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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


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In the movie Sneakers (think 1992), a band of "criminals-gone-good" is coerced by secretive government agents into stealing a "black box." Going to great lengths, they do indeed retrieve this box, only to discover what it actually is. This box can break any cryptography ever invented. With this device, previously incomprehensible gibberish comes to striking clarity. The world is suddenly accessible with the ease of merely connecting the right wire. The group was thrown into awe at the sheer power they had before them.

It reminds me of a similar awe I experienced when stumbling upon the clarifying power of my own "black box." A man incessantly eaten up by anxieties and cloudiness found an interpreter suited for the most complex cryptography imaginable. The Holy Spirit illuminated Genesis 1 to me.

Let's be honest: counseling is cryptic. When someone comes to you with a flood that mixes flesh with Spirit, lies with truth, manipulation with honesty, helplessness with pride -- where do you go? How do you proceed? What exactly do they need? And how exactly are you supposed to help if you even knew? Peoples' stories tend to take us for a ride, and we can lose our bearings.

Take a moment and read Genesis 1:26-31. I see God telling us in nine different ways that we are to make Him known.

  1. Let us make man in our image
  2. after our likeness
  3. let them have dominion [because God has dominion]
  4. God created man in his own image
  5. in the image of God he created him
  6. male and female he created them [united trinity]
  7. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth [God fruitfully multiplies]
  8. subdue it
  9. have dominion

Every last item in this list roots itself directly in who God is. He rules powerfully, generously, and wisely. He overflows, multiplies, and spreads. From this, by statement and by command, God leaves us no doubt about our one reason for existing. We exist to make God known. This is it: the reason for it all. Even creation itself exists to show God off (Psalm 19). God needs to be seen.

I can't describe the rest, clarity, and even creativity that this gives me in counseling. Joe comes to me with an incomprehensible flood that leaves my head spinning -- until I remember my reason for existing, until I remember the reason for existence itself. Joe needs to see God. I need to show God off. Everything else roots itself in this.

Suddenly, a complex, impersonal world of competing theories on behavior, motivation, and change falls away. A black box takes its place. My source of counsel is now rooted in one simple, personal question: Who is God? Because of the Holy Spirit, I have ready access to the answer (1 Cor. 2), so I never need to fret. From this wellspring flows the rest and clarity I desperately long for. God must be seen for who He is, and through Jesus, He has renewed my ability to show Him off.

Posted by Matt Norman with