Stop Trying and Start Trusting

INTRODUCTION

Do you remember the time you first realized you were saved by grace alone. Do you remember the joy, the laughter, the exhilaration of embracing salvation through faith in Christ? Do you remember the relief, the liberty, the freedom you experienced when you realized that God was offering you a salvation that had zero contribution from you? Do you ever wonder where that joy has gone? What happened to that exhilaration that spiritual high? Do you ever wish you could get it back again? Are you asking, How do I recover the joy of my salvation? Paul has a surprising answer for us in Romans 4:1-12.

BACKGROUND

In general terms we can summarize the first three chapters of Romans as follows:

  • Chapter 1. The Gentiles are guilty
  • Chapter 2. The Jews are guilty
  • Chapter 3:1-19. Everyone’s guilty
  • Chapter 3:20-31. Get from deadly guilt to healthy joy through faith in Jesus.

Paul got us from deadly guilt to healthy joy by introducing us to seven characters (see previous sermon). But how do I stay joyful? How do I restore my joy? How do I increase my joy? Paul answers by introducing us to two other characters, Mr Abraham and Mr David.

What can we learn from Mr Abraham?

1. FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM

Paul attacked opponents of justification by faith with what they thought was their strongest argument: Abraham (1). Jewish teachers regarded Abraham as perfectly righteous by his own works. Paul conceded that if the Jews were correct, then Abraham had a reason to boast (and therefore all who follow his example do also). But Paul rejects that hypothetical (2), arguing his point by appealing to what the Old Testament said about Abraham.

Abraham believed God (3)

When it comes to salvation, everyone believes. We just vary in what we believe. Some believe in themselves: their riches, wisdom, goodness, or pedigree. Some believe in the church or religion. Some believe in science. Some believe in an idol. Some believe there’s nothing to believe in. Everyone believes; we just differ in what we believe in.

What about Abraham? He believed God (Gen. 15:6). It’s as simple and straightforward as that. He put no faith in anything or anyone other than God. God was the sole and only object of his faith. It wasn’t God +, or God *, or God-, or “God but…” It was God completely, totally, simply, and exclusively. It wasn’t just faith in God’s Word but faith in God personally and relationally. He didn’t just believe there was a God but believed in (into) God.

The literal translation of “believed” in Genesis 15:6 is “kept on Amen-ing.” Abraham kept on believing, kept on considering as reliable, kept on trusting the Trustworthy.” This was not a new faith but a new exercise of a faith begun in the past (Gen 12:1-4; Heb. 11:8).

God justified Abraham (3)

Just as Gen 15:6 was not the first time Abraham believed, it was not the first time Abraham was justified by faith. It was the first time Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a Seed was revealed in the Bible (Gal. 3:16). It was the first time God openly attested his justification. Whenever that first moment of of “God-alone-faith” connected Abraham with God, something miraculous happened. The whole of God’s righteousness transferred irrevocably to Abraham’s account. God declared Abraham just, righteous, perfect, and accepted. That wasn’t a lie because God actually credited Abraham’s account with his righteousness. That’s the “it” in this verse. The “it” was not Abraham’s faith but what Abraham’s faith was in: God’s righteousness.

God justifies all believers (9-12)

We’ll come back to David’s experience in verses 6-8 in a moment, but let’s jump down to Paul’s application of the Abraham story in verses 9-12. Anticipating that some Gentiles might say, “Well this gracious salvation is only for the circumcised,” Paul reminded them that Abraham believed and was justified before he was circumcised and therefore a massive encouragement to the uncircumcised (9-11). But the Jews were also to learn from Abraham’s example not to put their faith in their circumcision but to follow the faith of Abraham in God alone (12).

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

There are only two ways to be saved (4-5). Working for God or not working for God. Wages or gift. God owes us a debt or God pays our debts. Deserved or undeserved. Works or faith. Justifying ourselves or justified by God. Rewarded or redeemed. Which is the happiest way? It also happens to be the only way.

Believers have the whole of God’s righteousness. As soon as you believe, the whole of God’s righteousness is transferred to your account and it’s an irrevocable transfer. When God counts you righteous, he’s not lying.

Any other Old Testament character to support this?

2. FEEL THE EXPERIENCE OF DAVID

Paul then turned to the experience of David not only to further assure the Romans of salvation apart from their works but to experience the blessed joys in this way of salvation

Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (6-8).

Paul encourages his readers to enter into four blessed joys:

  • The blessed joy of Christ’s perfect character and conduct being counted as ours (6).
  • The blessed joy of not contributing one good work to our salvation (7)
  • The blessed joy of getting all our evil works forgiven and covered (7)
  • The blessed joy of God not counting our evil works against us (8)

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Quadruple your joy at the beginning of each day. Before you start the day, follow Abraham’s example to feel David’s experience. Nothing you do or fail to do can increase or decrease your righteousness account.

Quadruple your joy at the end of each day. As you close your eyes, reflecting on the days successes and failures, let faith in Christ give you joy in Christ. Nothing you did or didn’t do, increased or reduced your account.

Quadruple your joy when you fall and fail. Don’t wait until you feel better or do better, but believe and be justified as soon as you sin. Let faith determine your feelings rather than feelings determine your faith.

Quadruple your joy when you remember past sin. For some of us, when we look back on our lives, we remember a particularly sinful time or moment and shame steals our joy. If anyone was vulnerable here, it was David, and yet he used four joys to overwrite the pain of that memory.

Quadruple your joy when you feel worthless. Maybe childhood or domestic abuse has made you feel you are worth nothing. Perhaps it’s bullying at school. Maybe it’s that you are not as clever or gifted or successful as others. Or could be you feel lonely and forgotten.

Quadruple your joy when you are dying. Whether thinking about our death or actually dying, death scares us. Sometimes it’s fear of the process, but sometimes it’s fear about whether we’ll go to heaven or hell when we do die. Every thought about whether we are good enough drains joy and fills with fear. Every thought about whether Christ is good enough fills with joy and drains fear.

YOU CAN TRUST TRYING
OR TRY TRUSTING

SUMMARY

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A NEW CHAPTER

Stop. Stop trying and start trusting. Trying harder is hard. Trusting harder is easy. Please don’t take another step of life until you stop trying (even 1%) and start trusting (100%).

Restore. Restore joy to your faith by restoring your faith in Jesus. The more you try to find joy in what you’ve done, the less you will find joy in what he’s done (and vice versa).

Practice. Practice joy-restoring faith this week. As soon as you sin, remind yourself, you have not lost one ounce of God’s righteousness in your account. You are as righteous after you sin as before you sinned. See how much joy that gives you.

Prayer. Joyful Savior, you save joyfully to give us a joyful salvation. Please restore the joy of my salvation by helping me to follow Abraham’s example of faith and David’s experience of joy.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What was your greatest joy when you were first saved?

2. On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate your present level of joy in your salvation?

3. What has reduced your joy and what have you tried to restore it?

4. What is justification? See Heidelberg 60-64 and Shorter Catechism 33.

5. How much of God’s righteousness is yours right now?

6. Which of David’s four joys is your greatest joy?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Teach me to pray: The List

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever started praying and found yourself asking, “What should I pray for?” We know we should pray, and we want to pray, but what do we pray for? Or maybe you haven’t prayed and you’re scared of starting because you don’t know what to pray for. Or maybe you do pray but your prayers are meaningless mumblings and repetitive ramblings. Or perhaps you are super-organized, you have a prayer list as long as your arm, but its length puts you off praying or drains any pleasure from prayer. What should I pray for?Jesus gives us some guidance in the Lord’s Prayer.

BACKGROUND

We’ve been looking at prayer using different biblical images to teach us to pray:

  • The cross: Taught us how to pray in Jesus name
  • The throne: Taught us to pray with confidence
  • The battlefield: Taught us to pray as in a war.
  • The supper: Taught us to view prayer as communion
  • The door: Taught us to pray for all our needs
  • The window: Teaches us how to pray for perspective
  • The schedule: Taught us about when to pray

This week, we are looking at the list, the prayer list, to learn what we should pray for. There’s no one passage in Scripture that answers this question, but the nearest we get to a prayer list, a list of what to pray for, is the Lord’s Prayer, so we’ll use that as our starting point.

What should we pray for first?

1. GOD IS FIRST IN PRAYER

The Lord’s prayer does not tell us everything we should pray for, but it does clearly establish that we should pray about God’s interest first.

Why pray God’s list before our own?

  • God’s interests are more important than ours
  • Prioritizing God will change our perspective and priorities
  • We are encouraged to pray when we recognize and realize to whom we are praying,
  • God’s interests and aligned with our own interests (though we may not see it at the time).
  • This will change you and your world more than you realize.

What’s top of God’s list?

  • His name. Take some time to lift up God’s name in praise and adoration to cultivate a worshipful spirit.
  • His kingdom. Ask for God’s kingdom to advance throughout the world to kindle a militant spirit.
  • His will. Pray for submission to God’s providential will and obedience to God’s revealed will for a servant spirit.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Change your prayers. God’s given us a list of what he wants to hear about first. There’s no “secret” to prayer. There’s no mysterious code word. It’s published in plain sight. God first: his name, his kingdom, his will. We don’t need to use the same words and phrases each day. Rather, each day we should refresh our prayers in these three areas with different words and phrases. Use the Psalms or books of set prayers to help you.

Prayer changes you. Putting God first in our prayers will not only change our prayers but it will change us. It will change our view of God, of ourselves, of our world, of our problems, of our ambitions, and so on. It will change how we pray, why we pray, when we pray, what we pray. When we focus on God first, we realize how much we need to be changed, how much we need the Holy Spirit to save and sanctify us. Prayer changes our prayers.

WE BEGIN PRAYER WITH
THE BEGINNER OF PRAYER

If God’s first, where do we come in?

2. WE ARE SECOND IN PRAYER

Although the general order of the Lord’s Prayer is God first and us second, we’ve seen how our interests are still very much integrated in the first half of the prayer. Similarly, God and his interests continue in the second part of the prayer. We don’t leave them behind. But we do move into prayers that are focused more on our needs, as well as the needs for others. The Lord’s prayer identifies four categories of prayer:

  • Pray for deliverance from physical problems: Give us food, water, clothing, and shelter.
  • Pray for deliverance from legal problems: We need forgiveness from the one we are praying to.
  • Pray for deliverance from relational problems: Help us to forgive others and pray for others’ needs.
  • Pray for deliverance from spiritual problems: Deliver from evil outside and inside. Stop it, help in it, end it.

Who is the “our” and the “us” in the Lord’s Prayer? Here are seven circles I’ve found helpful.

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CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Daily prayers. We can’t pray for all needs in all prayers. We can’t pray for every circle in every prayer. We can choose to focus on a particular category of need (physical, legal, relational, spiritual), or a particular circle of need each day. Even in each circle of need, we can niche down in our prayers. For example, in the international circle, we can pray for a different nation each day. In the church circle, we can pray for other churches as well as missions and outreach ministries. In the community circle, we can pray for our neighbors and friends, but also for our schools, businesses, hospitals, emergency services.

Prayer helps. You might want to use a checklist, or a prayer journal, or a Prayer App (e.g. PrayerMate) to help you organize your prayers. The key is to balance the help of organization and system with the beauty of spontaneity and relationship with God. Too much focus on organization can produce mechanical and legalistic prayers. Too little organization can result in chaotic and thoughtless mumblings. A mixture of general structure and particular spontaneity will serve us and God best.

GENERAL STRUCTURE
+ PARTICULAR SPONTANEITY
= FOCUSED AND FELT PRAYER

SUMMARY

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A NEW CHAPTER

Gospel prayers. God-centered prayers will keep us Gospel-centered in prayer. We’ll see more and more his sufficiency for our insufficiency, his supply for our need, his power for our weakness, his salvation for our sin. Remember Christ’s perfect prayers cover all our pathetic prayers.

Know yourself. If you are inclined to legalism, give yourself the freedom of spontaneity. Test your grip of the Gospel by not praying for certain things some days. If you are disorganized and indisciplined, then use a list, a journal, or an App to bring some structure, focus, and drive to your prayers.

Prayer. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever, Amen.

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Teach me to pray: The Schedule

INTRODUCTION

Gary came to me for help because he was falling into sexual temptation on his smartphone. “Do you pray about this temptation in your daily devotions?” I asked him.

“I don’t do daily devotions,” he replied. Seeing my concerned expression, he explained, “I don’t pray at set times because I pray all the time.”

It sounded super-spiritual, and yet his life was far from super-holy. “Well, that’s great that you pray all the time, Gary,” I eventually replied. “But why would you not want to have a set time of prayer as well?”

Over the next hour or so, we discussed this question about, When should we pray? I want to share the two biblical answers we arrived at by looking at Daniel 6:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

BACKGROUND

We’ve been looking at prayer using different biblical images to teach us to pray:

  • The cross: Taught us how to pray in Jesus name
  • The throne: Taught us to pray with confidence
  • The battlefield: Taught us to pray as in a war.
  • The supper: Taught us to view prayer as communion
  • The door: Taught us to pray for all our needs
  • The window: Teaches us how to pray for perspective

This week, we are looking at the schedule of prayer. When should we pray?

1. PRAY AT SET TIMES

[Daniel] got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously (Daniel. 6:10)

Gary had three main objections to having set times of daily prayer.

“I don’t want to be legalistic”

I understand Gary’s concern here. Most of us have had times in our lives when we did daily devotions in a legalistic way. Praying because we have to is like being called to the principal’s office. It’s a miserable experience that drains all joy and profit from the paltry few minutes we can muster to salve our consciences and keep God at bay.

But set times of prayer need not be legalistic. Just as making regular appointments to meet with friends doesn’t make friendships legalistic, so making regular appointments with God does not need to make prayer legalistic. It was a practice that not only Daniel, but David and Jesus engaged in too (Ps. 119:164; Dan. 6:10; Mark 1:35).

How safe would you feel if our top generals said, “We’ve decided to stop daily firearms training because the soldiers say it’s too legalistic”? Daily training in prayer is a vital part of spiritual warfare. As I said to Gary about his need for prayer to beat pornography, “You can risk legalism, or you can guarantee legal trouble.”

“It’s difficult to fit into my schedule”

There’s no doubt that setting aside time to pray impinges on our schedule. It takes time away from other activities and people. It’s hard to fit into busy mornings when we’re rushing to work or getting others rushed to work. It’s hard to fit into the evening when we’re tired and trying to wind down.

But if “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1), then surely there must be a set time for prayer. If all the other activities of life have set times (Eccl. 3:2–8), then why not prayer? Our problem is not usually our busy schedule; it’s our upside-down priorities. If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy. God calls us to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Knowing God necessitates stillness with God.

“I prefer to be spontaneous”

I prefer spontaneity too and wish I was far more spontaneous in prayer. However, if I had only prayed when I had feelings of prayer, I wouldn’t have prayed very much in my life.

Having said that, there have been many times I’ve forced myself to pray, and the feelings have forced themselves into my life. I started praying my habit prayer and it became a joy prayer. Dutiful times can become delightful times (Ps. 119:25–32). I’ve also noticed that my spontaneous prayers were more common when scheduled prayer was more consistent (Matthew 6:6).

When God blessed Shona and I with children, we realized that we were so busy with them that we were hardly getting any time together ourselves. We needed a plan if we were not to drift apart. So we set a time each day when we would sit down for about thirty minutes, just her and me, and through these fixed times maintained and deepened our love for one another. Scheduled love sustained love.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Start Small. If you don’t have regular set times of prayer, then begin with a low bar. If we aim too high and try to begin with thirty minutes of prayer, we won’t last thirty minutes and we won’t do any minutes tomorrow. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear says that if you want to start exercising, start with one push-up. That’s so do-able, isn’t it? But once you drop to the floor, you think, “Well, I might as well do another while I’m here,” then another, and so on. Similarly, with prayer, aim for one minute a day to begin with. You might be surprised how long you stay once you start. After a week of one-minute set times, make it two minutes, and so on.

Start by adding to an existing habit. It’s very hard to start a new good habit. But habit science encourages us that if we associate a new habit with an existing habit, it becomes much easier to remember to do the new habit. For example, if you have the daily habit of sitting in a chair to drink a coffee each morning, build on that existing habit by adding a time of prayer before you get up from the chair.

Start with Scripture. As many have noted, prayer is responding back to God in a conversation that he has started through his Word. Therefore, we can use the Bible when formulating our prayers. God starts the conversation, and we respond to his words with prayers. Take each verse and turn it into a praise, a confession, a thanksgiving, or a request.

Start with your schedule. For a set time of morning prayer, open your schedule and to-do list, and pray about each meeting, appointment, task. I call these set times of prayer, “Preview Prayers.” For a set time of evening prayer, review what happened, praying about each person you met or each problem that arose. I call these “Review Prayers.”

If we don’t schedule prayer,
we won’t have spontaneous prayer.

How do I get from scheduled prayer to spontaneous prayer?

2. PRAY ALL THE TIME

…Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Rom. 12:12; Eph 6:18; Col. 4:2; Ps. 86:3)

This command is one of several in this passage which call us to constant and consistent connection with God (16, 18). It doesn’t mean we go around with our eyes closed, head bowed, on our knees. It doesn’t mean that every second we’re not praying we should feel guilty. So what does it mean?

Repetition. In Romans 1:9, Paul talks about praying “without ceasing” for the Romans. This cannot mean it was all he did, but rather he did it frequently and repeatedly. Whenever he thought of the Romans, he prayed for the Romans.

Persistence. We don’t stop praying when the prayer goes unanswered. We don’t give in or give up but go on praying without ceasing.

Dependence. We consciously lean upon God in all that we do. Our default is dependence not independence. “Lord, I need you here…Father, guide me in this conversation…Spirit, give me courage…”

Relationship. Prayer is not a rigid ritual but a rich relationship. It’s like having our best friend with us all the time. Everything is Godward. We bring everything and everyone to God. Every human relationship, connection, or contact is an opportunity to have a relationship, connection, or contact with God.

Lifestyle. We bring prayer into every area of life and every area of life into prayer. It’s not a law but a lifestyle. It’s not another “do this” but a state of being.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Every moment of life is an opportunity for prayer. Every success, every failure, every pain, every comfort, every friend, every enemy, every gain, every loss, every believer, every unbeliever, every moment of life is an opportunity for prayer. What we are aiming for is a seamless life of prayer. Prayer joins every area of life, from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the yard to the workplace, from the sink to the school, from sports to the hospital.

Constant prayer is constant mental health. According to the National Science Foundation, the average person thinks 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts in one day. Of those thoughts, 85% of them are negative, and 95% of those thoughts are the same repetitive thoughts from the previous day. Can you imagine the improvement in mental health you would enjoy if you replaced these negative thoughts with positive prayers?

Pray all the time
to find time to pray

SUMMARY

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A NEW CHAPTER

Gospel. When I hear “Pray at set times” and “Pray all the time,” I feel so guilty. But then I feel so thankful for the blood of Christ which washes guilt out of my scheduled prayers and my spontaneous prayers.”

Jesus. Jesus never skipped a scheduled prayer time and engaged in prayer all the time. He did this perfectly every day of life at every stage of life.

Start. With Christ’s forgiveness and Christ’s example, let’s start with a scheduled morning prayer time of 3-5 minutes and a spontaneous prayer every time we touch our phones.

Prayer. God of Time, help us to use set prayer times and spontaneous prayer time to pray about our times and prepare for eternal times.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What excuses keep you back from putting a daily time of prayer on your schedule?

2. What would be the best time and place for a scheduled time of prayer in your life?

3. Write out 4 prayers based on Psalm 23: An adoration, a confession, a thanks, a request.

4. How can you increase spontaneous prayer in your life?

5. What motivates more prayer in your life? Guilt or the Gospel?

6. What do you think Jesus’ prayer life looked like? What verses guide us here?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


How to get from guilt to joy

INTRODUCTION

Psychologists define guilt as “the painful thoughts and emotions we experience when we have harmed someone else or broken our own moral code.”

  • We experience, on average, 5 hours a week of guilty feelings. That’s the total of all the feelings we have of mild or moderate guilt.
  • Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off. The nagging interruptions of guilt can make it hard to concentrate.
  • Guilty feelings make it difficult to think straight. When guilt is competing for our attention, it usually wins. Studies have found that concentration, productivity, creativity, and efficiency are all significantly lower when you’re feeling actively guilty.
  • Guilt makes us reluctant to enjoy life. Even mild guilt can make you hesitant to embrace the joys of life. Guilty feelings might make you choose to skip a party, not celebrate your birthday, or mope around during your vacation without being able to enjoy it.
  • Guilt can make you self-punish. The Dobby Effect—a phenomenon named after the head-banging elf in the Harry Potter books—refers to a psychological tendency for people to employ self-punishment to ward off feelings of guilt.
  • Guilt can play a major role in mental and physical illness. OCD, depression, anxiety, as well as insomnia, indigestion, chest pain have all been related to guilt.

That’s what the psychologists tell us about guilt, but it’s actually far worse than they think or say. The Bible says it is more serious in both its causes, symptoms, and its consequences. As we’ve been discovering in our study of Romans, it is caused by disobedience to God’s law and results in eternal consequences in hell. Some of us have probably been feeling that guilt more deeply and seriously as chapters 1-3 were expounded. Maybe you’ve been asking, How do we get from guilt to joy? Thankfully, that’s the journey Paul now takes us on.

BACKGROUND

In general terms we can summarize the first three chapters of Romans as follows:

  • Chapter 1 The Gentiles are guilty
  • Chapter 2: The Jews are guilty
  • Chapter 3: Everyone’s guilty .

But Paul doesn’t want to leave us there. He wants us to get from guilt to joy. He therefore introduces us to various characters to help us on our journey.

Who’s the first character?

1. EXECUTE MR GOODNESS

Mr Goodness hardly needs an introduction. As we are all born hand in hand with him, we all know him very well. And we like him, because he’s always telling us how good we are. And if we ever have any doubts about our goodness, he helps us to make excuses, blame others, or find others worse than ourselves to make us look good.

As Mr Goodness is extremely experienced, persuasive, skillful, and dangerous, the Apostle Paul spends the first few chapters of Romans attacking him. And in Romans 3, Paul takes the kill-shot by multiplying sharp scripture proofs of universal human sinfulness. Look at the underlined words in these verses. What’s his point?

We have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:9-12).

Though there are times when Mr Goodness is driven out of our lives, he keeps resurrecting and whispering, “You’re not that bad. You are not as bad as most people. You have redeeming features. You’ve done enough to overcome the bad things.” That’s why Paul reminds us again later that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (23).

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Execute Mr Goodness. If Mr Goodness is still whispering in your ear, use this chapter to execute him. As you read these verse, pray, “Lord, kill Mr Goodness in my life, so that I don’t believe his lies.

MR GOODNESS IS
REALLY MR BADNESS

2. LISTEN TO MR GUILTY

Paul has used God’s Law to attack Mr Goodness, who now lies dying on the floor. At this point, Mr Guilty enters the room and every one stops talking. Guilt stops our mouths. We realize we have no defense, alibi, or excuse.

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 [NKJV: may become guilty before God]. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (19-20).

Mr Guilty puts us in chains and drags us again and again to Mr Law (we’ll look at him a bit later). Mr Law presents us with two documents: God’s precepts to be obeyed and God’s penalties to be suffered.

 CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Listen to Mr Guilty. How do you respond to Mr Guilty? Are you still trying to argue with him using human standards? Are you still defending your goodness from his attacks? Or has he silenced you with God’s law?

MR GUILTY HAS LOTS OF POINTING FINGERS
BUT NO HELPING HANDS

3. RECEIVE MR RIGHTEOUSNESS (aka. Mr Perfect)

Into this gloomy room walks Mr Righteousness. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God (3:21-22). Mr Righteousness has a nickname: Mr Law-Satisfier. He comes to the law, looks at the precepts to be obeyed and the penalties to be suffered and says, “I can do both.”

But how come Mr Righteousness has a righteousness apart from the law? How can he be a law-satisfier without the law? This cannot mean what it seems to mean – a law satisfaction without satisfying the law. Rather it is a law satisfaction without any regard to our attempted law-satisfying. Mr Righteousness offers a law-satisfaction that is completely separate and independent from our attempted law-satisfying.

It is also a righteousness of God (21, 22). This is not a mere human righteousness but a divine righteousness. This is not a mere man that has obeyed the precepts and suffered the penalties. It is God himself. If a mere human being could achieve perfect righteousness it would only be enough for one person. But divine righteousness is infinitely valuable and can extend to a multitude greater than we can number.

Who is this Mr Righteousness? He’s been around for a long time. The law and the prophets bear witness to him, but he’s now been manifested (revealed) more clearly (25, 26). Who is Mr Righteousness? It’s Mr Jesus Christ. He can obey the precepts and suffer the penalties until they are exhausted. He is the righteousness of God.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Receive Mr Righteousness. Do you think you can add anything to Mr Righteousness? Do you think you can make him any better? “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6). Take him as yours.

OUR CLEANEST CLOTHES ARE FILTHY RAGS
THAT SOIL AND SPOIL CHRIST’S PERFECTION

4. CONNECT THROUGH MR FAITH

How do we get unchained from Mr Guilty and connected with Mr Righteousness? That’s where Mr Faith comes in. The righteousness of God [is] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction (22).

Mr Faith can sever us from Mr Guilt and connect us with Mr Righteousness. As soon as we believe, Mr Faith smashes the chain of guilt and connects the soul with perfect righteousness (25). And this is not just for special believers, for those with special faith, or even strong faith. It’s for all who believe. For there is no distinction (23). Paul loves Mr Faith and refers to him again and again (24-26).

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Connect through Mr Faith. Instead of hearing, “Guilty, guilty, guilty!” the moment we believe in Christ, we hear not just, “Innocent, innocent, innocent!” but “Perfect, perfect, perfect!” All precepts obeyed, all penalties paid.

If you need freedom or saving
He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you’ve got chains
He’s a chain breaker

5. EVICT MR BOASTING

The light has gone on, the dust is settling, and we are now connected to Mr Righteousness. Paul looks around and says, “Where is Mr Boasting?” Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded (27).

Mr Boasting is best friends with Mr Goodness. They go everywhere together. Once Mr Goodness has done his work, Mr Boasting steps in with praise and applause: “You’re amazing. Look at all the good you’ve done. You’re far better than most people”

But faith turns the spotlight from self to Christ. And when that happens, boasting is evicted and runs away, cursing Mr Faith. [Boasting] is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (27-28).

Mr Boasting sometimes gets back together with Mr Goodness and they stick their heads in the window and their foot in the door from time to time. But with the help of chapters like Romans 3 they are expelled and kept at a safe distance.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Evict Mr Boasting. Mr Goodness and Mr Boasting are best friends, but our worst enemies. Have regular searches for them in your soul, and if you find them, evict them without delay.

HE MUST INCREASE
I MUST DECREASE

6. HONOR MR LAW

So faith has chased away Mr Goodness, Mr Guilt, and Mr Boasting. What about Mr Law? Does Mr Faith chase him away too? Let Paul answer: Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law (31).

Every other pretended way of salvation diminishes the law in one way or another. In one way or another, the law is overthrown. These pretenders promise salvation by lowering the barrier or by compromising justice. Is that what God has done here?

No, this way of salvation strengthens and confirms the law. Christ’s righteousness reached the standard perfectly, and suffered the penalties fully. That’s why Pauls says God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (26). He is “a just God and a Savior” (Isa. 45:21)

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Honor Mr Law. Be highly suspicious of any promised salvation which overthrows, or in any way diminishes, the law of God. The only salvation worth having is one that honors God’s law and his justice.

A LAWLESS SALVATION
IS A HOPELESS SALVATION

7. ENJOY MR JOY

Mr Goodness has gone. Mr Guilt has gone. Mr Boasting has gone. Who do we have left? Mr Righteousness, Mr Faith and Mr Law. And then walks in our seventh man, Mr Joy.

Mr Joy asks Mr Law, “Are you happy?” “I’m happy,” he replies, “My precepts have been met, my penalties satisfied. Rejoice!”

Mr Joy then turns to Mr Righteousness: “Mr Righteousness, you happy?” “Of course!” he says, “I still have a perfect complete righteousness. Rejoice!”

“Mr Faith, you happy?” “Sure, I’ve severed another person from sin and united them with perfect righteousness! Rejoice!”

“And what about you believer?” asks Mr Joy. “Me? Who could be happier! The law is satisfied. Guilt has gone. Righteousness is mine. And all by faith without any contribution from me.” What a happy scene. What a happy salvation! From guilt to joy!

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Enjoy Mr Joy. Nothing makes God happier than his people’s happiness in his salvation. He loves to see them celebrating with Mr Righteousness, Mr Faith, and even Mr Law. He does not invite Mr Goodness or Mr Guilt to this party.

ENJOY MR JOY TO
GIVE JOY TO GOD

SUMMARY

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THE NEXT CHAPTER

Guilt is damaging and deadly. Spend as little time as possible in the company of Mr Guilt. We do need to meet him now and again to prevent Mr Goodness and My Boasting back in, but move quickly from there to Mr Righteousness through Mr Faith.

The Gospel is health- and life-giving. Joy has so many benefits for the body, the mind, and the soul. Let’s find our greatest joy in the Gospel. It’s both safe and saving.

Help someone else travel this journey from guilt to joy. Share this message with someone who needs to get on this road and stay on it.

Prayer. Perfect God, give me perfect joy by giving me your perfect righteousness.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. How would you explain guilt to a child?

2. In what ways has guilt damaged you or helped you?

3. Which of these characters do you need to have less of in your life? How will you do that?

4. What place does guilt have in the Christian life?

5. How can you get from guilt to joy quicker?

6. What Christian songs help you get from guilt to joy?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Teach me to pray: The Window

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever felt that life is unfair? Ever looked around and wondered why the wicked seem to escape any consequences for their evil? Or why the godly seem to suffer for their faithfulness? Maybe you have felt the pain of that unfairness as you look at world history. Or maybe you’ve experienced injustice yourself in your family, school, business, in your employment, in politics, in relationships, or in sport. Cheats win, the honest lose. Bad people win, good people lose. Lies win, truth loses. It can be really depressing can’t it? How can we ease the pain of injustice?

I have experienced injustice and unfairness at different points in my life. As someone with a deep passion for justice, any experience of injustice is especially painful for me. I’ve experienced it in my family, in sport, and even in the church. Cheats win, the honest lose. Bad people win, good people lose. Lies win, truth loses. How can we ease the pain of injustice? Asaph takes us to the window of prayer to change our view and perspective.

BACKGROUND

We’ve been looking at prayer using different biblical images to teach us to pray:

  • The cross: Taught us how to pray in Jesus name
  • The throne: Taught us to pray with confidence
  • The battlefield: Taught us to pray as in a war.
  • The supper: Taught us to view prayer as communion
  • The door: Taught us to pray for all our needs

This week, we are looking at prayer as a window, a way of seeing things from God’s perspective.

What happens when we only see things from our perspective? Pain.

I. PAIN IS A PRISON

The pain of wicked people prospering

Asaph was plunged into the agonizing darkness of envy when he saw:

  • The arrogance and success of the wicked (3)
  • The health and strength of the wicked (4)
  • The peace and pleasure of the wicked (5)
  • The pride and violence of the wicked (6)
  • The scorn and satisfaction of the wicked (7)
  • The malice and oppression of the wicked (8)
  • The blasphemy and power of the wicked (9)
  • The praise and honor of the wicked (10)
  • The atheism and influence of the wicked (11)
  • The freedom and ease of the wicked (12)

The pain of godly people suffering

Part of Asaph’s pain was seeing the ungodly prospering. But an even greater pain was seeing the godly suffering. When he looked at the godly he saw:

  • Pure motives and a pure lifestyle (13)
  • Daily pain and daily punishment (14)

This painful contrast between the wicked’s prosperity and godly’s suffering was deeply troubling to him (16). Although he tried to persuade himself that God was good and a godly life was worth it (1), he could hardly stand with the shock of the contrast (2), with the envy he felt welling up inside him (3), with the shameful embarrassment of his thoughts (15), and with the wearying confusion that enveloped him (16).

Asaph had accurate eyes, but he could only see inside of prison. His eyes were accurate in what they were seeing. Nowhere does God come in and say, “Asaph, your sight is terrible, you need glasses.” He was not mistaken or making things up. But, as we will see, he was not using a widow that would have transformed what he was seeing. Using just his physical sense of sight he was left in the darkness of physical reality. The result was a painful dark prison of confusion and depression.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Right eyes, no window. If we look at ourselves or the world with only our physical eyes, we will see only what is physically true, and that’s often a deeply depressing sight. If you let the media or social media or just your own senses be your primary means of seeing this world, you will end up in a painful windowless dark prison of confusion and depression. Like Asaph you will end up shaken to the core, tempted to backslide, and want to be wicked rather than godly.

EYESIGHT IS HEARTPAIN

How can I find God’s window? How can I see things from God’s perspective?

II. PRAYER IS A WINDOW

Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end (17).

As long as Asaph viewed the world with just his own eyes, he was imprisoned in pain. But when he went into God’s sanctuary, into the place of prayer, a big bright window was opened to him, enabling him to see beyond physical sight. As he prayed, a new window on the world opened up and enabled him to see everything differently. He saw both a spiritual dimension to this life as well as an eternal dimension after this life, flooding his soul with light and liberty.

He saw an eternity of pain for the wicked

Instead of seeing the here and now of the wicked, he saw the there and then of the wicked. He saw their end, their spiritual and eternal end. He saw their previously confident steps slipping under them as they cannot find their footing (18). He saw their strength and success falling into ruins (18). He saw them destroyed in a split second and swept away into hell on a tsunami of terror (19). He saw God treat them like a bad dream (20). Asaph saw the end is all that matters. He sees the horrific end of the ungodly and is horrified by his previous thoughts and feelings (21-22). He saw that he was seeing as a mere animal.

He saw an eternity of pleasure for the godly

God was guiding Asaph, holding his right hand, counseling him to look through the right window, guiding him with his Word (24). He saw how he should see while he lived in this world, and just as he saw the wicked differently, he also saw the godly differently. Again, the window of prayer showed him the end is all that matters. “Afterward…” (24). After all dark prisons he spent time in while living here, he sees there is an afterward. “Afterward you will receive me to glory” (24). After all the pain…glory. Immediate and immeasurable and indescribable glory. This will be a glorious place, with a glorious Savior, with a glorious company, in a glorious condition, for a glorious eternity. We will have a glorious body and a glorious soul

The Christian life is really summed up in this one verse: “You guide me with your counsel (life here), and afterward you will receive me to glory (life hereafter)” (24). His new worldview gave him a new God view. He may have little in this world, but now, having God, he has enough (25-28).

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Prayer changes our worldview. Spending time in God’s presence changes the way we look at everything. Prayer is not just about getting things from God, it’s about personal transformation. We often say, “Prayer Changes Things” but it mainly changes us. It changes what we see, how we see, when we see, and who we see. The biggest change that prayer effects is that we see the end is all that matters.

Prayer changes our mental health. When we see God’s justice putting right all the wrongs, when we see the godly’s fortunes reversed, when we see the glorious future that awaits us, that cannot but improve our mental health and even become a fund of mental and spiritual wealth. The Psalms are full of this kind of perspective changing.

PRAYER PRODUCES PERSPECTIVE

SUMMARY

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A NEW CHAPTER

See the cross. No one suffered more unfairly than Jesus, but through prayer he battled successfully to keep the end in view (John 17; Heb. 12:2). He suffered eternal pain to give his people eternal pleasure. Show the cross to others too, that they may have a good end.

See the end. The end is really all that matters. A good life is desirable, but a good eternity is essential. Pray your way to the end of the road and the end of all human history. The more you pray, the less the pain. All wrongs will be put right. The evil will lose everything and the good will win everything. Show the end to others too, that they may have a good end.

Prayer. Perfect Seer, give us perfect seeing through prayer so that we can reduce our present pain and increase our eternal pleasure, and help others to do the same.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What injustice have you suffered in the past or still in the present?

2. How has that injustice affected you?

3. How has this Psalm changed your view of prayer?

4. How is prayer changing you, especially your worldview?

5. What is your most used window on the world? The media? Social Media? Prayer?

6. How will you help someone this week to refocus on the end?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Four Hard Questions

INTRODUCTION

How do you react to hard questions people ask about the Christian faith? How do you answer tough questions about God’s justice? Do you avoid them? Do you run away? Or do you engage in apologetics, lengthy and complicated arguments to defend the faith? We should never avoid or run away. There are times we shouldn’t argue, but sometimes we shouldn’t. We should just state the truth and let it do its persuasive work. Let’s see how Paul does that in Romans 3:1-19.

BACKGROUND

In chapter 1:18-32, the Apostle Paul exposed the guilt of the heathen Gentiles. In chapter 2:1-11, he exposed the guilt of the religious Jews. He then anticipates and answers objections against God’s truth and justice in 2:12-24. His answers lead him to discuss the purpose of circumcision and how mere physical circumcision misses the whole point.He then anticipates Jews reacting against this by saying, “Well what’s the point in circumcision?” (3:1) and other questions that cast aspersions on God’s character.

Maybe you reacted against last week’s sermon with a similar, “Well, what’s the point in baptism, churchgoing, prayer, Christian home, Christian school, catechism class, etc?” Maybe you had questions about God and even accusations against God.

What’s the first accusation or aspersion arising from last week’s sermon?

1. IF RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES DON’T SAVE, WHY BOTHER? (1-2)

Question

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? (1).

In the previous chapter, Paul rejected the lie that being a Jew and being circumcised was enough for salvation. In fact, Paul went further by insisting that those who had the law and broke it would get greater condemnation than those who didn’t have the law. He then went even further by asserting that inward circumcision is all that matters and therefore uncircumcised Gentile believers can be more Jewish than some Jews.

It’s easy to imagine a Jew listening to this and throwing their hands up in horror: “What’s the point, then? What advantage or profit is there in being a Jew, having the Old Testament, being circumcised, etc. If none of these things are enough, if these things actually increase our condemnation, if those without these privileges can be equally if not more saved.”

The Christian equivalent would be, “What’s the point in going to church, being baptized, learning catechism, and doing confession of faith, if none of these things save us?”

Answer

Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God (2).

We might have expected Paul’s answer to be, “You’re right, there’s no point. There’s no advantage.” But, no, Paul says, “It’s worth it in lots of ways.” But the first and biggest reason is that the Jews were not left to discovering God through nature but were given the very words of God. They were given the Old Testament Gospel promises and asked to manage, steward, and transmit these powerful truths to others.

Paul identified three circles: (1) the uncircumcised, (2) the physically circumcised, and (3) the spiritually circumcised. He argued that being spiritually circumcised was all that matters. Those in group 2 therefore asked, “Is there any advantage in being in the second circle?” Paul’s answer was “Yes, but not in the way that you often think. Being in circle #2 does not save but it shows you the way to salvation and it brings salvation near to you, and that’s a huge advantage.”

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Don’t overuse your privilege. Don’t rest in it, don’t boast in it, don’t think it’s enough. Overusing a privilege is abusing a privilege.

Don’t underuse your privilege. Just because some abuse it by overvaluing it, don’t underuse it by undervaluing it. Baptism and church membership are not rendered useless because some abuse it. Group #1 don’t have a map to the treasure. Group #2 have the map and can see that ‘X’ marks the spot, but they never set out to find it and get it for themselves. Group #3 use the map, go to the ‘X’ and find gold in the cross of Christ.

THE MAP IS NOT THE TREASURE
BUT THE TREASURE IS ON THE MAP

But why do more not believe?

2. IF THE BIBLE IS TRUE, WHY DO MORE NOT BELIEVE? (3-4)

Question

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? (3).

Paul hears an objector protest: “Doesn’t widespread Jewish faithlessness undermine God’s character, especially his faithfulness? Doesn’t widespread Jewish faithlessness say something bad about God’s faithfulness? You’ve got all these promises that God has promised to be faithful to, but not many have believed them. Does that not undermine God’s character and His promises?”

Answer

“By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged” (4).

Paul jumps to the defense of God’s faithfulness. He refuses to entertain the possibility that the greatest amount of human faithlessness can put the least spot on God’s faithfulness. (He’ll return to a more detailed defense of God’s faithfulness to the Jews in Romans 9-11). But his first argument is simply: “Just as privileges do not cease to be privileges just because so many do not use them, so God does not cease to be faithful no matter how many people are unfaithful.” However many divine promises are rejected by people, God’s promises still hold true. Even if no one who was given the promises believed the promises, that would not in anyway undermine the promises or the Promise-maker. Even if everyone was a faithless liar, God remains faithful and true.

To prove this, Paul quotes David’s words in Psalm 51. David had received the greatest Old Testament Gospel promises up until that point, and yet went on to commit two of the greatest acts of unfaithfulness in the Old Testament and tell one of the greatest lies in the Old Testament. But David insists the blame is all his and God is not to be accused of anything. God is just in all his words and action.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Let’s confess our unfaithfulness. A lack of faith is never God’s fault. It’s the fault of the unbeliever. Let’s confess, “God you gave me the map, you marked the treasure with an X, and I failed to use it.” Confess not only that we are unfaithful but that our unfaithfulness reflects badly on God’s character. It makes people question God’s faithfulness and God’s truth (map).

Let’s defend God’s faithfulness. Never accuse God, never blame God. Always defend him, even at our own expense. Sacrifice our own reputation rather than God’s. Clear God’s name before our own. Vindicate him and his ways at all times to all people. Never let anyone use your unfaithfulness to cast aspersions on God’s faithfulness.

GOD IS TRUE EVEN IF ALL ARE LIARS
GOD IS A SAVIOR EVEN IF ALL ARE LOST

Why does God judge us if he’s going to be vindicated anyway?

3. IF SIN MAKES GOD LOOK GOOD, WHY DOES GOD JUDGE SIN? (5-8)

Question and Answer

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way) (5)

Objector: “Will my injustice be judged by God justice?”
Paul: “Yes.”
Objector: Will my judgment clearly reveal, demonstrate, and magnify God’s justice?”
Paul: “Yes.”
Objector: “If my judgment promotes God, then will God be happy with that?”
Paul: “Yes.”
Objector: “If my sin makes God look good in the judgment, how can he judge me?”
Paul: “By no means! For then how could God judge the world?” (6)

God is just to judge the unfaithful even though that judgment shows God’s righteousness. if any question undermines or casts shade on God’s judgment, the question is incompetent.

Question and Answer

But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? (7-8)

Objector: “My lies will ultimately make God’s truth clearer and brighter, right?”
Paul: “Yes.”
Objector: “If my sin makes God look better, how can God condemn me? Indeed, the worse I sin, the better God looks, so I should sin more right?
Paul: “I know some people think like this and I’ve heard some people talk like this, but despite God being glorified in justly judging sin, sin is still to be shunned (8), and those who otherwise this will be justly condemned.”

However much good God can bring good out of evil, sin remains sin and will be judged. Paul refuses to argue with such people, but simply hands them over to God’s justice.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

God will be glorified, even by sin. God can turn the worst sin against him even into the greatest glory of him, as the cross proved. God will win.

We will be condemned for sin. No matter how much God can glorify himself even through the worst sin, we will be condemned and judged for even the least sin if we remain an unbeliever. We will lose.

YOU WILL GLORIFY GOD
EVEN IF YOU DON’T ENJOY GOD

 Will my privileges get me some advantage in the judgment? 

4. IF PRIVILEGES GIVE US AN EDGE, WILL WE BE SPARED IN THE JUDGMENT? (9-19)

Question

What then? Are we Jews any better off? (9).

Paul has already established that privileges are an advantage, so this is not a question about the Jews having an advantage, It’s not a question about advantages but about favoritism. Does the Jews having special favors entitle Jews to favoritism in the judgment?

Answer

No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin (9)

Paul’s answer is clear. No matter the favors God gives on this earth in this time, there is no favoritism with God when it comes to the judgment at the end. Privileges are an advantage but not a security. When it comes to sinfulness and condemnation, having God’s favors will not result in favoritism. Rather, all, Jews and Gentiles, are guilty before God. All without exception (10-12) are guilty of all sin without exception (13-18), resulting in every mouth stopped without exception (19-20).

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Favors do not mean favoritism. Special help here and now does not mean special treatment there and then. Stop arguing.

“All” means “all.” We somehow hold on to the vain hope that God may make an exception for us. We somehow hope we are not included in the “all.” But there are no exceptions. We are all in the “all.” Stop arguing.

SILENCE NOW OR
SILENCE THEN

SUMMARY

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THE NEXT CHAPTER

The human mind has not changed. It was as rebellious and resentful of God in Paul’s day as it is in ours. The same objections are still around. We still excuse sin and accuse God. Human logic is often devilish logic. Questions are often accusations.

God’s mind has not changed. You will never defeat God’s logic with human logic. He will emerge from every court case victorious. We will be silenced (19-20)

The Gospel has not changed. As we will see next week, God has found a way to be just and yet justify the ungodly (21-26). The Gospel is God’s answer to the hardest question.

Prayer. Just God, help me to love your justice rather than question it, and to tell tough truth to help others escape tough judgment.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. How have you asked/answered tough questions about God’s justice in the past?

2. What other accusing questions have you heard or asked about God’s justice?

3. How do you know that needs to hear the treasure map illustration?

4. What are the uses and limits of human logic?

5. How do you handle questions that you cannot get satisfactory answers for?

6. How will this sermon change your apologetics or evangelism?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES