Evangelism: How Are We Doing? (Romans 1:14-17)

Big Idea: Evangelism is hard, but it’s worth it because of what the gospel is.

I have a question for you today, and I want you to be honest in your response. When it comes to evangelism, how are you doing? When it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ — his life, death, burial, resurrection, and all that it means — how would you evaluate your effectiveness?

I know that a question like this can be difficult to answer. There are really three ways to answer:

  • Some of you are here today, but you are not a follower of Jesus Christ. You may be skeptical or curious. In this case, you may have mixed feelings about evangelism. A study in England asked nonbelievers what it felt like to have a Christian speak to them about their faith. 19% said that it made them want to know more, but 59% said the opposite. Almost a third of people said it left them feeling more negative. Some of you don’t like evangelism, because you don’t want to be evangelized. Nobody likes to be someone’s project.
  • Some of you don’t mind the question, because you’re dong fine when it comes to evangelism.
  • Most of us, if we’re honest, feel a little guilty, because we’d like to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, but we’re not. We want to share our faith, and what Jesus has done for us, but we feel nervous, or under pressure. It’s not a natural part of our lives. When I ask you how you are doing with evangelism, you may even feel guilty.

Today, I want to do a couple of things. The first is to let you off the hook by just acknowledging a basic reality about evangelism. Then I want to look at a man who knew this reality, but couldn’t not evangelize. I want to look at him, because he gives three reasons why evangelism is worth it.

So let’s look at this: one basic reality about evangelism, and then why evangelism is worth it, even though it's hard.

Evangelism is Hard

Here’s the one basic reality that I hope will help you breath a sigh of relief: Evangelism is hard. I was encouraged to read a great book on evangelism by a good evangelist recently, and read this as the first paragraph of the book:

I find evangelism hard. The problem with being an evangelist is that people assume that you find evangelism effortless; but I don’t find it easy, and never have. For me, telling people about Jesus has often been nerve wracking. But at the same time, it has been joyful.

He talks about a painline when it comes to sharing the gospel:

So if you are going to talk to people about Jesus, you are going to get hurt. It is going to sever some relationships. It is going to provoke people. Not every time, and depending on our circumstances, friendship groups, workplaces and so on, our experiences will vary; but we will face rejection enough of the time to give us second thoughts, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like getting hurt. We’re wired to assume that if we’re getting hit, something’s gone wrong. And so whenever I tell someone the gospel message, and get hit (metaphorically speaking), there’s a temptation either to stop saying anything, or to change what I’m saying. I know there’s a painline that needs to be crossed if I tell someone the gospel; but I want to stay the comfortable side of the painline. Of course I do!

I think that’s the main reason why we don’t do evangelism. (Rico Tice, Honest Evangelism)

I like that the first line of his book says, “I find evangelism hard.” Later on, he says, “If you’re like me, you’ll never find evangelism easy. You’ll always find it hard to take the risk, and get over the painline.” It’s worth it, but it’s hard.

It’s not just us either. You find this implication in the text we’re looking at this morning. In verse 16, Paul says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Some have said that what Paul means is, “I am proud of the gospel.” But what he actually says is, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” This indicates that it seems that Paul, like us, faced the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel. James Stewart of Edinburgh, in a sermon on this text, once made the perceptive comment that “there’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it.” Without doubt, Paul knew this temptation.

It’s a little surprising to hear the apostle Paul say that he’s not ashamed of the gospel. Why would anyone — never mind the apostle Paul — be ashamed of the gospel? The truth is that all of us have been ashamed of the gospel at one time or another.

The gospel has always been a source of ridicule. Archeologists in Rome have found a caricature from the Christian era, around 200 A.D. It depicts a slave bowing down before a cross. On the cross is a donkey-headed figure. Underneath the drawing it says, “Alexamenos worships his god.” It shows the attitude that Romans had toward Christianity. It was foolishness.

Around the year 178, the Greek writer Celsus wrote a bitter attack on Christianity. He said that Christianity is not for the instructed or wise, but for “ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons…the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.” He compared them to a swarm of bats, ants creeping out of their nests, to frogs holding a symposium around a swamp, and to worms cowering in the muck. Tell us what you really think, Celsus!

Robert Haldane writes of Christianity:

 By the pagans it was branded as atheism, and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness, while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness.

As Paul prepared to go to Rome, he went, as tradition tells us, as “an ugly little guy with beetle brows, bandy legs, a bald pate, a hooked nose, bad eyesight and no great rhetorical gifts” (John Stott) with an unpopular message. And he went to the greatest city in the world, to a place renowned for its wisdom, law, art, and military power.

It’s no different today. As we think about sharing the gospel, we face the reality that we are sharing news that seems like foolishness. And we’re doing so in a city that’s certainly among the world’s best, a place of wisdom and power.

The British preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that if you have never been ashamed of the gospel, the probable reason is not that you are “an exceptionally good Christian,” but rather that “your understanding of the Christian message has never been clear.” Evangelism is hard, because there’s a painline in sharing the gospel. Paul got it, and so should we.

Evangelism is Worth It

As we think of evangelism, though, it’s not enough to admit that it’s hard. There are lots of things that are hard, but we do them anyway because they’re worth it.

This is important. We tend to like what and how questions: what should we do, and how should we do it? But before we get to the what and how questions, it’s important to answer the why question. We will not be compelled to share the gospel without answering the why question. Why should we share the gospel, even though it’s so hard?

In today’s passage, Paul gives us three reasons why evangelism is worth it, even though it’s hard. Paul found that these reasons made it impossible for him not to share the gospel with as many people as possible. What were they? Here they are.

Reason One: The gospel is a debt we owe.

Verses 14 and 15 say:

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:14-15)

I walked down the street in Liberty Village the other day. As I passed person after person, I thought, “I owe you.” I owe something to every person in Liberty Village. And so do you in your community.

That’s what Paul says in verse 14. He’s under an obligation to everyone — Greek or barbarian. Barbarians were non-Greek speaking Gentiles: Persians, Egyptians, Spaniards, Germans. He was prepared to share the gospel with anyone at any time, no matter what language, education level, or religion. Why? Because Paul owes them. He was a debtor. He owed them something, and he had to discharge his debt.

There are two ways that you can owe someone something. The first is if you borrow money from them. If I borrow $10,000 from someone, then I owe them that money. I’m a debtor to them.

But there’s another way that I can be in debt. If someone gives me $10,000 to give to someone else, then that money isn’t mine. I would be in debt to them until I saw the other person and handed over the money. That $10,000 in my pocket would be a debt that I owed to them until I had given them the money.

Paul says that this is the case with each of us. God has given us his gospel. He’s entrusted us with the unbelievable news of what Jesus has done. It’s a message that changes everything, and gives us exactly what we’re looking for: “acceptance, approval, forgiveness, newness, healing, worth, purpose, joy, hope, peace, and freedom” (Jonathan Dodson).

But Paul says that this is not a message that God’s entrusted to us for ourselves only. God has entrusted this gospel to us for the sake of others. We owe the debt to God, but the payment is to others as we share the gospel with them. We have no right to keep it to ourselves. The gospel is made for sharing.

Evangelism is hard, but Paul couldn’t help share the good news, because he owes it to God and to others.

Reason Two: The gospel is God’s power that saves everyone who believes.

Verse 16 says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Paul saw the gospel as a debt, but he also saw the gospel as a power. He reminded himself that the message of the gospel, which some see as weakness, is the very power of God. It results in the salvation of every single person who receives and believes this message.

Have you ever tried to change someone else? I have, and it didn’t work. I have about a 0% success rate in changing others. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though, because I have a fairly low success rate at changing myself. It’s just not something I can do. But the gospel isn’t like that. It has a 100% success rate at changing people who receive this message. In 1 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul describes some of the people it’s changed:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

What changes people, all kinds of people struggling with all kinds of issues? The gospel. The word that Paul uses for power is one of six Greek words for power. It has the sense that there’s something that belongs to the object described that’s inherently powerful, residing in its state by virtue of its own nature. That’s the gospel. By its very nature, it is powerful. It can change lives. It can change people. It can change societies. When Paul saw the gospel’s power, he found it impossible not to share it.

Paul was going to the very power center of the civilized world at that time, a city where power was the keynote. But Paul held a conviction: the most powerful force in the world is not political or military power, wealth, status, or any power belonging to man or woman. The greatest power is the gospel. It is more powerful than the Roman empire in all its power, because it is the power of God that saves anyone who believes.

The preacher G. Campbell Morgan tells a story of a time that he was in Italy. He was in a graveyard saw that there was a huge marble slab over some man's grave. An acorn, though, had gotten into the grave hundreds of years ago. Out of that acorn came a shoot, and out of the shoot came a tree that had grown up so big and so tall it had split the marble slab in half. 

Most people would look at an acorn, and a thousand-pound marble slab, and ask, “Which is going to win?” Hands own, it will always be an acorn. The acorn always wins, even though it looks much less powerful.

Here’s the gospel, and here’s the greatest power known to humanity. Which is going to win? The gospel, or the Roman empire? The gospel, or any human power? It’s always the gospel. The power of the gospel is a great reason to share the gospel.

There’s one more reason to share the gospel, even though it’s hard.

Reason Three: The gospel is a revelation of God’s righteousness that’s given to us.

Verse 17 says:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

There’s so much in this passage. We could look at it for hours. It’s one of the most important statements in all of Scripture. It gets to the heart of the gospel. This verse has played an important role in church history. It’s the passage that played an important role in the Protestant Reformation, after Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, came to understand it. And it’s a message that can change us today as well.

Here’s what it means. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God. What is this righteousness? It’s not a righteousness of our own. It’s a righteousness that’s given to us. God in his grace gives makes a righteousness available to us, and we must receive it passively with empty hands of faith. We don’t add to it or contribute to it. We simply receive it.

And how do we receive it? By faith. Faith means we receive it. Faith means that we rely on it.

Luther came to understand this, and hit changed his life, and it changed history. He called it a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. It’s the righteousness of Christ. As Anders Nygren says, it’s a righteousness “originating in God, prepared by God."

Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

This is why Paul couldn’t help but share the gospel, even though it’s hard.

  • The gospel is a debt that we owe.
  • It’s God’s power that saves everyone who believes.
  • It’s the revelation of God’s righteousness that’s given to us, that we simply receive by faith with empty hands.

When you get these, Paul says, you can’t help but share the gospel. There are going to be other questions about how to share the gospel, what to say, and how to deal with objections, and so on. But this comes first. Before we get to the hows and what’s, we need to deal with the why.

If you hear nothing else today, hear this: Evangelism is hard, but it’s worth it because of what the gospel is.

At the beginning of the message, I asked you how you’re doing with evangelism. And I guessed that most of us are probably struggling. Today I want to tell you that a certain amount of struggle is probably just part of evangelism, because there’s a painline that’s always going to be there. But I also want to tell you that the best way to get past that painline and actually share the gospel is to look at that gospel yourself, to be transformed by it and amazed by it. The more we see the gospel as a debt, as a power, and as a radical message, and the more it changes us, just like it changed Martin Luther, the more we will find ourselves compelled to share it. In other words, it all begins with delighting more in Jesus and all that he’s done.

The more we see the gospel, and the more we marvel at the gospel, the more we’ll be compelled to share the gospel.

As Jonathan Dodson puts it:

We must see Jesus, over and over again, as the source and goal of God’s work, and we must look to him as the renewing power of new creation. Jesus is our motivation for evangelism, and the Father is calling us to count on Christ, more than anything else, and entrust our evangelistic record to him. Don’t count on methods, conversions, cultural savvy, or your church. Count on Christ, deeply, and you will communicate Christ freely.

Let's pray.

Father, thank you for the gospel. Forgive us for being ashamed of the gospel.

Help us today to see the gospel for all that it is. It’s a message you’ve entrusted to us to share. It’s your power that saves everyone who believes. And it’s the revelation of your righteousness, an alien righteousness that’s outside of us, and that’s simply given by grace through faith.

May we see Jesus and his gospel over and over again as our motive for evangelism. May we count on him and his gospel rather than our methods and strategies. And, like Paul, may we be compelled to share the gospel as we grow in our marvel at the gospel. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? (Romans 3:21-26)

Big Idea: Jesus died because our sinfulness and God’s holiness could otherwise never go together.

Today is the start of Holy Week, the week that leads up to Easter. It’s when Christians all over the world remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s an important week, but it’s also a week that raises a lot of questions.

That’s why we’re doing a short series called Easter Questions. We want to answer some of the top questions that come up when we think of Easter. The questions are:

  • Did Easter really happen? Did Jesus really die, and was he really raised from the dead? This is an important question, and we looked at it last week.
  • Why did Jesus have to die? This is what we’re going to look at today.
  • Why does it matter that he rose again? This is what we’ll look at next week.

But today: Why did Jesus have to die? Jesus said that his death was the very reason he came to earth. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In other words, when Jesus died, it was fulfilling a purpose. It was for a reason. He gave his life for a purpose. And that’s what I want to look at today. What was that purpose? Why is Jesus’ death something that we celebrate every single week that we gather?

To answer this, we have to get wrestle with a passage that’s not easy to understand at first. Martin Luther, a famous theologian from many years ago, called this passage “the chief point and the very central place of the epistle to the Romans and of the whole Bible.” So it’s worth trying to understand, even though it will take a bit of work.

Why did Jesus have to die? Because of two facts that are otherwise unreconcilable. Here are the two facts: our sinfulness, and God’s holiness.

Fact One: Our Sinfulness

The entire point of Romans up to this point is that we have a problem: we are sinful. Verses 22 and 23 summarizes our problem:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,(Romans 3:22-23)

This sounds pretty strange to people today. D.A. Carson, a brilliant Canadian-born theologian, says:

When I do university missions today, for the most part I am speaking to biblical illiterates. The hardest truth to get across to them is not the existence of God, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, or Jesus’ resurrection. Even if they think these notions are a bit silly, they are likely to respond, “Oh, so that’s what Christians believe.” They can see a certain coherence to these notions. No, the hardest truth to get across to this generation is what the Bible says about sin.

Sin is generally a snicker-word: you say it, and everybody snickers. There is no shame attached to it. It is so hard to get across how ugly sin is to God. …They sometimes become so indignant with this notion of sin that I must spend a lot of time talking about it!

So that’s a problem that we have. We don’t really seem all that sinful to ourselves. Because of this, the problem that the cross is designed to solve doesn’t really seem like much of a problem to us.

But it is a huge problem. Paul’s just finished by bringing the greatest indictment possible against all of us, no exceptions. In Romans 1:18 he began by saying:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.(Romans 1:18)

And then he concludes in chapter 3:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

In other words, we are all guilty before God. We have all sinned. All of us have missed the mark God intended for the human race. All of us have lost the glory of the original creation.

Let’s see if I can make some sense of all of this.

Augustine — or Saint Augustine as he’s known today — was born in 354 AD in Roman Africa. He may be called a saint today, but he lived anything but a saintly life in his time. He wasn’t baptized until he was in his thirties, and he began an illicit relationship with a woman when he was 17 that lasted many years.

But of all the incidents that took place in his life, there’s one that doesn’t seem like much, but it really stands out. Augustine’s neighbor had a pear tree. He writes:

Wickedness filled me. 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. There was a pear tree near our vineyard laden with fruit, though attractive in neither color nor taste. To shake the fruit off the tree and carry off the pears, I and a gang of naughty adolescents set off late at night after (in our usual pestilential way) we had continued our game in the streets. We carried off a huge load of pears. But they were not for our feasts but merely to throw to the pigs. Even if we ate a few, nevertheless our pleasure lay in doing what was not allowed.

Even though this was a small thing — the theft of a few pears — it was a big thing to Augustine, because it revealed that something was wrong with him. He didn’t need the pears. The pears weren’t even very good. He didn’t even want the pears. But he wanted the excitement of doing something that wasn’t allowed.

Think about this. No need. No coercion. Just an enjoyment of doing the wrong thing. “I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself. It was foul, and I loved it.”

As Augustine thought about this, he tried to understand why doing the wrong thing was so pleasurable. He began to realize that underneath this seemingly harmless prank was a very serious problem: a sinful nature and disposition. He began to see that his eating from the tree wasn’t all that different from Adam and Eve eating from the tree in the Garden of Eden. It was like a reenactment of the original Fall.

What Augustine came to realize is that there are a lot of seemingly insignificant things that we do that, when you look at them closely, reveal a serious problem. The problem is that we kind of like doing the wrong thing. If you dig a little deeper, you discover that we’re not that different from Augustine, or from Adam and Eve for that matter. The root problem, as one person (D.A. Carson) puts it, “is our rebellion against God, our fascination with idolatry, our grotesque de-godding of God.” It’s revealed in all kinds of big and little things we do everyday: the way we cut corners, lose our tempers, get defensive, and more. Not big things, but little things that reveal a big problem.

In 2009, a German scientist named Jan Souman took a group of subjects out to empty parking lots and open fields, blindfolded them, and instructed them to walk in a straight line. Some of them managed to keep to a straight course for ten or twenty paces; a few lasted for 50 or a hundred. But in the end, all of them wound up circling back toward their points of origin. Not many of them. Not most of them. Every last one.

“And they have no idea,” Dr. Souman said. “They were thinking that they were walking in a straight line all the time.” Dr. Souman's research team looked for an explanation. Some people turned to the right while others turned to the left, but the researchers could find no discernible pattern. As a group, neither left-handed nor right-handed subjects demonstrated any predisposition for turning one way more than the other; nor did subjects tested for either right- or left-brain dominance. The team even tried gluing a rubber soul to the bottom of one shoe to make one leg longer than the other.

“It didn't make any difference at all,” explained Dr. Souman. “So again, that is pretty random what people do.” In fact, it isn't even limited to walking. Ask people to swim blindfolded or drive a car blindfolded and, no matter how determined they may be to go straight, they quickly begin to describe peculiar looping circles in one direction or the other.

And we’re like that morally, every single one of us. The Bible explains the underlying problem, and it’s called sin. And instead of being a fairly minor thing, it’s actually taken over, even when we try to hide it. It’s corrupted us, our relationships with each other, and most of all our relationship with God. It’s ugly, offensive, and treasonous to God.

That’s the first fact: we are sinful. And it’s a real problem.

Fact Two: God’s Holiness

Here’s the second fact: God is holy. In fact, holiness is the adjective used in the Bible to describe God more than every other adjective or attribute. Holiness literally means that God is set apart. As R. C. Sproul put it, “He is an infinite cut above everything else.”

This has a moral element as well, meaning that God is infinitely separated from sin. Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is of “purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” Not only is God completely separate from sin, but he’s angry about it. He’s full of wrath.

Sometimes anger is appropriate. Sometimes it isn’t. I think you’ll agree that there are times that it’s right to be angry. In fact, it would be wrong not to be angry about some things. When you read of baby brokers who look for poor women willing to sell their infants to baby farms for huge profits, of women being forced into sex work, of entire families forced to work for nothing to pay off generational debts, or girls forced to marry older men, the right response is anger. These are injustices. It would be wrong not to be angry about these things.

So it is with God. God would not be God if he were not angry at sin.

Miroslav Volf, a Christian theologian from Croatia, used to reject the concept of God's wrath. He thought that the idea of an angry God was barbaric, completely unworthy of a God of love. But then his country experienced a brutal war. People committed terrible atrocities against their neighbors and countrymen. He began to understand the necessity of God's wrath:

My last resistance to the idea of God's wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.

Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators' basic goodness? Wasn't God fiercely angry with them?

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God's wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn't wrathful at the sight of the world's evil. God isn't wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.

So God is angry. He is not angry in a deranged or inappropriate way. His anger is just, and it is right. As Timothy Stoner writes, it’s the jealous anger of a husband whose bride has returned from honeymoon, and is turning tricks on the street for drugs. It’s the avenging anger of a father who walks into his baby’s room and sees a cobra coiled on his son’s lifeless body.

I want you to see this. God could not be God if he wasn’t angry at sin. It would not be right. Anglican theologian N.T. Wright puts it this way:

The biblical doctrine of God's wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates—yes, hates, and hates implacably—anything that spoils, defaces, distorts, or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.

I hope you see the problem. We have two facts that just don’t go together. We are sinners. We not only sin, but the sin is part of our very nature. We even like it. And then there is God, who is an infinite cut above us, and who can’t stand the very presence of sin.

What do we do when we have these two irreconcilable facts? What happens when sinners and a holy God who can’t stand sin get together? We can’t stop being sinners, and God can’t stop being holy. The problem seems unsolvable.

How Jesus Brought These Together

So here’s the problem. God is holy, and we are sinful. The problem is that these are two irreconcilable facts. God can’t just accept our sinfulness without compromising his holiness. We can’t be holy, because our sin nature runs so deep. What can be done?

Some people think the solution is simple: God should just simply forgive us. But there are a number of problems with that view. I read this week of a couple that listed their house on AirBnB while they went on a trip to Cuba. One of the renters held a massive party at their house. Three hundred guests and a DJ showed up at their house and partied until 5 AM. When they came back, their house looked like a crime scene. They found a fist-sized hole in the master bedroom, cut marks across the marble countertop and cabinetry, and stiletto pockmarks in the floor. Their clothing steamer was smashed. There were cigarette burns in the basement rug, and a closet wall was smeared with makeup. They found a bottle of Playboy shampoo in the master bathroom. Their daughter’s bed frame was broken into pieces. “Everywhere I looked,” one of them said, “there was something battered or broken.”

They contacted AirBnB, because the company has a host-guarantee program with up to $1 million coverage for each rental. They got nowhere for a while, which was very frustrating.

Now, imagine that AirBnB came back and said, “Good news! We’ve found the person responsible for the damage, and we’ve forgiven them.” You’d be outraged. It’s not their role to forgive the person responsible; it’s your role. And who is going to pay for the damage? You won’t be satisfied until the insurance adjuster comes by, that things are set right. That’s not unfair. That’s very fair. That’s justice.

So it is with God. When it comes to our sin, God is the most offended party. It is God that we have wronged. And justice must be done.

But here’s the thing: Instead of demanding justice from us, God has chosen to satisfy justice for us. Somebody’s compared it to a judge who has a guilty party before him at the bar. The judge pronounces the sentence — five years in jail, a $10,000 fine, or whatever. Then the judge steps down from the bench, takes off his robes, and takes the person’s place in prison or writes out the check for the fine. And we say, “This is what the Christian gospel is all about. It is a substitution.”

But that’s not quite right. In that illustration, the judge is not the offended party. He is a neutral arbitrator of justice. The offense was not against him, and if he was, he would have to recuse himself from the case.

But with God, he is the offended party. But he doesn’t recuse himself, because his justice is perfect. He stands over us and says that justice must be done. But then his Son willingly and joyfully pays the price, so that the penalty is paid, and justice has been done. And our sinfulness and God’s holiness come together without contradiction, because we are no longer guilty. We’ve been set free.

That’s exactly what Romans 3 explains:

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. (Romans 3:22-26)

D.A. Carson writes:

Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the love of God? Go to the cross. Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the justice of God? Go to the cross. It is where wrath and mercy meet. Holiness and peace kiss each other. The climax of redemptive history is the cross. (Scandalous)

Jesus died because our sinfulness and God’s holiness could otherwise never go together.

Two applications.

First, don’t minimize your sin. The gospel isn’t good news until we realize how big of a problem we have. No blame-shifting. No defensiveness. It’s never an attractive thing when someone doesn’t take responsibility for what they’ve done wrong. Come before God, and come with the full weight of your sin.

Second, rejoice in what Jesus has done for you. I read this in my devotions this week: “In eternity past Christ saw all our faults, and not one after another, but all together” (David Clarkson). And yet he willingly died for us. Jesus has paid the price for us.

We’re going to sing a song with these words that capture it all:

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

Father: thank you for the cross. Thank you that at the cross your justice and love met, so that you could be just, and that you could also justify us.

We worship you today. Thank you for the cross. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Vision: Community (Romans 12:3-18)

Big Idea: Sunday mornings are good, but not enough. We also need to serve each other and to love each other.

Even though we are a new church, and even though we’re still small in number, we’re relaunching our church this month. We are going back to the very beginning and making sure that we’re clear on who we are, and what we’re all about. We’re doing this because it’s easy to forget.

When Charlene and I first got married, I was very clear what marriage was all about. But a couple of years in, I began to forget. She started to annoy me sometimes, to tell you the truth. I think I started to annoy her too. And so we had to go right back to the beginning and remind ourselves what marriage is all about. Remembering elevated us from seeing just today, and brought us back to the big picture. It gave us a picture of who we were supposed to be, by God’s grace. It reminded us of his calling.

It’s the same thing for us here as well. You are here because, at some point, you caught a vision of what a church plant could be. But it’s so easy to forget. It’s easy for me to forget! We need to remind ourselves who we’re supposed to be, by God’s grace.

So we want to relay the foundation, reset the DNA. We want to remind ourselves of why we’re here in the first place. Even better, I want to invite you into something. I want to invite you into something new and exciting. I’m not exaggerating when I say it could change your life, and it could change this community as well.

So last week we looked at the first part of our strategy: the gospel. It all begins here. We said that the gospel is the news that God made us and owns us, but that we rebelled against him. But God has initiated a rescue plan to save us through Jesus Christ, and all we have to do is to receive his finished work with empty hands, and then follow him. That’s the gospel. It’s central to our lives and our church. It’s not just how we become Christians, it’s how we grow in the Christian faith. We never outgrow the gospel.

As we said last week, we want to be a church that believes the gospel. But we want to be more than that. We also want to have a gospel culture. A church with gospel doctrine and a gospel culture is a beautiful and powerful thing. We looked at 1 John, and reminded ourselves that the gospel creates community, and that it also provides a safe place for sinful, messy people. If you weren’t here last week, let me tell you what this means: We want the gospel to shape the culture of this church, so that because we have Jesus in common, we have everything in common. The gospel creates a family, and that family is a place where we can drop the masks and stop pretending. We’re home.

We’ve given you a rack card today that explains our strategy. You’ll see that the gospel is the first piece of our strategy. We want you to go deeper in the gospel yourself, and to absorb a gospel doctrine and culture in your own life. As part of that, we want to encourage you to practice spiritual disciplines like worship, reading Scripture, praying, and repenting. We’ll return to these and help you unpack them in your lives. The result, as we do this, is that God will transform us through his Spirit so that are lives are compelling and attractive, and marked by the gospel. That’s what we’re aiming for in our lives.

So that’s the gospel. We will never move beyond it. We will keep returning to it over and over. It’s not the ABC’s but the A to Z of the Christian life.

But today we’re coming to the second part of our strategy: community. Here’s the problem. What do you think of when you think of church? We usually think of a couple of things, and here’s the first:

Building — When you ask most people about a church, they automatically think about a building. When we were kids, we learned the rhyme: “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple. Open the doors, and see all the people.” It’s ridiculous, because although we think of church as a building, the true biblical meaning of church is about as far from building as you can get. The early Christian church had no buildings. The early Christians were often persecuted and, as a result, they often met in secret in homes.There’s nothing wrong with having a building, as we do, but this is not the church. When we see this as the church, then church becomes compartmentalized and segmented as a tiny part of our lives.

But there’s another way that we usually think of church:

Service — A lot of people think of church as a worship service. For them, church means attending a service once a week. It involves sitting in rows and singing, and listening to a sermon. I actually think that worship services are important. Public worship and proclamation are important — but they are not what it means to be the church! 

In a book called The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne make a very good point:

Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient…Sermons are needed, yes, but they are not all that is needed. Let’s be absolutely clear: the preaching of powerful, faithful, compelling biblical expositions is absolutely vital and necessary to the life and growth of our congregations….Clear, strong, powerful public preaching is the bedrock and foundation upon which all other ministry in the congregation is built. The sermon is the rallying cry…

But then they quote Peter Adam, who says:

…While preaching…is one form of the ministry of the Word, many other forms are reflected in the Bible and in contemporary Christian church life. It is important to grasp this point clearly, or we shall try to make preaching carry a load which it cannot bear; that is, the burden of doing all that the Bible expects from every form of ministry of the Word.

Here’s the deal. If church = Sunday service for you, you’re not getting the whole package. You’re missing a huge part of what it means to be the church. You’re getting the all-inclusive without the meals. You’re getting the burger without the beef. It’s not enough. Church was designed to be more than what you’re experiencing so far. It’s not that the service is unimportant, it’s just that it’s designed to be more.

So let’s get practical. What’s needed beyond the worship service? I want to notice two things from Romans 12 that we need on top of coming together for public worship. It means that we make two practical commitments.

1. I am here to serve

Romans 12:3-8 makes one main point: everyone in the church is needed to serve everyone else. In other words, we all need each other! That’s why Paul begins in verse 3 the way he does: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3). Here’s the problem. When we overestimate ourselves, we think we don’t need the ministry of other believers. Paul calls out what’s behind our thinking that we don’t need the ministry of the body: arrogance.

As you know, the Jays have been playing really well lately. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is having an exceptionally good season. He’s on pace to have the best individual season by a position player in Jays’ history. Imagine today, as they’re playing Boston, if Donaldson said to the team, “Hey guys, I’m frontrunner for American League MVP. You guys take the day off. I’ve got this.” That would be extremely arrogant. We get that. Donaldson needs what the others on the team can do, and so do we. We need the ministry of others.

What does this look like? Verses 6 to 8 tell us:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8)

Paul says that all of us have gifts. The Holy Spirit empowers us in such a way that we’re able to help strengthen the church and help it to flourish. We all have a role. Every one of us is needed. He lists two broad categories: speaking gifts (prophesying, teaching, and encouraging), and serving gifts (serving, contributing, leading, and showing mercy).

God’s glory is revealed through his people — not just through some of his people, but in the diversity of gifts that he’s given his people. This means that we need your ministry. We need what God has prepared you to do in this church. We need more than the ministry of the few to the many; we all need what God has put you here to do. I like how Ed Welch puts it:

We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people. God is pleased to grow and change us through the help of people who have been re-created in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. That is how life in the church works. (Side by Side)

Let’s get very practical. What does this look like? It means that we need community so that we have the time to serve each other. We need enough time so that we can encourage each other, teach each other, contribute to each other in practical ways, and show mercy to each other. That’s more than a meeting. It’s a way of life.

This is the way the church moves forward— through mutual love and care. Such expression of love was less obvious in the Old Testament, when people relied on kings, leaders, and prophets, but when the Spirit was given at Pentecost— everything changed. Suddenly, ordinary people had extraordinary impact. (Ed Welch)

That’s the first commitment that we must make as we come together. I am here to serve. That’s very different from the attitude, “I’m here to be served.” God has brought you here because you have a contribution to make. The Lord has given spiritual gifts to every Christian in this room. Find your gift. Embrace it by faith. Use it with the strength that God supplies, so that God will get the glory and you and your church will get the joy. I am here to serve, and you are too.

There’s one other practical commitment I find in this passage:

2. These people are here to be loved.

Serving each other is one thing. Paul ups the ante in verses 9 and on:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:15-16)

Here’s what Paul says church life looks like: genuine love. Treating each other like family. Outdoing each other in showing honor. Never hesitating in our eagerness to love each other. It means praying for each other, contributing to each other’s financial needs, and inviting strangers into our homes. It means identifying with each other’s joys and sorrows. It means that we never look down on another person in the church, and that we never think more of ourselves than we do of anyone else.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community like that? All of these are the practical outworking of what Paul said in verse 9: “Let love be genuine.” If you get that right, everything else flows out of that. God commands what we should feel for each other. And God shows us what this would look like if we lived it out.

In her off-beat memoir, journalist and writer Heather Havrilesky reminds us how community (whether in a family or a church family) implies carrying one another's burdens. Havrilesky writes:

We weren't meant to suffer alone! We weren't meant to … escape the indignity and frustration of asking for help, for needing help, from someone who might not always enjoy giving it, someone who gets on our nerves, who has never made much sense to us, someone whom we break down and bicker with occasionally. We were meant to lean on each other, as messy and imperfect as that can be, to be capable when we can, and to allow the world to take care of us when we can't. It won't be all bad. Or it will be. But at least we'll have each other.

That’s what Paul is talking about. He’s talking about breaking through the barrier of polite relationships to something much deeper — to genuine love. He’s not talking about sitting in rows. He’s talking about turning our chairs towards each other, and opening our homes and our lives.

And it’s a beautiful thing. By God’s grace, it can happen. By God’s grace, it must happen. It’s simple, but it will take God’s power to keep these two commitments: I am here to serve, and these people are here to be loved.

I have to confess that there was a time that I didn’t think this was really possible. But now I not only think it’s possible. In fact, I was reading a book on this one time, and I put it away because I thought it was a pipe dream. Not anymore. I think it’s absolutely necessary. It’s what God wants for our church. I’m all in on this. This is the type of community that God wants us to have at Liberty Grace Church.

You may have never realized how crucial the local church is to your walk with Christ. 

We think that this kind of living, this kind of biblical Christianity, requires small groups. We believe that this is pie-in-the-sky theory if the we do not have a web of deepening, regularly-nurtured personal relationships. We need a way for Romans 12:3-18 to become a regular, personal, relational reality.

You’ve been given a rack card today. It illustrates our mission and our strategy as a church. I want you to keep this card. I’d encourage you to stick it on your fridge, or tuck it in your Bible as a bookmark, or download a copy for your phone or tablet. It’s so important.

Our whole strategy as a church is here. We’ve already covered the first: that we go deeper in the gospel, and that we practice spiritual disciplines by God’s grace, so that our lives are compelling and attractive, marked by the gospel.

Today we are at the second strategy. It’s the strategy of community: to do life together, to participate in public worship, small groups, and hospitality. The result will be safe and engaging Christian community. All of this is a reflection of the gospel. It’s only possible because we see what Jesus has done for us, and because our lives are being transformed as a result.

I have two ways for you to respond.

First: I invite you to memorize Romans 12:10 with me: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Let’s internalize this and let it get under our skin.

Second: This week, you will receive an invitation to a small group, starting the week after next. It will be messy at the beginning. We’re just beginning to figure this stuff out. But by God’s grace, we’re going to do this. I want you to respond, and to join a small group community in which you can live out these two practical commitments: I am here to serve, and these people are here to love.

In his book The Pastor, Eugene Peterson describes his wife Jan's understanding of what it means to be a pastor's wife. As I read Peterson's words, I was struck with how apt the description was not only for pastor's wives but for all Christians as they enter fully into the life of the body of Christ.

And so, I would like to modify Peterson's words slightly and substitute church member for pastor's wife. See if you don't think this is a good description of what life in the church should be:

Being a church member is a vocation, a way of life. It means participation in an intricate web of hospitality, living at the intersection of human need and God's grace, inhabiting a community where men and women who don't fit are welcomed, where neglected children are noticed, where the stories of Jesus are told, and people who have no stories find that they do have stories, stories that are part of the Jesus story. Being a church member places us strategically yet unobtrusively at a heavily trafficked intersection between heaven and earth.

That’s where I want to live. That’s what I want this church to feel like. Will you join me?


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Unbreakable (Romans 8:28-39)

Big Idea: God’s purposes and God’s love for us are unbreakable.

“I have some bad news.” That’s what our daughter, Christy, told us on Friday night when we got back from the Good Friday service. My mind began to go through all the things that could have gone wrong before she told us what had happened: she broke her glasses. I was relieved, actually. Glasses can be replaced. I’m actually surprised her glasses have lasted as long as they have!

But, her glasses are broken. It’s a reminder to us that important things break. Cars break. As we know in Liberty Village, elevators break. But it’s not just stuff that breaks: relationships break. Bones break. In an 8K race I ran yesterday, a guy right behind me took a tumble. A few days ago, there was a fatal accident on the highway just outside our condo. We are fragile creatures, and life is rough to say the least. Even entertainment — movies like Unbroken and TV shows like the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt  — alludes to the fact that life can be unbelievably hard, and that surviving is something that we can’t take for granted.

It leads us to the question: is anything really unbreakable? Glasses are fragile. Our stuff is fragile. We are fragile. Life is fragile. Is there anything that we can count on that cannot be broken?

In fact, there is. And it’s what Easter Sunday is all about.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at Romans 8. It’s such an important passage. Ray Ortlund, Jr. Says, “Paul’s letter to the Romans has the potential to transform the church in our generation, as it has in the past,” and I agree. In the book of Romans, we find one of the most profound presentations of the gospel message, or what God has done in Jesus to make us right with him. Someone else said:

If the Epistle to the Romans rightly has been called 'the cathedral of Christian faith', then surely the eighth chapter may be regarded as its most sacred shrine, or its high altar of worship, of praise, and of prayer … Here, we stand in the full liberty of the children of God, and enjoy a prospect of that glory of God which some day we are to share. (Charles Erdman).

We’ve been seeing from the book of Romans what we have in Jesus Christ. If you are in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation for you. None. If you are in Jesus, you are now indwelt by God himself. He comes and lives within you. If you are in Jesus Christ, you are adopted. God doesn’t just forgive you; he adopts you. He takes you into his family. This is even better news than being forgiven. As J.I. Packer says, “To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.” Not only that, but you are heirs. You will inherit everything that God has promised to you.

All of this is good. Actually, all of this is amazing. But there’s a problem. You can be forgiven, indwelt, adopted, and made an heir, and still feel like you’re at risk, that you’re fragile, and that God’s control over your life is fragile. You can still feel like God could reach the end of his patience with you and decide to give up on you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over 25 years of pastoral ministry it’s that life can be brutally difficult, and that you and I will face events and tragedies that will threaten us and make it seem like everything in our lives is breakable. Paul even alludes to this in verses 18 to 25 as he talks about our present sufferings. Don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t suffer. Life is brutally hard, and it will sometimes seem like everything around you can break. We need something that is field-tested, that will survive whatever life can throw us including layoffs, breakups, crises, illnesses, and even death. Is there anything that is unbreakable in our lives?

Yes. In the middle of life’s difficulties, there are two things that will not break no matter what happens. According to this passage, God’s purposes for us and God’s love for us are unbreakable.

Let’s look at both of those.

First, God’s Purposes for you are unbreakable.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

This is a very hard verse to believe. It’s a great verse, but I almost cringe when I hear it because it’s thrown around like a panacea in the hardest of circumstances. But here is what Paul is saying. God has a purpose for you, and that purpose is that you be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) and that he complete the work that he has begun in your life until you are finally and completely saved. If you are in Jesus Christ, that is God’s purpose for you. It’s a pretty amazing thing. Ray Ortlund Jr. says that it’s like looking at an artist’s magnum opus. God has begun work on us and is fashioning us into what he wants us to become. It’s about:

…being changed from what we are right now, with all our struggles and failures, and being liberated into the glorious image of God’s Son in resurrection immortality forever. Not bad. Do you realize that, if you are in Christ, you are God’s personal project? He has undertaken to make you glorious.

And amazingly, Paul says that God is working everything together in order to accomplish that purpose. This means that God is at work in every circumstance of our lives with the ultimate goal of completing that work in us. There is not a single thing that can ever happen to us that will not accomplish God’s good purpose in our lives to make us into who he wants us to be. “God’s love employs the worst of life for his loving purpose” (Ray Ortlund). Even your sins. Everything, including evil and tragedies! The Bible is saying that all things in your story — not some things, not just the nice things, but all things in your story — are being used by God to fulfill his great purpose of redemption. It’s what theologians call the providence of God. The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” and answers:

Providence is the almighty and ever-present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.

As one theologian put it, “God’s unstoppable purpose in calling believers to salvation cannot be frustrated, and thus he employs all things to bring about the plan he had from the beginning in the lives of believers” (Thomas R. Schreiner).

What does this look like? The best illustration I’ve seen comes from author Philip Yancey:

In high school, I took pride in my ability to play chess. I joined the chess club, and during lunch hour could be found sitting at a table with other nerds poring over books with titles like Classic King Pawn Openings. I studied techniques, won most of my matches, and put the game aside for 20 years.

Then, in Chicago, I met a truly fine chess player who had been perfecting his skills long since high school. When we played a few matches, I learned what it is like to play against a master. Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky, unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that none of my strategies mattered very much. His superior skill guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own.

Perhaps God engages our universe, his own creation, in much the same way. He grants us freedom to rebel against its original design, but even as we do so we end up ironically serving his eventual goal of restoration.

If I accept that blueprint — a huge step of faith, I confess — it transforms how I view both good and bad things that happen. Good things, such as health, talent, and money, I can present to God as offerings to serve his purposes. And bad things, too — disability, poverty, family dysfunction, failures — can be redeemed as the very instruments that drive me to God.

I said that this is the best illustration I found, but that’s not completely true. The best illustration I can find is the cross. On Good Friday we remembered that Jesus was betrayed, illegally convicted, mocked, beaten, and executed. It was the most horrible thing that could ever happen: we killed God the Son. But in the ultimate example of God working all things together for our good, he took “the most horrible thing that ever happened” and turned it into “the most wonderful thing that ever happened" (Paul David Tripp). His death became our salvation.

What this means is that everything that happens to you — everything, including the really hard things — will be used by God to accomplish his purposes in your life. In the end, if you have trusted in what Jesus did at the cross to accomplish your salvation, you will be glorious. John Donne, an English poet who lived almost 500 years ago, put it this way: “I shall be so like God, as that the devil himself shall not know me from God, so farre as to finde any more place to fasten a temptation upon me, then upon God; not to conceive any more hope of my falling from that kingdome, then of God’s being drivern out of it.” God’s purposes for you are unbreakable.

But that’s not all:

Second, God’s love for you is unbreakable.

In his book By Grace Alone, Sinclair Ferguson identifies four major "fiery darts" Satan uses to unsettle believers and rob them of their assurance and peace in the gospel:

  • Fiery Dart 1: "God is against you," Satan says. "He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?"
  • Fiery Dart 2: "I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins," Satan argues. "What can you say in defense? Nothing."
  • Fiery Dart 3: "You can say you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day," Satan insinuates. "How will you defend yourself then?"
  • Fiery Dart 4: "Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?" Satan asks.

Will any of these things remove us from God’s love? Is God’s love for us fragile? Paul answers with three assertions in verses 31-39, all of which have to do with Easter:

Since God is for us, no one can successfully oppose us. Paul writes:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

When he was growing up, the late author Brennan Manning had a best friend named Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together.

One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan's life was spared.

Years later he went to visit Ray's mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Ray’s mother got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan's face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?” Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And the answer coming back: “What more could he have done for you?”

The cross of Jesus is God's way of doing all he could do for us. The evidence of God being for us is supremely manifested in the giving of his Son. And now that he has given us the greatest gift (his Son), he will surely give us everything else that we need (32).

No one will ever bring a charge against the elect. Paul writes:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34)

There are a lot of bad things people can say about us that are true. Anyone who knows me well could stand up and deliver charges against me: faults in my character, things that I should have done that I didn’t do, careless things I’ve said, and more. All of these charges are true, but none of them can stick. Why?

If accusations are brought against us, we need not fear, for the charges are silenced by the upraised, pierced hands of our Intercessor. If we are to be condemned, it will have to be over Christ’s dead and now resurrected body, which actually is the basis of our salvation!” (Kent Hughes)

This passage says that God no charges will stick against us, because God dealt with them all on Good Friday, and has declared us to be not guilty. No one will condemn us on the day of judgment. Not only will God not condemn us, but Jesus will defend us against any charge. No accusation against us will prevail.

Finally: Nothing and no one can successfully separate us from God’s love in Christ. Paul writes:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Paul looks around at anything and everything that can separate us from God’s love. He throws out every worst-case scenario out there that could threaten God’s love. Death will not pull me away from God’s love. Neither will anything in this life, nor cosmic spiritual powers, nor anything in time. No disappointment, no neurosis, no disease, no broken romance, no financial crisis, no mental illness will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God’s love for you has no outer limit.

There is very little in this life that can’t be broken. Everything around us is fragile. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that two things are true: God’s purposes for us are unbreakable. God’s love for us is unbreakable.

I told you my daughter’s glasses broke. I went to the optometrist yesterday. We bought insurance for the glasses, but it had already expired. But they said, “Don’t worry, we’ll look after it.” Broken, cracked, smashed — but guaranteed. They weren’t going to let anything happen that they weren’t going to cover.

Two thousand years ago, a man died for us. A few days later he rose from the dead. All of this was to tell us: God will stick up for us. God will provide for us. God justifies us. His purposes for us will not fail. God loves us. God’s love is loyal, generous, just and eternal. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this is his love for you today. If you are not, then come to him today — to the one whose purposes and love are truly unbreakable.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Adopted (Romans 8:12-17)

Big Idea: Adoption gives us a new identity, experience, and destiny.

So here’s how things work around here. Every week we get up here and say something really important. Most weeks we will tell you that what we’re talking about is important, probably more important than anything we’ve talked about other weeks. After a while, you start to roll your eyes, because every week we keep saying that tonight’s topic is one of the most important things. And yet you keep coming back.

Tonight, we’re going to repeat the process. Except what we’re going to talk about actually is one of the most important things we could ever grasp. That isn’t just my opinion. Renowned Canadian theologian J.I. Packer agrees. He writes:

You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God. (Knowing God)

So today, we’re talking about something very important. It is, as Packer says, the sum of the whole of New Testament teaching. It is the summation of the New Testament, and the test of how well you understand Christianity.

But it’s even more than that. I really appreciate what Packer says: it’s not just knowing it, but experiencing it. It’s how much we make of the thought of being God’s child; it’s being controlled in our worship, prayers, and whole outlook on life.

So today, I want to look at this. Specifically, I want to look at three things that we learn in this passage. It tells us that we have three new things: a new identity, a new experience, and a new destiny.

First, we have a new identity.

Listen to what Paul says in verse 14: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Don’t miss this. What Paul is saying is for those who have encountered Jesus Christ, there is a completely new identity. In other words, not everybody is a child of God. Some people teach that, and in a sense it’s true. When Paul spoke in Athens, he quoted one of their poets: “For we are indeed his offspring” (Acts 17:28). What Paul means is that we are all related. Every human being was created by God in his image. But that’s not what Paul is talking about in Romans 8. In Romans 8, he is distinguishing between two types of people: those who are children of God, and those who aren’t. Not everyone has this privilege. If you have encountered God’s grace through Jesus Christ, then you have a completely new identity: you are a child of God. The gospel of John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

What does it mean to be a child of God? Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz told a story that helps us understand. Billy Graham is the famous evangelist who has preached to millions of people all around the world, and who now lives in North Carolina. People come to visit him in his home. They drive up the long drive and come to the gate. They knock on the gate and say: “Billy Graham, let us in. We've read your books; we've watched you on TV; we've written to you; and we want to come to your house.”

And she says that her father says: "Depart from me, I don't know you. You're not a member of my family, and you've not made any arrangements to come."

But Anne Graham Lotz says that when she drives up that same driveway and knock on the gate, she says, “Daddy, this is Anne, and I've come home.” The gate is thrown right open, and she goes inside, because she is her father's child. Although he is a lot of things — evangelist, legend, author, confidante to presidents — to her he is Dad. Her identity changes everything, and puts her on a completely different footing with her father.

That’s what Paul is saying. If you are in Jesus Christ, then Father is now the name by which you call God. Nobody ever called God Father before Jesus came along. If you are in Jesus Christ, you’re now part of God’s family. You are his children, his own sons and daughters and heirs. You can approach him with boldness. You have an in with God. You have privileges. You can approach God without fear and know that he has a fatherly concern for you. “This is the heart of the New Testament message” (Packer).

What does this mean? The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way. We now:

…enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him, as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

There’s so much here. We now have new privileges. We now have God’s name upon us. We can now approach God with boldness. God now cares for us, protects us, provides for us, and corrects us. He will not revoke our adoption. We now receive all that he has promised us as heirs. We could spend weeks exploring all of this.

I know I keep quoting J.I. Packer, but what he has written on this subject is so good. Packer says that this is the highest privilege that the gospel offers. It’s even better than our justification, by which he means it’s even better than God’s forgiveness of us. Why is this so? Justification, he says, is definitely necessary, and it definitely meets our deepest spiritual need. But adoption is even higher, because of the rich relationship with God that it signifies. You see, we could be forgiven by God, but that would still not necessarily mean that God loves us. It doesn’t imply any deep relationship or intimacy. A judge can pardon you, but that doesn’t mean that he has to like you. In fact, a judge can set you free and still absolutely hate you.

But that’s not what God does. God justifies us. He forgives all of our sins. But then he does something unbelievable. He brings us into his family. He loves us, and he becomes our Father. Our relationship becomes one of closeness, affection and generosity. “To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater” (Packer).

The good news that we offer this community — the good news that we need ourselves — is not just about forgiveness. It’s not just about the afterlife. It’s far better than this. It’s that we can have a new relationship with God through Jesus in which we enjoy all the privileges of becoming God’s children. He offers his love and all the rights and privileges that come with being his children.

It’s unbelievable, but that’s not all:

Second, we have a new experience.

It’s one thing to have a new identity. It’s another thing to experience it. If you look carefully at what Paul says in this passage, he’s not content to let this hang in the air like a theory or a concept. Paul gets real with this truth. Look at what he writes:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… (Romans 8:15-16)

This is not meant to be a theory. It’s meant to be an experience in two different ways.

First, it changes us from a spirit of slavery to a spirit of sonship. We no longer relate to God from a position of fear or a position of servitude. We’re children now. This gets personal. Paul compares two ways of thinking about God. One is about fear, dread, and inadequacy. Have you ever felt insecure in a relationship? You know how awful that is. Paul contrasts that with a second way of thinking about God: not fear, not dread, not inadequacy, but intimacy. It leads us to address God in the most intimate terms, as a child would address his or her father.

Second, it’s also experienced within our spirits. We inwardly sense that we are God’s sons. In Hebrew culture, the testimony of two witnesses was required to establish truth. Paul says that we have this here. The two witnesses are the Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our own spirits. You were meant to experience this inward assurance that you are loved by God. It’s a personal touch from God in the depth of your being. I don’t know if you have ever experienced this. I hope you have. There have been times when I’ve had a strong and powerful sense of my relationship with God. We were meant to experience this. It’s not reserved for the elite. It’s for all of us.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones says if you want to get an idea of what it’s like, picture a man walking along a road with his little boy, holding hands. “The little boy knows that this man is his father and that his father loves him. But suddenly, the father stops, picks up the boy, lifts him up into his arms, embraces him, and kisses him. Then he puts him down, and they continue walking. The boy is no more a son when he is being embraced than he was before. The father’s action has not changed the relationship; it has not changed the status of the boy; but oh, the difference in the enjoyment.” That’s what we’re meant to enjoy with God.

I hope you get a sense of how amazing this is. If you are in Christ, you are justified. That alone is amazing. He has forgiven all of your sins. He has cleansed you from all unrighteousness. But it gets even better. Not only has he done this, but he has adopted you and given you a new identity as his own child. You are his; he is yours. You can approach him in confidence and intimacy. But it gets even better than this. It’s not just a theory but it’s meant to be an experience.

How do you get this? Ask God for it. Charles Spurgeon said:

Thank him for little grace, and ask him for great grace . He has given you hope, ask for faith. And when he gives you faith, ask for assurance. And when you get assurance, ask for full assurance. And when you have obtained full assurance, ask for enjoyment. And when you have enjoyment, ask for glory itself. And he will surely give it to you in his own appointed season.

I heard a story this week of a man who owned a sheep ranch. He couldn’t make enough on his ranching operation to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage, so he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, he had to live on government subsidy.

One day a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and told him there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease contract. They found a huge oil reserve, and he became a multimillionaire. The day he purchased the land he had received the oil and mineral rights. He’d been rich from that day. Yet, he'd been living on relief. A multimillionaire living in poverty. The problem? He didn't know the oil was there even though he owned it.

Many Christians live in spiritual poverty. They are entitled to all the privileges and benefits of being God’s adopted sons, but they are not aware of their rights. They live like orphans rather than living off the rich reserves of grace that are theirs.

I love what Spurgeon said. “Ask for enjoyment.” Ask God to make his love real to you. Meditate on the gospel. Purse the means of grace. Flee from sin. If you are in Christ, you have the identity of his child. Ask him for the enjoyment of that privilege. Live in light of who you really are.

We’ve said that this is revolutionary. We’ve seen that this is the heart of the Christian message, and that it gives us a new identity and a new experience. But there’s one more thing that it gives us:

Third, we have a new destiny.

Paul says in verse 17: “…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). He may have saved the best for last. Paul’s talked about our present enjoyment of the benefits of adoption: that we have a new identity, and that we can experience that identity here and now. But in this verse he paints the future for us. Now that we’re adopted, we have an inheritance coming our way. Paul’s going to spend the rest of the chapter talking about this, so we won’t go into depth, but we’ll spend just a few minutes talking about it today.

When God adopts us, we become heirs. “Your eternal happiness hinges on this one thing: Are you a child of God?” (Ray Ortlund). If you are, you are richer than you can imagine. You have an inheritance coming to you that is unbelievable. God will wipe the tears from our eyes. We will be like Jesus. We will experience life better than we’ve ever imagined. I love what Mike Wittmer writes about the new earth that we will enjoy:

So the new earth will be an exciting, interesting place to be. We will be always growing, always learning more about ourselves, the world, and God. We will never bottom out and become bored, for we will never know as much as God knows. There will always be some new joy to discover, some place to visit or revisit, some new dish to create, a new flower to breed, a new song to sing, a new poem to write, a new golf club to try out, a new lesson to learn and then pass on to someone else, some person to know more deeply, something new in our relationship with God. And this stretching and growing will go on forever…Nothing will be more satisfying than dwelling with our Father on the earth we call home, enjoying the well-rounded, flourishing lives he intended for us all along. Our next life will look an awful lot like this one, lacking only the suffering that arises from sin. (Heaven Is a Place on Earth)

Doesn’t that sound great? This is the inheritance that awaits the children of God. Amazingly, it’s all ours because it’s all Christ’s, and we are co-heirs with him. Because he inherits it, we will too.

But Paul does add a condition. He says, “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” It’s odd for Paul to mention suffering at this point. He was on a roll. I was feeling pretty encouraged until Paul brought this up. Why does Paul bring this up?

I believe it’s because Christianity is real about our problems. You are adopted, and you get to experience that adoption, and you even get to inherit all things, but that doesn’t exempt you from suffering. The gospel enables us to face up to the hard realities of this world rather than denying them. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Suffering is common. It’s actually part of the Christian life.

Peter and John were jailed. Stephen was killed. Paul himself was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, starved, threatened, and exposed to the elements. And what was true of these early preachers soon became true of their followers as well. They were ridiculed, hated, abused, and eventually martyred for their faith in great numbers. In addition, they endured the many disappointments, deaths, deprivations, and disasters common to all human life in a fallen and extremely sinful world…Suffering is as common to God’s people today as in New Testament times. (James Boice)

Paul is not saying that suffering is how we earn our status as children, or gain our inheritance. He is saying that it’s proof that we are God’s children. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who explores this line of thought extensively in his study of Romans 8:17, says, “If you are suffering as a Christian, and because you are a Christian, it is one of the surest proofs you can ever have of the fact that you are a child of God.” But we can’t miss what Paul says in the next verse: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This is how J.I. Packer puts it:

And throughout our life in this world, and to all eternity beyond, he will constantly be showing us, in one way or another, more and more of his love, and thereby increasing our love to him continually. The prospect before the adopted children of God is an eternity of love.

This is what this passage tells us. We are adopted, and it changes everything. It gives us a new identity. It gives us a new experience, here and now. And it gives us a new destiny. Knowing this sustains us even when things get really tough here and now.

I want to close by saying two things. First, if you are here today and don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, we are so glad you are here. We are honored to have you. I want you to understand that this is what Christianity is all about. It’s not a set of rules. It’s not about rituals. It’s about adoption. This is the whole of the New Testament teaching. It’s the test of if you understand Christianity. As you consider the claims of Christ, I want you to see that the heart of Christianity is a God who adopts unworthy people and calls them his own. You’re invited. This is open to anyone who comes to Jesus Christ and confesses him as Lord.

Second, I want to speak to those of you who are followers of Jesus Christ. It is my great privilege to tell you that you have not just been forgiven; you have been adopted. You can now approach God with boldness. God now cares for you, protects you, provides for you, and corrects you. He will not revoke your adoption. You now receive all that he has promised you as heirs, a fellow heir with Jesus. And this isn’t just head knowledge. He wants you to experience this.

I want to close with great advice from J.I. Packer:

The immediate message to our hearts of what we have studied in the present chapter is surely this: Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of—a happy Life?—yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honoring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

No Condemnation (Romans 8:1-2)

Big Idea: What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? He removes all condemnation.

Skye Jethani relates a story about holding a series of meetings with college-aged students. The topics ranged across the spectrum—doctrine, hell, dating—but each conversation had three rules: be honest, be gracious, and be present.

On one night the students wanted to discuss habitual sins. Although they struggled with a variety of sinful behaviors, they all agreed on one thing: God was extremely disappointed with them. One student said, “My parents were students at a Christian college in the early '90s when a revival broke out …. They were on fire for God. And here I am consumed by sin day after day.” Often through tears, many other students shared similar stories about how they believed God must be disappointed with them.

After listening to their stories, Jethani asked, “How many of you were raised in a Christian home?” They all raised their hands. “How many of you grew up in a Bible-centered church?” All hands stayed up. And all of them agreed that God was extremely disappointed with them. Maybe you can relate.

I want to ask a question tonight: What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? Or to put it differently: What does God think of you today? Not the cleaned up, airbrushed version of you, but the real you. I wonder if I asked you, “Do you feel that God is disappointed in you?” how you would answer.

Because the reality is: We have to answer this question. All of us here today are strugglers, every single one of us. So the question is a legitimate one: What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing?

To answer this question, I want to look at a great passage of Scripture: Romans 8. It’s such an important passage. Ray Ortlund, Jr. Says, “Paul’s letter to the Romans has the potential to transform the church in our generation, as it has in the past,” and I agree. In the book of Romans, we find one of the most profound presentations of the gospel message, or what God has done in Jesus to make us right with him. Someone else said:

If the Epistle to the Romans rightly has been called 'the cathedral of Christian faith', then surely the eighth chapter may be regarded as its most sacred shrine, or its high altar of worship, of praise, and of prayer … Here, we stand in the full liberty of the children of God, and enjoy a prospect of that glory of God which some day we are to share. (Charles Erdman).

We’re going to spend some time leading up to Easter looking at this great chapter in the book of Romans as we wrap up our series on our identity in Christ. But here’s the thing: Paul begins Romans 8 with the very dilemma we’re talking about. What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? In chapter 7, he gives a profound description of what it feels like to be fighting but failing:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…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. (Romans 7:15, 18-19, 24-25)

There’s been a ton of debate about what Paul is talking about here. Is he talking about his experience before he was a Christian, his experience as a Christian, or is he speaking about Israel’s experience? We can’t be sure, but we can say this: this is, to some extent, the experience of every Christian. Anyone who has seriously followed Christ has known something of wanting to obey Christ, but feeling frustrated, and feeling like a failure. We want to do good, but we end up doing the very thing we did’t want to do. We want to please God, but the power to do so is out of our grasp. I know that I can relate.

Given this struggle, Paul says two things. First, he says the answer to this dilemma is Jesus. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) When we come to the end of ourselves, and realize our need of Christ, we are in a very good position indeed. We’re exactly where we need to be. Notice what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Wretched man that I am! What must I do?” He says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?” The answer has to come from outside of ourselves, and that answer is Jesus. If you feel like you don’t measure up, then the answer isn’t to try harder. The answer is to look outside of yourself to Jesus and all that he brings us. We’re going to talk about this in the coming weeks.

But Paul also says a second thing, and it’s what I want to look at today. In Romans 8:1-2, Paul says, “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” (Romans 8:1-2). What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? He removes all condemnation. Is God disappointed in you because you struggle? No. He has provided a Savior, and he has removed all condemnation.

Let’s ask a few questions about this passage. What does it mean? On what basis? And what difference does this make?

First: What does it mean?

It’s important to understand what Paul means, because this is one of the most important truths of the Christian faith. To really understand this, we have to understand the what, who, and when.

What — Here’s what Paul means. It’s a legal term. Paul doesn’t only mean that we aren’t condemned. It’s stronger that that. It means that we are completely free from any debt or penalty. Not only are we not under condemnation, but it doesn’t even exist anymore. It is gone forever and cannot exist for us. No charge against us can stand; no one can condemn us.

Now, it’s not because we don’t deserve to be condemned. Paul has just built a case that we’re all guilty before a holy God. There’s not one person — religious or not — who escapes. Nobody measures up to God’s standard. Nobody can stand before God boldly with our record exposed. We’re all in big trouble on our own, and should be concerned with God’s condemnation — except that Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Here’s what it means: “If you are in Christ Jesus, there is no valid reason why you should ever again experience fear or apprehension about your relationship with God or your eternal destiny” (Sam Storms). This is amazing! As the hymn says:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine…

That’s the what. You deserve condemnation, but that condemnation doesn’t even exist for you anymore. It’s gone.

Who — Who does it apply to? Paul does not say Christians are free from condemnation because they are sinless, but because they are in Christ. This is not for everyone; it is for sinners who are in Jesus Christ. When we are in Christ Jesus, everything changes. To be in Christ means that we are in an actual relationship with Jesus Christ in which all the benefits of his life and obedience are ours, because we’re united with him. Paul says that once we are united in Christ, in this relationship with him, then there is no longer any condemnation for us. It’s gone, and it can never come back.

When — And here’s the when. It’s present tense. It’s not later when we get our act together. It’s right now in the middle of the struggle.

Not when we get older. Not when we get more mature. Not when we overcome all sinful habits. Not when we get past being hurt by others. Not when all our bills are paid. Not when we get a new job. Not when we learn more of the Bible. Not when people start treating us nicely and with respect. Not when we get the praise and public adulation we think we deserve. Not when our enemies stop persecuting us. Not when the wrongs against us have been put right. Not when we’ve been vindicated. Not when we stop making fools of ourselves in public. Now! (Sam Storms)

I hope you can see how important this is. In fact, Dr. Marytn Lloyd-Jones said, “If you have got hold of this idea you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life.” In fact, he says, “Most of our troubles are due to our failure to realize the truth of this verse.” The problem for a lot of us is that we live a lot like the students I mentioned at the start of this sermon. We assume that our standing with God is based on our performance. To put it in theological terms, we base our justification (our standing before God) on our sanctification (our growth in holiness). This puts us in a precarious position. Lloyd-Jones describes what it looks like if we don’t get this truth:

They seem to think of the Christian as a man who, if he confesses his sin and asks for forgiveness, is forgiven. At that moment he is not under condemnation. But then if he should sin again he is back once more under condemnation. Then he repents and confesses his sin again, and asks for pardon, and he is cleansed once more. So to them the Christian is a man who is constantly passing from one state to the other; back and forth; condemned, not condemned. Now that, according to the Apostle, is a wholly mistaken notion, and a complete failure to understand the position. The Christian is a man who can never be condemned; he can never come into a state of condemnation again. ‘No condemnation!’ The Apostle is not talking about his experience, but about his position, his standing, his status; he is in a position in which, being justified, he can never again come under condemnation. That is the meaning of this word ‘no’. It means ‘Never’.

You don’t have to be perfect. Jesus was perfect for you. If you are in Christ, there is no condemnation, even though you continue to struggle. This is a truth that can change your life as you grasp it. You can personalize it. “There is therefore now no condemnation for _______.” Fill in your name and live in light of this reality.

But that’s not all. We need to understand Paul’s reasoning behind this declaration.

On what basis?

On what basis is there no condemnation? The answer may surprise you. Look at verse 2:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

You could read that over a few times and not understand that completely, so let’s try to understand what he’s saying.

Paul contrasts two laws: the law of the Spirit of life, and the law of sin and death. We used to live in a way that was controlled by sin and death. You know what that’s like: controlled and dominated by sin, and unable to change despite your best intentions. Here’s the thing: we think that we control our choices, but Paul is saying that apart from Christ we’re actually not in control. We’re under the law and domination of sin and death. The problem with sin and death is that it’s deadly. It produces all the wrong things in our lives. As long as we continue to live under the domination of sin and death, we’re in trouble. We’re condemned.

But Paul says that when we came to Jesus, something happened. Now, “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus.” You’ve been liberated through the Holy Spirit. You’re under new management now. Sin has been kicked out as your boss, and the Holy Spirit has taken over. “It is God’s Spirit, coming to the believer with power and authority, who brings liberation from the powers of the old age and from the condemnation that is the lot of all who are imprisoned by those powers” (Douglas Moo). This is great news. Not only have you been forgiven, but God himself has taken over management of your life so that you are no longer controlled by sin and death. The Spirit has liberated you, and you are not under the control of sin like you used to be.

I walked by a store the other day. It had a sign outside that said “Under New Management.” If you are in Christ Jesus, you could put that sign on your life as well. You are not condemned, and the reason is because God has not only dealt with the penalty of your sin, but he has also broken the power of sin and taken over your life. It is the Spirit of God who provides victory, and that Spirit is the possession of every true child of God. Even when you struggle — and you will — you are still under new management. You’re no longer condemned, and you’re no longer under the power of sin. We forget this sometimes, but this is our new reality, and it changes everything. Talk about encouraging. You no longer have to fight sin on your own. You’re now under the control of the Holy Spirit, who is changing you from the inside out.

In other words, the basis of verse 1 is not us. It’s not about our worthiness or sinlessness. The basis of verse 1 is what God has done for us. What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? He removes all condemnation. Not only that, but he sets us free from the power of sin, and puts us under the control of the Holy Spirit. If you are in Jesus Christ, this is true of you. It’s an astounding truth.

But I want to make this practical. So let’s close by asking:

So what?

As we close this sermon, we have to ask what this means for us today. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So what? Because of this truth, there are two things that are true of us, and both of them are amazing.

First, this can be yours.  The great news about the gospel is that it’s available to anyone who’s desperate enough to want it. You don’t have to get your act together. God’s grace is available to you now. “All you need, to qualify for all that blessing, is to be a sinner in Christ, not a rehabilitated sinner, not a tidied-up sinner, but the sinner you are in Christ. Jesus said he came not to call the righteous but sinners (Matthew 9:13). He has no interest in good people. He attracts bad people. We are bad people. But if we are in Christ, we have God's grace right now while we are bad” (Ray Ortlund). So take this today. Jesus will welcome you and take away all condemnation. This can be yours today.

Second, the pressure is off. You can relax. You can rest assured that you are accepted before God with nothing to prove.

Remember those students I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon? Every one of them agreed with one thing: God was extremely disappointed with them. The person who led the group reflected on the experience and wrote:

I did not blame the students for their failure. Somewhere in their spiritual formation they were taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that what mattered was not God's love for them, but how much they could accomplish for him. (Skye Jethani)

The great news is that we can be freed from the feeling that God is disappointed with us. There is no condemnation. What matters is not how much you can accomplish for God, but how much God loves you in Jesus Christ, and that is secure. Don’t be surprised when you struggle. But in the middle of that, don’t doubt God’s love for you. One of my friends posted on Facebook this week: “List of things that can separate you from God's love:” and then nothing. The list is empty. If you are in Christ, you are secure. There is no condemnation. It doesn’t even exist anymore. You are secure.

This means we don’t have to prove ourselves. We don’t have to be sensitive to criticism. We don’t need to lack confidence and joy in our prayer and worship. I meet people all the time who don’t feel good enough, that they measure up. The truth is that we don’t measure up, but we don’t have to feel condemned. Because the objective reality is that there is no condemnation, we can make that our subjective reality as well.

Nobody says this better than Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. . . . Never look back at your sins again. Say, "It is finished, it is covered by the blood of Christ." That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you. What you need is not to make resolutions and to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! You just begin to say, "I rest my faith on him alone, who died for my transgressions to atone. (Lloyd-Jones)

Here’s a test for if you get this passage. Matt Chandler says:

The litmus test of whether or not you understand the gospel is what you do when you fail. Do you run from God and go try to clean yourself up a bit before you come back into the throne room, or do you approach the throne of grace with confidence? If you don't approach the throne of grace with confidence, you don't understand the gospel. You are most offensive to God when you come to him with all of your efforts, when you're still trying to earn what's freely given.

As Ray Ortlund says, if you are in Christ, you are a righteous sinner. It's not an either/or, it's a both/and. Even as you struggle, there is no condemnation. Let this truth sink deep into your soul.

Finally: This truth frees us to serve. We’re not just set free from condemnation. We’re set free to serve. It’s not just freedom from condemnation; it’s also freedom to live in a new way. We’re going to look at this in coming weeks. We’ve been set free, and it’s a glorious freedom.

You may think that this truth may cause us to sin more. If there’s no condemnation, then why not do whatever you want? It’s actually the opposite. Sam Storms points out that nothing paralyzes us like guilt and shame. If you want a recipe for living in bondage, that’s it right there. This passage sets us free from all of that. It helps raise us beyond self-help. It’s a much better way than formulas or willpower. I love what Storms says: “When you feel beautiful before God, you feel powerful before sin.” If you want to be set free from sin, lean into the truth of this verse. See how God sees you in Christ. Grasp what he’s done for you, and you’ll experience freedom.

I want to close by talking about a scene from the 2011 movie Moneyball. Moneyball is about Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland As, trying to assemble a winning team. Ultimately during the 2002 season, the Athletics win an unprecedented 20 consecutive games, setting the American League record. Despite all their success, the A's lose in the first round of the postseason.

As Beane sits alone in the clubhouse, the general manager attempts to convince him that he "won pretty big." Seeing that he is unconvinced, his GM invites Beane to the video room. Brand has cued up a segment of tape for Beane to watch—a clip about a player named Jeremy Brown, a catcher from their minor league baseball team, the Visalia Oaks.

Here’s what happens in that video. The catcher is at bat. He hits a fast ball and and sends it deep into the center. The catcher rounds first, and is about to do what he’s never done before. He’s going to round first and head to second. But he stops. He stops and crawls back to the security of first base. He clings to first base like a frightened child clings to a teddy bear. It’s his nightmare. “They're laughing at him,” says Beane. And they were laughing at him.

But the general manager explains why they’re laughing at him. “Jeremy's about to find out why; Jeremy's about to realize that the ball went 60-feet over the fence. He hit a home run, and he didn't even realize it.” Beane stares at the screen as Jeremy finally discovers that the ball went out of the park and then jubilantly rounds the bases for home.

This is a picture of what Romans 8:1-2 tells us. We don’t have to cling to first base. Christ has already hit the home run that brings us home. His righteousness has been credited to our account, and we are now at peace with God. We don't have to live in fear, carefully crawling back to and then clinging to first base. Instead, we can jubilantly run the race as we head confidently toward home. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Why Plant Churches? (Romans 15:14-21)

I want to take you back to a recent evening in our lives that marked an ending for us, and a beginning. I want to take you there so I can ask you a question that was asked about us that night.

The night was January 15th. On that night we marked the end of almost 14 years of ministry at Richview Baptist Church in Toronto. We had one of our two kids while we were there. We had spent some of the best years of our lives while I pastored at Richview. On that evening we were saying goodbye to our church family. My library was in storage. I remember very clearly the feeling of leaving the keys on my desk and closing the door to my study for the very last time, knowing that the next morning I’d begin work on converting a room in my basement into my new study.

That evening, someone who loves us and who has appreciated our ministry asked an question about our plans to leave Richview and to begin a church plant. The question was asked quietly: Does Toronto really need another church? Another way of putting the question is this: Why bother with church planting when Toronto already has so many churches already?

It’s a great question. In fact, it’s a question that I’ve asked many times in the past as well. Toronto has so many churches that are plateaued or in decline. Why start a new church? Why not put a moratorium on church planting and just focus on revitalizing existing churches? Does Toronto really need a new church? It’s a great question, and there’s a great answer as well.

In the passage we have before us this morning, the apostle Paul is concluding his letter to the Roman church. His letter is one of the high points of theological insight within Scripture. As he gets to the end of his book, he tips his hand about the reason that he’s writing. After all, he didn’t start the church in Rome and he had never visited it. Paul gives the answer in this passage. In Romans 15:14-16 he says that he wants to remind them of what they already know, because he’s an apostle to the Gentiles, and they’re a predominantly Gentile church.

But then he begins talking about his church planting ministry. In this passage Paul gives us three reasons why church planting is so important. So this morning I want to simply do what Paul does in this passage. Let me give you three reasons why church planting is important, and then let me do what Paul does as well. Let me challenge you to see how you can play a role.

So let’s look at three reasons why we need to plant churches. And then let me tell you how you can be involved in one of the greatest ministries that we have before us at this time.

Why plant churches?

One: Plant churches as an act of worship.

Look at verses 14 to 16 with me:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:14-16)

There are many ways that you can think of church planting. Close your eyes and picture what comes to your mind when you think of a church planter. Here’s what I think of: a 20-something young guy with an edge and a Mac computer who likes to blog and hang out at coffee shops. That’s the image that many people have of a church planter. Or maybe you think of church planters that you know. I think of guys like my church planting friends Dan, Joe, Paul, and Tim. I don’t know what image you have of a church planter, but I will bet it’s not the image that Paul gives us here.

Here’s the image that Paul gives us. He gives us the image of a Jewish priest offering a sacrifice to God. But the priest isn’t offering an animal sacrifice or using a knife. Instead, Paul gives us a shocking image. He pictures the church planter as a priest using the gospel as the tool, and the new Gentile believers as the offering. Remember that Gentiles were forbidden to enter the temple. But here Gentiles are in the temple, and they’re being offered as an acceptable sacrifice because they have been made holy by the Holy Spirit. It’s a jarring image, and it’s worth chewing on for a long time I think.

Why plant churches? The first reason Paul gives us is a doxological one. We plant churches as an act of worship to God. We plant churches because we want to fulfill our priestly ministry of offering to God people who were far away from him, but who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and who are now acceptable sacrifices of worship to him. Church planting is an act of worship. It’s like what John Piper said, if I could adapt what he’s said:

[Church planting] is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. [Church planting] exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not [church planting], because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, [church planting] will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of [church planting]. It’s the goal of [church planting] because in [church planting] we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of [church planting] is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).

But worship is also the fuel of [church planting]. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord…I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps 104:34, 9:2). [Church planting] begins and ends in worship.

We have our eyes on a neighborhood in Toronto. And I own a Mac and I’ll probably hang out in coffee shops in that area, and I may even work on my blog. But the image that I have in my mind as I move into that area is that of a priest. I want to go in as a priest in that area and offer God an offering of people who have been transformed by the gospel and the Holy Spirit. That’s the first reason why church planting is so important. It’s an act of worship to God. It’s so that we can offer the sacrifice of transformed lives to God in worship.

But there’s a second reason why we should church plant:

Two: Church planting is strategic.

Read what Paul says in verses 17 to 19:

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ… (Romans 15:17-19 ESV)

Paul seems a little confident in this passage. We’re not used to hearing somebody talk about being proud of their work for God. And in verse 19 Paul makes an audacious claim: that he’s fulfilled his ministry by planting churches in a circle or arc from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. This is a huge area, from Jerusalem all the way to what we would call Albania today. It’s just northeast of Italy. We read later on that Paul is even planning to branch out further to Spain. Paul says that he’s fulfilled his ministry throughout this vast area. How is this even possible? There were only a small number of churches.


Here’s what I think Paul means. He means that churches had been planted in key population centers so that those churches could carry out the work of evangelism themselves. Paul believed that by planting churches in cities, those churches would continue to grow and spread and influence the entire regions surrounding those cities. Paul’s own distinctive ministry of starting foundational and strategic churches had been fulfilled, and the name of Christ would soon be heard throughout its borders. This is exactly what happened. It reminds me of the pioneers. As soon as they were close enough to see the smoke rising from a neighbor’s house, they knew it was time to move on and populate a new area.

Tim Keller puts it this way:

Paul's whole strategy was to plant urban churches. The greatest missionary in history, St.Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5- "appoint elders in every town"). Once Paul had done that, he could say that he had 'fully preached' the gospel in a region and that he had 'no more work' to do there (cf. Romans 15:19,23). This means Paul had two controlling assumptions: a) that the way to most permanently influence a country was through its chief cities, and b) the way to most permanently influence a city was to plant churches in it. Once he had accomplished this in a city, he moved on. He knew that the rest that needed to happen would follow.

Keller concludes:

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else--not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes--will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.

If you want to see Ontario transformed, here’s what we need to do. We need to go to key urban centers like Toronto and plant churches. They’re like beachheads. It’s the most strategic thing we can do. And those church plants are not only going to have an influence on those cities. Like it or not, what happens in the city influences the entire region as a whole. And if churches are planted in places like Toronto, it’s going to have a strategic influence on a much larger area than we realize.

That’s why we need to church plant. Church planting is an act of worship, but it’s also strategic. It’s so strategic that Paul believed that churches planted in major population centers would be enough to spread the gospel in that entire region. That’s the second reason why church planting is so important.

Church planting is an act of worship. Church planting is strategic. There’s one more reason why church planting is important:

Three: Church planting is evangelistic.

Paul writes:

…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
(Romans 15:20-21 ESV)


Here’s a map of Toronto that has our current Fellowship churches. Notice that there are entire areas - particularly downtown - where we don’t have any churches. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t churches there. It must means that we don’t have any churches in those areas.

What struck me is that many of these areas are ones that are exploding with growth. The population of Toronto has grown by 9% in the last five years. Condos are springing up all over the place in locations where we just don’t have any churches. Paul said it was his ambition to preach the gospel where it hasn’t been preached. We have this opportunity right in Toronto.

The opportunity we have before us is one that goes back all the way to Isaiah 52:5. Paul quotes it in verse 21:

Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.

Why church plant? Because I have the opportunity of participating in something that started a long time ago. Those who have not yet been told of the Lord must know. People who have never heard the gospel must understand. Church planting is a means of evangelizing areas where Christ is not yet named, and that includes huge parts of Toronto.

Charles Simeon said:

Who that knows the value of his own soul, must not pant after the salvation of the souls of others? And who, that knows his obligations to God, must not long to serve God in a way so acceptable to his mind, and so conducive to his glory? Let me not, then, call you to this work in vain. If there be any who are by education and by grace fitted for personal exertion in that field of labour, let him, like the Prophet, stand forth, and say, “Here am I: send me.” If it be only in a subordinate manner that you are able to assist in this good cause, still let it be seen that your heart is in it, and your labour according to the full extent of your ability. In your contributions, be liberal after your power: and in whatever way you can be useful, “give yourselves to the work” with cheerfulness, and persevere in it with diligence. Certainly, if ever united exertions were called for, it is now, when God is so evidently prospering the work, and putting honour on those who are engaged in it — — — “Come then, all of you, to the help of the Lord:” and “whatever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might.”

So that, Paul says, is why he’s a church planter. He’s a church planter because church planting is an act of worship. He’s a church planter because church planting is strategic. And he’s a church planter because church planting is evangelistic.

But then Paul does what I have to do as well. Paul enlists the Romans and enlists their help in what he’s doing. He says in verse 24: “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15:24). And he asks them to pray for him as well. Douglas Moo says, “Paul here hints at one of his main purposes in writing Romans: the need to get help from the Romans for his projected Spanish mission.” He wants Rome to be the base of his support for his mission in Rome.

You see, although Paul has planted churches all throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, he’s not done yet. He still wants to go even farther, to far edge of the Mediterranean, and spread the gospel there as well. Paul’s not done planting churches as long as there are still more population centers that need the gospel.

You see, church planting is about more than a church planter. You need people praying. You need bases of support. You need all kinds of people taking all kinds of roles.

I saw this picture recently:


Deck Hands Needed

Live Aboard
Low Pay
Long Hours
Good Food

Permanent Crew Space Available
Opportunity of a Lifetime

It reminded me of the quote from Sir Ernest Shackleton, from the advertisement he used when recruiting men for his expedition to Antarctica in 1914:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

That’s the adventure of church planting. It’s worth it because it’s an act of worship, and because it’s strategic and evangelistic. And it’s why you should consider partnering in planting churches as well.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Accept One Another (Romans 15:7)

When I look around on a Sunday, I'm often surprised by how different we are. Within some churches, people look pretty similar. That's not the case here. We come from different socio-economic levels. We come from different cultures and ethnic groups. We are all different ages.

What are some of the problems that we may encounter because we are all so different? (take notes)

This isn't a new problem. I'd like to tell you about the church in Rome around 57 A.D. The church in Rome had a major issue, and they weren't alone. The church had two main people groups.

Jews - The Jews could look at their history and rejoice that they were God's chosen people. Generations of Jews could read the Old Testament promises of the Messiah and the salvation he would bring. Now these Jews could rejoice that the Messiah had come, and that his promises had been fulfilled. God had kept his promises to Israel. Evidence suggests that the church in Rome had been founded by Jews and was dominated by Jews for the first two decades.

Gentiles - But some Gentiles had come to believe in Jesus Christ as well. In Rome, something unexpected happened. Comparatively few Jews had responded to the gospel, while many Gentiles did respond and become part of the church.

In 49 A.D., the Roman emperor expelled all Jews from Rome. All at once, every Jewish Christian had to leave the Roman church, and only the Gentiles were left. By the time Paul wrote this letter, many of the Jewish people had probably returned. But they came back to a church that had become a Gentile institution.

You could feel the tensions. Jews saw themselves as God's holy and chosen people, but now Gentiles had taken over. The Jewish believers had beliefs that came from their Scriptures and from their culture about food and holy days; the way the Gentiles acted violated many of these beliefs. The tension between these two groups simmered and sometimes boiled over.

We read in chapter 14 that both groups were criticizing each other. One group - the Jewish believers - said that the Gentiles were living in a way that made people question if they were really Christians. The other group - the Gentiles - accused the Jewish believers of holding on to silly prejudices. The controversy really came down to three issues:

  • whether or not you could eat anything or whether certain foods are prohibited
  • whether some days are holy or whether every day is alike (like the Sabbath)
  • possibly, over whether or not it is right to drink wine

Bottom line: there was real tension between the Jewish believers, who were trying to keep themselves pure from idolatry, and the Gentile believers, who think that such requirements are ridiculous and a holdover from Judaism.

And so you have:

  • conflict
  • pride - a condescending attitude toward the other group
  • lack of love
  • bad testimony

The easiest thing in the world would have been to split.

These are the same problems that we have today when churches divide over issues.

What Paul Says

Paul never actually deals with who was right and who was wrong, because the real issue wasn't the issue. The issue wasn't one of sin or false teaching, which he would have condemned. The issue was more one of pride and lack of love.

First, stop condemning each other (14:1-12). In the first part of chapter 14, Paul does two things. First, he gets the issue out on the table. Then he says: stop judging each other! He gives two reasons. The Romans are all fellow slaves of Christ, and God alone has the right to judge his people.

This is more subtle in our day, but we still have a tendency to do this - to look down on people who are different from us. They like this music; they dress this certain way; they are too in touch and they are too out of touch. Paul says to stop all the judging. If it's not an issue of blatant sin or false teaching, then stop pointing the finger.

The principle: we must sometimes agree to disagree over some matters. If the matter is not prohibited by Scripture, and is not against sound theological reasoning, then we should not criticize other believers or break fellowship just because we don't like it.

Second, be loving instead of selfish (14:13-23). Here Paul addresses the group that thought that there was nothing wrong with eating meat. Paul really agrees with them, but he says there is a bigger issue: one of love.

If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother or sister for whom Christ died...Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.(Romans 14:15, 19)

"Have it your way" - but what about when having it your way really irritates others? Then be loving instead of selfish.

Finally, receive each other to the glory of God (15:1-13). Paul says in Romans 15:7:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

What does this mean? It means that we recognize each other as true brothers and sisters in Christ; to welcome them into our worship services and to give them full place along with other worshipers. It means that we welcome them with our hearts, not grudgingly. It means that we recognize that God has worked in history to create a people composed of both Jews and Gentiles - that God has broken down every division that separates us. As long as we belong to Jesus, we belong together.

This is one of the things that showed people the power of the gospel - that Jews and Gentiles could receive each other. Just like today. The fact that we receive each other despite all these things testifies to the power of the gospel. When we split because of these things, we may as well say that the gospel has no power.

But notice what Paul says: accept one another, just as Christ accepted us. How did Christ accept us? Verse 3 tells us:

For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."

Jesus didn't please himself; he lived a life of love and sacrifice. When we were sinners, he accepted us by sheer grace. How can we withhold that grace from others when we have experienced it?

Here's the bottom line in verses 5-6:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why we want to be a church in which young and old worship together, where all the divisions that bug us are overcome: so that we can testify to the power of the gospel, and so that "with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.