Defining Bible BaptismWednesday, April 17, 2019
To say that there is confusion in the religious world about baptism would be an understatement! Probably all of us have had friends who talked about how a new baby in their family got baptized. There are churches not far from here that baptize people to admit them into church membership. There are even those who believe that they still receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit today.
All of this confusion stands in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Bible. In Ephesians 4:5, Paul tells us that there is one baptism. Belief in and acceptance of that one baptism is one of the things that is supposed to unite all believers. Unless the Holy Spirit is just messing with us, Ephesians 4:5 means that only one view on baptism is right and all the others are wrong.
What is that one baptism? This is a question of eternal significance, and unless we can persuade others to choose the right baptism, there is no hope for them. For our sixth half-hour study, then, let’s consider the definition of Bible baptism.
First, Bible baptism is IMMERSION IN WATER. By no means is this universally accepted! Though many churches teach baptism by immersion, many others insist that pouring or even sprinkling water over the baptizee is sufficient. What can we say to people who believe this?
Many of you have probably heard before that the word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizō, which means “to immerse”, so that sprinkling and pouring are excluded by definition. All that is certainly true, but when we’re studying with others, I don’t think that’s the best argument to use.
Here’s why. In order for somebody to become a disciple, they have to hear the gospel and understand it for themselves. Their faith has to be in the word, not in us. However, almost nobody we study with will have any knowledge of Greek. They don’t have the tools to evaluate the baptizō argument. Either they take our word for it, or they don’t. In either case, we’ve taken the focus off the word and put it on us, where it doesn’t belong.
Instead, I think it’s better to take people to Acts 8:38-39. Here, we can see from the English what baptism is. Philip and the eunuch go down into the water, and they come up out of the water. That doesn’t happen when you sprinkle. That doesn’t happen when you pour. It only happens when you immerse.
There are other places in Scripture that imply that baptism is immersion. In John 3, when John is baptizing at Aenon near Salim, the text tells us that he’s doing it there because water is plentiful there. You don’t need plentiful water to sprinkle or pour. You only need plentiful water to immerse.
On the other hand, there is nothing in Scripture that says or even implies that God’s people sprinkled or poured as a method of baptism. Indeed, neither one of those was developed until hundreds of years after the time of the Bible. Those who sprinkle or pour are not following the New Testament pattern, so they can’t expect the New Testament blessing either.
Second, Bible baptism is the baptism OF A BELIEVER. To us, this seems like a duh point. Who else would you baptize, if not someone who believes in Jesus? However, this point is disputed by everyone who accepts infant baptism as a valid form of baptism. Clearly, the infant being baptized doesn’t know Jesus from a hole in the ground, yet they are being baptized anyway, even though generally they would prefer not to be. I’ve never yet seen a picture of a “baptized” infant where the infant looks happy about getting water dumped on them!
Those who practice infant baptism say that it is necessary in order to cleanse the infant from the sin they inherited from Adam. There are problems with that claim, and we’ll talk about them several weeks from now. For now, though, it’s enough to point out that those who are baptized in the New Testament are always believers. For evidence of this, let’s look at Colossians 2:11-12.
I like to use this verse when studying with people who believe in infant baptism because it is often a verse that they themselves will bring up if they know their Bibles. Here’s why. Notice that in v.11, Paul compares baptism to circumcision. Of course under the law, infant boys were circumcised, so the infant-baptism people will take that and argue that infants should be baptized too.
Well, no. The problem is that they pay so much attention to v. 11 that they don’t pay attention to the wording of v. 12. Paul says there that the Colossians were buried with Christ in baptism—there’s another immersion passage if you need one—and then goes on to say that they were raised. How? They were raised through faith in the powerful working of God.
You see it, brethren? The essential element in the spiritual resurrection of baptism is faith. If we do not believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us, our baptism is ineffective. Rather than teaching that non-believers can be baptized, this passage teaches that only believers can be.
Finally, the purpose of Bible baptism is TO WASH AWAY SINS. Look at Acts 22:16. This is about as simple as it gets. Ananias tells Saul to arise, be baptized, and wash away his sins. Therefore, if you want to wash away your sins, you have to be baptized. Plain as day, right?
Sadly, no. There are all kinds of people who take the many passages that plainly state baptism is necessary for salvation, and they distort them around to say the opposite. My personal favorite go-to site for false doctrine on baptism is gotquestions.org. Here, among other things, is what it has to say about Acts 22:16:
“Concerning the words, ‘be baptized, and wash away your sins,’ because Paul was already cleansed spiritually at the time Christ appeared to him, these words must refer to the symbolism of baptism. Baptism is a picture of God’s inner work of washing away sin (1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Peter 3:21).”
Many of you have heard me say, “Watch out for people who teach, ‘The text doesn’t say what it says,’” and this a prime example. Ananias tells Paul that he needs to have his sins washed away. Gotquestions.org tells us that Paul already has been cleansed. Who are you going to believe, Ananias or gotquestions.org?
At the same time, though, not everything in this quotation is wrong. Baptism is symbolic. When we are baptized, the water does not literally wash the sin off our skin. As Peter says, baptism is not the removal of dirt from the flesh. It is the appeal to God for a good conscience.
Nobody has their sins washed away by accident. Baptism only saves those who come to the water in search of salvation. Otherwise, we might as well set a trap on Nashville Highway and forcibly baptize everyone we catch! People who are saved through baptism have to know they’re not right with God and want to get right with God. However, everyone who is baptized with that mindset will find what they’re looking for.
What Repentance TakesTuesday, April 16, 2019
Several weeks ago, when Shawn and I were teaching the evangelism class together, both of us observed that the biggest problem we had encountered in teaching others the gospel wasn’t resistance on baptism. Instead, it was resistance to repentance. Both of us have known far too many people who didn’t want to submit their lives to the will of God.
If we’re going to be effective in studying with others, then, we’re going to have to know how to teach them about repentance. During the sermon last week, we saw that repentance is necessary to salvation. This week, we’re going to explore what repentance takes.
In order to do this, we must begin with DEFINING REPENTANCE. To help us with this, let’s consider Acts 26:19-20. Here, Paul explains his work as a preacher. In particular, he touches on two things he taught others. He told them a), to repent, and b), to perform deeds in keeping with repentance.
This is important because a lot of the time, we want to lump a) and b) together. We want to say that repentance is not only a change of heart, but a change of life. Scripturally speaking, that’s not true. The Greek word for “repentance” is metanoia, which means rethinking or changing one’s mind.
As a result, somebody who wants to be saved does not have to get their lives in order before they get baptized. Think about it. How could we expect somebody else to defeat sin without the Lord’s help when we ourselves rely on that help every day? And yet, if we demand that somebody reform before we’re willing to baptize them, that’s what we’re demanding. It doesn’t make a lick of sense.
However, they do need to repent. They do need to make a sincere commitment to changing their lives. If I don’t believe that somebody I’m studying with sincerely wants to change, I won’t baptize them. They haven’t met the requirements.
Of course, not everyone who repents follows through on that commitment. I’ve baptized all too many people who fell away, sometimes only a few days after I baptized them. Such people are certainly lost. However, they are not lost because they failed to repent. They are lost because they did not perform deeds in keeping with repentance.
If that’s what repentance is, what leads people to repent? What causes them to make this decision to change? First, they need KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WILL. Along these lines, consider Nathan’s confrontation with David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12:7-9. Notice that Nathan doesn’t begin by talking about all the things that David is doing right. He doesn’t talk about David’s honesty as a king or his faithfulness in worshiping God. Instead, he directs David’s attention to the part of God’s will that David is not following.
If we want to lead someone else to repentance, we have to tell them that they’re doing wrong. This is not fun. None of us like to teach somebody that they must change their lives if they want to please God, particularly if the change is dramatic. Some of the most painful conversations I’ve ever had have been when I had to tell a married couple that they didn’t have a right to be together, that in God’s eyes, they were committing adultery.
We’re tempted to shy away from those conversations. Believe me, I get that. I’m as direct as they come, yet I still have to gather my courage and pray beforehand.
However, we must remember that the truth that wounds is also the truth that saves. Maybe that sinner never will repent. Maybe they’ll get mad at us for telling them the truth. If we aren’t willing to speak up, though, guess what we have done? We have denied them even the opportunity to repent and guaranteed that they will not be saved. That’s not fair. We have an obligation to speak truth to others, especially the truth they least want to hear.
Second, repentance requires HONESTY ABOUT SIN. We see this honesty in David’s response to Nathan’s accusation in 2 Samuel 12:13. Those must have been hard words for David to say. None of us like to admit the evil that we have done. How much harder must it have been for a king who prided himself on serving God to acknowledge that he was an adulterer and a murderer? David, though, confessed the truth about himself without flinching.
I think Nathan’s response here is telling. He tells David that because he has been honest about his sin, God has forgiven him. Now, he will not die. The same is true for every one of us. The only way for us to live is if we are honest with others and ourselves about our sin.
The first part of this sermon is hard for us. The second part is hard for those we are studying with. It’s hard to read God’s word and say, “This thing that I love, this thing that I do, this thing that I want to continue doing, is evil. I have to stop if I want to please God.”
The struggle is real. Back a month ago when Josh Collier came down from Joliet to do our teen weekend, he and I talked about somebody we’ve both studied with. They believe in God, they say they want to become a Christian, but they have this part of their lives that they refuse to acknowledge is wrong and will not give up.
Brethren, that’s not good enough. If someone wants to be saved, they have to unflinchingly apply the Scriptures to themselves. Someone who will not do so will never repent.
Third, before somebody will make that commitment to change, they need WILLINGNESS TO CHANGE. For an example of someone who was not willing, look at Matthew 19:20-22. In this passage, we see that the first two elements of repentance are present. Jesus was forthright with the rich young ruler. He told him that he needed to sell his possessions if he wanted to inherit eternal life. They were an obstacle because the ruler loved them more than he loved God.
Even the second part is present. We can tell that the ruler was honest about his sin because he went away sorrowfully. That showed that he accepted God’s standard and admitted to himself that he didn’t live up to it. He acknowledged that he wasn’t doing right.
However, he didn’t have the third part. He wasn’t willing to change. He saw that his possessions were going to cost him eternal life, but he loved them too much to part with them.
Sadly, there are all too many today with the same spiritual problem. They know God’s will, they admit that they are sinning by violating God’s will, but they love the sin more than they love God. Without that third part, the first two don’t do any good.
Instead, for somebody to repent, they must love God more than they love the sin. We saw this here last year. When Shawn was studying with our two sisters Elisha and Angela, he showed them that they had to make some difficult changes to please God. Both of them, though, were willing to make those changes, and so they were saved. May God bless them for that, and may He send us many more like them!
SalvationTuesday, April 09, 2019
During my last two appearances in the pulpit, we’ve considered both mankind’s biggest problem and the only possible solution to that problem. Only Jesus can possibly save us from our sins.
However, knowing the what doesn’t tell us the how. I can know that a jack can help me to change a tire, but unless I know how to use the jack to change the tire, that doesn’t help me much. Similarly, the knowledge that we can be saved through Jesus doesn’t tell us how to lay hold of that salvation.
Sadly, the devil has sown a great deal of confusion on this subject. Some in the world believe things that aren’t in the Bible at all, such as that you only have to be a good person. Others take part of what the Bible says about salvation and act like it’s all you have to do.
If we want to help people like this, we have to know the whole counsel of God, and we have to declare the whole counsel of God. This evening, then, let’s consider the Biblical pattern for salvation.
Assuming that a sinner recognizes his need for salvation, the process of being saved begins with BELIEF. To establish this point, there’s no reason to turn anywhere other than John 3:16. We saw last week that Jesus is our Savior, but His salvation is only for those who believe in Him. Only they have the hope of eternal life.
However, many people are mistaken both about the meaning and the significance of belief. Let’s start with the former. Lots of people think that faith is nothing more than acknowledging something as true, that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God in the same way that we believe that Paris is the capital of France.
Biblically, that’s not accurate. The only time belief is used in this way in Scripture is in James 2, where it’s talking about the demons’ belief in God. That is not saving faith! Saving faith isn’t mere mental assent to the existence of Jesus. It is trust in Him and loyalty to Him. Saving faith is inseparable from action.
This truth is a stumbling block for many. They turn to passages like Ephesians 2 and talk about being saved by faith, not by works. However, that’s a misreading of the text. In Ephesians and Romans, when Paul is talking about salvation by works, he’s talking about the works of the law of Moses. He’s talking about salvation by perfect law-keeping. His point is not that we have to do nothing in order to be saved. It’s that we can’t earn our salvation.
In addition to belief, the Scriptures emphasize that REPENTANCE is a necessary part of our salvation. As Shawn and I observed during the evangelism class last quarter, repentance is generally one of the main problems that people have with becoming a Christian. Next week, I intend to preach a whole half-hour study sermon on repentance, so you can think of this as a quickie point for people who don’t struggle with the truth.
For purposes of this study, though, consider 2 Corinthians 7:10. In this text, Paul distinguishes between two kinds of grief: worldly grief and godly grief. Worldly grief is grief at God’s word that does not produce a change of heart. When the rich young ruler went away grieffully, that was worldly grief. We see this kind of grief today with people who accept that they’re in an unscriptural marriage but never separate.
Godly grief on the other hand, is grief that produces repentance, which is a sincere resolution to stop sinning and live righteously. Repentance itself is entirely mental. The Greek word here literally means “changing your mind”.
Thus, somebody who repents of their sins doesn’t have to eradicate all those sins before they are baptized. However, genuine repentance is always followed by action. If somebody’s life doesn’t bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, that’s reason enough for us to call their original repentance into question.
CONFESSION is the next thing that we must do to lay hold of God’s gift of salvation. Here, let’s look at Romans 10:9-10. The first thing that we ought to notice here is that Paul didn’t believe that salvation was the result of Just One Thing. He certainly affirms the necessity of faith for salvation, but he also says that you have to offer a confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. A little earlier in Romans, he talks about the necessity of baptism. Anybody who takes one of those passages out of the context of everything Paul says about salvation is guilty of the worst kind of proof-texting. Rather than focusing on one thing a New-Testament writer says about salvation, we need to focus on everything he says.
Also, let’s pay attention to what kind of a confession this is. Often, when we hear the word “confession” our mind turns to a confession of sin. Confessing our sins is certainly a Biblical concept, but when we find people in the New Testament doing that, it’s people who already have been saved. That kind of confession is extremely important, but it’s not part of the process of salvation.
Instead, the confession that does accompany salvation is what Peter describes as “the good confession”. It is a statement claiming Jesus Christ as our Lord, as Jesus Himself confessed His Kingship before Pontius Pilate. There are many different confession formulas in Scripture. The exact wording doesn’t matter. However, it is supposed to be a pledge of faith. If we confess Jesus before men, He will confess us before His Father in heaven.
The process of salvation concludes with BAPTISM. As with repentance, this is a subject that can require a half-hour study all its own, at least! I’ll be preaching that sermon next week too because sometimes baptism is an issue with people. Sometimes, though, it isn’t. I’ve seen people choose to be baptized after studying only one passage having to do with baptism. If that’s the case, Acts 2:37-38 will serve as well as any.
This is another text that contains a subject we’ve already studied, in this case repentance. Also, it’s contextually apparent that Peter’s audience in this context already believes. That’s why they’re asking him what they can do to escape the wrath of God for crucifying Jesus. The only step that’s missing is confession, but that shouldn’t bother us. When we’re telling a story to our friends, we don’t cover every detail every time. Instead, we bring out only the details that are significant to the story.
Luke is doing the same thing. He’s hitting the high points of what happened, not mechanically going through every little detail of every story of conversion. People who demand that every detail be in every story are expecting something that nobody actually does.
Second, notice that Peter is appealing to these Jews to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. This does not mean that they are being baptized because their sins already have been forgiven. If that’s so, why are they crying out “What shall we do?” five seconds earlier?
These are people who know they are not forgiven, and Peter is telling them what they need to do in order to be forgiven. Only through baptism can they, and we, receive forgiveness of sins. If we believe in the Jesus of the gospel, and we want to be saved according to the terms of the gospel, we must obey the gospel through baptism.
Knowing JesusWednesday, April 03, 2019
At some point or other, I would imagine that most all of us have seen that fish symbol on the back of a car. Most of them are either empty or say “Jesus” in them. However, back in the 199os, when I first remember seeing them, many of the original fish symbols contained letters that look to us like IXOYE. So. . . what does a fish symbol have to do with Jesus have to do with those funny letters?
Let’s start with the funny letters. They aren’t normal letters like we use. They’re from the Greek alphabet, and they are the letters iota, chi, theta, upsilon, and sigma. Translated into our letters, they spell out I-CH-TH-Y-S, and ichthys is the Greek word for “fish”.
Thus for the fish, but what about Jesus? Here’s what’s going on. Ichthys doesn’t just mean “fish”. It’s also an acrostic sermon outline, a very old one, going back at least to the second century A.D. Early Christians used it to teach others about Jesus. I figure we might as well use the outline for the same purpose today, so for our fourth half-hour study sermon, let’s see how the fish symbol teaches us to know Jesus.
The first letter in the sermon outline, iota, stands for Iēsous, which is Greek for “Jesus”. Just like “Jehovah” in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Jesus” in Greek starts with an I.
The second letter, which looks like an X to us, is a chi, a “ch” sound, and it stands for Christos, from which we get our English word “CHRIST”. Jesus is called Christ hundreds of times in the Bible, but perhaps the most significant usage of the word appears in Acts 2:36. Here, we particularly need to notice that Peter says that God has made Him both Lord and Christ.
This seems weird to us. A lot of the time, we think of “Christ” almost like a last name. Sometimes, we’ll hear profane people throw in an H when they’re blaspheming the name of Jesus, as though H is His middle initial. Really, though, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is one of His titles, and it means “Anointed One”.
In the Old Testament, there were three classes of people who were anointed, and Jesus is the only person ever to be a member of all three classes. The first of these classes is the class of prophet. Prophets were anointed like Elijah anointed Elisha. Jesus too was anointed by the Holy Spirit. Because He is an anointed prophet, Jesus has the ability to declare the word of God by inspiration. This means that all of us are responsible for listening to His teachings.
Second, priests were anointed under the law of Moses, from Aaron onward. Jesus too is anointed as a priest. Indeed, He is our great High Priest. Under the law of Moses, the high priests interceded with God for the people. Today, Jesus intercedes for us.
Third, kings were anointed under the law. The Scriptures tell us about the anointing stories of Saul, David, and many others. Jesus, though, is anointed as our King. God has put all things in subjection under His feet, and He has the right to demand our obedience in everything.
The next sermon point takes up two letters in our acronym. The Greek letters theta and upsilon stand for Theou Yios, which means “GOD’S SON”. Again, there are many passages that affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, but let’s look at Peter’s famous statement in Matthew 16:15-16.
There are a couple of senses in which all of us are the offspring of God. He created us in the first place, and those of us who are Christians have been adopted as His sons and daughters. In some places in Scripture, angels are described as the sons of God.
However, Jesus is not the Son of God in any of those senses. Instead, it means first of all that Jesus is fully divine. He is not Michael the archangel or any of that other nonsense. Instead, as the Father is God, so Jesus the Son is God too.
Second, we must understand “Son” as a statement of relationship, not origin. This is usually different for us. When I say, for instance, that Marky is my son, I mean that I helped bring him into existence, and anybody who looks at the two of us can see the family resemblance!
However, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God does not mean that Jesus is a created being! Instead, it primarily explains His subordinate relationship to the Father, just as Marky is subordinate to me. Jesus is part of the “let Us” of Genesis 1. He is uncreated as God the Father is uncreated.
Finally, Jesus is the Son of God because He was begotten as the Son of God. In one of the most mind-bending events ever to take place on this planet, He took on flesh and became like one of us. In an earthly sense, but only in an earthly sense, God fathered Jesus like I fathered Marky. Other than Adam and Eve, no one else has this divine parentage.
The last letter of our sermon acrostic is sigma, standing for the Greek Sōtēr, which means “SAVIOR”. For the third time, this concept is all over the New Testament, but let’s look at Acts 13:23.
Today, when we see the word “savior”, we generally assume that it has religious connotations. However, it wasn’t necessarily that way 2000 years ago. In fact, it was a title most commonly applied to human kings. Many of the Greek kings who fought over the remains of Alexander the Great’s empire took the title of Sōtēr. In these cases, though, it’s not terribly clear who is saving whom from what, except possibly conquest by a foreign country.
Jesus, though, is a different kind of Savior than any earthly monarch. He didn’t come to save us from some hostile human empire. Instead, He came to save us from our sins.
Additionally, Jesus’ methodology as Savior is unique. All of those human kings acted like lords. They climbed to the top of the heap, taxed their subjects into ruin, then formed a huge army and ordered it around.
Jesus did the opposite. Even though He had more right than anybody to be treated as Lord, that is not how He behaved during His time on earth. Instead, He humbled Himself and became a servant. All through His life, He lived for others rather than demanding that they live for Him.
This pattern of servant-lordship is most obvious in His death. Those Greek kings would have sacrificed every one of their subjects in order to save their own lives. Jesus, though, sacrificed Himself to save every one of His subjects.
Unlike us, Jesus was sinless. He did not owe the spiritual death penalty for His sins. However, He willingly submitted to death for our sakes, paying off the blood debt that every one of us owed God for our wickedness. Because He died, we can inherit eternal life. Jesus is our Savior because He saved us from a fate too horrible to contemplate!
However, the salvation of Jesus does not automatically apply to everyone. Those Greek kings only fought battles to protect those who were their people. In the same way, the protection of Jesus only applies to those who are the people of God. Next time, we’ll examine what it takes for someone to join God’s people.
The Sin ProblemTuesday, March 26, 2019
During my last sermon, we saw that God, even though He is infinitely higher and greater than we are, desires a relationship with us. Anybody who believes in God, just about, will also believes this. There are millions who don’t bother to go to church, yet hope to spend eternity with Him.
However, God’s love and yearning for us is not the sum total of His nature. We also saw that God is a holy God. He is perfectly good, and He is perfectly opposed to evil. This notion, by contrast, is not nearly as popular. Very few of those people who want to go to heaven also want to consider that because of their actions, they might not be headed there.
As a result, if we want to share the good news with others, we also have to be prepared to tell them the bad news. Only if we confront the ugly truth about human evil can we appreciate the beauty of the sacrifice of Christ. In our third half-hour study sermon, then, let’s consider what the Scriptures tell us about the sin problem.
Understanding this problem begins with understanding that GOD EXPECTS US TO OBEY HIM. Here, consider Romans 2:6-8. There’s a lot in this passage for us to consider. First, it tells us that the day will come when God is going to judge every human being. He’s going to sort mankind into two groups: those who did well on the one hand, and those who did not obey the truth on the other. God knows everything and is perfectly wise, so every one of His judgments will be perfect.
However, there’s something more that this passage implies. Notice that Paul describes evildoing as disobedience to the truth. In other words, God isn’t going to punish anybody because they look funny. Instead, He is going to pour out His wrath on people who have failed to live up to a true standard. Scripturally speaking, we can call this standard “the law of God”.
There are two ways that we can learn God’s law. The first is by reading it in His word, which is the perfect statement of that law. The second, though, is that moral sense that every one of us has in our hearts, a moral sense that God put there. The whole world over, everybody knows it’s wrong to murder. Everybody knows it’s wrong to cheat on your spouse. Everybody knows it’s wrong to lie. People can drown out the voice of their conscience, they can disobey it, but it’s always there, and God expects even people who haven’t read the Bible to listen to it.
When we don’t do what we know is right, we sin, and SIN IS LAWLESSNESS. John tells us so in just as many words in 1 John 3:4. John here, of course, is not concerned with the laws of humankind, which may be righteous or unrighteous. Instead, he is concerned with the law of God, and every sin we commit is a violation of that law.
This is important to recognize because people often don’t want to admit that their conduct is sinful. Yeah, they slept around all the time before they got married; yeah, they just lied to their spouse because they didn’t want to get into an argument, but everybody does that, right? That doesn’t make you a bad person, right? That doesn’t make you a sinner!
Well, yeah it does. This is the same standard that we apply to human law. After all, if a man gets caught breaking into somebody else’s home, when he’s on trial, the fact that he didn’t kill anybody is irrelevant. You don’t have to be a murderer to be a lawbreaker. It’s enough to be a thief.
In the same way, none of us have to be Hitler to be a sinner. We only have to have sinned. Any sin, whether we think it’s significant or not, turns us into somebody who has broken the law of God.
The result of this is that ALL OF US HAVE SINNED. Here, let’s look, of course, at Romans 3:23. God is perfect. His standard for righteousness is perfection. None of us have lived up to that standard because at some point, every one of us has sinned. God is glorious in His perfection, but all of us fall short of that glory.
In my experience, people often don’t want to admit this about themselves because they want to hold on to the self-image that they are good people. All of us read that passage in Romans 2 about how God deals with the righteous and the wicked, and there’s some part in all of us that says, “Yeah! I’m in there with the righteous people!”
The problem is, though, that every one of us knows better in our hearts. We proudly hold ourselves up as righteous while refusing to consider all the evidence that we are not—and there is a lot of evidence against all of us! None of us are people who have sinned once or sinned twice.
Instead, every one of us has lives that are marred by a continual pattern of selfishness and pride. Over and over again, we’ve proved that we care more about ourselves than about God and His law. We knew the right thing to do, but repeatedly, we’ve chosen not to do it. In other words, because of our actions, every one of us has become someone the holiness of God can’t tolerate. That’s where we are without Jesus. We are sinners, plain and simple.
That’s not a little problem. That’s a great big problem because SIN LEADS TO DEATH. Look at Romans 6:23. As always, Paul’s language here is significant. He tells us that the wages of sin is death. A wage is something you earn. When I worked at McDonald’s back in the mid-‘90s, every two weeks, I got a paycheck containing my wages for the past two weeks’ work. If I hadn’t worked, there would have been no wages.
So too, all of us must admit that death is something we have earned with our sin. God is not being arbitrary or unfair in condemning sinners. We knew better, we could have done better, but we chose not to. We don’t get our paycheck until the end of our lives, but if we continue on in our sinful ways, we will surely receive death as our just due. Nor is this some mere physical death penalty. Instead, it is spiritual death, an eternity spent far from the presence of God in the torments of hell.
However, as this verse points out, there is still hope for the human race. The hope isn’t that we can earn eternal life. Because all of us are sinners, we have already failed to do that! Instead, our hope is that we can receive eternal life as a gift from a loving and merciful God.
How can that be? How can a God who cannot stand sin in His presence receive sinners into His presence for eternity? The answer is that we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, and future sermons in this series will explain exactly how.