The Weightier Weight

Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus. 

A sermon is never finished. 

Depending on the kind of person you are, that either evokes a sigh or a sigh or relief in you. What I mean is that until you actually step up and preach the thing, a sermon can be endlessly changed, edited, revised or tossed across the room into an overflowing trash bin of frustration. 

This is probably one of the reasons that preaching can feel so heavy, and with a weight that feels nothing less than unbearable at times. And preaching should be heavy in some sense, right? There is a weighty kind of weight for the person who steps up to the pulpit and declares “Thus says the Lord.” And if that ain’t heavy enough, James bluntly informs us that teachers will be “judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). 

If that was the only kind of weight we carried, we would likely spend the time we’re not clicking away on our keys kneeling before the Lord, and pleading for His help. 

But I wonder if the weight we often carry is mixed with a less weighty weight? One that manifests itself in those unspoken cavities of the heart that seek things like authority, affirmation, acclaim and adulation. The kind of weight that keeps our pulses racing at night because what we actually crave is a sermon that will spotlight us as intelligent, funny, thoughtful, and insightful people. A sermon where we get to share some of God’s unshareable glory. All of this creates a heaviness, but it’s not the kind you or I really want. It’s not an “eternal weight of glory” that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 4:17, which is how we learn to endure some of the momentary affliction that accompanies the Christian life. 

No, these are the subtle weights of the world. Anchorless passions and wandering desires that form hearts heavy with cares that we were never meant to carry.

Is this the kind of weight you carry as you slog your way toward Sunday morning week after week? Has the pulpit become the proving ground of your worth to the world once again? 

Maybe you need to stop. Stop and reset your gaze on the weightier weight that you hold in your hands as you open God’s word with your people. The weightier weight that is contained in your heart because of the Spirit that inhabits it. The weightier weight of your mind that Christ is transforming and renewing day by day. 

This preaching thing was never meant to be about us. When we begin to believe that, the easy yoke of Jesus will lighten our weighty hearts with a love that is heavier than the very universe itself.

Another Easter

Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus. 

One of the early signs that spring is drawing near is when I hear the birds begin to sing. I’ll be in my library (ok, it’s an enclosed porch with books) when, right before the sun rises, a symphony of birdsong surges joyously through the morning air. It’s a chorus that thoroughly affects me, and in my better moments, reminds me to thank God that winter will not be forever. 

This Easter, more than any other, is a reminder of the long year of winter we have experienced due to the global pandemic. It was only 12 months ago that my worship leader and I were planning our livestream for Easter Sunday and now, a year later, we’re seeing registrations steadily fill up for our in-person gatherings. Despite this good and glorious progression, I still have one nagging fear, and it’s that Easter 2021 will feel like just another Easter. Am I alone in this? I really don’t think so. 

So how do we approach a service as special as Easter, but one that can quickly become a perfunctory exercise for pastors? 

I’m going to be very simple today (granted, I am every day) and say that my whimsical illustration at the beginning holds the key to what some of us may be lacking: thankfulness. So here are three things that might help our hearts be moved to greater thankfulness. Yes, I’m going to struggle with all three of these simple suggestions, too.  Maybe we can struggle together?

Pause – I know that Holy Week has the reputation of being one of the busiest weeks of the year and for some of you it may well be, but taking some intentional time to hit pause will allow you to turn the volume down on some of the noise of the week. What does it mean to “hit pause?” I think it means, whatever you’re doing…stop.

Ponder – But don’t just pause…ponder. Take a walk, listen to some music, find a bench in the park, and fix your eyes on something beautiful. Give your mind a minute to imagine the resurrection and to focus on the face of Christ and the stark beauty of our painful and tear-filled redemption. Let your soul be moved by Christ’s movement toward us.
Pray – Whatever your week has been like, it’s not too late to come before the Lord in both helplessness and hopefulness. Talk to Him about the year you’ve had, and share your hopes and fears with Him about the weekend ahead. Plead with Him to declutter your mind and fill your heart with a newfound song of praise and thanksgiving. 

Letting your heart be moved to thankfulness will be some of the best sermon prep you can do before Easter Sunday, which is not just another Easter, but another Easter to rejoice, be glad, and to hear the birds sing. Again. 

Episode 111: Exceptionalizing Easter

For The Church Podcast

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

On this episode of the FTC Podcast, Jared Wilson and Ronni Kurtz encourage churches to rethink some of the contemporary approaches to Easter services.

A Life Poured Out

In the traditional church calendar, this week is Holy Week—the period between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Each day, Christians reflect on the acts of Christ and the events leading unto his death, burial, and resurrection.

During this celebration, many recognize the stories of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, overturning tables in the temple, or breaking bread at the last supper. Yet amid these important moments, there is one description that is easy to overlook: Christ’s anointing at Bethany.

This quiet, profound work was accomplished by Mary (the sister of Lazarus) in the house of Simon the leper. Within days of Jesus’s death, Mary “took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the head of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair” (Jn. 12:3a).

Matthew 26:8-9 describes the disciples as indignant at this gesture; counting it wasteful and remarking the ointment “could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” Jesus rebukes them saying, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matt. 26:10). This woman’s anointing has prepared the Messiah’s body for burial (Mark 14:8).

Mary pours out the expensive perfume understanding that the priceless blood of Jesus will be poured out for her forgiveness. She breaks the flask above his head knowing that it will soon be pierced by thorns; comprehending his body will be broken in the stead of sinners. Even so, she is not only scoffed at but scolded for her actions (v.5).

Have you ever heard the voice of the world whisper, “Why this waste?” as you offer up that which is most dear to you to the Lord? (Matt. 26:8).

Do family members question the value of your ministry service? Do friends scoff at use of your gifts for advancement of God’s kingdom rather than your own? Do you find yourself staring back in the mirror questioning whether a heart surrendered in obedience to Christ is worth losing all earthly treasures?

In his commentary on Matthew 26, theologian Charles H. Spurgeon noted, “When you do the best you can do, from the purest motives, and your Lord accepts your service, do not expect that your brethren will approve all your actions. If you do, you will be greatly disappointed.”[1]

A life poured out for Christ seems like the biggest waste in the world to those who do not know him. The world scoffed—and still scoffs—at the blood of Christ poured out at the cross. How much more will they ridicule his followers for pouring out their lives for him?

Even those who do know and love him sometimes do not understand the extent of certain sacrifices, let alone the value of them. Yet we can rest assured that our obedience does not go unseen by God. For we know “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Jesus Christ not only approves of a heart trusting in his work and captured by his glory; he calls it beautiful.

Beloved, as you meditate on the events of Holy Week, may you remember: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Recall that “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).

This week and always, pour out your life and love to the one who poured out his for you.

[1] Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “Commentary on Matthew 26”. “Spurgeon’s Verse Expositions of the Bible”. 2011.

Hope for the Faltering Christ-Follower

In Luke 5:36-39, the Lord Jesus says a curious thing. He tells us that the new life that He came to give us – a life we live through faith in His work and His promises – is completely incongruent with the old life He came to save us from – a life we live . It would be impossible to mix the old way of living – where we attempted to earn God’s approval through our obedience – with the new way of living – where we receive God’s approval as a gift through faith in Christ. It was so impossible, in fact, that Jesus compared it storing old wine in new wineskins. The new wineskins would burst – they weren’t made to contain old wine. But, as Jesus said, “no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

Trying to earn God’s approval, forgiveness, and love is part of our fallen nature. We paradoxically try to be worthy while knowing, but still trying to counteract, our own unworthiness. It’s an expression of the “old man” that we have to put off every day. And, just like Jesus described, it’s incongruent with the new life that He have in His Spirit.

We rarely slip back into this “old wineskin” way of thinking consciously. We may not even be aware it’s there…until we falter. And we believe if God is angry with us, or at least disappointed. Then, in our shame, we avoid Him until we get our act together again. We feel as though we can’t even pray.

But this debilitating logic is little more than old wine in a new wineskin, and “old man” way of thinking in a “new man” life.

At the moment when our hearts condemn us, we need the God who is greater than our hearts, knows everything about us, and loves us the same (1 Jn 3:20). At the moment of our need for mercy, we need Psalm 130.

This Psalmist begins with a cry to God out of the depths, from the pit into which he fell. This man knows his need for forgiveness and he comes to the Lord in hope of finding mercy – but not because he is worthy of it. No, not all. Instead, he cries out for mercy precisely because he is unworthy of it.

Psalm 130 is a proclamation of hope for the faltering follower of Christ. The truth is that no one can stand before Him without fault (v. 3). When we stumble into sin, we must not cast aside God’s promise of mercy in an effort to make ourselves worthy. Our unworthiness reminds us of the one thing that makes us worthy to call out to Him – not our obedience, not our faithfulness. Only grace.

Martin Luther explained it this way: “Some say: ‘Yes, I would gladly trust that my prayer would be heard, if I were only worthy and prayed aright’. [But] the very reason we do pray is because of our unworthiness.” Neither the strength of our prayers or the faithfulness of our obedience ensure that God will receive us in our time of spiritual need. Instead, it is belief in God’s promise – in His kindness, mercy, and forgiveness through Christ alone that ensures our access to God: “Your worthiness does not help you, but your unworthiness is no barrier. Disbelief condemns you, and trust makes you worthy and sustains you.”

This expectation of God’s mercy means we can wait on the Lord with hope (v. 5). Despite our faltering, He will forgive us again because of grace (1 Jn 2:1-2). Think about it – when He promised to redeem and heal you, He already knew everything from which you’d need to be redeemed and healed. To our performance-driven, self-assessing souls, this often sounds too good to be true. Perhaps that’s why it can only be received by faith.

The Father knows when you feel condemned by your failures, cut off from His compassion. He sees when we shrink back to the old way of living in fear, of believing that God’s love for us and forgiveness somehow depend on us. And He tenderly reminds us that His love and forgiveness depend entirely upon Him.

When we are most aware of our need for His mercy, He invites us to draw near through faith. He is ready to restore the faltering Christ-follower. He overflows with redemption and unfaltering love (vv. 7-8).

Editor’s Note: This originally published at Biblical Woman.

Up To Your Neck

Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus. 

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. Psalm 69:1,2

Oh man. It’s hard to say if part of David’s angst in Psalm 69 was due to an overwhelmingly busy schedule, but I do know that my schedule has me feeling a lot like what David is describing. I can attest that since the beginning of this year, I have had little to no margin to catch my breath or collect my thoughts. I feel like I need to pay royalties to the person who invented the phrase “keeping my head above water” because it’s the only way I know how to illustrate my life some days. The problem is that, as pastors, we can become so bombarded with busyness that preaching feels like a side job we’ve been hired to do when we get around to it. 

So what do we do when the demands of ministry feel like drowning in waters so deep that everything around us, including our preaching, seem to be sinking in the mire? 

Here’s a few questions I’m trying to consider:

What Is God Speaking To You? 

We have the tendency to think that our busiest moments drown out the stillness of God’s voice, and that is certainly true. But let’s not miss that God uses the chaos around us to cut through the noise, too. David acknowledges that You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you (Ps. 69:5). As preachers, God uses the sweeping floods that surround us to form the person He has called to preach. Ponder what God is speaking to you, because He is always speaking to those He has called to speak for Him.  

What Does the Deep Mire Reveal? 

When all you seem to be doing is fighting for steady footing, what does this tell you about the places you keep trying to stand? For reasons we only know are good, God gave us 168 hours per week to work, rest, eat…and preach. When we put ourselves in places that offset the balance God created, we create a sense of spiritual vertigo in our minds, which is the sensation that all the important things are spinning uncontrollably around us. Maybe it’s time to sit down and consider the ministry mire you’re sinking in, how you got there, and what it would look like to be rescued from it, as David pleads in Psalm 69:14, Deliver me from sinking in the mire… There might be practical implications here but start with prayer, so that your preaching reveals a more reflective heart to your people, and to the many who are in the same deep waters as you are. 

Are Limitations Your Friend?

David pleads for God’s love and mercy because he is acutely aware of what his life amounts to without them. David knew his limitations, and they weren’t his enemy, but rather the catalyst for entrusting himself to the Lord.  

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant, for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Psalm 69:16-17

Are limitations your friend? Because they’ve been given to you by God so that the end of yourself is something you embrace with increasing clarity. Befriend your limitations. See it as a tool in the hands of God that is united to His heart for your preaching and pastoring. 

Your people need a preacher who knows their limitations, because they need to understand theirs and make a beeline to the cross, where limited people find an unlimited God who helps those who are up to their neck in the waters of life find the oxygen of Jesus.

I Will Not Offer the Lord What Costs Me Nothing

There are several Bible verses that drive my commitment to faithful preaching. They are 1 Timothy 4:16, 2 Timothy 2:15, and 2 Timothy 4:2.

I regularly share these verses with young preachers, when I am asked for a passage of scripture to encourage them in the work.

But there is another passage that reminds me of my charge to preach the word. I rarely share this verse. It is not from the Pastorals. For that matter, it is not from the New Testament.

It is 2 Samuel 24:24.

But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

David sinned by numbering the fighting men of Israel. It was not wrong that the kind took a census of his army. But there was a subtle but great sin behind this census. Counting the men betrayed the fact that David was not counting on God.

The Lord was displeased with David. And he would punish Israel for David’s sin. But he let David choose the punishment. Three years famine. Three months of persecution from your enemies. Or three days of pestilence.

David responded, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:14).

For restoration, the Lord commanded David to offer a sacrifice on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. In obedience, David asked to buy Araunah’s threshing floor, to build an altar on it. Araunah freely offered the land to the king. But David refused. He insisted on paying for the land, because he could not make an offering that cost him nothing.

Of course, this passage has nothing to do with preaching. Yet it does. It addresses anything we do for the Lord. We should follow David’s example and never offer to God something that cost us nothing.

How much more should cost us to preach the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ?

There are three costs you should pay to honor the Lord in your preaching

The Cost of Personal Consecration

David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

This is a good prayer for preachers to offer. But for this prayer to work, you must make both petitions. The words of your mouth must be acceptable in God’s sight. God is pleased with preaching that has biblical fidelity, sound doctrine, and a Christ-centered focus. But God is also looking at the meditations of your heart. The Lord is not honored if by true word from a false heart.

We must guard our hearts, so that the words of our mouth will be the overflow of our devotion to Christ. We must guard our life and doctrine. Pay whatever it costs to preach with a clean conscious, pure heart, and godly motivations.

The Cost of Diligent Preparation

Have you heard the one about the preacher who didn’t study? As he stood to preach, he prayed, “Lord, speak to me.” And the Lord did. He said to the preacher, “You should have studied!” Upon hearing that story, I concluded that I don’t want the Lord to talk to me in the pulpit. Get it?

I am convinced that the preachers that make it look easy work hard to do so. They pay the price in the study to be faithful to the text, clear in their presentation, and compelling in their argument.

How long does it take to prepare a sermon? As long as it takes. Get in the seat. Gather your tools. Go to work. And don’t quit until the hard work is done. Think about it. You have left the pulpit feeling bad that you did not prepare better. But you never leave the pulpit feeling you over-prepared. When you offer God your best work, you will sense his smile on you as you preach.

The Cost of Believing Prayer

You have prepared yourself to preach. And you have prepared the message. But there is another cost to pray. It is the cost of believing prayer.

In a real sense, the entire message should be an exercise in prayer. Pray before you begin your study. Pray as you study. Pray after you finish the message. Pray over the message. Pray for faithfulness, clarity, authority, passion, wisdom, humility, and freedom as you preach. Pray that those who hear the message will have receptive hearts and minds. Pray that the Lord would govern the presentation of the message, even as he has guided the preparation of the message. Pray that you and the congregation will encounter the Christ as you study the word.

When I was a boy, I used to hear preachers say, “Preaching and praying go together. When there is preaching in the pulpit there should be praying in the pews.” I fully agree. But there should also be preaching and praying in the pulpit. Powerful preaching comes from praying preachers.

Editor’s Note: This originally published at

Friendship Costs Considerably But Blesses Infinitely

I’ve thought a lot these days about the costliness of friendship. When conversations are hard or loneliness sets in, we are often tempted to believe that the work required of us to have deep and meaningful friendships is not worth the effort. To have real friendship, we have to pay up. I don’t know anyone who has friends for free. Friends take up your time, energy, memories, money, food, emotional bandwidth, and considerably more. Friends are not cheap. I’ve known my best friend for over a decade. If I were to sit down and write out how much time we’ve spent with each other, I wouldn’t be able to come close to a true estimate.

When we think of our deepest relationships, the people who know us better than we know ourselves, or those we spend the most time around, we know they cost us something. Our best friends typically come with hard conversations, hurtful words, sins committed, sins forgiven, laughter shared, meals prepared, and needs met.

In college, I remember how diligent I was to keep a tally with my roommates. I would be so careful to pay them back or return a favor so that I was not in anyone’s debt. I walked alongside friends, earnestly seeking to balance what I owed. 

Maybe this isn’t your struggle. Maybe you don’t feel pressure to pay back your friends. There are other ways we might avoid the costs that come with friendship. 

We might retreat and cut ourselves off from the world because we do not want to be a burden to anyone. When we feel like a burden or inconvenience, we want to remove ourselves from people so they are not burdened by us. When we have a need, we don’t want to ask others to help. We do not want our friends to go above and beyond us. 

Or, on the other end, we may demand more attention and time from others than is fair to them. We think that because of who we are or what we are given, we are owed a certain kind of treatment. We are offended when someone says no to time with us. We are hurt when our expectations are not met. We want our friends to go above and beyond for us. 

These are distortions of true friendship. We are not called to keep score, to live as an island, or to be a leech to our friends. 

We know that friendship is costly, but how do we have real friendship? 

For starters, we certainly cannot look to ourselves. God, the Creator of friendship and perfecter of it, speaks to us through His Word. Here are three encouragements from the Bible to help us pursue real friendship:

1. Sacrifice Your Life

“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” – 1 John 3:16

Followers of Christ are not called to balance the budget sheet of our sacrifices for one another. Jesus did not lay down his life with an asterisk at the end. It was not an “I’ll die for you but here’s what you need to do to make it even” type of sacrifice. He just laid down his life for us. Full stop. No fine print. No hidden fees. 

We are called to this kind of sacrifice. We may not ever be in a situation where we can jump in front of a bullet and die for the ones we love, but every day, we have opportunities to lay down our lives for others. 

This sacrifice will cost you comfort, time, and resources. Sacrifice costs considerably. But we have the Spirit of Jesus, who was perfect and sinless in all his ways and willing to die for imperfect and sinful people like us. We are emboldened to follow in Jesus’ path of sacrifice by the power of the Spirit. 

2. Carry Burdens, Let Your Burdens Be Carried

“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” – Galatians 6:2-3

We are all wounded and burdened with the pains of this world. There is far too much sorrow and brokenness in life for anyone to bear alone. Death, sickness, racism, abuse, greed, selfishness, and so much more shoot daggers at us all day long. Even the ones we love can hurt us and make us feel unable to go on.

Our struggles and suffering are not just for you and me to carry around alone. All the weighty woes of life are alleviated the moment a friend steps in to love us. The church is God’s magnificent gift to us. When we tell our friends about our pain, they can step in and offer another shoulder to distribute the weight. Your sorrows are not just for you to bear, but to be shared with brothers and sisters who can pray, listen, help, serve, and care. 

It costs us to allow others to carry our burdens and to carry the burdens of others. The first requires an admission of weakness, the second requires we put the needs of others above our own. 

3. Think of Yourself Less

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4

The easiest thing in the world to think about is yourself. Your needs, wants, desires, plans, hopes, and emotions are always on your mind. I bet you can’t even go one hour without thinking of yourself in some way. Self-centeredness is an understatement. We are hardwired to think about ourselves. 

This may be the most costly part of friendship because it is the most difficult. How do we think of ourselves less? Consider others, consider others, consider others

Consider how you can love a friend who is having a hard week. Consider your roommate’s favorite dessert and make it for no reason other than love. Consider your spouse’s least favorite chore and do it for them. Consider your lost neighbor and share the gospel with her. Consider your pastor and pray for him. Consider someone who has financial need and give anonymously. Consider the displaced college student in your church and offer your home as a place to study or hang out. 

Filling our minds with thoughts of others is costly work. Keep reading in Philippians 2 and you’ll find that Jesus “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity” (Philippians 2:6-7). 

God himself stepped down to our lowly state and considered our lives above His own. When we think of others more and ourselves less, we follow in the footsteps of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

Infinite Blessing 

These passages point to the sacrificial and eternal nature of our love for one another. We see this example fully in our Savior. He is the one whose love of us cost him his life. But it was the sacrifice, it was the burden, it was the selflessness – it was the cost that provided us with the blessing. This is the blessing of eternal life that cannot go away. It will not diminish because of a changed address, it will not dissipate because of disagreeing viewpoints, it cannot be taken from us and it will not be broken. Our friendship with Jesus will bless us forever. 

Because Jesus blessed us with his friendship, we are now able to receive and be the blessing of a friend to one another. This love is not just a temporary, earth-bound love because we are not just temporary, earth-bound people. Our souls are eternal, purchased by God so that we might love Him and one another. The blessing of friendship on this earth points to the eternal blessing of communion with God and His people forevermore. All the sacrifices, burdens, and selflessness, though costly in this life, fade quickly when we see and experience the love of the church. We may struggle together for a little while, but as believers, we will have infinite fellowship with one another because we have infinite fellowship with God. 

Friendship will cost us considerably, but it can and it will bless us infinitely.

Episode 110: 6 Books Every Pastor Should Read

For The Church Podcast

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

On this episode of the FTC Podcast, Jared Wilson and Ronni Kurtz discuss six books they recommend every pastor read to equip them with a deeper theology and greater pastoral sensibility for the rigorous work of ministry.

Out of Death, Into Life

20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

– Romans 5:20-6:14 

One of the great wonders of the Christian life is reconciling who you are now in Christ with who you once were without him. We are like one who marvels as he sees his empty bank account become one with an infinite sum. Life will never be the same. For the Christian, however, our lives have not simply been enhanced as the rich man but resurrected as the dry bones of the valley (Ezekiel 37). We have passed from death into life.

John Piper says, “Romans 6 deals with the kind of life that leads to eternal life: What it is and how to live it.” When we placed our faith in Christ and trusted his finished work to set us right with God, we received his grace. What do we then do with that grace? In Romans 6, Paul points out two opposing options. We can use grace as an excuse for sin, or we can use it as a power for obedience.

There are two key words throughout this chapter: death and life. Sin leads to death, and grace leads to life. If we choose to use that grace to sin more so that grace might multiply, we have misunderstood the purpose of grace. Grace doesn’t increase because we seek sin, but because we pursue God. As we see God in light of the law, we perceive more of our sin. But we also see more grace covering our sin. That leads to more obedience to God, not less. Life in Christ is stronger than death in Adam. Grace saves us from sin and to obedience. Life is found in and lived through Jesus.

But when preached rightly, the gospel of grace leads to a charge sounding something like this. “So, you’re telling me that it doesn’t matter what I do. Jesus has paid for it all. If that’s true, then why not sin?” Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound? No way! How can we who died to sin still live in it? As Michael Bird says, “The problem with remaining in sin is the absurdity of the thought. It is kind of like asking whether one should remain stuck at the bottom of a well even while a rope has been lowered down to us. Grace is designed to get us out of that situation, not to make us feel more comfortable within it!”

Paul gives us five implications of this grace that leads us out of death and into life.

1. We are united to Christ (v. 5)

If there was a theme to Paul’s writing, it might be this idea of union with Christ. The Christian doesn’t merely follow in the footsteps of Jesus; he weds Jesus. What he is, we are. What he experienced, we experienced. Since God unites us with Jesus in his death, he shall indeed unite us with him in resurrection. The boundless hope of our life is not that we will bring ourselves from death to life, but that by being joined to Christ, he will do it for us.

2. Our old self was crucified (v. 6) 

The cross is the center of the Christian story. Upon the cross, Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. It was not merely a nice gesture or a symbolic act. It was real punishment leading to real death for real sin. On the cross, Jesus, the sinless man, had the entire weight of sin placed upon him. He paid for it all. Since we are united with him, when he was crucified, we were crucified. Sin’s reign in our life is over.

3. We are set free (v. 7) 

Sin runs the course of life. David confesses he was born with it (Psalm 51:5). Sin’s reign is mighty and pervasive. It wire-taps our brain, reading our desires and offering the latest high. It infests our flesh, pushing us toward comfort and satisfaction in forbidden choices. But in the crucifixion of Christ, being united to him, we are set free from the rule of sin.

4. We will live with Christ (v. 8-9) 

If the first event (dying with Christ) has happened, the second event (living with Christ) follows. God keeps his promises. If we have died with Christ, we will also live with him. Sin is irrevocably defeated. In Jesus’ resurrection, our relationship to sin is fractured.

5. We are alive to God (v. 10-11) 

Once upon a time, we were alive to sin and dead to God. But now we are dead to sin and alive to God. Jesus’ once for all death lead to his resurrection life. We join him in that. We don’t have to wait for it, either. We join him right now in part as we await the fullness of what is to come. We should consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God this very moment.

If 6:1-11 tells us what is true, 6:12-14 tells us what to do with that truth. We are not under the rule of sin anymore. It can allure us, tempt us, call out to us from the streets, but it has no power to make us obey. Sin has no dominion over us. We are under grace, and that grace leads us away from sin and into obedience. We can say no to sin and yes to Jesus. We can do this (and succeed in doing it) because the words of 6:1-11 are true.

The question that remains is not “will we receive grace?” but rather “what will we do with the grace we received?” There are two options before us. We can use grace as an excuse to sin or we can use grace as power to obey. Paul urges us to present ourselves to God (v. 13). Sin has no dominion over us. We are under grace. That means the grace we need to grow in holiness is the grace that comes from our union with Christ. We must never stop drinking from this fountain. Let’s present ourselves to God and let his grace rule.

Editor’s Note: This originally published at Things Of The Sort.