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I'm Obligated, and I'm Eager!

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"I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome" (Rom. 1:14-15).

I read this passage this morning, and it struck me as beautiful how Paul juxtaposes these two ideas. I'm obligated, and I'm eager. We needlessly perceive a tension between law and grace, between promise and warning. We hear “obligation,” and we cringe with unsettling images of a distant, domineering master looming, testing, and waiting to see if we measure up. We hear “grace,” and we cringe at the recklessness of free, immeasurable blessing coming to dirty, hopeless people.

But then I read Paul, who identifies as a “servant” and a “messenger;” yet he also “thanks,” “serves with his whole spirit,” and “longs” to please his Master and deliver His message (Rom. 1). Paul is a servant under obligation, and he is also eager to serve. The truth is that Jesus never came to destroy the law. Rather, He came to complete it (Matt. 5:17). Yes, we have an advocate with the Father for all sin, past, present, and future. But why have an advocate if nothing is expected of you? The command for holiness remains.

We often consider God’s expectation of holiness as if it were a restraint, keeping us from good. But this isn’t Paul’s demeanor in the slightest. No, friend, he is eager for the holiness that is expected of him! Now, the question is: Why?

The gospel lifts before our eyes a bloody cross that lavishly forgives every last sin we’ve committed, going further still to call us true children of God Himself, and giving us credit for Jesus’s perfect love for the Father as if we had done the same. It is amazingly beautiful! But if we stop at the display and refuse to gaze in awe, then the gospel is not yet truly beautiful for us. It is merely factual, incomplete and twisted, and even growing close to a false gospel. We’re quick to ignore the "double cure" spoken of in the hymn Rock of Ages. The beauty of the gospel is that God will "save from wrath and make me pure."

The thing about the gospel is that as you truly gaze on Jesus and behold the depth of His exchange, as the Holy Spirit breathes life to this message, you begin to get tunnel vision. Your eyes are stolen by the Son absorbing the full heat of God’s fury and giving you the wealth of adoption to the greatest Father ever known. The weight of it moves you to deep worship and adoration, and sin is simply displaced. There’s just no room left for it. Satisfaction drips from you like a drenched sponge at the nature of God. You’re seeing Jesus. And the shocking result is that who you are at the deepest level begins to change! Restriction blossoms into freedom. Law transforms into beauty. Stiff-arming gives way to embrace. When you meditate on the first cure, you participate in the second. When you see Jesus, you become pure.

Friend, when you come home from work not wanting to serve your family, when you despise that customer who isn’t valuing your time, when you want to blow up at your roommate for not cleaning (again), and when you hate everything that’s interrupting your peace and quite -- in times like these, you need the double cure. You are obligated, but you aren’t eager. In short, you are in the flesh. Gaze of the lavishness of the gospel, the brilliance of God’s patience and justice, and fantasize on the kind of God who would go to such lengths to serve you. Soak it in, and experience the double cure that catapults you out of the flesh and into the Spirit. Only then will you be eager to serve like Jesus and find incredible satisfaction in it!

Posted by Matt Norman with

In the Valley

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Paul the Apostle sets forth an unusual turn of phrase in Ephesians 5:19. He says that we should "address one another with psalms". We tend to think that psalms are to be used to address God, and they are. However, we now see that they can be used to address one another. The phrase "one another" is seen throughout scripture, and it always relates to our community and fellowship with other Christians.   

So I would like to attempt to address you here with a Psalm. I specifically want to address your worries, stress, depression, and panic with the Gospel found in the Psalms. Let me try probably the most well-known and beloved psalm of all time: Psalm 23. This Psalm begins with David writing, meditating and singing about God. Do you notice how, at first, he speaks about God (not to God) in the third person? He says, "The Lord is my Shepherd...He makes me lie down in green pastures...He leads me...He restores", etc...  

First, the Psalmist starts out with acknowledging the great care that the Lord takes in the guiding and leading David. It is right (and encouraging) to acknowledge and thank God for the pleasant places where he mercifully leads us. David the shepherd is first thinking about good things that the Lord gives. He sings about His provision, the rest, stillness and peace that God causes to happen in David's soul. He proclaims how God sovereignly guides David to walk on the path that God wants him to walk upon, "the paths of righteousness."  

Then David gets real. He doesn't gloss over the bad stuff in His life. His mind (inspired by the Holy Spirit), begins to think about other paths that God has led him through. Not every path that David walks upon is lined with roses, rainbows and ice cream sandwiches. He remembers a time where a lion tried to kill him. He remembers being alone in the wilderness when he had to fight off a bear. He recalls how a man he loved and honored pursued David with a spear, intended to end his life. He describes these ugly places simply as "the valley". These paths are not so pleasant to David. They are nothing like the bright, happy paths that he just described. They are so dark, painful and lonely that David paints a picture of the valley being darkened by the shadow of death itself. Death is near. Life is ebbing away. As David walked along this path, fear stood at the door of his heart.   

Have you ever been in the valley?  

Me too. 

Hopefully we can learn something from David's poetic description of how the Lord handled his heart in the valley. Something changes. Something shifts in David's relationship and communion with God in the valley. Even the way he talks about God is different now. He no longer speaks of God in third person. Notice, he now speaks to God directly, not about God indirectly. He now says "You are with me, Your rod and staff...comfort...You prepare a table before me..." He is now in deep communion with God. Going through the valley was difficult. It was not a place he would have chosen to go. It was the place that God chose David to go, however, and David was the better for it. Why? Because now David knew in reality what he had formerly known only in theory. Before, he knew about the goodness of God, because the Rabbis taught him well. Afterward, he learned firsthand that God is so much better, because He is near. He is the One who came down from His lofty throne, and descended into David's little universe. He descended even further, by going into the valley with David, as a good shepherd should. Why was David unafraid? He said it himself: "...for You are with me." If the shepherd is with his sheep, they have no reason to fear.  The apostle Peter (quoting Isaiah 56) said: "For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." How did we return? Did we pull ourselves out of the valley of our own sin? Nope. We were unable. He did it. Our Shepherd Jesus (the One we should have been following but instead went our own way into the valley) followed us into the valley to set us back on His paths of righteousness.  

If a good Shepherd would do that for you when you first ran away from Him, how much more will He be with you in other valleys that you walk into, now that you are His? Are you anxious, worried, depressed, angry, or fearful? I beg you to find your comfort in knowing that God loves you, and is with you, even in the valley. Come to speak to Him directly. He hears and will comfort you. You will be so full that you will say along with David: "my cup overflows."  

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