Thieves and Robbers

In the Gospel of John, ch.10, the Apostle records the Lord Jesus warning about “thieves and robbers.” Who were these dangerous predators?

We learn five things about them:

  • they are criminal who enter the sheepfold illegally – not via the door, but by some other way (v.1)
  • they are strangers to the sheep, who won’t follow them, bur rather run away from them. They speak with an alien voice (v.5)
  • many came before Jesus, and the sheep rightly ignored them (v.8)
  • these criminals do evil; they “steal and kill and destroy” (v.10)
  • they are like hired hands, who have no true interest in the sheep and who abandon the sheep when danger threatens (v.12)

Who are these “thieves and robbers” and how is this passage relevant today?

Although there is a chapter division in our English Bibles, it’s clear that Jn.10:1 is a continuation from the previous chapter. Leon Morris:

“There is no introductory explanation of the occasion or the like. The chapter opens with Jesus fairly launched on his discourse. This indicates that there is no great break from the previous section, a conclusion that is reinforced by the reference to opening the eyes of the blind in verse 21”[1] (compare 9:39-41).

The “thieves and robbers” were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day – the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and the rest. The leaders and teachers of God’s flock. And they weren’t a recent phenomenon: they had many criminal ancestors. Through his OT prophet Ezekiel, the LORD denounced such men with words recorded in Ezek.34. Those “shepherds of Israel” (v.2) fed themselves, not the sheep; they ‘fleeced’ the sheep and did not take care of them, so that they wandered away and fell prey to wild beasts. The LORD promised that one day he would gather his sheep and be their Shepherd (vs.11-16). Every one of his sheep would then be able to say, with David, “the LORD is my shepherd.”

What is a “good shepherd” like? Unlike false shepherds, he loves the sheep. He cares for them, leading them to green pastures and still waters. With him, they have “abundant life” (Jn.10:10). Jesus as the greatest Shepherd “lays down his life” for his sheep (v.11).

Once we have grasped these things, we are in a better place to understand what the Lord meant when he claimed “I am the door (or gate) of the sheep.”

This sentence is ambiguous: on one hand, it could mean, “I am the gate for the sheep to use.” It has often been taken this way, as a parallel to Christ’s claim, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6). On the other hand, it can also mean “I am the gate to the sheep.” Only through me can shepherds have legitimate access to my sheep.

The latter alternative fits the context better. Jesus is in dialogue with the Jewish leaders, whom he has denounced as guilty (9:41). He is telling them (and us) that the only legitimate shepherds of God’s flock are those who gain access through himself. He is the “gatekeeper” (v.3). The mark of such true shepherds is that they follow the example of the Good Shepherd, and devote themselves to the well-being of his sheep. Anyone who gains access other than by acknowledging the Lord Jesus is a “thief and a robber.”

Sadly, the church of God has seen many such false shepherds down through the centuries. They prey on God’s flock, masquerading as true shepherds, but their heart desire is not to serve, but to be served. They love celebrity but avoid the cross they are called to carry. True leaders labour as “under-shepherds” who seek to emulate the “Chief Shepherd” (1Pet.5:4). They don’t seek to be celebrities, with “ministries” named after them, but are happy to serve as unknown to most men, so long as they have the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sheep hear their voice because they speak with the accent and content of their Lord’s words – the “word of Christ.”

This passage is not about people entering the sheepfold by Jesus as the Door: it is warning against those who claim to be shepherds of God’s flock, but who have illegitimately gained access to his people. They fail to enter by the One who loves his sheep, and who laid down his life for them.


[1] Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (p. 446). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The Gospel in Acts (2)

Related post:

The Gospel in Acts (1)

In relation to the “extent of the atonement” (that is, the question of those for whom Christ died), Simon asked what I make of 1Timothy 4:10 —

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.

First, let’s consider what this verse cannot and does not mean. It does not mean that “all people” will be saved by the living Saviour. Tragically, there will be millions who suffer eternal separation from God’s love (Matt.25:46). But there will not be a single person in hell for whom Christ died. This much is clear from many places in the Bible that speak of the extent of Christ’s atoning work, but not least from the Gospel of John. For example,

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37)

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40)

There will be none in hell for whom Christ died.

So what do we make of 1Tim.4:10?

The Greek word translated “Saviour” is σωτὴρ (sôtèr). (It’s the root of our theological word, “soteriology,” the doctrine of salvation.) However, in this place Paul is using it in its general sense of “one who defends and preserves” (Calvin). One of the titles assumed by Roman Emperors was “Soter,” and it’s possible that here Paul was having dig at the cult of Emperor-worship. As Calvin comments, “He means that the kindness of God extends to all men. And if there is no man who does not feel the goodness of God towards him, and who is not a partaker of it, how much more shall it be experienced by the godly, who hope in him? Will he not take peculiar care in them? Will he not more freely pour out his bounty on them? In a word, will he not, in every respect, keep them safe to the end?” (Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (p. 112). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

Note that Paul does not call Christ, “Saviour” here: he ascribes this title to God. And who can deny that God does good to all people? See Psa.145:9; Matt.5:45-46. And see Paul’s use of this concept in his conversation with the Athenian philosophers:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:24-28)

God’s goodness as “Saviour” of all people leaves every one of us without excuse (Romans 1).

Those “who believe” should especially be thankful for God’s providential goodness to all mankind since it makes the world ‘liveable,’ and creates the environment where we may proclaim that Jesus is Lord. And how much more should believers celebrate God’s goodness revealed in the gospel!

The Gospel in Acts (1)

My previous post, “Paul’s Gospel in 1Cor.15,” has provoked some push-back! I’m grateful to the brothers who have commented and raised questions, and provided me with an opportunity to clarify. Thanks to you all!

While there are a number of factors that have led me to my present view, I suppose that the most influential has been a reading of the Book of Acts. I have preached through the whole book a couple of times, and read through it repeatedly.

Why is the Book of Acts important? Because it is the only NT writing that summarises the content of the gospel message preached by the Apostles and evangelists to Jews and Gentiles after the resurrection of Christ. What was their emphasis? What, for them, was the “cutting edge” of the gospel?

Only by a careful interaction with these questions may we cut through layers of Christian tradition to discover the message proclaimed by the first NT believers, and bring Christian theology as a whole into a proper balance of all its parts.

In a Facebook comment, Dominic asks, “But do you have a message for people who don’t trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?” Of course! And to the best of my (limited) ability, it’s the message summarised in the Book of Acts. As I previously wrote, it is “Jesus is Lord through his resurrection from the dead; therefore, repent and put your trust in him, and your sins will be forgiven.”

To expand a little: the Gospels give us a “picture” of the Lord Jesus from four distinct angles. He is the Son of God. He came into this world to rescue sinners from judgment. He demonstrated his amazing compassion for us rebels, both in words and deeds. Yet, he was “despised and rejected” by men and ultimately put to death as the worst criminal. But God the Father raised him from among the dead, and elevated him to his right hand in glory. But not before Jesus commissioned his followers to carry on the work of making disciples (devoted followers) from every nation, based upon the fact that he (Jesus) had been given “all authority” as Lord of heaven and earth (Matt.28:16-20).

Remarkably, the death of his Son was the basis upon which our sins can be forgiven: it was an atoning death. His death was not the end, and his resurrection to glory marked a new start for all who believe in him.

Faith is not a “work” that we contribute to what Jesus has accomplished, thus completing what he started. Faith is fundamentally trust: trust, not in facts and propositions only, but in a living, glorious and compassionate Saviour who invites us freely to come to him (Matt.11:27-30).

So, the message to non-Christians is this: these are the facts about Jesus Christ – his life, deeds and words, death, resurrection and ascension. This living Lord Jesus now sincerely invites you to acknowledge that he is Lord, to turn from your rebellion (repent) and to put your trust in him. He will rescue you from the consequences of your rebellion against God. If you will do this, all your sins will be forgiven, and you will receive great blessings (see Acts 2:38, 5:31, 10:43, 13:38 and 26:18).

As Peter preached to Jews in Jerusalem,

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-38).

And as Paul preached to the Gentile philosophers in Athens,

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul’s Gospel in 1Cor.15

In 1 Cor.15:1-5, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

For many, this is the “go to” passage for evangelism. “Jesus died for you, etc.” However, as I pondered the Apostles’ messages as summarised by Luke in the Book of Acts, something didn’t seem right. In Acts, the message is “Jesus is Lord through his resurrection from the dead; therefore, repent and put your trust in him, and your sins will be forgiven.”

We might also compare the gospel preached by John the Baptist, and by the Lord Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

And the angel’s message in Rev.14:6-7,

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

There is also a theological problem with using 1Cor.15:1ff as a summary of the evangelistic message. If we tell a friend that “Jesus died for you, and paid the price for your sins,” then a thoughtful person might reply, “Oh, that is great: so I am already saved from sins, and don’t need to worry about religion, or even behaving myself. All my sins are paid for by Jesus, if what you say is right!”

Of course, at this point the aspiring evangelist will quickly start to back-pedal and explain that, “No, no, you must also believe: you have to put your trust/faith in the Lord Jesus.”

“Hang on,” says our unbelieving friend. “I thought you said that Jesus died for ‘our sins’ – for ALL of them, including my sin of unbelief.” He might even say, “Aren’t you turning faith into a kind of good work that must be added to what Jesus has done, in order for a person to be saved? Doesn’t that contradict what the Bible says about being saved by faith alone, apart from good works?”

It was questions like these that led me to doubt whether 1Cor.15:1ff really does summarise Paul’s message for non-believers. But how should we interpret his words in this passage?

As we have seen, the word “gospel” (God’s good message) can be used in a variety of ways. It can be about the coming of the kingdom; it can also be about impending judgment (Rev.14:6-7), which goes with the coming of God’s kingly rule; and of course it can also be about the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins through him. All of which is “good news,” even though not everyone will receive it as such!

I think that in 1Cor.15:1ff Paul is talking about God’s good message that he explained to those who had responded to the news of Jesus. In other words, it was his message to believers, to “brothers” (vs.1-2).

So when Paul tells the Corinthians that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, etc.” he was addressing those who already professed faith-trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was explaining how the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is the basis for how God can forgive our sins when we put our trust in Christ.

This passage is a prelude to Paul’s rejection of the denial of bodily resurrection which was making inroads at the church in Corinth, a subject that occupies the rest of his chapter.

1Cor.15:1ff is not a summary of what we tell unbelievers: it is a summary of some first principles for those who have already believed.

“You know the message…”

Acts 10 records a significant new phase in the spread of the gospel (Acts 1:8).

Its importance is signalled by the amount of space that Luke gives to this episode: the messenger from God to a God-fearing centurion in Caesarea (vs.1-8); the preparatory heavenly vision given to the Apostle Peter in Joppa, and the invitation from Cornelius to come to Caesarea (vs.9-23); Peter’s meeting with the centurion and his household, with the proclamation of the gospel (vs.24-43); and the astonishing response of those gathered, marked by a Pentecost-like outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and their baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (vs.48).

So important was this new stage in the spread of the message that it is recounted in 11:1-18, concluding with the other apostles and brothers conclusion that “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

Here I would draw your attention to some words of Peter, recorded in 10:36, and repeated in 10:37: “You know.”

This account is sometimes said to record information about Jesus coming to a group of bog-ignorant Gentiles for the very first time. But that is clearly incorrect: Peter recognises that they already knew many things about Jesus.

And yet, God sent a messenger to Cornelius to summon Peter to tell his household “everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (v.33).

What did they already know? What important things were missing that required the presence of an Apostle?

What they already knew
Peter reminded the large gathering (v.27) of what they had already learned about Jesus, a great leader who had brought a message of peace (v.36). They were familiar with the events that followed the preaching of John the Baptist; the anointing of Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and his God-empowered ministry of healing and deliverance from evil spirits.

Peter’s short summary here looks like an outline of the Gospel of Mark.

How did they know? It’s clear from the Gospels that Jesus’ fame spread far and wide, both through people’s direct experience of his words and work, and through the reports that spread like wildfire throughout the region. (Jesus had even visited this area, as Mark records in Mk.7:24ff. He had unsuccessfully tried to remain anonymous, but “he could not be hidden”). Luke records in Lk.4:37 that “the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area” near Galilee. Compare Lk.4:14,Mt.4:23-25; 9:26; etc.

Given Jesus’ notoriety in the region, it is impossible to suppose that these Gentiles had not also heard of the end of Christ’s ministry — his miserable trial and crucifixion in Jerusalem (v.39). Perhaps some of them, like Cleopas and his friend on the Emmaus road, would have said, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…” (Lk.24:21).

What they needed to know
So what information were they missing, that required someone like the Apostle Peter to come personally to provide?

Recall the qualifications for an Apostle: he must have accompanied Jesus during his years of ministry, and also be a “witness” of his resurrection (see Acts 1:21-22). He must be someone who had actually seen the risen Christ, and Peter was such a man! That was why God chose him to bring the message to these Gentile people.

Peter proclaimed to them what they did not yet know: that God had raised Jesus from the dead (v.40), and appointed him to judge the living and the dead (v.42). And the wonderful truth to which the prophets had testified: “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

“Everyone” – even Gentiles! (Though we shouldn’t be surprised at this, if we have read the story of Abraham in Gen.12ff.) Everyone who “believes in him.” The word is in the present-continuous tense in Greek, and refers not simply to believing things about Jesus but actually believing or trusting in him personally as the Risen Lord of all (cf.v.36).

This was what they didn’t know, but when Peter told them, it’s clear that they turned from their former ways to put their faith/trust in the Risen Christ – God “granted them repentance unto life” (11:18).

The message for us?
Why did the Holy Spirit cause Luke to record these things in such detail? Surely not for mere academic interest!

No, to this very day, there are many people who have heard the reports about Jesus. They have been told of his deeds and words while on earth. They have heard that he died on the cross to pay for sins. And they have been led to think that believing these things is what it means to have faith. But as the Apostle Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1Cor.15:17). And James: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas.2:19).

You may believe everything you think the Bible says “about” Jesus without having trust “in” Jesus. You may believe in a wishy-washy hippie-Jesus, pussyfooting through the daisies, or a risen, powerful glorious One who will judge the nations. But unless you put your trust in the One who is actually revealed in the Bible, and who is alive today, you cannot be saved.

From beginning to end, the Book of Acts is telling us that the message of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord through his resurrection from the dead, and that all who entrust themselves to him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It is never enough to believe things “about” Jesus if you don’t also put your trust “in” him as your Saviour and Lord.

“Simply to the cross I cling”

There are some hymns that speak of clinging to the cross. For example:

Rock of Ages (Augustus M. Toplady, 1784-1872)
3. Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Saviour, or I die.

The Old Rugged Cross (George Bennard, 1873-1958)
Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

What should we think of this idea of clinging to the cross? What does it even mean?

First, there seems to be no reference in the Bible to clinging to the cross of Christ.

In Gal.6:14, the Apostle Paul speaks of “boasting in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is an important matter, to which we will return later. But for the moment, it is hard to see any connection between boasting and clinging. They are distinct actions and one doesn’t imply the other. Clinging is not boasting is not clinging.

The Bible doesn’t call us to cling to things. It is a mark of idolatry to cling to an object, like a model cross, or rosary beads, if you think that will do you some spiritual good. And how can we cling to something that existed 2000 years ago? Before his ascension to heaven, Jesus even told Mary to “stop clinging to me” (Jn.20:17). She wasn’t to cling to the newly resurrected body of Jesus, let alone to the wooden cross upon which he had died.

Faith does not take hold of earth-bound objects, persons or institutions. Faith or trust is directed to Jesus: he is the one to whom the believer “clings” by faith. Our trust is in the risen and now glorious Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Is there any sense in which we “cling to the cross”? Yes. Consider where the Bible tells us about taking up the cross (see Matt.10:38, 26:24; Mk.8:34; Lk.9:23). A mark of being a disciple of Jesus is that he “takes (up)” his own cross, and follows Christ. This means to deny oneself, putting oneself to “death” in order to serve Christ, to follow in his footsteps of self-denying love. This way of death is the way of life! For as Jesus went on to say, ” For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mk.8:35).

The reference is not to the cross upon which our Lord died, but the cross that he gives us to carry as we follow him. In this cross we boast (Gal.6:14) because it is in our weakness that God’s strength is perfected (2Cor.12:9). This is the cross to which we are to cling all through our lives, as we follow the once-crucified now glorious Jesus who secured victory over evil by his death and resurrection.

“Wolf! Wolf!” …Naahhh.

Paul Kelly states, “The complacency of the Australian public and the relentless invasion of the virus have driven leaders into draconian steps. Life in Australia will begin to be transformed this week” (The Australian, 23/03/20).

How to account for the national complacency that Kelly alleges? I was reminded of one of Aesop’s fables:

A shepherd boy, who watched a flock of sheep near a village, brought out the villagers three or four times by crying out, “Wolf! Wolf!” and when his neighbours came to help him, laughed at them for their pains. The Wolf, however, did truly come at last. The Shepherd-boy, now really alarmed, shouted in an agony of terror: “Pray, do come and help me; the Wolf is killing the sheep;” but no one paid any heed to his cries, nor rendered any assistance. The Wolf, having no cause of fear, at his leisure lacerated or destroyed the whole flock. There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth.

For decades now, the Australian population has been subjected to numerous apocalyptic predictions about global warming. “Only ten years to do something about climate change.” How many times has this, and like prophecies, been promulgated by an uncritical, compliant and scientifically ignorant media?

Australians are not stupid. At national elections they have shown that they are not taken in by hysterical predictions of “climachange.” The world goes on as it ever has, extreme weather events occur like they always have, bush-fires and floods likewise. Carpet-bagging researchers spruiking for “funding” have continued with their scare-tactics, but Aussies have become complacent about people shouting, “Wolf, wolf.” “Yeah, right” they say. As Graham Richardson says from time to time, “The mob will always work you out.”

But now we have a real and massive problem. An extremely virulent and dangerous virus is spreading like wildfire. It is not a computer-modelled simulation like climachange… it is really happening. But the laconic Aussie is very possibly thinking, “Ah well, just another scare campaign to manipulate me or relieve me of my hard-earned.”

If we are showing complacency in the face of all the medical warnings, maybe it’s because we have too often heard the cry, “Wolf, wolf!” when there was no wolf. But now, the wolf really is at the door.

To Obey God or Men?

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb.10:24-25, ESV).

You have probably heard these words quoted on many occasions to encourage folk to be more diligent about attending upon the “means of grace,” by which is usually meant the scheduled worship services of the congregation. Maybe you have quoted them yourself in this connection, as have I. A neglect of the corporate worship of God has been seen by many as a symptom of spiritual decline, and indeed that may well be the case.

Alongside these words let me place some other words. These were spoken by Peter and the apostles to the Jewish authorities who were trying to shut down the preaching of the Name of Jesus:

“We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

So, when the Government tells us, in effect to limit, or cease the physical gatherings of the church (allowing 4m2 per person, for example), should we appeal to Heb.10:24-25 as revealing the infallible will of God in the matter, then quote Acts 5:29, and take the consequences?

It should be said immediately that if Heb.10:24-25 does indeed convey the infallible will of the Lord regarding attendance at worship services, then yes, we should obey no matter the consequences. But does it?

May I suggest that such is not the meaning of our text? The text has a context, which is Heb.10:23 – “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Far from seeing our Faith as an individual matter, it is a “con-fession,” where the “con” means “with.” That is, with other Christians. If we let the sins of others discourage us, and retreat from them, we are denying that God has called us to be his family – brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our text in Hebrews 10 is not a legalistic demand for attendance at meetings: it is a warning against isolationism and individualism. Meeting together is one (important) way to “hold fast our confession,” as we encourage one another. When that is not possible, which it may be for various reasons, then we must find other ways to encourage, to edify, to bless. And all the more, as we see the Day of the Lord drawing near. Don’t let social distancing be an excuse for failing in the duty of mutual love and edification.

FAITH

“Oh, I wish I had your faith!”

Has anyone ever said that to you? Many Christians have. Maybe you’ve been talking to a neighbour and spoken of your trust in God, and the neighbour has uttered those words. What do you say in reply to that?

It’s important to ask, “What does my friend think faith is?” Perhaps she thinks it’s a learned skill, like knitting or knotting, fishing or football. Or a facility with languages or music: “I wish I could play the bassoon like you do.” Or maybe he thinks it’s an innate thing – something you’re born with. “Oh I wish I had 20/20 vision like yours.”

What is faith, according to the Bible? Is it really a “thing”?

I think it can be helpful to find another word that means the same thing as “faith.” My best suggestion is the word “trust.” Faith is trust.

How do you develop trust in someone? By getting to know him or her. It’s not enough simply to know things about that person; it’s not even enough to believe that those things are true about her. Trusting someone means being confidant in him because you have come to know him well. And the better you know a trustworthy person, the greater will be your trust in her.

Faith, or trust in the Lord Jesus is not something you can drum up by hard work! In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, he recounts a conversation between Alice and the Red Queen:

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Alice was right. No matter how hard you try, you can’t believe things if you don’t think they are true! And you can’t trust someone you believe to be untrustworthy.

So what do you say to your friend who says, “I wish I had your faith”?

Maybe this: “Well, you can! My faith in the Lord is about trusting him to save me from my sins, and keep me in his love for ever. I can do that only because he has shown me that he is totally trustworthy. And I’ve come to know him because he’s revealed himself to me in the Bible. Would you like to meet together to read the Bible over a cup of tea or coffee? I’d love for you to get to know him, and trust him too.”

Faith is not something we “do” – it’s not a work in that sense. It’s our God-given response to what the Lord reveals of himself, for “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (trust)—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph.2:8-9).

– Peter Gadsby

Gospel Summary in Romans 1

His Letter to the Romans is Paul’s most systematic exposition of the message that he preached both to Jew and Greek. It seems that, wishing to visit the church in Rome and to gain their support for the mission to Spain (see 15:24), Paul spells out his gospel in a systematic way so that his readers will have confidence to receive and support him.

While Paul elaborates his message in great detail, the first section (1:1-7) forms a ‘capsule summary’ of his message. It is informative to read it, and to see Paul’s stated purpose in preaching his message: it is to ‘bring about [the] obedience of faith’ (1:5) in all the nations. He repeats this in his final words, that what God has disclosed is ‘to bring about [the] obedience of faith’ (16:26).

What is this “obedience of faith”? It is not “obedience that flows from faith,” but rather, “faith that consists in obedience.” If we ask “Whom do we obey when we believe,” the answer is clear. It is the One to whom all authority in heaven and upon earth has been given, to whom we are called to submit as his disciples, keeping his commandments (see Mt.28:18-20).

It is no coincidence that the Lordship of Jesus is the focus of Paul’s ‘capsule summary’ in Rom.1.

In this passage, he first identified himself as Paul, a servant, who has been set apart for the gospel of God. V.2 commences with a ‘which,’ so he’s going to say something about this ‘gospel’ that God has given him.

  • it was promised beforehand in the Scriptures through God’s prophets.
  • it is about God’s Son. (Note: Paul does not say that it is about our forgiveness at this point.)

Now the Apostle tells us something about this Son of God:

  • he was descended from King David, according to the flesh
  • he was declared to  be God’s Son in power, according to the Holy Spirit
  • he is none other than Jesus Christ our Lord!

Through telling this message among all the nations, God is calling people to belong to Jesus Christ.

So there, in brief, is the summary. The gospel is about the Lord Jesus, and in it God is calling people to obedient faith or trust in the glorified Son of David. That is why the consistent message recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts is that Jesus Christ is Lord through his resurrection from the dead, and that we are all called by God to become his disciples.

Of course, there is much more to be said! Romans goes on to spell out the costs, and the benefits of becoming disciples of Jesus, eg. sins forgiven, a new identity, the gift of the Spirit and gifts from the Spirit, and so on. But the starting point of salvation is accepting that Jesus is Lord, putting our trust in him, and becoming his disciples.