Our Purpose: God’s Image


Our suffering is the greatest challenge to our faith in God’s purpose. There is no human experience that makes us question or doubt or even deny God’s purpose like our suffering. We can have 100% confidence in God’s purpose when things are going well, but then plummet to 0% confidence when suffering hits. “Why?” we protest at our pain. “What’s the point?” we complain when we lose a loved one. “Where are you God?” we yell, when family problems multiply. “Why is God doing this?” we object when we are victims of injustice. We cannot see any point, purpose, or profit in what we’re going through. Is there any purpose in our suffering? The Apostle Paul assures us that there is not only a purpose in our suffering, but we have a promise while we are suffering.


  • Sermon 1: God’s purpose is is to glorify himself in grace-and-truth filled relationships.
  • Sermon 2: Our first purpose is to glorify God in grace-and-truth filled relationships.
  • Sermon 3: Our second purpose is to give God pleasure.
  • Sermon 4: Our third purpose is to receive and return God’s love.
  • Sermon 5: Our fourth purpose is to be part of God’s family
  • Sermon 6: Our fifth purpose is to be like God’s Son.

Romans 8 begins with the role of the Spirit in the Christian life (1-17) and then moves on to the role of suffering in the Christian life (18-37). Romans 8:28-30 contains a promise for Christian sufferers (28), a purpose for Christian sufferers (29), and a prospect for Christian sufferers (30). I want to stress the word “Christian” here because the Apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that God’s promise and God’s purpose is only for God’s people. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (28). God predestined them, called them, justified them, and will glorify them” (30).

What can I hold on to in suffering?


And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (28).

Our All

This little 3-letter word is one of the biggest and hardest words in the whole Bible. It’s the biggest because nothing is excluded from “all” and everything is included in “all.” It’s easy to believe “some things” work together for our good, or “good things” or “most things” but “all things?” Yes, ALL things.

That means all bad things, all hard things, all painful things, all disappointing things, all sinful things, ALL things. Let’s get more specific: all pain, all loss, all death, all poverty, all temptation, all sin, all accidents, all evil, all injustice, all slander, ALL things. Let’s get even more specific: all cancer, all MS, all heart failure, all disability, all miscarriages, all “accidents,” all job losses, all business failures, all marriage conflict, all addiction, all teen rebellion, all mental illness, all abuse, all violence, all broken friendships, all betrayals. ALL things. “All things work together for good.”

This never makes any of these bad things, hard things, evil things, painful things into good things. None of these things are in any way good in themselves. They are all bad things. But God is promising that ALL bad work together for our good. That does not make God the author or the approver of the bad.

God’s Work

Good is not the automatic result of suffering. Neither is it the accidental effect of suffering. Neither is it something we work at. It is God who thoughtfully, skillfully, and powerfully mixes the worst of evils to produce the greatest of goods. He works all things together for good for all his people at all times and in all places.

What kinds of good does he make out of bad? Although the full good will not be revealed until heaven, some of the good we do see to some extent here on earth: deeper humility, increased prayer, deeper dependence, radical gentleness, passionate compassion, vigilant watchfulness, faster obedience, impressive witness, encouraged Christians, converted unbelievers, heavenly hope, etc.


Believe the promise. Sometimes we can see some good in the suffering or after the suffering, but no time do we see all the good. It takes faith to believe in the amount of good God works together for us in and through suffering. Not until we are in heaven will we see all the good God has worked out of the bad. As Mercy Me sing, “His heart beats for our good.”

Worship the Worker. This is one of the most incredibly awesome parts of God’s providential work in the world. He is working personal bad, national bad, world bad, into good for his people. He takes the worst of ingredients and makes the best of outcomes.


What is the greatest good God works from suffering? God’s greatest and best purpose in our suffering is Christ-likeness.


For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (29).

God’s pattern

God’s ultimate purpose and the greatest good in our suffering is likeness to Christ. God’s greatest purpose is not our comfort, our happiness, or our usefulness, but our Christ-likeness. Suffering is like God’s toolbox which he uses to remove un-Christlikeness and shape Christ-likeness. Every day, he looks at his heavenly Son, Jesus, then at each of his earthly  sons and daughters and decides how to further shape them into looking like his heavenly Son. Jesus is his prototype, his pattern, his blueprint for each and all of his children.

Our prospect

Here is a beautiful prospect in the ugliest of times, a comforting end in the midst of pain, an enticing hope in despair: God’s working to make me like Jesus. I’m getting more and more like Jesus. I’m being sawed, chipped, sanded, and painted to look like, listen like, speak like, feel like, think like, trust like, love like Jesus.

And it’s not just individuals, God’s ultimate aim is that his Son one day is surrounded by so many different and varied people who are united in their perfect Christ-likeness. All his working is with that view that Jesus “might be the firstborn among many brothers” (29). It’s not that we will be clones of Jesus, like an army of identical people. No, this perfect Christlikeness will still preserve our unique humanity, character, personality, but beautifully perfected. We will not just be partially or occasionally like him, but will be completely and forever like him. Verse 30 calls it being “glorified” and we’ll look in more detail at this heavenly purpose in another sermon.


Cooperate with God’s purpose. Although this is God’s Work, he wants us to work with him in his great purpose, not against him. We can “waste” our suffering if instead of humbly submitting to it, we fight it, resent it, argue against it. It’s like sawing a piece of wood with a knot in it. The carpenter will take longer to cut through it and may even need a tougher saw. Be a knot-free piece of soft wood for maximum Christ-likeness.

Anticipate God’s purpose. Look ahead to the great end of all suffering – Christlikeness. We go through chemo, radiation, and surgery with varying hopes that the pain of the suffering will be worth it in the end, but that doesn’t always work out, does it? In this case, though, it will definitely work out. We can look ahead to this as a certain prospect. Look up to heaven and see there so many Christians already perfectly Christ-like in their souls, and soon to have visible expression in their bodies too.



Screenshot 2023-04-27 at 11.18.08 AM


Unbelievers. If you are not one of God’s children by faith in Jesus then not only are bad things working for your bad, but good things are working for your bad.

Believers. Use Scriptural examples of this to strengthen your faith in God’s good purpose: Joseph, Ruth, Job, Esther, David, Jonah, Peter, Paul, John, Jesus.

Children: John Piper taught the children in his congregation, this little saying: “When things don’t go the way they should, God always makes them turn for good.”

Prayer: Christ-Shaper, continue your good work of making me like Christ through good things and bad things by giving me faith in your promise and hope in your purpose.


1. What suffering has made you question God’s purpose?

2. If this is a promise to God’s people, what can we say about suffering to unbelievers?

3. What’s the hardest part of the “ALL” things to believe any good can come of it?

4. What do these verses tell you about God?

5. How can you help or hinder the realization of God’s purpose in your life?

6. What examples can you give of these verses in your own or others’ suffering?


The Toughest Tug of War


“Why do I do things I don’t want to do? Why do I do the things I hate? Why don’t I do things I really want to do? Why don’t I do what I love?” Have you ever asked these questions?

I have. Sins I was sure would be defeated soon after my conversion 35 years ago, still raise their ugly heads and beat me up to this day. “Why do I do things I don’t want to do?”

When Christ found me 35 years ago, I was sure that I’d have multiple juicy fruits of the Spirit in my life, but sometimes it seems my tree doesn’t even have leaves. “Why don’t I do what I want to do?”

We hear God’s Word telling us not to gossip. We are convicted in our conscience and resolve that we will never gossip again. One hour later we are gossiping. We look back on our broken resolution with shame. “Why do I do things I don’t want to do?”

We read God’s Word about the sin of anger. We put our “Amen” to this and determine never to be angry again, but in a few days time we look back on a scene of defeat after defeat as we’ve repeatedly lost our tempers. “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do?”

We hear a sermon telling us to pray more. We know our prayer life has been lacking and therefore get up early the next day to pray before work, but we can’t concentrate on speaking to God for more than a minute without getting distracted or sleepy and we give up after a couple of days of trying. “Why don’t I do the things I want to do?”

After years of looking at porn, you look again. You promise God you will pursue purity. But, within days, purity has lost and porn as won again. Why don’t I do the things I want to do?”

If you ask these questions, as surely every Christian does, you may lose assurance of your faith. “How can I be a Christian when I’m still doing things I hate and still not doing what I say I love? How can I be a Christian when sin is whipping holiness?”

The Apostle Paul had the same questions (Romans 7:15-20) but also offers us some encouraging answers in Romans 7:14-25.


The background and context to our passage is:

  • Romans 5: Grace frees us from the law’s penalty for sin.
  • Romans 6: Grace frees us from the law’s powerlessness over sin.
  • Romans 7: Grace frees us from the law’s provocation of sin.

In chapter 7, Paul has two main messages:

  • Romans 7:1-13 The law cannot justify us
  • Romans 7:13-25 The law cannot sanctify us.

How can I be a Christian when sin is whipping holiness?


For we know that the law is spiritual (14)…I agree with the law, that it is good (16)…I want to do right (21)…I delight in the law of God, in my inner being (22)…I myself serve the law of God with my mind (25).

The Christian thinks about and loves God’s law

Verses 7-13 are in the past tense and describe Paul’s past relationship to the law before he was a Christian. God’s law convicted him and “killed” him.

Verses 14-25 are in the present tense and describe Paul’s present relationship to the law as a Christian. God’s law is his delight and yet he remains disappointed with his obedience to it.

Despite Paul’s failures as a Christian to obey God’s law, he doesn’t blame the law, critique the law, ignore the law, reject the law, or abandon the law. He describes it as spiritual, good, delightful, and the best guide for serving God.

Paul often thinks about the spirituality of the law, the Holy Spirit as the source of the law, the beauty of the law, and the benefits of the law. He agrees with the law, desires to do the law, relishes the law, and serves the law with his mind. He looks at God’s law as the perfect blueprint for how to live.

When Paul sees the law as a way of salvation, he opposes it with all his being. But when he sees it as the blueprint for sanctification, he adores it.

The non-Christian cannot think or feel about God’s law in this way

No unbeliever can say the words Paul says about God’s law. In the very next chapter, Paul asserts that “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Unbelievers can agree with God’s law to some extent. They can approve its morality, until it crosses their will, until it goes beyond the surface to their spirit, until it costs them. Then they start fighting it, ignoring it, changing it, modifying it, and disobeying it.


Be assured you are a Christian. Only a Christian can say these words about God’s law. Despite repeated failures to comply, the Christian still think positively about the law and loves the law. We say, “I know that the law is spiritual. I agree with the law, that it is good. I want to do right. I delight in the law of God, in my inner being. I myself serve the law of God with my mind.

Praise God you are a Christian. If you can say these things and recognize these experiences, then you can rejoice that by God’s grace you are a Christian. You’ve been sovereignly and savingly changed.


I do view the law like this. I love it and think about how to obey it. So what explains my many failures to follow through?


Our flesh is strong

“I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (14)…It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (17). For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (18)…Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (20)

In the Bible, “flesh” can have three meanings. First, it can mean our physical body: our skin, bones, muscles, members, etc. Second, it can mean our frail and fading humanity, our physical weakness. Third, it can be the part of our humanity that opposes God and loves this sinful world (Gal. 5:19-21).

In the non-Christian, this flesh is fully in charge, it rules, and it dominates (Rom. 7:5; 8:5-8), because it has nothing to oppose it, except self-interest and common grace. In the Christian the “flesh-principle” it is still there to some extent but it has been weakened by regeneration and is continuing to be weakened by sanctification. The “flesh mind/principle” is now opposed by the “law-mind/principle.”

It’s that part of himself, the flesh-mind/principle that Paul is referring to here. He is not “in the flesh” but the flesh is still in him. He complains that part of him is still sold as a slave to sin. It’s not the major part of him though, which is why he says “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” He can distinguish himself, his primary self, from this part of himself, a secondary part of himself. His flesh has “shrunk” in size and influence, but it’s no less flesh, which is why he says, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (18). Now, when he does what he doesn’t want to do, he doesn’t completely write himself of as a Christian, but rather points to his remaining sinful flesh as the source. He says, “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” He owns his sin as his own, but his sin doesn’t own him as its own.

Our fight is fierce

I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand (21)…I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (23)…with my flesh I serve the law of sin (25).

What would you expect if two completely opposing moral forces are found in the same person? You’d expect a collision wouldn’t you? That’s exactly what Paul experienced, an almighty battle between the law-principle/mind and the flesh principle/mind. Compared to what he was before he is spiritual and free. Compared to what he longs to be, he is still fleshly and enslaved to sin at times. Hell battles heaven in his life.


An explanation. This helps us to understand ourselves when we are perplexed about sin’s victories and virtue’s defeat in our lives. It helps us to see we are no longer sinners but not yet saints. We are saint-sinners.

An exhortation. If the flesh-principle/mind wages war against us and within us, let’s wage war against it. Paul did not intend this explanation to be an excuse for sin, and an encouragement to fight.


When will I win and this weary war end?


Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (24-25).

A wretched man

Which Christian hasn’t felt like this from time to time? We fall into sin again, we fail to do good again. The flesh-mind/principle wins again. The law-mind/principle fails again. The true Christian doesn’t shrug this off with a nonchalant wave of the hand, “Oh well, another flesh-win, no biggie.” Rather, true Christians mourn and grieve that they have made so little progress in holiness and have suffered so many setbacks. We look at ourselves at times and say, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” When will we get free from this flesh, from this fierce-fight, this body that’s like a war-zone of losses and defeats?

A wonderful man

But we don’t stop there. We don’t wallow in defeat, disappointment, despair, and death. No, we look away from the wretched man/woman that we are to the wonderful man, Jesus Christ. He was 100% law-mind and 0% flesh-mind and therefore he can increasingly deliver us from the flesh-mind in this life and totally deliver us from it in the life to come.


We are wretched at times. Wretchedness does not define us, but it does drag us down. We are often disgusted with ourselves and tempted to give up when the flesh-mind seems so strong and triumphant. It’s OK to berate ourselves and condemn ourselves for our sins. But we must never stop there.

Jesus is wonderful all the time. When we feel wretched we turn to him in grateful worship that he has already weakened our flesh-mind and strengthened our law-mind with regeneration. He is continuing to weaken our flesh-mind and strengthen our law-mind through justification and sanctification. He will one day, at our death or his second coming, completely deliver us from all flesh and all fighting through glorification so that we too will be 100% law-mind and 0% flesh-mind. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!



Screenshot 2023-04-16 at 2.39.19 PM


Defeat is not death. We will lose spiritual battles. We will be wounded and even come close to our last breath. But defeat, even bad defeats, are still consistent with the Christian life.

 Fight is life. The question is not “Will I lose?” the question is “What will you do when you lose?” Do you turn to the Deliverer to strengthen you for the next battle, do you train your faith in Jesus so that next time you will win? Do you fight with confidence of complete victory?

Prayer. Wonderful deliverer, continue to deliver me from my wretchedness by helping me to fight for faith to fight the flesh until your deliverance of me is victoriously complete.


1. When have you felt discouraged about how much flesh and so little fruit in your life?

2. How is the Christian view of God’s law different to the non-Christian’s?

3. How much of Paul’s Christian biography can you identify with?

4. In what ways will this passage help you to fight against sin and for holiness?

5. When is it right for a Christian to feel wretched and what do you do when you do?

6. How would you rate your fighting spirit?


Our Purpose: God’s Family


Human beings have a fundamental need to belong. We want and need deep and long interpersonal attachments. Just as the devastating effects of the epidemic of loneliness are becoming better known, so the benefits of belonging are also becoming better known.

We see our desire to belong in our longing for stable families and strong friendships. We get a sense of belonging through our connections with political parties, the schools we attend, the sports teams we support, the hobbies we pursue, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the businesses we work for, the communities we belong to, and of course, our national identity.

But many or all of these connections and attachments change, weaken, break, or end as life goes on. We lose our sense of belonging and often end up feeling outside, excluded, alone. How can we find belonging that will satisfy and stay? In Ephesians 2:19-22, the Apostle Paul points us to where can can find a stable and strong sense of belonging.


  • Sermon 1: God’s purpose is is to glorify himself in grace-and-truth filled relationships.
  • Sermon 2: Our first purpose is to glorify God in grace-and-truth filled relationships.
  • Sermon 3: Our second purpose is to give God pleasure.
  • Sermon 4: Our third purpose is to receive and return God’s love.
  • Sermon 5: Our fourth purpose is to be part of God’s family

Ephesians 2 is about how the two greatest ever gaps were bridged by the Gospel. The first chasm that the Gospel bridged was between God and sinners (Ephesians 2:1-10). The second chasm that the Gospel bridged was between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22).

How can I find belonging?


So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints (19).

We were strangers and aliens

The Gentiles were born outside Israel, the nation in covenant with God. As such they were estranged and alienated from God. As Paul put it earlier in the chapter: Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12).

We are fellow citizens with the saints

What caused this massive change in status from strangers and aliens to fellow-citizens and saints? But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). They didn’t pass through a bureaucratic citizenship process nor participate in a naturalization ceremony, but they passed through the supernatural blood of Christ which abolished any hostility and established peace between them and God (Eph. 2:14-18).

They are now part of God’s nation (the church) which he is building into the greatest, biggest, best, richest, holiest, happiest, strongest, longest nation that ever existed or ever will. It started weak, small, poor, imperfect, and divided. But it’s growing bigger, better, richer, closer, holier, happier, and stronger through the years. It’s attacked like no other nation, and has its defeats, setbacks, divisions, and failures. But it’s a nation that will one day occupy the whole earth for all eternity (Mat. 5:5) and will be united in every way – in its theology, spirituality, politics, faith, words, and actions.


Are you in God’s nation? Unlike the Gentiles of Paul’s day, most of us were born into the church and baptized into God’s nation. Like circumcision in the Old Testament, baptism gives us certain privileges and responsibilities that the unbaptized don’t have. However, baptism is like the naturalization certificate I received when I became a citizen. It said I was an American citizen with all the privileges and responsibilities that came with that. But it didn’t and couldn’t give me love for America. That came as I learned more about American history and the great sacrifices Americans made to secure freedom for this nation. Similarly, Baptism cannot change our hearts to love God, but the blood of Christ that founded God’s nation can. Reflect upon Christ’s sacrifice, trust in it, and you will find your heart loving God and his new nation even more than America.

Where are your loyalties? When I became a US citizen at the Gerald Ford museum, the judge told all of us (representing 70 nations), that he wasn’t asking us to stop loving the nations we came from, but simply to love America first and most. Similarly, we who are American citizens love our nation, but when we are part of God’s nation, God calls us to love his nation even more and to prioritize its interests over America’s.


It’s great to belong to such a great nation. But belonging to a family would be even better.


You are…members of the household of God (19).

All Christians have God as their Father, other believers as their brothers and sisters, and the church as their spiritual family. God’s family is:

  • A diverse family (1 Cor. 12:14-21)
  • A united family (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
  • A loving family (John 13:35)
  • A caring family (Matt. 25:40)
  • A connected family (1 Cor. 12:26)
  • A fruitful family (John 15:5)
  • A gifted family (Romans 12:4-8)
  • A growing family (Eph. 4:16)
  • A rich family (1 Pet. 1:4)
  • A practical family (50 “one another” passages in NT).
  • A happy family (Ps. 133:1)
  • An imperfect family (the whole Bible and the whole of church history)
  • A permanent family (Rev. 7:9-17)

“Being part of a healthy church is essential to living a healthy life. God designed his church specifically to help you fulfill the five purposes he has for your life. He created the church to meet your five deepest needs: a purpose to live for, people to live with, principles to live by, a profession to live out, and power to live on. There is no other place on earth where you can find all five of these benefits in one place….Worship helps you focus on God; fellowship helps you face life’s problems; discipleship helps fortify your faith; ministry helps find your talents; evangelism helps fulfill your mission. There is nothing else on earth like the church!” (Rick Warren).


Are you in God’s family? If not, ask to be adopted and he guarantees your acceptance and full integration into his family. If you are, do you see how privileged you are? This is a privilege that humbles us rather than makes us arrogant and prejudiced. If you are in God’s family, you will be in the most visible expression of it, which is the local church. That’s where we find and express our purpose.

Where is your love? We are to love our natural families, but we are to love God’s family even more (Matt. 7:21; Luke 14:26; Gal. 6:10). That is one of our great purposes in life. It’s how God gives us a sense of fulfillment and fullness. God made us for this. Yes, we have squabbles and fall-outs from time to time, but we don’t let that stop our love and care for one another. Love should be your top priority, primary objective, and greatest ambition (1 Cor.14:1). Our relationships with other Christians are far more important than our career, our bank balance, our vacations. As Rick Warren wrote, “The best way to spell love is T-I-M-E.” We are not only called to believe but to belong (Rom. 12:5). The Christian life involves commitment to Christ and to other Christians.


Families are vulnerable and weak. How can we secure and strengthen God’s family?


You are…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (20-22).

The Cornerstone: In the ancient East, the cornerstone was the first stone set in any construction project. All other stones were set in reference to this stone, and therefore it influenced the whole structure. Sometimes they were engraved with the construction date together with the names of the architect and builders. When it was laid, it was often accompanied with an animal sacrifice, and wine and oil were poured upon the stone. Jesus Christ is our cornerstone, the first stone of God’s building, the reference point for all other stones, influencing all other stones. If you look closely you’ll see the names of the divine architect and builder. It was laid with the costly blood of the greatest ever sacrifice as he poured out his life to secure the building’s eternal strength.

The Foundation: The apostles and prophets are the undergirding of this building. Their infallible teaching is the sure and certain base of everything built above ground. There are no cracks or weaknesses in this foundation. Nothing more and nothing less than this is required to provide the sub-structure for the superstructure.

The Building: On top of this are God’s people, each one a nail, a brick, a 2×4, the glue, cement, a pipe, a window, etc. We are part of something much bigger and better than ourselves. We have a much greater purpose than to buy or build our own homes. We are part of building the greatest structure ever. It will never fall apart but will continue to grow closer, stronger, bigger, holier.

The Occupant: Who comes to live in this place? God! God comes to live in this building by his Spirit. We love it when our families fill our own homes, but we get even greater delight when God fills us as his home. He doesn’t just visit, he dwells, he comes to stay, to occupy, and to bless.


Are you God’s house? What a glorious honor! To be part of something much bigger and better than ourselves is so fulfilling and satisfying. We honor all who were and are part of this building. And we are continually seeking new building materials, even among the least promising and most broken people.

Where are your priorities? For many, their primary purpose in life is a bigger, better, more beautiful house. But that’s not the Christian’s priority. Our priority is being God’s house, being part of the building that he loves to live in, and looking out for its interests above all other properties.


Screenshot 2023-04-15 at 9.00.10 PM


Find purpose in prioritizing God’s family. We will miss our purpose if we do not make God’s family our priority. Ask yourself what can you do to move God’s family up your list of priorities?

Find purpose by participating in a small group. It is impossible to even know everybody in a church of our size. That’s why we strongly encourage everyone to be part of a small group of no more than 10-12 people. This is where the deepest relationships can be formed and the greatest sense of belonging enjoyed. Warren identifies different levels of fellowship: fellowship of sharing, of studying, of serving, of suffering.

Prayer: Governor, father, builder, thank you for giving me a deep and delightful sense of belonging in your nation, your family, and your temple.


Warren lists nine characteristics of a small group covenant. How will you cultivate them?

  • We will share our true feelings (authenticity)
  • We will encourage each other (mutuality)
  • We will support each other (sympathy)
  • We will forgive each other (mercy)
  • We will speak the truth in love (honesty)
  • We will admit our weaknesses (humility)
  • We will respect our differences (courtesy)
  • We will not gossip (confidentiality)
  • We will make our small group a priority (frequency).


Are you a heretic?


“What is your hope of heaven?” I asked this dying 80+ year old lady who’d been a faithful church attender all of her life. She must have heard the Gospel thousands of times and yet her answer to this question was “Well I’ve always gone to church and tried to support the church. I’ve been good to my family and neighbors. I worked hard and haven’t hurt anyone.” It was early in my ministry and I was devastated that someone who’d heard the Gospel so many times from her earliest years in Sunday school right up to Bible studies in her eighties could still have some faith in herself. Almost 30 years on, I’m no longer shocked at such answers because I’ve heard multiple versions of it on multiple continents from multiple people.

These experiences have changed the way I now answer the question, What is the most common heresy? A heresy is a belief or teaching that contradicts one of the primary doctrines of orthodox Christianity. It’s not a mere mistake and it’s not a simple error in belief or practice. Mistakes and errors in our faith are dangerous and damaging but not necessarily disastrous and damning. A heresy is a willful and serious departure from historic Christian faith in a central important area of truth that is spiritually disastrous and eternally damning.

So what is the most common heresy? In seminary I would have said, “Rejection of the Trinity,” or “Denial of Christ’s divinity or humanity” or “Rebuttal of Christ’s resurrection,” or “Refusal to accept the deity of the Holy Spirit.” All of these are serious heresies, but as I learned in pastoral ministry, they are not the most common. The most common heresy is the denial of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. To put it another way, the most common heresy is the false doctrine/belief that we can be saved by being good enough or doing good enough.

I’ve met very few people in the church over the years who have denied Christ’s virgin birth, Christ’s deity, Christ’s humanity, Christ’s resurrection, and so on; but I’ve met many thousands who have denied Christ’s sufficiency as their Savior by putting some of their faith in their being good enough or doing good enough. I cannot tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with people who have been in faithful churches for decades and yet are still putting at least some of their faith in being good enough or doing good enough.

My experience has taught me that there’s a high probability that some of these heretics are sitting here in this church. I want to use Romans 7:7-13 to turn you from soul-damning heresy to soul-saving truth. If you are sound in the faith in this area, I hope you will use this sermon to warn you about the very real dangers of veering away from faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. Use these words to keep you firm in the faith.


The background and context to Romans 7:7-13 Romans is as follows:

  • Romans 5: Grace frees us from the law’s penalty for sin.
  • Romans 6: Grace frees us from the law’s powerlessness over sin.
  • Romans 7: Grace frees us from the law’s provocation of sin.

Given this background and context, we may understandably ask the question: Is the law sin? If grace frees us from the law’s penalty for sin, the law’s powerlessness over sin, and the law’s provocation of sin, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” (Romans 7:7) That’s the question the Roman believers were asking. Paul gives a short answer in three words, “By no means!” then a longer answer in verses 7-13.

Is the law sin?


Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (7).

Outward perfection

Speaking of his pre-conversion life as Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul says he did not know the law or sin. This cannot mean that he had no knowledge of the law or of sin. In another biographical section he tells us he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5-6). He could go through the ten commandments ticking nine of the boxes and giving himself a 4.0 GPA. But there were times when he hesitated over the tenth box. He could say he kept all the others because he could keep them all externally. But the tenth had no external component. It was not about outward perfection.

Inward imperfection

Unlike the other nine commandments which could be interpreted outwardly, and even kept outwardly, the tenth was all inward, invisible, inaudible. “You shall not covet,” dealt with secret thoughts, private passions, hidden delights, invisible lusts. Saul viewed all the other nine commandments as merely external and therefore laws he could obey. But the tenth said, it was wrong to even love, desire, or want what the other commandments forbad.


Praise God for his Law. Although the law cannot save from sin, or sanctify from sin, yet the 10th commandment shows us what sin in a way that nothing else can. You can be a perfect Pharisee with the first 9 commandments, but the 10th punctures and deflates the Pharisaical balloon and leaves us flat on the floor.

Share God’s view of sin. The Christian Reformed Church passed a Human Sexuality Report last year that made many clear courageous points. But one thing it got wrong was asserting that homosexual activity was wrong but not homosexual desire. The report says as follows:

The Christian Reformed Church’s 1973 synodical report on homosexuality made an important distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity: “We must distinguish between the person who is homosexual in [their] sexual orientation and the person who engages in explicit sexual acts with persons of the same sex.” In other words, there is no sin in being attracted to the same sex. We only sin if we act on our sexual attractions.

Paul would say, “You need the 10th commandment here, brothers and sisters, if you want to align with God’s view of sin being not only external but also internal. Men look on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.


When law reveals sin, does that make us want to stop sinning? The opposite. It makes us want to sin all the more.


Paul was alive

“I was once alive apart from the law” (9). “Apart from the law” does not mean Paul had no knowledge of the law or that he never practiced it. He had his Bar Mitzvah at aged 12 making him a “Child of the Law.” To be “apart from the law” meant to know only the outward meaning and yet be totally ignorant of it’s spirituality, it’s reach into the thoughts, desires, loves of our hearts and minds. It’s not just the visible tip of the iceberg that’s sin but all the stuff below the surface we can’t see.

“I was once alive” does not mean Paul actually was spiritually and morally alive and healthy. Rather, in his own opinion, he was. He could see no sin in his life, he had no conviction of sin, no painful conscience, no guilt, no fear of judgment. He was a picture of tranquility, peace, and security. He was complacent, patted himself on the back and said, “Congratulations Saul. You are a perfect man!”

Sin came alive

“When the commandment came, sin came alive” (9). When Paul refers to the time “the commandment came,” he is not saying he did not know the commandments before this time, but that they now came with deep understanding, and painful conviction. Paul’s little ship sailed easily past the first nine rocks but was shipwrecked on the tenth. Nothing of this rock was above the water. It was all underwater and addressed motives, aims, attitudes.

“Sin came alive” does not only mean that as Paul grew in his understanding of the law, he saw more of his sin, guilt, and condemnation. It’s not just that he saw more sin; he did more sin. Sins that had lain dormant and inactive before he knew the law in this deeper way, suddenly were stirred up and started spouting hell on earth. Like a poker stirs up a fire, so the law stirred up sin. The law poked Paul’s sinful nature and kindled a fire that previously looked stone cold dead. Just as a weightlifter has to exert more strength the heavier the weight he’s lifting, so those feeling the weight of conviction fight harder against conviction to resist it and do the opposite.

The law kindles in a corrupt nature the very desires it’s designed to suppress. “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead” (8). Prohibition increases the desire for the prohibited. There’s nothing so attractive to us as the forbidden, as even perfect Adam and Eve found out.

Paul died

“Sin came alive, and I died” (9). The law did not kill Paul, but revealed he was already spiritually dead and doomed to die eternally. This killed his confidence, his pride, his self-image, his arrogance, his religion, his hopes. The law knocked him morally and spiritually flat on his back. He saw himself dead in sin, desiring sin, doing sin. “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me” (10). Sin picked up the law that he was relying on and turned it into a weapon against him. “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (11).


God’s law is not the problem. It is “holy and righteous and good” (11). There’s nothing wrong with God’s law, and everything right with it if used in the right way.

We and our sin are the problem. When the law comes into our lives to do us good, sin seizes it as a weapon and takes the opportunity to produce more sin (8), to deceive us (10), and to kill us (10).

God overrules the problem. God uses the law’s deadly results “that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (13). The sinfulness of sin is clearly seen in its making the worst conceivable use of the best things (like the law). But then when we see how bad we and our sin are, we realize we cannot save ourselves from sin and hell, but only Christ can.


Screenshot 2023-04-02 at 3.22.43 PM


See the seriousness of this heresy. It’s dangerous, damaging, damning. It’s not something to tolerate or trifle with. It’s not something to have as a back up plan or insurance policy. It’s something to abandon immediately and guard against constantly. If it wasn’t such a fatal danger, Paul would not address it so frequently

See the beauty of truth. As we are repulsed by this heresy, let’s embrace the beautiful soul-satisfying, heart-exciting truth of Christ is more than enough.

Prayer. Lawmaker, Lawgiver, and Law-judger, turn me and keep me from the good-enough heresy, and help me to embrace the Christ-enough truth.


1. Why is “good enough” such a dangerous heresy?

2. How did the law show you your sin?

3. What’s the problem with the CRC statement on immoral sexual desires?

4. Can you tell your story of (1) I was alive; (2) Sin came alive; (3) I died

5. Give an example of how the law fueled sin in your life (or someone else’s)

6. How will you protect yourself and others from the “good-enough” heresy?


Freed For Fruit


Every Christian has been married twice and the second marriage is always better than the first. Our first marriage is always terrible. Our second marriage is always not only better, but the best. How can we get out of our first and worst marriage and get into our second and best marriage? How can we remarry for the better?


American law has authority and dominion over us as long as we live but death frees us from the law’s authority and our obligation to obey it. That’s true whether it’s criminal law, civil law, tax law, etc. When we die, our relationship to the laws of America dies, it comes to an end. American law has no more concern with us and we have no concern with it. The general principle is that death ends the law’s relationship to us and ours to it.

What’s true of American law, is also true of God’s law, as the Apostle Paul explains: “The law is binding on a person only as long as he lives” (1). He uses the example of marriage to prove his point: “A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage” (2). Therefore “if she lives with another man while her husband is alive” then “she shall be called an adulteress” (3). The law condemns her and sentences her. “But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress” (4).

The basic legal and biblical principle is that death ends the law’s authority, our relationship to the law, and our obligation to obey the law, and any penalty of the law for our disobedience.” That’s true of our relationship to human laws (like marriage laws) and our relationship to God’s laws. How can we get free from the demanding and condemning authority of God’s law? We are married to it as long as we live. As long as we are alive we are married to God’s law. We are bound to it, in a marriage relationship with it as long as we live, and only death can release us from this marriage and give us the freedom to enjoy a second and better marriage.

What is our first marriage like?


For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death (5).

It’s a loveless marriage

We are born in an unhappy relationship with the law. The law commands, criticizes, convicts, condemns, and curses, and hates us. It never praises, never compliments, never supports, never encourages, never appreciates, never rewards, and never loves. As a result, we hate it, argue with it, fight it, oppose it, ignore it, and even provoke it by doing the opposite.

It’s a lawless marriage

“Living in the flesh” means living in a human nature that is controlled and directed by sin. There’s a difference between “flesh” being in Christians and being “in the flesh.” Christians will have “flesh” in them as long as they live, but non-Christians are “in the flesh.” It’s not just that sin is in them but they are in sin.

When someone is “in the flesh” their “sinful passions [are] aroused by the law..” In other words the law provokes lawlessness. That’s not the law’s fault, that’s our fault. Because of our flesh, the law arouses, motivates, empowers, and encourages our sinful passions into hotter and greater sinful passions. Just like the dunghill smells worse when the sun shines on it, so our flesh smells worse when the law comes into contact with us. Just as the gentle stream turns into a raging torrent when the gorge is narrowed, so the law increases the power and current of sin. The law produces lawlessness. A law-marriage is a lawless marriage.

It’s a fruitless marriage

Because our flesh was rotten, the fruit of that flesh was rotten too, so rotten that it was deadly. It reeked of death, was worthy of death, and would end in eternal death. However good the fruit looks in an unbelieving life, it is dead and rotten to God (Rom.8:8).


Are you still married to the law? Do you not see how awful this marriage is: loveless, lawless, fruitless? How’s it working out for you? Do you not want a happy marriage, a better life?

Do you want out of this marriage? The only way out is death, but it’s a certain kind of death. It’s by union with the death of Christ. We “have died to the law through the body of Christ” (4). When Christ died, he was released from the law’s condemning power and authority. He was made under the law but satisfied all the demands of the law in his life and all the penalties of the law in his death. We cannot live that life or die that death, but Christ can and did. When we unite to him by faith, we are regarded as having lived his life and died his death. We are separated from the law as a way of salvation or sanctification. The law’s hold on us is dead. The law’s condemnation is dead. The law’s sentence is dead. We “have died to the law through the body of Christ” (4). The law is silenced. Its mouth is stopped. It’s claims are dismissed.


What does this second marriage look like?


It’s a loving marriage

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another (4).

When death ends a marriage, the living partner is free to remarry, the law opens the door to a second marriage. When the law dies, we are free to remarry and belong to another. In this case, we are freed to be married to Christ and belong to him. We are his, happily his, all his. And he is mine, happily mine, all mine.

It’s a powerful marriage

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (6).

When we are married to Christ we are not only released from weakness, we are married to the one who rose from the dead, with all the power involved in that. The result is that we then “serve God in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” When we were married to the law, we had no power to keep the law, satisfy the law, or escape the law’s captivity. When we marry Christ, he sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts with new light, love, and life. That completely transforms the way we serve and obey God. We have power instead of powerlessness. The law-marriage produced law-disobedience. Christ-marriage produces law-obedience. We obey not as a bargaining tool but out of love and gratitude to God. We are freed from the law to serve God with spiritual power.

It’s a fruitful marriage

In order that we may bear fruit for God (4).

Instead of grace killing good works, it produces them. Our first marriage had a barren womb, our second one has lots of children. Our first marriage was a bare orchard of dead trees, our second marriage is packed full with all kinds of fruitful trees.


Do you want to remarry? Why stay in such a loveless, lawless, fruitless, abusive marriage one day longer? There’s a new marriage waiting for you. Just say, “I do!” and it will change everything.

Do you want a fruitful life? Don’t be a bigamist. Many Christians are bigamists. They are truly dead to the law and united to Christ, but they live as if they are married both to the law and to Christ. They grasp Christ’s grace but often go back to the law’s clutches too. They have access to Christ’s forgiveness of sin and power to serve God, but they can still resort to their old marriage when they wallow in guilt or try to serve in their own strength. Trying to keep two marriages going is such an stressful and unproductive way to live. Be exclusively committed to Christ and you’ll enjoy full and free forgiveness and spiritual power to serve God and produce much fruit.



Screenshot 2023-03-26 at 11.44.06 AM


The lonely. There’s an epidemic of loneliness in the world which has many damaging physical, social, economic, psychological, and moral effects. Here’s God’s wonderful help for lonely Christians (singles, the bereaved, the forgotten, the abused): building and strengthening your marriage to Christ.

The weak. Are you spiritually defeated? Is temptation winning and you are losing? Does serving God feel like a burden rather than a delight? Do guilt and condemnation get you down? Marry Christ exclusively and avoid all bigamy for a powerful, enjoyable life of fruitful service.

Prayer. Heavenly Husband, thank you for marrying me and giving me such a loving, powerful, fruitful marriage.


1. What was your first (spiritual) marriage like?

2. Can you describe a time when the law made you sin more not less?

3. What’s your second (spiritual) marriage like?

4. How would you explain the place of the law in your Christian life?

5. What fruit has marriage to Christ produced in your life?

6. How else would you apply this message? What people would benefit from hearing it?


Our Purpose: God’s Love


The brain gets a similar ‘hit’ from love as it does from a small dose of cocaine. Brain imaging studies of love suggest that 12 different areas of the brain are involved in love. When looking or thinking about a loved one, these areas release a cocktail of neurotransmitters across the brain, including oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin and adrenaline. It takes a fifth-of-a-second for the euphoria-inducing chemicals to start acting on the brain when you are looking at that special someone.

We were made to love and be loved. God made us in such a way that we are most fulfilled when we are loved and when we love. We find our purpose in loving and being loved. What kind of love fills and fulfills us?

It’s important to answer this question because people who experience felt love – brief experiences of love and connection in everyday life, have significantly higher levels of psychological well-being, which includes feelings of purpose and optimism, compared to those who had lower felt love scores. Loving relationships have been linked to:

  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Decreased risk of dying after a heart attack
  • Better health habits
  • Increased longevity
  • Lower stress levels
  • Less depression
  • Lower risk of diabetes

So, we really want to know, what kind of love fills and fulfills us? John, the Apostle of love, gives the answer in 1 John 4:7-12.


  • Sermon 1: God’s purpose is is to glorify himself in grace-and-truth filled relationships.
  • Sermon 2: Our first purpose is to glorify God in grace-and-truth filled relationships.
  • Sermon 3: Our second purpose is to give God pleasure.
  • Sermon 4: Our third purpose is to receive and return God’s love.

What love should I prioritize?


In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (9-10).

God’s love is personal. Not just that he has love, knows love, or does love but he is love.

God’s love is relational. He wants to enter, maintain, and expand a close, connected relationship with us.

God’s love is true. He’s not pretending but is 100% sincere.

God’s love is demonstrated. The greatest proof of his love is his sent Son, his dead Son, his resurrected Son.

God’s love is unstoppable. It cannot be defeated, deflected or diverted even by the most enormous obstacle.

God’s love is faithful. He keeps all his promises and will never betray us.

God’s love is holy. It is the purest love that ever existed.

God’s love is life-giving. It’s a love that energizes and enlivens our life. It transforms us.

God’s love is gracious. It’s not a response to our love, but initiates it. It’s not based on attraction but grace.

God’s love is forgiving. He turns away his anger from us because he poured out his anger on his Son.

God’s love is infinite. It’s so immense that it cannot be measured.

God’s love is eternal. God loved us before time began and will love us after time ends.

God’s love is unchangeable. His love does not come and go or fluctuate up and down. It’s steady and secure.

God’s love is practical. He thinks about us all the time and how he can show us his love.


Are you loved by God? Keep yourself in the love of God (Jude 1:21). Dwell in it, live in it, bask in it, bathe in it. You were made to be loved by God and you will find your best life in his love. You can be loved by God and yet it has very little influence in your life. Amazingly, we can go long periods of time without any conscious thought about God’s love for us. This passage calls us to very deliberately decide to spend time in God’s love. As we do, we will realize, “This is why I was made. This is the purpose of my being on this earth.”

Are you a stranger to God’s love? You don’t know it, you’ve never sought it, or experienced it. You are not loved by God. Wouldn’t you like to enter into this love? Wouldn’t you like to be loved by God? Wouldn’t you like to fulfill your great purpose of being loved by God? Use this verse to get to the cross, confess your sins, and believe in God’s cross-shaped heart of love. You will find a satisfaction there in God’s love that you can never get in any human love.


I love being loved by God? I’d love to love like God?

2. WERE MADE TO LOVE LIKE GOD (7-8, 11-12)

Love is from God. Lust is from hell, but “love is from God” (7). There is no love in the world apart from God. All love in the world has come from another world. All human love is the result of divine love. God’s love is so vast that it overflows, spills over, and fills us. But we cannot contain it either, so it not only fills us, but overflows, spills over, and fills others too.

Love is commanded. The first command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 23:36ff). John reminds us of this moral obligation twice. “Beloved let us love one another…We also ought to love one another” (7, 11). But God gives what he commands. He gushes so much love into our lives that the command to love others is like telling fish to swim or fire to burn.

Love proves the new birth. “Whoever loves has been born of God” (7). When a person loves like God did, with self-denial and self-sacrifice, it proves that a supernatural change has occurred in the heart. Where there is no love, there is no life, there has been no new birth. New birth connects us with God’s life which flows into our lives.

Love proves we know God. “Whoever loves…knows God.” We cannot know God and not love him and others. Knowledge of God always results in love for others. Love is far better than a bumper sticker or a cross as an identifier of a Christian. Conversely, “Anyone who does not live does not know God” (8).

Love makes God visible. “No one has ever seen God” (12), but when we love one another, God’s love is seen. Our visible love for others makes God’s invisible love visible.

Love increases love. “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (12). When we love others, love abides; it lingers, it dwells, it becomes a familiar presence and a close friend. When we love others, God’s love is perfected, it is matured and purified in us. God’s love for us increases our love for God and others, which increases our experience of God’s love for us, and so on.


Cross-shaped love for God. This involves the cross, commitment, cost (self-sacrifice), communication (two-way), compassion (feeling), care (consideration, kindness), carefulness (sensitivity), companionship (just being together), closeness (vulnerable sharing and intimacy), complimenting (affirmation and praise).

Cross-shaped love for others. “Others” includes not just family and friends, but other Christians, the unloveable, and even our enemies. That love should never stop growing (Phil. 1:9). As with God, it involves the cross, commitment, cost, communication, compassion, care, carefulness, companionship, closeness, and complimenting. One love researcher found that four things kill relationships: repeated criticism, contempt (sarcasm, name-calling, mimicking, eye-rolling), being defensive (always trying to make excuses for their failures and slips), and stonewalling, (a person raises the drawbridge and cuts off communication so that it’s like speaking to a brick wall).


Screenshot 2023-03-26 at 7.46.28 AMA NEW CHAPTER

  • Love God better: start by receiving his love better and abiding in his love deeper.
  • Love your family better: wife/husband/parents/children
  • Love a Christian better: starting with your church family in First Byron
  • Love a friend better: old ones and new ones
  • Love a neighbor better: house neighbor, work neighbor,
  • Love an outsider better: visitors, immigrants, the different
  • Love the poor better: practically and financially through the church/charities
  • Love an enemy better (Matt. 5:43-45)
  • Love the lost better: get the Gospel to them urgently.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for loving me with cross-shaped love. Help me to love you and others with cross-shaped love.


1. Define love.

2. What have been your best experiences of love?

3. What does Jude 1:21 mean? How can you abide in God’s love better?

4. What other Bible passages teach about how to love others?

5. How will you love better in the coming week?

6. What’s the difference between cross-shaped love and secular love?