“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pasture; he leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His name sake.” Psalm 23:1-3
Dear Friends and Faithful Seed Sowers,
Many of you know that this past week, my wife and I traveled by motor-home from Florida to California. We brought Jac’s 88 year-old father-in-law to live with us. What a journey of 2,600 miles with an 88 year-old traveler. Andy was truly a trooper with all of the miles, gas stops, rv parks and daily traveling of 300 miles at the least! The trip was torture for him but he never complained. He did smile when the motorhome was safely returned and said, “My first and last trip in a motorhome is over.” Thank you to all who prayed for us. We could not have made the trip as well as we did without your prayers.
On another note, while we were still in Florida and during our trip home across the lower half of the USA, we had many family members and friends remodel our home. They put a bedroom in our garage and remodeled the downstairs’s bathroom so that my father-in-law is able to walk in to the shower. I owe a debt I cannot ever repay to these amazing people: Rick, Clay, Colon, Cassie and Tammy Warner. Thank you to the entire team of MY GUY construction with a special shout out to Mike, the plumber, and Charlie, the tiler! Thank you to Javon, Jodi, Jaden, Jace and Juliet Collins who moved our entire garage into storage and took countless trips to the dump for us. Thank you for all of the many things that were done in order to have the house ready for Great Grandpa and for us. Thank you to Don Eddy for the electrical work in the garage bedroom. Thank you to our son who helped us get a good price on our splitter AC/heat and who drove the final three days with us so that I had a break in the driving. Thank you to everyone who donated any time, talent or treasure. Our hearts are blessed beyond measure. Thank you for the prayers, the labors of love and the financial support. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Over the past few weeks, we have been studying Psalm 23. The Lord, Yahweh, is our personal God who never changes. What a comforting thought to know that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. What a consoling thought that our God is personal; we can claim Him as our personal shepherd. (The Lord is MY shepherd.) Our Good Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us by still waters.
Have you ever thought about the image of God being a Shepherd? Do you know that the early patriarchs of the Bible stories were shepherds? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. How about Moses shepherding his fathers-in-law’s sheep on the far side of the wilderness? (Maybe, you feel like you are on the far side of the wilderness during this stay at home time.) What about Amos, the shepherd, who was called to be a prophet of God? Weren’t the shepherds the first to hear the Good News that Jesus Christ was born? Weren’t they the first to go and proclaim this Good News? In John 10, Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd. He will be the gate that protects us. Jesus will lead the sheep out to pasture and bring them back home. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow where the shepherd calls. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep. These are powerful thoughts to pause and reflect upon as we prepare to break down verse three.
Is Jesus your Good Shepherd?
There is no better time than today to ask Jesus into your heart. Ask Jesus, God’s Son, to forgive you, guide you and call you by name as He shepherds you.
I grew up in the farm country of Northern Illinois. While growing up, my three brothers and I spent many nights with our aunts and uncles who were farmers. One of my uncles had sheep and dairy cattle, the other uncle had pigs and raised corn and beans. The other uncle was a grain farmer with horses. During my time on the farm, I learned a lot about livestock and farming. I learned that when a sheep fell over and landed on their back, the sheep could not roll over on their own. The farming term for this is “cast.” If a sheep is cast, they lay on their back until the shepherd (or farmer) comes and restores them back to their feet. It was not a matter of flip the sheep right-side up, there was a process to this restoration. The shepherd reaches around the sheep’s body and lifts the cast sheep. The shepherd places the sheep between his legs and massages the legs until all the circulation has been restored, and the sheep can now stand on its own strength. If the shepherd does not find the sheep soon enough, the cast sheep would die from the lack of circulation.
I believe that this image of restoring the soul is what David is describing here in verse 3. The shepherd knows His sheep and will find them and restore them back to life—even when we are helplessly flat on our back, our Good Shepherd will find us and restore us.
I want to spend a few minutes reflecting on the word restore. The word “restore” in Psalm 23 is one of the verbs in this sentence. Verbs are action words. The verb “restores” in verse 3 is an active preterite verb which means the action is a completed action yet is always continuing.
Stop and think about the action of the Good Shepherd here! The Shepherd has restored our soul; it is a done and completed task, but the Hebrew language is telling us that the Shepherd will also continue to restore our souls over and over and over. “Restore” is used 93 times in the Old Testament and 108 times in the New Testament. (Sounds like a good word study if you just happened to be bored!) Jesus, our Good Shepherd, restores a crippled man’s hand, restores sight to the blind and restores life to the dead. I wish we had time to go study these wonderful passages.
One of my favorite restoration illustrations is found in Psalm 51. King David, who wrote this psalm, had fallen into sin and was now cast down. As King, David had sinned by having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. When Bathsheba was found pregnant, King David orchestrated the murder of her husband, Uriah, on the batlefield. (Want to look up this story? II Samuel 11) David now pens Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12)
Restore: “to bring back, to return to a former condition, to repair, to mend, to furnish completely, to give back, to renovate.” WOW! Did you hear that? Restore means to bring back, to return to a former condition, to repair, to mend, to furnish completely, to give back, to renovate. The former shepherd of the sheep is now a King and he has fallen. He writes, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Listen! If God can restore a cast sheep like King David from his sins and failures, God can restore you when you have fallen and are cast down. This is the cry of verse 3 of Psalm 23, “He restores my soul.”
When a sheep is cast, they will die unless the shepherd restores their soul and circulation. How often are we cast down? Psalm 42 — “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)
I marvel at our Good Shepherd impressing upon us to study Psalm 23. How many of us have been cast down lately? Does this world-wide pandemic have you cast down? Perhaps your sins have you cast down? Maybe stress has you cast down? Maybe sorrow over the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, the loss of a job has you cast down. Maybe just being locked in during this time of quarantine has you cast down. Maybe being an essential worker has you cast down. This message is for you!
Cast down by sin, sickness, stress or sorrow? Turn to the Good Shepherd who will restore you.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he RESTORES my soul.” As we close, hear the Psalm this way: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul: he brings me back, he returns me to a former condition, he repairs, and mends me. He furnishes me completely. He renovates me and puts me back on my feet.”
OUR PERSONAL, GOOD SHEPHERD IS ALWAYS ABOUT RESTORING US! The best thing I know to be true of God: GOD IS FAITHFUL EVEN WHEN WE’RE NOT. God always wants to restore us. Let Him. Open your living word (BIBLE) up to Psalm 136 and read about the steadfast love of God that never ends. Read about all God has done, is doing and will do for you. Listen, you belong to the GOOD SHEPHERD. He cares for you.
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See you Sunday.
God loves you and so do i,
There have been books written about the Christian life that indicate that becoming a “disciple” of Jesus Christ is, in the final analysis, merely optional. This conclusion is fatal, because it encourages us to suppose that we can be careless about our Christianity, doing little and achieving nothing, and yet go to heaven securely when we die. This really bothers me, the idea that one can live as the world lives and still go to heaven. If it is true, it is comfortable teaching. We are to have the best of both worlds, sin here and heaven, too. But if it is not true, those who teach it are encouraging people to believe that all is well with them when they are, in fact, not even saved. They are crying, “Peace!” when there is no peace. They are doing damage to their souls.
We come to this problem in the paragraph of Romans 8 that begins with verse 5, because in these verses, for the first time in the letter, the apostle gives a careful definition of the “carnal” person. The idea occurs five times in verses 5-8 (“sinful nature” in NIV) and it already occurred three times in verses 3-4. It means to be a merely sinful man, that is, man apart from the regenerating and transforming work of the Holy Spirit of God in salvation. This is what we have to keep in mind as we study Romans 8. For what Paul is talking about here is the difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. That is, he is speaking of two kinds of people only, not three. Specifically, he is not speaking of how a “carnal Christian” is supposed to move beyond a rather low state of commitment in order to become a more serious disciple of the Lord.
What is it that most characterizes an unsaved person? These verses define the unbeliever in four important ways: (1) in regard to his thinking, verse 5 tells us that “those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.” (2) In regard to his state, verse 6 describes that the state of the unbeliever is “death.” Paul is not speaking of physical death, of course. He is speaking of spiritual death, and what he means is that the unsaved person is as responsive to the things of God as a corpse. (3) In regard to his religion, verse 7 tells us that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” At first glance it might seem strange to speak of the “religion” of those who operate according to the sinful nature, since we have just shown that they are unresponsive to God. But strange as it may seem, the unsaved do have a religion. (4) In regard to his present condition, the last thing Paul says of the unsaved, or “fleshly,” individual is that a person like this “cannot please God” (v. 8).
Paul isn’t writing only of unbelievers in these verses. He is also writing of Christians, contrasting them with unbelievers. He lists two of the Christian’s contrasting characteristics specifically. (1) The Christian thinking: In verse 5 the apostle contrasts the unbeliever and the Christian in terms of their thinking, saying that the unbeliever has his mind what the sinful nature desires but that the Christian has his mind “set on what the Spirit desires.” This eliminates many misconceptions; first, like the idea that the Christian is someone who is merely very “religious.” To be very religious and to be mindful of the things of the Spirit are two entirely different things. Second, it eliminates the idea that a Christian is anyone who merely holds the right theological beliefs. Being a Christian is more than giving mere verbal assent to certain doctrines. It is to be born again. And since being born again is the work of God’s Spirit, it is right to insist that those who are truly born again will have their minds set on what God desires. Finally, Paul’s way of speaking eliminates the idea that a Christian is someone who has attained a certain standard of approved conduct. What, then, does being a Christian mean? It means exactly what Paul says. The Christian is someone who has been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit and who now, as a result of that internal transformation, has his mind set on what the Spirit of God desires.
(2) The Christian’s state: The second specific characteristic of the Christian is his state, described as “life and peace” (v. 6). It is the opposite of “death,” which describes the non-Christian. The Christian is a person who has been made alive by God’s Spirit. Spiritual matters make sense to him now. Before, he was dead in his sins; now he is alive to a whole new world of reality. And he is at peace – peace with himself, as he never was before, in spite of many heroic efforts to convince himself that he was. Above all, he is at peace with God.
Paul has called us to examine ourselves by sharply contrasting those who live according to the sinful nature and those who live according to the Spirit (vv. 5-8), Paul continues by showing in a most encouraging manner, who a Christian really is in verses 9-11. His outline is simple. He talks about the Christian’s past, present, and future. The past is discussed in verse 9, the present in verse 10, and the future in verse 11.
Verse 9 discusses the Christian’s past. It’s important because it makes clearer than any other verse in this chapter that the description of those who are not controlled by the sinful nature but who live in accordance with the Holy Spirit applies to all Christians, not just to so-called spiritual ones. In other words, there is no ground for the doctrine of the “carnal Christian” here. Notice the apostle’s ruthless logic: (1) if you do not have the Spirit of Christ, you do not belong to Christ; (2) if you belong to Christ, you will have the Spirit of Christ; and (3) if you have the Spirit of Christ, you will not be controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit. In other words, if you belong to Jesus, you will live like it. If you do not live like it, you do not belong to Him, regardless of your outward profession. This is an absolutely critical thing, for it means that being a Christian is not merely a matter of adopting a particular set of intellectual or theological beliefs, however true they may be. It involves a change of state, which is accomplished, not by us, but by God who saves us.
Verse 10 describes the Christian’s present state. In some versions of the Bible the word “spirit” is printed with a capital “S”, as referring to the Holy Spirit, but this is an error. The verse is referring to our spirit and should be printed with a lower case “s.” It is a reference to our being born again. Although our physical bodies will die and are, in a certain sense, as good as dead now, our spirits have been made alive by the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent to do precisely that. What does it mean to have our spirits made alive by the Holy Spirit? Paul is talking about the present experience of the Christian, remember. So he means that by the new birth the Spirit has made us alive to things we were dead to before.
Verse 11 describes the Christian’s future, pointing forward to his or her physical resurrection. Although we will die physically, we shall all nevertheless rise again. There are two common mistakes in the interpretation of this verse that we should not fall into. The first misunderstanding is that the text is speaking not of a future physical resurrection but some kind of moral resurrection. Paul is not thinking of that here. The second mistake is to think of this in terms of “faith healing,” which some have done, supposing it to be a promise of perfect health for those who believe God will heal them. This idea is simply foreign to the context. The verse is speaking about a future resurrection, and it is regarding it as certain for all who are in Christ.
Are you a Christian? By all means, ask that question of yourself. Be sure of the answer. But when you are sure, be sure of this truth, too: nothing in heaven or earth will ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that your future will be even better than is your life with Jesus now.
Romans 8:5-11 Reflection Questions:
In verses 5-11 Paul moves into an extended contrast between what is flesh and what is Spirit. He is talking about “material” verses “nonmaterial,” since for Paul as a Jew the physical created order was good. From what Paul says here then, define what he means by these terms.
How does Paul say you can tell the difference between those who are concerned with “flesh” and those concerned with “the Spirit?”
Give some examples of what it might look like to live life concerned with the things of the Spirit.
Paul has not developed a regular formula for speaking about God as one in three, but he already possessed all the elements that would later be known as “Trinitarian theology.” How are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit seen in verses 5-11?
With verses 1-4 Paul opens what many consider the greatest chapter in Scripture. The first verse is the theme of the chapter. Everything else flows from it. The rest of the chapter is basically an exposition of this one idea. But verse 1 is not only the theme of Romans 8. It is the theme of the entire Word of God, which is only another way of saying that it is the gospel. Indeed, it’s the gospel’s very heart. This is what Paul has been explaining all along. Always it is the gospel. Paul seems never to have grown tired talking about it.
What about us, do we find the gospel wearisome and grace boring? Many do! Why are we so different from Paul at this point? I think it’s because of what Jesus alluded to in speaking of the woman who anointed His feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. She had a sinful past, and those who knew it objected. Jesus answered by telling of a man who had been forgiven a great debt and who therefore loved his benefactor greatly. Jesus’ point was that “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:36-50). Isn’t that it? Isn’t it true that the reason grace means little to most of us it that we do not consider ourselves to be great sinners, desperately in need of forgiveness? We cannot appreciate or even understand what Paul is saying unless we recognize that we are sinners and that we have been saved only by the grace of God.
The point we need to make sure we really understand what is being said is, that there is no condemnation for us because of what God has done. But do we really believe that? Or do we still think that somehow, in some way, we are contributing to our salvation?
Paul writes that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is, there are two classes of human beings: those who are in Christ Jesus and who are therefore not under condemnation and those who are not in Christ Jesus and who are therefore still under condemnation. What he is promising is for those in the first class only. But the question is: How do we get out of the one class and into the other? Is this something we do? Do we earn it? Do we attain it “by faith”? If you have understood what the apostle has been saying up to this point, you will know that it is none of the above. It is because of God’s work in joining us to Christ. This is what the last half of Romans 5 and almost the whole of Romans 6 is about. Salvation is from God; it is by God. What the text says is that there is no condemnation for those who have been joined to Jesus Christ by God the Father through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit.
That statement is a Trinitarian statement – it speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – and because it is precisely in these terms that Paul goes on to explain what God has done for us and why “there is now no condemnation” – (1) because of the Father’s work; (2) because of the Son’s work; and (3) because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Now it is “no condemnation” for those who are in Jesus. But don’t presume on this security. This is a great doctrine for those who truly are in Christ, but it is only for those who are in Him. Make sure you are. If you are not sure, give the matter no rest until the Holy Spirit Himself plants upon your heart the assurance that you really are Christ’s.
We come now to verses three and four of Romans 8. Verse 1 announces the great welcome news of freedom from condemnation for all who are in Christ Jesus. It means that God has saved, and is saving, a great company of people by the work of Jesus Christ. We have the law. But we are unable to keep it. We are condemned by it. We cannot be set free from the law’s condemnation by law, because the law is powerless. But what the law could not due, God did by sending His Son to be a sin offering. It is as if, in these verses, Jesus is saying to us, “Neither do I condemn you; go in peace” (John 8:10-11).
But as we come to verses 3 and 4 we discover that it is not merely a question of our being delivered from the law’s condemnation. Christ has delivered us from the law’s power, too. He died to start the process of sanctification and not merely to provide propitiation from wrath, on the basis of which God has been able to justify believers from all sin. In other words, to go back to John 8, Jesus is saying, “You are free from all condemnation, but you must now leave your sin.
What this is teaching is that justification and sanctification always go together, so that you cannot have one without the other. Justification is not sanctification. We cannot be saved because of any good we may do. If that were the case, Jesus would have told the woman: “Leave your life of sin, and if you do that, neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus did not say that. It was the other way around. No condemnation! But then a holy life! Nevertheless, just because justification is not sanctification and sanctification is not justification, we are not to think that sanctification is somehow unimportant; on the contrary, according to Romans 8:3-4, sanctification is the very end of which God saved us. By sending His Son to be a sin offering, God “condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
We cannot live a holy life apart from the Holy Spirit; we must keep close to God in Bible study where God speaks to us, and in prayer in which we speak to God. We must seek the Spirit’s blessing. We must work at this relationship. We must remember that in Romans 6 Paul developed the key to holiness by saying that we are to understand what God has done for us in Christ and then base our entire lives on it, by conforming our conduct to what we know to be true (see Rom. 6:11-13). Paul doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit in Romans 6, but, as we now learn in chapter 8, it is only by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God that we can do this.
It’s mandatory to follow after Christ to be a Christian. When I say holiness is mandatory, I don’t mean that it is merely good to be holy, and I certainly don’t mean that we can be perfect or ever reach a point where we will no longer be in danger of sinning. I mean we must be on the right path. We must actually be walking according to the Spirit of God, if we are Christians.
Romans 8:1-4 Reflection Questions:
When Paul begins this section of Romans with “therefore,” he indicates there is a connection between what he has just said and what he goes on to say. How does Romans 8:1-4 connect with the main themes found in Romans 7?
According to Paul, sin has received its death-wound. Before the Spirit can be unleashed to blow like a spring gale through the dead wood of the world, the power of evil needs to be broken. The way that needs to happen is for sin to be condemned – not just the passing of sentence, but its execution. How, according to 8:1-4, has this “execution” happened?
In the Old Testament, a sin offering (mentioned in verse 3 here) was a sacrifice used when someone committed a sin unwittingly (not knowing it was wrong) or unwillingly (knowing it was wrong but not intending to do it) – the very kinds of sin Paul considers in Romans 7. How is this image of a sin offering helpful to Paul’s line of thought in verses 1-4?
Paul declares exuberantly that “there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus!” No condemnation! This assurance can of course only carry its full force for someone who has pondered carefully the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment. What words of Paul’s in Romans so far have given you a deeper picture of the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment?