Friday, February 26, 2010


In Romans Chapter 3, Paul, as a prosecuting attorney, has brought the charge that all the world stands guilty before God. He methodically lays out his case and lists the crimes of which mankind stands accused. He then asks for the conviction,

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (v.19-20).

When the French infidel Rousseau was questioned about how he would face the judgment at the end of his debauched life boasted, “I will stand before God and defend my conduct.” No, he won’t and neither will any sinner for, “every mouth will be stopped" (v.19).

There are those who think, “Well, I’m not infidel! I believe in God and Jesus. I try to live a good life, so I’m sure, I’ll be fine. I can make my case at the judgment seat.” Really? I think I can shut us all up. Suppose we had a device to record your every thought this past week and invited you to church on Sunday where it would be shown on our video screen. How many of us would show up? How many could explain what rattled around in our heads? Now, extend that to an entire lifetime and include every wrong word we say and every wicked deed we do. God has noted them all and documented them. The evidence against us is irrefutable and damning.

No matter how hard we try to keep God’s laws, we will never meet God’s perfect standard. The Apostle dogmatically states, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom.3:20). The law is like a mirror. It shows us how dirty we are, but has no power to clean us up. The blood of Christ alone can do that.

Paul says we are “under sin” (Rom.3:9), but in Romans 6:14-15, he will speak of those “under grace.” We are in one state or the other. Which describes you?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

BAD TO THE BONE: THE CRIMES—Man’s Wicked Words and Works

In Romans 3:23, Paul declares, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” By the time he reaches that statement, the Apostle has made his case. Since chapter one, verse eighteen, he has established the guilt of the heathen, the hypocrite, the Hebrew and now sums it all up with the guilt of all humanity. He has read the indictment of man’s wicked ways in 3:10-12 and has pointed out that our problem is what we are—our demonic character. He next turns to the proof of our sinfulness in what we say and what we do.

MAN’S WICKED WORDS—Our Diabolic Conversation: what we say “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” (v.13-14) What we are determines what we say, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt.12:34) Our evil character at heart is the well from which the bucket of our lips brings up and pours out evil conversation.

Our throat a vile sepulcher "Their throat is an open tomb” (Rom.3:13a). It can be a bit frightening walking through a cemetery at night—but exceedingly perilous if someone has dug a grave and you fall into it! There are those whose speech is just as deadly. Also, consider the stench of decomposing bodies suggested in this imagery. There is a lot of speech that just stinks. It is filthy talk, right out of the sewer, the profane and obscene language of the ungodly.

Our tongue a vicious slanderer “with their tongues they have practiced deceit” (13b). Satan is a liar and slanderer—and so are his spawn. False teachers, in particular, present a message that purports to be from God, but is from the pit. People are seduced by it and led astray.

Our teeth a venomous serpent “the poison of asps is under their lips” (13c). Just behind the asp’s fangs is a sac of deadly poison. What makes the snake so deadly is its stealthy manner. It strikes suddenly and unexpectedly. That kind of verbal venom lies behind the lips of sinners and when you least expect it, they will sink their fangs into you.

Our talk a violent sword “whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (v.14). The tongue is a sword that can be wielded to inflict grave damage on others. Ridicule and sarcastic speech marks our age.

MAN’S WICKED WORKS—Our Destructive Conduct: what we do “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (v.15-18). Total depravity implies that sin is woven into the entire fabric of our being—and that is what Paul is declaring here. We have the anatomy of a sinner as Paul speaks of his throat, tongue, lips, feet and eyes. The inner-working of evil character issues into the outer-working of evil conversation and conduct.

Malicious work “Their feet are swift to shed blood” (v.15). As we race into brutality, we experience an exponential increase in the speed and scope with which mankind destroys life. Savagery is celebrated in cinema and glorified in children’s video games. The most defenseless among us are exterminated in their mother’s womb by the millions. In the name of Allah, women and children will explode themselves in order to kill others, and men will fly planes into buildings in their misguided zeal.

Miserable ways “destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known” (v.16-17). Wanton destruction and wretched despair lie strewn in the wake of their path. They not only inflict this misery, but in the end will experience it eternally.

Mutinous walk “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (v.18). This final statement is the source, substance and sum of all evil. Ultimately all sin is against God. It affects others. It affects us. But the thing that makes sin to be sin is it is desecration of God’s holy character and defiance of His holy commands.

It isn’t a pretty picture. But, it is an accurate one. This is how God sees us apart from Christ—so that apart from Him, we are convicted and condemned.

Cry to Jesus. His grace alone is powerful enough to lift us out of degradation and fit us for heaven. Then, the Righteous Judge will see us in Christ and accept us in His Beloved Son.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


In a court proceeding, the charges must be written and read, so Paul says, “it is written” (Romans 3:10). He then lists fourteen counts of crimes against God. As you know, in a criminal trial, the more counts that are brought, the more severe the crime, and the sentence if convicted. These crimes are summed up in three categories: man’s wicked ways, wicked words and wicked walk. Today we will consider the first series of indictments: man’s wicked ways.

The focus of these crimes against God is our demonic character: what we are:

10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
(Romans 3:10-12 NKJV)

Paul begins here, for the problem isn’t just the sins we commit, but the sinners we are. The heart of human evil is the evil of human hearts. John Phillips in his commentary on Romans notes that we are unrighteous, unreasonable, unresponsive, and unrepentant.

UNRIGHTEOUS “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom.3:10). This is what theologians call “total depravity.” That doesn’t mean that all of us are as bad as we might be. Neither does Paul mean that even the worst of people may not at times do the right thing. Recall the “Godfather” novel, and subsequent movies made based on Mario Puzo’s book. It was a fictional account, rooted in the reality of organized crime families. They were brutal. They made their fortune in gambling, prostitution, and a host of other illegal activities. But there was also a tender side displayed to their children, qualities of loyalty to each other, certainly industry and creativity, and often respect for religion! Witness the remarkable scene in the Godfather where Michael Corleone is at the christening of his nephew. There they are in church before the priest and Corleone is set aside as the infant’s godfather. We hear him respond to the priest by confessing his belief in God, Christ, the church and even renouncing Satan! The chilling camera shots keep cutting in of Corleone’s competing crime family heads being gunned down. Michael may have done some right things, but he was not righteous! We may not be part of the Mafia, but the apostle is declaring the bottom line: we are not right with God—not even one of us!

UNREASONABLE “There is none who understands” (Rom.3:11a). Again, before we can grasp the teaching, we need to set aside what Paul is not saying. This doesn’t mean we can’t understand the facts of the Gospel. There are agnostic philosophers that could lecture on the doctrines of Christianity and accurately compare them with other religious systems in a way as precise as any pulpit presentation. We could find an atheist professor of history that could give all the details of the Reformation and state the meaning of justification by faith. Yet, despite being intellectually enlightened, they—and indeed all sinners—are in spiritual darkness. They may know the facts, but then reason to the wrong conclusions. This is what sin does. Paul has already framed it in this fashion:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

Weigh carefully the words of 1 Corinthians2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” So it was that an eighteen year old student wrote:

“Union with Christ is found in a close and living fellowship with Him and in the fact that we always have Him before our eyes and in our hearts. And at the same time that we are possessed by the greatest love of Him, we direct our hearts to our brothers, with whom He bound us closely, and for whom He sacrificed Himself.”

The student was Karl Marx!

UNRESPONSIVE “There is none who seeks after God” (Rom.3:11b). You might argue that the world is full of religious people seeking after God. No—they are seeking after a false god made in their image, that will allow them to live in sin, and with every step they take pursuing the false god, they are running away from the true God. The Gospels show the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus to the Jews as their king. After all He had taught, the life He lived, and the miracles He performed, clearly attesting to His rightful claim to be their king, their decision was, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). If He came today, men and women would treat Him the same. When I was eighteen years old, I wasn’t seeking God. I was seeking the pleasures of sin, pursuing them relentlessly. But, God stopped me in my tracks—unknown to me, in His grace, the Good Shepherd had been seeking me! Apart from that grace, I would not have come to Him. Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

UNREPENTANT “They have all turned aside” (Rom.3:12a). Repentance is turning from sin and turning to God. We, according to our sinful nature, do the opposite. Isaiah 53:6 mirrors this, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one, to his own way.” We come into this world wanting our way! No one has to teach us—it is our natural inclination. “They have together become unprofitable” (Rom.3:12b). The original word in the Old Testament quote Paul is referencing was used of milk gone bad—fit only to pour out. All the potential of what God might have done with us wasted! “There is none who does good, no not one” (Rom.3:12c). Our concept of goodness isn’t God’s reckoning of goodness. We compare ourselves with fellow sinners and then proclaim our own goodness. A good baseball player makes an out 2 of 3 times. Compared to other players, he is hall-of-fame material, if he can just get a hit once out of every three times at bat. But God demands we bat 1.000! During the long career of our lifespan, we can never foul out, popup, ground out, hit a deep fly in the gap to the warning track that is hauled in by an outfielder—not once. Who can do that? Oh, theoretically we could say it’s possible, but practically, it is impossible. No one can. Yet, a Holy God demands His holy law be kept perfectly—not one time can we sin and enter heaven. That leaves us all out. Some do worse than others, but even the best of us has bad in us. The Russian poet Turgenev said, “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like and it is terrible.”

If God is dealing with your heart today, you cannot afford to brush Him aside. Turn to Him and you can be sure that His Spirit is drawing you and He will save you, or else you would not even care.

As for me, and those of you who know Christ also, how we should marvel, be struck with amazement, that God would give the righteousness of Christ to the unrighteous through faith, that He would reason with the unreasonable and cause the Light of life to dawn in our dark souls, that He would seek us and catch us when we try to run from Him, and that He would break our stubborn wills and bend us in repentance. Praise God. To Him be all the glory!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Paul, as a prosecuting attorney brings the charge against all humanity in Romans 3:9, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” The word “charged” is a judicial term meaning to “press formal charges.” The charge is made that all the human race—“all are under sin.” This is the universal condition of every person. They are under the power and penalty of sin. Sin dominates us on earth and dooms us in eternity.

R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on Romans, makes this observation:

“When we are succeeding, we say that we are ‘on top’ of things. With respect to our performance of obedience before God, we are not on top; we are underneath it, and the law hangs like the Sword of Damocles over our necks.”

To make a statement like this is to meet with shock and even hostility in our culture! We are told that people are basically good and that with the right environment, economics and education that the human race can evolve toward utopia. So, you want proof that people are inherently evil? Just affirm these truths to self-deceived sinners and their angry reaction will demonstrate what lies beneath. It is often like kicking a hornets’ nest.

In the next verses of Romans three—which we will examine over the next few days—Paul brings the series of indictments of our heinous crimes against heaven and humanity. He will make his case with clear and compelling evidence. The world will stand guilty at the judgment bar of God.

What I need is a good defense attorney! I too am a sinner and apart from Christ hopelessly lost. Thankfully, I have One who has never lost a case: “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1b).

Monday, February 22, 2010


You have heard, “Beauty is only skin deep.” Some wise guy has added, “But ugly is all the way to the bone!” Irrespective of our outer appearance and actions—spiritually—we are bad to the bone.

In the first three chapters of his epistle to the Romans, Paul the Apostle, takes his stand in the Supreme Court of heaven. The thrice holy God is the Judge. You would not wish to oppose Paul in this courtroom. He possesses a brilliant mind, persuasive powers of argument, and the chief thing: all the evidence is on the side of the prosecution.

Paul first puts the heathen on trial in 1:18-32. Though they have the witness of conscience within them, and the witness of creation to them, they suppress the truth and turn from God to deeper and deeper degradation. The heathen stand guilty as charged.

Then, the Apostle indicts the hypocrite in 2:1-16—the moral man who says he isn’t that bad. But when the secrets of his heart are exposed then the hypocrite is found guilty as charged.

Paul moves on to try the Hebrew in 2:17-3:8 and despite their privilege as the chosen people and their practice of religion, they too are found guilty.

Finally, he will make the summation of his entire case—the final argument. The Apostle moves from the heathen, the hypocrite and the Hebrew to place all humanity on trial.

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

(Romans 3:9-20 NKJV)

Friday, February 19, 2010


During his missionary work, we find Paul entering a city and making a bee-line to the synagogue where he would have an opportunity to share the Gospel. The pattern of response was also much the same from place to place: a few would usually listen and receive Christ, while most would reject the message. The arguments of the Jews often fell along the same lines. So, as the Apostle writes to the church at Rome, he anticipates these very arguments and sets about to deal with them and dismiss them in the opening verses of the third chapter of Romans.

The first issue is the critical one from which all the others flow, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what it the profit of circumcision?” (Romans 3:1). If the things associated with being Jewish cannot make one righteous before God, then is there any advantage in being a Jew? The Apostle emphatically declares that there is! “Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2).

So, if being raised in a Christian home doesn’t save you, is there an advantage to that? “Much in every way!” It is there we are taught about Christ. I shudder to think what would have become of me had I been raised by the ungodly! I was scarcely saved. I was as John Wesley put it, “a brand out of the burning.” The example of Christian parents didn’t save me, but it prepared the soil for the seed of the Gospel.

If having a Bible doesn’t save you, is there any benefit to studying it? “Much in every way!” “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). The seed of salvation is the Word of God and the more seed that is sown, the greater is the possibility of the harvest of eternal life.

If church membership doesn’t save you, is there any advantage to attending church? “Much in every way!” This is a place where you will hear the Gospel. In a Gospel-preaching church, in Sunday School lessons and in sermon and song, you will hear the way of salvation declared. The door is opened to salvation—and all you must do is arise and go through it. Christ beckons you to come.

Here is the conclusion of the matter; it all boils down to this, “What are you counting on to save you?” Suppose you were standing before God right now and He asked, “Why should I allow you into my heaven?” What would you say? Stop and think about it.

If your answer is, “I was baptized” or “I was confirmed” or “I’m a member of such and such a church” or “I’m a good person” or “I believe in God” or “I go to Mass” or anything that smacks of your own merits—you have given the wrong answer. If that is what you are counting on to save you, your salvation is of no account.

Your answer should be, “I am trusting in Christ and His work on the cross. I believe He rose again and I have repented of my sin and received Him as my Lord.” Now, I’m not saying you have to express it in those exact words—but, you must trust in Christ alone to save you. Only He can. We are great sinners, but He is a great Savior!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


In Romans 2:25-29, Paul points out the contradiction between the claim of the Jews that they are righteous in view of their conduct by highlighting the matter of circumcision. He writes:

25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?
27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;
29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (NKJV)

Circumcision was given as a command to Abraham and his descendants as an outward sign of a spiritual reality. Without a circumcision of the heart, the symbol carried no meaning.

I wear a wedding band. If I pointed to that and said, “This is a marriage” that would be a stupid statement. It isn’t marriage, but it is a symbol of it. Putting one on doesn’t make me married and wearing one as a symbol of fidelity is meaningless unless accompanied by faithfulness to the marriage vows. The Jews looked at circumcision that way. They thought the ritual was righteousness. Furthermore, so long as they were circumcised, they believed they were going to heaven whether they were committed to God or not. Many of the rabbis taught this.

What circumcision meant under the Old Covenant, baptism means under the New Covenant. It is a symbol of our relationship with Christ though it isn’t the same as a relationship with Christ. Baptism is important. It is a way to publicly profess one’s faith. Yet, water has no power to cleanse us from sin, if we haven’t been cleansed already by the blood of Christ. Then and only then does the symbol have meaning.

There are many who tragically enter the baptismal pool as dry sinners and come out on the other side as wet sinners! They advertise they are dead to sin and alive in Christ through the rite of immersion and yet are still dead in trespasses and sins. Don’t be in that number!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


You can claim anything. You can say you are Superman. Well, maybe you are. But what I want to see is you leaping over tall buildings and bending steel girders and stopping a train on its tracks. If you can’t do that, then your words are meaningless. That’s the way it is with religious people that claim to be right with God but their conduct doesn’t match up.

This is the matter Paul is dealing with, as he confronts the Jews about their self-righteousness in Romans 2. Their words were so much hot air. Their claims were empty. Paul knew—He was a Jew himself. He had been a proud Pharisee, smug in his religious pedigree.

He also knew that behind the pious profession was the heart of the hypocrite. The Jews did not practice what they preached, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom.2:21a). They believed the right things. The God they worshipped was the true God. The Scriptures they believed in were God’s Word. The doctrines they cherished were correct. The moral standards they taught were right. These were orthodox and so far as it went that is good—the problem is that it didn’t go far enough. It brought intellectual agreement without transforming power. Far from being a problem confined to the Jews, there are many others cut from the same fraudulent fabric, and the Apostle wrote of them, “Having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim.3:5a).

“But, I’m a good person!” Are you now?

You can be a thief without robbing a bank. “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” (Rom.2:21b). Recall the religious racketeering that took place in the temple. The moneychangers, that so infuriated Christ, had turned the house of God into a “den of thieves” (Luke 19:46). We steal when we don’t give an honest day’s work for a day’s wage; when we don’t pay employees what they’re due; when we borrow and don’t return—and in a multitude of “respectable” ways other than holding a gun to someone’s head and saying, “Give me your money!”

You can be an adulterer without sexual intercourse. “You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” (Rom.2:22a). We flood our minds with filth through what we watch on TV, access on the internet and read in magazines. Our passions are inflamed through lecherous looks and we tease through innuendo. Jesus said this, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt.5:28).

You can be an idolater without bowing before an image in a shrine. “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Rom.2:22b). The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, tells how four of his countrymen led a wealthy Roman woman to make a significant contribution to the temple. Then they pocketed the money. The Emperor Tiberius was so angered as to drive all the Jews from Rome. Those coins would have born the imprint of an emperor claiming to be a god, or the image of some other mythical deity from the Roman pantheon. The Jews who would have never worshipped such an idol had no qualms about spending money with pagan association. Scripture warns of “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col.3:5). Multitudes today worship at the altar of materialism.

When we profess one thing and practice another it dishonors God and discredits our testimony: “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.” (Rom.2:23-24). I wonder how many unbelievers will stumble into hell, tripped up by the hypocrisy of those who claim to be heaven-bound, but engage in hellish behavior.

Are we guilty of false advertising?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


When Paul branded the heathen Gentiles as sinners, cataloging a string of degenerate actions in Romans 1:18-32, his Jewish countrymen would have said, “Yes, of course! Those Gentile dogs behave like animals and deserve the wrath of God! Thankfully, we are not like them—they are pagans and we are the chosen people.” I can imagine that as Paul moved from expressing the depravity of the heathen to exposing the duplicity of the hypocrite in chapter 2:1-16, they may have grown a bit uncomfortable but still argued, “We understand that among the Gentiles there are some moral people. Some of them have a high philosophy of life and attempt to be ethical. Yet, we know they are still sinners at heart. We are superior, naturally, for we are Jews.”

They were Jews. The word comes from one of the sons of Jacob, Judah, meaning “praise.” Were they praiseworthy? Not all who claimed Abraham’s DNA had Abraham’s faith. Paul—a Jew, mind you—said that the true Jew is one “whose praise is not from men but from God.” (v.29). It isn’t human applause but heavenly approval that we must have—whether Jew or Gentile. Our opinion about ourselves or our reputation among others isn’t the crucial matter. What counts is what does God say about you?

Here’s what Paul wrote—not to the heathen or the hypocrite, but to the Hebrew:

Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God,
and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,
and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.

(Rom.2:17-20 NKJV)

They claimed to be exempt from God’s judgment for three basic reasons:

There was the argument from relationship “Indeed you are called a Jew” (v.17a)—they were descended from Abraham. The Jews who rejected Christ bragged, “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39) to which Jesus answered, “You are of your father the devil.” (John 8:44) For them it was a matter of biology, but for God to be our Father requires a second, spiritual birth—irrespective of our race. So, there are those in the church that think because they were raised in a Christian home they are Christians. The Bible teaches otherwise.
There was the argument from revelation (v.17b-20). They had the Word of God. So there are churches today where members carry the Bible and claim to believe it from cover to cover. But it isn’t a Bible in your hand but Christ in your heart that saves you.
There was the argument from ritual “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (v.25). They had an outward sign which marked them out, they supposed, as belonging to God. They thought the rite of circumcision was enough without the corresponding heart change. They were wrong! How many today will point to their baptism, confirmation, attending mass, and/or church membership as proving they are Christians?

What we need is Jesus—only Jesus—and we need Him urgently. Do not place your faith anywhere else. Place your faith in Christ and He will save you.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Somehow many of my old comic books survived my childhood. No telling how wealthy some of us would be had our mother not thrown away our comics collections. Mine escaped her diabolical clutches. Some of the comics I have are as old as 45 years—nearly as old as me! When I first started collecting them, they cost 12 cents. They are worth much more than that now.

I loved to read them. One of the things that fascinated me beyond the story and artwork was the ads—all sorts of wild and weird things you could buy (like onion gum and soap that turned your face black when you washed with it). Most of the items were cheap. But my weekly income was only 50 cents for push mowing a two-acre lawn under a scorching sun—and I spent all that on comic books! Even if I wanted to order something, my Dad said, “You’re wasting your money. That’s just junk.” But, I knew better.

You could order this powder to mix up and drink and it would turn you from a 145 pound weakling into a muscular dynamo in only two weeks! I mean, the proof was right there in the picture. I only weighed 145, so this was very appealing. After whining more than a puppy wanting a dog biscuit, I finally talked my Dad into getting me some of that high protein muscle building drink. It didn’t work in 2 weeks! I didn’t gain a pound. I guess it contained a time release formula as I have finally gotten over being skinny.

Then there was this Monster Ghost I ordered—guaranteed to scare the daylights out of people. It floated, moved and responded to your commands—all for only a dollar. Now, who wouldn’t enjoy hearing their mother, sister and friends scream (maybe even faint) in fright? So, I ordered it. How excited I was to go to the mailbox and open this treasure of terror when it arrived after the promised 4-6 week delivery. It was a balloon head attached to a big garbage bag and with a nylon thread you could make it move by tugging on it! That cost me two week’s wages! Rip off!

How fitting on this President’s Day that we recall Honest Abe’s words, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” I’ll add this, “You can’t fool God any time.”

But people try. They may try so hard as to even fool themselves. That’s the kind of folks, Paul talked about in Romans 2:17-3:8. They were extremely religious people who advertised that they were saints when, as God saw them, they were really sinners. Religion can clean up the outside, but leaves us dirty on the inside. Could it be that some of you reading these words might be in that category? You are guilty of false advertising. It’s time to get honest with God. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing, but the blood of Jesus.”

Friday, February 12, 2010


Adrian Rogers told the story of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. Rogers relates how when they finally broke into the tomb, they found a huge sarcophagus. When it was opened, they discovered another coffin covered with gold leaf. Inside of that one was a third casket, then a fourth that was solid gold. Within was King Tut, wrapped in gold cloth, wearing that incredibly beautiful gold mask.

But, when the mask was removed, what did they find? Behind the mask and beneath the cloth was a leathery, withered corpse—the leering face of death.

You can claim to be a child of God. You may boast of your self-righteousness. You can put on a religious mask. But when the mask is removed, what is on the inside?

Thursday, February 11, 2010


“Holier than thou”--we are familiar with the expression, aren’t we? The non-church goer certainly is. They use it with contempt to describe the self-righteous who often populate church pews. It is the ugly portrait of one who looks down their sanctimonious nose and points a condemning finger, loudly broadcasting the sins of others, all the while failing to examine their own heart and confess their own sins.

We can understand why some outside the church world would stumble over these attitudes among certain church folk and want nothing to do with Christianity. To them I would sound the warning: don’t let the hypocrite keep you out of heaven—or you’ll be with them forever in hell! Better to go to church with them, than spend eternity with them.

Religious people get all riled up when you speak against homosexuality, condemn pornography and lament our nation’s apostasy with a hearty “Amen!” But they often grow quiet when you preach about self-righteousness, judgmental attitudes and hypocrisy.

That’s tough—I’m going to preach the whole counsel of God. I can’t show favorites—because God doesn’t. “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Yes, God is going to judge all humanity, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23)! But God will hold us accountable for the amount of light we have.

Jesus said it would be better for Sodom than Capernaum on Judgment Day! We associate Sodom with gross evil and the wrath of God—and that much is true. What we fail to reckon with is that Sodom had no Bibles, no churches and no preachers—only one believer, Lot, who was a backslider! On the other hand, Capernaum was witness to Christ’s miraculous life and heaven-sent preaching. “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” (Matt.11:23).

The citizens of Capernaum were incensed at Christ’s teaching. They clearly possessed the “holier than thou” attitude. Outwardly, you might have compared their conduct with Sodom’s denizens and concluded they could make a good case. But, God doesn’t stop with the external show of religion. He judges accurately according to who we truly are on the inside. Paul writes, “in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Rom.2:16). The skeletons in your closet will come marching out to testify against you.

God has a set of books in heaven where the names are recorded of all those belonging to Christ, plus other books where every thought, word, deed and motive is being documented.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

Imagine—if your name is not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life—then the evidence of your crimes against God will be presented in court and sentence will be passed. Self-righteousness will not save you. Paul states that the judgment will be according to “my gospel.” This is the issue. Have you responded to the Gospel in faith—receiving Christ as Lord and Savior? If not, we learn in Romans 1 that you can’t be so bad Christ won’t save you and in Romans 2 that you can’t be so good that you don’t need Him to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I am often asked, “What about those who die having never heard of Christ? What happens to them?” Scripture is clear—all people, to the degree they have light—are responsible for the light they have and the deeds they do. They have no excuse for their sin (Rom.1:18-25). God has given a witness of conscience in them and a witness of creation to them—yet they reject that light and turn to darkness. For the willful sin against God, every soul will give an account.

But that’s not likely an issue for anyone reading these words. Most, if not all, of you have heard the Gospel—and that over and over. So, Paul says to the self-righteous in Romans 2:1 that we also have no excuse.

Are you hardening your heart? Do you believe that your goodness apart from Christ can save you? Will you continue to trust in your morality and lean on your religiosity? Here is Paul’s somber warning to the self-righteous: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’ ” (Rom.2:5-6). You really don’t want to be tried for your deeds!

What does Paul mean by “treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath”? R.C. Sproul in his commentary on Romans gives a chilling exposition:

“What comes next is one of the scariest verses in the Bible…A friend once said to me, ‘I have been lusting after a woman, so I might as well go ahead and get on with the act because I am already guilty of the sin.’ I warned my friend to be very careful there. We have a tendency to think that come the judgment day, we are either in or out, innocent or guilty, but when somebody commits nine murders, they go on trial for nine counts of murder, not just one. Just so, God considers every sin we commit in thought, word and deed. Each one is exposed to God’s perfect judgment according to the truth.

In explaining our sin in relation to God’s wrath, Paul uses a banking metaphor. If we begin to save our money, taking a small portion of each paycheck and putting it in the bank, we are building up, slowly but surely, a treasure; we are saving up for a rainy day. Just so, every time we sin, we add an indictment against ourselves, treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. Do we really believe that? I do not think that the world believes it. Every day that we sin without repenting, we are depositing future wrath into the account of God’s judgment.

Some people think, ‘If you go to hell, you go to hell. What is the difference?’ A professor of mine once said that a sinner in hell would give everything he owned and do anything he could to make one less the number of his sins during his lifetime, because he will be judged according to his deeds. There are various degrees of punishment in hell because hell is where God manifests his perfect justice, and the punishment always fits the crime. If someone commits thirty sins, he is going to be punished thirty ways. So long as our hearts remain hardened, we add to the indictment moment by moment.” (Romans, Sproul pp.61-62)

This is deadly serious.

How can I know that my heart is right with God? Paul presents to us a threefold test in Romans 2:7.

•Test#1 “patient continuance”—the test of our perseverance. I saw a lady on Twitter the other day describing herself as a “former Christian.” There is no such thing. Those with eternal life possess it eternally or else they never had eternal life to begin with.
•Test#2 “doing good”—the test of our practice. We aren’t saved by our works, but our works show true faith. Only God is good and only He can produce good works in us. If true good is done, it is because we have had a new birth.
•Test#3 “seek for glory, honor and immortality”—the test of our pursuit. You wouldn’t miss heaven for the world! This isn’t merely a veneer of religion, but an inward passion. Contrast that with the self-seeking, self-righteous: “but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,” (Rom.2:8).

Do you pass the test? The choice is yours:

“tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom.2:9-10)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


In the first chapter of Romans, Paul presents the need of the Gospel for corrupt sinners. He lists the sins of the rebellious. These verses make us feel like we’ve reached the depths of depravity. In chapter two, the Apostle presents the need of the Gospel for cultured sinners. He lists the sins of the religious. These verses take us to the heights of hypocrisy.

In that pagan world there were the scoundrels who practiced depravity, but also the sophisticated who practiced morality. Chapter one tells us there are none so rotten that they cannot be saved and chapter two tells us there are none so righteous that they need not be saved.

Over and over, Jesus confronted the self-righteous crowd. They hated Him and nailed Him to a cross. Do you wonder why they scorned Him? Because He repeatedly called them hypocrites! It is hypocrisy that Paul is addressing in his salvo unleashed on self-righteousness in Romans 2.

The word in Greek is hypokrites—a theatrical term meaning “to wear a mask.” There is an icon used to symbolize the theater—two masks—one smiling, one frowning. In Greek plays, the actors would put on a mask to play their role. How many are in churches today—including the congregation you and I attend—who are wearing a religious mask, while underneath is a heart empty of the grace of God?

The absence of grace can be detected. Paul tells us how.
• They are outraged by the sins of others, while oblivious to their own: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (v.1). We may excuse our sin as a slip, a mistake, but God will accept no excuses. The Judge will hear a confession, but that is something the self-righteous loathe to do.
• They are quick to condemn in others what is concealed in their own heart “But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.” (v.2). It says that God’s judgment will be “according to truth.” God will use the plumb line of truth to check your alignment—and the crookedness will be evident. The Building Inspector will condemn the little play house you have constructed as unfit for eternal occupation!
• The self-righteous man likes to compare himself with others. “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?” (v.3) He is judgmental toward others because that makes him feel better about himself. But God doesn’t grade on the curve. Religious folk protest, “I’m a good person!” “I don’t commit adultery. I haven’t murdered anyone.” Jesus said that lust and hate in your heart are the same—and who has not had an outbreak of that malady?
• Religious folk are often respectable—they aren’t the drunk in the gutter wallowing in vomit or a prostitute at some seedy motel who feeds her drug habit by selling her body. Instead, they may be respected in the community, successful in business and hold office in the church. They have their act together and it would seem that the hand of God is upon them. Indeed, it is! This is the blessing of God, but their self-righteousness blinds them to the intent of such grace. They think it is a reward for being good. Here is the reality: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (v.4).

So, Mr. or Ms. Self-Righteous Hypocrite, won’t you assume the position of a beggar, admit your utter depravity, acknowledge your moral bankruptcy and humbly cry out for Christ to save you? There’s room at the cross for you—unless your ego is too inflated to come to that place of death to self-centeredness and worldly status.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Satan is as content to get people to go to hell from a church pew as from a barroom or a brothel. In fact, those who live a sinful life and know they’re on their way to hell are easier to reach than those who live a self-righteous life and think they’re on their way to heaven. Our Lord was talking to the self-righteous, religious crowd when He said, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt.21:31 NASB95)

You see, if I have obvious symptoms of sickness, I am more likely go to the doctor. One of the things that makes cancer such a killer is that one may think he or she is healthy, when a malignancy is growing within. Self-righteousness is that kind of spiritual cancer. Sin works insidiously in our soul while externally we appear healthy.

But God has a spiritual x-ray machine called the Bible that exposes what we are on the inside. If we will submit to it, self-righteousness will be exposed. There is no excuse for not coming to Christ for the cure. Paul wrote, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man…” (Romans 2:1a).

Sunday, February 07, 2010


sub·vert \səb-ˈvərt\ verb
from Latin subvertere, literally, to turn from beneath, from sub- + vertere to turn
1 : to overturn or overthrow from the foundation
2 : to pervert or corrupt by an undermining of morals, allegiance, or faith.

I can’t think of a better word to define what Paul is describing in Romans 1:26-32. He writes:

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.
27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,
30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;
32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (NKJV

This is the bottom of the cesspool of sin—the final straw that breaks the barrier to a nation’s judgment. There is an awful expression used three times, “God…gave them up” (v.24, 26) and “God gave them over” (v.28). If man will not bow to the true God, then God at last says, “Alright, if you want sin and you don’t want Me—have at it!” In giving us over to sin, we find that sin carries its own judgment (v.27). Greece in all its splendor and Rome in all its power could not survive the rottenness of sexual sin. No nation can. It is the end of the line when this becomes acceptable and even celebrated (v.32). What once would slink down a dark alley is now paraded down Main Street.

But, here’s good news—when we hit rock bottom, we have nowhere to look but up! Paul wrote to converts to Christianity that came from the depths of debauchery. Here’s what the Apostle said:

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,nor sodomites,
10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Saturday, February 06, 2010


If truth is suppressed long enough, eventually truth will be substituted for a lie. This is a deliberate exchange. A person may tire of pushing back their guilt and wrestling with their conscience, so they buy into a system of thought that supplants the truth that was bothering them.

People do this despite the clear and compelling evidence of God’s eternal power and presence. We not only have the witness of conscience in us, we have the witness of creation to us. All of nature cries out, “There is a God!” That which is visible in nature, with its marvelous intricacy and majestic complexity, dramatically declares the existence of a Creator. Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom.1:20 NKJV). You have to deliberately deny and distort the facts, substituting the false religion of naturalism, bowing at the altar of Darwinism, to convince yourself that there is no God. Those who are atheists have to suspend reason, and become irrational and, according to the Apostle, this is quite inexcusable.

Those who shut their eyes to God’s witness exchange truth for a lie. Paul underscored this: “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom.1:25).

Still, most people around the world cannot deny the twofold witness of conscience in them and creation about them—so that the atheist is a rare breed. Most people in the world are religious to some degree. They acknowledge some kind of God, yet their knowledge of someone out there does not lead them to Him, but in their sinful nature and depravity, they substitute the creation for the Creator. Weigh these words carefully:

“because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” (Rom.1:21-23)

They substitute a God who has made them in His image for a god made in their image. They travel an ever more degrading path from “the glory of the incorruptible God” all the way down to “creeping things” –bugs! In Egypt they held the scarab sacred—a dung beetle! They worshipped an insect that rolled a ball of feces around! The Bible warns that we become like the god we worship (Psalm 115:4-8). Filthy gods lead to filthy lives. “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (Rom.1:24). Idolatry breeds immorality that leads to an ever-deepening cycle of degeneracy.

We become “fools” (Rom.1:22). This isn’t a flaw in mental ability—there are fools with a high IQ. It is a failure in moral aptitude—they love sin and do not want to face consequences, so they deny God’s existence or fashion a god that will bless their sin. In Scripture, folly isn’t about the level of education, but about the depths of rebellion against God.

In Paul’s day, the pagan gods were full of lust and vile passions. There was Bacchus, the god of drunkenness. How was he worshipped? By getting drunk! There was Aphrodite, the goddess of sex. Her worship featured orgies. Many of the idol temples were mere marble-columned brothels.

Yet, even at the heart of this decadent empire, God had planted a church. Many of the members of that Roman church had been rescued from corrupt lives and cleansed from sin by the power of the Gospel. That is the message of hope we bear to the world. Why don’t you invite someone to church to hear that message tomorrow?

Friday, February 05, 2010


The truth that we are sinners, abiding under the wrath of God, is an uncomfortable truth. Because of that, we want to suppress it. We intuitively know that we have done wrong toward God and that there will be a day of reckoning, but if we don’t want to face it and we can’t bear the thought of it, then the only option is to suppress it. The Apostle Paul went straight to this point when he wrote,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” (Romans 1:18-19 NKJV)

Guilt and shame come bubbling to the surface from the well of our conscience. So, we bottle it up and set it aside in the basement, locking the door, trying to forget about it. You see, there is a witness within us. We know there is a God and that one day we will give an answer to Him.

Even a blind and deaf person knows this. Helen Keller was born in that state physically. Anne Sullivan worked with her as a child and found a bright young girl inside waiting to get out. Helen asked about God. Miss Sullivan took her to Phillips Brooks, the gifted preacher in Boston who in a simple way tenderly shared Christ with her. He made him seem so real that Helen said, “Yes I know him, I just had forgotten his name.” Without a Bible or ability to hear a sermon—she knew there was a God.

No one starts out as an atheist—they have to work at it—by constantly suppressing the truth of the witness in them. Because I will answer to God one day for whether I cared enough about your soul to be honest with you, I cannot allow you to suppress the truth. It is my duty to surface it—like it or not—though I pray you will receive these life-giving words.

Suppose you begin to feel sick and take a trip to the doctor. He breezes through the exam room, taking no time but to smile, and hurriedly say, “You look fine. I think you’ll be OK.” He then hands you a prescription for narcotics, adding, “Take these and they’ll make you feel better.” What kind of doctor is that? In making you feel better, he would be killing you! There are some preachers who do the same—we should call them what we would call such a doctor: “Quack!”

Or, you go to a doctor who does a thorough examination. After the results are in the M.D. gives you the diagnosis: cancer. That would be distressing! He next moves to the prognosis: left untreated it will be terminal! You have gone from distressing news to depressing news. But, he doesn’t stop there; he shares that it can be cured if you take the treatment: delightful! Now, there’s a good physician! Paul was a soul physician, battling the terminal malignancy of sin, offering the cure of the Gospel. He was faithful to that God-appointed mandate. Listen to his words in Acts 20:26-27:

“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”

When I come to the end of my life journey, and stand before God, I want to be able to say the same thing! Are you listening? Do not suppress the truth!

Thursday, February 04, 2010


How did the world get so messed up? Few would deny that it is. But, as to the cause, you would get a vast variety of answers.

Some would argue that environment is the problem—if people had a better environment to live in things would be better. Others would say education is the problem—if people were better educated, the world would be a better place. Another would point to economics—if poverty were alleviated, so problems would be.

These are not insignificant issues, but these and most other answers people would give are external in nature. The Bible teaches that the real issue is internal—there is evil about us because there is evil in us. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. If we want to know why the world is messed up, we need look no farther than in the mirror. The world is messed up because we are messed up.

That is the bleak reality Paul presents beginning with Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The Apostle takes us into the Supreme Court of Heaven. God is the Judge. Paul is the prosecuting attorney. The entire human race is on trial. The Apostle then systematically lays out his case and presents the evidence of our crimes against God and humanity. He gives his closing argument to the Judge and concludes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23) and then sentence is passed, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom.6:23a).

Bad news—but we cannot stop in the middle of a verse—the remainder of Romans 6:23 says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is good news! The mess we are in is horrible, but Christ will come in and clean up our mess if we will but open the door of our heart to Him.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Let me tell you a sure fire way not to get hired at the Post Office or, if you happen to work there already, how to get fired. Just tell the interviewer or your boss as the case may be, that you will only deliver mail that contains good news. If it is a letter from the bank threatening foreclosure, or a note from a family member telling someone that a loved one has died, or a letter from a lawyer telling the recipient that their spouse wants a divorce, or some such—you refuse to be a bearer of bad news. Those letters are going in the trash. People don’t want to receive such mail.

Then, forget about working at the Post Office. The type of mail you deliver is not an option for you. Your task is to put the mail—all of it—the good, the bad, the ugly, in the mailbox.

There are churches and preachers that have made a conscious decision that they will not share any bad news with the audience. They don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. Their take is that to discuss subjects like sin and judgment will drive people away. So—take down the cross from the sanctuary, delete any references to the blood of Christ from the songs, refrain from confronting people about sin, never discuss a topic like hell, put a smile on your face and be enthusiastically positive. Give them a few practical tips with a proof text from the Bible so people can feel better and then want to return to church again. After all, you are marketing religion and the attendee is your customer. You can’t increase your market share if your advertising isn’t appealing.

I understand. There are topics that I enjoy preaching on and others that I know will make people uncomfortable, because they make me feel the same way. It’s just that I don’t think my job in God’s Post Office is to choose what type of mail to deliver. What the Divine Postmaster intends for me to do is deliver the mail—all of it!

Paul certainly set the pace for us. He wrote:

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:17-18 NKJV).

How dare the Apostle speak of God as being a God of wrath! Why would he suggest that there is but one way to be justified and made righteous before a holy God? Doesn’t he realize how offensive that is to modern sensibilities? Post-moderns don’t want to hear words like “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness.”

I suppose Paul decided it was more important to please God rather than man. Tampering with the mail can get you in big trouble. He didn’t consider warning people to repent of sin and turn to Christ as being cruel; rather, he thought it compassionate. How loving is it to smile, pat people on the back and let them stroll merrily along to hell?

Just deliver the mail!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


The sliver of space between Romans 1:17 and 18 is the distance between hope and despair—the difference between paradise and perdition. Paul writes:

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

According to the Apostle two things are revealed in the Gospel: God’s righteousness and His wrath. On the cross, Jesus died to make us righteous before a Holy God. Redeemed sinners can enter heaven by placing their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) and He meant it. All that was required to purchase our salvation has been done. That is our hope! But, the cross also shows that God’s wrath must be appeased. His justice is as perfect as His love. Sin demands the full payment and that is what Christ, the eternal God accomplished in a moment of time in His incarnation. He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matt.27:46). That is hell—and that is what He bore so that we need not go there. Yet, if we do not receive His mercy—if we insist on standing before God in our own merits—then all our sin will convict us and the sentence will be passed—and that is despair!

The cross of Christ is the line between hope and despair. Remember, there were two other crosses on Calvary that day. On either side of Jesus, hung a sinner—judged and sentenced to death by Roman decree, still to face judgment and sentencing before the Supreme Court of Heaven. In these men, we see revealed the righteousness of God in one and the wrath of God in the other.

From the Gospel accounts, it is clear that both deserved what they received. At first both curse and scorn Christ—but, then, something happens—there is the revelation of God’s righteousness. One thief says to his fellow criminal,

“ ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ ” (Luke 23:40-43 NKJV)

The other thief, so far as we know, went out into eternity kicking and screaming, ranting and cursing into the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth—forever.

If you travel down I-26 from Asheville, toward South Carolina, you will see a sign near Hendersonville marking the Eastern Continental Divide. On this rainy Tuesday, theoretically two drops of water can fall side by side to the pavement along that dividing line—one drop runs east and makes its way into a series of tributaries until at last it makes its way into the Atlantic Ocean. The other drop flows west, eventually dumping into the mighty Mississippi and ultimately ends its journey as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico—so close at first and so far away in the end.

So, in our eternal destiny, there stands the Man in the middle—Christ Jesus. Those repentant sinners who confess Him as Lord will flow from time’s channel into the pool of Paradise and join Him there. Those who harden their hearts in unbelief will traverse time’s tributary into the abyss of judgment. It is Christ who makes the difference between hope and despair. Now all humanity lives in that tiny sliver of space between Romans 1:17 and 18. What will your future reveal? Righteousness or wrath?

Monday, February 01, 2010


When I was a budding artist, my favorite medium was pen and ink. I loved what the contrast between black and white would do in telling a story on paper. God does this with the story of redemption. The glory of salvation is contrasted with the Stygian blackness of sin.

Paul takes his pen to parchment and draws such a picture in the first three chapters of Romans. The stark contrast begins in chapter one, verses seventeen and eighteen:

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (NKJV).

Both verses begin with “for” that links them together. In one you have the act of God imparting righteousness in response to faith and in the next verse the act of God imparting wrath in response to sin. The contrast is between good news and bad news—between justification and condemnation.

And the news gets really bad! This is but the opening salvo in a barrage of bad news which will conclude that all humanity is totally depraved, utterly hopeless and helpless to bring about its own salvation, and rightfully condemned to hell for eternity. It doesn’t get any worse than that!

But in that fact is the one sure hope—how God brings light into darkness. This is God’s way—from the creation to the consummation, the story from Genesis to Revelation. In the first creation, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep…Then God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Gen.1:2-3). Following earth’s darkest era—the time of the Great Tribulation—the light of Christ’s glorious appearing will break through and there will be new heavens and a new earth in the new creation.

The pivot point happened on the darkest day of all—when the Son of God was nailed to a cross and it was midnight in the middle of the day. Isaac Watts’ hymn, “At the Cross” says it this way,

“Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut His glories in,
When Christ the mighty Maker died
For man, the creature’s sin.”

But, it only paved the way for the glorious dawn of resurrection! What a contrast between the rugged cross and the empty tomb—between the agony of Friday and the glory of Sunday!

Is the world of wicked men under the just condemnation of God? His wrath abides upon them. But that is why God sent His Son. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (quoted in Matt.4:16).

The bad news is that my heart—your heart—is black as black can be. The good news is that today the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, can dawn in your heart and dispel the demonic darkness. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Eph.5:8)