Sowing and Reaping – Six Month Challenge

Video Version can be found here

I think in general we all want something more or different out of life. It might not be huge changes or monumental differences but there is probably some change you want in your life. There is a good chance that somethings in your life need to change. I am not talking about things you just need to learn to be content with, I am talking about when things need to change. Serious things like losing weight, saving money, getting a good job, building healthy relationships, and so on. Important things in life that you should want to be changed. Because we can all have areas and things that need to change, I want to give you two tools from the Bible that will help you do this but first a word about time.

Time is going to move forward whether we like it or not. Time moves regardless of personal desire or preference. Time moves forward. I am going to say something that right now does not sound profound or all that clever but in six months it will be six months from now. I know what you are thinking “well duh.” But think about that for a second, what if six months ago you decided to make a change. What if six months ago you decided you wanted to lose weight? By now you might have hit your target. What if six months ago you decided you wanted a better relationship with your spouse? By now you would have a better relationship. What if six months ago you decided you wanted to be in a better job? Chances are by now; you would have that job. Six months is going to go by whether we like it or not. But what does six months have to do with changing your life?

We think about changing our lives but what if instead, we thought about changing the next six months? What if instead of focusing on something so monumental as changing our life we thought about being in a different place in six months? Would that help? Would that make a difference? Would it do anything? I say yes, yes it would because six months is manageable, and six months is attainable. Six months is something we can see. Six months is something that can grow. I am going to give you two tools from the Bible that can help you change the next six months. Also, I should note that these two things are really two pieces of the same tool.

The first is that you reap what you sow (Gal 6:7). This is sometimes thought about in a negative sense. You find yourself in trouble and someone says “well, you reap what you sow.” They mean you got what you deserve, and this is partially true. Sometimes this is used when talking about finances. We talk about sowing and reaping in church and we are talking about giving and receiving. This is also partially true. However, the bigger principle is that you get out what you put in. If you sow (plant) corn you get corn. The thing is sowing (planting) takes time. You don’t just plant some corn and boom you get a harvest. Corn takes between 60 and 100 days to grow so you need to plant, water, and wait. You need to plant, nourish the thing planted, and wait.

If we pick weight loss for example, then we need to do things now that will help us achieve our goal later. The weight loss is the goal or the fruit, but the planting is what we do beforehand. we change our eating habits, we exercise, we do what it takes now to see the fruit later. If we want a better relationship with our child or children in six months, we need to start planting different things now to reap better things later. We will get in what we put out. If you keep eating Oreos (I love Oreos) you get an Oreo body. If you keep ignoring your children, you get children who don’t want to spend time with you. You get out what you put in. Change what you put in the ground now and you will get something different in six months.

The second tool is that things reproduce after their own kind (Gen 1:11). God has designed the world that things reproduce after their own kind. Again, corn kernels make corn stocks. Humans reproduce and make little humans (babies). Dogs make dogs. Peace makes peace. Laughter makes laughter. Things reproduce after their own kind. So not only do we get out what we put in but what we get out reproduces and makes more of the same. If we make changes now to see different results in six months, then in six months we have something new that will reproduce after its own kind. The small seeds we plant now to make changes start to compound and reproduce after their own kind.

If we decided that in six months, we want a better job and we planted the seed for a better job (change in work ethics, determination, applying, studying) then we not only end up with a better job we are different as a person with different habits, motivations, and goals. Those things reproduce after their own kind and a new system has been created that creates other changes as well. If you want a better relationship with your kids and you put in the work to make that happen then your kids will more than likely also have a better relationship with their kids. Things will reproduce after their own kind but first, we must plant the right seed.

This can all happen in six months. Whether we like it or not six months is going to go by. In six months from today, it will be September 8th, 2021. It does not matter if you want it to be something different you don’t get a choice. What we do get to decide is what will be different in six months. What will be different for a lifetime after that?

Just a thought,

Mike

Seeking and Pruning

(Video version can be seen here)

Have you seen the video about the sheep named Barrack that was found? It is pretty cool and if you have not seen it, I recommend checking out one of the videos. Barrack was lost in the Australian wilderness for about 5 years and when he was found he had about 77lbs of extra wool. He could barely see, drank water from puddles, and his wool was full of twigs, dirt, and insects. It took them about an hour to cut away all of the wool that was weighing him down. They found this sheep, cleaned him up, and he is on the road to recovery. It is a very cool story and one that made me think about Luke 19:10 and John 15:2-5 among other things.

In Luke 19:10 Jesus says that He has come to seek and save the lost. Jesus says His mission is to find those who are lost and then make them unlost. He says the whole point of His coming is to look for those who are missing and then make them found. In John 15:2-5 Jesus says that we are the vine, and He is the branch but before this, He says that the Father prunes us to make us more fruitful. We get this picture that we are pruned or that we have bad things cut back so we can produce more fruit. First, we are found and then we are pruned. That is the process. The hard part is that like the lost sheep Barrack when we are found we often have a lot that needs to be pruned.

Some people come to Christ and have less that needs to be pruned and some people have more. The point is that we all have pruning that needs to occur. With Barrack, the initial pruning (shearing) took over an hour, and all that extra was cut off. The external had changed but he still needs to heal from 5 years in the wilderness. When you and I come to Christ there is an initial pruning that happens in the way of the Holy Spirit coming in and changing us from the inside. We are forgiven of sin and made new. Sometimes, like in my case, there is a lot that He removes right away but even if that happens there is more and continual pruning that needs to occur.

Coming to Christ and finding freedom and salvation requires nothing from us except to accept it. He has done all of the work because we cannot. Salvation is a free gift. The pruning takes work. The pruning takes time. The pruning takes cooperation on our part. This is because pruning requires that you submit to what God is doing for it to be effective. God can remove things in your life that are holding you back but if you keep returning to them or trading them for new versions of the same vices then the pruning is not effective. Your submission to the will and leading of the Lord is needed. What if tomorrow Barrack decides he does not like being kept in a pen and then heads back out to the wilderness? He will be covered in mud, dirt, and weighed down again. The pruning that freed him will not be effective because he will once again be the same as he was. What if after coming to Christ you decide forgiveness from past sins is enough and you just want to go out and do as you please again? You will get weighed down, covered in mud, and need heavy pruning again. The pruning process of God is non-negotiable. It must occur.

What does this mean for us? How do we get the pruning, how do we respond in the pruning, how do we cope? Hebrews 7:25 says, Therefore, He (Jesus) is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. Jesus is always able to save because He lives to intercede for us. This saving is not just the initial salvation either. Jesus can save us daily. When we are being pruned and unsure how we will move forward Jesus saves us and intercedes for us. He owes us nothing, but He chooses to live for us. What can He not do? Who can He not save? What is beyond His ability? The Lord of all the universe, the Word of God, the Author of Life chooses to intercede for you and me. Whatever you require, whatever you lack He can provide and make a way for! In the pruning, we must move forward and push towards Jesus. That is how we get through it, that is respond, that is how we cope. We push towards the one who is available and able to save us. 

There is so much more we could talk about with this, but I would just encourage you today that if you are in the midst of a pruning season, and you know when you are, that you submit to the pruning and seek Christ. Press into Him because that is the only way you will get through it with the fruit you were meant to bear. Be pruned and be changed. Embrace the process and welcome His direction. Maybe it means you let things go, maybe it means you move, maybe it means you admit something. Whatever it is, however hard it is be pruned and see how you can be made new today. 

Just a thought,

Mike

Holy Zeal

Do you have a holy zeal? The word zeal is sometimes seen in a negative light. We talk about someone being overzealous which means fanatical or radical. I am not sure I have a problem with that, depending on the context and thing we are being zealous about. We can have zeal, passion, or a firm commitment to all sorts of things but not all of them good.

Have you ever met anyone who is a die-hard fan of a particular sports team? They have merch all over their house, maybe a tattoo, and can usually tell you everything you never wanted to know about the team. These people are sold out to the team and show it. If you meet them, you will know shortly that they are fans. They bleed the team colors. Because they think about the team so often and know so much about them, they can find a way to bring it up at any point. These people recruit new fans and create new enemies depending on where they are. We might call these people overzealous. I am not saying this is bad, but it is a good example.

How about for God? Is there a proper amount of zeal that we are allowed to have for Him? What if like the previously mentioned sports fan we had a zeal for God and the things of God? What if we had a holy zeal? That is what I want. I want a radical, total, and fanatical dedication to the things and holiness of God. I want to be willing to drop everything for the cause of Christ. I want to lay down all my desires and other devotions to pick up the things of Christ. I want to be able to recall information about every stat, fact, and detail about God. This last part is hard because God is infinite, and I am finite. God is omnipresent and on a good day I am hopefully present at the moment, but the goal is the same: A sold-out, radical, fanatical life.

Abraham is and has always been an inspiration to me in this way. Hebrews 11:8 says that when Abraham was called, he obeyed and went out not knowing where he was going. That line and the story of Abraham have always captured me. Can we live like that or is that sold out radical dedicated life reserved only for heroes like Abraham?

It can be easy to think that the kind of faith we read about in the Bible is reserved for heavy hitters of old but that is not what the Bible says. Maybe, just maybe, sometimes we want that to be the case so we have an out, but Hebrews 12 goes on to say that because we have this great cloud of witnesses, we should lay aside what hinders us and focus on Jesus.

Jesus is the key to a radical, fanatical, sold out holy zeal lifestyle. When we fix our eyes on Christ we will walk into some crazy and amazing things. We will go into places we never imagined and do things beyond us because they are unimaginable and beyond us. Fixing our eyes on the Light of the World means we follow Him into what He is doing. We walk in step with God and walk where and how He walked. We are always walking towards the light.

Faith in Christ and identification with Him is the key to holy zeal. It is the only thing that can give us the ability and desire to have holy zeal. When you take your eyes off Christ and place them on anything else you will lose the holy part of the zeal and just become a zealot. If you lose the love, grace, and mercy of God then you are left with fanaticism without a compass. We should desire a holy zeal, but we can only have it if we keep our faith in Christ and our eyes fixed on Him.

Just a thought,

Mike

The Image We Bear

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I like country music and there is one song by Jessica Andrews called Who I Am. In the song, she says she knows who she is, and even if she never sees the great things of the world or wins great accolades that is ok because she knows who she is. She then starts saying who she is. She is Rosemary’s granddaughter, she looks like her dad, her mommas her biggest fan. The point of the song is that she has a firm grasp on who she is so that determines how she lives and what she does.

I know that before Christ I looked like what I was. I was a sinner. I was selfish. I was only concerned with my own desires and wants. That is what I was. I had the nature of sin in me and I reflected that nature. I reflected Adam’s nature. Adam’s nature is one of sin. He was not made that way, but we all know what happened. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and sin and death entered the world. All of their children followed in their footsteps. Now some are worse than others, but we all carry around the propensity for sin. Without Christ, we look like our parents Adam and Eve. We bear their image. Before Christ, I looked like Adam. I did not know that, but I showed it well.

Now in Christ, I am new. I have been changed and made new. My life has been changed and the Bible says because of that, I should reflect Jesus. The question is, do I? When I was in Adam, I did not have to work at showing who I was it just happened. I could embrace it and show it more, but it was always there. However, in Christ, I have to work at it. I have to be conformed to His image. So, the question is, do I?

If I now bear the image of Christ do I show that when I am at Walmart, Sonic, the dentist, in traffic, in Social Media? Do I show the image of whose I am? In Adam, it just happened but in Christ, I must choose to show His image. After a while, it becomes easier and natural. It does not become second nature, but it becomes primary nature.

If I know who I am do others? Do they see that in me? If you belong to Jesus do you show it? Do others see it? Do you see it?

Just a thought,
Mike

Fully Human and Fully God

One of the things I love so much about Jesus is His humanity. Jesus is God the Bible does not leave room for any other option (see here) but He is also human. One of my favorite theological terms is the hypostatic union of Christ. It a really fancy term but it just means that Jesus is fully God and fully man and these two natures do not diminish each other. Really cool right? Sometimes I am so in awe of Jesus as God that I forget about some of the important human features of Jesus.

When we ask the question WWJD (what would Jesus do) we sometimes think about how He would trust God and have hope or something else. These are true statements but there is also so much more that Jesus would do and in fact so much more that Jesus did do. Hebrews 4:15 says that we have a high priest (Jesus) who can empathize with our weaknesses. He can understand our humanity. He knows the human condition because He while being fully God is also fully human.

This sounds comforting and it should but for it to be truly meaningful we need to look at Jesus’ life to see how He expressed His humanity. Warning this is not for the faint of heart because for some it might shatter your expectations and show you a whole new Jesus, but that’s OK because we are always seeing Him in a new and more glorious light. We move from glory to glory and faith to faith. We need to always study Christ and when we do, we see more of Him that we did before. So, what would Jesus do, and what did He do?

He called His friends dull and foolish. In Matthew 15:16 Jesus tells the disciples a parable and they just are not getting it. Jesus asks Peter if he is still dull. The Greek for the word there is asynetos and can mean without understanding, foolish, and stupid. Jesus was asking Peter how he could still not get it.

Jesus would flip tables and get mad at people who were stopping others from coming to the Father and I think we all know that story.

He asked the Father for another way. In the garden we see Jesus praying, sweating blood, and asking the Father if there was another way to do this. In the end, He accepted the Father’s will but still, there was a moment when His humanity wanted to know if there was another option. He was honest with the Father about His feelings. He chose obedience but He was still honest with the Father about His emotions.

He did His job. This should probably go before the last one, but Jesus did His job. He knew what was coming and in Luke 9:51 it says He set His face towards Jerusalem. Again, here we see Jesus choosing to make the choice to do His job.

He wept with those who were weeping. Every child’s favorite verse to memorize is John 11:35 “Jesus wept” but this is a huge statement. We do not need to get into why Jesus was weeping right now but what we can see is that He wept. I think it was Charles Spurgeon who said, “a God who never wept could never wipe away my tears.” Jesus can comfort us in times of crisis and pain because He felt crisis and pain. Jesus knows what it means to cry. He knows what sadness feels like. He knows what it is to be broken-hearted. He understands. That is huge, and it gives me great comfort.

He knows what it feels like to be alone. I could talk about the disciples fleeing but instead, I would say look to the cross. In Matt 27:46 Jesus does not say “My God my God why have you forsaken me” He cries out in a loud voice. Those are two very different things. I cannot even express how important that is. Jesus in the middle of His pain and suffering cries out God, where are you? He is feeling alone, and, in His pain, He yells out. This is huge and should give all of us comfort and hope. I don’t care how big you are, how tough you are, or what a fake face you can make, at times we all feel alone and confused. Jesus says Yes, I get it! He knows that feeling and when you feel that He is right there with you saying it’s OK to let it out.

We could go on, but the point is that Jesus expressed the full range of human emotions. He gets it. He understands. He empathizes with us. Because of this, there is nothing you cannot take to Christ and have Him help you with. He is fully human, so He gets it, but He is also fully God, so He is present with you. He is able to understand and be there.

Back to the question. What would Jesus do? He would be honest about how He is feeling. He would be straight with the Father and say I am scared, I am hurt, I am feeling alone, I feel abandoned, I would prefer another way. Whatever it is He would be honest about how He is feeling. That is the Savior we have. We have a Savior who can completely understand what we are dealing with. We have a God who can relate to us because we could never relate to Him. We have a Comforter.

The world is crazy, and people will hurt you. Dreams and people will die but Christ gets it. He knows what you are feeling so do not go to Him, run to Him. Do not say God where are you, let it out and cry out God I need you!

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Jesus Says Hard Things

John 6:53 ESV

“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Jesus said many hard things to the crowds and the disciples. He challenged their ideas and their beliefs. He challenged their expectations. He challenged their worldview. He said things to them that were hard to understand and went against what they expected.

After Jesus said this to the disciples many left Him. They were confused and because of that, they chose to leave. Jesus asked Simon Peter if he also would leave. Peter says in verse 68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter understood who Jesus was and he was able to have a deeper relationship with Him.

When we follow Jesus into the hard things, we get to know Him more. We get to trust Him more. We get to become more like Him.

Once, I felt like God was asking me to leave my job so I could focus on ministering to the youth. This was hard and it was difficult. How would it work? How would I pay bills? I did not understand. I thought it would be hard. But He is God and when He speaks, we listen. So, I left my job and I focused on being a youth minister for about a year. I was right, it was hard, but it was also good. It was good to follow the hard thing Jesus said. Jesus was inviting me into a deeper relationship with Him.

So yes, Jesus says hard things, but He is also God and He has the words of life. He is the only one who can give life to us. His body and flesh are real food that provides nourishment to us.

Take some time to pray today and as you pray lean into God. See if He would say something hard to you. If He does, then maybe He is inviting you into a deeper relationship with Him. Maybe He is inviting you into more. Maybe Jesus knows you will not run away but you will accept His hard teaching and go deeper. There is a wonderful and deep relationship on the other side of His hard teachings that can only be received by those that press into it.

Just a thought

Mike

 

Adieu to What I Know

There is a question that my wife and I have been answering and trying to answer for well over a decade now. It was a question that was first posed to us when we lived in Maine and although we thought we have answered it over the years it appears it is a question we must keep answering. It seems every time we answer with yes and move forward the question gets asked again and we are once again faced with answering it. With each asking, the result of the answer gets more and more intense and stakes get higher.

The question is a simple one and its genesis is important. I was working second shift and the evenings were dead. We really did not need a second shift, but I was there just in case. Being the newest employee, I drew the short straw. I did not mind too much because it provided my wife the opportunity to work during the day and I was able to do a lot of reading. This was a time of tremendous growth in my walk with Christ. I was tearing through the Bible and other resources. I was reading everything I could get my hands on and wrestling with the Lord about all sorts of questions. I missed my wife and family, but I needed to work anyway, and this provided a great opportunity to pay bills, learn more in my industry, and grow in Christ. In hindsight, this was a great blessing. One night while reading, I came across Luke 14:33 where Christ says, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake (bid adieu) all that he has cannot be My disciple.” In that moment I felt God ask me clear as day ask me “are you willing to forsake all and follow me?” Being a dedicated and passionate young man who was ready to take on the world I said, “of course Lord.” I said yes but I really was not willing to forsake all. I wanted to be ready, but truth be told I was not, and neither was my wife.

There was a lot of growth and healing that needed to occur in both of us before we would be willing and little did we know at the time that the willingness is a continual willingness and not a one-time deal. It is like carrying your cross in that it is a daily exercise and not a one and done. The initial question and failing did start a process that I am grateful for. I would have chosen an easier path, but I am still grateful for the one we have.

We thought we answered the question when I left my job to be self-supported so we could spend more time in ministry. We thought we answered the question when we tried to move to Spokane for missionary flight school. We thought we answered the question when we started doing foster care. We thought we answered the question when we moved to Knoxville to finish school. We thought we answered the question when we decided to leave everything to go to France for 2-months and have nothing when we return. The problem is that the question keeps getting asked and the stakes keep getting higher.

Just to be clear when we say yes to the question, we are not forsaking stuff. Yes, stuff usually has to go but that is only a very small part, and the first part, of what we are forsaking. Stuff usually has to go because things have a way of distracting us from what God wants to do in us. Things are not inherently bad but they can be blockers. We must move beyond worrying about stuff. I believe that what we are really doing is forsaking the knowledge and limitations we place on God. We are admitting that there is more to this God we serve than we currently know, and we want to know more of Him. This is what God wants from us. He wants us to surrender our hearts, our wills, and our limitations. He wants us to seek Him because in seeking Him we find more than we could ever know. He is infinite and while we will never reach the end of Him, but we can keep going deeper. We can learn more of who He is, what He is capable of, and how vast is His wonder.

The good news is that He has shown Himself faithful and wise every time. Each and every time He asks, and we get it somewhat right things shift in our lives in profound and huge ways. We know what we want, and we believe we know what He has said in this season, but the truth is that our job is to seek Him, follow Him, and answer the question when He asks it.

Part of me wishes this was the last time He asks the question because even an adventure seeking, change-loving man like me wants a little stability. I am the first one to want to do something new, but I do still like comfort and routine to a degree. But I would never trade this crazy Jesus following life for anything. So here I sit waiting until we go to France for 2-months and waiting for God to ask the question again. I sit in expectation, in anticipation, and in faith. Waiting to hear the voice of my Lord. I sit here thinking about my life and once again I am willing to say Adieu to what I know in order to move into what I do not.

Just a thought,

Mike

Listening

Do you ever just stop when reading your Bible? You’re reading and moving along and then all of a sudden your read something and it makes you slam on the brakes? I love it when that happens because it reminds me that the Bible, this amazing book is more than just a book of stories. It is more than just a record of what happened. It does more than just communicate the past because it is alive.

Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is alive and active. In the NLT it says “it exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” which is pretty amazing when you think about it. The words in this book can in an instant expose our innermost thoughts, desires, and fears.

This morning I was finishing up the book of John for the hundredth time and I read John 20:16 where Mary is looking for the body of Jesus. Mary is confused and crying, not know where His body was. Jesus was there with her but in her pain and confusion, she could not see Him. That changed when He called her name. Just her name from His mouth made her see.

How many times in my own life do I miss Christ and think that I cannot find Him because of my circumstances? How many times do I miss the Lord? Yet the whole time He is right there. Something changes when He calls our name. When He speaks our name, we can see anew and come alive. Jesus called Mary’s name and she could see Him and was comforted. Jesus called Lazarus’ name and he came out of the grave. Jesus called my name this morning and my worry ceased. Something happens when Jesus calls your name, we just need to be listening. Are you listening?

Just a thought.

Mike

France Missions

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever would believe in Him would not die but have everlasting life.

There is a constant theme that runs throughout the Bible that God has been and is calling people to Himself. He desires a relationship with creation. That is His desire and His will. That is the reason behind the sending of Christ to live, die, and rise again.

I want to show you the reason that France needs churches. So, we are going to compare Houston and Paris because they have the same population.

In Houston, there is 1 church for every 1,000 people. These are people who have the opportunity to gather together to rejoice, find love and hope, they can come and hear the words of life, they can come and sing songs of praise to their creator. They can serve the community. They have the opportunity to find the truth and be Gods called people. This is beautiful and wonderful. This is powerful and we should celebrate that this is a possibility.

In France, there is 1 evangelical church per 30,000 people in France. This 1 lone church for 30,000 people is overwhelmed. These are people who do not have the opportunity to gather together to rejoice, find love and hope, they cannot come and hear the words of life, they cannot come and sing songs of praise to their creator. How can we expect this 1 church to reach 30,000 people? It does not have the resources, the people, the funds, the time, the energy to do this. On top of that to do it on hard soil.

France is often called the missionary graveyard because of how hard it is. In France, most people have no idea about the Christian faith. They have never heard basic Bible stories and in times of trouble, hardship, fear, and doubt they have nowhere to turn. In France, it is a battle for the hearts and souls of people. This, of course, does not even touch the problem they face with Arab refugees. Men and women who have had to leave their homes because of wars and political uncertainty. People who have lost everything and fled to France for safety. Thousands who left everything and now live homeless in a new land where they cannot speak the language and have little to no access to help. In some areas, there are children as young as 10 wandering around in groups who have no parents no structure no hope. That 1 church cannot help. There is just too much to do. Their world is just too hard. Just as we should celebrate the situation in Houston, we should mourn the situation in France.

Missions can and should be a lot of things. It can be digging wells, creating education programs, job training, teaching English or French or whatever. It can be medical and psychological help. We know that because we can look at Jesus and see that He did many of these types of things. Jesus was amazing at medical missions. It can be all these things, but it must also first be Jesus. It must first be for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. If missions is anything it is first a message of reconciliation to God.

Julie and I more or less grew up in New England under the shadow of post-Christian and secular ideals. We were like those who did not care for the things of God but because of what God brought us through we are called to go and serve those who not only know nothing of the great and mighty Savior but also those who are alone and left to fend for themselves. We are called to go and minister to the lost, the hurting, and the left the behind. My question is seeing this need can you call yourself called along with us. If you are, then click here and partner with us as bring Christ to France.

Just a thought,

Mike

An Exegesis of Romans 5:12-21

Romans 5:12-21

Adam and Sin, Jesus and Grace

 

MAIN IDEA & OUTLINE

Main Idea

All are guilty of sin both because of Adam’s sin which he passed down to all mankind and by their own wrongdoing. None can escape the consequence of sin except by faith in Christ who justifies all who accept Him. Christ alone justifies a sinner because grace, based on His righteous life and death is stronger than sin.

Outline

  1. Sin was introduced by Adam in the garden, but all are guilty of sin. 5:12-14
  2. Contrast between Adam and Christ headship. 5:15-17
  3. Grace abounds more than sin multiplies. 5:18-21

 

INTRODUCTION

The book of Romans is overflowing with the ideas of righteousness, faith, justification, and sin. In chapter one, Paul shows how only the righteous will live by faith (1:17b).[1] He then moves on to say that all sin against God. The Jew who has the Law sins knowing the Law and the Gentile without the Law sins against the moral law written on their hearts. In this way, there is no one who understands… no one who seeks God (3:11). Moving forward Paul takes his reader back to Abraham showing that righteousness can only come by faith because Abraham believed, and it was by faith that God credited righteousness to him. There are no works of the Law that a believer can be justified by, because the righteousness that is required is only offered through Christ and by faith in Him. In the latter half of chapter 5, Paul tackles the issues of sin and grace, condemnation and justification, and Adam and Christ’s respective headships.

One difficulty is understanding some of these items in a cross-cultural setting. However, because the Bible was written in a cross-cultural setting one can expect to find answers or clues in the text as well as in understanding the biblical concepts of sin and grace. Such questions that will be explored include what does Paul teach on the topic of original sin and a sin nature? If he does teach on original sin, how is to be understood in a culture where no such concept exists? If Paul argues for universal sin does, he also argue for universal salvation i.e. universalism? What will be shown is the main contrasts are Adam and sin against Christ and grace. In short, Paul argues that while Adam’s headship and the consequence of his sin affect all of humanity Jesus and the consequence of His righteous act affect all of humanity as well because grace abounds over sin.

CONTEXT

Historical Context

Paul is identified as the author in Romans in 1:1 although as was common in his day the letter was penned by another named Tertius (16:22). There is discussion as to whether the last two chapters were added later with some suggesting that the bulk of the letter was meant to be a circular letter.[2] Regardless, Romans is one of the few Pauline letters to have near universal acceptance as being authentic to Paul and being time appropriate.[3] The date of writing is estimated to be around A.D. 57. This is important because this shows the spread of Christianity to Rome only some 20 years after the death of Christ. The young church had to rapidly deal with not only understanding its faith but understanding that faith in a cross-cultural context.

While at times in church history Romans was thought to be Paul’s magnum opus it is now better understood as a personal letter to a particular church and not a general treatise on the faith. One obvious reason for writing was that Paul was attempting to raise support for his trip to Spain (15:28) however this is not simply a fundraising letter. The letter to the Romans is one of Paul’s greatest writings and “has always stood at the head of Paul’s letters” because of the many topics Paul deals with in the letter to the Romans.[4] In this one letter Paul deals with or addresses most major Christian themes, however, justification and righteousness sit high on the top of the list of items being discussed.

As will be seen in chapter 5 Paul lumps all of humanity into belonging to either Adam or Christ. In other letters, the contrast is on flesh or Spirit, but the implication is the same. Paul uses the word anthropos in chapter 5 which is sometimes translated man, but it is a term that generally means a human being and includes all peoples.[5] Paul provides no escape for any individual but instead carefully states that all humanity is under the effects of sin. Paul’s scope is to show the contrasts between Adam and Christ and how all of humanity is affected by their choices.

In looking at the type of writing for Romans 5:12-21 Bailey and Broek argue that Paul is writing a type of Midrash or interpretation called “typological interpretation.”[6] What is meant by this is that Paul is not quoting the Old Testament and giving it new meaning in light of Christ which he often does, but he is giving a type and antitype. Paul’s focus is on the world systems that can be summed up by the ones who have headship over each system. Adam represents sin and death while Jesus represents grace and life.

CONTENT

5:12-14

Paul writes that sin entered the world through one man (Adam) and because of this all sin and die. Some argue that was in fact Eve who sinned because of 1 Tim 2:14, however, Adam was the one charged with protecting the garden and delivering the message of what was allowed and what was prohibited to Eve. It was under Adam’s watch that the serpent was able to deceive Eve. The language of Genesis 3:6 shows that Adam was with her when she took the fruit. Adam’s failure was not a single incident but a willful and deliberate act of rebellion against God. Adam’s sin, cannot be blamed on Eve, but it can and does as Paul explains have repercussions for all who have come after him.

Martin Luther and Augustine claim that the language of Romans 5:12 can mean that either all sinned because Adam sinned or that all sin and have guilt.[7] Possibly what is being said is that “while one sinned, all sinned” meaning all act just like their father Adam.[8] The question of original sin has been debated through the eons but what is clear is that all men sin. Regardless of whether all are sinners because of an original sin which they multiply with their own or they are born with a propensity to sin which they give into, the result is the same and none can stand blameless before God. That being said Scripture seems to point to original sin.

All then are guilty of sin and the failure of Adam brought in both sin itself and the inclination of man to sin because Adam is the original man, and all follow after him. Many cultures around the world understand the concept of headship in this way because they either live in collectivist societies or because they place great importance on tribal lineage. For the original Jewish believers this would have made sense because of their history and because of passages like Deut 12:28 which as Manheim Kiester says, people should obey the “commandments in order to acquire merit” for those coming after them.[9] The same is true in the reverse that descendants could be punished for the wrongdoing of a forbearer. This was not because a sin deserved a long punishment but because the children would go after the ways of their father. This can be seen 2 Kings 17:14 where it is recorded that the people became obstinate like their ancestors. Keister points to the Sifra to show that the Jews firmly believed that those who followed in sin were connected to Adam.[10] It is largely only Western individualistic cultures that have a hard time accepting the idea that the sin of an ancestor can affect someone today.

Briefly, as it pertains to the giving of the law and sin being charged to a person’s account (v13). It should not be thought that sin did not exist from Adam until Moses, but that sin was not charged against them according to the Law because the Law had not been given.[11] That sin and the effect of sin, that is death, did exist is obvious as all died minus the notable exceptions of Enoch and Elijah. This reflects what Paul argues earlier in Romans that God will repay back to each one according to his works (2:6-11) whether they have the Law or not. There are none who can resist His righteous judgment.

As it pertains to death there is an argument that Adam was mortal from the beginning and the death, he suffered was a spiritual death and not a physical one. Colin Kruse says that this position seems to run contrary to Genesis 3:22 where God states that if Adam were to eat of the tree of life he would live forever.[12] While this is true, an argument against Kruse would be that Adam was mortal and could live forever only if he ate from the tree of life continually. Looked at in this light the grace of God is seen in that He prohibits Adam and Eve from physically living forever while in spiritual death. Either way, there can be no certain conclusion. What is clearly seen however is that men sin and die and that death reigned from Adam to Moses (v14).

Paul ends discussion on the entry of sin into the world by making a statement that is easily read over but important. Paul states that in light of all he has said Adam was a prototype of the Coming One who is Jesus Christ. This is Paul’s typological argument mentioned previously. If Adam is a head, then Jesus is a head. If Adam passed on something to all, then Jesus passes on something as well. Just as one has headship the other has headship. The linking of these two in this statement is of great importance, however, Adam was a prototype or figure so there are “differences as well as similarities.”[13] As such Paul can move to the differences between Adam and Christ and in doing so the differences between what Adam gave and what Christ gives.

5:15-17

In the next section Paul lists multiple contrasts. These contrasts are based on Adam and Jesus but go beyond simply comparing them as individuals to the results of their individual deeds and the outcome for others. To start with, Paul compares Adam’s trespass with Christ’s gift in saying that the gift is not like the trespass. The trespass is sin leading to death, but the gift and the gift giver are far greater because the gift of grace is given not to cover only the sin of Adam but in the “many acts of sin” that his descendants have committed.[14] Adam brought sin itself into the world, but men sin many kinds of sin. In this, the gift of grace and righteousness must be greater than the trespass. More than that the gift not only forgives sin but brings life and this is yet another point of contrast from Paul.

Death is the result of sin, but life is the result of the gift of grace and righteousness. Peter argues against the Jews in Acts 3:15 that they killed the author of life. It could be argued then that not only is Adam the father of all, but he is the father of death. Adam’s sin brought not only death but in that it brought condemnation. To die would be one thing but to be condemned and forbidden to enter into the presence of a Holy God another thing entirely. This is a simple phrase that can be overlooked but the condemned are separated from God eternally. Again, the gift is greater than the trespass because it results in justification as well. If condemnation prohibits one from standing before God, then justification is when God “judicially declares a believing sinner… righteous and acceptable.”[15] This is why justification by faith alone stands tall in the Protestant Christian faith.

Justification, as used here, is dikaioma and refers to the righteous act of Christ in obedience to death on the cross which is “accomplished consistently with God’s character.”[16] Again, the gift is beyond what the trespass caused. God in forgiving and crediting Christ’s righteousness to the believer is an act that is consistent with His nature. An understanding of this allows the believer to move beyond a superficial faith into one that can understand their right standing with Christ and their placement with Him as Paul discusses in Colossians 3:3-4.

It is from this place that one can move to an understanding that while the relationship with Adam that brings death does exist, the “spiritual connection with Christ” brings a full life that includes a right standing before the Father.[17] Paul is arguing not only for the sinfulness of man but a joyful union with Christ that includes a gift of a righteous reign (5:17b). Jesus speaks to this in John 10:10 when He says His purpose is to give a rich and abundant or satisfying life as the NLT reads. The abundant life of Christ has been perverted by some into a prosperity gospel that claims wealth and health, but as Paul points out Jesus offers more than that. Salvation from sin is only part of the benefit that is passed on to the believer.

5:18-21

In verses 18 and 19, Paul restates his argument but emphasizes the condemnation that applies to everyone. First, as it pertains to verse 18. As was discussed, all either from original sin or willingness to sin, stand condemned before God as Paul stated in Romans 3:10. There are none who seek God because of their fallen and sinful state and because of this all are correctly condemned by Him. However, there was one righteous act that could remove the condemnation and bring justification to the sinner. Because of Paul’s choice of words at the end of verse 18, one must ask does this righteous act automatically save all people?

Some have argued that verse 18 promotes universalism and that all people are saved because “the most natural reading of Romans 5:18-19” shows that just as all participated in Adam all participate in Jesus.[18] However, there are some problems with this idea. First, if all people are saved then no one is under sin and one would expect more past tense language to be used by Paul both here and elsewhere regarding the need to receive Christ. Logically what would the point be in speaking of sin in a present context if all are in Christ and justified? Second, if all are saved then why is Paul writing a support letter to travel to Spain? If all are saved traveling to Spain (as well as other hardships) seem unnecessary. Possibly an answer is that Paul wants all to be subjected to the Lordship of Christ and while Paul does argue for this in Phil 2:9-11 and elsewhere, it is unlikely. Another possible reason is that people do not know they are in Christ and because of this they continue to sin in Adam. From here the question slightly shifts from universalism to universal access to salvation.

The problem with universalism is that if this is Paul’s intent, he contradicts himself from verse 17 and later in 10:13-21 where Paul shows that there is more than forgiveness, there is an active faith that includes accepting and repenting of one’s former way of life. Instead, verse 18 should be understood considering what Paul has already said which is that many will receive. At best verse 18 could be used to argue against limited atonement but not for universalism. Additionally, in context, this one righteous act applies to all meaning Jew or Gentile which is a more natural reading based on not only the previous verses but the bulk of Paul’s writings.[19] Like the trespass that applied to all the righteous act can apply to all who receive it (v17). Paul elaborates on this point in Ephesians 2:14 stating that God has divided the wall of hostility and made one new person.

A better explanation would be that all were in and under Adam’s headship and now there is an alternative which is to be in Christ and under His headship because Paul argues for an either-or headship. In this line of thinking, people must make an allegiance to one or the other. A person can either chose to continue walking in sin and be condemned or they can choose to walk in Christ and live in the justification that has been provided for them. This is a constant dichotomous theme that runs through not only Paul’s writings but the New Testament as a whole. There are two choices, one can either walk in the flesh which is Adam or the Spirit which is Christ. There is universal availability for all to now make that choice. This is as far as one should safely take the topic of universalism.

In the final section Paul presents the joy of the righteous act of Jesus and the beauty of the Christian faith; where sin multiplied or abounded, grace multiplied or abounded more. As was previously stated the righteous act of Christ must be greater than the sin of Adam because Adam’s sin was but one. The many sins that came from that one sin multiplied through the generations. This is not only in the quality of sin (c.f. Cain killing Abel) but in quantity of sins committed. All since Adam have sinned, and sin is a universal issue. The righteous act of Jesus and the grace extended to the believer is greater than sin because it must be in order to cover the abundance of sin.

Moreover, Paul argues that not only is the gift greater than the trespass, but the result is greater than the consequence of sin. Whereas sin and death go hand in hand grace and eternal life are equally inseparable. Paul’s teaching here goes beyond a comparison of sin and death or grace and life in that more mysteries are included. The immortality of the soul, for example, is included because death is not the end but the transference from this life to the next. Grace gives life and that life is eternal. Paul shows this but moreover, he shows the connection the believer has with Christ. Paul speaks of the mystery throughout his writings using marriage illustrations and other times flat-out stating the seating a believer has in heaven with Christ (Col 3:3). This is because just as sin and death are connected to an unbeliever grace, eternal life, and union with Christ are connected to the believer. One can speak of these things individually, but they cannot be separated. The results of the righteous act of Christ is abounding grace and because of this, the implications are enormous.

APPLICATION

When examined in a cross-cultural context some of the items above find a deeper understanding while others can be difficult to translate. This is because ideas, like language, do not always translate one to one. For example, the English language officially only has one you, however, most other languages use many forms of you. For the issues being addressed here not all cultures have the concept of original sin. How does one discuss this passage with that understanding? To start with the origin of sin should be addressed.

The question of the origin of sin from a biblical perspective is Adam’s failure in the garden. In many African societies, sin exists but it is based on violations of the principle that “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am” which is to say that sin is an action against the community and not God.[20] For the original sin committed by Adam, Adam was because God was. Adam’s clan or tribe included God, Eve, and himself. His sin and rebellion in the garden was against the entire tribal community which included God. This made the violation greater because of the one who he sinned against. Because God is part of the tribe but also outside of the tribe (that is omnipresent) the sin has bigger implications than just an offense. Theoretically, this may suffice as an answer to the introducing of sin into the world and the idea of sinning against God. Whether people accept this to mean they carry that same sin is not as important as understanding that they do sin and that sin is a reality with bigger implications.

Another approach would be to build off what is already understood regarding how the actions of one effect an entire tribe. As it stands Adam is the head of the human tribe. No one can escape the truth that all sin the only question that could be asked is why.[21] The answer is because of Adam the father of all introduced sin into the world.

Collectivist communities in Africa, for example, understand this concept quite well. As mentioned, it is understood in many African communities that “one is because others are” which is to say that the actions of one individual do not exist in a vacuum.[22] The understanding is not limited to those members of tribal religions. Christians in these villages may not participate in ceremonial cleansings that are needed due to sin because of their faith in Christ but it is on the basis of their faith and not a rejection of the fact that one person’s actions have affected the entire village. What is clearly seen then is the “principle of solidarity of the human race” because all are related to Adam and all are then sinners.[23]

It seems only natural to look at the concept or idea of justification in other cultures because justification by faith alone or Sola Fide is a bedrock of Protestantism. Therefore, not only does one need to have a proper understanding of the belief but an ability to communicate it in cultures. First, as it pertains to other cultures, it would be wrong to assume that non-Catholic Christians universally understand and or believe in the doctrine of sola fide. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church as an example does not teach that justification comes by faith alone. This is due to a few factors chief among them appears to be due to their required reading in order to serve in the church. Eshetu Abate points out that the Ethiopian church highlight the book of James so they hold “that faith and good works are needed for justification.”[24] This could be lessened if they required a reading of Romans or Galatians as well. This belief has come to be because the Ethiopian church has largely developed apart from the rest of the Christian community. Those who are taught and come to believe in Sola Fide are generally asked to leave the church.

Abate also discusses the question of justification in African Tribal Religions or ATRs. As mentioned, these ATRs generally do not have a belief in original sin and moreover, their belief in sin is much different than that of Western peoples. Sin is looked at as an act against other people and not God Himself. How then does one teach on the important topic of justification? Some African scholars have suggested to simply teach what Scripture teaches.[25] Just because a people have a certain belief that does not mean Scripture is invalidated. People often believe things that are contrary to Scripture. The job of the theologian, missionary, pastor, or evangelist is to present and teach the Bible and Christ. It needs to be made relevant and it does not all have to be presented at once, but it neither can it be syncretized.

Western Christianity would do well to better understand the concept of headship and collectivism. There seems to be, in Western Christianity, a constant search to restore the church to the roots of the faith. Verses like Acts 2:42 are a calling to Christians who feel a desire for a more unified time. This may be in part due to a romanticizing of the early church and in part due to a lack of understanding of collectivism versus individualism. An easier and perhaps more attainable goal would be to seek an proper understanding of headship. This is partly because the reason the collective community worked as well as it did in New Testament times is because people were submitting to each other and the Lordship (headship) of Jesus.

The results of this would be at least two-fold if one can understand that there are two option – Adam or Christ. First, people would have a proper understanding of who they were/are outside of Christ. They are in sin, separated from God, and subject to judgment. They are subject to the results of the fall. There is no excusing or tampering with the truth of the matter. This is not to suggest that they are unable to control their actions, but that they are predisposed to sin. Second, and most glorious, they would understand that as a believer in Christ and His righteous act they are now under a new federal head and can enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ headship. This appears to not only be Paul’s aim in this section but in nearly all of his writing. His desire for the believer to understand their new place as a child of God is present in nearly all his writing. However, this all begins with an understanding of the biblical concept of headship and a somewhat limited rejection of Western individualism. This is not to say individualism is inherently bad, but it does have limitations especially when attempting to understand a believer’s identity in Christ.

When looking at how to present the truth of Christ and Scripture to a culture, the starting point must be the reliability of Scripture. Different cultures should be viewed as a gift from God. American culture has at its core a rugged individualism that says each person is responsible for themselves and their own actions and no one is beholden to anyone else. This is of course not true but that is the cultural ideal. There is some merit to this, but this is often times foreign to the principals found in the Bible regarding unity and community. The biblical principles are not thrown out because of this but instead, they are aimed at, and many have tried to find ways to successfully integrate them into daily life in the American culture. There is still work to do but the closer the American West gets to understanding headship the better off the church and the members will be.

In the same way, those cultures that do not have an understanding of sin, whether original or not, cannot enjoy the full beauty of justification by faith alone because a weak understanding of sin leads to a weak understanding of justification against the backdrop of condemnation. No culture is right in all their understandings but by examining the truth of Scripture in both the original and historical contexts and in light of how other believers view them, new and fresh light can be given to it. In that way, we honor God’s gift of culture and more importantly, we honor Christ as Lord.

[1] All Scripture taken from the HSCB unless otherwise noted.

[2] Edwin D. Freed, The New Testament a Critical Introduction 3rd Edition, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001), 283.

[3] Ibid.

[4] William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary: A Complete Bible Commentary in one Volume, edited by Art Farstad, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson 1995) 1673.

[5] Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley editors, Woman’s Bible Commentary, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) NEED PAGE NUMBER

[6] Bailey and Broek, 45.

[7] Wilhelm Pauck, Luther: Lectures on Romans, (Philadelphia; Westminster Press, 1961), 170.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Manheim Kister, “Romans 5:12-21 Against the Backdrop of Torah-theology and Hebrew Usage, Harvard Theological Review 100, no. 4”, 394, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, accessed September 8, 2018.

[10] Ibid, 396.

[11] Everett F. Harrison and Donald A. Hagner, The Expositors Bible Commentary: Romans-Galatians, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 97.

[12] Colin G Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2012), 243.

[13] D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans, An Exposition of Chapter 5 Assurance, Grand rapids; Zondervan 1982, 223.

[14] Everett F. Harrison and Donald A. Hagner, 98.

[15] Merrill F. Unger, The New Ungers Bible Dictionary, Edited by R. K. Harrison, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988) 729

[16] W.E. Vine, Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ) s.v. δικαίωμα 624.

[17] Reginald Cuthbert Fuller, A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, (Camden, NJ: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1969), 1115.

[18] Richard H. Bell, “Rom 5.18-19 and Universal Salvation,” New Testament Studies 48 (3): 432. accessed September 24, 2018. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001322953&site=ehost-live.

[19] Kruse, 251.

[20] John S. Mbiti, “God, sin, and salvation in African Religion,” The Journal Of The Interdenominational Theological Center 16, no 1-2, 64, accessed September 6, 2018, ATLA Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[21] This of course does not deal with question of relativism but even when pressed most moral relativist will acknowledge some idea of wrong doing against another which could be labeled sin.

[22] Tokunboh Adeyemo, African Bible Commentary A One Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2006), 1360.

[23] Brian Wintle, Havilah Dharamraj, Jesudason Basker Jeyaraj, Paul Swarup, Jacob Cherian, and Finny Philip editors, South Asia Bible Commentary A One Volume Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2011). 1524.

[24] Eshetu Abate, “The Battle for Justification by Faith in the African Context,” Concordia Journal 25 (4): accessed October 26, 2018. 423 http://elibrary.johnsonu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000996490&site=ehost-live.

[25] Ibid, 429-30.