You cannot rightly call yourself a Christian if you haven’t repented. Do you recall the first time you repented before the Lord of glory? No feeling in life can transcend higher and be more satisfying than to be at peace with God. Yet, for many Christians, repentance is merely a thing of the past—something they did when they entered the family of God, but not something they do on a regular basis. Take this opportunity to pause and consider how the child of God should repent frequently—perhaps even daily.
The Privilege of Repentance
We were once enemies of God. That’s what Paul writes in Romans 5:10. Take time to let that thought sink in for a moment. We had rebelled against holy God and rejected his sovereign rule. We transgressed his holy law and walked in disobedience to his good commands. Yet, God graciously came to us and sought us when we were strangers wandering from the fold of God. It was sovereign grace and mercy that granted us the privilege of repentance. In our culture that’s saturated by “rights” that are demanded and expected, we must remember that God did not owe us the gift of repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). In Matthew 3:2, we are called to repent. The word repent is taken from the Greek term, “μετανοέω” which literally means to change one’s mind, to change direction as a result of conviction and remorse.”
Beyond salvation, the privilege of repentance is granted to God’s children on a daily basis. We have access to the throne of God and we have a glorious mediator who is none other than Christ the Lord (Heb. 4:16; 1 Tim. 2:5). Why would we have such privilege and access to God’s throne and forsake it? Has God and his throne become too common and casual for us that we have been tempted to neglect such privileges? What about the responsibility of repentance? Have we simply failed to obey God by avoiding repentance?
The Posture of the Christian Life
When rightly understood, the Christian cannot fulfill the Christian life outside of a proper posture of repentance. A life of pride and self-sustaining knowledge and power displeases God (James 4:6). When rightly understood it will be clearly seen that every area of your life is stained by sin and stands in need of repentance on a regular basis. Repentance is difficult because it requires us to be honest about ourselves and we don’t enjoy being honest about our own failures. John Flavel stated, “It is easier to cry against one-thousand sins of others than to kill one of your own.”
While justification is a one time legal declaration—a verdict that will never be repeated, sanctification is something that is in progress. The forward motion of sanctification demands repentance. When properly understood, even our worship stands in need of repentance. If we’re honest and if we undergo a proper examination, even our prayers stand in need of repentance. The totality of who we are is corrupted by sin.
The proper response to the sins of our flesh as we journey onward in this body of sin—is genuine and honest repentance. Without repentance, it’s impossible to walk with God. A.W. Pink once stated, “The Christian who has stopped repenting has stopped growing.” Who among us can honestly state that they have lived a life of genuine perfection since their conversion? Even the smallest sin stands in the way and holds us back from properly glorifying God and enjoying him forever. We must find ourselves turning to God regularly as 1 John 1:9 teaches.
When Paul found himself held captive once again in the grip of sin—he turned to God. He didn’t look inward to himself or to the outward world of psychology for a self-esteem boost. He looked upward to God. Notice Paul’s prayer at the end of Romans 7:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:24-25).
I once heard a man lament as he was looking at the schedule of a Christian conference. His complaint was that the upcoming session was going to be centered on John 3:16 and according to his thinking, he didn’t need to hear another sermon on that since he was already a Christian. Perhaps we have all been guilty at times of thinking that the gospel was only needed to save us, but it’s not needed to keep us faithfully walking with God. A person who rejects the need to repent is someone who is likewise rejecting their need for God. Without a walk that includes repentance, we cannot faithfully walk with God.
Yesterday I had the privilege to preach Romans 8:1 in our series through the book of Romans. If Romans is the greatest book in all of the Bible, and I believe it is, we should pay close attention to what it says.If Romans is the greatest book in the Bible, what is the greatest chapter in the book? I believe it’s Romans 8. Since Paul is the greatest church planting pastor-theologian and Romans is the greatest book in the Bible and since in this great book, chapter 8 is the greatest chapter, it means that this is the greatest chapter in all of the Bible! If you were dropped out onto a deserted island and could only take one page from your Bible with you, I would argue that this is the page you should choose.
This grand chapter begins with the glorious truth regarding “no condemnation” and ends with the encouragement of “no separation.” In this one chapter we find the doctrine of justification, sanctification, and glorification. It begins with a blast of encouragement and ends with a climactic explosion of assurance. What a glorious chapter, but as it begins, it likewise starts off with a glorious verse. In this one verse, we find the time of hope, the people of hope, and the source of hope.
The Time of Hope
In the past, we were justified by faith. We see this truth detailed by Paul in the opening chapters of Romans. The great and high theme of justification by faith alone in Christ alone was rightly emphasized from the beginning. The one time legal verdict of justification leads to the present hope of all believers who walk in Christ and live in present hope of present benefits that will ultimately be fulfilled in Christ in the days to come.
We were saved in the past from the penalty of sin (justification), we are being saved daily from the power of sin (sanctification), and we will one day be finally and forever saved from the presence of sin (glorification). What God began in the past has present day significance and realities that point to the future hope. Until then, we have a present hope in our God through Christ. That’s why Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation…” The emphasis is on “now” as we live now in the hope of Christ. John Murray, in his excellent commentary writes, “Condemnation is the opposite of justification and justification implies the absence of condemnation.”
The People of Hope
Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Who is being referenced in this verse? Certainly it wasn’t the entire city of Rome. It wasn’t the whole world without exception. Paul was writing to the church in the city of Rome. Although the city as a whole was wicked and full of all sorts of sin—Paul points to the children of God and describes their standing with God. They are the ones who have true hope in God—something the whole city of Rome didn’t enjoy.
At times we see the Bible refer to the people of God as the “God’s elect” or the implied bride of Christ. On other occasions we see language such as 1 Peter 2:9 that is filled with language that distinguishes God’s people from the whole world. The primary language we see in the New Testament is centered on the church. Although Paul didn’t use the language of “church” here—we know that’s who he has in mind since he was writing this letter to the church in the city of Rome. In many ways, church membership points to who is in and who is not in. This is extremely important. R.C. Sproul has rightly stated, “The church in the New Testament is made up of those who are called out from the world, from darkness, from damnation, from paganism, to become members of the body of Christ.” 
The Source of Hope
Paul makes it clear that the source of hope for the church in Rome was not empty religion or the will of man. Paul didn’t need to fight through the seasons of failure as described in Romans 7 by elevating self esteem or positive thoughts about himself. He understood that the means of hope and encouragement was found in Christ—the Savior of sinners. Paul understood that he had not worked himself to God in the beginning and he was not able to keep himself saved. That was the work of God’s sovereign grace. It was precisely that truth that brought encouragement to Paul and should likewise bring encouragement to us.
Paul points to Christ (the anointed One) Jesus (Savior) as the hope for ruined sinners. Those who have been saved by Christ should daily find their hope in Christ. For every sinner saved by Christ has assurance that they will never be lost (John 10:28-29). In fact, our salvation is so secure that in order for any Christian to go to hell—someone would need to ascend the sovereign throne of God and bodily drag Jesus from the throne and cast him through the gates of hell.
We are all failures who fall short on a daily basis, but we have a sovereign Savior who has promised to bring us all the way home to glory. As we journey each day in Christ, we must find our hope and confidence in him.
R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 95.
Sometimes we are really good at putting people into little groups in the local church and waling right past one another. Often teenagers walk around in the church with the idea that the older people don’t really care about them. They blink a couple of times and find themselves in a much different position. They have reached the “old” category and feel as if they’re forgotten. They feel as if they’re a fading shadow moving through the halls of the church, but not very useful in the life of the church. I was talking to an older gentleman recently who said, “I once looked forward to the ‘Golden Days’ only to arrive there with the sobering reality that these days are filled with far more pain and far less gold than I ever imagined.”
So, what happens when you wake up one day and discover that you’re officially—old? What now? Can you do anything in the life of the church that’s profitable? Your wrinkles don’t lie as you gaze into the mirror. Your aches and pains are a continual reminder that you’re not young anymore. Yet, you remember when you once had invitations to serve and opportunities to do more in the life of the church. But now, you’re old and it’s like you’re merely focusing on existing rather than living, serving, and worshipping. Consider the words of an old man who prayed for more days, but not just to see his grandchildren’s next birthday or to travel the world on nice vacations. His prayer in Psalm 71:17-21 was different.
At the time in which the Psalmist wrote this psalm, he was an old man with grey hair. He had spent much time on planet earth and had experienced many trials and difficulties along the way. Yet, there is something that we can learn from the Psalmist—something worthy of praise and imitating.
First of all, the Psalmist was old now, but he was still proclaiming the wondrous deeds of God (Ps. 71:17). What a terrific example. In an age of compromise where many start out well but few seem to finish well—this older man was still persevering in the faith. He was steadfast in his proclamation of God’s wondrous deeds.
When the Psalmist prayed for more days, it was not a selfish prayer. He wasn’t looking for more opportunities to waste time or more days to focus on himself. He was interested in investing in the younger generation and he has a purpose in this investment. He wanted to proclaim the truth about God’s might, God’s righteousness, and God’s mighty works. He desired for the younger generation to know these very important truths about God. What a God glorifying prayer.
Far too often men fail to recognize that Titus 2 isn’t in the Bible as a women’s ministry manifesto. It’s a section of Scripture that outlines how the older saints (men and women) are to invest their time into discipling the younger generation. If you are prone to think that just because you have grey hair, wrinkles, and a body full of aches and pains that you are somehow not useful within your church—you’ve been severely misled. The younger generation needs you. The church needs you. Pastors and church leaders need you. So, don’t bench yourself. Get into the game and serve God for his glory. Look for opportunities to serve. Make it known that you want to serve. Pray selfless prayers for more days in order to invest in the younger generation for the glory of God. Charles Spurgeon once lamented about the shallowness of the church in his day by saying:
Alas! Much has been done of late to promote the production of dwarfish Christians. Poor, sickly believers turn the church into an hospital, rather than an army. Oh, to have a church built up with the deep godliness of people who know the Lord in their very hearts, and will seek to follow the Lamb wherever he goes!
What can I teach the younger generation about the sovereignty of God?
What can I teach the younger generation about the righteousness and holiness of God?
What can I teach the younger generation about the mighty works of God?
Look for opportunities to redeem the time and invest in your local church. Approach each day with the goal of making it count for God’s glory. There are many younger people and younger parents who are walking broken roads and experiencing the pains of life. They need direction, encouragement, and advice from wise men and women who have grey hair and wells of wisdom to share. The Psalmist could look back and teach the younger generation about the creation, the covenants, and the great work of God. However, you stand on the other side of the cross and can proclaim the truth of the promised Messiah’s birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection.
You have much to teach the younger generation. God has a purpose for your life. Take the words of an old man to heart!
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
 So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.
 Your righteousness, O God,
reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
O God, who is like you?
 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.
 You will increase my greatness
and comfort me again.
In all of the Bible, there is not a more encouraging chapter to me personally than the eighth chapter of Romans. This past week, as I wrapped up the seventh chapter in our study of Romans—I issued a challenge to the church to memorize the entire eighth chapter. We will likely spend 8-10 weeks in this one chapter, so we will have plenty of time to memorize thirty-nine verses. Why memorize the chapter? What’s the point?
Some of the preachers who have had the most influence upon my life through the years have committed large sections of Scripture to memory. It’s a worthy investment of time and a commitment that will pay off great dividends in Christian maturity and discipleship.
Scripture Memory Leads to Understanding
The meaning of the text is the meaning of the text. When it comes to studying the Bible, it’s essential that we get to the meaning of the text. That process will involved reading the text, defining the terms, examining the surrounding context, and seeing how the perceived meaning fits in with the overall canon of the Bible (which will never contradict itself). This process involves a literal, historical, grammatical approach.
Through the years I’ve discovered in my own Bible study that when I memorize a passage of Scripture, it makes it easier for me to understand the passage. I recall memorizing the entire chapter of Revelation twenty-one. Still to this day, I know and retain the understanding of what that entire chapter (and section of Revelation) is talking about. Scripture memory involves a certain amount of meditation on the words, sentences, verses, and as a result—the meaning of the text comes to the surface in the process. This is especially true when memorizing large sections of Scripture.
Scripture Memory Hides Truth in Your Heart
Years ago, my oldest daughter was diagnosed with T1D (Type 1 Diabetes). After a long day in the hospital as a little sick girl, I climbed into her hospital bed next to her before she drifted off to sleep and read the entire chapter of Romans eight. I wanted her to hear the words and to be encouraged from God’s Word that as a result of Jesus’ work in redemption, she has no more condemnation under God and that she has no more separation from God.
When I counsel people who are depressed or discouraged in the faith—I almost always send them to Romans chapter eight for meditation, reflection, and renewal. What a grand chapter filled with truths of redemption in Christ, salvation, assurance, and victory in Jesus. Even under the most intense persecution, this chapter is pivotal to keeping us focused and leaning on God. If I were imprisoned and could have only one page out of the Bible, I would request the eighth chapter of Romans. If a person memorizes it, no matter where a person finds himself—the treasure chest of truth will be hidden in his heart and can be employed to overcome despair and fear.
Do you recall how John Bunyan encouraged Scripture memory in his classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress? When the two friends Christian and Hopeful were journeying together to the Celestial City—they made a great error. They followed Vainglory off the path of righteousness down another path. It was there that he fell into a pit and died. They couldn’t see him fall, but they heard it! Then, suddenly, they get lost and are captured by the Giant and placed in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. They were abused, mistreated, and discouraged. It was then that Christian remembered that he had this special key—the Key of Promise—in his chest pocket that would open any door in the castle. After pulling it out and being directly encouraged by Hopeful to try it—the two companions were set free and able to make it back to the path of righteousness. It was Bunyan’s way of illustrating Psalm 119:11.
Techniques for Memorizing the Bible
There’s an app for that! I know you may be tired of hearing that phrase, but in all seriousness, some good apps do exist to provide assistance in Scripture memory. A couple of those include:
Fighter Verses: This app uses different stages of learning to assist in memorizing a passage of Scripture. From typing, singing, and hearing the text read audibly—this app engages the different ways we learn in order to assist in the process. In addition, you can then save the text as your lock screen on your phone in order to keep the text before you as much as possible. Download it here.
Scripture Typer: This app allows you to select the passage of Scripture that you would like to memorize and then aids you in memorizing it through three steps: Typing, Memorizing, and Mastering the passage. Download it here.
You can also use the old fashioned flash card method which is always good. It may take more time to setup, but it does engage the mind differently by allowing you to manually write the text on cards which engages the mind differently than typing. In addition, the simple flash card repetition approach is a classic memory method that works really well. Through this process, engaging in reading the passage aloud and hearing yourself vocalize the words and pronounce the vocabulary will be a key component in remembering the text.
Will you join us in the Romans 8 challenge? If so, I encourage you to memorize sections of the chapter and then video yourself on social media reciting the verses. Drop a link to this challenge in the social media post and encourage others to join you along the way. Hopefully by the summer, each of us will have the entire eighth chapter of Romans hidden deep in our hearts!
The ability to recall Scripture at moments of crises is fundamental to the survival of every Christian. —John MacArthur
Yesterday, in our series through Romans, I had the privilege to preach the concluding verses (24-25) of Romans chapter seven. As you may know, the seventh chapter of Romans is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in all of Romans—indeed in all of the Bible. There are many questions to answer including identifying the “I” of the chapter and explaining the relevance of the law of God for new covenant Christians.
In the final verses, we see both the crisis and comfort of the Christian life—which was not only true for the Paul, but likewise, for all who follow Jesus Christ in this life.
After a lengthy and raw autobiography of his own struggle as a mature Christian who lives with tension between the law of God and the law of sin—Paul launches into a sincere confession, “Wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”
Paul’s crisis is often our crisis. However, Paul provided a true confession of his situation as he refused to sink back into sin or look inwardly for the solution. Paul understood that the answer to the crisis was external—and he likewise understood that he was greatly limited and unable to save himself.
Far too often Christians reach a point to where they become board with John 3:16. They believe that they’ve already cried out “wretched man that I am” at the point of salvation, why would anyone need to do that again? Isn’t that what 1 John 1:9 teaches? True believers, even mature believers, will often need to confess their sin to God and cry out in distress for deliverance. J.C. Ryle rightly states, “A right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.” When was the last time sin in your heart scared you? When was the last time sin caused you to cry out to God for deliverance?
Paul finds his comfort in the none other than his Savior Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t turn to self-esteem or psychological counseling techniques in order to elevate his opinion about himself or his situation in life. Paul turned to the only true solution for his crisis—Jesus Christ the Lord.
Notice that Paul didn’t simply say, Jesus. He referred to Jesus as the Christ and the Lord. This is critically important because we know that Jesus means “Savior” and Christ means “anointed one of God.” On top of that, we see that Paul references Jesus as Lord—meaning “master, owner, sovereign.”
The exclusive hope for fallen sinners is Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). The exclusive hope for guilt-plagued Christians is Jesus Christ the Lord. He is the sovereign Savior—the one who never leaves us and never forsakes us. That means when we find ourselves in the darkest night and overcome by the most intense guilt and shame of sin—the Lord will come to us as we cry out for help.
How does Jesus provide hope and comfort in this present evil world?
Present Peace: As we live in this world, we live with the blessed assurance that Jesus has overcome death and that he alone can save sinners. What he began in us will be completed for his glory (Phil 1:6). There will be no drop outs along the way.
Future Peace: Whether it be through physical death or the return of Jesus—we have the assurance of a future eternal peace as we will be separated from this body of death and will receive a new body at the return of Christ. That’s why Paul could say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Before we can enjoy the truth of Romans 8, we must first become honest about our struggle with sin and cling to the work of Jesus Christ our Lord as our hope now and for all eternity. We can likewise be encouraged to see that as Paul struggled in sin and found comfort in the Lord, so can we when we find ourselves struggling in our journey of faith.
As our world celebrates “Women’s Day” we are sure to hear many encouraging stories of perseverance and diligence. We will be pointed to many accomplishments of women around the world. From the arts to politics and within the world of business and academics—we will hear stories of women who worked diligently to overcome stigma and discrimination in order to reach goals that were once unattainable in society. While we can certainly recognize progress of women’s equality in many ways in our culture, how should we as followers of Jesus celebrate women and the place of women in our lives, our culture, and our churches?
How to Dishonor Women
We have a long history of dishonoring women—stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Throughout history, it took a long time for women to reach a place of cultural equality with men. Men and women were created equal by God, yet with specific boundaries and roles to fulfill their God ordained purpose. Although times have changed, the rhetoric continues to be negative regarding women’s equality.
This week in Spain, a high school is taking an opportunity to educate little boys about the oppression of women historically by restricting them from recess in order to point out how women historically have been restricted from good freedoms. Our culture continues to beat a drum of victimhood in order to honor women as a minority in many nations—including the United States. The reality is, women number a majority of the total population of America. Yet, we are continuing to hear the need for women’s equality in a day when women occupy nearly every office and position across our great nation—including the halls of academia and corporate America.
One of the most damaging agendas to ever assault women is the women’s liberation movement. It operated with the underpinning and foundational marketing ploy of liberating women from oppression and injustice. Through this agenda, women have been pointed outside of the home to the corporate world to fulfill their goals and flourish with their gifts. The women’s liberation movement has likewise done more to demean motherhood and encourage the murder of babies than any other movement in our world’s history. Motherhood has been traded for corporate success and pregnancy has been turned into a sickness that can be treated at a local clinic through modern day reproductive freedom. Rather than liberating women—the women’s liberation movement led them into a deep and dark dungeon far away from God’s intended purpose for their existence.
Today, we’ve reaped the harvest of the feminist agenda in America. We have officially changed our laws to include the false and contradictory category of gay marriage. Now, we celebrate men who pretend to be women by self identification and surgical procedures. This move is killing women’s sports by allowing men to compete on the same level as women. The things that once caused us to blush are now celebrated with awards. When a cultural figure such as Caitlyn Jenner can receive the “Woman of the Year” award from Glamour Magazine and the “Arthur Ashe Award for Courage” at the 2015 ESPY Awards—we must honestly ask ourselves how far will this agenda go?
In the 60s and 70s the feminists permeated the language of freedom and liberation into the minds and hearts of women seeking to change the direction of women in America—indeed to change the direction of America altogether. Unfortunately, we have allowed their movement to become less offensive, the lines to become blurred, and in some cases, their agenda has spilled over into the church. What was once offensive yesterday is openly celebrated today in America. Sadly the feminist agenda has infiltrated local churches and evangelical denominations. Once again, if anyone in the world should be celebrating the place and purpose of women in our world—it should be the church of Jesus Christ.
Today, through the social justice agenda, we’re hearing the language of gender equality within the church and empowerment. The recent #MeToo movement spawned the #ChurchToo movement and through social justice politics has caused a reactionary response of empowerment and a hyper-focused effort to raise women to the highest levels of leadership. If we continue to teach another generation of women that they’re victims of oppression and that their entire existence is riddled with injustice in the church of Jesus Christ—we will teach women that they haven’t arrived yet and that they need to do something else to fulfill their existence. Has God not made it clear regarding the purpose, beauty, and unique calling of women in this world?
This conversation has reached a fever pitch within the ranks of the Southern Baptist Convention where leaders are posturing their institutions to include women in the highest ranks of their theological faculty and denominational structures—including the highest office of president. This reactionary evangelical culture has now begun to evaluate the current hierarchies with the possibility of tearing them down and rebuilding with a new design and new boundaries. This has raised the eyebrows of many, but the language of soft and broad complementarianism has surfaced once again with some people suggesting that we need to redefine complementarianism altogether. If the feminist agenda of the 60s and 70s rocked our nation and our churches, what will the social justice agenda do to our churches and denominations? How will the United Methodist Church respond to this pressure? What direction will the Southern Baptist Convention take on such matters?
The best way to dishonor a woman is to ask her to do something or be something that God never intended in the first place. Satan asked Eve to reverse her role and to bypass the leadership of Adam. Satan likewise asked Eve to look beyond God’s boundary to the forbidden tree to find purpose in her existence. The women’s liberation movement greatly dishonored women. The modern social justice movement is positioned to do the same thing—and this time with a specific evangelical twist within the church. One of the tragedies of the social justice movement is that we continue to allow the culture to define us as opposed to God who is the sovereign creator and designer.
How to Celebrate Women Rightly
If anyone should see the beauty and acknowledge the value of women in the world it should be the church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, as it pertains to the value, purpose, and place of women in the church today—the cultural agenda of social justice seems to be calling the shots as opposed to the sufficient Word of God. If we, as Christians, are to rightly honor women it should be through acknowledging the wonderful purpose of women as articulated in the Word of God.
The church of Jesus Christ should boldly stand against sin and push back against injustice and sinful oppression. If sexism or misogyny exists in specific evangelical circles—it should be confronted properly. If discrimination and injustice exists within the local church, there is a proper way to handle such sin within the context of the church family (Matt. 18:15-20). Likewise, the church of Jesus Christ should not blush nor back down from the God ordained boundaries for men and women and the distinct roles for women should not be redefined for a modern era.
God created Eve distinct from Adam with a purpose (Genesis 2).
God used Rahab (Joshua 6:17; Matthew 1:5).
God chose Mary for a special and unique purpose (Matt. 1:18-20).
God used women all throughout the early church (Acts 1:12–14; 9:36–42; 16:13–15; 17:1–4, 10–12; 18:1–2, 18, 24–28; Romans 16; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 1:5; 2:10; 4:19).
While the Talmud stated that it would be better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman, Jesus taught the woman at the well (John 4) and even allowed a small band of women to travel with he and his followers (Luke 8:1-3). At the crucifixion, we find women lamenting his death (Matthew 27:55-56). After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to Mary Magdalene and she became one of the first witnesses to this wonderful bedrock truth of Christianity (John 20:1-18).
While in the days of the Old Testament no women served among the Levites as a priest. No woman ruled Israel as queen. With the exception of Deborah (who must be viewed as a judgment upon Israel), no woman served God as a prophet. No woman penned one of the sixty-six books of the Bible. No woman served as an apostle. No woman served as an original deacon in Acts 6. No woman is called to serve as an elder as instituted by God in 1 Timothy 3. However, God has always had his place for women and has used women in various and distinct roles for his glory. Paul specifically stated in 1 Timothy 2:10 that women should be able to learn the great truths of God and he made this statement in a time period when women were forbidden from such learning.
Christianity has consistently pointed to the value of women in our culture as a whole and within the church of Jesus Christ. Nearly every leader through church history has been helped along by women. In fact, it’s safe to say that without women, the church of Christ would not be what God intended from the beginning. We must celebrate the God intended purpose for women in our world! From the privileged role of motherhood to the high calling of a wife (Prov. 18:22)—women have a special design by God. When women understand their calling and seek to flourish within God’s intended design, they are to be praised. So, we should pay close attention to the message of the culture that’s consistently pressing women to do what God hasn’t called them to do as a means of fulfillment when there’s so much women can and should be doing for God’s glory?
Proverbs 31:28 — Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
In the Christian life, it’s not uncommon to hear someone referenced as a stumbling block. However, what exactly is a stumbling block and what is the difference between a genuine stumbling block and a violation of a person’s standards on a particular issue? In order to see the difference between the two, we must examine how the Bible uses both of these situations and compare them to one another.
There is much in the New Testament about how a person should maintain healthy relationships within the church. For instance, in Ephesians 4:3, we find Paul urging people to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We should strive to walk together in peace within the church and to value our relationships in Christ Jesus. This is so important, notice what Paul wrote at the end of Ephesians 4:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:25–32).
Some of these verses in this paragraph in Ephesians 4 are often used regarding how we treat one another in our home, especially between husband and a wife in Ephesians 4:26 regarding not allowing the sun to set on your anger. However, this entire paragraph is contextually referring to the relationships within the church (although we can make application to how we treat one another in our home). The idea is that we should maintain love and healthy relationships and seek to walk in peace together for the glory of God—not giving the devil an opportunity to divide us and cause us to sin.
In the Bible, we see a few different types of stumbling blocks mentioned. First, we find the stumbling block used in the Old Testament in Leviticus 19:14. That language is picked up and used in the New Testament to describe a person who causes someone to stumble in obedience to God. We see this as Peter questioned the crucifixion of Jesus and was subsequently rebuked for his words. While he was certainly not going to prevent Jesus from going to the cross, he could become a stumbling block, or a hurdle by getting in the way of God’s eternal plan.
Matthew 16:23 — But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
In another sense, the stumbling block can refer to a genuine opportunity to cause someone to stumble into sin. This is a serious place to find oneself. Consider Jesus’ sobering warning regarding those who caused the little ones to sin:
Matthew 18:5–6 — Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Consider yet another scenario where someone once struggled with a particular sin and by observing the actions or choices others—it opened a door for that person to flirt with their past sin enough to fall back into it again. We can see this in connection with the Jews who ate the meat sacrificed to idols while others were offended by it. Paul writes to the church at Corinth and says, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). While the meat itself didn’t contain demons nor was it contaminated as a result of being sacrificed to idols—it was the weaker brother who felt it was a violation of their conscience and could serve as an open door to sin and this is why Paul urged his fellow believers to abstain. Paul was consistently looking for the high road (2 Cor. 6:3) and provided a good example.
The Path of Wisdom
As it pertains to a genuine stumbling block, you may find that you have liberty and freedom to make certain choices, but if it could cause one of your brothers or sisters in Christ to sin—it would be best to not flaunt your freedom. The path of wisdom is a path of love that cares for others and looks out for the immature (weak) who could be harmed unintentionally. The path of wisdom is the high road that seeks to avoid controversy and looks for opportunities to build the church up in the faith as opposed to being a rogue believer who thrives on controversy.
It’s also important to consider the path of wisdom when your personal standards may differ from another brother or sister in Christ. Rather than approaching a situation as if you’re the weaker brother—it would be wise to simply agree to disagree on certain personal standards in order to prevent damaging relationships. Remember, the heart of legalism is the desire to bind someone’s conscience based on your personal standards rather than chapter and verse in the Word of God. Wisdom and love will allow us to pursue the high road.
In our study through Romans, we are presently in chapter seven. This is one of the most difficult chapters to interpret in Romans, and for that matter, in all of God’s Word. Scholarship has been divided over what Paul is communicating in this chapter. For some, they see it as Paul referencing his days before salvation. Still others view it as an immature Paul who is struggling with sin. Many people see Paul’s change to the present tense in Romans 7:14 as an indicator that he’s writing from the perspective of a mature apostle who is being transparent about his own struggle on the journey of faith.
I believe for textual reasons, and for the sake of aligning with other places in Paul’s writings (Rom. 6:14) as well as other key texts in the Bible—Paul is writing an autobiography of his own struggle to maintain a faithful walk with Christ.
In verses 21-25 of Romans 7, we find Paul using wartime language. It’s quite clear that Paul is approaching this situation with a seriousness and he intends that we do the same. Rather than being fooled into believing that the Christian life is the “easy life” or that it’s the “Life is Good” approach to the faith—he speaks with a raw transparency about how we must avoid the attack of sinful temptation.
In this section, Paul points to two different laws that are operating in opposition to one another:
The Law of Sin
The Law of God
In verse 22, Paul declares that he “delights in the law of God.” This sounds like a direct quote from Psalm 1 and it validates the position of a mature believer, for non-Christians don’t talk like this nor do immature believers. Paul then identifies another law in verse 23 that is in his members (speaking of his body) that is waging war against the law of his mind (the law of God).
Inwardly, Paul is wrestling with sin and struggling to obey God. There is a constant battle and the mention of war in verse 23 is critically important. Furthermore, Paul points out that he finds himself held captive by the law of sin—and as you can imagine, having been freed from the bondage of sin by Christ, to be captured and placed back into the prison as a prisoner of war to sin is a very discouraging place to find oneself.
I recently read a sobering and heartbreaking story about a man who was captured as an American solider during World War II and held as a prisoner of war. He recalled the long death march in the hot sun, the lack of water and food, the inhumane conditions of the prison, and his near death experiences. In the end, although he was able to successfully escape, he would spend the remainder of his life with the scars of that whole ordeal. They served as a reminder of the power and threat of a real enemy.
We often fail to see the danger of sin and how being captured and held as a prisoner by sin will leave us with lasting scars. That’s why it is extremely important to engage in the war of sin and to overcome it through the power of God. In Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian and Hopeful found themselves in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, after being abused, threatened, mistreated, and nearly dead—Christian discovered a key in his chest pocket. It was to symbolize the importance of God’s Word hidden in our hearts—and that one key unlocked the door of the dungeon allowing them to escape and find their way back to the path of righteousness.
If the Apostle Paul could find himself locked away in the dungeon of sin—we must all take heed lest we fall.
Unless a person comes to the knowledge of the truth by God’s sovereign grace, he will be forever lost in his unbelief (1 Tim. 2:4; 2Tim. 2:25). So it was with an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. As Luther focused on Romans 1:17, God caused a divine ray of grace to fall upon the troubled monk. Suddenly, the righteousness of God was revealed to Luther—bringing him from darkness to light.
The battle cry of the Reformation was post tenebras lux, meaning “after darkness, light.” The entire movement of the Reformation was filled with light and heat. The possession of God’s knowledge among God’s people should result in a proper passion to serve God. Knowledge and zeal are closely connected. Martin Luther and the Reformers understood the balance of doctrine and duty.
Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, writes, “So we also labor by the Word of God that we may set at liberty those that are entangled, and bring them to the pure doctrine of faith, and hold them there.”
A PROPER LOVE OF GOD
Five hundred years ago, the Roman Catholic Church suppressed the promulgation of God’s Word. They demanded that everyone come and listen to lectures of the Bible in Latin, as they refused to allow the Word of God to be printed in the common man’s language.
God raised up the Reformers to bring the Bible out of the shadows. God raised up these faithful men who courageously labored to give us God’s Word in our language. Certainly, it must be recognized that the Reformation was a return to the Scriptures. The biblical words, sentences, and phrases matter because knowledge matters. God’s people love the Bible because of their love for God—not merely because of their love of knowledge.
Jesus, in quoting the Shema (Deut. 6:4–5), said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). God wants all of us—including our minds.
A proper pursuit of God involves knowing and worshiping God with the intellect. To focus on one’s heart, soul, and strength but to bypass the mind would be a tragic mistake. James Montgomery Boice once said:
We live in mindless times, days in which millions of people are drifting along through life, manipulated by the mass media, particularly television, and hardly know it. Few give thought for their eternal souls, and most, even Christians, are unaware of any way of thinking or living other than that of the secular culture that surrounds them.
ZEAL FOR GOD
Have you ever known someone who wasted his life? How many Christians waste their knowledge? Perhaps out of timidity and fear of man, they hide their light under a basket. Consider the fact that many people join the right churches, read the right books, and attend the right conferences—but seem to lack zeal.
If you travel to Geneva and walk into St. Pierre Cathedral where John Calvin proclaimed his rich expositions, you will find the passionate motto post tenebras lux looming in the backdrop of the pulpit. This battle cry is likewise etched into the Reformation Wall on the grounds of the University of Geneva. Calvin was passionate in his pursuit of truth. He was the towering theologian of the Reformation.
However, from Calvin’s passionate preaching arose an army of zealous-hearted missionaries and preachers of God’s Word. Not only was Calvin himself zealous to serve God, but he trained many others who were filled with holy zeal. Edward Panosian writes:
From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel. Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin.
John Calvin’s ministry was fueled by a high view of God, and this transcendent knowledge produced a proper zeal to serve God. In a sermon on Isaiah 12:5, Calvin said:
[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.
In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul urges his hearers on to spiritual maturity and says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). The word translated “struggling” conveys the idea of strenuous effort. Paul was struggling or wrestling with all of his spiritual strength for the glory of God.
If you love to gain knowledge about God, but you lack a proper zeal to serve God, you must examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. We must remember the warning of James—faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Even demons are capable of possessing knowledge (v. 19). The torchlight of the gospel and the ongoing protest of the Reformation demand both knowledge and zeal for the glory of God (Rom. 12:11). Knowledge without zeal is no real knowledge at all.
This past Sunday, we had two guests who drove a good distance to be with us for worship. One drove from the Stone Mountain area while the other drove from Lagrange, Georgia—both are right about one hour from our church campus. As they discussed their situations, each of them are looking for a healthy church where they can grow in God’s Word. As I considered the fact that two different visitors drove an hour to be with us for worship as they’re looking for a church—what exactly should we look for if we find ourselves looking for a new church home?
As we engage in a church search, there are specific things that must be prioritized in the life of the church or it should be crossed off the list quickly. Some lists will look differently depending on specific needs, but there are certain elements that cannot be optional and I’ve listed a few non-negotiable categories below.
Transcending above cultural preferences must come biblical preaching. If we truly want our families to grow in grace, that necessitates a steady diet of biblical preaching. While topical preaching can certainly feed the hearts and minds of people on occasion, the steady practice of the preaching must be centered on consistent sequential verse-by-verse preaching through books of the Bible. Without faithful expository preaching, the church will be left with a superficial understanding of the whole of God’s Word. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote the following in his classic book, Preaching and Preachers:
The big difference…between a lecture and a sermon is that a sermon does not start with a subject; a sermon should always be expository. In a sermon the theme or the doctrine is something that arises out of the text and its context, it is something which is illustrated by that text and context. 
How well would you understand any book on your bookshelf if a friend came over to your home and read to you out of random pages – explaining one central message about how the book ends, but not allowing you to hear how the plot and themes develop through each chapter? It would leave you a bit frustrated and disconnected from the central message of the book—right? Why is the Bible any different? Why would we be led to believe that a random approach to preaching would cause the church to grow deep and wide spiritually?
God Centered Worship
We have a worship crisis within evangelicalism today. It’s not that we aren’t worshipping, but rather, who and what we’re worshipping. Some churches are worshipping themselves as they gather to have their own cultural desires met in the worship service. Others are worshipping a specific pastor or personality who leads the church. Still others are centering their affections on the church campus or building itself. Far too often people in evangelical circles find themselves much like the Ethiopian Eunuch who was returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem with a scroll of Isaiah’s prophecy—yet completely disengaged from biblical worship. Far too often evangelicals arrive home from church on Sunday without having worshipped God in the slightest degree.
When looking for a church, we must focus on how the worship service places God at the center. Some churches worship one member of the Trinity rather than our Triune God. Some focus on Jesus while others focus on the Spirit and still others focus on the Father. We have so segmented the Trinity that we fail to worship God as he desires. The calling of God’s people is to worship God—which involves an intentional effort to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
When searching for a church home, pay close attention to how the worship service approaches the public reading of Scripture. How much Scripture is read and is there a balance from Old to New Testament each week? How do the songs point your mind and direct your emotions to engage in worship of our Triune God? This is critically important in order to avoid a severe imbalance and deficient understanding of who God really is and how he desires to be worshipped.
Faithful Administration of the Ordinances
If you visit a church on the Lord’s Day and they’re showing slides of the youth pastor baptizing football players at the local high school in a feeding trough for cows on Friday afternoon—it’s probably a good sign that this is not the church for you. All throughout history, if a church did not have the right administration of the ordinances, they were not considered to be a true church. This is one reason why youth group baptisms in the ocean at summer camp should not be practiced. This is why we shouldn’t encourage members to get rebaptized in the Jordan River when they visit Jerusalem.
It’s critically important for the local church to practice the ordinances within the context of the local church under the oversight of the elders who lead the church. This assures both organization, accountability, and intentionality as to what we are communicating as we engage in worship as a gathered church. This is why observing the Lord’s Supper in your living room on Friday evening with your small group is forbidden. How does such a practice honor God and encourage the local church as a whole? How does a person know if they’re welcomed to the Table? Who fences the Table before engaging in worship if the Lord’s Supper is practiced in a college dormitory at the local college? We must be firmly committed to the right practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Practice of Loving Church Discipline
Would you lead your family to join a church that did not practice loving biblical church discipline? When you talk to people about how they came to the decision about membership in a specific church, you will often hear about how good a specific program is in the church that attracted them or you might hear that their church was closer to their job—or perhaps other pragmatic reasoning. When was the last time you heard someone say they chose a church because they practice biblical church discipline? Jay Adams argues that if a church refuses to practice church discipline, we “should declare them to be ‘no church’ since they will not draw a line between the world and the church by exercising discipline.” 
Several years ago a family went through our membership class and became members in our church. However, within a year of their joining, they left our church after hearing a presentation on the errors of Roman Catholicism. I went to the church where they were visiting and met with the pastor in his office. I encouraged he and his staff to point them back to us and not to receive them as members because this was a gospel issue that required corrective discipline. The pastor ignored our request and accepted their family as members. Within a short season, the family completely derailed into horrible sin resulting in the husband’s picture appearing on the front page of the newspaper. To this day, their family has never been disciplined by the church who took them in as members.
Church discipline is not a debatable issue. Jesus has commanded that we practice it and that we do so in the manner and with the motives that he has charged us in Matthew 18:15-20. Consider these helpful words from Alexander Strauch:
Love is not just happy smiles or pleasant words. A critical test of genuine love is whether we are willing to confront and discipline those we care for. Nothing is more difficult than disciplining a brother or sister in Christ who is trapped in sin. It is always agonizing work – messy, complicated, often unsuccessful, emotionally exhausting, and potentially divisive. This is why most church leaders avoid discipline at all costs. But that is not love. It is lack of courage and disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself laid down instructions for the discipline of an unrepentant believer (Matt. 18:17-18). 
When you find yourself searching for a new church home, don’t compromise in the process. You may find a church that meets your needs on many different levels, but yet fails in one of the non-negotiable areas. Always remember a church that hasn’t practiced corrective church discipline in the last 25 years will certainly not begin with you and your family when you wander off the path of righteousness. You need the church, and you need a healthy church for you and your family.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 71.
Jay Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 103.
Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 152.