by Joseph Franks
This week, I happened upon a letter written from a church father to his dear children in the faith. In this letter, this very wise and seasoned minister wished for his congregants to rehearse and rejoice in all that God had done, was doing, and would do for them. When I read this letter years ago, it tremendously encouraged my soul. Upon reading it again, I found myself further encouraged by the outrageous love of God for me. Therefore, in hopes of being an encouragement to you, I though I might reproduce it – in part and with much editorial liberty – for your benefit today.
I am so excited about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I love it. I will boast in it. I will sing of it, write of it, and preach it everywhere I go.
Why am I so excited about this Gospel? The Gospel is beautiful because it is powerful. The Gospel is beautiful because it is available for anyone and everyone who has faith. Yes, the Gospel is beautiful for it shows how the righteousness of God, described by God, demanded by God, deserved by God, earned by God, and ready to be distributed by God is revealed to men and women from all ethnicities and nations. The Gospel is beautiful because it results in declared righteousness towards those who respond by faith.
Oh friends, this righteousness from God is so needed. All men are ungodly. All men are unrighteous. All men have hard and impenitent hearts. All men are under the wrath of God which is being revealed, and there is more to come. This is true for those who have the ethic of God written on paper. This is also true for those who only have the ethic of God tattooed on their conscience. Sadly and tragically, a day of judgment and wrath is coming, and on that day all will be found wanting. All will be found guilty. There will not be one man found righteous based upon his own merit.
However, there is great hope. The Gospel contains the account of how the righteousness of God, described by God, demanded by God, deserved by God, and earned by God, is ready to be distributed by God. Anyone who sees the Law, sees their sin, sees the Gospel, and has faith can be declared just and righteous by grace. It is not earned or deserved. It is a gift. How can this be? How can a just God declare non-just individuals just? It is through the redemption or payment plan performed by Jesus Christ. For the one who hears the Gospel and receives it by faith, God will pass over their sin. However, once again, get this clearly – all this is by faith and has nothing to do with keeping God’s Law.
Readers, you do know this is not a new story, right? It has been faithfully revealed in the Old Testament scriptures. Consider Abraham, you know he did not keep the Law, but he had faith in God and righteousness was credited to his account and declared. Consider David, he was not one who always kept God’s Law, however he worshiped and rejoiced in the righteousness of God which had nothing to do with human works or keeping of the Law.
Saints, hear this again. The Gospel is gracious. The Gospel is a gift. It is an undeserved, unilateral, one-way covenant or promise that cannot be reneged or amended. And the Gospel promise includes much more than justification or declared righteousness. Through the Gospel you are reconciled to God. You also get peace, open-access, never-ending grace, joy, character development, perseverance, love, and hope. You also get the gift of gifts – the promised Holy Spirit dwelling within.
Therefore, with all this good news in mind, how are you going to live?
Are you really going to be oblivious to God’s Law? Are you really going to flippantly transgress your Savior’s demands and desires and do that which grieves his heart? No way!
You were spiritually washed by Christ in regeneration. You were physically washed by Christ’s church in sacramental baptism. You have been united and identified with him who lived, was crucified, died, was buried, and then rose again on the third day. Friends, the old is gone and the new has come. Consider your old manner of living life to be taboo. Tell your old master to go to hades. You have been set free from the sinful bondage that once enslaved you. You now have a renewed will, and you have daily decisions to make. Therefore, every day, submit yourselves as slaves to the Loving Master who purchased you with his blood? As his blood-bought citizen, consider it a joy to submit to the Righteous King and endeavor to please him by walking in his gorgeous way of righteousness. Even though you are saints, grow in displaying saintly behavior.
That being said, I struggle and so will you. At times, I can’t figure myself out. Oft times I do not do those righteous things that I want to do; I commit sins of omission. At other times, I commit sins of commission – I still find myself doing those things which my renewed spirit hates. I delight in God’s Law, but my flesh continues to trouble me. Frankly, I am still a wretched man, and I cannot wait to be delivered from my sinful flesh. It will happen. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ who will finish the salvation he has begun.
But though wretched, I worship. I continually rejoice in the Gospel and so should you. There is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. The Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death. The Spirit mediates, helps, and prays for us. The Son intercedes as well. And under his sovereign lordship, all things work together for God’s glory and my good. Oh, I relish in thinking about his purposes for me. Think of his eternal love. With love, he saw us in our sin and foreknew us. He predestined us to both conversion and sanctification – we are predetermined to look like his Son. He then called us, declared us righteous, and he has determined to glorify us. Wretched Christians, God is on our side; who can be against us? The Judge is our Savior, who can condemn us. He dwells within us, forever and ever, who or what can separate us from his eternal affection.
So what about our religious family, friends, and neighbors who have a zeal for God, a work-ethic for God, but they have not the proper knowledge of their depravity and proper faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What about those who are still seeking to prove their own righteousness – those who are self-righteous? My heart is broken for them, which is why I labor so hard to preach the Law and Gospel to them. They need to properly understand the weight of the Law. They need to come to an end of themselves. They need to have the Gospel preached to them. They need to hear, agree, and rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And this is true for all men and women. Anyone, from any ethnicity, that does not call on the name of the Lord, they remain condemned and damned. And anyone and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, they will be saved.
Back to you, please allow me to close my letter by way of exhortation. I plead with you my saintly brothers, because God has been so merciful to you:
Present yourselves as sacrifices or slaves. Worship God! Do not be conformed to the world, the flesh, and the Devil, but be transformed by engaging in the spiritual disciplines. Learn what God desires; know his will. Die to self and live for him.
Neglect not the spiritual gifts given to you by the Holy Spirit. You have various gifts that others need. They have gifts that can benefit you. Know your gifts. Develop your gifts. Use your gifts.
Obey all the governing authorities sovereignly placed over you by God. And yes, this includes giving them with your hard-earned money. Pay your taxes.
Love one another. This is the fulfillment of God’s Law. Keep this as the big idea, and you will find yourself keeping the secondary commandments.
Honor God by being pure and chaste, and I mean this internally as well as externally.
Flee lust and mortify the flesh. Make it harder to transgress God’s Law. Pray for grace and make no provision to satisfy your wicked desires.
In your church, quit quarrelling and judging one another. Jesus is King. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Master. You are a wretched sinner. Now who are you to pass judgment on one of God’s justified children? Jesus does not need your help. He can take care of his own children without your assistance. How about, instead of judging one another, judge yourself? Are you doing something that causes your Christian younger brother to stumble or halt? Don’t do that. As a church family, pursue peace, build one another up, lie in harmony and worship together well.
That being said, there will be some occasions when you need to avoid certain individuals. Of whom am I speaking? Watch out for those who are incorrigibly divisive or heretical. These are the people you must avoid.
My friends, I close with this. Never be defeated, for one day the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet. The present is sometimes bitter, but the end is awesomely sweet. So praise God for his past grace, and enjoy the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ as he continues to be with and strengthen you.
Saul of Tarsus (Paul)
Apostle, Servant of Jesus Christ
Today, in my quiet time, I was privileged to read the entire book of Romans in one sitting. I found myself incredibly warmed by my Savior. It was fun to put Paul’s inspired words in my own uninspired words. If you do not appreciate my interpretive gloss, feel free to go and read the original. It is really good! How deep is the Father’s love for us!