What Did Jesus Pay For? Exodus 21-22, Romans 8

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There are long sections of the Old Testament that are difficult to take in. Exodus 21 and 22 fit this bill. They deal with Ancient Hebrew societal issues, like “what happens when your ox kills someone?” or “what do you do with a slave master who kills his slave?”

It’s uncomfortable to read about slavery in the Bible and realize that there is no sentence that says, “Just don’t have slaves.” or to read that the death penalty was delivered with relative liberality for all kinds of community issues.

All these difficult things fall under the Law of Moses, the list of rules for life that God deliver to His people through Moses, His messenger.

They are a completely unattainable catalog of regulations. There is no way for any person to fulfill every part of the law completely.

This means that everyone is subject to the judgment of God.

But Romans 8 let’s us in on an incredible fact. There is a new Law, one that looses our chains from obligation to the Old Testament Law, and binds us to the life giving Spirit of God. Romans 8:1 and following:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Through Jesus, God did what the Law could not do: pay for our entry into the Kingdom, provide for our salvation, and purchase our redemption from sin. Jesus paid for our freedom from the condemnation of the Law. He paid it all. So when we read the Law through the lens of the Gospel, we don’t need to see a list of guilt-producing, unattainable rules, but a reminder of God’s standard of righteousness that Jesus fulfilled and imparted to us.

In other words, We praise the One who paid our debts and raised our lives up from the dead. Jesus!

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The Ten Commandments Aren’t Good Enough: Exodus 19-20, Romans 7

Ten-Commandments-HebrewWhat are the 10 Commandments for?

Growing up I thought that they were the measuring stick of how “Christian” I was being. I’m sure others share this view.

After all, they are a list of rules. Do this. Don’t do that. It’s reasonable to assume that if you follow the 10 commandments adequately, you’ll live a life that pleases God.

But there’s a problem. How many chances do we get if we mess up on just one of them? I’ve never murdered anyone or committed adultery, but I’ve pretty much broken all the other commandments.

If I’m 2 for 10, where does that leave me?

Can I still be considered good? or even Christian at all?

Or am I missing the point completely?

In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul explains how the commandments work. He says:

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

Paul is saying that the Old Testament commandments are meant to expose the sin in our lives. That’s what he means when he says that “the commandment came” and “sin came alive.” The commandments don’t make us sin, the show us how far off from God we truly are. They show us that we can never live up to God’s standard of perfection. They show us that we’re fooling ourselves if we think that 2 out of 10 is anything more than failing completely.

So maybe my title is misleading. There’s nothing wrong with the 10 commandments. Paul goes on to say:

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

It’s not the commandment that isn’t good enough. It’s us! We’re not good enough. And the commandments help us to see that.

Because we’re not good enough, the commandments do us no good when it comes to our salvation. If we could keep them perfectly we could be saved by our works. But if we were that good, we wouldn’t need the commandments at all.

We need something more than rules, no matter how good those rules are. We need a Savior:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

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Free to Not Sin: Exodus 17-18, Romans 6

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What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:1-4

When discussing Christianity, many people focus on the restrictions that come with it. Most people have a list in their heads that lays out the types of things that they would need to give up in order to follow Christ. This reality keeps many from trusting in Jesus.

The sad part is that this reality has been perpetuated by Christians. We often leave the impression that to be Christian means to not do certain things any more, and that these certain things are called “sins.” The list of American Christian “sins” often includes things like drinking, smoking, going to parties, watching rated-R movies, voting Democratic… things like that.

The passage above is from Romans 6, the middle of a discussion that Paul is having about the nature of our new lives in Christ. His point is that there are some who think believing the Gospel means living a life of restriction and self-denial. But there are also those who think that since grace abounds where sin abounds, the more a Christian sins, the more that God’s grace is praised.

Both attitudes are wrong.

Christianity is not about sticking to a list of dos and don’ts, nor is it about overt sinning to display God’s grace. Christianity is about the freedom that comes from a new life with Christ, freedom from sin and from sinning. According to Romans 6, our old life died with Jesus on the cross. The life that was enslaved to sin is dead. Sin no longer holds any power over us. Our chains are broken. Our garments are washed. Our heads are lifted.

We are free.

In place of the old life is a new one, the same life that Jesus received in His resurrection. We were buried with him and raised with him. And now we are alive in God with Christ. We have a new Master, a new home, a new spirit, a whole new life.

And this life comes with the freedom to not sin. This means that even though we were once bound by dos and don’ts beyond measure. We are now bound to Jesus, free from the curse of the Law and free to resist the temptations to sin. We can now enjoy life as God intended, seeing all worldly pleasures through the lens of the Gospel.

We are free!

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Living Debt Free: Exodus 15-16, Romans 5

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For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Romans 5:19

It doesn’t really seem fair does it? That Adam’s sin would be passed down to us for all generations. I didn’t choose to be born. I didn’t rebel against God in the womb. I didn’t enter the world with sinful thoughts in my heart. We just had a baby, and I can tell you that she hasn’t done anything thus far that resembles disobedience.

So how is it fair that the willful sin of Adam has permeated every person throughout history?

It’s not fair. It’s justice.

Sin works on a debt scale. The greater the sin, the greater the debt. If I lie to my wife about how much my latest bike part costs, I will incur a small amount of debt. But if I were to steal that same bike part, my debt would be substantially bigger.

Someone always absorbs the cost of sin. In the first case, my wife could choose to forgive me, thus absorbing the cost of that particular sin. In the second case, I may get away with theft and the bike shop absorbs the cost. I also may get caught, in which case I would have to repay the shop and likely serve some kind of sentence for stealing. The debt would be mine to pay.

In Adam and Eve’s case, the sin they committed, however innocuous it seemed, was against an eternal and perfect God. Because His nature is perfect and his lifespan is forever, sin against Him requires payment in kind. This means that Adam could strive to repay God his whole life and never succeed. His debt would transfer to his children, and children’s children, and so on.

Forever.

We are still feeling the effects of original sin today because that original sin was committed against an eternal God. One man’s sin was transferred to all.

So how can this debt be repaid?

If there was some way to absorb that eternal debt, we would be able to live free in God’s eyes. But the only One who can repay an eternal debt is an eternal being. God Himself must pay it. But because man sinned, man must also pay. And there is only one way this could be done, one way that we could live debt free.

The One mediator that stands between God and man, Jesus Christ. In His obedience to go to the cross, Jesus took our debts upon Himself and paid them in full in His own body and blood. The extreme nature of His sacrifice, the gruesome death, the complete separation between He and His Father, the utter rejection from His people, all display the severity of our state before God and the lengths to which God went to redeem us.

We may have owed a debt of sin, but not to a tyrant dictator. We were in debated to the greatest kind of lender, One who is perfectly compassionate and abounding in steadfast love. He willingly bore the cost of all our debts that we might live free in His presence.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:19

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Unbelievable: Exodus 13-14, Romans 4

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I’ve heard many people try to explain away the possibility that God miraculously parted the Red Sea.

Those who believe the incident to be a myth might talk rightly about it being a symbol of God’s saving work in the gospel while denying the event actually happened.

Others affirm that the event occurred but seek to provide a purely natural explanation for why the Red Sea might part. They cite the way in which the tidal patterns of the Red Sea flow throughout the year, asserting that in the right season, with a strong enough wind, there may have been parts of the sea shallow enough for the Israelites to cross.

To me that sounds about as unbelievable as what Exodus 14 tells us.

And it is unbelievable.

The parting of the Red Sea is not something that rational people can easily stomach, even if Exodus 14:21-22 tells us exactly what happened:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

This is not a natural occurrence. It is miraculous. God designed the natural world to work within a certain set of laws. These laws are the normal way in which things operate in the universe. But they are not the ONLY way. The natural world is not all that there is. There is absolutely a spiritual world in which physical laws do not apply.

In the recent creation debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye (the science guy), Nye asserts that things work a certain way in the universe and they have always worked in this way. I generally agree with him, but his open denial of any kind of spiritual existence outside the physical means that he cannot accept miraculous anomalies like the parting of the Red Sea.

And I assume this also means that he would have a difficult time believing that a 100 year old man and a 99 year old woman could have a baby. This is what God promised would happen to Abraham and Sarah. It’s an unbelievable prospect, one that Paul says in Romans 4 must be received by faith:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”

In my last post about faith, I said that faith is God gifting us His power to live in light of spiritual reality. Faith is not blind belief in the unbelievable, it is power to see the unbelievable as fully within God’s power to perform.

But God does not give us faith simply so that we can believe unbelievable acts. He gives us faith to believe that through the death and resurrection of Jesus He forgives our sins and saves us into His glorious Kingdom. The other “unbelievables” of scripture, the Red Sea, the Flood, the birth of Isaac, healing the sick and lame, are easy to believe once the gospel has been made clear to us through faith. It is the one unbelievable thing in Scripture that everyone must believe if they desire eternal life.

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Better Than Passover: Exodus 11-12, Romans 3

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In Genesis 11 and 12, God sends a final plague upon the Egyptians: Death. Moses warns Pharaoh that if he does not let the people go, God will bring death to all the firstborn in the entire land.

This plague will fall upon everyone, Egyptian and Hebrew alike, unless God’s people sacrifice a lamb and paint their door posts in blood, a symbol of their obedience and allegiance to God. This is the Passover story, a beautiful picture of God saving His people and crushing His enemies in one swift stroke.

But that word “picture” is important. Passover was not ultimate salvation for the Jews. They would eventually die. In fact most of them would within 40 years of this night. The people of God were saved from slavery and death for a little while, but not forever.

In order to ensure the salvation of His people forever, God would need a much harsher judgment and a much stronger salvation plan.

In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul explains this plan:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God’s righteousness against our sin was revealed in the death of Jesus Christ. He became our propitiation, our sin and wrath bearer, so that we could be made righteous. And just like in Egypt, there is no distinction, every person, regardless of how they were brought up, what race they are, what country they live in, what they have done, or what they will do, is guilty of sin and in need of salvation.

But unlike in Egypt, the salvation is not just from what is immediate and physical but what is eternal and spiritual. The salvation that comes through faith in Christ, the perfect sacrificial lamb, is sure forever. Those who trust in Him are secure in their rescue from slavery and their reward of salvation for all eternity.

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Kindness and Wrath: Exodus 9-10, Romans 2

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

repent_pngThere is a perception in the world, and in the church, that the wrath and judgment of God is meant to lead people to repent. People on street corners hold up signs declaring that the world will be judged and to avoid this judgment, people must repent. Sunday school teachers teach children that to get out of going to hell (experiencing God’s wrath and judgment) we need to repent and be saved. And well meaning evangelists make movies about the horrors of God’s judgment for those who do not repent.

Now, before someone stones me, let me affirm that judgment indeed falls upon those who do not trust in Jesus. Romans 1 teaches us that God’s wrath is revealed all the unrighteousness and sin of men. This is not the question I’m addressing.

What Paul says in Romans 2 (the above passage) however, is that God’s wrath and judgment is not meant to be the catalyst for our repentance. It is God’s kindness, mercy, and love that is meant to lead us to the recognition of our sinful condition and turn toward our Savior.

Think of it as positive reinforcement.

In order to help us see our sinfulness, God holds before our eyes the image of perfection, Jesus in His life, and pours on Him all the wrath against our sin. In other words, God displays for us His great mercy and kindness by NOT judging us according to our sin and NOT revealing from heaven his wrath against us.

God’s wrath is reserved for judgment against persistent unrepentant hearts. This is displayed in Exodus 9 and 10 as God pours plagues upon the nation of Egypt, not because they were somehow worse sinners that the Israelites, but because they were in opposition to God and His people, in the same way that Satan has always been. Because of this, God judged Egypt, not in hopes of their repentance, but in order that God might rescue His people from slavery and death.

God showed kindness toward Israel but sparing them from His wrath and securing their salvation. He does the same for all who trust in Jesus. Instead of scaring us into repentance by flexing His biceps of wrath, God spares us judgment through the Gospel and displays His kindness in receiving sinners into His perfect Kingdom.

God does not want us to come to him in repentance because of what we’d like to avoid, He wants us to come because of what we will receive: Eternal mercy and kindness and grace from the God of perfect love and unending glory.

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