Sunday, October 8, 2017

“Who Am I?” (Romans 7:14-25) - Romans for Everyone X -

Who Am I?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian. He was also well known for his resistance to Nazi dictatorship. He was arrested in April 1943, imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, and executed by hanging just before the Nazi regime collapsed. While he was in prison, he wrote a poem with the title, “Who Am I?”[1]

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

A Christian’s Own Experience
So, who am I? Who are you? In today’s scripture, Romans 7:14-25, Paul is telling his own story, his own struggle as a Christian. And at the same time, he is universalizing it to every true Christian’s experience. As a Christian, on the one hand, we easily fall into moral pride. There are times when we feel like we are above sin. On the other hand, we also fall into hopeless despair. We struggle with the huge gap between how we live today and how we are to live as Christians. And we feel like we would never live up to the demand of God’s word in this life. In this respect, Romans 7 provides us with healthy, balanced biblical realism. Romans 7 is a great help in balancing between pride and despair. It pushes us away from pride toward humility, and away from despair toward hope. Then, how should we live as Christians in view of this biblical realism of Romans 7?

Thanks Be to God!
First of all, we are to live as new creation in Christ. When we believe in Christ, we are united to him and saved from the power of sin. We have been free from sin and enslaved to God. What a wonderful change of our status! (justification) Along with this new status, now we have new heart, new self, new nature, new identity in Christ (regeneration or conversion). We know this does not come from us; it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8). It is the work of God. So we cry out with thanksgiving and with confidence, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25a)

The best way to live as new creation in Christ is to give thanks to God and praise him in every moment. Jonathan Edwards said that pride is God’s most stubborn, secretive, worst enemy. But thanksgiving and praising God is the best medicine to cure our spiritual pride. When we give thanks to God, we acknowledge who God is and also reflect on who we are before him. By doing this, we have healthy, balanced self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-assessment. Pride comes from ignorance and insufficient reflections. But, humility comes when we acknowledge the truth of what we are. Michael Ramsey, an earlier Archbishop of Canterbury, gave some wise advice about humility at the ordination service. And I also grave those words in my heart:
  1. Thank God, often and always… Thank God, carefully and wonderingly, for your continuing privileges… Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.
  2. Take care about confession of your sins… Be sure to criticize yourself in God’s presence: that is your self-examination. And put yourself under the divine criticism: that is your confession…
  3. Do not worry about status… There is only one status that our Lord bids us be concerned with, and that is the status of proximity to himself…[2]
Once Paul was a self-confident Pharisee. He thought that he was blameless before God’s law (Phil 3:6). But when he was born again, something like scales fell from his eyes, and then he was able to see himself clearly. In verse 18 he cries out, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh!” Here Paul is saying, “Apart from Christ, apart from my new nature in Christ, I am not good.” So then, he cries out with thanksgiving, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And we join him in this cry of confidence and thanksgiving.

What a Wretched Man I Am!
Secondly, we are to remember that even though we have been saved through Christ from the guilt of our sins and from the judgment of God, we have not yet been delivered from indwelling sin. That is, indwelling sin is still living in us. In verse 17 Paul says, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Indwelling sin, or sinful nature, or flesh is still a powerful enemy of every Christian. In his Confessions Augustine gives us a good example of indwelling sin. When he was 16 years old, one night he and his friends shook a pear tree and stole its fruit. He confesses that his motive was not that he was hungry, because they threw the pears to the pigs. He says, “I stole something which I had in plenty and of much better quality. My desire was to enjoy not what I sought by stealing, but merely the excitement of thieving and the doing of what was wrong.”[3] We have a deep desire to do something for no other reason than because it is forbidden. We want to cross the boundary. We want to be in charge. We want to be God. This is the essence of indwelling sin. And Paul, a true, mature Christian, was no exception. So Paul cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And we join him in this cry of deep longing.

Ongoing Warfare with Sin
Paul concludes today’s passage with a sober, realistic summary statement: “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (v. 25b, NIV). In other words, Paul, and we Christians, have both our new self and our sinful nature, indwelling sin. We are both indwelt by the Spirit and harassed by the flesh. We are freed from the guilt of our sins and indwelt by remaining corruption. The battle between our new self and our sinful nature is ongoing and fierce. This battle will continue until we die or until Christ comes. That is the biblical realism of Romans 7. Then, how are we to live? The answer is to embrace our new identity in Christ by faith and to become what we are by his Spirit.

Now I want to close todays’ message with the powerful story of Rachel Gilson, introduced in the October 2017 edition of Christianity Today magazine. She begins her story with the following statement: “This is not a story of being gay and becoming straight.” At the age of 15, Rachel felt an attraction to other girls. After she went to Yale, for some reason she began wondering whether God could exist. She started gooling religious search terms. In that wave of webpages, she started to encounter Jesus for the first time. And she wanted to know how she could reconcile her life with Jesus and his teachings. With the help of her two friends she studied revisionist interpretations about sexuality, but she grew frustrated, because they didn’t line up with the plain meaning of the Bible’s words. One day she saw her Catholic friend read an orange book, titled Mere Christianity. She stole the book and read it. She reached the conclusion that there was a God. The following Saturday, she went to Yale Students for Christ. She also went to the Bible study. And she fell in love with Jesus. But still, she had many questions. Her particular question was, “How would I deal with my natural, unshakable attraction to women?” But she didn’t get the answer. Her first lesson of the Christian life was how to obey before she understands. She knew Jesus is always on her side, profoundly. So she did trust him. But in the meantime, she went back to old patterns several times. In the midst of despair she cried out, “Why wouldn’t God just fix me?” Slowly, she came to understand that “making her straight” wasn’t the answer. Later, by God’s grace, she got married to a godly man and experienced joy and healing. Many Christians tried to use her as a mascot and proudly declare that God healed her homosexuality. But the truth is, even 10 years of her marriage, she still experiences attraction to women. Rachel concludes her story in this way: “That’s why this is not the story of my becoming straight, which has never truly happened and is beside the point. It is the story of my becoming whole, which is happening every day.”[4]

If our besetting sin is heterosexual or homosexual lust, let us affirm that in Christ we have died to this fallen, distorted identity and in Christ we are new. Let us not say, “I am a homosexual,” but say rather, “I struggle with homosexual desires.” In Christ homosexual, adulterer, alcoholic, are not who we truly are. Let us trust him and look to him for the help to become who we truly are in Christ. If our besetting sin is anger, let us affirm that in Christ we have died to that identity and in Christ we have his patience and gentleness. Let us fight against anger as one who has the victory in him. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). Let us join him. Let us be honest and examine our indwelling sin in us and say “What a wretched person I am!” And let us always remember and declare that we are new in Christ and we are becoming whole and say, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Let us fight on. Amen.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who Am I?”
[2] John Stott, The Living Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 173-74.
[3] John Stott, The Message of Romans: God's Good News for the World (InterVarsity Press: 1994), 203.
[4] Rachel Gilson, “I Never Became Straight,” Christianity Today (October 2017), 50-54.  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

“Freedom of Slavery” (Romans 6:15-23) - Romans for Everyone IX -

Freedom of Slavery?
Freedom. It is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart. No one wants to be a slave. In 1966 a chimpanzee, whose name was Washoe, was adopted by two doctors. Washoe learned sign language for several years. Finally she was able to say what is on her heart. In her safe and secure cage, well taken care of, Washoe said the first three words of her own initiative: “LET ME OUT!!!”[1] She signed these words several times. Even in animals, there is a strong desire for freedom, not to mention human beings.  

But in today’s passage Paul uses an analogy of slavery. He was well aware that the imagery of slavery would bother many. So in verse 19, he pauses to apologize, “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.” Even though Paul was aware of the limitations of the slavery analogy to explain heavenly truths, he still wanted to use it because he believed there is much more benefit than detriment. In fact, in today’s scripture Paul’s message is crystal clear, and it’s expressed as paradoxical truth, that is, true freedom is slavery to Christ. And he gives us at least two reasons why this statement is so true.

Slaves to Something
First, everyone is a slave to something or someone. We are all slaves. None of us is free. We become slaves of whomever or whatever we present ourselves to. Neutrality is impossible. In verse 16 Paul says that we can be either slaves of sin or slaves of obedience, either slaves of unrighteousness or slaves of righteousness (v. 18), either slaves of Satan or slaves of God (v. 22). But we cannot be neither, and we cannot be both at the same time. Rebecca Pippert rightly said, “Whatever controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by acceptance. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives.” We are slaves to whatever controls our lives.

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, meets two men, Formalist and Hypocrisy, on his way to the Celestial City. These two men didn’t enter the narrow gate but climbed over the wall on the narrow way. The two men said, “Our way is shorter. It is our custom to enter this way. You know in the long run we are all traveling along the same road.” But Christian answered, “I walk by the rule of the Lord. You walk by the rule of your own hearts. You are already counted as thieves by the Lord of the way.” But they laughed and went on in their own way. And three of them came to the Hill Difficulty. When Formalist and Hypocrisy saw its towering summit, they decided to take the side roads. They chose their own way. One took the way of danger and got lost in the forest; the other took the way of destruction, stumbled over a cliff and fell to his death. To choose our own way is not to choose freedom. To choose our own way is to choose sin because it constitutes a refusal to serve God. Remember, neutrality is impossible. Many people assume that if they choose to live for themselves, they can experience true freedom. But, this is Satan’s lie. Again, to choose our own way is to choose sin. Today Paul clearly tells the truth that our choice is not, “Should I give up my freedom and submit to God?” but “Should I serve sin, or should I serve God?” True freedom is slavery to Christ.

A Matter of Life and Death
Second, by comparing their fruits we know that this statement (“True freedom is slavery to Christ”) is true. In verse 17 Paul says that we were once slaves of sin. Slavery to sin begins at our birth. We are born into this slavery. That is, when we were living apart from Christ, we had no choice of masters. We had no choice to serve sin or to serve God. We were slaves to our old self, and therefore slaves to Satan. We could never break free from the power of sin. We were slaves of sin. Ephesians 2:3 says, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” In a sense, being a slave to sin does bring freedom, but only from the control of righteousness (v. 20). When we obey sin, when we do what we (our old self) want to do, it feels like freedom. It feels like we're getting gifts of pleasure and freedom. But what fruit or benefit do we reap from this? The answer is “guilt and shame” and eventually those things result in “death” (v. 21). There is something very deceptive about sin as a master. It seems to give us pleasure and freedom, but it leads us to destruction. Tim Keller rightly said, “When someone says that they are rejecting Christianity because they want to be free, they are right only in the narrow sense that they’re free from living in the way that will most satisfy and fulfill them; in every other way they are slaves.”[2] So remember if you don’t obey God and his law, you become a slave to selfishness, lust, bitterness, pride, worry, fear. Sin brings death.

But the results of slavery to God are a complete opposite. In verse 22 Paul says, “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” Here notice the passive verbs. We don’t free ourselves, but we have “been freed.” And ultimately, we don’t make ourselves slaves of God, but we have been “enslaved” to God by his grace. Behind these passive verbs is the work of God. God did not purchase us (Christians) out of sin’s slavery to set us free in the world. Rather, he bought us to be his own, his slaves! In 2 Corinthians 5:15 Paul says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Salvation is decisively the work of God, and then, dependently our work. We need to do our part. It is to love God, trust God, and obey God. It is to present ourselves as his slaves (v. 19).

One time Rick Warren interviewed Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Warren asked, “Your life and ministry have been so blessed and fruitful in many ways. What is the secret?” Then, Bright told his story. He was living without God and without hope in his early 20’s. But through his pastor, he received Christ. And he fell in love with him. One Sunday morning, led by the Holy Spirit, he and his wife literally wrote out a contract of total surrender of their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, and they signed the contract to become Christ’s slave. During the interview, Bright said, “My wife and I have been slaves now for 50 some years, and I must tell you it's the most liberating thing that's ever happened to me… My life's message is be a slave of Jesus. And all that involves. Love your master, trust your master and obey your master. Obviously, I'm a son of God, heir of God, joint-heir with Christ, and if He was described as a slave… this to me is the highest privilege anyone could know. I evaluate everything I do in light of what He wants me to do. I try to relate every move, every day, in light of how I can help fulfill His Great Commission and fulfill His ommandments.”[3] To be a slave to God is not a burden; it is the highest privilege and exceeding joy. And it gives us freedom, because true freedom is slavery to Christ.

Chaff vs. Tree
In fact, Jesus is our perfect example. Philippians 2:7 speaks of him becoming a slave. Though he was God, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. And he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! Paul always refers to himself “a slave of Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1; Titus 1:1), “a soldier of Christ” (2Tim 2:4), and “a prisoner of Christ” (Eph 3:1). These three imageries - slave, solider, prisoner – have one thing in common. They don’t have their own freedom. They belong to someone. Paradoxically, when we are bound to Christ, we are free most.

In Psalm 1 we see two ways of life – the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. On the one hand, the wicked are described as “chaff.” It seems they have freedom. They do what they want to do. They go their own way. They follow the rule of their own hearts. But in reality, they are swayed and controlled by the waves of the world. They are slaves of sin. And in the end they cannot stand in the judgment. On the other hand, the righteous are described as “tree.” They are living in the passive voice. They don’t plant themselves, but they are being “planted” – planted by streams of living water. They are nourished, grown, and finally bear much fruit in its season. They delight in God’s instruction and meditate it day and night. They wait, endure, trust, obey. They are slaves of God.

Are you a slave of sin? Or are you a slave of Christ? Let us remember if we are in Christ, we have been set free from sin. We are no longer a slave to sin. But instead, we have been enslaved to God. Let us celebrate our Christian slavery. Let us put our life at Christ’s disposal. And let us always remember true freedom is slavery to Christ. Amen.

[1] Keith Krell, “The Freedom of Slavery,”
[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 for You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (The Good Book Compant, 2014), 155.
[3] “Rick Warren Interviews Bill Bright,”

Sunday, September 24, 2017

“Old You, New You” (Romans 6:1-14) - Romans for Everyone VIII -

“We Died to Sin”
When I was born again in East Timor, I was over the rainbow. I literally went out and did leap like a calf released from the stall. Whether I had a meal, read a book, took a nap, whatever I did, everything became meaningful for me. I did give thanks to God who gave me new life in Jesus Christ. But before long, I felt such agony. I was hoping that I would be unresponsive to sin and temptation any longer just like a corpse. But I realized that my fallen nature was still so alive and active within me. I felt torn apart between Scripture and my own experience. There is a popular misunderstanding regarding conversion. They say, “When we are converted, we die to sin. As a dead man, the Christian is insensible to sin.”

In verse 2 Paul clearly says, “We (Christians) died to sin.” So what does Paul truly mean by “We died to sin”? The very last verse of today’s passage, verse 14, gives us a hint, saying, “Sin is no longer your master” (NLT). That is, the moment we are united with Christ, we are no longer under the reign of sin, the ruling power of sin. Acts 28:18 says that the moment we are united with Christ, we turn from darkness to light, and from Satan’s control to God (ISV). Outside of Christ, we were completely under Satan’s control. Our sinful nature so ruled over us that we could not see it as sinful, and even if we did, we had no power to resist it. But now, united with Christ, sin cannot have dominion over us, even if it still has certain power. Sin cannot tell us how to live any longer. Now we have the power to resist sin.

Let me tell you the following story to help our understanding. In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea and almost had complete control of the Korean peninsula except Pusan. But at the very last minute, the UN forces and South Korean allies conducted the Incheon Landing Operation. And they were able to throw the North Korean force out of power and recapture Seoul. About after three years the Korean War was over. South Korean government had complete control of the southern part of the peninsula. But at that time, some of the communist soldiers were still living out in the bush and in the mountains. This guerilla force did create havoc for the new government. There were times when they even occupied some of the towns, but they did never get back into power. For Christians, sin is like a guerilla force. So, having “died to sin” doesn’t mean that sin has no more power and influence in us. It doesn’t mean that sin is no longer within us. By our experience, we know it does. But sin is no longer our master for us to obey. The Message version translates verse 14 in this way: “Sin can't tell you how to live. After all, you're not living under that old tyranny any longer. You're living in the freedom of God.” We may obey sin, but here Paul is saying that we no longer have to obey sin. We died to sin.

Old You, New You
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (ESV). This verse can be translated in this way: if anyone united with Christ becomes a new person. The old self has passed away, and the new self has been now born from above! Every true Christian has a conversion story: the “before” and “after.” His or her life is divided by their conversion into two halves, the old self (before conversion) and the new self (after conversion). When we are united to Christ by faith, we die with Christ to sin. Our old self, our old ego, our old self-understanding, our old values toward God and the world is all gone. It has died. In verse 6 Paul says, “Our old self was crucified with Christ.” And at the same time if we are one with Christ, we rise again with Him, a new person, to live a new life to God. Our new self is born from above. In Ezekiel 36:26 God promised, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone (old self) and give you a heart of flesh (new self).” This promise is fulfilled to us if we are united with Christ by faith.

Anyone who belongs to Christ has the “new self” who really seeks God and loves his law. Yes, sin still has power in us, but it has no control over us any longer. Although sin is still able to lead us to disobey God, but now sinful desires go against our new self (cf. Galatians 5:18-26). When we were living apart from Christ, when we sinned, we were acting in accord with our identity, our old-self. But when we are united to Christ, we die with Christ to our old self, and we rise with Christ to our new self. So when now we sin, we are acting against our true identity, our new self. Now we don’t have to sin. We don’t have to live in the realm of sin. If we sin, it is because we do not realize who we are.    

Consider Yourselves
That’s why in verse 11 Paul says, “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This “considering” is not make-believe. We are not to pretend that our old self has died. Instead, we are to realize and remember that our old self did die with Christ. It is completely gone. And now we are to consider who we are, what we are, that is, dead to sin and alive to God just like Jesus did. It does not automatically be realized. So we must intentionally appreciate it and live it.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes our new condition in Christ with the history of slavery in the US. As the result of the American Civil War, slavery was abolished. But what had actually happened? All slaves, young and old, were given their freedom, but many of the older ones who had endured long years of servitude found it very difficult to understand their new status. They heard the announcement that slavery was abolished and that they were free: but hundreds, not to say thousands, of times in their after-lives and experiences many of them did not realize it, and when they saw their old master coming near them they began to quake and to tremble, and to wonder whether they were going to be sold. Then, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “You can still be a slave experientially, even when you are no longer a slave legally … Whatever you may feel, whatever your experience may be, God tells us here, through his word, that if we are in Christ, we are no longer under the reign and rule of sin … And if I fall into sin, as I do, it is simply because I do not realize who I am … Realize it! Reckon it!”[1]

Union with Christ
Suppose a married woman lives as if she were still single. She could live that way at least for a little while. It is not impossible. But she must remember who she is. She must feel her wedding ring – the symbol of the new life of union with her husband, and she will want to live accordingly. In the same way, born-again Christians may live as if they were still in their sins. They could live that way at least for a while. It is not impossible. But they must remember who they are. They must remember their baptism – the symbol of the new life of union with Christ, and they will want to live accordingly.

Have you been baptized? I am not asking you about baptism ceremony. But I am asking you about the union with Christ. Have you received Jesus Christ and believed in his name? If you are not sure, this is the day to receive him and believe in his name. If you already did, remember your baptism – your old self has died and your new self has been born from above. And remember who you are: you are children of God (John 1:12). And if you are children  of God, you have been united with Christ. And because you are united with Christ, all that is true of him is true of you. Since Christ died to sin once for all, so we died to sin. Our old self was crucified with him. And since Christ rose again to new life, so we are living that new resurrection life with our new self, no longer under sin’s control. So let us recall, remember, ponder, grasp, register these wonderful truths until they are so integral to our mindset. Don’t go back to the old life. For born again Christians, it’s unthinkable. It’s like adults return to their childhood, married people to their singleness, or discharged prisoners to their prison cell. Don’t present any part of yourselves, any area of your life to sin as instruments for unrighteousness. Instead, present your whole being, all areas of your life, to God as instruments for righteousness. Remember you are children of God. And now you have been set free from sin’s control (Romans 6:7). You are free to resist, free to fight, and free to win.

We have a beautiful tradition called, “altar call” from our spiritual ancestors. I still remember the moment I responded to altar call at the youth Bible camp when I was 12. I also vividly remember those moments I surrendered my life to Christ in a small military barrack in East Timor, at my home church in Korea, and at the young adult retreat. So today I invite you to this altar. If you want to make a new spiritual (re)commitment to Jesus Christ, now you are invited to come forward and offer yourselves on the altar to God.

Lord Jesus, I need You!
Thank You for calling me today.
I remember those who responded to your call.
Matthew gave up his career,
Zacchaeus opened his house and gave away his wealth,
And Mary anointed you with perfume.
Today I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord.
Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me new heart, new self, new life.
Take control of the throne of my life.
Make me the kind of person You want me to be. Amen!

[1] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (The Good Book Company, 2014), Kindle Locations 1967-1976 of 2850. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

“The Power of One” (Romans 5:12-21) - Romans for Everyone VII -

Adam and Christ
Quite a few people say that my children all look alike. Yes, they do in some sense, but if you really get to know them, you will find that they are very different. Sometimes when we want to understand something better we compare it with something like it, but not totally like it. For example, if you come to my house and meet just my oldest daughter Lydia, you might say, “She has black hair and bright black eyes.” And that may be about it. But if you meet both Lydia and Grace together, then you may say, “Well, Lydia is taller, and Grace is chubbier. Lydia is more outgoing and active and fast, and Grace is sort of laid back. Lydia loves fruits and vegetables, and Grace loves fish and meat.” That is exactly what Paul is doing here in today’s scripture. By comparing Christ with Adam, he helps us to understand and cherish our Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done for us better. By this, we will trust Christ, love Christ, treasure Christ more. And God will be glorified. That is Paul’ aim and our aim.

First Adam
Today’s scripture is difficult. In this case it might be helpful to summarize the passage in one sentence. The main point is this: “Just as Adam’s sin is imputed to us because we were in him, so Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us because we are in him.” And now, I will tell you what it means by that in order.  

First, let us start with verse 12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (NRSV). Here we see the three-stage chain reaction: the entrance of sin -> the entrance of death -> the spread of universal death because all sinned. Then, what does Paul mean by “because all sinned”? Here Paul doesn’t mean that death spread to all because of our individual acts of sinning, although they are huge and enough to condemn us. But he means that when Adam sinned, in a real and mysterious way, I sinned, and you sinned. It is called the doctrine of imputed sin. We all sinned in Adam, that his sin is imputed to us. Universal death is not from our individual acts of sin, but from a single, solitary sin of Adam. So in verse 15 Paul says, “Many died through one man’s trespass.”

There was a famous monk in the early 5th century, whose name was Pelagius. He denied original sin. He argued that Adam was simply the first sinner, and everyone ever since has followed his bad example. He believed that human nature was not wounded or depraved by Adam's sin and humans are perfectly able to perform good works and fulfill the law without divine aid. He taught a form of self-salvation. He was opposed by Augustine and declared a heretic by the early church (cf. the Council of Carthage, 418).

Federal Headship
You may don’t like the concept of imputed sin. You may say: It’s not fair Adam’s sin is imputed to me! It’s not fair that I should be judged for what someone else did! I should have had a chance in the Garden of Eden myself! Since we live in a highly individualistic society, it is very hard to understand the concept of our having sinned in Adam. In today’s term it is kind of similar to the concept of a representative who stands in for someone else. It is also called “federal headship.” There are high tensions on the Korean peninsula today. We know a national leader can declare war. This power to declare war does not belong to the people. People do not vote popularly on whether to declare war. This power is given to the elected representatives. So if South Korean federal representatives declare war on the country, I can’t say: “No, I’m not at war with this country!” I am at war no matter what opinions I have. And I have to go back to the army to defend my country. In this case the elected representatives are federal head. In fact, we can find a number of examples of federal headship in the Bible. The story of Achan in Joshua 7 can be a good example. Achan stole some of the devoted things from Jericho treasure. And the Bible says, “The Israelites acted unfaithfully” and “the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel” (v.1), not just Achan. And Israel was greatly defeated at the next battle. That is, the nation was regarded as implicated in Achan’s sin. “Israel has sinned” (v.11), God said.

You may still think that it is not fair. You may think that you would have done a better job or chosen a better representative than Adam. But in fact, Adam was the good representative. He was God’s chosen one. He had an ability not to sin. God gave us the right, fair federal head in Adam. So when Adam sinned, I sinned and you sinned. Adam’s sin is imputed to us because we were in him. This is the first half of the story. And this is the first truth of today’s passage. It sounds like federal headship is quite depressing. But the truth is federal headship is good news because of the second truth that Paul is going to tell us.

Second Adam
If Adam’s sin is our sin then, if there were a perfect second Adam, he would be able to be our federal head, and his righteousness would become our righteousness. It is wonderful news that God deals with us through a federal head. In verse 18 Paul says, “Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” And in 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul declares this second truth even clearer: “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!” As a second Adam, as our federal head, Jesus has become our sin, and we have become his righteousness. This is the second great truth. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us because we are in him by faith. Good News!

We all remember the story of David and Goliath. In the valley of Elah the people of Israel are gathered and at war with the Philistines. The Philistines are standing on the hill on one side, and the Israelites on the other side. Then, a Philistine champion named Goliath comes out. His height is about 9.75 feet or 3 meters. He has a bronze helmet on his head and is dressed in full armor, with shin guards, bronze sword, spear, and with his shield bearer before him. He has been a warrior from his youth. He is invincible. For forty days, every morning and evening, he defies Israel, God’s people. But no one dares to fight against him, until God’s chosen one, federal head, arrives and hears this. The youngest son of Jesse – David. As David approaches the Philistine, Goliath curses David by his gods. Then David says by faith, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give all of you into our hands.” That day God gives Israel great victory. In this story David, as federal head, is a type, foreshadowing, or representation of the one to come, Christ Jesus. Timothy Keller rightly says, “Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.”[1] Imputation of victory! Imputation of righteousness!

“We Are Weak, But He Is Strong”
Today’s scripture teaches us two great truths: (1) Root cause of human sinfulness: Adam’s sin. His sin is imputed to us. (2) God’s remedy: the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Lord. His righteousness is imputed to us. There is no other way for us to get right with God but through God’s one remedy, the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. And if we believe it, if we humbly rest in it, this glorious truth will change our life!

Year 1527, in intense turmoil Martin Luther wrote his greatest hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” That was one of the most trying years of Luther’s Life. He was forced to stop preaching in the middle of his sermon. And for 10 years, since publishing his 95 Theses against the abuse of indulgences, his life had been in danger. He also had to suffer from depression and illness. To make it matters worse, that year in August, the plague had erupted in his town. His son became ill. The battle with Satan was so fierce. During that horrific year, Luther noted the deeper meaning of his trials: “The only comfort against raging Satan is that we have God’s Word to save the souls of believers.” Sometime that year, he expanded that thought into the hymn he is most famous for: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”[2] And particularly verse 2 beautifully and powerfully proclaims the truth of today’s passage:

Did we in our own strength confide, 
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, 

The Man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be? 
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, 

From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle!

Let us hold fast to this great truth – Jesus has become our sin, and we have become his righteousness. Let us trust Christ. And he will be our righteousness, our fortress, our victory, and our life! If you are trusting him now, please join me in singing this song, verse 2 of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” as your testimony, then tell others of your faith and hope this week.

[1] Keller: Gospel-Centered Ministry,
[2] “The Week Man Behind a Mighty Fortress,” Christianity Today,

Sunday, September 10, 2017

“From Head to Heart” (Romans 5:1-11) - Romans for Everyone VI -

A New Beginning!
What happens if we accept God’s call to repentance and accept Jesus Christ? The Bible says that basically two things happen: “justification” and “regeneration.” In other words, from the moment we accept Jesus as our personal Savior and Master by faith, our sins are forgiven, and we obtain a new, righteous status, from children of wrath (Eph 2:3) to children of God (John 1:12). It’s called “justification.” And simultaneously, we receive a new heart, new spirit, new nature, as God promised (Ezk 36:26). We are born again, born from above, born of the Spirit (John 3:3, 8). It’s called “regeneration” or “conversion.” It may be sudden and dramatic, or gradual and cumulative. But in any case, it’s a new beginning. From this moment we start our new pilgrim journey to progressive holiness. We start our salvation journey toward “Christian perfection.”

Last Sunday I shared the story of Stanley Jones, who was a missionary to India. Recently, I was very inspired by his conversion story. When he was 17 years old, he attended evangelistic meetings held at his church. The speaker was a converted alcoholic, on fire with God’s love. Stanley said to himself, “I want what he has.” For three days he did eagerly seek God’s face. On the third night, before going to the meeting he prayed the sincerest prayer he had prayed in his life: “O Jesus, save me tonight!” A ray of light pierced his darkness. Hope sprang up in his heart. He ran the mile to the church and took the front seat, a thing he had never done before. After the evangelist stopped speaking, he ran to the altar. He had scarcely bent his knees when Heaven broke into his spirit. And he grabbed the man next to him by the shoulder and said, “I have it” In fact, it was not a “it”; it was a “him.” Stanley had “Jesus,” and Jesus had him. As he reflected on his conversion, Stanley said that seven things had really happened that night:[1]
  1. A sense of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, with life, with his brothers, with himself.
  2. A sense of being at home in the homeland.
  3. A sense of purpose, direction, and goal.
  4. A sense of not being alone.
  5. A sense of being a person.
  6. A sense of wholeness.
  7. A sense of grace.
Do you find anything in common with Stanley’s conversion as you ponder over your conversion? No two conversion stories are exactly same, but we all share the sense of forgiveness, the sense of coming home, the sense of purpose in some measure. If you are still not sure whether you are converted, born again or not, Romans is the book to start with. In the first three chapters of Romans the Apostle Paul powerfully proclaims that everyone needs forgiveness, everyone needs conversion, everyone needs salvation. Then, he tells us how to be saved in the second half of chapter 3 and chapter 4. And now in chapter 5 Paul tells us its fruits and blissful consequences when we are made right with God.

Peace with God
Three things. First, we have peace with God (v.1). Peace with God” means that, until salvation, there is a war going on between God and us. In the heart of the natural man two kingdoms constantly fight against each other. We claim kingship over ourselves and our lives. But God claims kingship over the same things. But when we receive Jesus as our King and enthrone him, the state of hostilities between God and us is over. And we finally have peace with God. We are set free from guilt and shame. We experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God, with others and with ourselves. The world looks different, and the universe seems to open its arms and take us in.

Access to God
Second, we have obtained access to grace in which we stand (v.2a). Grace is normally God’s free and unmerited favor. But here Paul speaks of grace as “the sphere of God’s grace” (NEB). Before, we were standing outside the sphere of God’s blessing, as children of wrath. But when we are made right with God through Jesus, we have a new status. We become children of God. As his children, we have direct access to him 24/7. We can easily relate this to the relationship with our children or grandchildren. Nowadays I share my room with Abe. He is my roommate. As a roommate, he has full access to my room 24/7. No matter what I do, he boldly enters the room anytime. In the same way, now we can go to God and his throne room anytime with our requests and problems. And he hears us and relates to us. What a wonderful privilege we have! In this verse Paul uses the perfect tense: we have obtained access… In other words, our relationship with God is not sporadic and precarious any more, but it is continuous and secure. So wherever we go in the world, we are always in God’s throne room. Praise God! That’s why Paul says we “stand” in it, we “remain” in the sphere of God’s grace always. So we feel secure. We feel at home. We have a feeling of coming home always.

Hope of the glory of God
Third, when we are made right with God, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (v.2b). The life without God is hopeless, restless. St. Augustine put it in prayer: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We are tossed by storms and waves of meaningless emotions. But when we become children of God, we have a clear sense of purpose, direction, and goal. We also have a sense of wholeness. Fragmentation is over. Life is pulled into central meanings and purposes around a single Center. And we rejoice! Joy is the major marker of the justified Christian. Happiness depends on our circumstances or our performance. But joy is not the same as happiness, because it comes from our relationship with God. So we can be unhappy about many things, but we can still rejoice. So we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings! By itself, “heaven” or “God” can be an abstract idea. But the more we experience our peace with God, the more we taste “access” with God, and the more we realize how good, how awesome our God is. And no matter what comes next we trust God more and more. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow! It’s called the “hope of glory.” So we see everything, even our suffering, with the lens of the hope of God’s glory. And we rejoice in it.

Blessed Assurance
Now it’s time to examine and ask ourselves: “Am I really born again? Am I truly made right with God?” I am not asking you about what exact time and date you were converted. You may or may not have that particular moment. But the more important questions are:

Today do I have peace with God?
Today do I enjoy fellowship with God?
Today do I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God?

If your answer is “yes,” you are a born-again Christian. Salvation is a journey, not an event. It is a process. It is a personal relationship with Jesus. It is a daily walk with Jesus. The experience of God’s love has two components: knowledge in the head and affection in the heart. In verse 8 Paul says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The death of Christ is a historical fact and truth. Through this historical fact God’s love is proven to our head. But there is more! In verse 5 Paul says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The outpouring of God’s love into our hearts! This is a Spirit-given heart-experience of God’s love. It is something poured out. It is something we can feel in our hearts. I want you to know this sweetness. I want you to enjoy this gift!

In verse 5b there is a difference in tense between “has been poured into” and “has been given to us.” The second one means the Spirit is given to us once for all, but the first one means it can keep on happening. In other words, we receive the Spirit at our conversion once for all, but the outpourings of God’s love can come again and again [3] just like the waves of the mighty ocean. Let us not just believe God’s love as historical facts in our head, but also let us eagerly pursue the fresh outpouring of his love in our hearts in fuller measures day by day. I shared that Stanley Jones was converted at 17. At that time he had his best friend, whose name was Ras. When they were invited to come to the altar that night, Stanley said, “Ras, I’m going to give myself to Jesus Christ. Will you?” And Ras replied, “No, I’m going to see life first.” Then they parted. After 30 years they met again. Ras fell into a life of gambling. Both of them went to the same church, same evangelical meetings. Ras believed God’s love, the death of Christ, as historical facts in his head, but he didn’t pursue the outpouring of God’s love into his heart. He didn’t want to deny himself and follow Jesus daily. And it makes all the difference.

In his spiritual journal, A Song of Ascents, Stanley says, “You can only sing when you have something to sing about. But my “something” is a Someone. My theme song is Jesus Christ.”[2] One of my favorite hymn writers is Fanny Crosby. Although she became blind at the age of 6 weeks, God had the eyes of her soul open wide. She wrote more than 8,000 hymns. One day Miss Crosby visited her friend Mrs Joseph Knapp, who played a melody to her and asked, “What does the melody say to you?” Since Crosby had always her song to sing, her story to tell in her heart, she answered without hesitation:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long!

We sing because we can’t help it. Do you have a song to sing? What is your theme song?

[1] E. Stanley Jones, A Song of Ascents: a spiritual autobiography (Abingdon Press, 1968), 26-29.
[2] Ibid., 19. 
[3] John Piper, "How to Experience the Outpouring of God's Love,

Sunday, September 3, 2017

“Faith: in Hope, Against Hope” (Romans 4:13, 18-25) - Romans for Everyone V -

“Abraham Believed God”
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”
(Gen 15:6; Romans 4:3)

This single verse is the gospel in a nutshell. In fact, if we can understand this verse, we understand the gospel. In this one verse we see the essence of what it means to be a Christian. But what does it mean to “believe God”? In Romans 4 Paul presents Abraham as a case study of real, living, saving faith for us to follow. Today’s scripture tells us what it means to have saving faith in three ways.

Trusting God’s Character
First, saving faith is to trust God’s character. Abraham trusts God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). Abraham wasn’t saved by just believing in God in general. He believed God as Savior in particular. Many people have faith that God exists. Many believe that God is loving and merciful. Many believe that the Bible is God’s holy word. In fact, the Bible says that even the demons believe God and shudder! (James 2:19) But that’s not saving faith.

Saving faith comes from knowledge – relational, experiential knowledge of God. We learn to trust the character of a person by getting to know that person. In the same way, before we know God’s character, we are afraid to trust him. We learn to trust God by getting to know his character. In Hosea 4:6 the Lord says to his people, “My people are destroyed because they lack knowledge of me!” So prophet Hosea cries out to them, “Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD!” (6:3) Here the word “know” and “knowledge” is from the Hebrew word yada. This same Hebrew word is used in Genesis 4:1, “Adam yada Eve.” Adam knew Eve. It means that Adam knew Eve in the most intimate of ways. He knew her sexually. When we know God personally and intimately, we are able to trust him and his character. Abraham yada God. He knew God intimately. In fact, he was called a friend of God (James 2:23). So when he intercedes for Sodom and Lot, he has an intimate conversation with God and pleads with God for 6 times. And God hears his cry. Abraham knew God and did trust God’s character in times of trouble.

Nowadays Grace is my buddy, my best friend. She knows me, so she trusts me. She doesn’t know how to swim. She doesn’t care about how deep a swimming pool is. When she sees me, she just jumps from the edge of the pool. She does the same thing at home. She jumps from the stair. She jumps from the chair. She jumps from the table. She jumps from everywhere. She jumps because she knows that her daddy will catch her. She knows me, and she trusts me. Yes, we believe God. But the more important question is: who is this God you believe? Do you know God and his character intimately? Let us know, Let us press on to know God!

Trusting God’s Promise
Second, saving faith is to trust God’s promise. Abraham believed “that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4: 21). “Believing God” is not simply thinking about God, but trusting his word even when feelings and common sense seem to contradict his promise. God promised to Abraham when he was 99 years old, “Your wife Sarah will have a son about this time next year” (Gen 18:10). But at that time Abraham saw two painful facts. He knew that he could not beget a child anymore. His body was already as good as dead. He also knew Sarah could not conceive a child. Her womb was already dead. All the circumstances said “No, it is impossible.” But his faith did not weaken. Instead, he looked at what God said, and let that define reality for him. He did trust God’s promise. And he glorified God by letting God be God, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that don’t yet exist!

God wants us to trust and act on his promises even when it is hard. When Abraham was 99 years old, even before Isaac was conceived, God wanted him to change his name first from Abram to Abraham, father of a multitude. Faith is living as if God’s promises are true. In Genesis 13 when Abraham and Lot could not occupy the same land because their herds were to many, Abraham did trust and act on God’s promises and did the beautiful thing. He said, “Take whatever part of the land you want and I will take what’s left.” Lot lifted up his eyes and chose the well-watered Jordan valley where Sodom and Gomorrah were. Abraham took the less fertile land. But immediately after this loving act of faith, God said to Abraham, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever” (v. 15). Faith is living as if God’s promises are true. For example, we give sacrificially, although that may appear economically risky, because of his promise to care for the generous giver (Malachi 3: 9-10). We tell the truth and take our stand on Christ and his truth even though it may cost us a friend or favor with particular circle, because we know it pleases the God who has power to do what he has promised. Faith is acting and standing on his promises, doing what he is calling us to do today. By this we give glory to God.

Trusting God Who Gave Jesus
Third and last, saving faith is to trust God who gave Jesus. In verse 23 Paul says that when God counted Abraham as righteous it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too. And then Paul defines most accurately what it means for us who live in the 21st century to have saving faith. It is to believe in God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (v. 24), and to trust God’s promise that Jesus was handed over to die for our sins and was raised to life to make us right with God (v. 25). We believe in God through Jesus. We trust God through Jesus (1 Peter 1:21). The gospel, good news is Christ himself. Christianity is Christ. Saving faith is to trust God who gave Jesus and to follow Jesus. Our one task is to live and to present Christ Jesus our Lord. And our life becomes simplified - but not just simplified, but also vitalized.

E. Stanley Jones was a 20th-century Methodist missionary to India. He was called “Billy Graham of India.” After eight years of ministry in India he was suffering from nervous exhaustion and brain fatigue. There were several collapses in India. In the midst of the strain of the meetings his old trouble kept coming back. His health was shattered. He was going through one of the darkest hours. While in prayer, a Voice seemed to say, “Are you yourself ready for this work to which I have called you?” He replied: “No, Lord, I am done for. I have reached the end of my rope.” The Voice replied, “If you will turn that over to me and not worry about it, I will take care of it.” I quickly answered, “Lord, I close the bargain right here.” In his book Mr. Jones said, “A great peace settled into my heart and pervaded me. I knew it was done! Life— abundant Life— had taken possession of me. I was so lifted up that I scarcely touched the road as I quietly walked home that night. Every inch was holy ground. For days after that I hardly knew I had a body. I went through the days, working all day and far into the night, and came down to bedtime wondering why in the world I should ever go to bed at all, for there was not the slightest trace of tiredness of any kind. I seemed possessed by Life and Peace and Rest— by Christ himself!”[1] Since that time, he found that all the questions in heaven and earth were being settled at the place of Jesus. Jesus was the one question and answer that settled all others. Stanley Jones always said, “Christianity must be defined as Christ, not the Old Testament, not Western civilization, not even the system built around him in the West, but Christ himself and to be a Christian is to follow him.”[2] Many people in India came to Stanley and said, “Stanley, what is it? I wish I had what you have. I wish I had it.” Stanley said, “It is not it. It is him.” And he presented Christ to them.

The Bible says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) God promised he will give his children all things, along with Jesus. Do you have all things? Do you have life and peace and rest? Most importantly, do you have Jesus? When we accept God’s radical, outrageous love revealed in Jesus, we are transformed. We no longer live to earn God’s favor, so that we may be righteous. Instead, we trust God who makes the ungodly, you and me, right with him. And we live, we give, we sacrifice, we commit, we surrender, out of deep love and gratitude toward Jesus Christ our Lord. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Trust God and follow Jesus today. To God be the glory forever. Amen.  

[1] E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road, (Abingdon Press, 1953), 19-20.
[2] Ibid., 22.