Sunday, 30 November 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - Starts Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is 1st December, which means Christmas is only 25 days away! Here on the blog I'll be counting the days with a video advent calendar (which is a slightly jazzed-up version of my audio advent calendar from last year). Each day there will be a short (about 1min) clip based around a phrase of picture connected with Christmas. Some are the usual things you'd find in any advent calendar, others are a bit more unusual.

Join me over the next 24 days as we wait for the coming of King Jesus!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Grace is the Word!

Over the past few months, I've found myself talking about grace a lot. I think some of my students think I'm a bit like a broken record, saying the same thing over and over again. But I've told them I'm fine with that. In fact, I'd be quite happy to have it written on my gravestone one day! In my first few months working for UCCF, it's been made obvious to me again that the gospel of grace is the answer to whatever issue or question I happen to be taling about. And I'm excited about the effects grace is having and will have in the lives of people I spend time with.

Partly because of all this talk about grace, and partly because I spotted it on my bookshelf, I'm reading a great little book by D.L. Moody called "Sovereign Grace." It was published in 1891 (I don't think my copy is that old, but it does have a dedication written in it dated 1933). I've read a few chapters, and I love it. With no time-wasting and no apology, Moody gets straight into the life-transforming subject of grace, and passionately calls the reader to stop trying to earn God's forgiveness and accept it as a free gift. It's brilliant, heart-warming stuff.

I'd love to quote loads of it - it's a very quotable book. And I'm sure in future posts there will be more. But I loved this bit from chapter one. Moody quotes a letter sent to him by a friend (who sadly remains anonymous), and it got me really excited. It's a longish passage, but worth it I think...

"'By the grace of God, I am what I am!' This is the believer's eternal confession. Grace found him a rebel - it leaves him a son. Grace found him wandering at the gates of hell - it leads him through the gates of heaven. Grace devised the scheme of Redemption: Justice never would; Reason never could. And it is grace which carries out that scheme. No sinner ever sought his God but 'by grace.' The thickets of Eden would have proved Adam's grave, had not grace called him out. Saul would have lived and died the haughty self-righteous persecutor, had not grace laid him low. The thief would have continued breathing out his blasphemies, had not grace arrested his tongue and tuned it for glory."

Friday, 28 November 2008

Christmas comes to the South East

Since I made this, I've watched it about 30 times. And it still makes me giggle. Here are my colleagues (Nay, Dave, Lisa and Ben) and I getting our Christmas groove on...

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

And I didn't want the Relays to feel left out...

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

26 Days to go!!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Live for Jesus, Speak for Jesus... and Pray Lots!

Here's the text of a talk I gave at Reading University CU's houseparty last week. It's based on Colossians 4v2-6, with a brief look at some other bits of Colossians too. I gave it on Sunday morning, from a jumble of scribbley notes and crossings-out. It ended up rather long, but here's roughly what I said...

Well, it’s been a busy weekend, hasn’t it? We’ve heard some great stuff from Acts, haven’t we? We’ve heard about huge opportunities for the gospel, but also about the inevitability of persecution. And we’ve been challenged to think about how we engage with our friends and our world for Jesus.

So I wonder how you’re feeling, now it’s Sunday morning. Have you been challenged by what you’ve heard? Have you been inspired? Have you been encouraged or rebuked? As we think about going back to Reading later, are you excited and raring to go?

The truth is, it would be really easy to go away from here and leave it all behind. It all sounds great while we’re out here in the countryside, surrounded by Christians, maybe with a slightly rosy view of university. But it’s not much use unless we take it back with us. What we need is a take home message. Like the piece of birthday cake in a partybag, we need to wrap up what we’ve learned so we can take it home with us.

We’re going to do it by looking at Paul’s closing remarks in his letter to the Colossians. As you can see, this passage comes at the end of Paul’s letter. The way my Bible sets it out, this looks like a few random thoughts at the end before he exchanges a few hellos and signs off. I actually think it’s the end of the beginning, rather the beginning of the end.

Paul is writing to a church he’s never actually met – his friend Epaphras set it up. But he still prays for them constantly. And his main concern is that they’d understand what it means to live with Jesus as their Lord. Which is why he reminds them of the good news about Jesus which they’d heard and accepted. (We saw that yesterday in Colossians chapter 1).

He reminds them that Jesus is God himself, who made everything and keeps everything going. Every millimetre of creation, whether we see it or not, belongs to him. Including us. Jesus is superior to everything – and yet he died for our sake. He died so that people like us, people who hate God, could be reconciled to God (1v20, 22).

Reconciled is one of my favourite ways to talk about the gospel. When we talk about being reconciled, we mean a relationship has been restored. So it explains in a word what the gospel is all about. First, if reconciliation is needed, then a relationship has been broken. Our relationship with God is broken – we’ve rejected him, we’ve turned away to worship other things. But it also tells us what Jesus achieved in dying for us, because we can be reconciled – the relationship we destroyed can be put back together. We did nothing. God himself did everything to repair our relationship with him. Through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Colossians were reconciled to God, and so can anyone who trusts him.

This is foundational to what Paul says in the rest of the letter (and it’s foundational to the rest of what I’m going to say. So I think it’s appropriate to say that I don’t know most of you. It’s possible that some of you aren’t Christians. If that’s you, then let me say it’s great to have you here, and you’re really welcome. But I guess the houseparty has probably been a bit weird. We’ve been talking and singing about sharing this message, but you might be wondering, “why?”

The good news of Jesus is foundational to everything the CU does. It’s what we live by, and it’s what we desperately want everyone else on campus to know.

If you’re here and not a Christian, everything else I say this morning is basically irrelevant to you, because it will just be moralising and doing nice stuff. But it won’t do you any good at all. You need Jesus as your crucified Lord. Can I plead with you to think about where you stand with Jesus. And maybe the challenge from this weekend for you is whether you’re going to keep being Lord of your own life, or if you’re going to hand it back to him?

I’ve said already, the Lordship of Jesus is foundational to everything else Paul has to say. He urges them not to get talked into following religious fads or human rules. Instead, they need to know Jesus better. He tells them it’s as if their old self died when Jesus did – so now they should focus on the right things, and live under the Lordship of Christ. Just before the bit we read, he gives them some practical examples of what that looks like, when he talks about husbands and wives, parents and children, and slaves and masters.

And so we get to this section. But I don’t think it’s a random addition – Paul is carrying on. This is more of what it means to live a life worthy of Christ. And in particular, this little chunk encourages the Colossians to be outward looking – it’s all about people hearing the gospel, whether from Paul or from the Colossians.

So we’re going to look at 3 things he tells the Colossians to do. Actually, we’re going to look at three things he tells them to BE. And as we reflect on the weekend we’ve had, as we think about going back, and particularly as we look towards the FREE project, these things apply to us too. These are three things we can take away with us as we think about reaching our mates with the great news about Jesus. The 3 things are:
  • Be Prayerful
  • Be Wise
  • Be Ready

Be Prayerful (2-4)
Paul tells the Colossians to “continue steadfastly in prayer” or “devote” themselves to prayer (v2). And you don’t have to read much of Paul to see that he modelled this himself. He prayed for the Colossians constantly. But what does it look like? Does it mean that if we ever stop praying, then we aren’t devoted to prayer? Well no, it doesn’t mean that, otherwise how would Paul have found time to write a letter? What it means is giving prayer the right priority. This isn’t so much about the quality of our prayers, but more about the quality of our lives. He isn’t saying that prayers will only work if you arrange it so someone is praying 24-7. This isn’t about the quality of our prayers, it’s about the quality of our lives, which should be marked by prayer.

Paul knows prayer is wildly important because he knows who God is. He knows God’s part in reaching people with the gospel, and he knows Paul’s part in preaching the gospel. And he knows that Paul’s part is useless if God doesn’t do his part. It’s God who opens blind eyes and shines light into people’s hearts. It’s God who stirs people up and brings the dead back to life. Without God, everything Paul does would be fruitless. So prayer is the foundation of everything he does, and the same goes for all of us too. That’s why he prays steadfastly for other people, and why he tells the Colossians to pray.

He fleshes out more of what he means with the words “watchful” and “thanksgiving.” Which sounds straightforward, but you’d be surprised. “Watchful” for what? Giving thanks for what? People have lots of different suggestions as to what Paul means. But I’ll tell you what I think he’s getting at here. Basically, be alert when you pray. It’s possible to pray and not be alert. Your heart isn’t really engaged, you aren’t really very interested in what you’re praying about. But don’t be like that, Paul says, be alert.

We need to be engaged in prayer, not asleep on the job. Prayer is a serious business, and we need to be alert. Be alert to the needs around you, to the things you have to pray for. Be alert! We need to pray in a way which is connected to the world we live in, to our campus, and to the lives of our mates.

And we need to be thankful. Being thankful is connected to being watchful, in that we have to be on the lookout for God answering prayer, and be thankful. But I think it’s more than that. It needs to be rooted in grace. When we realise that we’re sinners who have been saved by grace, it will grow a grateful heart in us, and that will change the quality of our prayer.

A grateful heart realises that everything we’ve got come from God. A grateful heart knows that without him, we’d be alienated from him. And a grateful heart won’t stride arrogantly up to God with a shopping list of demands. A grateful heart will humbly ask God, out of the riches of his grace and mercy, to give us more of what we could never deserve. Do you see how that will change things?

Now I feel hypocritical even as I say this stuff, because I don’t think I could describe my life like that. And I guess a lot of you feel the same. But what we shouldn’t do is look at Paul and feel discouraged. We should look at him and realise what a difference really being prayerful will make.

There are loads of practical steps we can take. Praying with other people is a great thing to do as we try to be like this together. Whether that’s prayer breakfast, or just getting together with a couple of friends to pray for your non-Christian friends, praying with others is a massive encouragement and stimulus to pray steadfastly. But this is about our lives, not just about being in public. What can you do to help yourself pray steadfastly? Don’t think, “I’m going to pray for 3 hours every day” if you aren’t praying for 3 minutes! Be realistic. But here are two key things:
Be inspired by Bible prayers: Look at the prayers or Jesus, or Paul, or David, or whoever. Soak up Bible prayers, and it will help you to pray.
Pray God will help you to pray: It sounds silly at first (like a solar-powered torch), but it’s not. It’s a heart thing. Ask God to change your heart so you can pray the way you should.

So that’s how Paul tells the Colossians to pray. But he asks them to pray for him (and Timothy), and specifically for two things. Both of them are about reaching people with the gospel:
“that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ,” (v3)
“that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (v4)

Again, this is God’s part and Paul’s part in proclaiming the gospel. He asks them to pray for what’s going on out there (that a door would open for the message), and also for what’s going on in here (that Paul would proclaim the message properly). The two things have to go together. Paul’s attitude is irrelevant if there’s no chance to speak. And he could have all the opportunities in the world, but they’re useless if he talks nonsense. They’re different, but they go together. And they both need God to work, either in the hearers or in the speaker. So Paul asks the Colossians to bring both before God.

As we look forward to the FREE project, surely we need to follow Paul’s example and be lifting both of these to God too. We need to pray for doors to open – pray for your mates, for the people on your course, that there would be chances to tell them the truth about Jesus. And pray for Michael Ots, that when he comes to speak, he’s speak clearly, and explain the gospel well. But pray for yourselves too, that you’d be able to do the same.

So, be prayerful. Be steadfast in prayer. Be watchful and thankful. And pray there’d be opportunities to share the gospel, and that we’d take them and use them well.

I’ve spent ages on prayer, because I think it’s crucial. And please don’t think we’re leaving it behind as we move on. Paul turns his attention specifically to their evangelism, but he still wants them to be prayerful. Don’t think of these things as separate!

Be Wise (v5)
He tells them to conduct themselves wisely towards outsiders, making the best use of the time (v5, you might have “every opportunity” or something similar). An outsider is someone who is outside God’s people – it’s someone who isn’t a Christian. So this is about Christians relating to non-Christians. But what does he mean by “wise”? Does he mean be clever? Or be really good at apologetics? Or plan really carefully when you’re going to speak so that you get your friends in exactly the right mood?

I don’t think so. This is about living wisely as you relate to people who aren’t Christians. Paul opened the letter with a prayer that God would fill the Colossians with “the knowledge of God’s will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…,” with the aim that they would live lives worthy of Christ. Paul’s already explained that, through Jesus, the quality of our lives will be different. And he’s applied it throughout the letter – the way their new life in Christ will affect how they live. Now in chapter 4 verse 5, he’s taking all of that and applying it to people on the outside. As people look in, they’ll see the results of the gospel in the wise choices you make.

I guess this prompts the question, “are you being wise in the way you act towards outsiders?” Are you making wise choices which allow people to see the gospel at work in you? Or does it make no difference to you. Would your friend look at you and see no difference between them and you? Sometimes as Christians we make a lot of effort to fit in with our friends (and to an extent that’s good). But if we get to a point where there’s no difference between us, then we’ve pushed it too far. What will your friend think of Jesus if you get hammered at the weekend just like they do? What will your friend think of the gospel if you sleep around just like everyone else? What will your friend think if you lie or cheat? Be wise.

It sounds like Paul has one eye on the future here. “Make the best use of the time.” There’s a sense of urgency in the words Paul uses. When time is limited, it becomes important that we use it wisely. We need to use the time we have to tell people about Jesus.

Are you making “the best use of the time”? Are you using it wisely? That will mean looking for opportunities – the open doors we’ve already heard about. Are you on the lookout for chances to tell people about Jesus. Hey, wait, here’s one [at which point I produce a FREE gospel]!
Or it will mean making opportunities. Like, for instance, getting an allotment so you can get to know the other people who have allotments. (Which is what I’m in the process of doing). OK, that’s probably not practical for you lot – I just wanted to mention my allotment. But what opportunities are there? Do you ever invite people round for dinner? Are you too busy to go to the pub with people from your course? Make the best use of the time.
And, of course, all of this depends rather heavily on actually having contact with outsiders. Being wise is irrelevant if your only ever wise hiding in your bedroom or at a CU meeting! Be wise.

This is all linked to the final verse, verse 6. Paul has told the Colossians to be prayerful, and he’s specifically asked for prayer for his evangelism. Then he’s told them to be wise, to live out the gospel for outsiders to see, and making best use of the time that remains until Jesus comes back. But once they’re doing that, Paul says, they need to be ready.

Be Ready (v6)
Again, we can ask “How?” Do I need a PhD? Do I need to read all the books on the bookstall? Do I need to become a Relay worker?

They’re all good ways to be prepared to talk to people about Jesus (particularly the last one), but knowledge and training aren’t Paul’s priority here. He’s more concerned about attitude.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (v6). Your version might say “full of grace,” but I think this gets the sense about right. He’s still talking about being wise towards outsiders. Part of that is about making the best use of the time. But another crucial element is speaking to them properly when you have chance. Basically, you need to be gracious in the way you speak to outsiders.

I think this can only properly flow from experiencing grace ourselves. When we realise that God should have hated us for what we did, but instead he loves us enough to die for us, that has to transform us. And in turn it has to transform the way we treat people especially outsiders.

That’s what Paul is getting at when he talks about salt. If you look at the other ways salt is used to refer to Christians, it’s used as an illustration of the difference between Christians and the rest of the world. Our conversation should be seasoned with salt – it should be tasty. There should be something different about the way we speak which makes it attractive to outsiders. And that difference comes from being transformed by the gospel, and showing it in the way we live and the way we speak.

So what will it look like?
  • Speech which is gracious isn’t aimed at winning an argument, but about helping people to see the hope you have in the gospel.
  • Speech which is gracious isn’t about showing how much you know, but about showing people the Saviour you know.
  • Speech which is gracious sometimes means being silent and listening, rather than trying to shout someone down.
  • Speech which is gracious and seasoned with salt cares more about the person you’re talking to than your reputation.

The fundamental point is that with this attitude, you put the person you’re talking to before yourself. That’s the principle Paul’s been trying to get the Colossians to see in the family situations he mentioned, and it’s the same here. It’s the heart of what grace is all about. The Lord Jesus put our welfare above his own and died for us. That’s what will make our conversation gracious. That’s what will make out conversation tasty.

And this isn’t something we just wheel out when we spot a non-Christian in the room. “Let your speech ALWAYS be gracious…” This should be our default setting. So no matter who we’re talking to, whenever the opportunity arises, we’ll be ready to respond in the right way.

Is this what your speech is like? Do you need to pray that you’d be more gracious in your speech? Do you need to pray you’d appreciate grace more so that it would overflow in your speech? I’ll leave that for you to think about…

We’ve seen a lot in this passage, haven’t we. Be prayerful, Paul says. Be wise in the way you act. And be ready by being gracious in the way you speak. Have you noticed what I noticed? (And I didn’t do it on purpose). If you want a summary of this passage, it’s basically “Live for Jesus, speak for Jesus. And pray lots.”

That was Paul’s take home message for the Colossians. That was the cake in their party bag, and I think it can be ours too. Live for Jesus… Speak for Jesus… And pray lots.

Friday, 21 November 2008

UCCF Bloggers

Another clever idea from Bish:

UCCF Bloggers

By virtue of my job (and not the quality or frequency of my blogging), I qualify. Plus there are plenty of other cool people on the list. Get in there.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Introducing... FREE @ Reading

I am very excited about this! These guys possibly have too much time on their hands, but you have to admit they make a classy video!

Bring it on!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Plot Thickens...

I've been meaning to blog about a very exciting development in my new life in Reading...

That's right - I've got an allotment! It's 125 square metres, and I'm very excited about it. But why on earth would I want an allotment?

Working for UCCF, I say "Live for Jesus, Speak for Jesus" a lot. (I think some of my students think there's some kind of prize or commission for saying it). But I don't just say it because it's my job. It's how I want to be living my life.

So in a roundabout way, that's why I decided to get an allotment...

The fact I even have it is a bit of a miracle in itself - there should have been an 18 month waiting list, but for various reasons I got one in just over 2! And the cost is ridiculous. The rent works out at about 20p per square metre per year. Quality.

But what does it have to do with living and speaking for Jesus? I'm hoping and praying the allotment will be a way for me to share my life with people. Hopefully I'll be able to rope Christians in to help me and share my life with them. But more importantly I want to be sharing my life with the other people who have allotments. Plus, I don't really know how to grow vegetables, so I'll need all the help from my neighbours I can get... And as I get to know my fellow allotment holders, I'm praying I'll have an opportunity to tell them about Jesus.

To be honest, there's not much to do for a while. The council are going to rotivate it (whatever that means), and then I'll need to keep the weeds off until I can plant things (although apparently I can plant Rhubarb in December. I'm planning to mainly grow potatoes this year, because apparently they're good for the soil. But after that, who knows. In the meantime, I was delighted to find there's a compost heap in my back yard. So I spent some time on Sunday afternoon filling it with leaves.

If praying is your thing, I'd appreciate your prayers for the allotment as I get stuck in, both with the gardening and with the people at Scours Lane.

The next job is applying for permission to build a shed...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Aren't you glad it's about faith, not works?!

Wow, I've managed to miss an entire month. Oops. Well, here's a super-post to make up for it. This is a talk on Romans 4 I gave at RUCU last night. I don't normally post entire talks on here, but it's easier than putting it on my website...

If you went out and asked people around campus, “what is Christianity all about?” what do you think they’d say? If you asked people, “What is the heart of the Christian message?” what kind of answers would you get? How would you answer that questions?

I suppose you’d get all kinds of answers. But you’d probably get a lot of people saying it’s about being a good person, doing good things, so you can get to heaven. You probably know people who think that. You may even think that yourself…

Well, if you’ve been here in previous weeks, you’ll have seen already that we have a serious problem, and something has to be done about it. You’ll know that Romans is a letter, written by a guy called Paul to a group of Christians in Rome (hence the name). And as you read it, this letter gets really uncomfortable really quickly. In the first couple of chapters Paul explains how we’ve rejected God, how we’ve turned away from him to worship other things instead, and how we face the just punishment for it. And he explains that we’re all as bad as each other. Moral people or religious people are no better – we’re all in the same boat. It’s pretty grim reading to begin with.

But then, in chapter 3, Paul explains that we can be made right with God, we can be justified, through Jesus.
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

(Romans 3v22-24)

It’s like a light going on against the background of the first couple of chapters. Jesus died in our place, so that our sin could be paid for. And now instead of seeing us as sinners, God considers anyone who trusts in Jesus to be righteous, and we can be reconciled to the God who made us. It’s what the Bible calls GRACE – it’s God’s undeserved goodness to us.

That’s incredible news, isn’t it?! That although we’ve turned our backs on God and we deserve to be cut off from him, he’s made it possible for us to be made right with him, through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

But the message Paul presents would probably have provoked some questions. Paul said it applies to everyone equally – all have fallen short no matter who they are, everyone needs this rescue plan no matter what they’ve done, and everyone has access to it. But the Jewish people were God’s special people, and they’d been observing God’s law for centuries. That was how they related to God, by keeping rules and offering sacrifices as payment for their failures. So it’s understandable that they’d have all sorts of questions about how doing stuff fits into this idea of grace – being made right with God simply by trusting that he’s sorted it out through the Lord Jesus.

Paul answered some of those questions at the end of ch3. God justifies everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, he makes everyone right in his eyes through faith in the Lord Jesus. But Paul needs to convince his readers of that. And so he does that here, in chapter 4, by going right to the roots of their faith. What about Abraham? He’s the acid test – if this doesn’t apply to Abraham, then forget it.

As we go, I hope you’ll see that this whole chapter is about God’s grace – the grace we’ve already seen in chapter 3, which Paul colours-in in chapter 4. It’s all about God’s undeserved but overwhelming goodness. You might look at this chapter and think, “that’s lovely, but I’m not a Jew living in the first century,” and you might think it’s not particularly relevant. But let me tell you that it really is, and you’ll see how as we go along. In this chapter we’re going to see God’s grace to Abraham. Then we’re going to see how God’s grace to Abraham extends to every single person who share’s Abraham’s faith. And then we’ll see how the massive extent of God’s grace applies to every single one of us here.
If you like subheadings, you can use those:
  • God’s Grace to Abraham
  • God’s Grace to All
  • God’s Grace to Us

I really hope you won’t be able to get to the end of this chapter without being blown away by God’s grace to the whole of humanity, but especially to you personally. Let’s see shall we…?

God’s Grace to Abraham (v1-8)
Paul asks the question, “what about Abraham?” Abraham was basically the first of the Jewish people. He was the one God picked out, and all of Israel descended from him. So he’s the crucial test case. As Paul points out, if Abraham was justified by works, then he had something to boast about. But if he was justified by works, then everything Paul has said falls apart. It would mean it is possible to be made right with God by being good. This is important. So he turns to the Bible, and asks: “What does the Scripture say?” The Scriptures say (v3):

“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Paul’s quoting Genesis chapter 15, where this promise was made. I think we need to have a proper look at Genesis 15 so we know what we’re talking about. Turn to Genesis 15. (Abram is the same person – God adds an extra ‘ha’ to his name later…)
[Read Genesis 15v1-6]

God promises to give Abraham a son, and through that son he would have more offspring than all the stars in the universe. Abraham’s response is to believe God. And God credited it to him as righteousness.

But what does that mean, to believe and have it credited to you as righteousness? We need to go back to Romans 4 for the answer. Paul explains the principle, and then he backs it up with another Old Testament example.

Look at verse 4. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Who here has a job, or has had a job? When you go to work, you expect to be paid. Your boss doesn’t just give you a gift out of the kindness of his heart. But that isn’t how it works with God. If you trust God, who declares wicked people right with him, then you’re declared right before God. Not on the basis of anything you’ve done, but because of faith. But don’t misunderstand this. It’s not because of the faith in itself, but because of the one you’re putting your faith in. And that’s GRACE – that God would rescue people who hate him.

This has always been the plan. It isn’t just something that God had to throw together because he suddenly realised the law wasn’t working out. Justification by faith has always been the plan – it’s who God is. And to prove it, Paul explains something King David wrote. King David was the greatest king Israel ever had, but he wrote the words which are quoted there in verses 7 and 8.
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Those words are taken from Psalm 32 – don’t turn there now, but read it later if you have time. The whole of Psalm 32 is about sinners who trust God and are credited as righteous. Not because they earned it or deserve it but because they trust a merciful God who will forgive sin.

Paul has made his point. Abraham had to trust God to make him righteous. It wasn’t because of anything Abraham did, but because of the faith he placed in his gracious God.

Take a second to let that sink in. Aren’t you glad that being made right with God is based on faith, not on works?!

If we’re honest, this goes against how we think the world should work, doesn’t it? We’re brought up to earn what we need, and get what we deserve. If we’re going to realise how great this is, then first we have to swallow our pride. We’ve got nothing to be proud of, just like Abraham had no room to boast.

But aren’t you glad that we’re justified by faith, and not by works? It’s great because we’re rescued where otherwise it would have been hopeless. If it was based on stuff we do, we’d have no chance.

But it’s more than that. It’s SO much more than that. It’s a whole different kind of relationship. A relationship based on grace is completely different to one based on working.

I was shocked to hear about a previous vicar of the parish church near where my parents live. Apparently he used to tell people, “I don’t really understand God, but we have a good working relationship!” I think he was basically trying to admit that he wasn’t a Christian. But at the very least that’s really sad, isn’t it? He certainly hasn’t understood Romans 4.

If our relationship to God was based on keeping the law, then the responsibility lies with us. And everything we get from God would just be him fulfilling some kind of obligation to us. Only we’ve seen that we’re rubbish at following the law, so we’d never quite manage to live up to his impossible standards. Basically, we’d be slaves if it worked that way.

But it’s based on faith in a gracious God, which changes things completely. The initiative comes from him, as he reaches out to bring us back to him. All we have to do, all we can do, is trust him, like little children have to rely on their parents. Do you see the difference? Aren’t you glad it’s by faith, not by keeping the law?

Paul doesn’t end there. He goes on to ask, “does this just apply to a certain group of people?” This is an obvious question, given that he went to such great lengths to point out that we’re all as bad as each other. Does this rescue only apply to one group? And as Paul tackles this question, we start to see God’s grace to all…

God’s Grace to All (v9-17)
Look at verse 9. Here’s the question: “Is this blessedness just for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?”

Circumcision, for those of you who don’t know, is a minor operation performed on boys, where a certain piece of surplus skin is removed. Circumcision marked out a man as a member of God’s people. Remember that promise we looked at in Genesis 15? After God makes the promise, he makes a covenant with Abraham. He basically makes a contract. And to show that he was living in this covenant with God, Abraham was circumcised, along with every Jewish male since. When foreigners wanted to join God’s people, the men had to be circumcised too. Being circumcised and being part of God’s people were basically inseparable. So the obvious question arises: what about those who aren’t circumcised? How are they counted as righteous? Does this grace apply to them too?

Paul’s answer clear: it applies to everyone! He goes back to Abraham to show why. Abraham believed the promise, and then he got circumcised to show it. Abraham was circumcised because he was counted righteous, not the other way round.

Think of it like a marriage. When two people get married, one proposes to the other. Then they exchange vows, and exchange rings as a sign. When God made the promise to Abraham, he basically proposed marriage – to Abraham and all his millions of descendents, even though none of them deserved it. In faith, Abraham accepted, and God made a covenant between them – they exchanged vows. Then just as a married couple exchange rings as a sign of their marriage, Abraham was circumcised as a sign that he belonged to God.

So this is still all about grace. Membership of God’s people isn’t about having an operation, it’s about faith in our gracious God. Anyone who shares Abraham’s faith becomes one of his offspring, and part of the promise. “He is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (v12). Faith, not works. Being circumcised doesn’t get you in, and being uncircumcised doesn’t keep you out.

The next couple of paragraphs reinforce his point. He explains that if being part of God’s people depended on keeping rules, then we’d never be able to trust the promise. Instead, the promise comes by grace. If the promise comes by grace, then it doesn’t depend on our achievement, it depends on God who is infinitely more dependable than us. So the promise can be guaranteed, and guaranteed to everyone! Circumcised or uncircumcised, Jew or non-Jew.

Aren’t you glad it’s about faith, not works? Because this is based on faith in a gracious God, not on keeping rules, membership of God’s people is thrown open to everyone. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, the door is open.

This is crucial if you aren’t a Christian. You need to know that there’s nothing you could have done which puts you outside of God’s grace, because it’s not about what you’ve done. It’s about what he’s done. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, God’s grace covers you.

But please don’t think this stops being important once you’re a Christian. Once you’re a Christian by God’s grace, don’t try to make it about doing stuff. There’s still nothing you can do to earn it. Don’t fall into the trap these Jews did, and start thinking that it’s rule keeping which keeps you in. They were thinking, “I don’t have a foreskin, so I’m OK” – maybe not a mistake you’re making. But are you thinking, “I go to CU every week, so I’m OK.” “I give money to charity, so I’m OK.” “I don’t swear so I’m OK.” Those things themselves aren’t bad – it’s the I at the beginning of the sentence which is the problem. When we think like that we’re making it about us, and shifting the responsibility back onto our shoulders. That’s not how it works! And the truth is, once we get into thinking like that it’s a crushing burden to carry, and life as a Christian will just be a slog. Don’t abandon grace. Become a Christian by God’s grace, and stay a Christian by God’s grace.

This is really important as you think about reaching out to the rest of the campus too. Isn’t this the most phenomenal news you could possibly have to tell people?

But you need to be getting it yourself if you’re going to share it with others. And you need to realise who this applies to. It applies to every single person on campus. There isn’t a single person who isn’t covered by the scope of God’s grace. It doesn’t matter what someone’s done, what they look like, what their lifestyle is like. Does your CU, the way you treat people, the things you do, communicate that to everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done?

God’s Grace to Us (v18-25)
So we’ve seen God’s grace to Abraham, and then we’ve seen how that applies to all, regardless of anything they do. But then Paul makes it personal. He brings it back round to us, and (more importantly), he brings it back round to the Lord Jesus.

The promise to Abraham was eventually fulfilled, but at the time it looked ridiculous. “Against all hope,” Abraham ended up with millions of descendents. It was ‘against all hope’ because God had promised Abraham a son, even though he was old – 100 years old in fact. His body was as good as dead. And Sarah was long past the age of having children. But Abraham didn’t waver – in fact, his faith got stronger. And eventually he did have a son. But the promise to Abraham wasn’t fulfilled through his son, or his grandchildren or his great, great, great grandchildren. The promise would be fulfilled through one man…

We’ve already seen that righteousness by faith wasn’t just for Abraham, it was for all of us who share his faith. And the last few verses spell out what that means. The words “it was credited to him as righteousness,” apply to all of us who “believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

Our justification depends on the Lord Jesus. God declares us righteous based on what Jesus has done. He was “delivered over to death for our sins” – he died on the cross to pay for our rebellion against God. And he “was raised to life for our justification.” Through his death, the sin which stands between us and God is cleared away, and his resurrection proves it. Through his victory over sin, displayed in the resurrection, we’re declared right with God.

So we trust in the same promise Abraham did, because it’s ultimately all about Jesus. We can be made right with God thanks to the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And we join a long line of people who’ve done the same since Abraham. We look back on what Christ did and trust him. Abraham was looking forward to the same promise.

So do you see how this is massively relevant to us? We can’t just say, “he’s a Jew, and I’m not.” It’s all one story, one plan, with Jesus as the ultimate fulfilment of it, the ultimate expression of God’s grace. That God so loves us and wants us to be reconciled to him that he delivered his own Son over to death in order to forgive us and make us right before him.

This is the fundamental reason why it has to be based on grace and not on works. It’s all been done by Jesus. There’s nothing else we could do, even if we wanted to. This is what it took to sort things out – the death of God himself. What work could ever come close to this? The cross shows just how ridiculous our attempts are to earn our way back to God.
The almighty creator of the universe gave up his life and died on a wooden cross.
What have you done?

Can you think of an answer to that question that isn’t pathetic?
“I let an old person sit on my seat on the bus.”
“I read my Bible every day this week.”
“I gave a talk at CU.”

Ditch your pride, because it’s stupid. Don’t try to earn God’s love and forgiveness. Instead, throw yourself on his mercy, and trust in the Lord Jesus. If you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, maybe now’s your chance to do that for the first time. But if you are a Christian, live the reality of this. Live at the foot of the cross, live in God’s grace, and enjoy getting to know the God who loved you enough to die for you, to put things right between you and him

Aren’t you glad it’s based on faith not works?