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Romans Week 13 Sermon Notes


Last week I heard Dr. Tyler Vanderweele speak (yea, I’d never heard of him before either)

He is professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard school of public health (Ty Kane, you would have loved him)

His resume is super human…

-Ph.D. Biostatistics, Harvard

-Masters Biostatistics, Harvard

-Masters, Mathematics, Oxford

-Masters, Finance, Wharton School, U. of Penn.

-B.A., Philosophy and theology, Oxford

-B.A., Mathematics, Oxford

He accomplished this by his mid-thirties.

My reason for making so much of his training and intelligence is that he has devoted himself to demonstrating in ways that cannot be disregarded…the impact of faith on humans...his efforts, his degrees have been aimed at that end.

He is serving us (the church, our nation) by educating himself and earning a reputation of brilliance and excellence in order to restore sanity regarding what humans have known for thousands of years…until now…that is the impact of faith.

He himself is a Christ follower…who has been called to work in the acadamy…thank God for him.

He is a very well-spoken, and an unpretentious person…humble, winsome, confident…he has the facts on his side and he knows it.

He demonstrates how active participation in a worshipping community…means your are 5X less likely to commit suicide, half as likely to divorce…and every other factor related to human thriving improves for people who live in a worshipping community.

As a public health expert…he says this is really important news…but really old news.

What about the studies that show Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians?

Those who profess to be Christians (most Americans) have the same rate as the general population…because the general population at large professes to be Christians.

When asked if you attend worship weekly, the rate of divorce is 1/2 the average.

It’s common today for people to say “I am spiritual, but not religious”

Normally meaning…”I do this all by myself”…which is non-transformational…no difference in impact on overall health…mental, physical, social…between the professed “spiritual” and “non-spiritual.”

The difference is between those who practice their faith (religious) and those who don’t have a faith or don’t practice it.

The spiritual but non-religious most often end up in some form of self-worship…designing God or the divine to suit their own tastes…rather than conforming themselves to God.

And also, importantly…worshipping in community means you have to get along with others…which is hard and valuable.

The impact on overall relational, mental, physical health is tied to the “religious”…not merely the “spiritual.”

Those who are “spiritual” (have a personal faith) but live that faith out in community…faith shared with others…otherwise known as religion…see vast differences in their lives than those who do not.

Other forms of community participation (lions clubs, sports teams, local bars) do not have the same effect…it is community focused on God…that makes the difference.

After his presentation I asked him a question about his life in academia.

Atheist scientists have coined a phrase, “non-overlapping magestieria”…a fancy way of saying…a two-story world.

Science: deals with facts, reality

Religion: deals with hopes (not facts)

So the ones who have coined NOMA have offered us a deal.

“We scientists will take care of reality”…one magesteria (realm)

“You, believers in God…can take care of the realm unreality…”deal?”

That is “NOMA”…the answer is…”No, deal”

The magesteria (two separate realms)…in fact they do overlap…because both deal with the same reality…reality is spiritual and physical.

I asked Dr. Vanderweele about “NOMA” and how he deals with those who as soon as he mentions religion relegate him to the realm of unreality.

He told me his most common approach was to say that his expertise is in methods of research and that the impact of faith can be scientifically studied like anything else.

He said his methodology is the exact same one used to study cancer and a host of other health issues…so if they question him on the impact on religion then all applications are suspect.

He said he has never had anyone press him on this point.

He agreed that science cannot prove or disprove God, but scientific method can certainly prove the impact of faith…and without a doubt…it has.

I heard two other experts speak at the same conference.

One a Ph.D. and M.D. from Duke…renowned expert on Faith and personal health

Another a state department diplomat and expert on the constitution…and faith’s impacts on governments, nations.

So there were experts on the impact of faith on:

-Private health

-Public health

-National, constitutional and international health

What they all had in common was simply this…”Faith works”…they were all Christians…all brilliant…all gave undeniable evidence that “faith works.”

Then I heard testimony by different people who took the theory to the personal level.

One was a 6 year pow in the Hanoi Hilton…spent a year with three other men in an 8X7 cell…they survived, got along…by their faith.

Then a woman who lost her husband in Iraq in 2006, fighter pilot died rescuing ground troops…she had 5 children 9 to 6 month old twins…she told a powerful, moving story that could be summarized as “faith works.”

Lack of faith is a personal, public, national health crisis.

Why?   Because it is going against our design to deny the reality of God…and our need for him.

To try to exist without faith is like trying to exist without air, water, or food.

If I purchase a car and decide that big oil companies are ruining the environment so I refuse to purchase gas…instead I put water in my gas tank…what will be the result?

Or I discover I am low on oil…I don’t have oil handy…I do have a six pack of dr. Pepper…why not…Dr. Pepper is delicious…what will be the result?

It matters how the car was designed…it matters more than what I believe to be true, or desperately want to be true…that is if I want my car to actually work.

Now, we can dispute water vs. gasoline sitting in a coffee shop…and each side can believe they are right…but if we both get in cars and try to drive home, testing our convictions…one will get home, the other will ruin their car.

We are designed as spiritual beings.

To attempt to deny this fact is dangerous, not just eternally but temporally…in time…we must live in line with our design…or we will suffer for trying to live against that design.

It would be ironic where it not so tragic that many believe they are being rational and intelligent by denying faith…when in fact they are denying what is self-evident.

We are spiritual beings, you are made by God for God…this is true for all people, everywhere, all the time.

The gospel tells us that we cannot work for our faith…but when we put our faith in the grace of God…then put that faith to work in our lives…then faith works.

Because to live a life of confidence in God is to align ourselves with what it real…any other lifestyle is trying to breath water…it is bound to fail.

Do not believe that “this is church stuff” but it doesn’t work in the real world…world of money, cars, wars, bullets, sex, stuff.

Nonsense, that is ridiculous…of course it works in the real world…it is at the very foundation of what the “real world is.”

1Tim. 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:

*Literally: faithful the words

*They deserve your complete, utter confidence

*So when you read that one day this is good for you and the next its not

*When you hear contradictory accounts of the same news story

*When the experts on forever changing their minds

And you wonder…are there any faithful words that warrant my full confidence?


Here is a declaration of fact that you can take to the bank…its not going to change, not going to be disproven.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

This is Paul’s personal testimony, that he gives in principle form in Romans 4.

Paul was a good law abiding, circumcised Jew…but he was “the worst of sinners” until he placed his faith in Christ…then he received eternal life.

Faith first (not acts of faith)…then salvation…then a faith that works.

This is such an essential truth, such a powerful testimony in his life that he breaks into praise…good theology always leads to doxology…worship.

17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

So…faith works…this is a fact.

How does faith work?

Two main ways:

  1. We are saved through faith by grace…because God is faithful to his promise…he justifies sinners who trust him.

*So faith “works” in that everyone who puts their faith in Christ…believes the gospel…is saved….it always “works” because God is faithful.

  1. Then our faith is worked out in a life of trusting God…this life “works” in that we see God prove himself over and over in how our lives unfold.

*The life oriented to faith to Christ…is the life that is oriented to the world as it is…it works.

Of course no one gets it perfectly…but the closer the better in terms of results

Rom. 4:9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

In this paragraph Paul is moving from the vertical application of faith to the horizontal application.

From the significance of Abraham’s faith in our relationship to God to the significance of Abraham’s faith in our relationship to one another.

This “blessedness” is relationship with God…who is it for?

Jews only…circumcised or for everyone who places their faith in Christ?

Good question…look at Abraham…when was he “accepted by God? Before or after he was circumcised?

Circumcision was the important sign of the covenant…of being God’s people.

But the sign is not the thing signified.

If you see a picture telling you the Grand Canyon is 20 miles ahead…you are not awed by the sign…but you will be by the thing signified…the actual canyon.

But if there is no canyon…say the sign is placed in Goddard, you will drive 20 minutes and be disappointed…if the sign signifies nothing that is real…it is a meaningless sign.

So circumcision was a sign given to signify faith…but if there is no faith…the sign meant nothing.

Likewise with Christian Baptism…baptism is a sign of faith, but it is not the thing signified.

So for Abraham the chronology was: Faith (Grand canyon first), Circumcision (sign second).

In fact it was at least 15- 29 years after his faith was credited to him as righteousness that he was circumcised.

Faith came first…the deal was “sealed”.

Years later came the sign…circumcision.

So his point is simply this…Abraham is the father of all who believe.

During Paul’s day the prevailing view was that if you wanted to become a convert to Judaism…a true follower of God…you had to become circumcised…you had to submit to the Jewish stuff.

Then later, some Jewish converts to Christ said that you had to become “Jewish” then you could become Christian.

So they added the “Jewish” stuff…to the gospel.

Not so…all people, equally can have the “blessedness” of the gospel by faith alone.

Eph. 2:11-13

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves the “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)–remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

Its hard for us to appreciate what it meant for Gentiles to be officered the opportunity to become full members in God’s people, with equal rights with those who were Jewish by birth.

These outsiders, without hope and without God in the world…could have full rights as sons and daughters of faith.

But why do they need to come to Christ? If its faith, what difference does it make where the faith is?

Why not faith in Buddha, or Mohammed, or Krishna, Sun Gods, or my own good deeds?

We are not saved through faith…but by faith.

Medicine:   My sister in law is very ill. The doctors are giving her very specific medicines and very specific kinds of treatments.

Does it matter if they get it right?

In other words does it only matter if the doctor believes this medicine will work (has faith)…and is sincere in that belief…or does it matter if his faith is in a drug that actually will work?

So if he has the right medicine on hand but does not actually put his faith in it (give it to Karen)…it will not “work”

If he has faith(gives Karen a medicine) but its the wrong medicine…it will not “work.”

Of course in the “real” world we know this is always true…we try to get the medicines right, we put gas not water in our gas tanks. .

The gospel is the real world…it matters whether we are putting our faith in the God who actually exists or not.

I understand that this is offensive to people…but it should not be.

If we want to live…we eat food not poisons…if we want to be happy we try to get along with others rather than offend and harm them…in the real world, getting truth right matters.

The gospel is the good news in the real world.

Paul is saying…all can “get it right”…there is no other condition than “faith” in Christ.

Its rather simple…so simple a child can get it right.

So simple, a brilliant human can get it wrong…unless they become like a child again.

FUN: Award winning band whose tunes are indeed fun, but whose lyrics are really not all that fun.

One song called “One foot” makes me very sad when I think about the hearts and souls of the young guys who penned the lyrics.

I happened to stumble upon a chapel last night
And I can’t help but back up when I think of what happens inside
I got friends locked in boxes, that’s no way to live
What you’re callin’ a sin isn’t up to them
After all, (after all) I thought we were all your children,
But I will die for my own sins thanks a lot
We’ll rise up ourselves thanks for nothing at all,
So up off the ground up our forefathers are nothing but dust now

I put one foot in front of the other one, oh oh oh
I don’t need a new love or a new life just a better place to die

The gospel is foolish to them…so let look at the questions in the lyrics…maybe seeing this song as one of the many cries from our culture for answers (or in some cases, attempts at conclusions to their own questions)

  1. Are those who live by faith “locked up” and those who don’t “free”?

It is true that many who profess faith do live locked up

All who live apart from the grace of God…live, equally, locked up.

Whether it is the chains of human religion or the chains of the living for self…the jails look different…but they are jails none the less.

  1. What you are calling a sin, isn’t up to them.

Its true that we have all inherited sin natures…so in a sense, they are right…it isn’t up to us.

But though we have inherited sin natures…we choose to sin…it is not chosen for us.

Whether it is up to us or not (and truth is…that it is and in a sense it isn’t)we all need grace…we need forgiveness…maybe more so if its not up to us.

*If I cannot swim…and I’m drowning…don’t I really need someone to come save me…more so than if I were able to swim to shore and chose not to.

  1. I thought we were all your children.

We are, all his children…but my children can choose to walk away from the love I offer them.

Can a father…make his children love him? Or merely offer his children love?

  1. I will die for my own sins, thanks a lot.

This is, in fact true…but it doesn’t have to be.

  1. We will rise up ourselves, thanks for nothing at all.

This is directed at Easter…disregard for the resurrection.

But he means in this life of course…because he says in the next line…his ancestors are dust.

We will keep picking ourselves up on the ground…until the day comes when we are in it.

So…let me blend in some lyrics from another Fun song that won a Grammy for song of the year in 2012…and a third song from the same album.

“Tonight we are young…so let’s set the world on fire…for tomorrow we will be dust like our ancestors…but I still don’t know what I stand for.”

I don’t mock these guys or their lyrics…I listen to their lyrics, carefully.

“Its just a song, Terry.”

Yea, but these words mean something…they come from their hearts and minds.

We must take their words seriously…because we take them seriously as people who God does in fact love.

We must take all people seriously and what they believe and say and think seriously.

We don’t get to merely say “That’s stupid” to the one who in fact doesn’t have a correct understanding of God…it’s not stupid…its tragic, its dangerous, its sad.

We don’t get to say “What a stupid song…do you hear those blasphemous words?”

I’m not saying you should play this for your children…we must teach them good habits of the mind because they will live out of those habits as they grow.

But as adults when we hear these lyrics…we should be sad, feel compassion.

I shuddered in my car when I first heard these words…I prayed for this group.

Paul wrote of the “blessedness” of faith…a life of liberty not of bondage.

Those apart from Christ do live in the prison of their own selfish desires…they are trying to live outside their design…it doesn’t work…faith works.

Those who are followers of Christ but do not realize fully that they cannot by their own efforts please God…now anymore than they could gain relationship with God by their own efforts…they also live in a prison…but it doesn’t have a door…they are free to walk out.

Faith does work…not because it earns relationship…but because it is like breathing air…it is how we are designed…air works…faith works.

The message of the gospel is clarity, humility, and confidence

This is exactly how we want to live:

With clarity: this is who we are, we are people of faith in Christ.

-We live in the real world, a world where Christ has risen.

-Its complex knowing how to flesh this out…but it is clear what we believe, where are allegiance lies.

With humility: Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I was the worst.

-I will not mock your words, or thoughts…I will take you seriously…Christ took me seriously.

-Read, or hear of someone, or meet someone who is wrong about what is real and valuable…ask God to help you learn to weep rather than mock or disregard them.

-With confidence: This is the truth of God…I did not make it, it is making me.

Then finally with worship:

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

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