Protestant Reformation

Soli Deo Gloria - The Banner Over Us

Romans 11:33-36

Soli Deo Gloria—The Banner Over Us

This morning, take your Bible and turn with me to Romans 11. Romans 11:33-36. There is also a copy of the text, along with the sermon outline provided for you in your worship guide.

Today is our final week in the series we have been doing on the Solas of the Reformation. We have been making our way through the Five Solas. If you missed the first four you can go back and listen to them online. 

But this is the final week, and this last sola is Soli Deo Gloria. It is listed last intentionally—not because it goes from most important to least important, but it is a fitting conclusion. It is the capstone and the summation of the other four.

If you were to sum up all that was recovered in the protestant reformation, the supremacy of God was the end result of the recovery of Scripture, the restoration of Christ to His proper place, and the key doctrines of salvation including justification by faith alone, and salvation by grace alone.

Well if you are anything like me, your worship of God waxes and wanes. You love God, you want to worship Him rightly, but you can be inconsistent. 

If we are honest, sometimes our worship of God falls far below what we read about in Scripture. Sure, we believe God deserves worship. We know it is something that we ought to partake in. But in our neglect, He isn’t all that central and ultimately worthy of our attention or adoration.

Perhaps you are full of joy in God today, or maybe your heart is cold and distant. Whatever the case, by ambition in our next minutes together is to reestablish God’s rightful place of highest praise in each of our hearts. To realign our perspectives with a fresh vision of the glory of God.

Before you start a small gasoline engine you must prime the motor by squeezing that little bubble that starts the flow of gasoline into the chamber so you can start the engine. Well that’s what we are going to do together this morning.

The apostle Paul is exalting our great God. And studying his reflection is stimulating and invigorating in our own worship of God as we eavesdrop on his praise. Paul has just been recounting God’s salvation plan, which we will look at in more detail later. But on the heels of this reflection he says, beginning in v.33:

Romans 11:33–36—33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

This is spontaneous praise that comes rushing to the surface of Paul’s expression as he reflects on God’s grandeur. Most specifically, as it pertains to God’s plan of salvation, but it goes beyond that to His work as Creator as well.

Trying to capture this spontaneity in stating that:

Paul Bursts into Three Expressions of Praise to Our God

  1. God’s Holiness is Unfathomable (33) His Perfections & Purposes
  2. God’s Existence is Unrivaled (34-35)
  3. God’s Glory is Ultimate (36)

That sounds arbitrary or overly emotive. But it isn’t. Note the first word: Oh

Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Why is it here? It’s exclamatory. You would shout “O” in Hebrew, “O” in Greek, and “O” in English. Surprise. Shock. Exclamation.

When Paul wrote the new testament, his original manuscripts did have upper case and lower-case letter. Everything was already capitalized. Furthermore, there was no punctuation. We have some school-aged children that wish they grew up learning Koine Greek rather than Engilsh.

So today we get all of the wonderful joys of people emphasizing things by writing in all capitals, or using quadruple exclamation points. As a side note, please don’t use multiple exclamation points—the point of an exclamation point is that you are emphasizing something… one will do.

But instead of capitalizing or using exclamation points, an author uses Oh for making an exclamation. So, Oh is exclamatory. 

And, it often precedes an intense warning or correction:

  • Paul uses it when he warns Timothy to guard the Gospel deposit (1 Timothy 6:20) O Timothy.
  • He uses the expression when he frankly rebukes the churches in Galatia (Galatians 3:1) saying O you foolish Galatians.
  • Our Lord used it on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:25), when He said, O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken.

And so here is spontaneous praise. There are other indicators, such as the fact that this is a verb less phrase that indicates, as one grammarian put it: “this is the equivalent of an “emotional outburst” by Paul.” 

Now, generally speaking, emotional outbursts are to be avoided. But this outburst is not stemming from a lack of self-control, but rather is a sanctified outburst. 

It is sanctified, because it is deeply rooted, not in emotion, but in theology. It’s as if as Paul contemplates God’s grandeur, he can’t help himself. Praise is both natural and expected of something that’s praiseworthy.

I mean if right now in the middle of my sermon we put up some photos of kittens and puppies in little elf costumes, I guarantee that we would hear an audible, “awwww” echo throughout the room. 

Why? Because it’s cute. And when people see cute things we coo. It’s natural and I would dare say even expected.

How much greater then, does the contemplation of our majestic God result in audible expression? Our Trinitarian God compels not only our hearts, but our mouths, and when we see Him rightly, we are moved to praise. 

That’s what Paul is experiencing here. Out of the overflow of the mouth the heart speaks (Matthew 12:34) when Jesus says it He is highlighting the negative, but it cuts both ways. And here it is a song of praise that is beginning in the heart and bubbling out through mouth.

Totally different than contrived praise. I had a praise leader that while we were singing in church he used to do a big cheesy smile and point at it in effort to get people to look happy while singing to God. Smiling isn’t the only way to express praise as if that was the issue. But praise isn’t something you talk yourself into.

Genuine praise flows out of the heart. And genuine praise by definition includes a joyful expression. Praising God is content-driven, resulting in emotions, not emotion-driven. Paul as he sat writing this letter amidst writer’s cramp and everything else going on his life is experiencing powerful, intense emotions.

Well I trust that I have your attention now, and you are ready to discover along with me, what exactly it is that has Paul praising God so vigorously. And so, we come to Paul’s first expression of praise to our God.

Paul Bursts into Three Expressions of Praise to Our God

  1. God’s Holiness is Unfathomable (33)
  2. God’s Existence is Unrivaled (34-35)
  3. God’s Glory is Ultimate (36)                        

(33) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 

Paul’s praise here is not focused on those parts of God which He does understand, but rather those parts of God that He doesn’t understand. Paul’s praise here is not focused on those parts of God which He does understand, but rather those parts of God that He doesn’t understand. 

Here is the beginning. God’s holiness compels worship. Remember holiness isn’t righteousness or perfectness. Holiness is God’s “otherness” the fact that He is set apart from His creatures as distinct. 

Average and ordinary things aren’t worth getting all excited about. You don’t tell all your friends about how exciting it was that you had Cheerios for breakfast. Or do a touchdown dance when you park the car without hitting the cars next to you.

The depths are not average and ordinary though. The depths is that which is far-reaching, and beyond us. The point is it pushes past the outer boundaries. Fathomless. 

But the grammatical weight here isn’t on the head noun, depths. No, here the modifiers are the important words. It’s a rhetorical device that indicates the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge. In other words it isn’t that God is deep, but rather that His riches are so rich, and His wisdom is of such a different kind and category and are so wise, and His knowledge so far exceeds anything you could even imagine.

Three fathomless perfections of God, displayed supremely in His salvation plan.

For the sake of clarity, just a brief note on how to understand riches. Some of your Bibles translate this verse as depth of riches, which modifies wisdom and knowledge with that concept. The NASB and KJV do this. 

The ESV on the other hand takes riches as being parallel to wisdom and knowledge. It reads: the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! The reason for the discrepancy is that the grammar could technically go either way. 

In Paul’s actual expression all three are given in parallel. Most likely the reason to take riches as related to depth is because in the NT whenever we read about the riches of God it is in conjunction with something else. It is never just riches (Romans 9:23 the riches of his glory; Ephesians 1:7—the riches of His grace). Secondly, wisdom and knowledge are two peas in a pod. They go together like peanut butter and jelly and so riches becomes the odd one out.

Both concepts are true. I believe Paul’s emphasis here in the context favors the way the ESV renders this. And when Paul speaks of riches, He has on his mind the riches of His glory and grace.

In effect, this is what has just taken place. Paul has spent the last 1,500 words from 9:1 to 11:32 recounting God’s redemptive plan to pluck out vessels for honor from humanity and rescue them from the vessels for destruction. He has reflected on how Israel rejected God, but God has not forgotten Israel and is even now preserving a remnant, and will one day restore His people to Himself.

And as he is writing, it is in heart to move into the application of these truths, which will begin in 12:1. But before he gets there, Paul exclaims: O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!

This whole thing is beyond me. All of these relate to salvation.

  • Riches: 11:2 the abundance of God’s kindness. Ephesians 3:8 the unfathomable riches of Christ. It is bestowed lavishly.
  • Wisdom: the plan of salvation as He designed it. God could have created us without a plan for salvation—consider the angels. He could have created creatures that were robots who didn’t exercise the will to choose to worship or to rebel. But in his wisdom giving creatures the ability to choose, having them choose false ways, then redeeming some of them is wise. It maximizes his glory.
  • Knowledge: God knows everything possible and everything impossible. He knows what He created, didn’t create, and could have created. Here knowledge probably relates to God’s foreknowledge (related to 8:29, and 11:2)? God’s knowledge of us, not our knowledge of Him. It refers to his ordination of all things.

God has significant wisdom and knowledge in all things, but here the primary context is that of His saving plan… Jews and Gentiles in chapters 9-11.

Paul is not thinking abstractly here but concretely of God’s wisdom and activity with regard to Jews and Gentiles. In his wisdom and knowledge, He has planned history so that his judgments and ways would be effected in the lives of both Jews and Gentiles. He has imprisoned all in disobedience in order to lavish his mercy upon all.

The next phrases further express the same thought:

How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

These words are overlapping in meaning. Two parts saying the same thing. Unsearchable and unfathomable are synonyms, as are judgments and ways. Judgments and ways here refer to God’s salvation planning. 

A lot of times we hear judgments and we think legal verdict. But this is better understood as:

[God’s] executive designs about the direction of salvation history.

How God decides to direct the course of history. Some are in and some are out. The way God formulated His plan… the whole nine yards from beginning to end are his ways.

Unsearchable means impossible to get your mind around. Human imagination can’t capture or explain how and why God does what He does, beyond His judgments are unsearchable.

And unfathomable means untraceable or trackable. It would be like footprints that a hunter cannot follow. You are on the trail for a little bit, and then whatever you were tracking went across the river. You lost it.

Paul is quoting Job here. What does Job have to do with this? Job illustrates the folly of you and I trying to understand and explain all of God’s ways—particularly as it relates to his salvation plan.

You and I don’t even know the fullness of God’s plan with Job. But we understand more than Job did—the whole interaction with Satan and the vindication of Job, and the sanctifying effect this trial had on Job’s life. 

But you had a group of people putting their heads together with all their collective wisdom to scrutinize and understand and explain God’s ways: Job, his wife, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. How many of them came to fully understand on their own? Crickets.

Paul doesn’t mean you can’t understand how to be saved. Paul doesn’t mean you can’t understand those things that God has written about. But at some point, we have to admit that it is too much for us.

The finite attempting to comprehend the infinite is like a worm trying to comprehend a human.

The connection to Isaiah 40 is interesting in this regard. In Isaiah 40 the context is God promising to deliver Israel from Babylon. I’m going to deliver a little, relatively weak nation, out of the hands of a strong and powerful one. It seemed astounding. 

First God orchestrates their captivity, and then He orchestrates their release. He gets glory in their punishment, which was the promised consequence of breaking the covenant they had made. Then He gets glory in their redemption, by bringing them out of captivity. Sound familiar?

And now in Romans 9-11 God leaves Israel for Gentiles, and yet before the end of this era, God will be in a widespread manner, saving ethnic Jews into the church. No one could expect that plan before it happened.

Paul bursts out with a marvelous doxology, in which he rejoices that God’s temporarily setting Israel aside glorifies His incomprehensibility. The full wonder of God’s gracious omnipotence is wholly beyond human understanding. It staggers even the most mature Christian mind, including the mind of the apostle himself.

This is incredible. We can understand the basics of Creation, Fall, Redemption, but the whys and the why nots. Who’s in and who’s out.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so my ways are not your ways, neither are your ways my ways… God is not a man that He should change His mind…

Paul Bursts into Three Expressions of Praise to Our God

  1. God’s Holiness is Unfathomable (33)
  2. God’s Existence is Unrivaled (34-35)
  3. God’s Glory is Ultimate (36)

We are guilt of a great reversal and begin to think that God exists for us rather than us existing for Him. And so Paul is going to flip this on its head by asking three rhetorical questions. You know what a rhetorical question is. It’s a question that you ask that isn’t really a question at all.

You are making a point and using a question to express it. In fact, if someone responds we usually get annoyed. These are questions such as:

A few examples of these include questions such as:

  • Can fish swim?
  • Can birds fly?

Or perhaps even closer to the rhetoric driving a humbling point home:

  • You didn't possibly think I would say yes to that did you?
  • Do you want to be a big failure for the rest of your life?

It serves a rhetorical purpose. Not to gain insight, but to give it out. And so, Paul asks…

(34) For Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?  35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?

The answer to each one of these questions, of course, is no one. The point isn’t to get the answer right. The point is that the question causes you to slow down and ponder it for a moment. The three questions put us humans where we belong.

The three questions remind us that: we can’t comprehend the ultimate purposes of God, we cannot the ways of God, and as His creatures, God owes us nothing.

(34) For Who has known the mind of the Lord,

Who understands or foresees the purpose of God. We say this when we know someone well. Hey, before you said that, I could read your mind. What do we mean? We knew what you were going to do before you did it because we are acquainted with your ways.

Who has anticipated God’s next move and what was in His mind? At best, we have a dim reflection of what He has given to us in His word. But certainly nothing beyond that. It’s vain speculation.

or who became His counselor?  

The absurdity of the creature attempting to give God some help in counseling and correcting Him. Force of the language is who has counseled God? Anyone here had God try to find an opening on your calendar to squeeze in a 90-minute counseling session? Maybe He just needed some quick advice. Laughable when you put it like that.

There isn’t a day that goes by in which you and I aren’t operating off of counsel we have received. Everything from how to prepare a meal to driving a car, to carrying on a conversation, you learned from someone else. 

God can’t relate to us on this one. He has never learned or improved.

Paul is quoting Isaiah 40:13—CONTEXT OF ISAIAH?

Isaiah 40:13—Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has informed Him?

The third question…

(35) Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?

Here strikes the deepest never in the hearts of people who don’t embrace the sovereignty of God. When you first read the text it almost reads as if it is like when David prays that he doesn’t want to give something to God that doesn’t cost him something.

In other words, who has given to God first as if it was his to begin with. A better way of understanding this though is who is indebted to whom. The prevailing thought of the day is that God owes mankind. Humanism reasons that human flourishing is the highest good.

For that to be the case, for God to do anything less than what is best for each creature is wrong. Paul has just said that isn’t the case. That God doesn’t owe anyone anything. Even sending Christ, although an expression of His divine love and mercy and compassion, wasn’t because He was in desperation about what He would do having lost something so valuable as you and me.

Paul is alluding to Job—context…

Job 35:7—If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, Or what does He receive from your hand?

Job 41:11—Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.

Shatters the idea that God somehow owes us anything. If you want to get technical in fact, about who is indebted to whom it is us to God. 

As the songwriter penned: “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

1 Chronicles 29:14—But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.

God’s purpose stands without feedback or judgment from the likes of you or me.

God accomplished his plan … to save some Jews and Gentiles is wise and just. He is debtor to no one’s wisdom, strength, or goodness, and he has accomplished his purposes by his own initiative.

This might sound crass to you, but God doesn’t say thank you. Because He’s the originator. We thank Him… that’s the order. This is a divine putting us in our rightful place.

As Paul asks these questions, it makes clear that to attempt to explain and understand the fullness of God’s purposes, or to sit in judgment over how He executes His salvation plan, or whom He saves, or believing that He owes you or anyone else something is like playing the Monday morning quarterback.

You think that God’s sovereign election is hard for you to stomach. Paul has just written about how his heart breaks to see his fellow countryman sit so near salvation and be cut off so that the Gentiles might be grafted into the branch.

That’s the guy at the office who is an expert in what the all-star quarterback of his favorite team should have done. Meanwhile this coworker couldn’t throw a football across the parking lot, or sprint down the football field once, but he can tell you what play should have been called and how it should have been executed. 

That guy needs to be quiet. You are out of your league and you have no business speaking the way you are speaking right now. You see this and you say, “you know what? I’m going to let God be God, and I’m going to just be quiet on this one.” And yet that is enough—my soul finds rest in God alone.

It is not wrong to struggle with these truths. They are hard. But to say, “God, I’m struggling, help me to understand, and help by doubt and fears, and I trust you, but I’m having a hard time with this” is categorically different than sitting in judgment and putting God on trial for a plan that you don’t like and assessing it as not being in keeping with His character.

When God seems unjust, humility flips the chairs and puts self in the hot seat. Humility recognizes that God is not the one on trial. You can’t assess His wisdom or counsel Him. His purposes must be vindicated. And so, you say, “may I be wrong, and let God be found true!”

Well God is incomprehensible to us—His Holiness is Unfathomable, and God is self-existent—His existence is unrivaled. And that brings us finally to the culmination of it all…

Paul Bursts into Three Expressions of Praise to Our God

  1. God’s Holiness is Unfathomable (33)
  2. God’s Existence is Unrivaled (34-35)
  3. God’s Glory is Ultimate (36)

(36) For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Herein lies the explanation for why you can’t counsel God, and why you can’t give to Him in any way that would leave Him indebted to you. It’s all about Him from beginning to end. There is absolutely nothing intrinsic that you could give to God that didn’t first come from Him.

When studying this passage, I couldn’t escape the thought that “if I were to sum up the entire Bible in one verse I think this would be it.”

Genesis 1—in the beginning God, Revelation 22—I am the beginning and the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Cover to cover of the Bible, and eternity to eternity is all about Him. Look at these familiar words with me:

  • from Him [ἐξ]—source, originator, Creator of all. He imagined it and then invented it. He borrowed no power or wisdom in the process. This earth, the mountains and valleys, the seasons, the oceans and the moon and the stars and the galaxy, honey bees, and mango trees, and you and me.
  • through Him [διʼ]—instrumental means, sustainer…
  • to Him [εἰς]—directed, meeting final conclusion, goal
  • all things—nothing that is excluded here… good things? τα παντα
  • to Him be the glory forever—the ultimate end of all things… not some glory, not part of the glory, but the glory.

As Tom Schreiner states:

The purpose for which the world was created is God’s purpose. It is fitting, therefore, that the text ends with an acclamation of God’s glory. The one from whom and through whom and to whom are all things deserves all the glory. 

The salvation of Jews and Gentiles is glorious. But it isn’t ultimate. It penultimate. That means it sits underneath that which is ultimate, namely the glory of God. All of history is to point to this one great reality.

One of the essential components of worldview is meaning and purpose. Why do we exist? For humanist this life is it. There is nothing beyond this life, so make the most of it. This viewpoint was summed up by the late Christopher Hitchens when he famously said concerning death and the afterlife:

It will happen to all of that at some point you'll be tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party is over, but slightly worse: the party's going on but you have to leave.

Friends if you follow an atheistic worldview to its end, if you believe that we are carbon and animals progressing in life as survival of the fittest then you cannot have any basis for morality or meaning.

Racism can’t be bad—it’s just survival of the fittest and we band together in self-interest and the people in power win. Poverty can’t be bad—it’s natural selection. Even horrific crimes such as abuse and murder and rape—can’t be morally wrong. We don’t prosecute polar bears for eating their offspring, or lions for chasing down gazelle and violating their rights. 

Thankfully, atheists aren’t consistent on this point, but if you were to remove God from existence then you are left without a basis for moral distinctions and without a basis for meaning and purpose.

It becomes everyone get as much as you want for yourself before you leave.

The supremacy of God over all things is reality that the sinful man attempts to deny. Romans 1 says sinners actively suppress this truth. Why? Because it infringes upon personal independence, it provides divine accountability, it limits freedoms and morality.

If time: “The Makings of a Miserable Millennial.”  

I am here to proclaim to you, that the knowledge of the supremacy of God does the exact opposite. You want to cripple people? Tell that how special and unique and important they are. Feed them the lie that their personal happiness and doing what they love and what they are passionate about is the most important thing. Tell the them that there is not God to restrict them. You know what you get? Emptiness. Discontentment. 

I’m not arguing from pragmatism that because that worldview is destructive it is false. But I put it forth to you as an illustration of the sheer folly of denying the biblical worldview.

If you want to know the greatest liberty and joy in this life it is not receiving all of the pleasure and blessing and entitlement that you can in this life, but rather in knowing the God who is worthy of all praise and honor and glory and power forever.

All things are from Him and through Him and to Him. And that gives this life meaning and color and purpose. 

In the 1800’s, a revival occurred in Geneva, Switzerland—a familiar city to the protestant reformation 200 years earlier. This revival took place under the ministry of a man by the name of Robert Haldane. Haldane was a captain with the British East India Company, and quite wealthy.

Yet God saved the man as an adult, and he began to devote himself to the furtherance of the Gospel. He arrived in Geneva in 1815 and was reading his Bible one day in the park when he got into a discussion with a group of theological students. None of whom understood the Gospel.

So, Haldane began bi-weekly bible studies with the men. When the first met, these men were entrenched in wrong views of God, man, and Christ. And yet as they studied Romans, the men were not only all converted, but they went on to be powerfully used by God throughout Europe for the sake of the Gospel. 

Haldane wrote a letter to the pastor of a Swiss Reformed Church, to let him know what had happened to these young men, and how it had happened. Allow me to read a portion of the letter, directly. Listen to the transformation:

There was nothing brought under the consideration of the students of divinity who attended me at Geneva which appeared to contribute so effectually to overthrow their false system of religion, founded on philosophy and vain deceit, as the sublime view of the majesty of God presented in the four concluding verses of this part of the epistle: Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. Here God is described as his own last end in everything that he does.

Judging of God as such an one as themselves, they were at first startled at the idea that he must love himself supremely, infinitely more than the whole universe, and consequently must prefer his own glory to everything besides. But when they were reminded that God in reality is infinitely more amiable and more valuable than the whole creation and that consequently, if he views things as they really are, he must regard himself as infinitely worthy of being more valued and loved, they saw that this truth was incontrovertible.

What’s the point? Revival came to Geneva, 200 years after the Reformation, as the supremacy of God was recovered in the hearts and minds of God’s people. 

When we study God’s sovereignty and supremacy over all things it is to fill us with wonder and awe and inspire devotion and worship. And this is the truth that brings true and lasting joy and meaning and purpose to life. 

You were created to live with God. You exist for God. 

Conclusion

You want to make use of this life? Live for the glory of God! You want fullness of joy—it doesn’t come from anything under the sun. You won’t find ultimate satisfaction in relationships, in reputation, or in riches.

As the Psalmist exclaimed:

My soul finds rest in God alone and delight yourself in the Lord. And through the prophets 

Jeremiah 2:13—For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

And Let him who boasts, boast

Jeremiah 9:24— but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD. 

My friends, this is where John Piper nails it. God’s glory and your joy are not opposed to one another. Rather, in knowing God, in loving God, and doing life with Him and for Him, you will find the greatest joy possible in this life. 

He is the fountain of living water. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The first and the last. For all things are from Him, and through Him and to Him… to Him be the glory forever.

And when you embrace that program, then you are fulfilling your God-intended purpose for breathing. First in your creation, and second in your redemption.

Living for the glory of God helps in trials because you find rest knowing that God’s maximum glory is being exalted, and that’s what you truly want most.

The apostle Paul was captivated by the glory of God—suffering, people speaking poorly of Him, ill-treatment, being poured out as a drink offering unto death. And you know what empowered that ministry?

A Spirit-enabled love for Christ that viewed the glory of God as supremely valuable in comparison to all other things.

In your battle with sin and the idols that you return to as familiar friends. Part of your problem is that you don’t have this view of the glory of God. When we see God in His splendor it melts away and saps the allure of any competitor.

Finally, this brings the highest joy and meaning to every calling and vocation. That you believe through and through that whatever your hand finds to do, do it for God’s glory in that it is pleasing worship.

Praise be to God! For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things! To Him be the glory, forever! Amen.

Solus Christus - Access to God, Full & Free

Hebrews 10:19-25

Solus Christus—Access to God, Full & Free

This morning we will return to our series on the Solas of Protestant Reformation. As you remember there are five of them. The Reformation was that period of church history from 1517-1648 that was marked by the incredible expansion of God’s Word throughout the Western world.

There was a convergence of factors including economics and the printing press that paved the way for the church to come out of the dark ages. There has always been a true church, but at the time of the Reformation, Catholicism was the dominate spiritual influence, and was a false church with a false gospel.

The fives solas are five principles that make up the key issues of the Protestant Reformation. Sola is latin for alone or only. 

Sola Fide (material principle) humans are justified solely on the basis of faith. By the works of the law no man is justified in your sight. It isn’t a mixture of God doing his part, and then we are completed by works. Rather, the righteousness of God is imputed to sinners who believe God for salvation (Luther and Romans 1:16-17).

Sola Scriptura (formal principle) as Scripture was unleashed this what fueled the growth of the church. We considered the life of William Tyndale and 2 Thessalonians 2:13 about the powerful work that God’s Word does when it is given to people with clarity and sincerity.

Sola Gratia. Incredible doctrine that salvation comes to us exclusively out of the kindness and mercy of God, and that the Spirit of God produces new life in our dead hearts. Regeneration precedes faith. Before you could believe you had to be made alive. And in this way, God gets all of the glory in our salvation and no flesh can boast.

This week we come to Solus Christus. Interestingly about this one, unlike some of the others, Catholics would defend that we believe the same thing here. If you read Catholic apologists they take head on sola Fide—we are justified by faith and works; sola Scripture—rather it is Scripture as interpreted alongside the Church tradition (both authorities).

But when we come to Solus Christus there is a defense that Catholics too believe that salvation is by Christ alone. They would appeal to the same text 1 Timothy 2:5—one mediator. They would affirm that salvation doesn’t come to us through the work Buddha or Confucius. It was the work of Christ and no one else that brings us salvation. But there is a problem here. It is a problem of eternal consequences—eternal condemnation or eternal life. 

  • That one mediator mediates grace through sacraments
  • Office of priests who bring us to Christ who brings us to God
  • Role of Mary and other saints interceding in our behalf
  • Necessity of baptism and communion for salvation

The issue of Christ alone then wasn’t the exclusivity of Christ’s person over-against other saviors; but rather the sufficiency of Christ’s work alone.

And now we get to the crux of the issue. For the evangelical, it is salvation for Christ’s all sufficient work alone. And for the Catholic dogmas it is Christ alone in terms of person, but additional means of grace are required for salvation.

There was confusion around relics, indulgences, the rosary and the mass, baptism, penance. On the one hand Christ has a superabundant work, but on the other hand, we access that superabundant work through the sacraments, mediated by the church.…

Christ alone means not only that there is one name under heaven, given among men whereby we may be saved. But furthermore, Christ alone means nothing else is required beyond his once-for-all sacrifice.

Hebrews 10:19–25—19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

2 Ways to Take Full Advantage of Your Access to God through Christ

  1. Ponder Your Privileged Relationship with God (19-21)
  2. Perform Your Personal Responsibility to God (22-25)

These two points are taken in succession, with the second building logically upon the first. Said another way, the first three verses (19-21) set the stage for the commandments that will come cascading in vv. 22-25. The privileged relationship with God is what enables you to carry out your personal responsibility to God.

Hebrews isn’t a letter per se, but rather a sermon written down. Only full-length sermon recorded it the new testament.

Hebrews 13:22—But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

And so, the preacher is delivering a word of exhortation. Exhortation is what categorically distinguishes preaching from a lecture. A lecture explains truth, an exhortation explains truth and then exhorts the will. There is a compelling obligation to obey what is heard.

In fact, the sentence structure here in terms of the main point would read like this… Therefore, brethren, (v. 19)… let us draw near (v. 22)… let us hold fast (v. 23)… let us consider (v. 24). These are exhortations, and they constitute the main verbs in the paragraph.

But before laying out these urges to the hearers to endure and persevere and lay hold of these privileges, the preacher reminds them of the basis for these instructions. Therefore, since we have… since you possess… and there are two objects. The first comes in v. 19—confidence and the second comes in v. 21—great high priest.

We could say for simplicity: Your Access to God (19-20) and Your Advocate before God (21). They are closely related concepts. The both came to you by the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his ongoing priestly ministry.

If you were going to make a distinction between the Access and the Advocate, it would be this: the access speaks to the definitive relationship you have with God the Father. It is unrestricted, it is objective, it is your status. The advocate highlights the ongoing mediatorial work of Jesus in your behalf. This is an enduring ministry from which you derive these spiritual benefits.

Persevering, enduring, and shall I say it, even thriving spiritually flows out of one source and it is the power of God in you. There are many dimensions of this relationship, but the significant one, which captures the mind of this preach is that of the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ, and the resulting privileges therein.

Taking them one at a time, let’s Ponder Your Privileged Relationship as it relates first to… 

  1. Your Access to God (19-20)

(19) Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, (20) by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,

(19) Therefore, brethren, 

In light of the priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ that I have just gone into great detail with from 8:1-10:18. Now then, these three verses serve as a summary of the privileges which you receive through your Great High Priest.

since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 

Both the preacher, and his audience have this confidence to enter into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus.

The holy place (literally the sanctuary) formerly referred to the innermost part of the temple. That place was off limits to the folks, and even the priests. One priest, the high priest could enter into that chamber, but only once per year. Highly restricted access.

Of course, now the holy place isn’t a small room in a building in Jerusalem, but to the place where God dwells. The earthly holy place was temporary, and it was clearly not a place where the everywhere present God was contained. God’s presence was manifested in a special way there, but even in the Old Testament, the people of God understood that God cannot be housed in a building.

1 Kings 8:27—But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!

Psalm 11:4—The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.

God is in heaven, and He is completely unapproachable. In fact, Moses saw a little glimpse of part of God’s glory (Exodus 33:11, 20). But no sinner can behold the full glory of God and live.

John 1:18—No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

An unapproachable God, who has restricted access to Himself, not out of a cruel game of divine-hide-and-seek, but the necessity of His separation from sin.

Perhaps this relationship is best pictured by Adam and Even. Before sin, God is walking and talking with them in daily fellowship. After sin, God removes them from the Garden and puts an angel with a flaming sword to keep them away. Do you get a sense for the separation? And we have never known it any other way.

In the old covenant, before the priest could enter the inner chamber, the holy of holies, there was a series of rituals that he would accomplish… explain the blood.

Blood was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The wages of sin is death, and bloodshed equals death. And so now, by the blood of Jesus the preacher says, we have gained free access to God.

This is a decisive, game-changer.

Hard to imagine the combination of shock, and if believed, joy a Jew would experience hearing this. God’s presence was off-limits and intimidating. And now the preacher says we have παρρησίαν: assurance, confidence, openness, free access.

By saying free we don’t mean of course that the access cost nothing. Surely it was acquired by cost. But it is free in that the type of access is unrestricted.

The best illustration I could think of here is that of a prince. Most commoners in a kingdom will never meet the royal family in person, let alone share a meal. To get a meeting requires setting it with staff who have layers between the king and queen, and the outside world.

You don’t shoot a text to a king and set up a lunch appointment. But for a royal child? They place in the throne room, and make a mess at the royal table. What is intimidating for most is intimate for those little ones.

They don’t require background checks, or advanced scheduling. They don’t have to go through metal detectors and fill out paperwork. 

My dear friends—you have intimate access to God through Jesus Christ. When you enter into the sanctuary of God in your prayers, in your meditation, in your worship, you don’t come sneaking in, or tiptoeing or reserved but with full confidence. 

Because by the blood of Jesus the divine Son, sacrificed Himself, so that you could enjoy the fullness all the privileges He has as a perfect Son.

This was radical. It was totally new, just look…

(20) by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,

The old covenant was the way to God for 1,500 years. And now Jesus comes and says there is a new way that brings not death, but life.

John 14:6—Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

The access point to the inaccessible God is Jesus Christ. In that sense, this way is highly restrictive. It is exclusive that Jesus is the only entrance into the heavenly throne room. And this is a new way.

The preacher says which He inaugurated for us… inauguration is the legal kickoff of a covenant. Blood makes a covenant effective. A covenant is a binding promise. Your relationship with God is based upon the promise of God. And the promise had to be brought about with blood.

Hebrews 9:18—Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

The first covenant was inaugurated with blood, and so was the new covenant. When Jesus gave up His life, He brought about a new covenant, a new relationship with God with new features and benefits in contrast to the old covenant.

1 Corinthians 11:25—In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

This free access to the heavenly throne room through a new way (hadn’t previously existed before and is qualitatively better than that which it replaced). Went from being a housed in a building in one city in the Near East and today exists with equal access, full access worldwide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

2 Ways to Take Full Advantage of Your Access to God through Christ

     1. Ponder Your Privileged Relationship with God (19-21)

  1. Your Access to God (19-20)
  2. Your Advocate before God (21)

(21) and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

The and [καὶ] here connects this object to the since we are having back up in v. 19. This is the second privilege.

The house of God is the church. A few chapters earlier the preacher uses this language:

Hebrews 3:6—but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Paul will use the expression household of God—structure, familial context, a foundation, building up. There are all kinds of analogies that flow out of this imagery.

What was the job of a priest in the old covenant?

  • Priests were a vital, even necessary component of the Old Covenant. When you think of a priest, at least the godly ones, these were precious to God’s people. The priest would (note Azurdia on this point about burying, and performing ceremonies). Note difference between the high priest and the regular priests? Lev. 21:21—chief among brothers. No higher office/mediator

What now is the job of Jesus, the great high priest?

The emphasis here is on what the living Christ is doing now interceding on your behalf. You think his death was valuable to you, it was the necessary beginning, but it was by no means the end of his work.

Having a great high priest is a remarkable privilege. Priests labor for your spiritual benefit in the old covenant, and now this high priest does the same. You know that when you are sinning, or straying, or even just sleeping, Jesus is interceding for you.

And even as you hear the sound of my voice this morning Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, continually making intercession for you. He ever lives and pleads for me…

You want to talk about a buoying truth to bring confidence. On the days that you hardly give God in heaven the thought He deserves, there’s Jesus, thinking of you, praying for you. His work is tireless. He never dies. There He is praying for your spiritual protection, caring for you.

These truths stand in direct contrast to the Roman Catholic teaching concerning Mary, the rosary, the saints, the office of the pope, the bishop, the priests, and even the role of the church.

In the proper view of the priesthood of the believer, the Reformation applied the doctrine of Solus Christus to demonstrate that access to God was not restricted through rituals, and He isn’t accessed through the church. Rather, God is access by individuals directly through the priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We are so familiar with the new covenant it is hard to imagine it any other way. But it would have seemed too-good-to-be-true as it was announced. Removing restrictions is a key part of advertising: no more blackout dates on using your frequent flyer files, or no more extra fees on your phone bill.

How do we take hold of this truth? Well, let the truth have its intended effect, by bringing your heart courage and confidence before God. You have access, meaning your relationship with God is not marked by separation or fear, but by love and intimacy.

And you have an advocate meaning that you have another performing in your behalf. 

If I can be so bold as to say it carefully, and yet with the authority of this text: if you are in Christ, then your relationship to God is not defined by your performance, but the performance of Jesus Christ in your place.

The access plan to God isn’t through human effort, but by faith in the effort of Christ.

2 Ways to Take Full Advantage of Your Access to God through Christ

  1. Ponder Your Privileged Relationship (19-21)
  2. Carry Out Your Personal Responsibilities (22-25)

Now we come to three commands lined up in a row. They are framed up in a distinct manner. The instructions still carry the weight of an imperative (i.e., do this), but it is issued in the form of an appeal.

The preacher is saying, in light of what you have just heard, I want to urge you to make use of these incredible blessings. Your privileged opportunity has consequences. 

And now I want to see you put your freedom to work, and you to take full advantage of it. Therefore, since you have access and an advocate… 

  1. Come to Your God (22)

(22) let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Seize the opportunity of accessing God, which Christ made possible through his priesthood and his personal sacrifice. You have it, so use it.

Again, such a foreign concept. Exodus 20:18-19 at Sinai where God made enacted the Mosaic Covenant after the nation had left Egypt and receives the law, the people were full of fear and trembling, and begged Moses to speak to God for them so they didn’t have to face Him.

Hebrews 12:18—For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,

Hebrews 12:22—But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels,

Echoes the refrain of drawing near to God…

Hebrews 4:16—Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 7:25—Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 11:6—And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Get a theme? In a time of spiritual instability, or weak faith, or struggle to persevere and endure, then draw near to God.

Look at what sits behind it all: having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

One of those phrases that has about as many interpretations as interpreters. 

It is clear the main sense of what the preacher is saying here, even if the specifics are harder to come by. Blood and water were used to consecrate the priests. We read of Aaron and his sons being washed with water, sprinkled with blood and consecrated and cleansed (Exodus 29:4, 21; Leviticus 8:6, 30).

It was part of the Old Covenant. Even the priests needed to go through a process to be made clean. But now through the blood of a Christ the new covenant has come, which brings inner cleansing. A thorough cleansing, even of the conscience. This was a promise of the new covenant:

Ezekiel 36:25-26a—Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart…

Sinners are called to cleanse themselves by coming to God in confession and sorrow over sin. But who is the one who ultimate does the cleansing? God does.

And now you and I are urged to come to Him with full assurance and a clean conscience. Drawing near to God isn’t limited only to praying, although that would be included. Faith, worship, studying, fellowship, meditation…

Allow me to say on the authority of God’s Word that if you have been cleansed by Christ than you are thoroughly cleansed. Your reproach is removed because He bore your reproach. The stain was transferred onto Him. Hearts and bodies—thoroughness of sins you have committed with your body and with your heart. God takes it away.

Here God is wiping away the stain and reproach and the shame and the defilement and wiping the slate clean. No more defilement—as a new creature in Christ, behold God makes all things new.

The audience that the preacher is writing to in Hebrews is concerned that these people are going to abandon what treasures they have been given to return to the former system. His express purpose here is to re-establish in their minds the magnitude of what God has done for them. 

Friends, when you let this truth wash over you, it will produce worship. Because you didn’t deserve this. You got let off the hook, when justice should have exacted that you personally pay for every sin you committed. 

You have access and now as a consequence, the Spirit of God implores you through the pages of Scripture to make use of that access. Not in self-confidence, but in confidence in Jesus Christ.

2 Ways to Take Full Advantage of Your Access to God through Christ

  1. Ponder Your Privileged Relationship (19-21)
  2. Carry Out Your Personal Responsibilities (22-25)

 

  1. Come to Your God (22)
  2. Cling to Your Hope (23)

(23) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 

Here is encouraged for the spiritually discouraged and the fainthearted. Although the word confession is here, this isn’t the confession of the faith. He isn’t saying cling to your profession of faith (the Gospel), but cling to the hope-producing Gospel.

The idea is, amidst pressure to give up, don’t swerve to the right or to the left, but cling to your privileged position. You have been given full access to God the Sovereign Creator. Remain fixed and steadfast and stable in that conviction.

How can you remain hopeful in the face of promises unfulfilled? The answer is right here: by fixing your eyes on the character of your God.

He who promised is faithful πιστὸς γὰρ ὁ ἐπαγγειλάμενος.

God’s people find courage to face trials and temptations and unfulfilled longings by taking comfort in the conviction that God is faithful. It means that He is trustworthy. In what sense? He will never act in a way that is not in keeping with His character. He will never break a promise. He will never run out of resources to make good on a commitment. He will never change.

Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers in this truth:

1 Thessalonians 5:24—Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

And here in Hebrews we find the similar concepts of clinging to hope due to God’s trustworthy character.

Hebrews 6:18—so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.

How did this look for the original audience?

How does this look for us? i.e. what to repent of?

I have a hard time thinking of a more important truth in all of Scripture. This single attribute of God would negate every other attribute because you if you can’t trust everything He says, then you could trust nothing that He says. If God has said it, He will do it. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is the same yesterday today and forever.

If you have been with us on Wednesday nights in our Home Bible Study one of the early principles we have discussed in encouraging one another biblically is the importance of establishing hope. It isn’t merely some wistful feeling of positivity that trusts, “the sun will come out tomorrow, bet you bottom dollar that tomorrow’s gonna be…”

Well this is so encouraging. You have been given this privileged relationship to God through Christ, that you now maximize by coming to God in faith, clinging to the promised hope by faith, and now for the final personal responsibility:

  1. Ponder Your Privileged Relationship (19-21)
  2. Carry Out Your Personal Responsibilities (22-25)

 

  1. Come to Your God (22)
  2. Cling to Your Hope (23)
  3. Care for Your Brethren (24-25)

(24) and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. 

Your love for the body of Christ is vital to God. 1 John 4 says that the love we have for one another is to make God known and visible. That’s a high calling. And here the application is to care for one another’s spiritual well-being.

God saved you through the ministry of Jesus Christ, and now calls you into ministry. And these two verses are helpful because they are very simple to understand, and very practical to apply. Let’s just walk through the words and understand them, and then briefly apply them.

Verse 24 starts off with a divinely issued homework assignment:

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,

Let us consider κατανοῶμεν. It never ceases to amaze me how much effort it requires to think. Especially to think deeply and thoroughly and carefully. And yet that’s the principle here. The call is to ponder, and strategize, and pray about, and mull over, and plan how to help bring about growth in one another.

Love wants the best for others. That love goes into action then as you thoughtfully consider how to kindle love and devotion to Jesus Christ in the lives of those in your sphere of influence.

One the best passages on bodylife in the Scriptures. Just look at the language. The words to stimulate… to love and good deeds. You need to provoke each other. Most the time we think of provocation negatively.

Scriptures warn fathers not to provoke children to anger. Siblings often find it tempting to provoke one another. Here you are supposed to work at provoking, in a positive sense. The thought is stir each other up, provoke one another spiritually, awaken and stimulate zeal, spur one another on.

Serve one another by being a spiritual catalyst in each other’s lives. Love and good deeds. Clearly this verse is teaching that we need each other to become who God intended us to be. Love—sacrificially setting aside self for the benefit of others. Good deeds—living righteously.

And there is a nuance here that is small but profound. The NASB renders this verse, let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, which is clear and accurate. But in the original the sentence is structured a little bit differently.

The object of the verb is not the how or the what but a whom. 

And let us consider one another… my friends this is profoundly different that a programmatic approach to bodylife (by bodylife I mean church life, church ministry, serving one another). You are called to think about each other’s spiritual lives.

This is Ephesians 4:16 in living color—the body causes the growth of itself… strong churches have vibrant bodylife. They are vibrant (or alive) because the Spirit of God is at working and moving in and among the people of God causing spiritual growth.

 If I could be so bold as to say it this way: the spiritual health of Cornerstone Bible Church is only partly dependent upon the pastor, or upon the leaders. But our spiritual health will be limited or flourish based upon your faithfulness to this task.

You want to see God work in a church in profound ways? It is through the saint’s ministry to one another. The vision for bodylife set forth from this passage is one where you have spiritual conversations with one another, intentionally.

When you are apart, you are reflecting. “I remember my brother said something that I have been thinking about and praying about, and I want to ask him some more questions next time I see him.”

As you pray for others, you listen and observe, you think and mull over, you consider passages of Scripture, and your words are measured and have a specific goal in mind. 

It is the right truth at the right time to address the right issue—some need to be admonished and called to an account for disobedience, others need help in figuring out how to practice truths they know, but have yet to apply. This is love and this is obedience. Saved by the ministry of the Lord Jesus for ministry.

Preacher gives two more little modifiers to this instruction.

not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some… some of the members of the body were neglecting the precious gift of their spiritual community. They were careless in how they regarded their time with one another.

Started out with other priorities creeping in whatever they were. And eventually it became the habit to not be with God’s people when they gathered. They got into a pattern of life that wasn’t conducive to meeting regularly, and became comfortable to spend time on other things.

The call here becomes clear then. You cannot be spiritually useful to the body of Christ if you aren’t vitally connected to the body of Christ. How else could possibly carry out the instruction to spur one another on spiritually? That requires time—time praying, time studying, time conversing. If your involvement with one another is primarily Sundays here and there, then you are missing out on bodylife, and more pointedly to this passage, you are robbing others.

I will ask the question this way: who are you blessing right now in the body of Christ? Who are you loving with this type of love? How are you cultivating relationships in such a way as to be able to carry out these instructions?

It is natural to think that the neglect of the meetings was motivated by fear of recognition by outsiders in a time of persecution, or by disappointment in the delay of the Parousia, or by some other acute concern. It is sobering to discover that in the early second century in Rome it was simply preoccupation with business affairs that accounted for the neglect of the meetings of a house church (Herm Sim 8.8.1; 9.20.1).

but encouraging one another; 

I love this. The view isn’t that you are personally missing out when you neglect the brethren, but rather they are missing out on you. 

Encouraging one another παρακαλοῦντες a verbal form of παράκλητος, the word we translate as helper for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Helper, Comforter, Encourager (παράκλητος) and now our ministry to one another is to παρακαλοῦντες.

Friends, this is the priesthood of the believer. You have a ministry from God to one another. And as we studied last week, there is an urgency to this command.

and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Literally, so much more as much as you see the day coming near. Here is eschatology—the day is the day of the Lord when Jesus returns in his second advent. What’s the point? Urgency because spiritual things matter most.

You see that day approaching and it generates a hope-filled incentive that focuses your attention on the task at hand. When Jesus comes then our work here is over. We don’t know when that trump will sound, or when we will breather our last breath, but there are no extra innings, no overtime, no extensions. It’s done. 

The connection is so obvious when you apply it to everyday life. That little word that creeps into the workplace often: deadlines. Few people like them, but fewer would argue for their effectiveness. They are important. 

Coupons without a short-term expiration date lose effectiveness. Work projects get moved forward with deadlines and accountability. And when you have an important deadline what happens? You have to drop other priorities to get the job done in time. And so here, the preacher says, do this fervently, but so much, much, more as you see the day nearing.

This passage brings such confidence and boldness and joy. And it leaves us sitting here, humbled that God would bring us into an intimate relationship with Himself. And all that He had to do to get us there.

Sola Gratia - Salvation by God's Grace Alone

Ephesians 2:1-10

Sola Gratia—Salvation by God’s Grace Alone

In John Wesley's sermon "On Working Out Our Own Salvation" (sermon #85), Wesley stated that prevenient grace elicits, "...the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against Him."

The Second Council of Orange of 529 stated that faith, though a free act, resulted even in its beginnings from the grace of God, enlightening the human mind and enabling belief.[11] In canon 23 it is said that God prepares our wills that they may desire the good. Canon 25 states, "In every good work, it is not we who begin... but He (God) first inspires us with faith and love of Him, through no preceding merit on our part.”

If it sounds like we are splitting theological hairs here to some degree we are. And yet the reason why neither side is able to concede to the other is because the implications are humungous. 

When we speak of God’s grace in salvation, we mean to say that it is irresistible. That is to say, that if you could resist God’s grace you would. But rather that when God’s grace invades a sinner’s heart, He causes that individual to be born again.

This is the doctrine of regeneration, and it is the doctrine that most significantly highlights the bifurcation here. The Calvinist view is that God regenerates spiritually dead people, an Arminian view is that God gives enough grace to spiritually dead people that they can now either choose God or reject Him. And so the issue is that of monergism or synergism. Mon—alone, ergism—working. Who does the work—God ultimately from beginning to end, or God does his part and we do ours and together you see, we lick the plate clean.

Perhaps the greatest passage on this truth is located in Ephesians 2:1-10.

2 Manifestations of God’s Immeasurable Grace in Your Spiritual Biography

        1. The Grimness/Gravity of Your Miserable State (1-3)

  • Dead to God         (1)
  • Enslaved to Satan     (2)
  • Alive to sin         (3)

        2. The Greatness/Glory of Your Marvelous Salvation (4-10)

  • The reality
  • The reason
  • The result  

What we are going to do here is rehearse your B.C. condition (before Christ). This is your universal, spiritual biography. In fact, if you are in Christ today, then this is your testimony. Not in the specifics of timing of events, but in terms of the framework, we are viewing a history lesson of each of our spiritual biographies.

There are different ways to speak of an issue—let’s say that you have a gossip problem, and your loving friend wants to bring this matter to your attention. Human language offers your friend three possible ways of bringing up the issue. Two are indirect and one is personal.

  • Third person—your friend’s comments generally, “I have noticed lately so many people with gossip problems. They speak poorly about their relatives and their co-workers.’ Again, if you are paying close attention to tone and expressions it is quite possible that you might catch the drift that your friend isn’t just merely making an observation without a context, but rather is attempting to clue you in to something you are oblivious to.
  • Second person—this is the effective one. This is where your friend looks you in the and says, “I have observed you are speaking poorly about others to those who are not in a position to help the situation. Here are some examples I have seen you do it in, and I want to encourage you to honor Christ with your lips.
  • First person—your friend begins to tell, “boy, I used to gossip, it was a real problem, I used to throw people under the bus and latch on to any juicy morsel I could find.” It might be convicting, if you can pick up on the intended innuendo. But if your friend says, “I’ve been convicted that we have a gossip problem that is completely effective.

Throughout the Scriptures we read passages and truths in each one of these ways. But the most personal is that of second person. In our passage I set before you today that the Apostle Paul is using language that will leave the Ephesians universally and individually convinced of their own biographies here. It is universal—all of us, and individual—each of us.

Ephesians 2:1–10—1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and [we] were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

14 Xs not they, not them, not people, not sinners, but you, we and us. Please hear the Word of our God to you today…

The first manifestation of God’s immeasurable grace in your spiritual biography is…

  1. The gravity of your miserable state.
  • You were dead (3)

1. And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,

Paul says, not that people are born dead, but you believers in Ephesus were born dead. A spiritual stillbirth. One the hand, a living soul that will remain for eternity, but on the other hand, that soul is dead to God.

What does it mean to be spiritually dead. For the Arminian it means that your relationship with God doesn’t exist. You are relationally dead. The cross reference used here is that of the prodigal son in Luke 15:24, when he returns the father exclaims what?

Luke 15:22-24—22“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

And so the argument goes, we were relationally dead to God.

And that is true. In fact, Paul is going to deal with that exact topic elsewhere in this letter:

Ephesians 2:12—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 4:18—being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;

So that’s true. Prior to salvation you have no interest in God, no relationship with God, you are unable and unwilling to worship God. But when we are considering what Paul means when he uses the word dead here, going to a parable which is not trying to explain regeneration and then bringing that meaning back into this passage is bad hermeneutics.

You don’t work from less clear passages back to the more clear. Paul is describing a spiritual state here. The Parable of the Prodigal son is as much about the Father and the older brother. It isn’t teaching regeneration. 

As we will see in this passage, the issue is regeneration.

You were dead in your trespasses and sins.

Sheer hopelessness. You were struggling in your sins. You were trapped in your sins. >You weren’t sick or hurting or weak or lacking in wholeness. You were dead.

Again, note the intensely personal nature of this instruction. Paul’s believing friends in Ephesus are not hearing about the church abroad, they aren’t hearing in third person about what God does in other people, this isn’t the sins of the world. I want you to stop where you are sitting and feel the weight of this personally applied to your own thinking.

What does a corpse need to come to life? Antibiotics? A ventilator? IV fluids? A blood transfusion? A heart transplant? No. No. No. No. A corpse needs to be brought back to life. And you begin to see the hopelessness, and the need for sovereign grace.

How capable is something that is dead? Utterly incapable of anything.

You smelled like death. There is no spiritual activity. There is no life. And furthermore, you set to remain in that state until your physical death, which precedes your eternal spiritual death.

 “The use of the two synonyms here… helps to convey an impression of the immensity and variety of the sinfulness of the readers’ past.”

These sins characterized your life…

2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

Although you at one time are dead to God, you are still very much alive to sin, and enslaved to the power of Satan.

And yet the Gospel truth here is so rich. You formerly walked… formerly means previously—something that was at one point true, which now no longer is.

What used to be true is that you walked according to this world. περιεπατήσατε—established pattern of conduct in your life… walking implies direction. Romans 12:1-2 speaks of not being conformed to the pattern of this world.  This age is the age that Christ came to deliver us from (Galatians 1:4) this present evil age. See further discussion by Lincoln.

The implication in that text is that this is the default position that we are in.

The course of the world is the manner of thinking and reasoning. You were making you decisions and actions according to a humanistic worldview. Waling is movement, pattern day after day, making progress in it.

And all this is under the influence of Satan:

according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

Ruler of the realm of the air. And then it says of the spirit it means that Satan rules the spirit of the age. Grammatically this is two ways of describing the same basic reality. Satan is not all-powerful and has a limited, delegated authority that from God that is terminal (it has an expiration date).

Satan is ruling the air and the sprit. The air refers to the unseen realm. Satan isn’t dwelling in heaven with God, but he also isn’t confined to planet earth. There is a dimension that he operates in that is unseen to us. Not only does he rule the air but he also rules the spirit (of the age). It is not personal, but impersonal. Complex grammatical scenario, but it is best rendered… the spirit of the age… note:

1 Corinthians 2:12—Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,

But his influence right now is over the air the spirit of the age (idea, believes, convictions). Satan doesn’t make people do bad things, but rather puts forth competing ideas about God, and he fuels lies and tempts the flesh. It is an active role.

Now at work in the sons of disobedience.

νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος—active, ongoing role, empowering, igniting, encouraging, utilizing. This work is not static or stale. You could call this progress in the wrong direction.

Sons of disobedience—if you were to use a descriptor to characterize they are disobedient to the commandments of God. They are ungrateful, lovers of themselves, abusive, etc. (2 Tim 4…)

Pagan worship of Diana in Ephesus. 

Dear friends, this is a terrifying reality. Satan is a powerful force, the adversary, the evil one, the accuser of the brethren, the opportunistic enemy of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4—in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Ephesians 1:21—far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 

We are talking different realms. It’s like taking the most talented and incredible high school basketball team in the history of high school basketball, and the putting them up against the Golden State Warriors.

Colossians 1:13—For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,

Powerful spiritual influences keeping you in darkness.

3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

ἐν οἷς—in and around

καὶ ἡμεῖς πάντες—universal identification we also all “I may have been Jewish, but I was right there with you. Perhaps Paul hadn’t committed all the extortion and immoral deeds that the Gentiles in Ephesus had, but he no stranger to sin.

What’s the assumption of the human heart. There’s evil out there. Many people are bad people. Me and my friends are pretty good.

Paul isn’t referring to a particularly degraded element of society, but rather describing the condition of fallen humanity everywhere always. Elizabethan age. The so-called Bible Belt. The rural areas. The good ‘ole boys. He is including himself in his Jewish background… the most conservative branch of monotheism.

ἀνεστράφημέν—idea again of the pattern of life. This is how you spent your time, your vitality, your creativity, your imagination. Rather than living for the Creator. But what about the humanist you say? 

τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς—not children characterized by wrath, not wrathful people, but rather a genitive of destination. It speaks of where these children are headed. Use of the imperfect—existing day by day in this state.

Romans 9:22—What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

As natural parents transfer congenital defects and diseases to their offspring as genetic material is downloaded into a fertilized egg, so spiritually you were born in corruption.

Romans 5:12—Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

A classic scenario of being dead on arrival. Doomed before you even got started. 

Whose wrath? The wrath of God. God’s righteous anger that is controlled and calculated against the injustices and the unrighteousness against Him. You are guilty. Convicted. Sentenced. Now awaiting judgment. That’s the picture.

Illustrated: a raft floating down the river with no oars, the torrent is rushing and the destructive waterfall of God’s wrath is nearing.

Rather than being characterized by restraint, your manner of life is that of indulgence. That’s such a vivid concept. Rather than denying fleshly desires and rather than denying your sinful thoughts, you give in to them. They dominate you. They are your gods.

Calvin thought through sanctification at a much deeper level than Luther. He was more refined. He described the human heart as an idol factory. That’s the idea here. You are producing and following idols.

even as the rest— οἱ λοιποί smacks of those “left behind.” Just like your neighbors who are still in that state. Just like every other culture—spans time and history. Conservative or liberal this is the verdict.

My friends, never give up telling people the bad news. For the glory of God and for the good of souls, do not shrink back from declaring these truths with full conviction. To minimize the Christian biography as mistakes, mess-ups, or us as lacking wholeness or whatever the case may be is to diminish the glory of God in the Gospel.

Utterly comprehensive—you have a sinful environment, you have sinful influences, and you love to sin yourself. The world (2), the flesh (2), and the devil (3) all working together.

This is your biography.

Perhaps some of you have a hard time relating to this. God graciously saved you early enough in life that you don’t have the rap sheet if you will that the believers in Ephesus did. You know what you ought to think if this was you.

  • Praise God for his restraining grace that not only saved you, but restrained even the degree of in your life prior to salvation.
  • Recognize that this is still true of you prior to Christ. When it comes to deadness there are no degrees. Sure, not everyone has the same degree of sinful bondage or aberration. But there is not somewhat dead, mostly dead, and really really dead…
  • Consider where your life would be if God had not intervened. We’ve talked about this before. But you should, knowing the pattern of your life, your personal vulnerabilities and where you tend, even now in Christ to prefer the other things over God, what your life would look like without God’s restraining grace in your life. If I take my personal sin struggles and remove the Spirit of God and send myself down that path it begins to give me a sense for what I’ve been delivered from. Whatever is your tendency to indulge the desires of the flesh and the mind, just imagine that running riot.

And so is the spiritual biography of us all. It is hopeless. There is a grimness and a gravity to your miserable state. And that is what makes the next verse so unexpected:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,

When you come to this verse the outlook is bleak. Take whatever analogy you will for being in a hopeless state. You are dead to the right things. You are enslaved to Satan. You are alive to the wrong things.

Those two little words… But God ὁ δὲ θεὸς. Greatest words of hope in the NT.

In direct contrast to all that is expected at this point… the main verb (in v. 5b συνεζωοποίησεν) in light of this truth is shocking, or perhaps better stated in spite of the participle in v. 1. Although you were dead in trespasses and sins. Even though this was once true of you, nevertheless, defying all expectations, God acted in your behalf. 

Why is this unexpected? Because bad people deserve bad things. Adam and Eve knew that. Cain learned it more profoundly. Job’s friends knew that. Noah learned that. The generation that came out of Egypt and perished in the wilderness learned that. When you oppose God, God opposes you. And when you offend God, God is offended by you. 

Not in this situation. Why? Because of the character of your God. Our God who is characterized as acting in accordance with His:

  • Mercy (4)
  • Great love (4)
  • Extreme grace (5, 7, 8)
  • Kindness (7)

πλούσιος ὢν ἐν ἐλέει—He has an abundant supply of wealth. This is the opposite of meager. God mustn’t ration His mercy lest He bestow too much and not have enough left. He has it in abundance and then He loves to be generous with it. 

Paul uses a financial term. As a rich man holds a seemingly limitless bounty from which to draw upon, so God possesses a rich supply of compassion for sinners.

Paul never got over this truth in his own heart. When he wrote his first letter to Timothy he said, “Timothy, I found mercy… I found compassion… and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love that are found in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:16a, 14). This is the love of God in Christ Jesus—it is boundless, it is rich, it is abundant and it is free.

God the Sovereign of the universe abounds in mercy. Mercy that is so triumphant over guilt that it is upsetting and scandalous at times to God’s people.

Jonah 4:2—He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

God I just knew you were going to let them off the hook. I just knew you were going to give them the opportunity to repent, and then you would relent when they did.

This was a mercy that didn’t merely feel for us in our state. He instituted the necessary steps to do something about our situation.

The riches of God’s abounding mercy and the greatness of His love are the basis of Him seeking and saving the lost. As parables of the woman searching for a lost coin, or the shepherd leaving the fold to find one who has gone astray, as the Father who longs to have fellowship with his sons, our God pursues sinners when they are at their worst.

Better rendered on account of His great love

When we were undeserving. As one pastor writes God’s viewpoint from these verses, it’s as if God says:

“I know what you are and what you have done… but because of My great love for you, your penalty has been paid, My law’s judgment against you has been satisfied, through the work of My Son on your behalf. For His sake I offer you forgiveness. To come to Me you need only to come to Him.”

5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 

“And you he made alive, when you were dead”

Does this have a ring of repetition to it? The Spirit of God, through the Apostle Paul wants to make it clear in no uncertain terms that God did the work. And that work which God did was not to “get the ball rolling” or to “ignite something” in our hearts. But rather in the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus Christ to take that spiritually dead state and make us alive together with Christ.

Main verb of the whole section so far. Everything else has led up to this point. Tough to see in the English, but all of the verbs leading up to this are helping verbs that serve to support the main verbal idea.

Friends it isn’t that I am grinding a theological axe and trying to make my point about God’s central role in salvation. This is where the emphasis in the Spirit-breathed grammar lies.

God made us alive together with Christ. In hope against hope. Contrary to all that was true of us lies this contrast in stark relief.

There are three verbs lined up in rapid fire succession. All three works are completed by God. All are active verbs with God as the subject. And each contains a little prefix. A little word in front of the verb + συν prefix. Not soon (s-o-o-n) in terms of time, but the equivalent of (s-u-n) which means with.

And so my friends, while still being dead in your sins, even then, God the one acting…

  • Made us alive + συν together with Christ
  • Raised us up + συν together with Christ
  • Seated us + συν together with Christ

Each of these great privileges is granted to us by God the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is exclusively the result of Christ’s accomplishment and then your connection to Him that grants you these privileges. 

Theologians refer to this as vital union. You and I ride on His coat tails as it were. Receiving blessings from God because of His merit. And yet we are not called the tagalong of Jesus or even his step brothers and sisters. 

No, my friends, God has so ordained that we would be joint-heirs with the very Son of God. Regardless of your earthly family situation you have an elder brother who loves you and is faithful to you, and is bringing you every spiritual blessing that the Father has to offer.

Made us alive together—regeneration. Here it is. You want to understand the great Calvinistic doctrine of God’s irresistible grace it is here. (quote James Montgomery Boice)

John 3—born again. Who is acting in birth? Quick anatomy and physiology question for all you moms out there. What was the role your child played in the process of their conception and birth? Did they select the date of their conception? Did they put together the necessary plans and resources to bring about their birthday? Without knowledge or ability, it is a process that happens to them. And it’s the analogy Jesus picks up to explain the spiritual mystery of salvation.

We will skip over the phrase by grace you have been saved and pick it up in a couple of verses.

I don’t mean to say that it is always easy to understand or explain the relationship between God’s complete power and work in salvation and man’s responsibility. But passages like this make it abundantly clear. Even while you were dead… God—made—you—alive. Friends, without trying to make this text answer more questions than it does. Stop and consider those words. Who acted first upon whom? By the power of the Spirit of God you were born again to a living hope. 

And furthermore, He…

6 and raised us up with Him, 

Raised us up with Him— καὶ συνήγειρεν—we have been spiritually resurrected from spiritual deadness in like fashion to his physical resurrection from death. Divine power. Triumph. We died in Adam (Romans 5).

This isn’t a different work. But in the process of making us alive, we were also given the resurrection power of Christ. And although we do not see it yet He also…

and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Although you and I have not experienced the fullness of our salvation, the reality has already dawned upon us. And the resurrection power, the great power that Paul speaks of back in 1:19 is a surpassingly great power that raised Christ, now is toward us who believe. 

You say, “uh I’m sitting in a somewhat cold, hard chair right now…?” Your identity is there. Your security is there. You have a fore taste of that already right now, but it is embraced by faith rather than fully experienced. That’s the not-yet part.

And as if it wasn’t clear enough yet that this work displays God’s marvelous grace. Verse 7 gives a divine purpose in this work of God…

7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

ἵνα + ἐνδείξηται (subjuctive) = purpose clause, but in this case with the Divine intention carrying it out it might as well be a result deal. There is never an intention that is unacted upon. God purposes to do it, then He will. Jews didn’t distinguish between purpose and result when speaking of Divine intention.

The purpose is to display something. What is God displaying?

τὸ ὑπερβάλλον πλοῦτος τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ—surpassing, extreme, beyond measure, riches of his grace. This emphasizes the undeserving element of God’s forebearance and patient, loyal-love based on who He is and not on who we are.

His kindness speaks of his generosity and benevolence. The imagery is of a lavishness.

Brothers and sisters, although your eternal happiness is a fundamental reality of God’s saving work in your life. It is even more about Him than it is about you. And He saved you so that

In the ages to come… his extreme generosity and kindness to you would be broadcast. When are the ages to come. Well if Paul said the age to come that would be eternity. But the ages means that then in the first century, then throughout church history, now in his church, and then one day in glory for every day in glory, God’s glorious grace will be broadcast and displayed.

This is what we are to proclaim. The church of Jesus Christ says that in spite of who we are, God pardons us with grace that is rich and free.

It also means that the more we understand this in heaven the great our praise will be to God.

Well the next two verses sum up all that we have just learned. Much like Romans 1:16-17 was the heart of the Gospel in Romans, here is the summary statement of salvation Ephesians in 2:8-9.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

The perfect periphrastic construction is most likely intensive, however. The KJV translators, though not having nearly as good a grasp on greek as modern translators, seem to have had a better grasp on English.

The KJV does a better job of rendering the Greek perfect… for by grace are ye saved… what is the difference? It is the same truth, just a matter of emphasis. In terms of precision, Paul’s emphasis isn’t the completed action as “have been saved” but rather the results or the present state produced by the past action. Right now are you are saved by grace. Your current position, not merely an historic event.

Technically it is on the basis of grace… 

Paul is going out of his way to bring in a negative… doesn’t originate from you.

But what is this it that is a gift? is actually τοῦτο (this). What is the referent? Lincoln takes that “it” refers to the entire previous clause—the macro view of salvation.

gift of God—θεοῦ [εστιν] τὸ δῶρον—a gift is something that is received without cost to the recipient. It is categorically different from a payment, which is earned. It is given without cause found in the recipient. The initiation is from the giver of the gift, in this case, God.

A gift originating from (genitive of source) God.

It is the entire package deal (not specifically grace of specifically faith, although both are God’s give). It is salvation-by-grace-through-faith that is a gift. And he continues on…

9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Greek language offered the ability to use different types of negations. Purpose clause with the strongest possible negation—ἵνα μή τις καυχήσηται.— never would anyone boast. 

If God cast his vote. And Satan cast his vote. And you cast the deciding vote then you can boast. If God issues prevenient grace meaning that He… and then you did your part, then boast about it. You should. Because you are genuinely better than other people. They didn’t choose it, but you did. Good for you.

No matter how much you praise God for his getting the ball rolling, at the end of the day what separates you from the majority of humanity is not God’s sovereign grace, but rather your decisive action upon the grace that God gave to everyone.

And in that theology you know thank God for his grace, and then if you have integrity, consider your own moral superiority to everyone who rejects. They didn’t see the value, but you did. They weren’t willing to repent, but you were. It was not monergistic (the work of one) but synergistics (the work of multiple) you and God teaming up together to save you.

And there you have the offensiveness to God of denying sovereign grace. May it never be, Paul prayed, that I would boast save in Jesus Christ… 

God’s grace is designed to save men, while simultaneously giving them no opportunity to feel superior to anyone else. You were saved by grace.

Well Paul concludes this paragraph with an oft forgotten verse. It gets left out

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

We cannot forget Verse 10 because it is inextricably linked to the thought which immediately precedes it. 

God saved to be holy. He wants you to do good works, and if you are in Christ you will do good works. You will be conformed to Christ.

For clarity your salvation is not the result of works, nevertheless the result of your salvation surely is works. Good works are not the cause of salvation. They are not the basis of salvation. But you had better believe that they are in fact the consequence of salvation. You are not saved by your works. But you are saved that you might manifest good works.

God… created… you… new in Christ  as in 2 Corinthians 5:17 so that you might no longer live for yourself, but for Him who died and gave Himself up in your behalf.

Even good works are a grace. Anytime you obey, anytime you worship God rather than self, anytime you choose to believe God rather than give in to a lie, you are displaying not your own moral tenacity, but rather God’s gracious work and sovereign plan.

We didn’t leave grace in v. 9 to move on to works in v. 10. Emphatically no! These two great realities are both God’s work from start to finish. He is the sovereign over both your introduction into this faith, and then your continuation in it.

Some translations weaken the idea here: He “designed us for” New English Bible (NEB). The relative clause beginning with which is not a whom. Whom cares? A whom means He prepared the people, this grammar says He prepared the works themselves.

We are his work, for his work.

which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Highlights two facts: 1) the importance of good works; 2) the divine origin of these works.

When? Ephesians 4:1 before the foundation of the world. Before the world was created God had purposed to save _________, and had prepared good works that you would carry out.

To say that God has prepared the good works in advance in his sovereign purpose is also to stress in the strongest possible way that believers’ good deeds cannot be chalked up to their own resolve, but are due solely to divine grace. It is grace all the way. Even the living out of salvation in good works is completely by grace. But this is not a total determinism. God has prepared the good works in advance “in order that we might live in them.” The human activity of “walking” is still necessary; the actual living out of God’s purpose in the world has to take place.

John 15 is manifestly clear. You will bear fruit if you are united to Jesus because you are connected to the productive fine who is Jesus Himself. From the vine flows all of the power and vitality needed in order that you might bear fruit.

And you are cared for attended to by the Great Vine Dresser, none other than the Father Himself. 

If you are lazy spiritually… you are missing the purpose for which God saved you. If you say, “I will do it when I feel like it… I will obey later…” Bearing fruit is not optional or discretionary, but required by virtue of your new creation. Consider a potter creating a coffee cup that decides he or she doesn’t want to hold hot beverages, or go through the dishwasher, or have people’s lips all over them. It doesn’t matter, this was the purpose. 

This isn’t to put a heavy burden on your neck, but to give you a vision of something worth living for. God saved you and made you a new creature in Christ so that you would manifest his glory visibly in bearing fruit.

If you are discouraged spiritually… take heart that God is for you and working in you. He has promised and He will do it. Memorize this verse and walk by faith.

Your hope does not lie in your ability to persevere your stick-to-it-tiveness or your stamina or your resolve.

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest; And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song, ’twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

Sola Scriptura - The Formal Cause of the Reformation

Today continues our study reflecting on the Protestant Reformation, and specifically the Five Solas that mark out the traits of the movement. The principle we come to now this week is sola scriptura (scripture alone), which serves as the formal principle of the Reformation. Sola Scriptura was the formal principle of the Reformation because it was cause and source of all the truths that were recovered (the other four solas and the doctrines of grace would be included in this).

Now, when we say, “scripture alone” we don’t mean the scripture and not the Holy Spirit, or the Scripture and not the church, and so on and so on. Rather, scripture alone means that scripture is the sole authority in the life of the believer, contradicting the Roman Catholic teaching, which elevated the tradition of the church as being on equal footing as the scripture itself.

In many ways the Reformation reflected the same reality that took place in a place called Thessalonica roughly 1,500 years earlier:

1 Thessalonians 2:13—For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

It was access to the Word of God, in an understandable language that unleashed the power of God in the church. As the Refermers sought to exegete passages of scripture in their original context (historico-grammatico hermeneutics) they recovered many precious truths concerning our great salvation, which had been lost for some tme in the Catholic Church.

In this message, the principle of sola scriptura is illustrated by stuying the life and work of William Tyndale as he sought to translate the scripture from the original languages into plain language. Tyndale’s life was a testimony to the truth penned by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:9.

2 Timothy 2:9—for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.

Sola Fide - The Crux of Salvation

Romans 1:16-17

Sola Fide—The Crux of Salvation

This week marks the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation is marked by historians as beginning on October 31, 1517 and ending with the end of the Thirty Year’s War in 1648.

Over the next few weeks together we will be studying reformation theology.

It is fitting to consider this time and reflect upon it. It is the history of the church, and it is the history of God working in profound ways to build the glorious church.

There are many different ways that we could approach this topic. We could study the major players in the reformation and do biographical sketches—that would be tremendously beneficial, and perhaps over the years we will do that, but not now.

Summarizing the Doctrines of Grace [a.k.a. five points of Calvinism]

We could also study the doctrines of grace as we call them. Those great truths about our salvation that were made so clear in the time of the reformation. These are the truths about God’s unconditional election—the truth the God chooses individuals from before the foundation of the world that they would be precious to Him. He plans to redeem them and predestines them to glory.

The total depravity of man—that we are born in sin and are unwilling and unable to please God or choose Him.

The doctrine of irresistible grace that if God’s grace could be prevented by unbelief no one would be able to be saved, but it is wholly His work from start to finish.

The doctrine of limited atonement that the sacrifice of Christ purchased forgiveness and redemption for those whom He saves, and although offered to the world, Jesus died for his people only.

And finally, the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, namely that when God saves a person they will endure to glory by nature of his decree. If one truly belongs to Christ then nothing can separate them from that love and God will always finish the work He starts.

And we have studied those truths before, and Lord willing will again. Joy producing and spiritual-walk-empowering, and evangelism-invigorating, and love for Christ-cultivating. They aren’t some dry exercise.

Introducing the Solas of the Reformation

But as we come to a historical marker concerning the Reformation I want to look at it from the vantage point that the Reformers did themselves. I want to summarize the movement for you over the next several weeks as we examine what are commonly referred to as the five solas.

Sola is Latin, where we get solo—it just means only alone. The five solas weren’t expressed as such by the Reformers. Rather, historians looking back and assessing the contemporary issues in their day and their teaching, recognize these five issues as the significant markers or descriptors that serve as the banner issues of the Reformation.

We will spend a week each on the first two and then see how we are doing. I want to weave some historical context in, a demonstration of the doctrines themselves, and establish them from the pages of Scripture. Not your typical exposition each week.

There are five of them (sometimes three, one guy tried to make seven):

  • Sola fide
  • Sola scriptura

  • Sola gratia

  • Solus Christus

  • Soli Deo Gloria

Allow me to unpack for you the great cause behind the Reformation. What was it really all about? This is going to be a thrill to your heart… to watch how your God blessed his people in this time richly and profoundly through the very same means that we have access to today.

Concerns that Calvinism produces stuffiness, or unwillingness to evangelize, or pride. No doubt many Calvinists have those issues, but it isn’t because of their theology. It is in spite of it. It is a failure to properly understand and apply the truths that they are professing. These truths are invigorating to the hearts of God’s people. The first sola we will cover is sola fide

It was a revolution more than a reformation. The impact was seen socially, economically, educationally on the West. And yet more than anything, it was a restoration of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There had been many years of darkness in the church for hundreds of years. People had been separated from the Word of God.

The true Gospel was recovered. The Word of God was translated into the language of people. The Bible began to be studied at a deeper level. Congregational singing. Bread and wine served to the people of God. Christian schools. Modern missions movement.

What was at the heart of the Reformation (the revolution). The five solas were the core principles (sola = alone or only; we have solo in English). These define the protestant reformation.

Luther

Truth be told, there were many antecedents to Luther. But in terms of when the Reformation really got moving, this surely was a landmark date. There was a confluence of factors converging in the world in terms of economics and the recent invention of the printing press all enabled the reformation.

What was the reformation? Well from the time of the apostles, Christ has always been building his bride, the church. But the dark ages or middle ages were a period of great spiritual darkness and confusion. Roman Catholicism dominated religion in the West (Europe) and the Roman Catholic Church had many centuries earlier become apostate.

They no longer held to a true gospel. Not only that, but the system kept people in spiritual darkness by keeping the Scriptures written in Latin, which was inaccessible to many common people throughout Europe. It was a tremendously effective tactic by Satan where he was raising up spiritually blind leaders to oppress and keep people in spiritual blindness.

That was the backdrop for God to do a marvelous work in his church.

Martin Luther is really the human instrument God used as a catalyst to the Reformation. Luther was unconverted, and preparing to be a lawyer when one evening on a walk he was almost struck by lightning. Being full of superstition he uttered a rash vow and proclaimed to St. Anne that if he lived through the storm he would commit himself to the ministry.

Of course he lived, and much to the chagrin of his father he made good on his vow. But whatever spiritual peace Luther was seeking, he surely did not find as an Augustinian monk.

Instead his guilt intensified. Rather than feeling closer to God, Luther felt more condemned than ever. It was not for a lack of effort. In fact he would write that if ever a monk could get to heaven by monkery it would be him.

Luther believed God was righteous and desperately wanted to be righteous before him. He followed the many prescriptions by the Roman Catholic Church for finding absolution of sins. He bought indulgences (the convenient sale of pardons issued by the church) and he visited holy sites. He mistreated his body. He slept without blankets in the cold.

At times, he would spend up to six hours per day on his knees confessing sins. Luther had a sensitive conscience and his remedy for his guilt was to throw himself with all the intensity and vigor that a human could muster in the pursuit of pleasing God.

Eventually, Luther entered the doctoral program in Whittenburg at the Unviersity of Whittenburg where he taught through the Psalms, Romans and Galatians from 1513-1516. At some point during that time period, Luther had his tower experience where he was converted.

Then on October 31, 2017 he posted his 95 theses.

  • Statements for public discourse—that’s why they were nailed to the church door, part of public discussion

  • 95 theses on the sale of indulgences (Johann Tetzel—brilliant marketer, commissioned with raising capital from St. Peter’s Basilica). He was accused of embezzlement and much of the money went to payoff personal debts incurred by the Cardinal who commissioned Tetzel.

  • He came up with the tagline: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." I’m not sure how it sounded before translation, but it has a nice ring to it… like a jingle.

  • He had the original prepayment plan. You could pre-purchase forgiveness for sins you are going to commit. This was considered especially scandalous. Nothing more than greed masquerading as religion to the detriment of souls.

And so when Luther said that indulgences were worthless and the pope didn’t have the power to absolve sins it created a firestorm. People already felt used by the Roman Catholic Church, and because this threatened Rome’s pocket book it was the touchpoint.

Copies were made and distributed throughout Germany and Europe.

Interestingly enough, Luther’s first theses, the 97 theses is little known. Merele D’Aubigne records the 97 theses, which dealt with the issues of predestination and justification by faith alone. These were the real issues for Luther.

But those didn’t garner much attention. It was the financial scandal of the Catholic Church at this time that ignited the interest of the people.

And so, the these were copied and distributed. And so, began the Reformation of the Church. At the time the Catholic Church was apostate—no longer a true church that preached the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. Progressively drifted from the true church. And now amid these dark days, the Word of God went forth and God began to call his people out of the Catholic Church, and give them new life—born again not of the flesh but by the Spirit to a new and living hope.

The material principle. It is the substance and heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Core biblical teaching that salvation comes to the sinner through faith alone. What must I do to be saved? Most important question the church could ever answer.

Romans 1:16–17—16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

2 Reasons Paul is Eager & Unashamed to Preach the Gospel in Rome (15-16a)

  1. The Gospel demonstrates God’s power in saving sinners (16b)

  2. The Gospel reveals God’s righteousness in justifying sinners (17)

Getting a running start, Paul hasn’t been able to come to Rome, and yet look at his disposition.

Romans 1:15—So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Free translation—I’m chomping at the bit, I’m ready and rearing to go get there to be with ya’ll and begin to proclaim to you (the church) the glorious Gospel.

In fact, he is so eager, that this letter is essentially an exposition of the gospel—the good news that although man stand condemned in sin, God is merciful and pronounces guilty sinners as clean and forgiven, and then that new life results in progressing in personal holiness and putting to death sin, and the message came first to Jews, and then to Gentiles, but God isn’t done with his people Israel, but will one day bring to pass the promises that yet remain unfulfilled.

You say, but Paul… they are already saved… I don’t think they need the gospel anymore.

No. And they need to keep hearing the gospel growing in their understanding of the gospel and growing in their trust and reliance upon the gospel.

Please don’t miss the weight of this. The church gets so easily distracted as to what her calling is. I love how S. Lewis Johnson articulates this.

If this great truth of justification by faith is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, then the epistle may come as something of a surprise to modern ecclesiastics. One might have expected the apostle to address believers at Rome, a city crammed with social problems, with a social manifesto or, at the least, a recitation of the primary truths of Christianity in their application to the social problems of the imperial city. Rome was a city of slaves, but Paul does not preach against slavery. It was a city of lust and vice, but he does not aim his mightiest guns at these evils. It was a city of gross economic injustice, but he does not thrust the sword of the Spirit into the vitals of that plague. It was a city that had been erected upon, and that had fed upon and prospered by the violence and rapacity of war, but the apostle does not expatiate upon its immorality. Apparently, if one is to judge the matter from a strictly biblical standpoint, Paul did not think that social reform in Rome was “an evangelical imperative.”

When he says, “evangelical imperative” he is referring to an article which was published in a notable Christian magazine calling the church to the imperative or the mandate of social reform.

Of course, true Christianity impacts the culture around it, and Christians are to care about the vulnerable in society. But the church’s primary impact in culture is through the transforming power of the gospel. Social change isn’t the goal or the driver or even the priority of the church.

The next two verses sum up the core of the gospel message, and the driving thrust of Paul’s entire letter, namely justification by faith alone. Four subordinate clauses, each clarifying and elucidating the one before it…

And Paul explains why he is so eager to preach to them…

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel,

ashamed—that sure is a vivid [ἐπαισχύνομαι]—to experience a painful feeling or sense of loss of status because of some particular event or activity, be ashamed.

The related concept is losing honor or losing dignity, (i.e., being disgraced). The good news centers on a person, namely Jesus. Jesus brings a reproach. Writer of Hebrews calls it the reproach of Christ.

Imagine that you are Paul and you are going to the Gentile capital—the greatest city at that time in the known world. An important city such as New York or Washington D.C. You are telling people to trust in a Galilean carpenter who was condemned as a criminal and executed.

Paul says I’m not concerned about losing dignity and honor by preaching the Gospel. I am not feeling a painful sense of loss due to the loss in status and credibility that I get from the watching world as I look like a misfit in proclaiming a Jewish carpenter turned convicted and executed criminal was my God who came in the flesh and brought me salvation apart from any human contribution or effort.

Mark 8:38—“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

2 Timothy 1:8—Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God (also in 1:12, 16).

Being ashamed of the gospel may be natural, but it is totally appropriate. The word gospel itself denotes a sense of exhilaration. The concept before used here is making a joyful announcement!

We landed on the moon…

The war is over…

The cancer is gone…

God offers forgiveness to sinners! You can be saved from the wrath to come! I love to tell the story, twill be my theme in glory to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love. Paul loves to preach the Gospel.

Preaching the gospel for Paul is not a burden. He is eager (v. 15), he is unashamed (16a). Why Paul?

2 Reasons Paul is Eager & Unashamed to Preach the Gospel in Rome (15-16a)

  1. The Gospel demonstrates God’s power in saving sinners (16b)

  2. The Gospel reveals God’s righteousness in justifying sinners (17)

for it is the power of God for salvation

Salvation means deliverance. Rescue. It is when you are in danger and you can’t get away yourself, and someone else comes and snatched you out harm’s way. Friends, God is a savior. He rescues sinners from themselves, from the clutch of Satan, and ultimately from Himself.

God’s power is unrivaled, and it does what no human effort could ever accomplish.

S Lewis Johnson puts it like this:

[God’s power] does what the power of nature, the power of the mind, the power of science and the power of demonic occult forces cannot do. It saves the soul, for its power is divine… The gospel is the power of God that leads to complete salvation, salvation from the penalty, power and, ultimately, [one day in heaven] the presence of sin.

It is a complete work a complete salvation. Paul can’t hold his horses when it comes to preaching the gospel because he knows, “when I preach, God’s saving power is unleashed and sinners will find salvation in Christ.”

Such an important message for the church to hear.

I met someone here after moving to Albany and he said he was a Christian and as we got to conversing he found out my background in business and said, “that’s so awesome you have a marketing background, basically as a pastor, your job is to market the Gospel… but that’s like the best product ever, that’s such an easy product to sell, I mean everyone wants that.”

I literally didn’t know how to respond to that. First, I wondered if he had ever actually explained the gospel to someone or if it was all theory.

Look, marketing experience provides no direct benefit to Gospel ministry. Our job isn’t to make it attractive or to package it palatably, or to describe all the benefits without the cost, or to change our pitch to get people engaged. Any attempt by man to modify the Gospel ruins the Gospel because it is the power of God.

Paul actively sought to ensure that the results of his ministry were because of God’s power and not some human scheme.

1 Corinthians 2:2–5—2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

In Thessalonica do you remember how Paul describes how the gospel came to them in 1 Thessalonians 1:5—it came in power and in the Holy Spirit. New life. Repentance. Freedom from bondage to sin. A heart that truly worships God. That my friends is not mere rehab, it is the power of God.

And what qualifies you for this powerful salvation?

to everyone who believes,

Paul didn’t have to include that. But there is a particular universality to it. Rich or poor. Wise or foolish. Skin color doesn’t matter. Gender doesn’t matter. And the type of sins you have committed, the length of time you have committed them cannot exclude from this power.

Romans 10:11—For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

There is not one exception here. This is what we mean when we speak of the free offer of salvation. Bring your sin and cast it upon Jesus and trust in His work and find forgiveness!

If you think racial tension is a problem in the United States right now, it was worse in the early church. That’s the main thing on Paul’s mind when he says, to everyone who believe because he clarifies right after…

to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

What does that demonstrate? There is a priority here. God’s chosen people are not Americans, but Jews. Original plan of salvation, Jesus bloodlines according to the flesh, the law and the promises (some of which are yet to be fulfilled).

But there is also equality. In Christ there is no one who has a special advantage in terms of accessing that power and no leniency in rejecting it.

Well, the gospel demonstrates God’s power in saving sinners. And this is one of the reasons Paul is eager and unashamed to preach the gospel in Rome. But it isn’t the only reason.

And from a grammatical standpoint this next reason is really explaining the previous one. So Paul is explaining how and why the gospel demonstrates God’s power.

2 Reasons Paul is Eager & Unashamed to Preach the Gospel in Rome (15-16a)

  1. The Gospel demonstrates God’s power in saving sinners (16b)

  2. The Gospel reveals God’s righteousness in justifying sinners (17)

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed

The it is the gospel. And to be revealed is to be uncovered, manifested, made known. So in the gospel, the righteousness of God is seen and revealed.

Well those points are clear enough, but what is the righteousness of God? Living on this side of the reformation we read those words and immediately assume we are speaking of God’s work of pronouncing sinners as righteous.

This is justification. Justification means God not infusing people with righteousness, but rather legally pronouncing them as just and right before Him. You are still a sinner.

It is the truth contained in that famous latin phrase: simul justus et peccator (sim-ull eustus et peck-A-turrr)—at the same time justified (righteous) and a sinner. Not in the same sense at the same time.

One is your legal footing before God. The other is your practical operation. Your deeds done this week are not fully right. You were actually wrong many times—morally wrong, unrighteous in what you did, thought, said, felt…

But at the same time this week, if you are in Christ, then you are before Him accounted as righteous. Please don’t hear this and let your mind drift to other things because you have heard this message a thousand times before.

God considers you righteous. It is a foreign righteousness. It is alien to who you are.

2 Corinthians 5:21—He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Philippians 3:9—and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,

Romans 5:17—For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

This my friends, is good news. It is why we say sola fide is the crux of the gospel and it was at the heart of the Reformation. But in Luther’s time that wasn’t the interpretation of this passage. Consider Luther’s own account of this verse. As one historian records:

Luther confessed later that he had always hated the expression, “the righteousness of God,” for it suggested to him a stern judge sitting upon a rainbow, waiting to hurl thunderbolts of judgment down upon helpless disobedient man. Through his study of the Psalms in 1514 be learned that the righteousness of God was related to man’s deliverance, not man’s condemnation. This understanding was clarified and enlarged by the study of Romans, upon which he lectured at Wittenberg from November 3, 1515 to September 7, 1516. It was during these years, and not, as is popularly thought, while he ascended the famous Scala Sancta of the cathedral church of St. John of Lateran in Rome in 1511, that he came to the realization that justification did not presuppose some inner change in man, an inner healing, as he had formerly understood and taught. Now he saw that it was something done outside of man through the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection. The acceptance by faith of this work liberated man, because a just God was now able to give freely to each believer “the righteousness of God,” provided by Him and, therefore, acceptable to Him. Commenting upon his experience years later in 1545 Luther said, “As violently as I had formerly hated the expression ‘righteousness of God,’ so I was now as violently compelled to embrace the new conception of grace and, for me, the expression of the Apostle really opened the Gates of Paradise.”19 The righteousness of God, then, is the key to salvation. They who have it know the power of God in personal salvation. They who do not have it are lost. They who have it know that they are “right before God.”20 They who do not have it are not right before Him. It is as simple as that. Principal Cunningham used to say, “The righteousness of God is that righteousness which His righteousness requires Him to require.” According to Paul the simplest believer in Jesus Christ is clothed in this required righteousness through the justifying work of the Last Adam (cf. Rom 3:21–26). And the Pauline doctrine is not unique; it is in perfect harmony with Isaiah’s, for the prophet wrote, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isa 61:10, AV).

Luther’s understanding of the righteousness of God and the requirement of a righteous God I dare say puts most of to shame. He was acutely aware of the chasm between God’s standard and what Luther himself could supply.

Luther wasn’t under the false notion that his good deeds would way out the bad, or he had tried his hardest or any of the nonsense that people comfort their souls with in our day. Luther, despite his best efforts and intentions found himself condemned by this passage because he knew he didn’t have the righteousness of God.

But then he discovered that this righteousness does not come to those who work the hardest to get it, but to those who believe God for it.

from faith to faith;

There is more than a handful of suggestions as to what exactly is meant by this statement. Everything from Paul speaking of God’s faith becoming our faith, or our faith progressing from small to large, and several others.

We will make two comments before moving on.

First, Paul’s statement is general and so rather than make a very specific application we can leave it general. What is his main point then? The righteousness of God is not manifested through human effort, or human will, or human standards, or human performance, but through faith.

That’s the macro idea, and the main point to take home. If you want my best guess here at what from faith to faith means is that this work is from start to finish by faith. It starts out and comes from faith, and the goal it produces is continually faith.

Starts by faith, continues by faith. But again, the big idea is righteousness doesn’t come by works.

And then Paul continues…

as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Here Paul makes a comparison. In the original he says just as it is written. As it is written is language that tips us off to the use of the Old Testament scriptures. Here Paul is pulling a truth contained in Habakkuk 2:4 and applying here.

The Habakkuk passage appears also in Galatians 3:11, as well as by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:38.

The verse in Habakkuk is considered to be a theme statement concerning salvation in the Old Testament.

The worthy reputation of Hab 2:4b in both Jewish and Christian circles is well attested. For example, “the Talmud records the famous remark of R. Simlai (Makkot 23b), ‘Moses gave Israel 613 commandments. David reduced them to 10, Isaiah to 2, but Habakkuk to one: the righteous shall live by his faith.’“

The preeminent illustration of this phenomenon was the text’s catalytic effect in leading to the Reformation: “Habakkuk’s great text, with his son Paul’s comments and additions, became the banner of the Protestant Reformation in the hands of Habakkuk’s grandson, Martin Luther.”

(concerning Habakkuk 2:4) The key to the whole Book of Habakkuk...the central theme of all the Scriptures.

The point? This verse was God speaking to Habakkuk and the reverberation of this truth echoed into Paul’s heart and 1500 years after that into the heart of Martin Luther.

Let’s turn back to Habakkuk 2. Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi then Matthew. So just a few pages back from Matthew you will find Habakkuk.

Habakkuk 2:4—Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

Sounds just like what Paul is saying. But the Hebrew word for faith is אֱמוּנָה (emunah), which doesn’t carry and active meaning of believing. It is a passive construct that essentially always refers to faithfulness. This is the way the verse is translated in the NIV.

Habakkuk 2:4 (NIV)—See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—

There is also a footnote in your NASB that says this. So, what’s going on here? Well a couple of things. Paul is using Habakkuk analogically. In other words, he is drawing on a principle expressed in Habakkuk and using it to make the point he wants to make in Romans.

And Habakkuk and Paul aren’t talking about completely different things, but they are emphasizing different points. Habakkuk isn’t focusing on justification by faith alone as his primary emphasis.

Habakkuk is focusing on the fact that someone who is a child of God has a firm, steadfast, conviction about who God is and walks by faith. In this case a “righteous” person is one who believes in God, clinging to Him and His promises.

His point is that a righteous person lives by faithfulness (by a consistent trust in the Lord). What Habakkuk isn’t saying is that a righteous person is made righteous by living with a “firm attachment to God” as one commentator puts it.

Once again, a full circle has been drawn. From this perspective, it is best to conclude with Westcott that “‘faith’ (in the Pauline sense) and ‘faithfulness to God’ (which is what the Prophet had in mind), in the long run, are the same thing.

The proud look of the Chaldeans, who are coming to bring violence on the people of God, they are not right before the Lord. Their desires are sinful. They are corrupt. They are under God’s judgment. They are taking matters into their own hands. And that is in contrast to the people of God.

Israel on the other hand, is to be characterized by an abundant, vibrant spiritual life in spite of the challenges she is facing.

God is telling Habakkuk that a righteous person has a firm trust in the Lord. That’s this idea of faith or faithfulness. It is a steadiness. A firmness. A fidelity if you will. A steadfastness in the Lord that doesn’t waver.

Allow me to illustrate in the immediate context of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk 3:16–19—16 I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us. 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, 18 Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.

The words in Habakkuk concerning the emotions in light of the Chaldeans coming are: devastation, terror, violence, being overwhelmed, trembling and shaking, lips quivering… and so to look to God and consider Him faithful.

These are eyes of faith. So, which is it? Faithfulness? Or faith? Here I fact, Habakkuk is emphasizing faithfulness but both factors are in play.

Not in the same way, but they are inseparable. Man is justified (made right and declared right by God) is on the basis of faith. That faith continues in fidelity to God. Genuine faith doesn’t turn against God or return to unbelief, but it endures. And it is manifested in faithfulness.

Habakkuk is teaching what has already been taught concerning Abraham. Genesis 15:6—then Abraham lived diligently and was righteous in the eyes of God. Then Abraham excelled beyond all the rest and kept the law of God and was righteous before Him. Then Abraham created a standard and upheld it and thereby earned the righteousness of God.

No, the text is clear…

Genesis 15:6—Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

God reckoned it to him as righteousness. God said, in my accounting system I will consider you righteous. And Abraham serves as the example for everyone who believes (father Abraham). Paul will quote Genesis 15:6 three times in Romans 4 (4:3, 9, 22) and then once in Galatians (4:22).

The theme of salvation in the bible is this—salvation comes through faith in God’s provision to grant the very righteousness He requires not due to merit, but as a free gift to those who believe. And as a child of God then, you begin to live a life of practical righteousness. Faithfulness has always been the manifestation of genuine faith.

Consider Abraham: how did we know Abraham had faith?

Hebrews 11:8–19—8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE. 13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Do you see how this works and why faith is vital? Faith believes that God is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Faith believes that God has made a way for your sin. It always comes back to this central issue.

Heart of our Gospel—always try to get this through when I’m sharing the message of Jesus with someone. Look pal, the only difference between you and me is that my sins were paid for by someone else. I have a righteousness that was alien and foreign that didn’t originate from and doesn’t belong to me except by credit in God’s general ledger.

Well for Luther, this passage rightly understood was the watershed that marked his conversion. And what began here, would produce shockwaves that reverberated throughout Germany all the way to the pope, and extend across Europe, and eventually throughout the world.

Conclusion

This is God’s plan of salvation and has been since Genesis 3:15. It is a plan of salvation that exalts God’s power as He provides what He requires. And in this the righteousness of God is put on display in God not excusing sin, but rather establishing sinners as justified before Him.

The truth that man is justified by faith apart from the law was Paul’s song. He never stopped singing it. It didn’t get old for him.

He brought it as a matter of first importance to the believers in Rome. And then this truth as it was uncovered and rediscovered centuries later, was the material cause of what we know as the Protestant Reformation.