January 2, 2019

My New Year's Resolutions

A new year, a new me. Or so I think. Let me share a resolution or two from a very personal place of confession. The reality is that when I follow my dreams, and even when I meet those goals I set, I'm often left feeling empty and disappointed. 

So, this year, I'm aiming for something different. As a person who loves Jesus and tries to live as He did, I'm going to ask God to show me what He wants out of my life and go after that. A very different approach from what we're taught as American Christians. 
This very famous quote speaks to me:

“It has been said that the Jews turned the gospel into a religion, Romans a philosophy, Europeans a tradition and Americans a business.”

Ouch! When I read the New Testament or when I read about the struggles of Christians in other parts of the world such as Africa and the Middle East, I realize their lives are closer to what God intended- and they pay the price for their faith because it's all about sharing the Good News of Jesus to as many people as possible. It's not about "my best life ever". It's about bringing glory to God in the way I live.

That’s one of the many things I love about Third World believers in Jesus is their heart of her people toward God! In the US, we are getting more and more secularized.  No so here! There’s a renewed interest in living a life that pleases God.

That’s actually what I'm going to talk about as we look take a look at the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul's words to the church in Italy.

“How Do I Live A Life That Pleases God?” That's the big question for my New Year's resolutions, and I hope it's yours as well!

The Book of Romans was written to the church in Rome, a church made up of mostly Gentiles (not Jewish people) and some Jews. A large population of Jews had lived there since the turn of the century. Written by him about 57 AD at the end of his 3rd missionary journey, probably written while he was in the city of Corinth. Paul had not been to Rome but had been sharing Jesus for 20 years. He walked it, lived it, grown in his understanding. By and large, at the time, Christianity in Rome was a network of house churches, much like what is happening in parts of our world where it is dangerous and against the law to follow Jesus. Emperor Nero would begin persecuting Christians about 10 years later (64 AD).

Paul’s heart for the Romans is found in verses 11-12 of Chapter 1: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong- that is, that you and I may be encouraged by each other’s faith.” 

Let's look at the definition of "Righteousness" as God defines it. Between the Hebrew and the Greeks words for righteousness, it is used more than 700 times in the whole Bible! The concept must be pretty important.

Simply put,  righteousness means moral perfection in thought, word, and deed. (Now, I'm in trouble.) In other words, this means perfectly matching God’s character. God is the final standard of righteousness. It conforms to His moral character. (Genesis 18:25, Romans 9:14) This is what is required from God in order to enter heaven.

When I was a new believer in Jesus, I thought sin was only defined by what I did.
Later, I realized, I was also judged innocent or guilty of sin by the things I said.
I finally realized, I was also judged by the things I thought.

I became even more thankful for the work of Jesus, completed on the cross of His Crucifixion and then for His Resurrection. Aren't you? Isn’t this the teaching of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount? God goes beyond what we can accomplish on our own…

Look at this verse, words of Jesus Himself: “You have heard it said to the people long ago ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…(will be in danger of the fire of hell).” (Matthew 5:21-22)

If you read the verses before it:

“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."  (Matthew 5:19- 20)

This means we cannot achieve righteousness or enter Heaven by our own accomplishments and choices!

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (Romans 3:20)

The Law is designed by God to point us to Him - and Our Need for a Savior. This is why Jesus said He didn't come to earth to abolish the Law. Every belief system, every religion, requires us to work to get a place in Heaven. Except one: Christianity.

Continuing now in Romans 3:21-26 (using The Message version now. I don’t use the Message version for study- but for today, I wanted to read this translation as it helps us hear the truth in a fresh way.)  
"God Has Set Things Right

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness."

God’s character demands He judges sin- but once again, God goes beyond- He offers payment for it by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ- fulfilling His own law! In contrast to other belief systems, God comes to us, offering a way to eternal life in Heaven instead of Hell. The words He says are simple and direct and clear to understand because He wanted to make it easy for us to "get it". If we reject God, it is our choice. He offers us eternal life through the Gift and Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is great freedom in this- no need for weighing scales of good deeds vs. evil! God pays the price- now all we have to do is live life according to His Word and in the Holy Spirit!

Real freedom and joy is available this year!

So,"How Do We Live a Life That Pleases God?"  Here's a Practical Approach. What does this look like?  How do we live it out?

Quote from a very gifted and well-known pastor, Jack Hayford:
“Freedom from sin does not equal freedom to sin.”

And let me tell you- It doesn't matter how long you've been loving God, trusting Jesus, and trying to please Him. It's an ongoing battle. The depth of sin in our lives and its effective t is even greater than we understand. 

We now need to live our lives in such a way that it matches up with God’s standards of righteousness. Not because of legalism, but out love for Him. “If you love me, you will do what I command.”

More from Romans Chapter 1 helps us understand more. 

The righteous will live by faith.  (Romans 1:17b)- Remember you can’t earn salvation!  Don’t go back to your old ways!

Give God the Glory, and Thank Him. (Romans 1:21) Speak of Him to others- Speak to Him- Have a Thankful Heart! When we grumble, it gives Satan a chance to move us away from God. Slowly, we begin to doubt God’s love, His Goodness, and His Faithfulness. When we begin to doubt His character, we begin to doubt what He did for us!

Don’t exchange the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:25, 28) Know what the Bible teaches. Know the Creator. His Word and His Spirit work in unity!

Don’t just hear the Law, Obey it. (Romans 2:13) Here's the great part: It can be challenging even difficult to live a life that pleases God, but when you say yes to Him and no to everything else, there's incredible freedom and joy to be found. God takes you on this great adventure you could never imagine on your own- far better than "living your best life now" or fulfilling your dreams and New Year's resolutions. 

True freedom begins with God.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, (eyes, ears, tongue, brain, hand) but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

Let's get practical once more. 

Be wise in what you look at! Men- do you indulge in pornography? Women- Do you visit another’s home and wish her possessions were yours? Let me ask it in another way, a way I ask myself:

Ears- What do you listen to? Do you put up with gossip? 

Tongue- What you say- Do you bless? Do you curse others? 
Do you grumble against God and what He allows?

Brain- What about how and what you think about? Do you take your thoughts captive to Christ? It’s easy to let our minds wander- and the enemy tempts us all the time to go there! Let God transform your mind. (Romans 12:1-2)

What do you do? -  Plot revenge? Lie? Cheat? Steal? Use your body sexually in a way that displeases God?  Honor God with your body! (I Corinthians 6:19-20) Etc.

Not man's power- God's power.

It's all so hard! We need Jesus more than we realize, and we need God's Holy Spirit to live righteously in a manner that pleases Him. So, once again, God goes beyond and provides what we need.

We now have the power to obey God! Here's two "old favorite" verses that should encourage you:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

... And out of Paul's letter to another church, Philippians 4:13:  
"I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

So, will you join me in the New Year and live a life that pleases God by His Power and His Strength? Will you submit your thoughts, words, and actions to Him because you love Him? Don't try to earn your own way to Heaven. It can't be done. But God has given you a way through Jesus Christ alone.

If you haven't turned your life over to the only God that reaches out to you and the only one who can pay the price for you to enter heaven, think about His words to you. In the Book of John 14:6, Jesus says "I am THE way… ". Not a way but The Way (to distinguish from other gods). 

Ending back where we started in the letter to the Roman church:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Be encouraged by these Old Testament verses, a promise from God-  The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.  The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.  (Psalm 145:17-18)

May God give you a wonderful New Year- one where He walks with you through it's challenges and delights!

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