Sunday 21st April

Read Psalm 53

If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as or an app such as YouVersion

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”.  So starts Psalm 53 saying that the man who says that God does not exist, is a fool.  The Hebrew word means more than just a stupid person or intellectually dullard, it means churlish and ignoble person, and the Psalmist agreeing with that says they are corrupt, and their ways are vile.  He then speaks of God looking down from heaven on all mankind and, in verses quoted by Paul in Romans, he says that no-one does good, not even one.

It is quite some condemnation.  Sir Alex Ferguson was renowned for giving some of his players the “hairdryer” treatment – a vocal battering after a terrible performance – and they just had to sit and listen.   We sometimes say, if we could ask God anything, what would it be?  Here however God is the one doing the questioning and he blasts the churlish, ignoble and irreligious with, “Do all these evildoers know nothing??”

The latter half of the Psalm tells of God’s people having been ill-used by these evildoer atheists, but knowing that God will restore their fortunes in his time.  The fool and irreligious will not have the final say.  When God restores his people, Jacob will rejoice and Israel will be glad says the last verse. We always need to be reminded that with God we are always on the victory side.


Monday Romans 5:15-21

In this passage Paul wants to continue the picture of exchange.  Adam exchanged his own will and desire for death, Christ exchanges his perfect righteousness for death but in two different ways.  Adam’s self-will got passed down through all, while Christ’s righteousness gets passed down for all.  Adam’s self-will comes naturally, while Christ’s righteousness comes through faith.

Paul uses the ‘on the one hand, and on the other hand’ argument to show the difference between the origin of sin and the origin of eternal life.  Both come through man, but different men, and Christ exchanges the death that we received from Adam for his righteousness which he gives as a gift.

What the law did was to make sin stand out in all its blackness but where this happened the grace (unmerited favour) of God stood out even more.  Paul will go on in Chapter 7 to show more about the law but here he wants to show how wonderful the grace of God in Christ is in that after the many trespasses, Christ brings the gift of life.

Tuesday Romans 6:1-23

Some of Paul’s hearers might say, “Oh well, if sin causes the grace of God to show up more brightly should we not continue to sin so that grace may abound?”, to which Paul says, “No, not at all”.   He tells them that they are no longer Adam’s children, they are Christ’s, telling them that those who have been baptised – in other words the Christians that he is writing to – have died to sin.  Having been born naturally in this world they were sinners, seminally present in Adam, but now they are ‘in Christ’, they have been born again (“you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” 1 Pet 1:23).  They must consider that they are dead already as far as their Adamic nature is concerned and are now united with Christ and alive with Him.

Because of this, sin no longer has mastery over you.  It is not unlike the position of a slave who is bought over by another master; he has no duty to his old master and should not listen to him nor do his bidding.  This is what Paul emphasises to them, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (v17-18).

Imagine someone who is dead, lying on a marble slab in a mortuary.  He is brought to life by a breath from God but doesn’t look any different to what he was a minute ago.  Awakening to his new life he stirs and starts to get up but in the darkness he stubs his foot and falls flat again.  Immediately a presence (the Devil) crouches down beside him on the floor and tells him to lie still, you are still dead, no change.  But our new man says, “No, I am alive, I am different,  I will get up; I may fall down again because I am not very co-ordinated, but the truth is I am not dead, I am alive, and I will keep getting up and live as a living person.  This is the case with the new believer, brought to life by Christ, he isn’t the person he once was so he needs to live as the new person he is in Christ.

John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace” said, ““I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am”.  That’s it.

Wednesday Romans 7:1-11

Chapter 6 was all about freedom from sin, but in chapter 7 Paul moves on to freedom from the law.   He continues to use the message of being dead, but whereas in chapter 6 he spoke of people being dead to sin, here he speaks of people being dead to the law.

This needs a little explanation and he does this by an illustration from the law courts about a married couple.  The law has authority over them as long as they live but if one dies, the remaining partner does not commit adultery (or bigamy) if they marry someone else.  The law binding them to their married partner ceases once death has come in.  However there is a twist here because Paul doesn’t say that the law died but he says, you died.  If you died then the law has no more claim over you.  We understand his drift although it seems a little strange, the law on one side and us on the other.  The marriage institution is used now saying that you died with Christ when he died so that you might belong to him in his resurrection, it is the idea of the Church as the bride of Christ.

If we think back to our gospel readings we remember how the Pharisees, the Sadducees and teachers of the law wanted to bind the disciples and Jesus to the letters of the law – e.g. you shall not pick corn on the Sabbath day (to the disciples), you shall not heal on the Sabbath day (to Jesus), and so on.  Jesus told them, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man” and also gave them examples from the Old Testament that countered their use of the law.  Paul says that what the law did to us was just arouse sinful passions – that was the fruit that our ‘married’ relationship to it bore – but now that we are united to Christ the presence of the Holy Spirit (of Jesus) bears fruit in a new way.  We find that the ten commandments change their case from the imperative command, you SHALL love God, you SHALL obey your parents, you SHALL not steal, you SHALL not commit adultery etc, to the indicative promise, this is how it shall be, you will love God, you will obey your parents, you will not want to steal or murder, a new spirit will live in you so that was a command from the outside becomes a desire from the inside.

It’s like the youngster trying to understand marriage by asking, “do you always have to live with your husband/wife?  Do you have to go on holiday together, do you have to give presents to each other?” always thinking of duties, whereas the parent says, “it’s not like that; I want to do all those things for and with my husband/wife because I love them”.  Love makes all the difference.

Thomas Chalmers was one of the great saints of the Scottish Church, of whom it was said that half the population of Edinburgh attended his funeral.   He once preached a sermon with the title, “The expulsive power of a new affection”.  That’s what conversion to Jesus Christ gives.

Thursday Romans 7:12-25

Although we are set free from the law Paul doesn’t want to give the impression that the law is bad, on the contrary it is good (v13), it is us who are sinful.  Paul says he wouldn’t have known what sin was had it not been for the law and gives an example of coveting saying sin seized the opportunity given by the law to make me more sinful.  It is one thing doing what you shouldn’t do but another thing doing it when there is a sign saying you shouldn’t do it (“No Ball games!  Keep off the grass!”)

It wasn’t the law but sin within us that took the opportunity given by the law to make sin become “utterly sinful” (v13), In other words the law was given to make sin visible otherwise it might have tried to hide saying that God doesn’t appear to have anything to say about it.

Paul now says that the difference between him (and us) and the law is that the law is spiritual but we are not.  We are slaves to sin and even though I agree with the law about what is good I find myself doing the very hateful thing I don’t want because I am in slavery to sin.  I can see and want the good but I cannot do it and he says “what a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (v24).

You will know the story of the scorpion that wanted to cross a river and the frog.  The scorpion asked the frog to give him a piggy-back across the river; the frog said, “no because you will sting me”.  The scorpion however made a pact with the frog that if he took him across he wouldn’t sting him.  The frog agreed and took him across, however on reaching the other side the scorpion stung the frog.  “Why did you do that” exclaimed the frog, “I thought we had an agreement?”.  The scorpion replied “It’s in my nature”.  That’s the thing about our nature, it is just sinful.  So what’s to be done?  The next Chapter will tell us.

Friday Romans 8:1-13

Paul is now going to spell out further how the gospel sets us free both from sin and the law and it is to do with where we are going to live.  If Christ died for us it means that we are dead: He took us into himself so that we were in Him as He died on the cross.  Because of that we are dead to our human nature and to the law; the cross made an end to our history with them, that’s why the chapter begins, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (v1).  What the law couldn’t do for us because of our sinful human nature God did for us by sending Christ in the likeness of sinful flesh to give his life as a sin offering.  He condemned sin in the flesh (the human nature) so that we might not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Paul speaks to the Roman believers saying you, “are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” (v9).  He is speaking about two places or realms of living when he talks of the body, (or flesh or natural human nature) and the Spirit.  The thing is that the believer lives in an in-between state, living in the body in this present life but also living in the spirit in heavenly places in Christ.  In his letter to the Ephesians Paul says, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”.  Note that he doesn’t speak of those heavenly places as future but present so that in a mysterious way we live between two kinds of existence – here on earth and also in heavenly places with Christ.  The best example I can think of as an illustration comes from Star Trek.  When Captain Kirk was on some planet and wanted to return to the ship he would call up and say, “Beam me up, Scotty”, using the transporter system and magically we saw his body start to shimmer on the planet while on the ship we saw a similar shimmering taking place until the bodily presence on the planet disappeared and the Captain arrived fully on his ship.

That in-between state is something akin to the Christian believer’s state on Earth – we are here but also there (the heavenly places) but we will not be completely ‘there’ until our bodily presence down here goes.  This is what the apostle means when he says, “if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness” (v10).  Because this is the case he tells the Roman believers, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (v12,13).  Get into living on the ship and leave the planet behind.

Saturday Romans 8:14-17

Paul now speaks strongly about the Holy Spirit who believers receive by faith in Jesus Christ (see v9).  He has already said how they have come to believe in chapter 6:17,18, “you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness “.

He used an illustration from the slave market there when a slave is bought from one owner and becomes the slave of another, here in chapter 8 however he wants to use the picture of adoption, telling them that though they have been bought with a price (the sacrifice of Christ) their position is no longer a slavery of fear but an adoption as sons.  We remember Jesus saying, “take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29) and also telling his disciples that they were no longer servants but “his friends” (John 15:15).  Through the Spirit we call God, Father and the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (v16)

When a person comes to faith in Christ they become aware – gradually it may be at first – that there is somebody else ‘living in the house’.  There is another mind, another ‘something’, pushing and directing from within.  This ‘Other’ is revealed in our prayers and in our reading of the Bible.  This Holy Spirit, actually the Spirit of Christ, does not make us obey in fear but encourages us in love to hear and obey.  The old Scripture Union Chorus tells us how to live, “Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey”.