We can find ourselves busy doing good things, many good and wonderful things, and before we know it we are flat on our faces exhausted. Maybe for you it’s serving in every ministry in your local church, bringing meals to every woman who gives birth, or picking up the phone instead of paying attention to that deadline. The Lord graciously used my Bible study with him to show me that I had my priorities mixed up and forgot to nurture my own love for Jesus. My Bible reading had become a task to do for others. But in doing that He also revealed my fear of what others would think if I simply said no. I saw how my over-commitment was affecting everything.
You can read more of my thoughts on this at Lifeway: Saying “No” to the Glory of God.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Anytime, anytime while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute,
I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman—I would. -Elizabeth Freeman
My mind struggles to understand slavery. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to wake up chained—metaphorically or literally—and owned by another human being. When my mind goes there, when I allow myself to try to put my feet in a slave’s shoes, I all but fall down in sorrow.
Slavery was an atrocious institution in the early days of our country, and it didn’t exist only in the South. A slave named Elizabeth Freeman actually took the new state of Massachusetts to court, seeking to be freed. She fought for her freedom. And she won! She became the first African-American slave to be set free under Massachusetts law and is credited with informally abolishing slavery in the state.
Elizabeth Freeman’s burning desire to stand on the earth for even one minute as a free woman isn’t hard to imagine. And once she tasted the sweetness of freedom, surely she would never, ever have desired to return to slavery.
And yet we sometimes do just that, in a sense. Though we are free in Christ, time and time again our hearts return to that time when we were slaves to our flesh, slaves to our fears, slaves to the law and the law’s demands on us. We fall back into old, fearful ways of thinking. In this text we see Paul reminding the church that God doesn’t want that for us. God desires our freedom—and He provides it through His Son and through our adoption as His children (8:15).
To the first-century church, this reminder of freedom from slavery would have great significance. Slavery was a daily reality in that culture, so people in that day would instantly understand the analogy of being released from slavery and not falling back into it. Like Elizabeth Freeman, they knew in their bones that there was a big difference between being a slave in someone’s household and being a free member of the family!
We may not witness slavery on a daily basis anymore, but Paul’s analogy still holds powerful truth for us. We were once slaves to our sin (Rom. 6:20), but once we’re in Christ this is no longer true. We do not have to submit or obey or entrust ourselves to those old ways. God has made us new, and as new creations we have the privilege of adoption. Now we are not only free, but children of almighty God. And not only children, but beloved children who can relate to our Father intimately.
It is no small thing that we can use the word Abba as we cry out to our Father. This Aramaic word for Father is an intimate term, even somewhat childlike—it could also be translated as “papa” or “daddy.” Significantly, it is also the name Jesus used in addressing God. It is a grace to us that we can cry out to the Lord in prayer in such intimate and personal ways. He gives us that access. Theologian Douglas Moo puts it this way: “In ‘adopting’ us, God has taken no half measures; we have been made full members of the family and partakers of all the privileges belonging to members of that family.”
Today remember this great access you have to your Abba. When you have to fight not to fall back into your old ways of thinking, cry out to your heavenly Father, who is available to you and listening. Remember that you are His, that you’ve been bought with a price. And that means you are truly free.
**This is an excerpt from my new study on Romans 8. Find more devotionals like this one in If God Is For Us! Order via Amazon and other retailers.
Leon Morris, e Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 315; Douglas J. Moo, e Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 502.
Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 503.
If someone had come up to me on the morning of my wedding day and asked me if I knew my husband-to-be well, I would have said yes without hesitation. Now, fifteen years later, I realize that while I did know him before I married him, I know so much more about him now. Our relationship has deepened, and my knowledge of him has exponentially increased since our wedding.
Why? Because we’ve spent hours upon hours together. We know each other’s history. We know our backgrounds. When one of us reacts to something, the other knows the context from which the reaction comes. We know each other because we have studied, learned, enjoyed, and listened to each other over the course
of these many years. And I’m looking forward to learning even more in the years to come!
It takes time to really know a person—and the same thing is true about getting to know the Bible. After nearly twenty years of “living with” the Bible and many, many hours of study, I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of its rich depths. And even with all my studying, I realize I will never exhaust the potential depths of learning about the Lord.
My hope is that you and I would get to know our Lord in greater ways through If God Is For Us, a study of Romans 8, a cherished book and favorite chapter. If you ask believers for their favorite book of the Bible, many would place Romans at the top of the list. And if you were to take a survey and ask what specific chapter in the Bible has had the most impact on their lives, a number would name the eighth chapter of Romans—and for good reason.
Tim Keller has written that “the book of Romans is the most sustained explanation of the heart of the gospel, and the most thrilling exploration of how that gospel goes to work in our hearts.”1 I agree wholeheartedly. And to me, Romans 8 is the heart of that great letter. It provides the assurance of this great salvation, summed up in its first compelling sentence, which proclaims to its reader that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (8:1).
That amazing declaration would be enough, but there’s more, so much more. We learn throughout Romans 8 that:
- The Spirit is actively at work in us (8:4–11);
- We are heirs with Christ, the adopted children of God (8:12–17);
- Our suffering is for a great purpose and doesn’t compare to the glory we will
- Even in our weakness, the Spirit is at work (8:26–27);
- God is working all things for our good (8:28);
- And absolutely nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ (8:31–39).
Need I go on? Oh, I can, and I want to! I haven’t even gotten to the five life-changing questions that solidify our conviction that God is absolutely, undeniably for us (8:31–38).
So in case you’ve been concerned whether a single chapter in a single book can sustain an entire six-week study, don’t worry. We could probably spend another six weeks—or a lifetime—and still find more.
If God Is For Us will take us on a journey into Romans 8, reminding us of our great salvation, our inheritance, and ultimately the love of our good Father. Romans 8 can be easily quoted—and often is—but through If God Is For Us I hope that we might meditate deeply on it, soaking in the goodness of this truth and rejoicing in the mind-boggling reality that God intends nothing but good for us. My prayer is that, together, we’ll gain a greater understanding of the significance of this passage of Scripture and why these verses mean so much to so many.
We will accomplish this through reading the text, through studying God’s Word, through daily reflection on the passages, and ultimately through prayer. But God must do the work in our hearts for us to understand. Let’s ask God to help us as we seek to know the God of our salvation in ever-deepening ways.
Grab the Book and Make It Work For You!
If God Is For Us is formatted to provide flexibility and I encourage you to make it work for you! It’s designed to be done in a group setting or individually. Here are just a few of the possibilities.
- Do the study entirely on your own at home.
- Meet daily with a few friends in-person (maybe for coffee) or online to share
your response to the devotionals and the questions.
- Try a combination—do some of it (like the devotionals) at home and some of it (like selected study or reflection questions) in a weekly group gathering. Or study at home and then come together to discuss your insights and discoveries.
You can follow the suggested pattern of five days of study, two days off, or you can stretch out the material to cover six or even seven days. Personally I like the idea of reading and study on one day, devotionals and reflections on five more days, and then taking a “sabbath” day of rest.
My hope and prayer is that you would enjoy God through this study!
Grab the book at Amazon! You can also purchase it at other retailers and see what others have said about the book on my book page: If God is For Us.
In 2007, I started an online fitness business. I produced a Christian CD for group fitness instructors and personal trainers to use with their clients. That venture was the start of my entrepreneurship—unless you count the time, at 12 years old, when I sold baked goods to my neighbors and surrounding businesses. I have always been a bit adventurous and seem to constantly have big ideas (still do!). In 2008, I managed the group fitness instructors and program for a local fitness chain. I did the basic work of a manager but saw more potential and began to implement programs, fundraisers, and marketing strategies. A few years passed and I realized that I had been putting a lot of time and energy into another company and it dawned on me, I can do this on my own.
So I did.
I started seeking advice from a business consulting firm and a fitness business consultant and set out on a new adventure. My online fitness production company had evolved into a fitness consulting business where I provided online personal training to anyone around the world. I took my online concept to a bricks and mortar model too. My business was very unique for my area and unique in the fitness industry at the time (I opened a fitness studio!). It was a huge success at the beginning. I had a marketing plan that was working well and a support system that was incredible. What I didn’t account for was the impending failing economy and my family’s need for me to contribute to our budget quicker than a small business would allow.
The Tides Changed
During that time, when I’d tell people my husband’s profession there would be a general gasp and then a follow up question: “How are you all doing?” I’m sure you could guess—he worked in real estate. We all know that the real estate market tanked during the recession and that the effects were far reaching. As I got further into my fitness studio it was apparent that I would not be able to make it, not because we couldn’t financially or the model wasn’t right, it was because I couldn’t wait to make money. If you know one thing about a small business it’s that it can take a while (maybe even years) before you begin to see the fruits of your labor. I knew I needed to shut it down and so I began to slowly dissolve the fitness studio. In the business world, a business lasting a short time would be considered a failure.
As much as shutting down my business venture was humbling, it was also a relief. Running a business was a lot of hard work! Anything you do well takes work and I don’t typically do things halfway so I was giving much of my time to it. The closure was a good change of pace for our family. But my husband and I would not trade that experience for anything. I learned a lot, I grew a lot and frankly it opened many doors. My marriage grew during that time of leaning on the Lord for wisdom and guidance. There’s much I am thankful for. I thank God for my fitness studio closing—God doesn’t waste anything, even our perceived failures.
Failing to the Glory of God
Yes, God doesn’t waste anything. He doesn’t waste our experiences, he doesn’t waste our pain or trials; even our joys are for a purpose. During that period, I had the opportunity to learn how to budget, do payroll (as an owner not as a manager), market, hire (as an owner not as a manager), partner with companies, fundraise and give (as an owner), campaign, and manage. It is significantly different, more at stake you could say, when you are doing these tasks as an owner and not a manager. That list only scratches the surface but those experiences allowed me to grow personally and today the skills I learned continues to help me serve the Lord and others, even in my home as I care for my husband and children.
But those various skills aren’t the greatest lessons and benefits. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I have learned from failing, as the world sees it, is to try and entrust the results to the Lord. I learned to take steps of faith and trust God. And that is where I believe God got the glory—he was teaching me that in my weakness and insecurity about the future, he was still God. I learned to rest in him. I learned to lean on him. I learned that failure was an option rather than something that needed to be avoided at all costs because it brought me to my God.
It’s the end of the year and I imagine some of you entering in with a bit of fear. You have ideas, goals, and plans but you are afraid to try. I get it. In the past I have been hesitant to set goals or resolutions because of the fear of failure. Why bother? you tell yourself, I’m not going to complete my goals or keep my resolutions anyway. And perhaps that’s true. But I’d like to also encourage you that trying isn’t failing and that failing doesn’t mean trying isn’t worthwhile.
Let’s remember that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father. Every task we complete is because of him. Anything we do that requires strength is only accomplished because our Lord has strengthened us for the task; that’s true whether we acknowledge it or not. And every failure is covered by grace and has a good purpose. Should you start a task in January and realize come March that it’s been abandoned, you can pick up and start again or reevaluate and adjust your goals.
I’m starting the year knowing that I might not accomplish all that I hope for in 2019—and that’s okay. I’m confident that I will do everything God desires and designs for me to do this year. That I can know for certain. And the process of setting goals and making a plan might be what he uses to help me see that. However you approach the new year, don’t allow the fear of failure to hold you back. Entrust all your plans to our sovereign and good God.
Last week I shared on my various social media sites, a brief takeaway from a conversation I had with my mother. This takeaway has struck a nerve, understandably so. In our social media world, the use of the term “blessed” has been turned into a proclamation of all the good things that we have from vacations to cars to a new home. It’s often turned into a hashtag that says without saying, “I’m living my best life now.” In other words, it’s all about us, what we are receiving materially, gifts that will one day vanish, and not truly about the Lord. However, blessed is defined as those who live with God in heaven (noun) and to be made holy (adjective). There’s more to it and perhaps one day soon I’ll write more about what it means to be #blessed. But for now, I pray that what I shared on social media from my conversation with my mom might encourage you to think of all God’s blessings in your life (Psalm 103):
My mom called me last night to chat. Said: “People talk about being blessed but I know I’m blessed.” My mom has experienced the death of her young daughter, the death of her oldest daughter, the death of her husband, she has one kidney, has had cancer.
She knows Jesus #blessed
I’ve recently taken up cycling and I enjoy it. I love being outside to begin with, and there’s something special for me when I’m on my bike with the wind at my back and the bright sun beaming down on my face. It’s refreshing. Of course it doesn’t always work out quite like that. There are often times when I’m dodging potholes, praying I don’t hit the squirrel that darted out in front of me and fighting incredibly strong gusts of wind. There was one time when the surface became uneven and I was certain of my doom. Thankfully, I’ve had enough training to know how to handle the bike. My foundation was strong and though I could have fallen, I was prepared for that change in the road. That highlights my goal in cycling: if the ground shifts, maintain a strong foundation.
This idea of maintaining a strong foundation is at the core of the first few chapters of Colossians. There’s a problem in Colossae. People are teaching false doctrine and these false teachings have infiltrated the church. After Paul praises Christ’s superiority and awesomeness, he issues warnings. He wants the church to be equipped in knowledge and remain steadfast in faith so that the Colossian Christians are not taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit, according the human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). The false teachings they faced were likely many and varied, but from the examples given in verse 16, Paul is likely referring primarily to Jewish law and traditions.
Paul’s warning wasn’t just for the ancient church in Colossae. Timothy was given a similar warning: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and traditions of what is vastly called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim 6:20). You and I have the same warning. The Pharisees loved to preach a works-based gospel and (all these centuries later) we are still likely to live as though we are still under the law. We also must fight against the world and the cultural narratives that whisper lies about who God is. If our foundation isn’t strong—we will surely falter.
So, how do we maintain a strong foundation in the midst of shifting situations and others swerving from the faith? Paul tells us in verse 6, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We want to be rooted—deeply in Christ. We need roots like the wild fig trees in South Africa that reach 400 feet deep into the foundation of the earth. We want roots that are deep in truth—ultimately in the truth of the gospel and what it means to be alive to Christ. We need to be built-up in him—like a building with a core that reaches deep into the earth, we must be strong in the knowledge of Christ and what it means to be his in order to fight the good fight of faith.
We remember that we have been circumcised with Christ. The old flesh is gone and we are now a new creation. We are new and must live in this reality both intellectually and bodily—abiding in Christ. This is the reality—we are indeed new (2:11). We have been buried and raised as Christ was buried and raised. Sin’s reign and power has died, and we now have power to resist sin’s alluring call on our life. Christ died and defeated death—miraculously we share in this resurrection. We were spiritually dead and have been spiritually raised. We were dead in our sin—dead and without the power to resist. We are now alive with Christ (2: 12-13). Christ made a way for us to be with him and His father in glory. We are now forgiven. The debt was paid and the debt wasn’t paid in part. God doesn’t put our sin on layaway. Jesus paid it all. All the legal demands are gone—abolished, nailed to the cross (2:14). And we remember that we have an adversary. The accuser wants to whisper lies to you about who you are in Christ. He whispers lies about who God is.
But the cross disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (2:15).
Our firm foundation is not only in Christ; it is Christ Jesus. The ground may shake and we may stumble around from time to time but for those of us in Christ nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8: 35-39). Remember your testimony, remember when the Lord first brought you to Himself. Rehearse the gospel to yourself. When the ground shifts beneath know that you will not be overcome as you are established in the faith.
*A version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine