Nothing Can Cut You Off From God’s Love in Christ

nature-forest-waves-treesFor various reasons and purposes, dams are constructed almost anywhere there is a significant body of water. Sometimes dams are created to prevent flooding. Other times they are constructed to create lakes. But always, dams are constructed for the purpose of blocking water from reaching a certain area. Dams trap water in a certain area and prevent water from reaching another area.

Paul is finishing his answer to a question he has posed in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul isn’t asking if God loves us. He’s asking if there is anything that can block God’s love from reaching us. He’s asking if there are any dams that can prevent the river of God’s love from flowing to us. He lists ten possible dams that might separate us from God’s love in Christ. Let’s look at each of them in three categories.

First, can life or death separate us from God’s love? No, because God’s love busts through each of these dams since “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20). Even death is used by God’s love to only increase your experience of it.

Second, can angels or rulers or powers separate us from God’s love? No, because even Satan himself, the highest evil ruler and power, only serves the expansion of God’s love. Satan tempted Judas to betray Jesus to his own demise. God’s love crushes these supernatural and evil would-be dams. They cannot keep God’s love from you.

Third, can height or depth or anything else in all creation separate us from God’s love? No. Nothing. Nada. Goose egg. Not one conceivable person or thing can separate us from God’s love. There isn’t one single ruler, power, person, angelic or demonic being that can block God’s love from incessantly flowing to his people. Even death itself is a pawn in the hands of a loving God used for the ultimate good and joy of his people.

So, those of us who have unstoppable access to the river of God’s love must be rivers of living water (John 7:37-38). The love of God in Christ that has freely flowed to us must freely flow through us to others. Don’t construct any dams between you and others. Freely offer the love that has been given to you. Love relentlessly. Love incessantly. Love like your Father.

Sin Doesn’t Stand a Chance Against You

people-men-fight-challengeHave you ever been in an intense wrestling match? Wrestling matches between siblings are often much more entertaining and dangerous than WWE wrestling matches because, frankly, they are much more real. Growing up, I was about six years older than my brother, so I always had a physical advantage over him when we would fight. We didn’t fight all the time, but we always fought when we played games with each other. A game couldn’t pass by without one of us starting a fight. Our fights didn’t just begin the same way; they also always ended the same way—with me on top of my brother and my brother crying for help. In our fights, my brother didn’t stand a chance.

Romans 7:14-25 is all about a bitter struggle that occurs within the soul of every Christian. Paul emotionally and painfully cries out for deliverance at the end of Romans 7, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul is describing the nature of the war that rages in the Christian mind and heart. It is an intense wrestling match against a formidable opponent. Sin is strong. If you give in to sin very quickly, it is because you are either not in Christ or underestimating the strength of your opponent. In fact, if you are giving in to sin quickly, you don’t even realize the bell has rung! From the moment your heart is changed by the Holy Spirit, there is a struggle with sin that doesn’t end until you die or Christ returns.

Genuinely fighting sin is exhausting. There is a serious temptation to give in because the fight is hard. But the greatest motivation for staying the course in our fight against sin is found in one simple, yet life-changing statement: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Our struggle against sin is one we cannot lose, so it is one we must fight! No matter how hard sin fights against you, and no matter how many battles it wins, if you are in Christ, sin doesn’t stand a chance against you. Because Jesus died on the cross in your place, you will never have to face God’s wrath. He was condemned, so there is no condemnation for you. He became sin. You receive righteousness. Sin doesn’t stand a chance against you because you are united to the one that condemned sin. Nothing provides more freedom and hope to fight sin than knowing God’s wrath has been fully absorbed by Christ and there is none left for you. Justification not only leads to sanctification, it fuels it.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Who Will Deliver Me From This Body of Death?: The Slow Death of Sin

pexels-photo-167964A cry for help is unmistakable. My son, Jude, cries a lot. Anyone who keeps him in the nursery understands this. He is also loud. He laughs loud, babbles loud, and cries loud. As his parents, Erica and I can tell the difference between his real cries and fake cries. Sometimes he cries just to get our attention. Sometimes he cries because Jack is crying. Sometimes he cries when he’s hungry or sleepy. Sometimes he cries, because, well, I have no idea! Maybe he cries when he’s bored. Who knows! But there are times when Jude cries because something is really, really wrong.

One day, Jude accidentally locked himself in our bedroom. I was on the phone and Erica was fixing lunch when Jude went in our bedroom, shut the door, and turned the lock. Of course, he didn’t know what he was doing, but when he realized that he couldn’t get out, he lost it! He let out an ear-piercing scream that caused Erica to immediately drop what she was doing and run to the door. This cry for help was unlike any of his other cries. It didn’t take us long to get to him, but for those few minutes, Jude was desperately screaming for help.

After passionately describing the struggle Paul continues to have with sin, you can tell he is on the brink of despair. A Christian who is growing in holiness also grows in awareness of sin. The more we obey God, the more we see how much we don’t obey God. This struggle can lead to despair. Soldiers grow weary after fighting battle after battle after battle with no end in sight. Paul feels the weight of sin’s power and the flesh’s deceit, and cries out in desperation, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

The deliverance Paul is crying out for is not related to justification. Paul sees himself as a wretched man because he has realized he cannot escape his sinful nature. As Tim Keller has said, “The more holy you become, the less holy you will feel.” This seems to be the experience of Paul at the end of Romans 7. The He is not crying out for a justifier. He is crying out for a final deliverer. He is groaning inwardly for the final and complete redemption of our mortal bodies. He is longing for the day when the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on the immortal (1 Cor. 15:53-54). Your fight against sin within yourself will cause you to long for the day when your desires and actions are no longer divided. You will one day always and perfectly do what you want to do and you will never do the thing you hate.

While longing and groaning inwardly for the day when sin and temptation are no more could conceivably lead to despair in the moment, the purpose of such yearning is to increase our confidence in the hope of Christ’s work on our behalf. In World War II, D-Day was considered the effectual end of the war even though fighting would continue for another year. Once Nazi Germany was faced with a closing two-front war, defeat was inevitable. But harsh fighting raged on. In fact, as the Red Army surrounded Berlin, Hitler sent the youngest boys and oldest men to defend the city. Evil tyrants die hard, and they don’t go down without a fight. Sin and Satan have been conquered on the D-Day of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

When Jesus walked out of the tomb, their defeat was sealed. But they have not surrendered. Sin and Satan will continue to fight until they are tossed into a burning lake of fire. Until that day there will be an ever-increasing tension between who we once were in Adam and who we now are in Christ. Only the continual presence of Jesus Christ can solve the problem of sin in the life of a believer. Though sin’s penalty and power have been vanquished in the cross of Christ, the presence of sin is waiting final destruction. Jesus delivers us from sin now by pardoning us before God and empowering us to win our battles with sin. And Jesus will one day deliver us from the presence of sin forever.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Morning Mashup 08/26

Morning Mashup

A daily mashup of Kindle deals, articles, and videos for your information, edification, and enjoyment.


KINDLE DEALS

Romans (The Story of God Bible Commentary) | Michael Bird | $7.99

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How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour | Gordon Fee | $4.99

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How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: Fourth Edition | Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart | $4.99

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ARTICLES

VIDEOS

The Root of Sin: Usurpation, Not Imitation

wood-nature-sunny-forestLast Wednesday night, a student asked, “What is sin?” The question sounds simple, but the idea and reality of sin is anything but simple. It is much more and much worse than just doing bad things. Sin is an enemy, a condition, a slave driver, and a poison that causes us to rot from the inside out. When we only view sin in terms of bad things we do, we will never be able to see the root of the problem and then fully appreciate the only solution to sin—the gospel.

At the heart of every sin is a desire to be God. This is completely different than wanting to be like God. When we desire to be like God, we honor him as supreme and superior. God is glorified by a desire to be like him in the same way Michael Jordan was glorified when every kid in America wanted to “Be Like Mike.” But a desire to be God is the sinister root of every sin.

Every act of disobedience and distrust begins with a desire for personal glory in the place of God. We naturally want to call the shots, set the rules, and make the plans. We think we know what is best and if what God says is best is different from that we reject God and his ways.

In its most basic form, sin is idolatry. It is worshiping the created things in the place of the creator. Sin is a foolish exchange of glory and a refusal to be grateful. Even though all people receive general knowledge about God through creation, many do not “honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). A failure to give thanks to God results from a prideful heart that desires glory and honor for itself.

In order to give thanks to God, we must look to God as an abundant fountain of goodness and grace. But this means we must look to ourselves as debased, depraved, and dependent on him for life and blessing. Left to ourselves, we will try to be God. We will seek our own glory in the place of his. We will exchange truth about God for a lie. We will claim to be wise and become fools.

The worst thing that can happen to a person is for God to look at him and say, “Your will be done.” We cannot be God, so our desire to take his place will only result in a downward spiral until we look more like animals than God. We desperately need God in the gospel. We need him to change our hearts and give us a desire to be like him, to honor him as God and to give thanks to him. We need him to replace our hearts, so the only exchange we experience is Christ’s righteousness for our sin, instead of God’s glory for idolatry.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

No Moody Deity: Why the Wrath of God is Unlike the Wrath of Man

fire-orange-emergency-burningIf you’ve ever seen the movie The Lion King, then you’ll surely remember the scene where Mufasa, king of the lion tribe, gazes out at his entire kingdom with his young son, Simba. Mufasa is trying to help Simba see that one day he will be gone and the kingdom will belong to him. The royal lions are gazing out into their dominion of the African safari, which is marked by a glorious and booming sun shining down. Mufasa’s words are, “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” Then, little Simba notices another part of the kingdom that is untouched by the sun. He curiously asks his father, “But what about the shadowy place?” Mufasa responds, “That’s beyond our borders. You must never go there, Simba.”

Romans 1 is much like this scene from The Lion King. The first 17 verses shine with the glorious light of the gospel. However, picking up in verse 18 until the end of the chapter, Paul goes to a very dark place. The first half of Romans 1 is the domain of light we not only want to walk in, but all we want to talk about. The second half of Romans 1 is the domain of darkness we would rather ignore. Indeed, we stay away from this shadowy place in thought and action. But as New Testament scholar Douglas Moo has said, “Only when we have really come to grips with the extent of the human dilemma will we be able to respond as we should to the answer to that dilemma found in the good news about Jesus.”

Romans 1:18-32 really is a shadowy place filled with the wrath of God, the power and curse of sin, idolatry, depravity, and judgment. Paul seems to move from the light of the gospel to the darkness of sin and judgment to answer one question: “Why do we need the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation?”

There are few topics or truths in the Bible that ruffle feathers quite like the wrath of God. Even saying, the wrath of God, sounds scary. It’s not something we like to talk about much. In fact, I’ve heard non-Christians say they could easily believe in a God of love, but they could never believe in a God of wrath. In other words, they can believe in a John 3:16 God, but not a Romans 1:18 God.

The problem with this concern is that the John 3:16 God is also the Romans 1:18 God. There aren’t multiple gods revealed in Scripture. There is only one true and living God revealed in Scripture, and he is both loving and holy. Actually, because he is loving and holy, he pours out his wrath against unrighteousness and the unrighteous. But an important question for us to ask is, “What is the wrath of God?”

Wrath is just an intense word that basically means anger. God is angry at unrighteousness and ungodliness. But it is important to remember that God’s anger is not like our anger. It is possible for us to be angry in a righteous or holy way. For example, it is good to be angry at murder, injustice, and evil of all kinds. But most of the time we are angry in sinful ways. Our motivations and actions fueled by anger are usually sinful.

God is never angry in an unrighteous or sinful way. His anger is pure, holy, and right. It is also wrong to think about God’s wrath as the attitude and action of a moody deity. God doesn’t have mood swings or a temper. Instead, in the words of John Stott, “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgment upon it.”

God’s righteousness is the origin of his wrath. If he did not hate and destroy that which is unrighteous, he would rob himself of glory and his people of joy. It is amazing news that God opposes unrighteousness and sin because he also absorbs the very wrath the unrighteous deserve. God’s wrath and God’s love are not enemies. The enemy of God’s wrath is neutrality. If God just ignored our sin, he could not save us from our sin. Instead, God’s wrath is against sin and sinners. And in God’s love he sent Jesus to fully bear his wrath in our place. In the finished work of Christ, God saves us from himself, to himself, and for himself.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

The Gift of the Gospel in Romans 1

pexels-photo-104966One of the most important questions for a Christian to be prepared to answer, both for himself and others, is What is the gospel? You should ask yourself this question often and always be prepared to give an answer to others. The reason many Christians don’t grow in holiness and righteousness is because they ironically don’t have a firm grasp on the gospel. The same is true for Christians who don’t go with the gospel to their neighbors and the nations—they simply don’t think enough about the gospel. Deep meditation on the gospel will increase your joy in God and ignite a passion for others to know God through the gospel.

When Paul writes that he desires to preach the gospel among the Roman Christians, he means that he wants to take part in both discipleship and evangelism. This means he wants to preach the gospel to the Roman Christians for their discipleship. He also wants to preach the gospel with the Roman Christians for the evangelism of the lost in Rome. But what is this gospel Paul wants to proclaim? What is this message he desires the Christians and lost in Rome to know?

The gospel and theme of the entire letter of Romans is stated nicely and clearly for us in Romans 1:16-17. “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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” The theme of the gospel and the letter of Romans is that the righteousness of God is freely given to sinners.

Paul wants to preach the gospel in Rome because he is not ashamed of the gospel. He is fearless to share the gospel, and he is proud of the universal effects of the gospel. The gospel carries the power of salvation for anyone who believes in Jesus—Jews, Gentiles, and everyone in between. You can be unashamed of the gospel in these same ways. Be fearless to share the gospel and live your life in line with the gospel. And, be proud and glad to share the gospel freely with anyone. There is power in the gospel to save even the worst person you know.

The reason we can be unashamed of the gospel is because it is a message from God and it contains power of God for salvation. God produces salvation, not human effort. You cannot do anything to earn salvation. It is entirely a work of God to save his people from the penalty of death we deserve. God reveals his righteousness in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Jesus, who was perfectly and divinely righteous, dies in the place of those who are unrighteous. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The gospel is a gift. It is a gift of God’s righteousness given freely to the unrighteous who receive it by faith. Share this gift as freely and generously as you have received it.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

If God Is For Us…

Romans8-31
I have begun 2015 by reading a book that I should have already read twice. J. Gresham Machen’s What is Faith? is a classic theological text that examines the doctrine of saving faith while denigrating the liberal theology of his day. I came across something in the second chapter of his book that caused deep reflection. I wanted to share some of these musings.

Romans 8:31 is one of the most beloved and encouraging verses in the entire Bible. It is an expression of God’s immeasurable love and grace. It is found in one of the most profound and important sections of Scripture in the entire Bible. Romans 8:31-39 is basically a grand exultation in the love of God. While John 3:16 is a tremendous description of God’s love, nothing grasps the depths and extent of God’s love like Romans 8 and specifically Romans 8:31-39. Beautiful, poetic words flow from Paul’s pen as he was moved by the Holy Spirit to compose a glorious doxology of God’s love.

In the stream of words that display the glory of God’s love, there is one word that recently stood out to me; and it may be a word you would least expect.

After Paul asks what can be said now that he has explained the totality of God’s salvation from election to glorification, he says,

If God is for us, who can be against us?

The word that I have been sitting on is the word, “If.” If God is for us is a phrase that if left alone is absolutely frightening. I think we too easily pass by this word and interpret the verse as a conditional statement used by Paul with an assumed answer to drive home the force of his point regarding God’s everlasting love. Think about it. If God is for us. This phrase takes me back to Eden. It takes me back to my own sin. It causes me to reflect on the depth of God’s love.

When Adam sinned against God by breaking the covenant of works that necessitated his perfect obedience, he was immediately (along with the rest of mankind) thrust into the mire of eternal guilt and despair. From this point on, nothing necessitates that God respond with grace and love. God has no outside obligation to be “for us.” It is not as if we were some hot commodity that God just had to rescue because of our worth. No, we had forsaken our dignified right as heirs to the Kingdom. In Adam, we failed to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord. Instead, we began building a kingdom of our own based on obedience to the will of our sinful passions. In this state, we deserve God’s wrath and curse. And we definitely do not deserve his favor.

If God is for us. Who knew such a small word could cause my heart to stop? Think about it. God did not have to be for us. He could have left us in our guilt and he would be no less righteous. He could have left us in our sin and he would be no less good. God’s holiness, which is the glorious manifestation of all his attributes, is not dependent on the obedience of his creation. God is not love because he sets his favor toward sinners. He is and has been love for all eternity, before his rebellious creatures ever existed. His actions flow from his character, but his character is not determined by his actions or lack thereof. So, if God had not acted to save sinners, his character would remain eternally intact and perfect.

But what if God is not for us? He is still God, but our lives would be drastically different if he were not for us. If God is not for us, then our lives will be an endless and impossible search for pleasure, satisfaction, and joy, that will end in eternal misery. If God is not for us, then He is against us! How dreadfully important is this verse. For non-believers, this is the state they are in. This was the state I was in. As I walked in the darkness of my sin, God was not for me.

The better question is not what if God is not for us, but why would God ever be for us? What is in it for him? Why would a king with all the authority in the world set his favor toward the very ones that have staged a global and cosmic rebellion against his reign?

Theologian J. Gresham Machen answers this question in beautiful and profound simplicity:

But why is He for us? Simple indeed is the Christian answer to that question: He is for us simply because He has chosen to be. He surely has a right to receive whom He will into His fellowship: and as a matter of fact He has chosen to receive us poor sinners who trust in Christ; He chose to receive us when He gave Christ to die.

According to Machen, God’s favor is upon unworthy and undeserving sinners, because he sovereignly chose to set his favor upon us. He had no obligation, but according to his infinite wisdom, kindness, mercy, love, and grace, he chose to receive those who rejected him.

Machen continues,

It was His act, not ours…”If God be for us, who can be against us?”–it is a large “if,” but it melts away very soon in the warmth of God’s grace.

Not only is it a sovereign act of sheer grace that sets God’s favor upon us, but it depends not on our working, but on God’s alone. God being for us is totally dependent on his action, not ours. We can do nothing to attract the brightness of his face. His face shines upon us as a matter of his own doing. When we see the reality of God’s sovereign grace, it will truly melt away the bitterness of all the possibilities that lie in that cold little word, “if.”

If God is for us…Because of his sovereign grace, an action that is his alone, God is for those he has called to life in the Son. And this changes everything about the way we live. Namely, we can face all worldly enemies with confidence in the eternal and unshakable love of God in Christ. And all temptation to despair over the guilt of sin is swallowed up in God’s favor. Machen puts it this way, “If God knows that we are right, what care we for the blame of men?…Little care we whether our sin be thought unpardonable or no, little interested are we in the exact calculation of our guilt. Heap it up mountain high, yet God has removed it all.”

In the end, the Christian cannot fully explain why God would set his favor upon in light of our sin and guilt. While we can come to some answers, ultimately it is as simple as, “That’s the way God wanted it!” And that is good enough for me. The guilt that could pile up mountain high in my heart is enough to blacken even the brightest day. But the depth of God’s love is seen in the fact that he is for me even though I have sinned against him! Who am I to keep this love to myself?

So, Christian, live this day with utter confidence, that despite your sin and guilt, Christ died for you. And by your faith in him, his favor is upon you. I could not sum it up better than Machen, so I will allow him to close us out:

I know not what my guilt may be; one thing I know: Christ loved me and gave Himself for me. Come on now ye moralists of the world, come on ye hosts of demons, with your whisperings of hell! We fear you not; we take our stand beneath the shadow of the Cross, and standing there, in God’s favour, we are safe. No fear of challenge now! If God be for us, who can be against us? None, in heaven or in earth or in hell.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.