Romans

What Are You All About?

What are you all about? If you are a church leader, what is your church all about? If you had to give a one-word answer, what would you say?

As Paul begins his letter to the Romans, he writes that he has been called to be an apostle, “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). In other words, all of Paul’s life and ministry revolves around the gospel. That’s Paul’s “what-am-I-all-about-in-a-nutshell” word (see Rom. 1:16-17, too). To Paul, the gospel isn’t simply some piece of “helpful” information he throws to people on his missionary journeys, as if it’s a pill they swallow or a membership they sign up for to get eternal life. Paul’s whole existence is centered on the gospel, so it is gospel he’s going to give to saints that they might be more like Jesus and to unbelievers that they might come to Jesus (see Rom. 1:15).

Why is his focus on the gospel? First, God promised the gospel in the Hebrew Scriptures (Rom. 1:2). Paul, like the other New Testament authors, read the Old Testament “christologically,” that is, the Old Testament promised and foreshadowed Christ’s incarnation, redemption, and restoration. The gospel does not exist in a vacuum–it is grounded in the history of God’s people Israel.

Second, the gospel does not just promise Jesus, it reveals who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus’ life and work is the content of the gospel. As it has been said before, he is the gospel. In Romans 1:3-5, Paul’s writes that Jesus is revealed in the prophets (the Old Testament) as the Son of David and the Son of God. He is the One who has ushered in the new creation through his resurrection and the one who has given us grace and the mission to make disciples of all nations.

Discipleship, mission, sacraments, doctrine, and other things are vital to our lives as Christians. But none of them can be the main thing. The gospel gives unity, meaning, and purpose to all those things. In his book, Center Church, Tim Keller writes, “Because the gospel is endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one ‘main thing’ of a church” (37). Would that it be so for our churches and our own lives!

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

Christians have asked this question centuries. Even in today’s globalized, social-media-driven world, Christians are still asking it. In question 60 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, the question is posed: “Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?” Here is its answer:

They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

It is true that there is salvation in no other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12). To be saved means to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that he is risen from the dead (Rom. 10:9). God is sovereign and he saves those whom he wills (see Rom. 9:19-24; John 6:44; 10:25-28; Eph. 2:8-9). The unsaved are non-elect, and therefore, those who have not heard are not elect. Furthermore, people are condemned because they are guilty sinners (6:23). We must remember that there are no innocent people in the world (Rom. 2:12-16; 3:10-23).

How could this be, you ask, when a person in the jungles of Africa does not even know God exists? John Calvin helps us understand: “Since, then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of deity is inscribed on every heart. No, even idolatry is ample evidence of this fact.” (Institutes 1.3.1).

God promises there will be a multitude from every tribe, language, people, and nation who were ransomed by the blood of the Lamb and who will reign with him forever (Rev. 5:9-10). So rather than raising a finger at God for what is clearly taught in Scripture, we must resolve to spread the gospel across this earth, making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). That might mean leaving all you have to be a frontier missionary. It might mean giving more (yes, more) money to missions. It will definitely mean praying often for unreached peoples. In all you do, remember to rest in the truth that God will bring all his sheep into one fold under the care and provision of their one, good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:16). cit confession, that a sense of deity is inscribed on every heart. No, even idolatry is ample evidence to this fact” (Institutes 1.3.1). There is a sense in every person that God exists. and the very fact that we worship something proves it.

To hear a little more on this, listen to a two minute audio clip to from John Piper.

My Top 10 Posts of 2011

Top ten lists. That is what the last week of December is for, right? I should probably get in on the action before it’s too late. Without further adieu, here are the top ten posts from this small corner of the blogosphere. Thank you all for reading. I am truly humbled.

10. Your Words Have the Power of Life and Death
9. The Result of a Depraved Mind: Practicing and Approving of Evil Deeds
8. Gospel-Centered Devotions
7. I Want to Love Jesus, Not Just Know Stuff About Him
6. Long Snapping Amazement
5. Happy Anniversary to My Wife
4. Biggest Out of Context Pet Peeve: Matthew 18:20
3. The Rob Bell Saga
2. Thoughts on Erwin McManus’s Talk at the Global Leadership Summit
1. Should We Rejoice Over Osama Bin Laden’s Death?

If you read this blog often, what was your favorite post of 2011?

Christian and Unbaptized? Unthinkable.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

How could someone, Paul argues, who has died with Christ through the public display of baptism (the external display of an internal reality; the symbolic representation of our death and resurrection with Christ) still continue to obey sin as a master?  Baptism is a display of what Paul spoke of in 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  Baptism is an outward act that one has been circumcised in the heart and wants to display it to the world.  Baptism is what signifies our death and resurrection with Christ.  It is not the instrument through which we die and rise with Christ.  John Piper gives the analogy of a marriage and the wedding ring:

All of us who have put on the ring of marriage have, by putting on this ring, forsaken all others to cleave only to our wives. Therefore by this ring I am united to my wife alone and dead to all others.

Now you could press the language and say, “Aha, it was the actual putting on the ring that caused your forsaking all others and your cleaving to Noel alone. You said it explicitly: ‘By this ring, I am united to my wife alone.’ What could be plainer? The ring does it all.

But that is not what I would mean by these words. I would mean that putting on the ring is a sign of my forsaking all others and cleaving only to her. The decisive leaving and cleaving is in the promise, the covenant, the vows. “I plight thee my troth.” “I promise you my faithfulness.” Then comes the ring, the symbol.

The vows stand for faith in Christ, and the ring stands for baptism. And the point is that we often talk this way. We often speak of the symbol as though it brings about what it only signifies.

But is baptism just a symbol? In Galatians 3:27, Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  This, and Romans 6:3, does not mean baptism saves you.  Grace through faith alone justifies a person before God (Rom. 3:24-26, 28; 5:1; Gal. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:5, 8-9).

However, baptism in Paul’s day has a much more significant meaning than it does today.  We have cheapened the meaning of baptism in the Christian church. In his commentary on Romans, Doug Moo writes, “J. Dunn…points out that the early church conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which he calls ‘conversion-initiation’” (Moo, Romans, 366).

In Acts 10, when Peter is preaching Jesus to the Gentiles, in the middle of his message, the Holy Spirit came upon them and immediately.  Peter did not wait and have them complete a spiritual gift survey or go through a membership class or a doctrine class.  He said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?” (v. 47).  In Acts 8, when Philip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch, the Ethiopian believed and immediately asked Philip if he could be baptized (v. 36).  In Acts 16, Lydia and her whole household were saved and on that same day they were baptized (v. 15).  The point is that when people believed in the NT, they were immediately baptized as a public declaration that they identified with and were saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. To these new believers, and the New Testament writers, it was unthinkable, even inconceivable, that a person would believe in Jesus yet not be baptized with water.

Would Paul have a category in his mind for a Christian who believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior and repented of their sin, yet was not baptized? No. There are many reasons that baptism isn’t done immediately today, but I won’t discuss that here. The point is this: if you are a Christian and are not baptized, what is holding you back? Don’t disobey. Believe and obey, and get baptized today!

Android App Created to Hide Calls and Texts

An Android app called CATE (call and text eraser) was created by Phillip Immler, a cop and law student, to hide what you don’t want your spouse to see on your phone.  No joke. In the online story, the author quotes Immler:

“I had a good friend of mine who went through a divorce because his wife was finding things on his phone. It intercepts call and text messages from people on your lists and stores it within the app,” says Immler.

The author continues:

Only the app owner has the passcode to unlock the contacts he or she decides should be hidden from view. There’s already buzz over the app online.

Divorce attorney Robin Roshkind says while the app may promise to hide your infidelity, it won’t stop a determined woman or man wanting to know the truth.

The story ends by quoting Immler again, when he says that he doesn’t condone cheating. Really, Immler? Yet you help adulterous people hide their sin from their spouse?  This is not surprising–this is the way the world works.  God has spoken of actions such as these–listen to Paul’s words:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32; my emphasis).

The good news of Jesus is that even adulterers and those who approve of adultery can be saved: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).