Studying Stott Once Again…

“I bought this book in 1976—in 1999 I read it and have found it a blessing.  Stott answers so many questions.”  [written by me on the back page of my 1971 paperback edition of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity].

Readers of my thoughts on St. John Studies may have seen several references to my “born again” faith in some of my posts over the years.  I dedicated my life to Christ in 1998 and the reading of Basic Christianity was one of the books that I read very early on in my walk with God.  During 1998, I fell in love with the New Testament because I had a hunger for the answers about life that I found there.  I came to know God in the midst of personal trauma and I was going through a crisis of purpose in my life.  I literally did not know how I was going to move forward.  The habits that I had developed over forty-six years of life were just not working.  I desperately needed a new direction.  Along with the New Testament, John Stott’s writing explained the deeper level of meaning that could be found in the Christian life.  Along with the Bible, his book clarified my purpose.  His writing was sensible.  It was very clear and easy for me to understand.  His explanations were solid; I remember feeling that this man really knew his subject matter; there was no waffling.  Here was someone who had a stalwart commitment to his faith.  I have very fond memories of reading his little paperback.  It costs one dollar and fifty cents at the retail bookstore, but I got my copy at a used bookstore for seventy-five cents. 

I tell you all this to explain my admiration for this British Anglican priest and theologian.  In his lifetime, he was one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the world.  He wrote fifty books about Christianity. In 2005, Stott was named to Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World List.”  His influence on the Christian faith in his lifetime was significant.  His influence on me was significant.  Now twenty one years after encountering Basic Christianity I get to study John Stott again.

Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University states that The Cross of Christ was written at the height of Stott’s career, when he was sixty-five years old.*  Why would John Stott undertake a book dedicated to the cross?  He explains in his Preface that the cross “lies at the center of the historic, biblical faith, and the fact that this is not always everywhere acknowledged is in itself a sufficient justification for preserving a distinctive evangelical testimony.”  [Stott, 13].    Maybe we take it for granted that the cross is where God [through Christ] substituted Himself for all of us and bore our sins.  This was how He restored man to His family.  J.I. Packer says this idea is the “distinguishing mark” of the evangelical movement in the world.

Another reason is that in 1986 no book on the cross was written by an evangelical author for “thoughtful readers.”  At that time, Stott felt like he was filling a void in Christian literature. 

How does he try to construct his book?  How does he approach a discussion of the cross?  In parts one and two, he states that he tries to argue for what he calls the “heart of the cross.”  He puts forth his explanation of satisfaction and substitution, two words Stott will use as his basis for an extensive definition for atonement. In part three, he discusses the “achievements of the cross,” what God did through having his Son on the cross.  Part four addresses how Christians are to “live under the cross.”  In this last part, Stott attempts to explain how the cross transforms everything about how we live as Christians. 

Stott had anxieties about writing this book which he discusses in his preface.  First of all, he wanted to be true to the word of God.  He did not want anyone to accuse him of misinterpreting Scripture.  Secondly, he wanted to acknowledge work by other theologians.  To ignore excellent work by others is to be “disrespectful.”  He realized that the Holy Spirit has enlightened scholars for many centuries as they penned their thoughts about God; he knew their work reflects God’s working through their study.  Thirdly, he wrote that he tried to understand Scripture in relationship to the contemporary world.  He wanted his book to reflect that the cross means to us today.

Finally, Stott states that writing a whole book just on the cross is “presumptuous.”  While wanting to write The Cross of Christ, he admits that knowing the real reason that God wants to reconcile Himself to this world is a mystery.  Man has his theories, but do any of us really know the mind of God?  Stott puts it like this: “it would be unseemly to feign a cool detachment as we contemplate Christ’s cross.  For whether we like it or not, we are involved.  Our sins put Him there.  So, far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness” [Stott, 18].  We may not understand the cross, but we can stand before it as merciless sinners.  We hope God speaks to our hearts the words of pardon and acceptance we long to hear.  After hearing those words, we hope to pick ourselves up and go into the world to serve Him.

Stott is humbled to be able to share his thoughts on the cross.  Maybe as readers we should be prepared to be humbled as we read his thoughts.  I certainly need to be forgiven for the many sins that I commit on an everyday basis.  In 1999 when I encountered Basic Christianity, I was in need of basic answers to basic questions about my life.  Twenty years later, I still struggleas I do things I know I should not do.  How can I sin like I do and call myself a Christian?  How can I proclaim that I am “born again” yet I still do things that I know are very wrong?

In 1999 I needed Basic Christianity.

Maybe in 2020 I need The Cross of Christ

*from the Foreword to the 2006 Edition of The Cross of Christ

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Not Written in Vain…

Knowing God…*

What does it mean to “know” God?  How does one really get to know Him?  Don’t all Christians know Him?  Isn’t that special knowledge something that just goes along with declaring “I am a Christian”?

I wish it worked that way, but sadly, it doesn’t.

The reason J.I. Packer wrote his book Knowing God is that he thinks that too many Christians profess to know God, but that is not the reality.  Many really don’t know God at all.  Ignorance of God “lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today” [Packer, 12].  Packer feels that too many Christians don’t know God’s ways nor do they know how to commune with God so they can change their relationship with their Lord and Savior.

In the very last section of his book Knowing God,  Packer discusses the climax of his book and he titles the climactic section “Learning to Know God in Christ.”  He summarizes the various places that he has taken us on our quest through his book.  The God we seek is of course found in the Bible; that is a major starting point for knowing God.  Christians need to study it.   Packer even makes it easier; he recommends we spend most of our quality time studying the book of Romans.  There we will encounter and hopefully understand God revealed in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Three in One in historic Christian teaching.

He states that “knowing Him starts with knowing about Him” so he wrote chapters about God’s character [goodness, severity, wrath and grace etc.].  The more Packer discusses God’s character, the more we could see that we as human beings are fallen creatures.   We are not good, not strong, and definitely not self-sufficient.  Indeed we are all going to hell unless our Lord intervenes through His grace and saves us.  We just don’t have what it takes to live a righteous life.  Not only do we lack knowledge, but we also lack the resolve we need in order to lead a righteous life.

Packer has written that to know God is to develop a personal relationship with Him.  The relationship is mutual; God wants to share Himself with us and we need to share ourselves with Him.   In our sharing, we must be honest because we can’t hide from Him.  He sees all we do and He knows why we do it.  It is absurd to think we can play silly games with our Father.  This reciprocal process is akin to human relationships.  Humans choose to share their thoughts with other humans and trust develops as private information is treasured and not shared with others.  Closeness develops as sharing continues over time.  In my life, I try to be completely honest with God.  He knows my failings, my weaknesses [after all, He made me], so holding back and trying to be something I am not is a fruitless exercise.  It may work in the world, but it does not work before God.  For Christians to learn God’s ways, we have to approach God with no pretense. 

Furthermore, we must be prepared to know God at a pace that is slower than we like.  We may think we can rush the process, but that is also a silly game we try to play with God.  He will reveal as much of Himself as He wants on His timeframe.  The process of knowing Him never ends and we have to admit that we are stymied by our own limitations.  The longer we dedicate our lives to trying to know God, we eventually discover we are incapable of fully knowing God because of our sinfulness.  God and His Son Jesus Christ are perfect and we are not.  We always fall short of the standard of holiness needed to truly commune with God.  That does not mean that God does not expect us to try to grow in righteous living.  Packer is correct in recommending a solid knowledge of the Book of Romans.  In that book in particular, we encounter the words that we will perish eternally unless we accept and receive the promise of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus is our Savior.   Without Him we don’t stand a chance of really knowing God.  He removes the barrier of sin in our lives; He gives us our opportunity to pray, to ask forgiveness, to experience God’s grace.

When we decide to ask Jesus into our lives, we can begin to know Him by reading His word.  When we read, over time we hopefully will begin to understand His word better and as we begin to understand, we see that God wants us to obey His word.  Packer writes that knowing God expresses itself in faith and faith expresses itself in prayer and obedience.  In this climactic section of his book, Packer quotes Oswald Chambers: “The best measure of the spiritual life is not in it ecstasies, but in its obedience.” 

Toward the end of his book, Packer spends many pages explaining how adequate God is.  Indeed, many of my posts discuss God as “adequate.”  Why is adequate good enough?  Packer writes that knowing God is adequate “is as high in the knowledge of God as we can go this side of glory” [278].  When we realize this, we have more than we need to be conquerors.    We have more than we need to live a victorious life.  “When we speak of the adequacy of God it is this link that we highlight and this link is of the essence of Christianity.  Those who know God in Christ have found the secret of true freedom and true humanity.”  Life is not perfect for humanity; it cannot be.  But let’s not be defeatist; we can experience some victory in our lives.  What we must do is claim it.  We must be realistic; victory does not mean the end of the war.  Humans are humans.  The war rages on.  Life is a constant struggle between sin and righteousness with periods of happiness and periods of despondency.

Again in Romans [Packer says this is the most important book in the Bible] the Apostle Paul discusses the conflict of his two natures.  These are key Scriptures for understanding who we are in our relationship with God.  Think about it; if Paul is feeling this way, don’t you feel this way too?   “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.   For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.   But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.   So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.   For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.   For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.   But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.   For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,  but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.   Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?   Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin”  [Romans 14-25].

Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free? 

What is Paul doing here?  He is being honest before God.  There is no other way for him to be before God.  In Second Corinthians we again find Paul bemoaning his condition.  He has a “painful physical ailment.”  We are not sure what that ailment is but it keeps him from being proud before God.   He has asked God to take it away three times but God has said the same thing three times.  “My grace is all you need, for My power is strongest when you are weak.”  God is telling Paul he is human.  You are not superhuman.  Ailments are just part of your life on earth.  Is it sin Paul is moaning about?  Is it actual physical limitation?  Whatever it is, God is willing to work through Paul and he knows that (even in his wretched state).  He resigns himself to be “happy” and “proud” of his weaknesses because he suffers for “Christ’s sake.”  Here is the most important Scripture for me: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul knows where his strength comes from.  It comes from God.  God will eventually set Paul totally free; He has already done that through His son Jesus Christ.  Knowledge that God can use us on this earth with all our warts is true freedom.  It is the best knowledge about God that we will have here on this earth.

How will we begin to experience this freedom?  The answer is unbelievably simple: accept Him into your life and hold on.  The Christian life is a roller coaster, like life is for all humans.  It has wonderful highs and horrible lows.  When we go up for the highs, it is exhilarating.  When we plunge downward to the lows, it can be so scary.  But we have a handlebar.  We need to clutch that handlebar for that is our God.  If we grab that handlebar and never let go, He will keep us safe. 

That is the Christian’s advantage.     

Many who profess to be Christians also profess to know God.  They may know facts about Him.  They can possibly quote Bible verses.  Every time the church is open, they are there.  They can explain the sacrifice of His Son Jesus who came to earth to save us from our sin.  They may understand the significance of the resurrection, but they really don’t know God.   Many know God intellectually but knowledge of God is so much more than that.  It is an emotional as well as intellectual connection between humans and our Father.  To know God is to have Him in your heart as well as your head.

Packer quotes Psalms 27: 8 to explain this heart connection:  “Thou hast said, ‘seek ye my face.’ My heart says o thee, ‘Thy face Lord, do I seek’”.

That psalmist gets it, the reciprocal nature of a heart and head connection between God and man.  God loves us and He wants to draw close to us.  Man loves God and man wants to draw close to God. 

If Knowing God  motivates any reader to understand what the psalmist is saying, Packer comments: “it will not have been written in vain.”

I can only speak for myself.  I have written about the book since April 22, 2019.  I have been challenged by it.  I have enjoyed writing about it.  I have learned from the pages I have read. I will miss my study of the book.

Here is my thought: Packer need not worry about the purpose of his book…

Knowing God was not written in vain.

*This is my last commentary of J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God.

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Thanks Dr. Packer…

Are you still writing about “that book”!

My wife [my editor] said that just the other day.  My response was “not much longer.”

Well it has finally come to the point when I have to announce a new book to blog on and that book is John W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ.

Before I get to Stott, I have to do two things: write about J.I. Packer’s concluding thoughts in Knowing God and I want to make my personal comments about how I reacted to his book.

I was a bit concerned when I started working on Knowing God on April 22, 2019.  I did not get into the book very far before I knew that it was no ordinary book about the Christian faith.  Packer was humble in his descriptions of  Knowing God, saying it was not a “treatise on God,” saying at best it is a “string of beads: a series of small studies on great subjects.”  I jumped into the book and I soon felt like an inexperienced swimmer trying the deep end of the pool for the first time.  I soon found myself in over my head.

I did not panic.

I just began to study and to think about Packer’s ideas.  I looked for pieces of discussion that I could bite off, pieces that were not too extensive or too complex.   I thought if I could break the book down into smaller parts, I could make it manageable. 

Still I knew the book was special; one only had to read the accolades on the back cover to realize that I had a classic of the faith to plow through.  R.C. Sproul, one of the best theologians and teachers I have ever encountered, called the book a “masterpiece.”  Dr. James Kennedy called it a “contemporary classic.”  Chuck Swindoll writes that since the mid-1970’s, Knowing God has been on the top of “top twenty Christian books I have read.”

I began in April of last year with the idea that I would try to post comments on Packer every five days but as I dug into the book, I could see that weekly posts were going to have to be my standard.  It took too much preparation to write about his thoughts.   When I began St. John Studies in 2014, I would post every day or every other day but the books I wrote about were a lot less challenging.

I am not complaining.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I know that J. I. Packer taught me so much.  He says early in the book that one of the main problems in the church today is Christians who are ignorant about God.  Maybe I fall into that category because as I poured over the pages, I found myself learning so much more than I ever imagined I would learn. 

Packer opens Knowing God with a story of two kinds of people who are interested in Christianity.  One kind he calls balconeers.  They sit on balconies, high above the roadway watching travelers go by on the road below.  These people observe but they really don’t take part in “the walk.”  Packer says their concern is with the theoretical.  The other kind are the travelers.  Travelers have practical problems.  They are on their walk.  They have to decide which way they are going to go, how they are going to get there and how to survive the trip with relative comfort.  With Knowing God, Packer writes a book that draws from both viewpoints.  For example, at times it is theological,with hefty discussions of the role of evil in the world and how evil can exist at the same time that God has sovereign control of the world.  At times it is practical as it addresses evil as a problem that all of us must deal with.  How can Christians live life battling evil?  How can we bring some good out of everyday life in a world that has so much evil?  A mix of balconeer material and traveler material…

As I anticipate discussing The Cross of Christ , I wonder how I will feel about it.  It has its share of accolades as well.  Luis Palau describes it as “One of the outstanding books of all times.”  Dr. D.A. Carson says it is a “must read” book for every minister’s bookshelf.  My experience with Dr. Stott comes from his little book Basic Christianity.   When I came to Christ in 1998, I picked up a copy of that book and it inspired me.  I had so many questions and Stott provided so many answers.  Besides the Bible, Basic Christianity became a foundation of my faith. 

Are you still writing about “that book”!

Not much longer…

One more post on what Packer calls “the climax of our book.”

One more post before I say good bye to book that has really helped me know God much better.

Thanks Dr. Packer.*

*J. I. Packer died on July 17, 2020 at the age of 93.  For the St. John Studies tribute by Leland Ryken see St John Studies  July 20, 2020.

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“Who Shall Separate Us From The Love Of Christ”

The final verse…

Romans 8:31, Romans 8: 32 and Romans 8:33…*

Three Scriptures that J.I. Packer has used to conclude his book Knowing God

Now we discuss the fourth scripture. 8:35:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”…

Packer’s focal point of the Scripture is this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”.

The short answer to the question is no one shall.

I had an unusual experience just last night.  I belong to a book club at my church and we were discussing  the book  Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.  One of the main ideas of this novel is that we all need love and in the case of this book, the main characters [two girls] need love from their earthly father.  I was facilitating the discussion of the book and I happened to be the only man in the room.   I asked this question: “How important is it for a girl to have her father’s love”?   I asked all the women in the room to respond.  All of them expressed the fact that they did not have enough of that love or attention from their fathers.  Almost all of them said “he was working too hard, he was too tired or he did not have time to attend to my needs.”  One woman said “It is so important for a girl to be loved by her father”.

We all need to be loved.  We all need unwavering love.

Packer discusses an image of a woman who is blowing on thistledown.  As she blows on the plant she is saying “He loves me—He loves me not,” hoping that the last remaining thistle will be on “He loves me.”   This presents a view that God’s love for us is uncertain.  It may be or it may not be.

But God’s love is not like human love.  Human love is not guaranteed to fulfill anothers’ needs.  What is served up may not be enough.  “Divine love is a function of omnipotence, and has at its heart an almighty purpose to bless which cannot be thwarted.”  This divine love is love from God and love from his Son, Jesus Christ: “[God and Jesus] are one in loving sinners, and also that the love which elects, justifies and glorifies is love ‘in Christ Jesus.,’ love knowable only by those to whom Jesus is ‘our Lord’” [Packer, 275].

This love that the Apostle Paul writes about in Romans 8: 35 is love that saves.  This divine love is the love that sinners experience when they declare that Jesus is their Lord and they are made right in their life by their declaration.  At that point God’s love is immutable; “nothing can at any time part us from that love or come between us and the final enjoyment of its fruits” [Packer, 275]. 

What Paul is saying is two-fold.  First of all, God is our keeper.  As we declare our love for Him, He holds us fast.    It says in First Peter, 1: 5 “[Christians] are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”  Packer says “the power of God keeps them believing, as well as keeping them safe through believing.  Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you” [Packer 275].

That’s security.  That’s affirmation.  That’s assurance of God’s love.

Secondly, Paul is saying that God’s love is adequate as our end.  Human love relationships are ends in themselves, “having joy in themselves.”  Our relationship with God is more; the loving relationship with Our Father fulfills us to a higher degree.  Packer writes that loving God will mean that we are “fully satisfied, needing and desiring nothing more.” 

Paul is attacking the idea that Christians going through hard times can feel they are experiencing God withdrawing His love.  When unknown things occur, when we are facing an uncertain future, when “cosmic forces” intervene which we cannot master, it is human nature to have fear.  It is also human nature for us to admit that fearful times can take a toll on our relationship with God.  When undergoing tough times some people draw closer to God; whereas others ask “why me?” and fear that God no longer loves them, maybe He is even punishing them.   Paul is fighting this latter tendency in his words: “I count everything sheer loss, because all is far outweighed by the gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I did in fact lose everything.  I count it so much garbage, for the sake of gaining Christ….All I care for is to know Christ, to experience the power of His resurrection, and to share His suffering, in growing conformity with His death, if only I may finally arrive at the resurrection from the dead….I press on, hoping to take hold of that for which Christ once took hold of me….forgetting what is behind me, reaching out for that which lies ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize which is God’s call to the life above, in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3: 8-14].

Why do we choose to love God?  We are dedicating ourselves to “perfecting” our relationship with Him.  Packer writes “How could it be otherwise, when it is a love relationship?”

I recently taught a Sunday school class on God’s unshakable promises and my focus was on God’s promise to protect us from evil.  The point of my class was that God has conquered satan and it says so in His word.  I asked the class if they really knew the significance of the common Christian sentence “We are more than conquerors.”  [Note the sentence is in Romans 8: 35, the Scripture for this post].  My point was in the context of God’s victory over satan but “We are more than conquerors” can also apply from the fact that nothing can separate us from God’s love.  When we have fear, we need to know that we have a loving God who cares for us.  Packer uses the example of Paul and Silas in stocks in the Philippian jail.  They could have bemoaned their fate, saying that God had deserted them, He no longer loved them, that their situation was evidence that God put them in a horrible position. 

What did they do?

They began to sing.

They were more than conquerors.

They knew that God’s sovereign love is never withdrawn from Christians who really believe. 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”.

No one…

*for discussions of 8:31, 8:32 and 8:33 see previous posts on St. John Studies:  “A String of Beads”, The Cost, The Effectiveness and The Consequences” and “Be Assured…It is God Alone”

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Be Assured… It is God Alone…

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Romans 8: 31…

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”  Romans 8: 32…

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Romans 8: 33…

J.I. Packer closes his book Knowing God with four verses from Romans.  After discussing the implications of Romans 8: 31 and 32 in the two previous posts, it is time to comment on his use of Romans 8: 33.

It is a very personal verse since it deals with an idea that all Christians struggle with—assurance.  When Christians give their lives to Christ, they are “made right” with God, their sins are forgiven and they are “born again.”  Christians who are born again want to make the effort to live their lives for Jesus as much as they can. 

What does all of this mean?  Some Christians may take their salvation for granted.  In my Bible I have the date March 1, 1998 which is the date I got out of my pew and walked to the altar of my church.  I gave my life to Christ that day.  I could list other important dates where I felt the pull of Christ on my life, dates that proceeded March 1, 1998.  My salvation was a process, a life changing process.  In those days, I knew I needed to change; I needed something more in my life.  I needed to have guidance, inspiration and discipline.  I was lost. 

Gradually God began to make sense.  He provided answers that I sorely needed.  I felt peace for the first time in my life, lasting peace.  The more I learned about God, the better life felt.

I was ready to make a commitment.

I have never taken my salvation for granted.

In my early “born again” days, I was the classic new Christian that Paul describes in First Corinthians 3:2: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”  I was a baby.  I was super happy because I was in love with Jesus.  I had a new purpose in life, but I was living on milk, not meat.

And I had a problem…

I was still sinning like I did before I was born again. 

That is what Packer addresses with Romans 8: 33.  What was going to happen to me when I sinned and I knew better?  Was God going to take His love away?

Romans 8: 33 is the Apostle Paul’s effort to assure us that God understands our weaknesses and He will not desert us.  Packer thinks the idea is so important for our knowing God that he concludes his book with this discussion.  “There are two sorts of sick consciences, those that are not aware enough of sin and those that are not aware enough of pardon” [Packer 272].  Romans 8: 33 ministers to the latter.  The Apostle Paul knew how hard it was to be joyful when there is fear that justification is provisional, that God is going to declare one day that you are no longer “made right” with Him.  Paul knew that Christians “fail and fall” and memory of sins committed after becoming a Christian are more painful than thoughts about sinning before being born again. 

Paul denied that lapses can endanger our station with God.

First of all, Paul knew that people are not chosen for salvation in a haphazard fashion.  God has a plan when the “merciless sinner” becomes born again.  “Those whom God justifies now were chosen for eternity for final salvation, and if their justification were at any stage revoked, God’s plan for them would be entirely overthrown. So loss of justification is inconceivable” [Packer, 272].

Secondly, Packer points to Paul’s idea of sovereignty in judgement.  In short, this means that God has ultimate power over decisions about salvation.  “God justified you with (so to speak) His eyes open.  He knew the worst about you at the time when He accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which He passed then was, and is, final” [273].  When the Apostle Paul wrote Romans, his model for sovereign power was based on the concept of the “royal judge.”  The Royal Judge had all the power of the legislature, the judiciary and the executive and when the judge made a judgment about a person, they became that person’s “champion and protector.”  Our Sovereign God justifies us and maintains that justification.  Packer goes further:  he says God intends us to enjoy our justification in full.  No one can question the decision.

Third, lest we forget, we have a powerful intercessor who is working on our behalf.  Jesus Christ is sitting at the right hand of God interceding for us.  Christ died and was raised from the dead for us and this act was designed to save us from condemnation.  Jesus bore the penalty of our sins.  He was our substitute.  Packer writes “[Paul expressing] the idea of Christ condemning us is absurd….He died…He rose and was exalted…Now by virtue of His enthroned presence at the Father’s right hand, He intercedes with authority for us…Shall He now condemn us?” [Packer, 273].  Christ is our mediator who loves us and gave Himself up for us.  He wants us to enjoy the “full fruits” of redemption.  “The idea [of our Mediator condemning us] is grotesque and impossible” [273].

To know God is to know that He is our sovereign protector.  He is for us, so why fear anything?

To know God is to know that He gives us all that we need and we should not want more than He provides.  He graciously gives us all things.

To know God is to know that He gives us salvation and once He gives that, He does not take it back.  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 

Be assured…

It is God alone…

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The Cost, the Effectiveness and the Consequences

In the previous post*, I discussed “If God is for us, who is against us,” the idea that if God is on our side, no opposition can crush us.  That is thought number one of J. I. Packer’s “four final thoughts.”

Final thought number two is “No Good Thing Withheld.” 

Not only can no opposition crush us, but with “No Good Thing Withheld” he is stating that God gave up all for us.  He gave His Son for us and He is holding nothing back in the good things that He is capable of giving us.

All of the four final thoughts come from the Apostle Paul’s ideas as expressed in Romans 8 and the starting point for Packer’s conclusions are verses 38-39: “I am convinced that neither death nor life. . .nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Packer says that we as Christians need to meditate on verses 38 and 39 and realize we are “more than conquerors” and our God is more than adequate.

The “no good thing” final thought comes from Romans 8: 32: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”  This Scripture focuses our attention on the costliness of our redemption.  As you consider the sacrifice that God made in giving His only Son for our sins, you begin to realize that God’s love for us has no limits.  Packer describes this act in these words: “If the measure of love is what it gives, then there never was such love as God showed to sinners at Calvary, nor will any subsequent love-gift to us cost God so much”[Packer, 264].  Sometimes Christians have a feeling that God has a limit on the gifts He can give us.  Seriously consider the cost of our redemption through the death of His Son Jesus Christ and as you do, you will conclude that none of us should ever limit how much God can show His love for you and for me.

Besides the cost of God’s sacrifice of His Son, Packer also wants to emphasize the effectiveness of God’s gift of redemption.  The death of Jesus Christ is the basis of God’s forgiveness of man but we don’t really receive that forgiveness unless we have faith in God.  Here is where many of us get confused, that there is some quid pro quo arrangement with God.  We won’t receive any gifts from God unless we give God a gift [our faith for example].  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Packer writes “psychologically, faith is our own act, but the theological truth about it is that it is God’s work in us: our faith and our new relationship with God as believers and all the divine gifts that are enjoyed within this relationship, were all alike secured for us by Jesus’ death on the cross” [Packer, 265].  The cross is often our focal point in God’s eternal plan to save us but we don’t have to give God anything or show God anything in order to receive His loving gifts.  Of course we focus on the removal of the “sin barrier” which is Jesus atoning for our sins [wow, what a gift!].   But think about the beauty of the process of becoming a believing Christian: one is called, one is justified and then one leads a life that glorifies God.   One can say about God, how shall [not will] He not give us all things because the sacrifice of His Son opens up the doors for us to be given all of His gifts. “The saving purpose of God, from eternal election to final glory, is one, and it is vital for both our understanding and our assurance that we should not lose sight of the links that bind together its various stages and parts” [Packer , 265].  If God’s pursuit of a relationship with man is the story of Christian history, effective is the word I would use to describe how God has brought that all about.

If you thought Packer’s discussion of the cost and the effectiveness of God’s gifts to us is a bit dense, he really presents challenging material about the consequences of God’s gift of redemption.**  Maybe you are thinking that this gift with no “strings” is too good to be true.  Maybe you are thinking that I am not sure I am “believing” enough.  Maybe you have times when your faith is a bit shaky due to temptations from the world.  God has given me faith but is it growing?  What we are really looking for is assurance.

Packer writes a lot about this in his final thoughts, but to synthesize his thinking, he feels that God is very serious about the First Commandment: “thou shalt have no other Gods before you.”  Some might say that this is what He demanded of the Israelites who lived in a polytheistic culture, but Packer says that today’s Christian lives under the same commandment. 

What does this mean for today?

We are to live the life of a “pilgrim,” a temporary resident of this earth.  We are to be willing to give up material wealth and the security it provides.  We must be willing to carry our cross daily.  We are called to be meek people.  We are called to be sensitive to the plight of others.  We are asked to be ready to suffer indignity for our faith as those around us in today’s world will turn a cold shoulder, show us contempt and disgust.

Sound hard?

It does.

“Do we live it? [the kind of life that Christ calls us to]. Well look at the churches, observe the shortage of ministers and missionaries, especially men; the luxury goods in Christian homes; the fund-raising problems of Christian societies; the readiness of Christians in all walks of life to grumble about their salaries; the lack of concern for the old and lonely and for anyone outside the circle of ‘sound believers’” [Packer, 269].

God says “thou shalt have no other gods before you.” 

What Packer says God is really saying is that I am all you need.  I am adequate.  You need not fear accepting responsibility for those less fortunate, I will help you.  You don’t have to have all those trappings of material security; they distract you from Me.  I am all you need.  Don’t worry about all those social conventions.  Follow Me and you will be fine.  Don’t worry about fitting in. 

Then come the words from Packer: “Now let us call a spade a spade.”  The Apostle Paul in Romans 8 is saying that we are not believing God for enough.  “The name of the game we are playing is unbelief.”  When we don’t take God at His word, it is us showing our shaky faith.  If God denies us something we think we need, we moan.  Faithful people see that God really is making room for other things He has in mind.  We can find ourselves stuck in a static faith that is too culture-based.  We think we are worth what we are worth because of the things we possess.  Our possessions are our security.  Our possessions become our God.

Instead of taking that risky, costly move that God is calling you to do, we hold back and cling to the things of this world.  On one level, we know God has the strength and wisdom to do anything.  On one level we know that God has overall plans for our ultimate good.  On one level we know that God is constant in His love for us, but we hold back anyhow.

If we would only believe “he will give us all things” Packer writes “one day we shall see that nothing—literally nothing—which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing—literally nothing—that could have reduced that happiness has been left to us.”

Are there consequences of accepting God’s gift of redemption?  There are.  But as human beings we don’t need to be that concerned about counting the cost.  Consequences is a word that sounds negative but in this case it is not.  Our God is a good God and He loves you and me.  The consequences are good consequences. 

Let me close this discussion with wonderful concluding words from Packer:  “Your God is faithful to you, and He is adequate for you.  You will never need more than He can supply, and what He supplies, both materially and spiritually, will always be enough for the present” [Packer, 271].

*the post “A String of Beads” September 15, 2020, St. John Studies.

**The consequences section of this post is long but Packer really has an extensive discussion of his third point.  I tried to be as succinct as possible but I would refer the reader to pages 266–271 for his more developed explication of the consequences of God’s gifts to us.

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A String of Beads

Four final thoughts…

J.I. Packer opens his book Knowing God with a warning.  My book “at best is a string of beads: a series of small studies of great subjects.”  He is humble about his undertaking, the writing of a “treatise on God.”  He hopes his work coalesces into a single message about God and how Christians live their lives.  As I transitioned from a previous book discussion and moved into Knowing God, [on April 22, 2019] I opened with an illustration he borrowed from another author:  there are two types of Christians, ones who theorize about their faith and ones who walk out their faith.  The theorizers he calls “balconeers” because they are high above the street looking on at the walkway “commenting on the way that travelers walk” below.  The ones on the walkway are “travelers” going from one place to another, trying to figure out how to walk in God’s world.  He intended Knowing God to be a book for travelers.

Indeed as I have worked through his book I feel I have been on a journey.  The book has challenged me.  Along my way I have learned so much about God.  I have been humbled as Packer exposed the weakness of my knowledge, my true lack of communion with Him.

As we head toward the final pages, Packer wants to leave us with four final thoughts.

The first thought is one I have written on before: “If God is for us, who is against us.”  This Scripture from Romans 8: 31 is the first closing idea in his book.

Why did Packer pick Romans 8: 31 as a final idea, so important that it concludes his book?

He says that Paul writes about God in this way to announce that He will always be our sovereign protector.  No matter what we encounter in life, He will always be there.  The Bible is full of examples of God showing His protective nature for those who follow Him.* 

It is a matter of “covenant commitment.”  What God says in Genesis 17 is of maximum importance.  “I am God Almighty;…I will establish my covenant between Me and you…to be your God and the God of your descendants after you….I will be their God….You must keep My covenant [verses 1, 7-9].  “God is for us” is covenant language.  What Romans 8: 31 means is that God is going to uphold and protect His people when circumstances are threatening.  Packer describes Romans 8: 31 this way: “The simple statement ‘God is for us’ is in truth one of the richest and weightiest utterances that the Bible contains” [262].

Paul knows that the Christian life is a struggle at times, obstacles come against all of us which can make our lives a challenge.  Paul knows firsthand that people make fun of Christians, express displeasure for the Christian faith, or even get hostile toward believers.

As in the previous post, he implores believers to THINK!**  Opposition is real and if you do not acknowledge it, you will have problems maintaining your faith in God.  He is begging us to be realistic. 

But also he is begging us to think about our Protector.  Should we be afraid of our detractors?  Paul says “You need not be, any more than Moses needed to be afraid of Pharaoh after God said to him, ‘I will be with you’” [Packer 263].  You need not be any more afraid than Hezekiah was when the King of Assyria had a huge army coming against him.  Hezekiah acted on the faith of the words recorded in Second Chronicles “Do not be afraid…because with us is the Lord our God to help us to fight our battles” [32: 7-8].

What should we do when we are in our time of troubles?

First of all, we should praise God’s word.  No matter what we encounter in life, God’s word tells us that we will be ok.  We don’t have to indulge in “theological fantasies” because we have evidence to the contrary.  Founding our lives on the Bible is a mark of a true believer.  Secondly, we must pray.  This is communion with God and it is essential for all believers.  The person who declares they are “Christian” but never prays does not tap into the greatest power source to help us when we are troubled.  Finally, the Christian who is beset with problems should “pay his vows”, which means express thanksgiving for God’s protection in difficult times.

We truly have an awesome God, one who looks out for us every day, all day long.  He never forgets His promise to the faithful.  As Romans is from the New Testament, one can turn to Psalm 56 to see the same ideas expressed in the Old Testament.  When the psalmist complains that his back is to the wall, he knows that God is there for protection.  Again the phrase “God is for me” shows up in verse nine.  When you read this Psalm, this troubled man knows that God has not forgotten or overlooked his need.  He has confidence that when he cries out, God will turn his enemies back and there is no need for panic.  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in thee….In God I trust without a fear.  What can flesh do to me?” [verses 3-4].  Packer says it this way: “[Whatever] may [happen] to the psalmist from the outside, so to speak, in the deepest sense nothing can touch him, for his real life is the inward life of fellowship with a loving God, and the God who loves him will preserve that life whatever happens” [Packer, 262].

We all know the Christian life is difficult at times.  We think thoughts that are far from edifying.  We say things that we wish we could take back and we do things that are sinful.  Yet we are supposed to summon the strength to continue our walk with the Lord no matter what we do, no matter what others do to us.  You might say we need protection from our detractors and we need protection from ourselves.

With Romans 8: 31 Packer says we have all that we need.  That’s why he calls the Scripture “rich and weighty;” the Apostle Paul is telling us to hold onto the idea that God is always for us.  We have a sovereign protector who is forever giving us what we need.

We don’t have to fear anything.

Our faith does not have to crumble when we sin, for God gives us His grace.

Turn to God and experience new strength for the fight.

“If God is for us, who is against us.”

Indeed…

*Abraham, the nation Israel, Jesus, a sinner who is raised from spiritual death to spiritual life etc.

**September 7  “Possess Your Possessions” from St. John Studies.

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Possess Your Possessions

Many years ago, the teacher of my adult Sunday school class brought a hatbox to class.  Maybe that is why I remember this so well.  Not too many people today even know what a hatbox is.  This was no ordinary box; it was very rigid, made out of very strong paper-based material [stronger than cardboard].  It was circular with a top that fit very tight.  The best word to describe it was “fancy.”  You might say that the box was truly designed to protect its contents, to keep an expensive hat from being crushed or soiled, to keep it in its original form.  My Sunday school teacher taught that day on claiming the gifts that God has given us.  His whole theme was that we go through life in this world and never really open our box of gifts.

I have commented on Romans as the book of the Bible that is the “High Peak of Scripture.”  Study of that book will yield much fruit for the Christian.  I have commented on Romans 8 as the “High Peak of Romans.”  Understanding that chapter in that book is seminal for the Christian who really seeks the most precious nuggets of the Bible.*   In the last chapter of his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer is trying to make the case that our God is adequate.  He is there to meet our earthly needs.  He is there to give us all the gifts that we need to live the best life we can live…right now.

In Packer’s words, the Apostle Paul in Romans “wants us to possess our possessions.”

Psalms 73: 24-26 says “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And earth has nothing I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

This is a very strong statement. 

Packer uses Psalm 73: 24-26 and then asks the question:  “What then shall we say to these things?  He asks that question in what he calls a hortatory manner, not a word I use very much.  Hortatory in preaching means that the preacher makes a statement which is designed to call the congregation to action, to get them to respond.  The pronoun “we” is used by Packer with a very serious purpose.  Paul lays it all out for you; what are you going to do?  How are you going to respond?  What kind of life are you going to live?

He wants his readers to respond by “possessing their possessions.”

Open your box.  Live your lives using God’s gifts.

Paul is writing to the people of his time period but do his words ring true for us today?  He calls on his contemporary Christians to think and apply the facts that he is expressing to their lives.  Packer writes that Paul knew two things about the Christian life:  first all, Christians who are serious about their faith should be committed to “all round righteousness.”  They are seeking to do the will of God, “no halfway measures.”  Secondly, if a Christian is serious about their faith and becomes committed to all round righteousness, they will experience “material hardship and human hostility.”   Packer refers to Acts 14:22 when Luke says “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”

How do we live through these hardships?  One response is to “trim one’s spiritual sails” or just settle for less.  God may be calling you to do more, but we can meet hardship by doing less.  Maybe doing less will make life easier.  Another response is to practice “universal obedience.”  Packer writes that this is a Puritan concept that amounts to being strong in the face of problems: “swimming against the world’s stream all the way.”

Paul knew that when problems come, something happens to all of us.  We resort to emotional thinking.  Problems can cause panic, frustration, fear, doubt etc. etc.  Paul is exhorting us to think instead of feel.  Think about what we know about our God in the Gospel.  Think against your emotional feelings.  Packer writes “let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking. 

We know these things to be true through the Gospel.  1. If you love God and accept your Christian birthright, you will have peace.  2. If you love God you will have hope.  3.  If you love God you will have joy.  These are the gifts in every Christian’s hatbox; peace, hope and joy.  All we need to do is pull them out of the box and they are ours. 

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Paul appeals to our rational brain, not our emotional brain.  Argue yourself out of the gloom of life.  If you have unbelief, be truthful about it and own up to it.  Lay it before God and He will help you overcome unbelief with faith.  Talk yourself out of letting problems control you.  Let God control you.  We have an indwelling Holy Spirit that insures that we have a chance to be God’s beloved children and heirs [we all know that heirs can inherit the gifts of the estate].

It is not that easy really because the emotional brain does take over from time to time.  That is the popular message of the world.  Even counselors urge us not to develop a habit of being negative about our feelings.  Feelings exist and sometimes they rule us.  That’s ok.   Counselors teach that we must accept feelings, validate them and allow them to emerge so they can be building blocks to stronger relationships.  Some people are told they need to express feelings because they can block taking action in a person’s life.  Others think that feelings are the springboard to action, the motivation for us to accomplish life goals.

Paul just does not go there.  He is trying to tell us “Think, Think, Think” what the Lord has given you!  You don’t have to live a miserable life here on this earth, letting your emotions control you.  With that kind of overemphasis on emotions, life can be miserable.  I have heard of some who feel like life is a veil of tears.  Heaven is where God’s gifts are; surely not here on earth.  Rather than enjoying God’s gifts here on earth, these people look forward to heaven and slog through life here on earth.

“Earth has nothing I desire besides You.”

Where is the strength in Psalm 73: 24-26? 

God is adequate.  He has all that you need to live your best life now.  Think!  Think!  Think!

Open your hatbox…

Possess your possessions…

*  “The High Peak of Scripture”  St. John Studies, August 26, 2020 and “The High Peak of Romans” St. John Studies,  September 1, 2020,

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The High Peak of Romans

Adequacy:  the state or quality of being adequate; sufficiency for a particular purpose.

In J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God, he has painstakingly taken us through chapters dedicated to “knowing our Lord” [part 1], “beholding our Lord” [part 2] and now we are in the last chapter of his book where he has written at length about “if God is for us, who can be against us”?  In fact, this verse from Romans 8: 31 may be the inspiration for the section three title of his book [the final section “If God be for us”].

His final chapter of section three is entitled “The Adequacy of God.”

Is God adequate?  I think about the word adequate and I wonder if it is enough.  Is God more than adequate?  Fully sufficient comes to mind.  Ample is a good word.  Maybe abundant should apply or even liberal or copious.  Is “adequate” adequate?

But no, Packer prefers that word:  adequate.

In my previous commentary, I reflected on Romans as the “High Peak of Scripture”*  He admits that some would object to taking the short cut to the heart of Scripture just by the study of one book of the Bible.  They feel that reading the entire Bible is the only way to really know God.

Now Packer goes even further in “cutting to the bone” of the Bible:  he says Romans 8 is the “high peak of Romans.”

Can we study, meditate, think deeply or focus on one chapter of one book of God’s word and say that is enough to prove the adequacy of God?

He attempts to make the case that we can; sort of.

The reason that I use the phrase “sort of” rests on the idea that some conditions have to be met before we arrive at Chapter 8.  Actually those conditions are dealt with in the chapters that are written before Chapter 8.

First of all, we have to come to grips with the fact that all of us are lost and helpless sinners.  We cannot overcome this “sin” problem on our own.  We need a power much higher than us to help us with our struggles.  We need God.

Secondly, we must believe in the promise [the covenant] that God made with Abraham and its fruition in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, we should understand that the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans about his war with the spirit apply to all of us.  When he bemoans the fact that he lives in an earthly body and says “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do [Romans 7: 15] he is speaking of the battle that we all experience daily.

What is the true springboard to what Packer calls the seminal chapter of the Bible?  Here is that “springboard.”  “Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death?  Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ” [Romans 7: 24].

This is radical…

In Paul’s lifetime context, the law was supposed to be the way to righteous living.  After all, the law was the Jewish way to God.  But Paul writes the words that shock the world: the law is the source of sinning

Paul explains law stirs up the impulse to disobey. How can that be?   The more human beings try to follow a rigid path to righteousness, the more they find they cannot go far enough.  There is no such thing as human perfection and if a “righteous” man thinks he is doing well in holy living, he is sure to fall to the sin of pride [among many other sins].  Paul is just being brutally honest when he pens the words “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out….For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” [Romans 7: 18, 22-23].  Packer says Paul has shared very personal information about himself but he has also spoken for all of us.  We all struggle with this.  We all experience failure and guilt as we try and try and always fall short.  “For sensitive Christians, therefore, who know that God hates sin, to be diagnosed by the law is a miserable and depressing experience” [Packer, 257].  Paul knows that he cannot leave this discussion here.  He has to hold out hope for his readers. 

Romans 8 explains we don’t have to perfect; we don’t have to live a miserable life of trying and trying and trying and failing. 

Here is why God and His Son Jesus Christ are “adequate.” 

God’s grace is adequate.  We have guilt born out of our sin, we face death due to our pitiful behaviors, and we even experience terror as we compare our holiness to the holiness that God expects.  All this causes us to feel weak, to feel despair and unable to pray.  Life can be “meaningless and hopeless.”

Jesus Christ has come so we can live by faith, not the law.  Indeed we can live a righteous life with no condemnation [God knows our human limitations and He still loves us].  God has also given us the Holy Spirit to guide us through our life on earth so He is never far away.  We can consider ourselves adopted into the Divine Family of God [in which Jesus is the firstborn].   Instead of failure and guilt, God has given us security: “a status, plus a dynamic, plus an identity, plus a safe conduct….[this] is more than enough to support a Christian whatever his trouble” [Packer, 258].

Adequate, fully sufficient, ample, abundant, liberal, copious…………..

Let’s not stop with thinking about the gift that we have been given.  Paul calls on his readers to go from gift to Giver.  His theme according to Packer is “the adequacy of the God of grace.”  God becomes as it is written in Genesis 15:1 “your shield, your very great reward.”

Why is Romans the “High Peak of Scipture?”  Why is Chapter 8 the “high peak of Romans?”

Have you ever heard the phrase “saving grace.”  That is what we can begin to understand when we study Romans Chapter 8

Packer and God’s words say it best: “If verses 1-30 [of Romans 8] are saying ‘You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will guide me into glory’ then verses 31-39 are saying, ‘Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever’” [from Packer, 259 and Psalms 73: 24-26].

This is the adequacy of the God of grace.

*see August 26, 2020  St. John Studies.

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The High Peak of Scripture*

The Bible, the Holy Book of Scripture, the love letter from God…

The Bible is the most published book in the world.  Look at the number of Bibles sold.  In the past fifty years, 3.9 billion copies have been sold.  The next most published book sits at 820 million and the third most published book has 400 million in that fifty year span.**

Even though it sells the most, many think it is one of the most difficult books to read.  Parts of it seem to be confusing, especially if we try to read it without some guidance*** from others.  Parts of it seem boring, especially books like Leviticus and Numbers (all those detailed laws!).  Bible reading can get stale; familiar parts can get too familiar and readers can go on “auto-pilot” as they read.  Bible reading can also be intimidating.  The Bible is a pretty imposing collection of God’s Words.  How can I wrap my mind around God’s message to man?

J.I. Packer has a suggestion.  If you struggle to read the whole Bible, read the part of the Bible that sheds light on the entire Scripture.

He writes that Bible readers need to concentrate on one book:  Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Packer is not trying to encourage laziness or make life easier for all of us; he is trying to make the point that our God is truly adequate: God is capable of meeting all our needs.  “All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen clearly from Romans, and when the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart there is no telling what may happen” [Packer, 253].  Romans is a powerful exposition of the role of God in man’s life.

He tries to make his case by asking what do you look for in the Bible?

“If we are wise, we will have our eyes open for several things and Romans is supreme on them all” [Packer, 253-54].

Christian doctrine:  doctrine means the teaching or explanation of the Christian message of the Gospel and the faith that flows from that Gospel.  The idea of God is the main theme of the Bible, but not everyone is sure about the meaning and significance of sin, the law, judgement, faith, works, grace, creation, redemption etc.etc.  Yes, these ideas matter and sometimes Christians take them for granted or just skate through life hoping no one asks them a fundamental question.  Also, Christians don’t always agree on doctrine.  This past week for example I have heard three Christians ask the same question:  Why do we have so many denominations?  Why don’t we have just one church?  The quick answer is that all churches do not agree on the details of doctrine.  Even though every Christian does not agree on what I call “secondary” aspects of doctrine, we are all bound together by belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  We are all in agreement on the sinful nature of man and our need for God’s grace.  Jesus Christ came to this earth to make it possible for us to have a relationship with God through His death and resurrection and to show us how to extend God’s love to other people.

Bible as a book of life:  Packer writes that all of us need explanation about how to serve God.  All of us need explanation about how to find God, especially in times of tribulation.  Paul gives us not only exposition in his book, he provides examples (many of them personal examples) of his struggles with sin, grace and faith.  Packer writes that the book of Romans is the “fullest cross section of the life of sin and life of grace, and the deepest analysis of the way of faith, that the Bible gives anywhere” [Packer, 254].

Bible as the book of the church:  What is the church?  Packer relates that the church is “the true seed of faithful Abraham, Jew and non-Jew together, chosen by God, justified by faith and freed from sin for a new life of personal righteousness and mutual ministry” [Packer, 254].  Many outside of the church don’t understand this but the church is really the family of God.  It is a community of people who are trying to carry out the work that Christ intended us to carry out, the work that can help redeem the world.

Bible as a personal letter to His children:  You can read Romans and feel its unique power to reach within you and search out your soul.  We all have our sinful habits and attitudes, a penchant to be hypocritical, a tendency to be self-righteous and a need to rely on self [not God].  We all have moments of unbelief, moments of frivolous behavior, and half-hearted attempts at repentance.  We get caught up in the world; we get fearful, depressed, conceited and insensitive.  Romans has it all, just as we have it all, but Romans also has “joy, assurance, boldness, liberty and ardor of spirit which God both requires of and give to those who love Him” [255]. We need truthful balance; man is not all devil and not all angel.

Yes, we can all agree that Romans encapsulates many things: doctrine, book of life, book of the church and personal letter, but not everyone appreciates a short cut.  Packer writes that getting to the top of Mount Everest can be accomplished more than one way.  Some think the thrill is in the climb, the long slog up the mountainside.  These people feel that the impact of Romans depends on what has gone before, the diligent dedication to years of Bible study  If a reader digs into the Bible as a whole, the more they will appreciate the intellectual problems of being a Christian that Paul presents in Romans.  The morality of the Christian life will be more appreciated, the “weakness and strain” of being a faithful follower of God will be felt.  Indeed the “long slog” through the Bible will allow you to get even more out of Romans.  Others may just need that short cut to the top of the mountain; standing on that spot at the summit is enough to stimulate Christian growth and encourage further study.  Packer likens a close reading of Romans to a helicopter ride to the top of Everest, skipping all the arduous work to get there.  He argues the result may be the same.

Why concern ourselves with long slogs or short cuts?  Should we care that a Bible reader starts at Romans and even stays there for some time?  Might they deepen their faith and understanding more than a person who tries to read the whole of God’s word?

The end result could be a deeper understanding of the adequacy of God.  Martin Luther writes that Romans is the “clearest gospel of all.”  John Calvin states that “If a man understands it [Romans], he has a sure road opened for him to the understanding of the whole scripture.”  William Tyndale describes Romans as the “light and a way in unto the whole scripture.”

Let Paul usher Scripture into your life with his letter to the Romans.

The high peak of scripture.

*explaining how important knowledge of Romans is, is Packer’s way of beginning his last chapter in Knowing God, entitled the “Adequacy of God.”

**  “The Ten Most Read Books in the World”   From the “Business Insider” website accessed on August 24, 2020.

*** devotion guidance, online guidance from a Bible scholar, book guidance from some respected Bible scholar etc.

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