Life is about preparation!
I was in 4th class at Clovelly Public School and our teacher, Mr DeRago, told us that he was getting us ready for our final exams. I thought that was amazing since our finals, the Leaving Certificate exams, were still 7 years away.
Apprenticeships are about preparation; all education is preparation; curacies are preparation. We have seminars for preparing for marriage, parenting, and now I am attending retirement seminars.
What next? Death must be in the mix of what’s next, but who runs seminars on preparing to die?
According to the last survey taken by the Sydney Morning Herald, the majority of Australians wish they could talk to someone about death. But the church seems to have joined the conspiracy of silence on the subject.
People seem to believe Kerry Packer who, after having died briefly, told Ray Martin that there was nothing there—no devil, no heaven, nothing. Do we believe this testimony, or do we believe the testimony of the Bible, Jesus and the Apostles?
The book of the Bible which is perfect for a ‘preparing for death’ seminar is Romans. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that death is followed by judgement, and Romans is full of legal, trial language; it is ideal to get us ready for the inevitable court case. The dominant word group of Romans is righteousness, justification, condemnation.
The reality is that death will be followed by a court case for every one of us and our eternal destiny will be determined by the verdict we receive from God at this tribunal. Most religions and fictional Christianity promote this idea of standing before God and hearing his verdict on our life. But the Bible is unique compared to all religions, they stress what you must DO to commend yourself to God, keep the rules, take the sacraments or whatever, but the Christian gospel alone, stresses what God has DONE, to set you in the right with him.
Romans makes it clear that none of us are right with God—the secularist, the moralist, the unreached, even the religious Jew, are all short of God’s standard of righteousness. God is a just and honest judge and will not compromise his standards to accommodate us. Romans 3 tells us he demonstrates his justice by accepting only those who entrust themselves to Jesus Christ. Jesus alone lived perfectly, up to God’s standard. By his death he paid a penalty he did not deserve, and God raised him from death to show his acceptance of his work on our behalf.
So in the death of Jesus God declares us right, because saving faith has united us with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. God thus demonstrates his justice. He treats us as if we were Jesus, and he treats Jesus at the cross as if he was us. By sending his own son to do this work God also demonstrates his love.
The Christian then is credited with a perfect standing before God through faith in Jesus. Romans 8:1 affirms, ‘There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’. We can be certain of God’s verdict on judgement day.
Our lack of righteousness is explained in Romans 1:18 to 3:20—how God sets us right, explained in Romans 3:21-5:21; how being right affects our personal holiness, Romans 6:1–8:39; God’s righteous dealings with Israel, Romans 9–11; the implications for our communal righteousness together, Romans 12:1–16:27.
The remarkable truth that we are ready for our day in court because of Jesus’ righteousness also guides the way we live. The way I relate to my spouse, my wider family members, my workmates, my coffee mates, my teammates, is transformed by my union with Jesus, through faith in him.
Bonar’s hymn puts this truth perfectly:
Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die,
Upon another’s life, another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity’.
Romans 1:17 is the headline verse of the whole letter and it affirms:
- that God’s way of putting us in the right is revealed in the gospel.
- that this way of being right is through faith in Jesus.
- that through this faith in Jesus, we are saved from the wrath of God and truly live.
Preach Romans. Get your people ready for their day in court. There is no other way to leave this planet than by death—and then comes judgement! There is no more loving thing we can offer our communities.
The Swiss theologian Frederick Godet said that every revival in the history of the church is linked as cause and effect with a better understanding of Romans.
And get ready for increased pastoral opportunities. At a recent Word Alive convention in the UK the leader of the counselling team observed that when there is preaching on justification, the number of enquirers, dealing with personal issues, usually doubles!
‘When the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart, there is no telling what may happen’.
J. I. Packer.