Gardendale Nazarene

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Archives for June 2017 | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

New Identity

Yesterday, our denomination wrapped up General Assembly. General Assembly happens every four years. It is a great time of celebration, but it is also an opportunity to handle polity issues. These issues range from the way the church is run to theological issues.

What amazes me as I watched online this year, was the importance of identity.

Through all of the issues addressed, the issue at the heart of most theological issues was the importance of who we are as Nazarenes in 2017 (and the next four-years). We are a global church dealing with global issues. This does result in some headaches, but the sense of purpose and identity shined through the debates.

Identity was a central issue for Paul in Romans 6-8. Last Sunday, we looked at how Paul draws his thought from the Exodus. Paul is reminding the people of God, that God delivered His people from the slavery of Egypt to create a new people in Him. In the same way, God has delivered us from the slavery of sin to create a new people.

The beauty of this argument comes in a subtle shift of language from chapters 3-5 to chapters 6-8. Let's look at two verses as an example of this shift:
  • 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
  • 6:8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Look at the first example. In this passage, Christ died for the ungodly (read- you and me!). He died for our sins.

Now, look at the second verse. Who died? We did! When He died, you died. When He arose, you arose.

What is Paul saying here? We identify with Christ and now my identity is found in Him.

You now have a new identity. You are no longer living for yourself, but for Christ!

We can see how this new identity changes our lives as Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-3, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

What do we do with this new identity?

We seek the things that are above.
We set our minds on things that are above.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Pastor John

The wages of...

Do you remember your first paycheck? My first job was at an Elvis/Nascar souvenir shop at Opryland theme park (I know that's a weird combination). I can remember getting that first check in the mail and realizing that this was an actual paycheck. This wasn't the six dollars I received for mowing my Aunt Evie's yard. I was actually earning money.

I worked that job for the summer and spent many hot summer nights in that little shop.

One of the many things I learned that summer was the value of work. I worked and at the end of every two weeks, I would receive a check in the mail. I worked and I was paid for the work.

This week, I would like to pick up where we left off last week. Romans 4:4-5 reads, "When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners" (NLT).

There is a temptation of approaching our faith like we approach work. We live a certain way and then our 'paycheck' is our salvation.

Here, Paul is driving home his point from the passage last week.

Our salvation is not an earned wage. It is a gift. What do we do when we receive a gift? We give thanks.

This is where the water can get a little murky. How do we give thanks? We obey the commands of God. We love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We love our neighbors– for they are God's creation and He is seeking to redeem them as well.

Obeying God's commands, loving Him completely, and loving our neighbors does not save us– they are a response in love to the saving grace of God.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35)

May we give thanks to the One who saves us!

Pastor John

Righteous Because of His Faith

As we work our way through Romans on Sunday mornings, there are many passages that we will be unable to cover. I would like to use these devotionals to cover some of those passages.

Romans 3 ends with Paul asking a series of three questions (there are actually more questions, but the other questions fall under these three):

  • Then what becomes of our boasting?
  • Or is God the God of Jews only?
  • Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?

Today, I would like to focus on the first question, "Then what becomes of our boasting?"

Paul's Jewish audience dealt with boasting on two levels. Judaism dealt with a self-confident assumption of national, cultural and religious superiority. This is the first level of boasting Paul was addressing.

Paul also dealt with the boasting surrounding the keeping of the Law. Keeping the Law leads to the belief that one had earned favor with God due to their own righteousness. This self-righteousness leads to boasting. In effect, it is not God who saves, but by keeping the law the believers could 'save' themselves.

This issue of boasting is not just something that Paul's Jewish audience had in their lives- it is something in our lives as well. We too struggle with boasting.

Boasting comes from our struggle with self-centeredness. We turn the focus of salvation away from God and to ourselves.

This is a real struggle. "If I live the Christian life, then God has to save me." "I'm a good person and don't 'do bad stuff', thus I'm a Christian."

When these types of thoughts creep into our minds, we are turning salvation away from God and focusing on ourselves.

Paul is reminding us that the focus has to remain on God's saving work. Paul wraps up this argument at the beginning of chapter 4.

"Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, 'Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith'" (Romans 4:1-3 NLT).

We need to be reminded of Paul's point. It is God alone who saves. Next week, we will look at Paul's next point in chapter 4.

Pastor John

The Power of God

This summer, we find ourselves working our way through Romans. On the first Sunday of this series, I gave an account of three times in history that a study of Romans was influential in changing the church.

Romans was a significant catalyst for Martin Luther in the Protestant Reformation. It was in a reading of Luther's preface to Romans that John Wesley finally heard the voice of God and found 'his heart strangely warmed'. It was in war-torn Europe that a pastor of a little church in Switzerland had his eyes opened to the beauty of Scripture through reading Romans. Karl Barth went on to be an instrumental leader in the Confessing Church in Germany, which actively opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

I remind you of these points to remind you of another point I made that Sunday. Romans is a powerful book. Romans is a life-changing book that God has used for centuries to change the hearts of believers, to change the world, and to change His Church.

Due to the life-changing power of Romans, I believe that there are spiritual forces actively working against us studying this epistle.

I need to be reminded many times of the power of God over any these powers of evil. To do this, I turn back to the beginning of the epistle:

Romans 1:16 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 for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The gospel is the power of God and this power is that same power that delivers us from the sin and darkness that once ruled our lives.

Theologian John Stott writes in his commentary, "How then did Paul (and how shall we) overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel? He tells us. It is by remembering that the very same message, which some people despise for its weakness, is, in fact, the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. How do we know this? In the long run, only because we have experienced its saving power in our own lives. Has God reconciled us to himself through Christ, forgiven our sins, made us his children, put his Spirit within us, begun to transform us, and introduced us into his new community? Then how can we possibly be ashamed of the gospel?"

Romans is a powerful book and I pray that you prepare your hearts for what God wants to do your life through this book.

May we open our lives to 'the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.'

Pastor John

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