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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

Soured Plotlines

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Four months of sub-human treatment in the enemy’s camp, and Bobby can’t believe his eyes. Hope forsook him long ago, and yet he’s now staring at his rescue in disbelief. The group of five infiltrated the camp, and they now stand ready to end his stint as a prisoner of war. An hour later, as they make their way out undiscovered, Bobby finally asks the Jed, the group’s leader, where they’re going. After some time with an absent look on his face, Jed admits, “I have no idea. I haven’t thought about it.”

Well, that was lame. Do I win “worst plot of the year” award? Probably. But I bet you’ve actually done this. I know I have. And we’re bound to do it again and again if we don’t ground our lives in firm goal of being infatuated with God ourselves.

It wouldn’t make much sense to break into an enemy camp with no idea where you want to bring the imprisoned soldier. It makes about as much sense to move into your friend’s life to help them and yet have little idea where you want to take them. So, let’s ask: 

What do I ultimately want to happen when I give counsel?

There’s always the answer from the last post, “I want them to see God.” For sure, it’s a sound and biblical answer, but we need to be aware that, as people inherently suffering from multiple personalities (that is, flesh and Spirit), our goals are constantly shifting. “What do you want to happen?” isn't just a one-time, static question to settle with a doctrinal statement. It is an all-the-time, pliable narrative that we work through over and over with the Holy Spirit amid our ever-changing, messy lives.

In fact, I’m not sure we can truly want something for someone else that we haven’t already practiced wanting in daily life. For sure, I can meet my friend and think, “I want you to see God.” But if I’ve merely wanted to escape into television the day before that, then the idea of wanting anyone to see God is honestly more of and out-of-context intrusion than it is a genuine desire. My goals for other people answer to my everyday life. They also have the deciding say as to whether I’m truly helping my friends or souring their plot lines with indecision and unknown goals. Goals are what fundamentally separate biblical counseling from pop-psychology:

What do you want to happen?

The truth is that life changes, our desires change, and we change with them. So get into the habit of asking yourself often where you want to take friends when you meet with them. And realize that your lifestyle (obedience in faith or disobedience in unbelief) is the rudder that determines where you want to take them. If you want others to see God, you must want to see Him yourself, and you must be careful to make this a daily want.

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