A text the legalist cannot handle

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). 

Do everything you can to make sure your church does not put legalists in charge of anything. Doing so is a death sentence for all they touch.

The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

The legalist reduces our duties to God to a list of rules. Legalists delight in the Ten Commandments, of course, but since the New Testament does not codify all the tasks we must do in order to please God, they do it for Him.

How kind of them to help God out.  Someone said of a legalist, he knows God didn’t require this rule in the Bible, but He would have if He’d thought of it.

The legalist has God figured out.

To the legalist, everything God does has to do with our grades, our performances.  And for us to insist, “He has not dealt with me according to my sins nor rewarded me according to my iniquities” just does not compute.  Such a teaching does not work in his system.

This is the text–and grace is the doctrine–which the legalist cannot abide.

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The difficult, precious business of HOPE

…because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel…. (Colossians 1:5)

…this hope we have as an anchor for our souls.  (Hebrews 6:19)

I’m eighty years old as I sit here at this laptop in my breakfast room, typing away.  I live in hope.  Hope for all that Christ has promised is a big, big thing with me.

I often seize upon Psalm 27:13 I would have despaired had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Hope is not mentioned there, but that’s what it’s talking about.

Hope or despair.  Those are the two choices.

The only choices.

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When pastors do not know their Bibles

I assume it’s a given that no one knows all the Bible.  And therefore, we can say with a reasonable sense of certainty that while all pastors and Bible teachers know many parts better than others, they know some sections hardly at all. It’s certainly true in my case.  Yours too, I’m guessing.  And that’s what has prompted the following….. 

A pastor said to me, “You can say all you please about your supposed-doctrine of once-saved-always-saved, but my Bible says, ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die.'”

I responded, “True, it does say that in the Old Testament (see Ezekiel 18:4,20).  But Romans 8:2 says, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.'”

Here’s what that means to all of us…

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Leave room in your theology for mystery

“…I know not; God knows.”  (2 Corinthians 12:2)

Some things you will never figure out in this life.

Some mysteries you will eventually see–or the Spirit will reveal them to you or someone much smarter than you will explain it to you–but you haven’t so far.

Until then, humility is the order of the day.  (And, yes, afterwards, humility is still in order.)

Here’s one that has me going.

In Romans 8:26, one of my favorite “prayer” verses, after informing us that “we do not know how to pray as we should”–I knew it; I’m just surprised that Paul admits it!–and after saying “The Spirit also helps us in (that) weakness”–we read that “the Spirit Himself also intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Okay. That sentence carries mystery enough to occupy me for the next few years.

There’s more.

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What those who are in the flesh resent

“For the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not subject itself to the things of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7).

It’s not that believers and unbelievers think in different ways.  Rather, it’s that spiritually-minded Christians and carnally-minded church members (Christians? Let’s assume they are, but it’s hard to know) think and act and value in opposite ways.

Let the church take notice.

In an article on sacrificial giving, I made a statement that attracted some attention: Those who are in the flesh resent being told they are in the flesh.

More than one reader reacted to that in anger.  (Thus proving the point, some might conclude.)

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The Lego Moment: When the “truth” of a heresy snaps into place

“Even though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8,9).

The devil, that master of falsehoods and creator of fake religions, is no fool.

He knows that a manmade religion has to look and feel right if people are going to buy it.

So, he keeps tweaking it until he finds the right combination to achieve that “aha!” moment when everything falls into place. He blends a mixture of doctrinal teachings that sound impressive, emotional incentives that feel good, and outlandish rewards out in the future that entice the unthinking alongwith a certain amount of history which he has either created out of whole cloth or tampered with to make it say what he wishes and a fellowship of the deceived-and-deceiving so the seeker can be locked into the system.

When the seeker is combing over the details of this new religion and suddenly finds it all snapping into place–a “lego moment,” if you will–two things are true:

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Romans 8 continues to bless.

Two or three years ago, when our denomination focused on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans for the annual Mid-Winter Bible Study, I taught the book in several places and wrote a number of practical articles which are posted on our website.

The thing about this being Holy Scripture however–and not just the writings of one apostle to a church–is that it continues to yield insights long after one thinks he has plumbed its depths. One of the traits of God’s Word is that it has no bottom, no place where one arrives and decides “that’s all there is.”

This book, your Bible, is unlike all the other books on your shelves. It’s a rare novel that you take down and reread for the fourth or fifth time, finding insights which you missed the other times. With most books, you read them once and you’re through. But, one could spend a full year on any one book of the Bible and never exhaust its riches.

It’s that deep, that multifaceted, that rich.

If the Epistle of Romans is like a gold mine–and it is–then chapter 8 of Romans is like a mother lode, a rich vein, in that mine. You can find nuggets laying on the ground which require no effort from you except to recognize them and gather them in and put them to work in your world. Romans 8 is strewn with nuggets.

But there are also deeper riches in this rich chapter which yield themselves only to those who spend time there, dig down deeply, study quietly and widely and thoughtfully, and who wait for the revelations from the Lord, who after all is the true Author of the piece. Some truths are so profound and so well-camouflaged they give themselves only to those who meditate and wait patiently at the feet of the Master Teacher.

Consider, based on Romans 8, the following outline: What God Does For Us We Cannot Do For Ourselves.

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Getting a Handle on Romans

Think of the Epistle to the Romans as a long conversation Paul is having with believers in Rome. (Bloggers know the feeling of having conversations with unseen-but-hope-for readers.)

Paul is apparently in Corinth on the last of his three missionary journeys and soon to head to Jerusalem where he will be arrested. He will end up in Rome for trial before Caesar. In this letter, he keeps talking about wanting to come to Rome. If he only knew!

The first 17 verses of chapter one are introductory. Paul has never been to Rome and never met most of the people who will be reading this letter. He’s heard plenty about them, however, all good. Nevertheless, he is well aware of the challenge facing them living in the citadel of corruption and depravity. Some are Jewish and facing issues Paul knew from personal experience, namely, what role the promises of God now plays in their destiny and that of their people.

Whether Gentile or Jew, they all need grounding in the faith and a proper understanding of the gospel. Thus he writes this letter.

Pau speaks of

–the gospel of God (the source of this good news) 1:1. See John 3:16.

–the gospel of His Son (the subject of this good news) 1:9. See I Cor. 15:1ff.

–the gospel of salvation (the object of this good news) 1:16. See I Tim 1:15.

–the gospel this is his own (the message of Christ filtered through Paul’s own experience and testimony) 2:16. This is the ultimate aim, for each of us to pass along the gospel message in the manner the Holy Spirit has taught us. That’s why a dozen preacher/teachers could do expositions of Romans and no two would sound alike. It’s not a problem, it’s the genius of God’s plan.

Then, after the introduction, Paul moves into a fuller presentation of the gospel and various issues surrounding it.



Theme: Humanity’s troubles stem from his rejecting God. (That’s the root cause.)

Before presenting the “good news” (the gospel), the bad news has to be dealt with.

1) Mankind has rejected the knowledge of God. 1:18-21

2) Mankind has rejected the worship of God. 1:22-25

3) Mankind has rejected the plan of God. 1:26-32

As a result of rejecting the Lord, man has made some very bad choices, which in turn have brought the wrath of God upon him.

1) He exchanged God for idols. 1:23

2) He exchanged Truth for a lie. 1:25

3) He exchanged the Natural for the unnatural. 1:26

What a shame. Mankind could have had God, Truth, and the natural order of Creation. By rejecting God, he has chosen the absurdity of idols, the illusion of lies, and the illness of the unnatural.

Look around the community where you live and see if this doesn’t describe much of what you see.

Hundreds of years earlier, God said: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and they have hewed out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

What an exchange! Whatever were we thinking! Stay with the Jeremiah 2:13 analysis for a moment. Remember that a cistern was an underground tank, dug out and lined with clay in order to store rainwater. At best, the water would be stagnant; at worst, it could become polluted. But God says His people have not swapped Him–the fountain of living, running, fresh water–for stagnant water. It’s worse than that. They have turned their backs on Him and chosen dry holes in the ground!

The choice is never between God and other gods. There are no other gods. The choice is between the living God and a dry hole in the ground.



It’s so easy to criticize and condemn those who blatantly reject God and plunge headlong into lifestyles of debauchery. But hold on–we who are “God’s frozen chosen” are not off the hook.

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Ten Things to Know About Romans

1. Romans is the Gospel According to Paul.

Granted, it doesn’t look like Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, in the way their Gospels told the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry and interspersed it with His teachings. Paul does it in his own way.

Why is that important to know? Ah, we have the answer to that!

Right now, there are people promoting their religion in your neighborhood who want to give a new interpretation to Holy Scripture. One such group tells of an angel appearing to their founder with golden tablets on which had been written an ancient story. The angel provided special glasses for the man to look through and decipher the writings. The result was their new book, their new doctrine, and their new twist on the biblical message of Christ.

Now, in Galatians chapter 1, we find this from the Apostle Paul: “Even though we OR AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN preach any other gospel to you that what we preached, let him be accursed.”

And then, as though underscoring what he had just said, Paul repeated it. (Gal. 1:8-9)

The point of that is this: we hold in our hands the very message Paul preached up and down the Roman Empire. It’s called “The Epistle to the Romans.” And Paul says anyone preaching anything other than that is declaring a lie and headed for judgment. Slice it any way you please and it comes up that way!

That’s why it’s crucial we help our people to get a solid understanding of Romans.

Someone asked a bank teller, “How did you learn to recognize all the different kinds of counterfeit money people try to slip past you?” She answered, “There’s no way we could learn all the fakes. They just teach us to recognize the real thing. Once we know that, it’s a simple matter to catch the counterfeits.”

In teaching Romans, we are helping our people to know and recognize the real gospel of Jesus Christ. There could be no better preparation for dealing with the shams and fakes combing the streets of your neighborhood looking for the naive and unsuspecting.

2. Romans is deep.

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