Bible Study Theology Uncategorized

The cross’ power to sanctify

The thought came to me today that perhaps the primary way that Jesus’ cross saves us from the power of indwelling sin is that the cross releases from our fruitless attempts to establish our own righteousness.

When we have sinned, our natural, sinful, tendency is to seek to “do better next time.”  We want to put our failure behind us and show that we can do better.  And we may actually do better to some degree, but we are still bound by sin because it is impossible for us to do better to the infinite degree that is required by God’s absolute holiness.  Only when we come to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness of our sin and receive the free gift of his righteousness can we receive the absolute and infinte righteousness that God requires of us.  

I Corinthians 15:56 says that “the power of sin is the law.”  When we are set free from the attempt to justify ourselves by keeping the law, we are set free from the power of sin.

Romans 8:1-4 says the same thing:

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

By the cross of Jesus we are set free in a way that the law could not set us free.  The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us through our union with Christ in his death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit.  When we seek to establish our own righteousness, we are only confirming ourselves in our sin, but when we turn from our own self-righteousness to Jesus and his righteousness, we are set free from the vicious, fruitless cycle of trying to “do better next time”.  

Interestingly, just after having this thought in my devotional time, I read the following quote from  

“The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway.”

—Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom (West Monroe, LA: Howard Books, 2004), 68-69

The quote doesn’t state the basis of the assertion, but the basis is the cross of Jesus.  God loves us because of the cross of Jesus and his imputed righteousness.  

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons Theology

Romans 1:18-25 The blessing of giving thanks

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.

In a previous post, I talked about why thanklessness is a sin.  You can read that post for more detail, but here is a summary:   My starting point was the following definition of thankfulness…

We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another

as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

The reason thanklessness is such a sin is that the real benefit we have all received from God is everything pertaining to our existence.  He is our creator, and everything we have, even our very life-breath comes from him. Not only have we failed to thank God for these real benefits, we have also failed to acknowledge the goodness of God in giving them to us.

Everything around us in the creation proclaims the infinite goodness of God!  To reject that and to scorn the Giver of life and existence is to scorn his infinite goodness.  Scorning an infinite God is an infinite sin, and a sin that is worthy of infinite condemnation!  That is why Romans 1:21 says that God’s wrath is being revealed against men for their failure to give thanks!

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened

As I thought about this verse, I began to wonder:   If God’s wrath comes when we fail to give thanks, then is it possible that there is a tremendous blessing that comes when we do give thanks?

I think there is a blessing that comes from thankfulness.  Giving thanks is a blessing because the joy and gratitude and happiness that we feel when we are thankful isn’t primarily from the benefit that we have received, but from the goodness of the one who gives us that benefit.

This is the real blessing: We are able to consciously experience the goodness of God.  Ultimately, BEING THANKFUL is a blessing in and of itself!  There is the joy and happiness and satisfaction of witnessing daily the goodness of our wonderful God and Savior, the Lord Jesus.

So the question is, how can I begin to walk daily in the blessing of thankfulness?  How can I experience the joy and satisfaction of being thankful?  Do I just walk outside and look up at the stars, or at the beautiful autumn leaves, or at the glories of creation and thank God for my existence?

The problem is that just as those pagan gentiles in Romans 1, you and I (and the religious jews in Romans 2), are ALREADY under the condemnation of God for our FAILURE to give thanks.  If the only thing you do to try to remedy this problem of not giving thanks is walk outside and look up at the stars and be grateful for your existence, you will be looking at the revelation of a holy and just God who says that he will not leave the guilty unpunished.

Because of the wrath of God that we deserve, we cannot become thankful people just by making a list of the blessings that God has given us:  like your family, your job, the turkey you ate this past Thanksgiving Day, etc., 

There is only one way that we can become thankful people, and that is through the cross of Jesus, our Savior.  Jesus took upon himself at the cross the wrath of God that we deserve for our thanklessness.  Think about this, God himself took on human flesh and suffered the just penalty for our rejection of him.

When God did this, it was a far greater display of his goodness than the creation of the entire universe.  Through the creation, God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen, but through the cross, God’s justice and his grace are clearly seen.  

We criticize these pagan gentiles for their failure to see God’s gracious benefits to them in creating them for his glory, and yet so often we fail to see God’s grace and love displayed to US when he REcreated us for his glory, at the cost of his own Son, Jesus.

So how can we experience the blessing of thankfulness?  We do it by living a cross-centered life.


Thank God every day for the Cross

I began a practice some time ago that should be second-nature to all of us as Christians, and that is to thank God every day for what he did for us at the cross.  I’m sad to say that I don’t yet have this godly habit ingrained in my life like I wish I did, but by his grace, I will!  May not a day go by that I don’t thank my Lord for his death for me on the cross.  

I need to keep this always before me, that I am a sinner, deserving of God’s condemnation, but instead receiving his mercy.  I deserve hell, but I get heaven.  I deserve separation from God, and instead he adopts me into his family and cherishes me as he does his only begotten Son!!! Imagine the difference it will make in your life if you are meditating EVERY DAY on the wonderful grace of Jesus expressed to you at the cross!

And as I thank him for my salvation, may it remind me not just of the fact that I am SAVED, but of what an infinitely GOOD God he is!  


Thank God for good gifts  

Every good gift that comes into your life is due to the cross of Christ!  When God blesses you as his child with ANYTHING, no matter how small, remember this.  If Jesus hadn’t died on the cross for you, he would not be blessing you now with that meal, or that car, or that relationship, or anything.  Let every good thing that comes into your life remind you of this.  It is all because of Jesus’ cross.

You may wonder, “But what about those who are NOT followers of Christ?  Where do the benefits in THEIR lives come from?”  The answer is the same, from the cross of Christ, and just like the pagan gentiles in Romans 1, those who are not followers of Christ will be held accountable for their failure to give thanks to God for everything that they have been given.


Thank God for difficulty

Not only are the good things that come into your life through the cross of Christ, so are the difficult things.  Peter said in 1 Pet. 4:13, Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  God has promised us that our sufferings are not without a point.  He promises in 2 Cor. 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

There is a pernicious lie in the church today that a life of obedience and submission to God means that everything will go well for you, you will never suffer.  But the promise of the gospel message of the cross is that we are blessed to share in Christ’s sufferings, and for that we can be thankful!  

Sometimes God removes his temporal blessings to show us that the greatest blessing we have is  HIMSELF!


Get rid of distractions from the cross

Finally, and probably most important of these four suggestions, is to rid your life of everything that is a distraction from the cross of Christ.  We fill our lives with so much activity, with so much entertainment, with so much busyness that we simply don’t have time to live a cross-centered life.  Even God’s good gifts can become idols in our lives if they keep us FROM God rather that directing us TO God.  

Don’t expect to become a thankful person just by adding these first three suggestions to a life that in all other respects shows no desire to know God as he has revealed himself at the cross of Christ.  The overall movement and direction of your life must be toward Jesus if you are to live a cross-centered life.  

When Jesus died on the cross he accomplished our RECONCILIATION with God.  That is the gift he has given us–the way is opened once again for us to have fellowship with God.

Would you not agree that the greatest thanklessness that a person could express would be to fail to appreciate and use and enjoy the gift that they have been given?  Which hurts more, kids?  When your brother or sister unwraps that toy that you spent all your allowance to buy and immediately begins playing with it, but forgets to say “thank you”?  Or when he opens it, and then casts it aside disinterested, looking for the next present?

Do you want to be a thankful person?  Enjoy the gift that God has given you–HIMSELF!

I heard about a missionary wife who had been without her husband for almost 10 weeks as he toured in the churches.  On the day he was to arrive home, a huge package arrived for this lady by delivery truck.  It was from her husband.  She was so disappointed.  She didn’t just want a present, she wanted HIM, and when she opened the box… out he popped!

That’s what God has done for us.  He has reconciled us to himself.  He has given himself to us!  What goodness he has shown us!  Let us thank him!


This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons Theology

Romans 1:18-25 Why is thanklessness a sin?

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul mentions a huge sinful failure that we too often overlook:  the failure to give thanks to God.  Romans 1:21

For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him…  

Why is the failure to give thanks a sin?  OK, we might accept it as a rather menial sin of omission, but in the context of Romans 1, Paul mentions this as part of his explanation for the wrath of God that is being revealed against all the godlessness and unrighteousness of men.  So what is the big deal about failing to give thanks?

First some background… In Romans 1 Paul talks about the sin of the gentiles and how their unrighteousness deserves God’s wrath.  In chapter 2, he moves on to the religious Jews, and shows how they too are under God’s wrath.  In chapter 3, he pulls it all together and in one tremendous passage concludes that there is no one righteous, not even one.  We are all deserving of God’s wrath–his righteous judgement of sin.

That is the overarching teaching of Romans 1-3.  We deserve the wrath of God because of our sin.  But as we look more closely at the individual facets of Paul’s argument for the justness of God’s wrath upon the human race, there is much we can learn about the different ways our sinful condition manifests itself in our lives.

And as I have meditated on Romans 1:21, I have asked myself this question:

Why does the failure to give thanks bring God’s wrath upon the gentiles? 

It really is amazing, that of all the sins that Paul could have mentioned here as being foundational to the condemnation of the pagan gentiles, he mentions the failure to give thanks. Why is this?  And what can I learn from this to apply to my own sinful, unthankful heart?

I think a good place to start in our understanding of this verse is to try to understand better what “giving thanks” is.  I read through the different places that this verb is used in the New Testament and came up with this definition:

We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another

as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

When I first began to work on this definition, I used the term “tangible benefits”, but I soon changed that because “tangible” means that we can touch them.  But what I am trying to communicate through the term “real benefits” is that thankfulness is not just a vague, general sort of thing, but is always related to some specific benefit or blessing that is very real and concrete.  Forgiveness is not “tangible” but it is a very “real benefit.”  Food to eat is tangible, and is also a very real benefit.  Both are things for which we should be thankful.

Let me just quickly show you some of the occurrences in the New Testament that led me to this definition:

  • Jesus gave thanks to the Father for the bread and fish before serving the multitudes.
  • He gave thanks to the Father before giving the bread and wine to his disciples at the Last Supper.
  • In Luke 17, the one leper of the ten who were healed fell on his face and gave thanks to Jesus for his healing.
  • Paul often began his letters giving thanks to God for the church to whom he was writing.
  • In Rev. 11, the 24 elders fall on their faces and give thanks to the Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign!

Do you see the pattern?  Thankfulness is always expressed FOR something.  For food, or for healing, or for other Christians, or even for Jesus himself and for the exercise of his reign.

But it is also an important part of the definition that thankfulness is always TO someone.  This is fairly obvious, but for thanksgiving to occur, there must be something that one is thankful for, and there must also be someone that one is thankful to.

If a child gets a gift on his birthday, it is possible for him to be enamored with that gift and enjoying that gift and really happy that he has that gift….there is something that he is glad FOR… but if that gladness and joy is not expressed TO someone, then we reprimand that child for being thankless.

On the other hand, imagine that I am watching a documentary on TV about a wealthy man who has millions and has done all kinds of amazing things with his money.  I may be able to admire that man as someone fabulously wealthy, but it is meaningless to say that I am thankful toward him until he pays my mortgage!  If there have been no real, tangible benefits that have come my way from him, I can’t be thankful to him.  So, here’s the definition again…

We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another

as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

When Paul condemns the pagan gentiles for their failure to “give thanks” to God, he is saying first of all that there has been some very real benefit that has come to them.

Often when we study this passage, we look at what it says about God being revealed in the creation and say that the gentiles should have seen in the stars and the sun and the earth around them that there IS a Creator God.  They should have recognized Jehovah as God.  And that is certainly true, but Paul adds that not only should they have honored God as God, they should have given thanks to Him.

Thankfulness has an added dimension that praise and giving honor don’t.  That added dimension is the benefit received.  Not only is God, God, but he blesses mankind tremendously.  The fact that Paul impunes them for their lack of thanks, implies that there were benefits that came to them.

So what benefits came to the gentiles?  Turn to Acts 17.  Here Paul is also speaking to pagan gentiles and there are lots of parallels between what he says in Rom. 1 about gentiles, and what he says in Acts 17:24-25 to them

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…

That pretty much sums up the very real benefit that the gentiles had received from God:  their very existence!  their life, their breath… indeed everything that they have and enjoy and experience comes from him.  

So Paul is saying far more here than simply that the gentiles should have recognized the existence of God through the creation.  He is saying, “you gentiles owe EVERYTHING to God, and you have not thanked him for giving you everything pertaining to your existence.”

But that still doesn’t seem to me to answer why their failure to give thanks resulted in God’s wrath.  And that’s why we have to continue our analysis in light of the first part of the definition of “giving thanks”.  Thankfulness is always expressed FOR something, but also TO someone.  Appreciating blessings and benefits is meaningless if it isn’t directed to someone.  As the definition says:  We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

If the Gentiles had only failed to recognize the REAL BENEFITS, that would have been bad enough, but not only did they do that, they ENJOYED those benefits while denying the goodness of the one who GAVE the benefits.

Remember what the Israelites did when they were in the desert on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It was bad enough when they complained against God because there was no food, but it was even worse when they complained against God after he had given them manna from heaven!  They were enjoying his blessing, but denying his goodness.  

A thankful person isn’t just someone who is glad he has a benefit or a blessing to enjoy, rather he is one who ACKNOWLEDGES the goodness of the ONE who does the blessing.

Did you ever stop to think that it is impossible to be thankful to something inanimate.  You can’t be thankful to your house for keeping you warm in the winter.  You can be thankful to God for giving you the house, but you can’t be thankful to the house.  The house isn’t keeping you warm because of its kind and benevolent character!

God showed himself in the creation to the Gentiles, and gave them the blessings and benefits of their existence, NOT just so that they could receive the benefits as an end in themselves, but so that they would see his goodness and his glory.   

When the pagan gentiles failed to honor God as God and failed to see that he had blessed them, they were denying the goodness of God!  Everything around us in the creation proclaims the infinite goodness of God!  To reject that and to scorn the Giver of life and existence is to scorn his infinite goodness.  Scorning an infinite God is an infinite sin, and one that is worthy of infinite condemnation!

The later post, The Blessing of Giving Thanks, continues with more thoughts from Romans 1:18-25

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.