Last week, I told you about the Christmas gift we asked our children to give us this year. We asked them to share with us what passages of scripture or sermons or books God used in their lives in 2017 to help them grow in grace.
At some point last week, our daughter Katie turned the tables on me. “What about you, dad?” she asked. “Where’s your email?”
Our children get this weekly e-newsletter. So here we go.
I’m using this newsletter to share with them, and with you, about the book God used in my life in 2017 to help me keep my focus on what really matters.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that the book was Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The book of Romans. The book we’ve been studying together for the past many months.
I’m sure you know that whatever benefit you’ve received from our time in Romans, I’ve received more. That’s how it is with teaching. The one who does the teaching learns the most.
And I’ve learned a lot. I could try to distill what I’ve learned from digging deeply into the first nine chapters of Romans into a few paragraphs. But to do so would be to turn deep truths into aphorisms. Sometimes in the process of distilling things down to the essence, you are left with vapor. And that’s what I’m afraid would happen if I tried to list the things I’ve learned about righteousness, faith, sin, justification, union with Christ, the ongoing struggle every Christian faces with remaining sin and the need to learn to sent our minds on the things of the Spirit and walk accordingly.
Instead, I want to pull back to the big picture. The message of the book of Romans for me in 2017 has been this: at the core, the solution to the human problem in all of its manifestations is heart change. Or to put it another way, we ought not attempt to address the ills and evils we face in our day and time with political Neosporin and public policy band aids. The only path that leads to changes in human behavior is the path that addresses the heart issues. It’s the path that has at its center the spiritual transformation of human beings.
Cultures change when people change. And people change when God, by His Spirit, does a work of transformation in their lives.
So if we want to see the culture around us change, if we want to see social justice in our world, if we want to see human flourishing and good triumphing over evil, Romans points us to the gospel. It is the path of repentance and faith that leads men and women to think and act differently. And when men and women think and act differently, they change their world.
Now, let’s be honest. There are a lot of reasons why people would be skeptical of such a claim. We can all cite examples of people who profess faith in Jesus as their Lord acting badly. In some cases, very badly. It’s no wonder that people aren’t attracted to Christianity given the opinions and actions of many in our day who profess faith in Christ.
Jared Wilson recently described a younger generation raised in the church as “theological orphans,” betrayed by church leaders who stressed the importance of moral character, but who easily set those standards aside for pragmatic political purposes. For many who call themselves Christians today, personal morality matters until it doesn’t anymore. Until something more important comes along.
The big message I’ve been reminded of this year from the book of Romans is that the biggest issue of our day, and of any day in any era in history, is the issue of men and women understanding the depth of the sin in their own hearts and then believing that we can be forgiven, made new and adopted into the family of God because of what Jesus has done for us. Really believing that good news, and trusting that God is at work in us actually changes everything.
We still have a ways to go before we finish our time in Romans. And when we reach chapter 12, Paul will turn from talking about what God has done for us to talking about what our new, transformed lives should look like. As we move forward, we’ll see clearly that any gospel that doesn’t lead to love and concern and grace for others is a counterfeit gospel – no gospel at all.
But it starts at a heart level. It starts with us knowing and understanding and believing and sharing with others the most important message there is – that Jesus Christ saves sinners like me.
This week, I heard Alistair Begg quote George Smeaton, a Scottish pastor from 150 years ago. Smeaton said “to convert one sinner is an event of greater importance than to deliver a whole kingdom from temporal evil.”
Jesus said something similar. In Luke 15, He told His followers “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And the reason Paul spends two thirds of his letter to the Romans talking about the gospel and its implications for our lives is because he understood that the way for the corrupt Roman culture of his day or for any society at any point in history to be transformed is by addressing the issues of sin, repentance and faith. By keeping the main thing – the spiritual transformation of human lives – the main thing.
I trust that when we next celebrate a new year, and for all the years to come, that will still be my focus.
The start of a new year means the start up of Redeemer small groups. For those of you who are new to the church, we believe that active involvement in a small group is a core part of how we experience God’s grace in our lives. It’s in small groups that the “one anothers” of scripture can be lived out. It’s in small groups that we can better know and care for and encourage and spur one another on to love and good deeds.
If you’ve been a part of a small group this fall, you should be hearing from your small group leader soon with details about the first meeting of the new year.
If you haven’t been part of a small group, this is the perfect time to pick a night, find a group to connect with and jump in.
Here’s the information about small groups for 2018: