To Love God with All One’s Heart Soul and Strength: a Christian Philosophy of Education

I recently had to summarize my approach to education for a class; here is the paper that resulted. Using Jeff Greenman’s nine components of learning as the structural framework, I develop in this paper my own philosophy of education, employing a hypothetical school of ministry located in Vancouver to elucidate it in a concrete setting. Two Appendices follow the main paper, the first giving a brief sketch of the Christian worldview and the second presenting my approach to the relationship of Christ and culture (Christians and the World).

 

You can download or read it here

A Review of The Cross and Christian Ministry, By D.A. Carson

D.A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry is an expositional work attempting to take the leadership lessons found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians and apply them to the lives and ministries of leaders today. Carson looks at how Paul places the Cross at the very centre of Christian ministry and attempts to contextualize Paul’s teaching about Cross centred ministry for ministry in our contemporary culture. Carson’s theme, which he works out throughout the book, is the application of the Cross of Christ to Christian ministry. Carson aims to go beyond a simple examination of what the text meant to Paul’s original audience and apply the truths, he writes with the conviction that “The message of these sections from 1 Corinthians must be learned afresh by every generation of Christians, or the gospel will be sidelined by assorted fads” (10). To present and apply these leadership lessons Carson discusses 5 key passages in 1 Corinthians through his book’s 5 chapters.

Each chapter in The Cross and Christian Ministry is an exposition and application of a specific passage from the book of 1 Corinthians, in each exposition Carson looks at how Paul applies the truths of the Gospel, namely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the different situations facing the Corinthians and how in addressing the skewed understanding of the Corinthians Paul lays out what true leadership in light of the Cross looks like. Progressing through Paul’s argument in the text, Carson’s exposition brings out a specific application of the truth of the Cross to a variety of different aspects of Christian ministry giving it the feel of similar books like Brothers We Are Not Professionals and Preaching the Cross, in each of these a separate chapter addressing a specific topic fits in with the whole via its connection to the overriding theme of a specific issue being addressed. Because Carson is following the flow of Paul’s thought, there is more of a progression to his writing than in these other two books, but it still bears the feel of various independent chapters connected by one overarching theme, here being the Cross and its application to Christian ministry.

In the first chapter, examining Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5, Carson addresses the application of the Cross to preaching. Looking at how Paul chose to present the Gospel to the Corinthians when he first came to them and how their misunderstandings of wisdom ended up in factionalism, Carson shows how Paul addressed the misunderstandings of the Corinthians pre-emptively with his initial approach and then in his recollection of his original evangelism. Carson shows that the Cross applied to preaching means messages that glorify the wisdom of God and point to Him rather than messages catering to the false conceptions we have of wisdom and messages that glorify the one speaking. Practical application here can be as simple as examining the way we present ourselves and asking if our rhetoric and skill in speaking point more and more to the glory of God or instead brings attention to our ability to present and articulate the truths of Scripture.

In the second Chapter, examining Paul’s teaching in 2:6-16, Carson addresses the Cross and the Holy Spirit. In this chapter Carson looks at how Paul addressed the Corinthians false ideas about “spirituality” with the truth of the cross and corrected their misconceptions. As he draws out theological principle that Paul was laying out, Carson highlights two practical lessons that can be applied to ministers in the our day. The first is a biblical definition of what it means to be spiritual, which is that “spirituality” is inseparably tied to the Cross (62). Though he acknowledges that some Christians are more mature than others, Carson underlines the truth that there are not separate categories of those Christians who are spiritual and those who are not; “The spiritual person is simply a believer, one who has closed with the message of the cross” (62). The second practical lesson Carson draws out is that without the work of the Spirit one cannot gain insight into the message of the cross; it is foolishness apart from the work of the Spirit in someone’s life (64-66).

Throughout the third chapter of The Cross and Christian Ministry Carson exposits and applies 1 Corinthians 3. In this chapter, after showing how Paul deals with the underlying issues of the Corinthians wrong ideas about wisdom and spirituality, Carson looks at how Paul addresses factionalism in the Corinthian church by application of the Cross. Throughout this chapter Carson draws out much application for us today. Some areas he identifies and draws out are the inherent danger of identifying oneself with one specific leader (70), of a defensive attachment to human leaders that borders on idolatry, sometimes almost giving them godlike status (77), and  how when we so focus on singular leaders we can easily “depreciate how much there is to receive from all the others. In other words, factionalists overlook the wealth of the heritage we as Christians properly enjoy” (86). Factionalism is very dangerous in our churches, as it was for the Corinthians, and Carson does a great job in this chapter of addressing the various facets of Paul’s discussion in its application for leaders in our day, while doing this he also manages to defend against those who take advantage of texts like 1 Corinthians 3 to defend a doctrine of carnal Christianity (68-73).

For the fourth chapter Carson explicates what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 4, addressing how the Cross applies to Christian leadership. Throughout the fourth chapter of his book Carson works out three subthemes of Paul’s thought expressed in 1 Corinthians 4, he identifies three thing which characterize Christian leadership. He identifies Christian leadership as something which means “Being Entrusted with the ‘Mysteries’ of God” (94-103), “Living Life in the Light of the Cross” (103-108), and “Encouraging—and If Necessary, Enforcing—the Way of the Cross Among the People of God” (108-114). Each of these is associated with a specific passage of Paul’s thought in 1 Corinthians 4 and Carson proficiently takes Paul’s thought and applies it to contemporary ministry.

In the final chapter, examining Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, Carson addresses the Cross and what he calls “the World Christian” (115-116). He does not mean with this term the equivalent of a worldly or carnal Christian (116), but a genuine believer whose allegiance is not to an earthly culture or country but to Jesus Christ and His kingdom, whose commitment is to the Church; citizens of the heavenly kingdom first and all others secondarily (117). Throughout this chapter Carson explains under three headings, and a forth addressing the seriousness of the previous three (135), three “musts” for the world Christian. The world Christian must know what his or her freedoms and constraints are in Jesus Christ, here Carson addresses what it means to not be under the law but under the law of Christ (117-118) and how this calls for Christians to live by the standards of a new-covenant believer (120). The world Christian must not stand on his or her “rights” (122), here Carson address the issue of Christian freedom in relation to the conscience of those weaker than us—how a Christian is called to give up his or her rights so as to guard the conscience of a younger Christian who is not at the same place (122-131).  Lastly, the world Christians must take up as their aim the salvation of men and women, they must be willing to go to extreme lengths, within the confines of the Gospel, to “by all possible means… save some” (1 Cor. 9:22) (131).

Throughout these five chapters Carson’s practical exegesis and clear communication make Paul’s leadership lessons immensely applicable and accessible to anyone reading the book. I usually dislike reading books like this for classes because I find that I could spend hours on each chapter because of all that applies to where I am at right now but, because of time constraints, I unfortunately find myself having to sprint through much of what is said with only minor reflection. Caron’s book proved to be an example of both of these, giving me much to think about in too short of a time to actually think about it thoroughly. Though there were things in every chapter that stood out to me, what impacted me the most was Carson’s admonition in the first and third chapters. In the first as Carson addressed the cross and preaching I was particularly struck by the critical balance he calls for between taking the time to craft an effective and skillful sermon (35), in both content and presentation, and being a preacher who calls more attention to himself through his rhetoric than to God. Carson identifies Paul’s warning in this chapter as being against “any method that leads people to say, “What a marvelous preacher!” rather than, “What a marvelous Savior!” (35).

In the third chapter I was struck by Carson’s admonition against a factionalism where we so attach ourselves to one or two teachers that we miss “the wealth of the heritage we as Christians properly enjoy” (86). We miss so much of what others have to offer us in our growth with God; we also can turn our focus from the God to whom the teachers should be pointing to the teacher themselves.

Both of these points are ones that I can apply to my immediate position as a student of the Word and sometimes a preacher. In my preaching I must watch constantly my motives for presenting the way I do; is my aim to articulate the sermon well so that my God is glorified, or is it to do this so that people realize how good of a preacher I think I am? When I decide I want to discuss a specific word study I did in my preparation will it serve to help further the congregation’s understanding of Scripture, or will it make them think that much more of me because I can pronounce δικαιοσύνη? This is something I truly need to weigh in my sermon preparation, for I find it way too easy to see myself as greater than the wretch I truly am and strive to enlighten people as to what I think, falsely, of my own ability.

With the second point Carson made, I see for myself two ways to guard against this. The first is in the way I think about those I look up to and how I convey those thoughts. I hold biblical writers and characters as well as teachers throughout the history of the Church as heroes of the faith, sometimes it is too easy to focus on all that they have done well and ignore their human faults and imperfections. The danger here can be buying everything they have to give without discernment or putting them on such a pedestal that I turn away from the source of what they have to teach (Scripture) to their interpretation as my authority. I need to make sure I guard against both of these errors, a practical start is making sure that I associate those doctrines I hold to as not having been ratified by a teacher or council, such as the council of Nicaea, but as being taught by such and such Scripture, such as John 1:1-5. I also need to guard myself against giving the impression that I hold more to the interpretations and teachings of men, such as John Calvin, than I do to Word of God itself; I need to make it clear that this and this alone is my sole authority for all things upon which it touches.  The second danger I can practically guard myself against is the tendency to throw out entire traditions and the valuable contributions of people such as John Wesley because of disagreements over issues that, while being important, are not the Gospel itself. There is so much I can learn from people like N.T. Wright even though I may disagree with them on many things, even vitally important issues such as the nature of justification in Scripture.

Carson does an outstanding job in The Cross and Christian Ministry of drawing out important leadership lessons from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and making them highly practical for leaders in our day. I found this book challenging to myself personally and think it would be a valuable read for anybody entering, or already in, Christian leadership.

This book gets a rating of 5/5

Our Good God Deserves Our Joyful Praise – A Sermon on Psalm 100

Introduction:
One thing I have often struggled with has been putting joy into my worship of God. I have known for most my life that God is worthy of praise and that I should give it to Him, but I never had a solid picture of why He deserved my praise.

This lack of knowledge as to why God deserved my praise often led my praise to be lifeless; I knew I needed to give it, but it wasn’t passionate. This is where I was for a long time, I didn’t even realize that my worship should be passionate, let alone have an idea of how to make it so. As I have been reading my Bible over the past 2 years I have continually been shown that in fact my worship has to be passionate. Learning that my worship needed to be passionate left me hanging with a question of how could I make it so? Have you ever been struck with truth that we need to worship God with passion, but stuck on the how we can make our praise that passionate and joyous?

In Psalm 100 the Psalmist is writing for the people of Israel, he tells them to praise the Lord and he gives them a few reasons why. Turn with me in your bibles to Psalm 100. In Psalm 100 the psalmist writes “1Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! 2Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

(In verse three the psalmist writes a profound truth about the relationship of God and His people, which at this time was the people of Israel but, through faith in Jesus, includes us.)

 

Body 1:
In verse three the psalmist writes: “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” In the first part of this verse the Psalmist tells the people of God to “Know that the LORD, he is God!” Throughout psalm 100 the Psalmist gives various reasons why we are to praise God; all these reasons are built on the foundation of this praise being an acknowledgment of who God is. In this verse the psalmist declares the profound truth that God made us, and we are his; we are His people, His sheep! If you are reading in a KJV or NASB you may notice that your Bible reads “It is he who made us and not we ourselves” instead of the ESV’s “It is he who made us and we are His.” This comes from the fact that the Hebrew words for “His” and “not” sound very similar, but because of the parallel between God creating us and we being God’s people; it is most likely that this should be translated as the ESV, NIV, and NET have it; “it is he who made us, and we are His.” This is a monumental truth of our relationship with God; as the people of God we are called His sheep!

Throughout the OT we see the imagery of Israel as the flock of God with Him as their shepherd.

This imagery is continued in the NT and gives profound meaning to us being God’s. A shepherd in the days of the Bible would go to crazy lengths to protect and take care of his sheep. Think of the life of David; he was a shepherd and just before he goes to face goliath he tells Saul that he had, while taking care of his sheep, fought bears and lions! Some lions are bigger than 250 kg! That’s huge! The lengths David went to for his sheep were crazy. He tells Saul that a lion came and took a sheep from the flock; David didn’t just let this sheep wander off; he went after the lion, grabbed it by the beard and struck it down. David fought bears and lions, took his sheep back, and killed the animals that had taken them. That’s insane, but that is what a shepherd would do for his sheep! [1 Samuel 17]

In verse 1 of this psalm we read that this is a call to all the earth to praise the LORD, but here in verse 2 and 3 the psalmist focuses in on Israel’s relationship to God. Because God delivered and created them as a nation; they were His. They were His people and He would be their shepherd. At the time when this psalm was written the people of God were the nation of Israel, but in the book of Romans we are told that gentiles have become part of the people of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Using a different analogy than the psalmist, Paul in Romans writes that we have been grafted into the branch of Israel. The Jewish people were God’s chosen people in the OT, in the NT we see that all who call upon the name of the LORD throughout the entire world–Jew and Gentile– are His elect people and are counted as His Sheep.

In John 10 Jesus talks of Himself as the shepherd of the Flock. He tells the Pharisees whom He is speaking to that He is the good shepherd and that He has sheep spread throughout the world. It is for these sheep that He laid down His life and died, and He promises that He holds them in His hand and protects them.

(This is amazing; we aren’t just nameless human beings that God has saved. In this psalm the author wrote that we are God’s people, that we are His sheep. That means that He takes care of us, He loves us, He protects us, He even laid down His life for us!)

 

Body 2:
In verse 5 the psalmist writes; “5For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” In Psalm 100 v. 5 the psalmist gives another reason for the people of God to praise Him; he writes that God is good.

This can be a hard thing to believe, do we always believe that God is good? In the latter part of v. 5 the psalmist explains why God is good; He gives two of many reason given throughout Scripture. The first is that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.”

This is huge! The word that the ESV translates “Steadfast Love” is the Hebrew word HESED. This word is a powerful word that is found throughout the Old Testament. The NASB and KJV translate HESED as God’s lovingkindness.

What is it about God’s lovingkindness lasting forever that makes Him good? God’s HESED is an expression of His love and covenant faithfulness for His people; in the OT this was Israel but this extends to all those who believe upon Jesus Christ; we have all entered a new covenant with God. This word Hesed carries with it a lot of theological weight. It is God’s faithfulness to His elect people based upon His love; no matter what they do He still has love for them.

It is His Hesed that led Him to make a covenant with Israel and then later with us through the blood of Christ. We are weak and in a pitiful state; we don’t deserve God’s mercy, kindness, graciousness, or love. But His covenant faithfulness, His lovingkindness, His Hesed, means that He will love us and stay faithful to His promises because we are His sheep, we are His people, and we are in covenant with Him. Why does this make God good? This means that even though we make mistakes, even though we do foolish things, God’s lovingkindness means that He will never fail to fulfill His promises for our lives; He will always work the events of our lives according to His will so that we become conformed more and more to the image of His son and enter into His presence after we die.

In the last part of this psalm the psalmist writes that “God’s faithfulness [is] to all generations.” Here the psalmist gives the second reason that God is good; because of this faithfulness, in Hebrew; His “emunah”. The psalmist writes that it is to all generations.

God’s faithfulness is His utter dependability, what some translations call; His truthfulness. God is faithful in both His words and actions. Because He is faithful we can trust that what He says will come to pass, what He promises is true. He is a fixed and stable foundation for our faith.

The psalmist relates here that God is good because He is stable, faithful, He is trustworthy.

(In verse five the psalmist declares that God is good because His promises will never fail, He will be loyal to the covenant He has made with His people, His love forms a foundation for us to put our faith in Him and trust that everything He says will come to pass and that He will truly work the things in our lives for the good of us becoming more like Him. God’s goodness and His relationship to us as His sheep are the foundation that the psalmist gives for the command in this psalm.)

 

Body 3:
The whole of psalm 100 revolves around an imperative, a command, for the whole earth and the people of God to follow; the psalmist declares we need to praise the Lord. He declares that; our good God deserves our joyful praise.

Body 4:
Psalm 100 is a resounding call for the people of God to praise the Lord! In the psalm the psalmist describes a few different ways in which the people of God can praise the Lord.

In verse 1-2 we read “Make a joyful noise to the LORD all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!” and in verse 4 we read “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”

In these verses the psalmist gives three distinct ways to praise the Lord within His general command to do this.

Making a joyful noise, in verse 1, is cheering for our God. It is a call to clap, shout, cheer for the Lord.

In verse two the psalmist talks about singing joyful songs, which is pretty self-explanatory.

And in verse four we are told to bless His name; this would be declaring Him to be who He is. Declaring Him to be Holy, majestic, great, and mighty, awesome, powerful, loving, and righteous.

(Throughout the psalm the psalmist refers to praising God in different ways, but the clear exhortation is for the people of God to praise the Lord. Our Good God deserves our Joyful praise!)

 

Body 5:
There is one last clear theme in this psalm; with all the exhortations to praise the Lord it is made clear that it should be done with joy and gladness!!! The psalmist declares that our Good God deserves our JOYFUL praise!!

When we praise God it cannot be free from any emotion, it cannot be dry and lifeless! This is the lesson that God has been teaching me over the past few years; my praise to Him has to reflect my response to the truth that the psalmist shares here in psalm 100. We are not to worship God resigned and unenthusiastic; this is GOD!!! We are to praise Him for who HE is, we are to praise Him because He is good!!! We are to praise Him because we are His sheep!!!

Unfortunately over the years some people have gotten the idea that Christians are supposed to be cold, dry and formal, in their worship, or on the other side there has been the opposite of some charismatic’s with hyper emotionalism. The psalmist is calling here for the powerful middle ground.

John Piper in his book Desiring God writes; “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought.”[1]

In Psalm 100 we are given the truth that should inspire in us emotion! Because of who God is—because He is our amazing, sovereign, gracious God—we should praise Him with joy!!

I found myself starting to learn that I needed to praise God joyfully 1st semester of last year; I had an experience with the psalmist’s idea of joyfully praising God in light of who He is. I had systematic theology 1 on Thursday mornings before chapel and one day I was with some friends after chapel. Me, being my awkward self, told them enthusiastically “I worshipped well today!” It was kind of a weird thing to say, and it drew a few laughs out of my friends—left me feeling like an idiot—but I had experienced what the psalmist here was telling the Israelites. In Systematic Theology we had been talking about who God was and I loved having chapel immediately after because I would get excited during class for praising Him. Learning about God and His goodness, about all of who He is, in that class gave me ammunition that turned into passionate praise.

When we are worshipping God we should think of his goodness, of all that He has done. In worship when we think of God’s free favor of salvation through His son we should overflow with joy and gladness at the amazing work of God in our lives.

When we think of ourselves as the Sheep of God’s flock and think of what that means we should erupt in praise at the thought of what Jesus did for His sheep. In John 10 John records Jesus as saying that He laid down His life for His sheep and promises to keep them in His hand and protect them from all who would try to tear them from His fold! On the Cross He died for YOU, with your sins, to bring you, his sheep, into his fold! He promises to protect you from every power of Hell that would come against you [John 10:11-30, Romans 8:28-39].

In this psalm the psalmist declares the truth that who God is, what He has done for us, and our relationship with Him leads anywhere but a stale and unexcited faith. Because of all He is, praise should continually be on our lips and we should be overflowing with Joy for all that He does!!

(Our good God deserves our Joyful praise!)

 

Conclusion:
In Psalm 100 the psalmist writes; “1Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! 2Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Our Good God deserves our joyful praise! We are His sheep! We need to praise Him joyfully and continually in our lives.

I want to end off with praise today, I am going to read prayer written by the puritans a few hundred years ago, this is a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing the name of God.

The Trinity

“Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit,
I adore thee as one Being, one Essence, one God in three distinct Persons,
for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom
O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;
O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature,
Shed thine own blood to wash away my sins,
Wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness;
O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart,
implanted there eternal life,
revealed to me the glories of Jesus.
Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee,
for love so unmerited, so unspeakable,
so wonderous, so mighty to save the lost
and raise them to glory
O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion;
O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me;
O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast
exhibited Jesus as my salvation,
implanted faith within me
subdued my stubborn heart,
made me one with him for ever.
O Father, thou art enthroned to hear my prayers,
O Jesus, thy hand is outstretched to take my petitions,
O Holy Spirit, thou art willing to help my
infirmities, to show me my need,
to supply words, to pray within me,
to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication
O Triune God, who commandeth the universe,
thou hast commanded me to ask for those
things thy kingdom and my soul Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold name.”[2]

Amen. Our good God deserves our joyful praise.

 

A recording(video) of this sermon can be found here


[1]John Piper, Desiring God : meditations of a Christian hedonist (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah, 2011), 81.

[2] Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, first edition. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 2–3.


Bibliography

Bennett, Arthur. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. First edition. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002.

Piper, John. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah, 2011.

Our Faith, Not Our Works, Brings Us Peace With God: A Sermon on Romans 4:4-5

This summer I was working with youth at my church in Calgary and I had an opportunity to teach a lesson on the passage that I am preaching this morning. I asked the youth if they knew for sure that they were going to heaven. One of the youth whom I have known for many years responded that he wasn’t sure; he had made a lot of mistakes and didn’t think his life was good enough for God to accept him. Have you ever felt like that? I know that even three years ago I did. Have you ever struggled with how we can know for sure we are going to heaven? With how we can have confidence that we are right with God?

Knowing how we can be found acceptable in the sight of God is incredibly vital to our daily lives. If we have to work, if we have to be perfect in everything we do, to gain righteousness; then we will live life paralyzed by the knowledge that we will never attain God’s standard. That is where I was 4 or 5 years ago. I thought that I only had two choices; to either pursue God and be paralyzed by fear, or ignore Him and His standard and live life my way.  For me it was a struggle with knowing how I can have peace with God; knowing this, how to have peace with God, is vital in the life of every man and woman. In Romans 4:4-5 Paul shows us how we can acquire righteousness, he answers the question; how can we have peace with God? Please take your bibles and turn with me to Romans 4:4-5. In Romans 4:4-5 Paul writes to the Romans; “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

In the first three chapters of Romans Paul explains why we need righteousness. Righteousness is a right, an acceptable, state before God. Paul in chapters 1-3 of Romans explains what took me the last few years of my Christian walk to truly grasp; every one of us was born into sin, we were born enemies of God.  Because of sin God’s wrath is directed towards mankind. To be in a state of peace with God we need righteousness. How can we get righteousness, how can we be found acceptable in this sight of God?

In Romans 4:4-5 Paul writes to the Romans; “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Paul’s first answer to the question of “How can we have peace with God” is that we cannot have peace by working.

 

V. 4 reads; “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” The “now” that opens this verse indicates a transition from the previous verses in chapter 4. Paul has just finished arguing that Abraham could not have received righteousness by working because he had no boast before God, but if he had worked he would merely be receiving what was owed to him and he would be able to boast of all the righteous works he had done.  In v. 4 he explains his previous argument; he writes that when someone works he is not receiving a favor but only what he has earned. This makes sense. If I am working down at Starbucks and I spend 8 hours working and make ten dollars an hour, I will get paid 80 dollars. This $80 is not a gift from the manager to me, it is not a favor he is showing, but it is what is due to me according to the work that I have done.

What is assumed here in verse 4 is that righteousness is given to us as a favor, that it could never be earned. This is something that Paul establishes earlier in the book of Romans. In chapter 3 we find a famous verse; “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” Paul argues in the first three chapters of Romans that no one can make themselves right before God by their own works; even one bad work is enough to render any good works void and place us under the wrath of God. For Paul good works require a good heart, and since none of us have a good heart we will never be able to do any good works, let alone enough to give us a right standing before God.

The famous orator Charles Spurgeon once illustrated it this way. Imagine that God entrusted you with a perfect, spotless, crystal vase. This is the most beautiful vase you have ever seen. God just asks us one thing, he has trusted us with the vase and asks for it back in the same perfect condition. If we return it perfectly we will receive a reward. If we even get a tiny scratch on this spotless vase we will no longer be able to receive this reward; the requirement was perfection. Spurgeon goes on to tell his audience that we haven’t just scratched this vase; “we have cracked it, chipped it; ah! my brethren, the most of us have broken it and smashed it to pieces.” [1]

If we are hanging by a rope and the tiniest part of it fails we will fall. Even if 99.9% of the rope is in perfect condition the 0.1% that is weak renders the whole of the rope useless when it is entrusted with the task of holding someone up.

Paul in this verse wrote that our works will only get us what is our due; and because we have all fallen short of God’s standard our due is not righteousness but His wrath.

Our works do not bring us peace with God, they cannot.

 

If our works do not bring us peace with God, than what does? In verse 5 Paul delivered a shocking statement to the church in Rome. In verse five he wrote; “but the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, receives his faith as righteousness.” This would have blown the Jews in Rome away. For them the idea that God justifies the ungodly was ridiculous.

The word we translate ungodly here is the Greek word ασεβης [asebēs]; it is a very strong word that would have coincided with the Jewish concept of a “sinner.” Someone who is ungodly, which is what Paul declares that we all are, is someone who is an open and defiant sinner against God, someone who is in rebellion against God, and who is outside of the covenant with God. This is what would have shocked the Jews; Paul was saying that even though the Jews in Rome did their best to keep the law, they were not perfect enough to meet the Standard of God’s covenant and were in need of God’s grace. As those who are ungodly we are desperately in need of God’s grace, we are in a state of war with Him; we are His enemies.

Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross God was able to do something that it would seem He said He would not do in the Old Testament. In Exodus 23:7 God says that he will not acquit or justify the guilty, but because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross bearing God’s wrath and taking on himself the punishment for our crimes, God is able to declare that we are no longer guilty. This is a striking contrast that would have caught the Jews attention, but it is not a contradiction. In the Exodus God is saying that He will not declare a man with who is unholy in nature to be holy, this would be declaring a false reality. This I like me looking at a black chair and declaring it to be blue; this would simply not be true. Here in Romans Paul is using the word justify in a different way.

In this verse Paul writes that God justifies the ungodly, this means that he declares them to be just. That is, He legally declares those who are guilty to be not guilty based on Christ’s life and death which took the guilt of the ungodly away. To be justified is not to be perfect, God is not changing the ungodly so that they are perfect and no longer sinful people, this is a different work of God in the lives of sinners, but what He is doing is declaring them to be not guilty based on the holy and perfect life of Christ.

To have peace with God, to receive righteousness, we have to realize that we could never earn it. To not work but believe in the God who justifies the ungodly means that we have to realize that we are ungodly; we have to realize that our works will never get us anywhere and look to the God who saves those who cannot save themselves for grace. This is the contrast that Paul intends when he talks of the man who is not working. He is not meaning that we should sit down and do nothing, which is something that he writes strongly against later in Romans, but he is saying that we need to stop depending on our own works and acknowledge that we are ungodly

To have peace with God we need to understand that we are ungodly and that we need His grace to save us.

 

Once we know that our works can’t save us and we acknowledge that we are ungodly there is only thing we can do; we have to turn to God and trust that He will save us through a favor. This is the profound conclusion that Paul makes in V. 5 of Romans 4. He writes; “but to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”  This is incredible; this is contrary to everything we know. It is probably safe to say that every religion in the world requires their adherents to work or live righteously in one way or another to earn peace with their deity. This is every religion but Christianity, in Christianity we are told that we could never earn peace with God. Peace is a free gift from God, a favor given to us based on nothing we can do, no work of our own, but on the work of Jesus Christ in living a perfect life and dying a terrible death. This truth is what drove the protestant reformation in the 15th and 16th centuries; they proclaimed that it is by faith alone that we are saved, that we can have peace with God.

This is the profound truth that Paul unravels in Romans 4:4-5; our faith is how we receive righteousness. This righteousness means that we have peace with God. This is one of the most profound truths of Scripture. When we are credited with righteousness it does not mean that we become holy and perfect people, what is happening here is a legal transaction. Righteousness is credited to our accounts so that we are no longer in debt, we no longer have a legal debt that we owe to God. Let me illustrate this.

It is as if we were soaked in mud from head to toe, we are absolutely filthy; this is our state before God. He doesn’t hose us down so that our clothes and skin become spotless and perfect. Instead what He does is He takes the spotless robe of His Son Jesus, who because of His perfect life was free from all mud and dirt, and He drapes it over our shoulders so that when He looks at us He does not see the dirt and mud but the spotless robe of His son. This is how we are declared to be righteous; even though we still make mistakes and have sin God does not see our dirt, He doesn’t see the mud, He sees the Spotless life of His Son who died in our place.

To get this righteousness what we do is believe in the God who justifies the ungodly. By our faith we are declared righteous because the perfect life that Jesus lived, the work He did, is credited to our account in the place of our works which could never earn us life.

Our faith, not our works, brings us peace with God.

 

Our works cannot bring us peace with God; they will only ever earn us our due, and that will never be righteousness. The only way we can have peace with God is by realizing that we are ungodly, unable to ever earn righteousness, and trusting in Him who justifies the ungodly to give us righteousness as a favor. Our faith, not our works, brings us peace with God. Because of our faith we have peace with God, in response to this peace Charles Spurgeon once asked his audience; “What fear is there to the man that is of peace with God? Life?—God provides for it. Death?—Christ hath destroyed it. The Grave?—Christ hath rolled away the stone and broken the seal.”[2] Our faith, not our works, brings us peace with God.

 
A recording(video) of this sermon can be found here

 


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. LX (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1914), 63.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. IX (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1863), 285.