions about what constitutes true Christianity, how do we know if we truly are “in Christ”… and how do we evaluate our own walk? If we listen to the patter on the street (internet posts, magazine articles, FaceBook debates, etc.) the test is sincerity. As long as you’re sincere…you’re good to go!  And it isn’t merely the test for Christianity. It seems to be the test for all spirituality.

 Now, I’ll admit that sincerity is a good and noble thing, but if the basis upon which our sincerity rests is wrong, profound sincerity does not make it right!  If I sincerely believe that a homemade bridge over a raging  river is safe for my vehicle to cross --- yet the engineering study says that the materials used in the bridge’s construction are only sufficient for foot traffic --- which premise will ultimately win, sincerity or facts?

 So, how do we know if we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?”  Paul and James, in particular, offer wisdom on this subject.  The text for today is actually all of chapters 12 through14, and part of chapter 15.  I’ll only be reading selected verses.  Here’s the starting point….

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1,2)

 While it’s absolutely true that God declares us totally righteous when we surrender our lives to Him, that is only the first part of the salvation journey.  God also initiates an on-going process in our lives; a process that Anthony talked about two weeks ago in the message on sanctification. In this part of the journey we participate….and, as we’ll see today, it really isn’t optional. 

At salvation, God sends His Holy Spirit to live in us, and it is the Holy Spirit’s internal influence that begins the transformation process in us. But it’s just the beginning, and Paul continually reminds us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, moving along a continuum from “indwelt by the Spirit” to “being continually filled by the Spirit.”  

 The goal of this internal action of the Holy Spirit is to radically change our lives! God doesn’t leave us in the state He finds us. The love of God is pure, and the power of His Holy Spirit is pervasive, so much so that He draws us out of our place of woundedness and brokenness, and gradually brings us into a place of health and usefulness. And this process was never intended to be optional.

 This surrender to Christ must, in time, show itself in service for God, not to secure His salvation but to display His presence. Both Old and New Testaments (including the teachings of Jesus) underscore the principle that “obeying His commands and decrees” is the evidence of His Spirit within us, thereby proving that we have been saved and reconciled to God. Let’s look at a couple times where God laid out the basic definition of who a disciple is. 

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26  (NIV)

Jesus begins by saying, “If anyone would come after Me,” he will:

  • deny himself—put aside selfish ambition; no longer live to please self
  • take up his cross—endure personal loss, whether through opposition or disappointment or pain
  • follow Me—continually be transformed into the likeness of Jesus’ life and teachings in all aspects of practical daily living. 

All disciples put Jesus ahead of the desires/demands of family and of self. All disciples choose to die to their own rights. All disciples hand over all that they have….every resource (whether time, relationships, preferences, money, possessions, or goals) to Jesus.

 Anyone who tries to add Jesus to the life they already have, while maintaining control of their life, is not a disciple and, therefore, not a Christian. Genuine Christians, realize they are “not their own, but bought at a high price,” and they order their lives accordingly. If we were to continue reading on through the next several chapters of Romans, we would find Paul giving specifics, as to what the evidence of service looks like (Rom 12:1 thru 15:13).  Let me summarize what Paul describes!

 1) Righteous believers commit themselves to God.  That is what the first two verses in chapter 12 talked about (“offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God).

2) Righteous believers serve one another. “So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17)

3) Righteous believers obey authority.Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.” (Romans 13:1-2)

4) Righteous believers love their neighbor. It’s easy to become completely immersed within a “Christian Bubble” and alienate ourselves from the rest of our city— judging, and shaming and avoiding the world around us. Our lives as Christians should not be characterized as us versus them. It does not help us to love well. Let’s not be shocked when people who are not following Christ act like people who are not following Christ. God loves everyone. It’s a message that is radical, controversial, and, some would even say, absurd. But according to the Bible, it’s true, and as followers of Christ we should boldly say the same thing.

 5) Righteous believers depend upon Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

 Grace in Graceless Places, a book currently being used in our men’s Wednesday night study group, offers the following observation: “The essence of a true and sincere relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is that we are transformed into the image of Christ and we begin to think as He thinks and do as He did.  When we do this, our defining life-narrative moves from ‘me and my wants’ to ‘Him and His Glory and mission.’   

This is the path to living a fulfilling life; one that is rich in spiritual blessing.

Sanctification: A Parable (Romans 6-8)

 CHAPTER ONE: The Ruins*

You live in a broken, run-down house. You’ve been here as long as you can remember. You know nothing else. For a while you were able to at least keep it looking nice on the outside, but it’s always been falling apart.

The landlord seemed like a great guy at first. (2 Corinthians 11:24)  He allowed you to skip rent. He let you host all the parties you wanted – he even helped fund more than one. Sure, your friends trashed the place, but you trashed theirs, so it all seemed fair in a messed up kind of way.

But you slowly realize that the landlord is a hard owner. You thought he was your friend. He isn’t. The landlord keeps promising that you will have a better house and a better life if you will just do one more thing: fix the roof, mend some pipes, hang new drywall, repaint, rebuild the foundation that keeps sinking further into the sandy soil. But all those things cost money that you don’t have, so you borrow money from the landlord. Nothing ever pans out. You end up spackling over holes in the wall and wrapping duct tape around leaking pipes, but you know your house is going down. (Jeremiah 19:13)

It doesn’t help that you are really sick. You feel as run down as your house looks. Maybe it’s the asbestos in the walls, or the lead in the paint, or the leaky pipes in the stove. There’s something toxic about this house. It’s killing you. But as far as you know, this is all you have. This is the only place to live. You hate the person you have become in the house you’ve allowed to fall apart.

Your house is in ruin. Your life is in shambles. And to make things worse, you realize one day that somebody is following you. Literally. He’s one step behind you everywhere you go. When you are finally able to catch a glimpse in a mirror, you realize… it’s you.

Not just like you, but a zombie version. You look like one of the Walking Dead. By the end of the day, he’s got a hand on your shoulder. The next morning, he drapes his arms around you and makes you carry him everywhere you go. He stinks. He’s dead weight. (Romans 7:24)

You call your landlord hoping he can do something, but he already knew. “Yeah, they always show up in my houses.”

“Who is it?”

“It’s you. It’s just the real you. The dead you.”

“Why did it show up just now?”

“Oh, it’s always been there. You’ve been dead for years. You just couldn’t see it. ”

There’s nothing you can do. The landlord doesn’t care. Most of your friends hang out somewhere else, and the ones that show up don’t know what you are talking about. They don’t see the dead you. They try to help do things like paint the siding that is falling off the side of the house. (Jeremiah 8:11)  It’s tough for them to paint. They carry the dead with them too, and they don’t even know it.


CHAPTER TWO: Bring Out Your Dead!**

The next day a man, a stranger, walks onto the porch. “Bring out your dead!” he calls cheerily. (John 11:25)

You don’t watch Monty Python, so you don’t get the joke. “What makes you think there are dead here?”

“I can smell it on your breath; I hear it in your words (Romans 3:13); I see it in your eyes. Oh – and it clings to you like a monstrous burden. This house has killed you. Your landlord cracked the gas lines and installed the asbestos. Your landlord made sure there are no detectors for smoke or gas. Your landlord likes his tenants dead. But you were meant to be alive. (John 5:21) And I can get rid of that body of death and make this house livable.”

“How can I trust you?”

“Why do you think you even know that you are dead? You thought you were tired and sick. I showed you what was real. I opened your eyes. You needed to know. (2 Timothy 2:26) You can trust me because I bring you truth that will set you free.”

 “Why me?”

“Why not you? I care about you. I seek and save people and situations that seem hopeless (Luke 19:10). Plus, I would like to move into this house (1 Corinthians 6:19), and where I am, there is no room for death and ruin,” the Man said with a twinkle in his eye (1 Corinthians 15:55).

“Where would I go?”

“Why would you want to go?”

You sit quietly for a long time. Your father always said you got what you deserved and never helped with your house or your health. Your landlord pretended to be your friend while guiding you down a road to death. Your friends had taken their dead selves to their dead parties on dead city streets.

You look around at the shambles all around you. You remember the landlord’s harsh, condemning voice (Revelation 12:10). You feel the dead weight of your sins, failures and inadequacies on your back (Isaiah 43:24). You’ve never known anyone who seemed to care about you and your life. He offers a new start. He offers a new identity. He offers to make all things new (Revelations 21:5).

Finally you whisper, “I have no future. I have no hope. Everyone offers me death. There is nowhere else to go. You are the only one who has ever offered me life (John 6:68). So…yes. Let’s do this. I and my house are yours.”

The Man stands up and lifts my dead self off my back and onto his. “Well done. You have asked for resurrection, and I will give it. I’ll pay what you owe and get the deed to the house. I’ll be back in three days, because resurrection is neither cheap nor easy. But when I return, I will show you what life is supposed to look like.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

You watch him until he is out of sight. You wonder what he is going to do with all the dead he takes upon himself as he walks through the town. Then you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

When you awake at dawn three days later, you know everything has changed.


CHAPTER THREE: ReBuilding***

You have a hard time believing the changes. No more debt. No more creditors knocking at your door. Now the rain stays outdoors and the plumbing stays in the pipes. Your front door actually latches now. It’s…amazing. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

But the Man – you’ve started calling him the ReBuilder - has a bigger plan than you realized. He wasn’t going to just uncondemn the house and sweep up the garbage. He is planning to turn your shack into a mansion. When he first told you, you said, “Awesome! Go right ahead!” But the ReBuilder smiled and said, “Not without you. It’s our house. We work together. You need to give yourself to this project” (Romans 12:1)

You’ve got nothing to offer once again, but the man is ready for that too. He gives you a blueprint and all the tools you need. He gives you a fund to draw from for building materials, expert advice and help, etc. Since he’s the architect, designer, builder and inspector, He will be available every day – leading, guiding, protecting, correcting.

But you have to set your alarm, get out of bed, put on the tools, pick up the lumber, swing a hammer, get splinters, and break and rebuild a few things. You are going to invest some sweat equity into this house (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Some days are better than others. You notice other houses in the neighborhood that are also being transformed by this… ReBuilder… and it’s easy to be jealous of other houses that look nicer– or proud of the ones the look less advanced. The ReBuilder just shakes his head. “Build your own house with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). I’ll worry about the others.”

You get hurt; you get tired; you put walls at the wrong place and shoot yourself with the nail gun. You question the ReBuilder’s blueprint. You argue when He shows you something that is not up to code.

You sometimes think it was easier just to have the old house. You occasionally find your old landlord crouching outside your door (Genesis 4:7), wondering if he can hang out for a while. “Take a break,” he says. “Don’t take life so seriously.” Some days you actually invite him in and you hang out. It sometimes fun for a while, but it never ends well. You feel worn down again, almost as if your dead self was back, hand on your shoulder, whispering emptiness and loneliness into your ear. Your landlord always ends up roaring through your house, demolishing everything. (1 Peter 5:8)

But the Rebuilder helps you resist, and the old landlord has to leave. (James 4:7) More than once he has picked your sneaky Dead Self up by the collar and thrown him out on the street. You apologize to the ReBuilder when this happens. He hugs you. He doesn't yell (1 John 1:9). His forgiveness is a gift too (Ephesians 1:7).

But you have to spend days –even weeks - cleaning up the mess. You pick up all the stuff you can, and the Rebuilder gets the places you can’t reach and corrects the damage beyond your ability. He helps you make a plan to resist and avoid this situation the next time (Ephesians 4:27; 2 Corinthians 2:11).

There are some days you wonder why the ReBuilder even puts up with you. But he never leaves you on your own. He remains true to his word. He holds you to the code but patiently helps you when you miss the mark. He teaches you how not to shoot anyone with the nail gun. You know you are in this together, that he is for you, that he will restore you and help you even when you are at your weakest (Psalm 51:10-12).

So every day you arise and build, and you find increasing satisfaction in the affirmation of the ReBuilder and the pleasure of a job well done (Nehemiah 2:17-18; Matthew 25:23).


CHAPTER FOUR: ReBuilt and Alive**** 

It’s not all work. He fishes with you on still waters. You both shoot hoops at the YMCA and join friends at Buffalo Wild Wings for March Madness. Being around him restores your soul (Psalm 23) even while your callouses thicken. You realize that you are absorbing his ideas, his language, his priorities, his way of living life abundantly (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Others join you. Some bring their dead; some have been set free. Some still live in shacks; others are working with the ReBuilder on mansions. The Rebuilder welcomes them all. He didn’t come to condemn the dead to their bare cold shacks. He came to save them and rebuild their lives (John 3:17). You invite even more to hang out with you. (1 John 3:10)

And slowly but surely, your house is becoming a mansion (Philippians 1:6). You find that you easily congratulate others whose houses are flourishing, and you compassionately help neighbors who are struggling. The blueprint makes more sense than it used to. You look forward to your alarm clock. The old landlord still comes around, but more than ever you see through his lies (John 8:44). He rarely makes it past the bottom step of the porch. Your Dead self stays on the sidewalk.

You notice a neighbor starting to work on his house. He looks miserable. You take him some water one hot, miserable day (Mark 9:41) and find out he found a blueprint. “Oh,” you say, “Did you meet the ReBuilder?”

“No,” says your neighbor. “Why would he want to help with my house? It’s horrible. I am going to fix it up enough so the ReBuilder will notice. I think I can make mine nicer than yours. Once I make it good enough, I’ll be ready for the ReBuilder.”

You say, “This isn’t Field of Dreams. This isn’t, ‘If you build it, he will come.’ It doesn't work that way. Put your tools away. Stop trying to do it yourself (Isaiah 64:6). Unless the Rebuilder builds it, your labor is useless (Psalm 127:1). It’s making you angry and annoying your neighbors, and the next big storm is going to put you back at square one.” (Matthew 7:24-27) He returns to his works. His Dead Self turns and smirks at you as you walk away.

You find that, the longer you work with the ReBuilder, more than a few note that you are starting to look more and more like Him (Ephesians 5:1). You are humbled and encouraged; your friends used to comment on the eerie similarity between you and your former landlord (John 8:44; 1 John 3;10). This is much better.

“But,” they say, “what’s with the ongoing work? You told us this was a gift.”

“Working side by side with the ReBuilder is also a gift,” you say (1 Corinthians 1:9). “I don't deserve to be his apprentice. Who am I to swing a hammer on this house? Who am I to cut expensive trim, and build a strong chimney? I brought nothing to this project, but he gives me everything I need to build great things (Colossians 3:1-12).

“ He has given me far above what I could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). I just wanted to know Him and understand what kind of person gives grace to the failures and life to the dead (Philippians 3:10).  I just wanted to be near him and be like him. And then all these things,” (here he waved his hand to show his house, his tools, the work of his hands, the campfire where he sat with his friends) were added unto me (Matthew 6:33). This, my friends, is what happens when obedience responds to grace. This is life” (John 10:10; Romans 8:12-14).




Among other horrible things that happened during Bible times, captive soldiers were sometimes forced to carry a dead body until the rot of the corpse killed them. The Roman poet Virgil wrote: “What tongue can such barbarities record,
 Or count the slaughters of his ruthless sword? 
Twas not enough the good, the guiltless bled.  Still worse, he bound the living to the dead:
 These, limb to limb, and face to face, he joined; 
O! monstrous crime, of unexampled kind!
 Till choked with stench, the lingering wretches lay, 
And, in the loathed embraces, died away!”  Commentators note that,  when Paul was looking for an analogy about how much he hated the part of him prone to sin, he most likely built from this image when he wrote:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24)



Christ sets us free from that dead weight that’s been killing us. Why? Because He can, and he loves us.  We just need to ask. Then we are set free from that body of death. Here’s how Paul explains it in Chapter 6 (beginning in verse 2).

"We died to our old sinful lives, so how can we continue living with sin? Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ when we were baptized? We shared his death in our baptism. When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life… We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin… "



Sanctification is Spirit-driven obedience as an act of worship.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

But a living sacrifice wants to get off the altar sometimes. That old body of death is hanging around.

“On the one hand, I serve the law of God in my mind; but on the other hand, the carnal side of me follows the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)

This is an image for the process of sanctification. Initially, we are set apart (sanctified) when we are justified by Christ. It changes our identity. We are no longer spiritually dead, enslaved to sin. Now we are alive and renewed. In an ongoing manner, the justified person who submits to God's will is becoming conformed to the image of Christ. Colossians 3:1-12 gives a great description of how the process takes place:

Since you were raised from the dead with Christ, aim at what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Think about the things in heaven, not the things on earth. Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God.  Christ is your life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. 

So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. These things make God angry. In your past, evil life you also did these things. But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. Do not lie to each other. You have left your old sinful life and the things you did before. You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you.

This new life brings you the true knowledge of God.  In the new life there is no difference between Greeks and Jews, those who are circumcised and those who are not circumcised, or people who are foreigners, or Scythians. There is no difference between slaves and free people. But Christ is in all believers, and Christ is all that is important.

God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

See this tension? Though we are freely justified, we still have some work to do. Fitting the mold of goodness doesn’t come naturally. God will continue to do a work in us through the Holy Spirit, but there are some things we do as well. We see this tension other places in the Bible as well.

  • God works in us for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
  • God helps us bear good fruit (John 15:4).
  • God equips Christians to do his will (Hebrews13:21).

At the same time the Bible also states:

  • We must work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12).
  • We work to supplement our faith with virtue and good works (2Peter 1:5-7).
  • We commit to abounding in the work of the Lord (1Corinthians 15:58).

Justification is a declaration, but sanctification is a process.



"We died to our old sinful lives, so how can we continue living with sin? Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ when we were baptized? We shared his death in our baptism. When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life… We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin... “ (Romans 6:2 and following)

Baptize meant to "put into" or "immerse" so that the thing baptized takes on the properties of the thing into which it was baptized. Garments were "baptized" in dye so that the garments took on the color of the dye. Cucumbers were “baptized” so that they became pickles. Christians absorb the righteousness that comes from Jesus’ death and resurrection. But part of devotion is making a choice about to whom you will offer yourself.

Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone, then you are really slaves of that person. The person you obey is your master. You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him. In the past you were slaves to sin—sin controlled you. But thank God, you fully imitated the pattern of our teaching. You were made free from sin, and now you are slaves to goodness.” (Romans 6:16-18)

This pattern of our teaching” refers to melted metal cast into a mold and conforming to the impression that is sunk or cut in the mold. They used to pour themselves into sin, and they conformed to its pattern. Now they are choosing to pour themselves into the truth about Christ, and they conformed to it. They looked like goodness.

"If we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him…You should see yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive with God through Christ Jesus. So, do not let sin control your life here on earth so that you do what your sinful self wants to do. Do not offer the parts of your body to serve sin, as things to be used in doing evil. Instead, offer yourselves to God as people who have died and now live. Offer the parts of your body to God to be used in doing good. Sin will not be your master, because you are not under law but under God’s grace."  (Romans 6:1-8; 11-14)

 “To live” in something was to be wholly given to it. An ancient writer, Aelian, wrote: “The Tapyrians are such lovers of wine, that they live in wine; and the principal part of their life is devoted to it.”  Not only do we soak up righteousness (which is a passive word of transformation)  We can be wholeheartedly devoted (an active verb).



Building on a previous definition, Sanctification is Spirit-empowered obedience as an act of worship in response to grace. When we see our righteous works as responsive worship to a God who so deeply loves us, our obedience, our righteous acts, become a profoundly personal expression of trust in God. Conformity to the image of Christ follows commitment and obedience. We aren’t obedient in order to be justified; we are obedient so we can increasingly enjoy the life we have been given in and through Christ. Sanctification reminds us:

  • We need renewal and transformation all the time. Be humble.
  • What we choose to do matters. Be purposeful.
  • God does not coerce; God invites. Invite others.
  • God’s Spirit and ongoing grace are vital. Be dependent on Him.
  • A sanctifying God loves unsanctified people. Extend this grace to others.

Justified (Romans 2-5)

Have you ever tried to justify yourself?

  • “The sun was in my eyes.”
  • "My alarm didn't go off!"
  • “I had questions about my homework assignment but it was late and I didn’t want to bug you or my classmates…”

 Justification is what happens when we give a reason for something we did. In a deeper sense, we justify because we want to remind ourselves and others that we are good. Justification is our way of proving that what we do is okay – so we must be okay too. In a more formal sense, justification is a legal term. Something that is justifiable is shown to be “just, right, or reasonable.” (Merriam-Webster). It’s that which absolves us of guilt. If the scales of justice were truly balance, our reasons/excuses would counterbalance the bad things we’ve done.



When Paul wrote in Romans 1 that Gods’ wrath is being revealed against godlessness (our broken relationship with God) and wickedness (our broken relationships with others), he gave quite a list of things:

  • sexual activity outside of God’s design
  • injustice
  • criminal activity
  • lusting for more
  • mean, aggressive attitudes
  • gladness when others suffer
  • intentional homicide
  • the love of quarrelling
  • Deceit
  • Exploitation
  • Craftiness
  • Destruction of reputations and character
  • Fighting God’s will
  • Enjoying doing wrong and hurting others
  • Ego and Arrogance
  • Creatively devious
  • Rebellion against authority
  • Unwilling to think and act rationally
  • Untrustworthiness
  • Heartlessness/mercilessness
  • Enablement of all the above

In all these cases, the people were worshipping “the creature more than the creator.” It’s idolatry. An idol is something other than God that you think justifies your life choices – or even your life. By the end of Romans 1, Paul’s Jewish readers were probably nodding their heads and thinking, “Oh, yeah. Let the judgment roll! Godless, idolatrous heathens…” Then Paul starts Chapter Two this way (and I paraphrase Romans 2: 1-8):

“All of you Jewish people who are reading this and judging? You do the same things as part of the habit and routine of your life. Why do you think you should avoid being judged? It appears that you think God’s kindness, mercy and patience are insignificant and contemptible. If you thought they mattered – if  you understood the depth of your depravity and the cost of Christ’s love – you would have repented from your sins. You would be changed. Instead, you’re stubborn, unrepentant, people who choose idols. You are going to face the same wrath of God as the people you so smugly judge.”

What were these idols, these justifications? We see the list beginning in Romans 2:17:

  • “But I’m a Jew”
  • “But I trust/rely on the Law”
  • “But I am close to God”
  • “But I have lived in God’s will and I approve of it fully”
  • “ But I knew every detail of the law”
  • “But I am a guide to the morally blind”
  • “But I am a source of radiance to sinners in darkness”
  • “But I am a wise instructor of the foolish”

This is not a bad list in and of itself.  But it had turned into idolatry of a different kind. These were things the Jewish readers thought were “just, right, and reasonable” and would make them okay:

  • “You call yourself a Jew” – the Idol of Nationality
  • “You trust/rely on the law” – the Idol of Moralism (Moses)
  • “You brag about being close to God” – the Idol of Identity (Abraham and the covenant)
  • “You know his will and approve of it” – the Idol of Self-Righteousness
  • “You know ever detail of the law” – the Idol of Knowledge
  • “You are a guide to the morally blind; a source of radiance to sinners in darkness; a wise instructor of the foolish” – the Idol of My Amazing Self

All the things that they thought made them “just, right and reasonable” - their opinions of themselves, their reputation, their place in their community and in the eyes of God – had all become idols that were showing them to be unjust, wrong, unreasonable, and frankly unlikable. No wonder Paul says: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24). The fact that God’s name was blasphemed would hardly have surprised them. But the fact that God’s name was blasphemed because of them? That’s…intimidating. Depressing. Deflating. That will knock your spiritual legs out from under you.

Paul did not sign off his letter at that point. He’s working his way toward a gospel message of hope and restoration. But they wouldn’t understand the beauty of God’s justification until they saw the worthlessness of their own attempts at justification.


We can be like the Roman Christians. We can hear about the Romans 1 sins and be in complete agreement: “That is so wrong.”  We want the picket lines and sermons and blogs and news stories and campaigns and conferences about abortion, and sexual sin, the breakdown of the family, unjust taxation and the murder rate in Detroit and exploitation. Of course God’s wrath is for that. Thank God I’m not in their position. But you are. We all are.

  • We have harmed children (with our words and attitude)
  • We have given in to sexual sin
  • We have contributed to the brokenness of our own family
  • We have used other people
  • We have been dishonest with our money
  • We have gossiped
  • We have chosen to be blind and irrational about our choices
  • We have been untrustworthy
  • We have secretly taken pleasure in the embarrassment or failure of others.

Paul says God could use our own deeds will judge us (Romans 2). All God would have to do at Judgment Day is play back a record of the moral standard to which we held others and judge us by it. 

  • All the times we said, “That’s wrong. That’s gross. That’s out of God’s will or design. That’s against nature. That’s ignorant. That’s mean. That’s self-centered and cruel. That’s using people.”
  • All times I said to my wife, “Be more patient with the kids.”
  • All the times I told my kids, “You are not using your time wisely!”
  • All the times I have thought, “He needs more self-control.”
  • All the times I thought, “Wow, she was really inconsiderate.”

God could just take my quotes and match it to my life. Guilty. Sometimes, God name is blasphemed because of us. Our justifications won’t matter.But look at my theology and doctrine. My great emotional experiences! My spiritual disciplines! My good moral decisions! My godly kids!  My reputation! Those make me okay! I am surely justified.” If you think that, you are an idolater. You are worshipping what you have done and what you have to offer; you are trying to justify yourself and make yourself righteous and acceptable to God and others by your own merit. But Paul says (Romans 3:10 and following):

  • “No one is righteous” – legal condemnation of guilt
  • “No one understands” –blind to truth
  • “No one seeks God” – bad motives
  • “All have turned away” – broken wills
  • “Our throats are open graves” – words betray inner decay
  • “We are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery mark our way, and we don’t know peace.”  - we leave a trail of destruction
  • “We have no fear of God.” – if we did, we would take life more seriously

We have to understand how unjustifiable we are before we can understand the beauty of what Christ offers to us. We must fully acknowledge that we are the worst sinner we know (that’s how Paul saw himself in 1 Timothy 1:15). Charles Simeon, a preacher from the 18th and 19th century, wrote, “There are but two objects that I have ever desired…to behold; the one is my own vileness; and the other is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And I have always thought that they should be viewed together.”

This bring us to the good news of genuine justification.

But God has a way to make people right with him without the law, and he has now shown us that way which the law and the prophets told us about. God makes people righteous through their faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for all who believe in Christ, because all people are the same: Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard, and all need to be justified by his grace, which is a free gift.

 They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ. God sent him to die in our place to take away our sins. We receive forgiveness through faith in the blood of Jesus’ death. This showed that God always does what is right and fair, as in the past when he was patient and did not punish people for their sins.  And God gave Jesus to show today that he does what is right. God did this so he could judge rightly and so he could make right any person who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26)

This is the “gospel, or “good news.”  It literally means “good herald.” It’s from the word angeloi, which referred to a man whom the emperor would send from a battlefield to declare victory.The gospel is not advice to show us what we are supposed to do to be righteous and justified; it's the good news of what Christ has done so we can be righteous and justified.

On our own, we are dead in our sins; we owe a debt that we cannot pay; we can never do enough to justify our life.  But Christ paid the debt. This good news is for us, but it’s not about us. It’s about Christ. Because of the sacrifice of a Christ who loves us, all our sins, flaws, failures, inabilities, and weaknesses are not only balanced, they are swept off the scales.

In Romans 4:7-8, Paul quotes David from Psalm 32. “Blessed are those whose wrongs have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the person whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Paul and David did not say, “Blessed are those who do not sin, and who through obedience avoid sin.” They said people were blessed when their sins were covered, and God did not charge to their account what they deserved.

Christ has made it possible for every terrible thing we do in life to be made right. He will balance the legal scale of justice. Because of Christ, we are made right (“righteousness”) and good. That is our only justification.

Since we have been justified through faith in Christ, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.  Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.

 But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us.  As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life? In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.” (Romans 5:1-2; 8-11 - The Voice)

Righteousness (Romans 1-2)

I suspect you’d agree with me that a life of ease is what most of us want. If given a choice, I’d take a life of abundance: good health, adequate finances, trouble-free relationships, and cars that never rust! But despite our wants, the reality is that life has a fair amount of trials and difficulties that often result in great emotional pain and even physical pain.  In the process, we begin to live guarded lives. We shut down in one or more areas. We certainly don’t automatically experience the rich and full life that we so desire. 

This pain in our lives that we’ve been examining in our recent series on emotional health not an accidental blip on the radar screens of our lives.  It’s not an inexplicable interruption in an otherwise smooth and productive life.  Struggle is actually a very normal part of this thing we call life.

We live in a fallen and broken world  that our sinfulness has created (read Genesis, chapter 3).  And ever since the fall of man we have experienced this struggle in our human existence. If you’re tempted to think it’s an isolated thing, listen carefully to the people around you this coming week.  Listen to their stories.  You’ll hear a common tread running through them.  Life is beautiful…but it’s also hard. This struggle that is so much a part of our human existence is necessary and purposeful. 

Our inability to do the very thing that we so desperately desire; to live happily and successfully on our own, free of all outside intrusion (emphasis: our inability to do this) is the very thing that ultimately makes us attentive to God, and to His offer of relationship. When life no longer works for us, when the pain or struggle or loneliness is too great; when questions are too many and answers, too few --- we look up in search of God.

 And all of this seeming tension is by God’s design! He created us, and our existence, with the full knowledge that we would struggle and that the pain would often be hard to bear. He knew that when we could no longer make sense of our lives we would begin to search for Him. 


The Book of Romans presents the most complete explanation of the Christian faith found anywhere in the Bible.  Romans supplies the “who, what, where and why” of Christianity. Romans explains things like:

• Who is God?

  • What does He think about me?

    • What does God require of all of us?

      • Why is Jesus Christ so important?

        • What does the Holy Spirit do?

          • What happens to people after they die?

            • What does it mean to be saved?

              • How can I know for sure that I am saved?

                • Does God care about how I live my life?

In the coming weeks we will deal extensively with the the primary them of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome: the idea of RIGHTEOUSNESS.  To begin, it would be helpful to define the term.

Righteousness is not the following: atrocious, awful, bad, base, black, blamable, censurable, corrupt, criminal, crooked, culpable, debased, debauched, decadent, degenerate, degraded, demoralized, depraved, disgraceful, dishonest, dishonorable, disreputable, dissipated, dissolute, errant, erring, evil, evil minded, execrable, fallen, ignoble, immoral, improper, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, infamous, inferior, iniquitous, knavish, libertine, loose, low, low grade, mean, mediocre, middling, naughty, nefarious, objectionable, offensive, pathetic, perverse, perverted, poor, profligate, rascally, reprehensible, reprobate, roguish, rotten, scoundrely, second class, shameful, sinful, substandard, terrible, unbecoming, unethical, unfair, unholy, unjust, unprincipled, unscrupulous, unseemly, unworthy, venal, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wretched, or wrong.

RIGHTEOUSNESS, or right standing with God, is not having ANY of that stuff.  I’ve already noted our inability to DO RIGHT (to be righteous) on our own, and about the value of the “struggle” as that process that shows us we need an answer outside ourselves.  So, now we come to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter one. Paul begins a step-by-step explanation of how we who are sinful can become righteous.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scripture 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord… I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:1-4;16)

So God desires relationship with us, but because He is Holy and we are sinful, it is impossible without something occurring outside of us; something beyond our control, and    certainly beyond our capability. That “outside thing” is the gospel. The most compact and clear explanation of the gospel message occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that (A) Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that  (B) he was buried, that (C) he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that (D) he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…"

 God could have chosen any method He wanted to provide our salvation. He could have chosen to package it in a pill that we swallow. But He didn't. He chose to bring about salvation through the gospel message. It is the power of God that does the saving, and the message of the gospel is simply the method that God chooses to make it happen.


NOTE: The idea expressed by Paul throughout the book of Romans regarding salvation is one of a journey that begins when we first put our faith in Christ but continues, day-by-day in faith, as well.  The phrase,” The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17) is found several times in the New Testament, but it begins in the Old Testament.  Almost three thousand years ago the prophet Habakkuk wrote, “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked; but the righteous will live by their faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)  The righteous (those who put their faith in God) will live  --- (be productive and sustained) by their faith (demonstrating a faithful trust in God and His promises)