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If you were to sit down over coffee or lunch with an unbelieving friend or co-worker and they asked the question, “What is Christianity?” how would you answer? I hope you wouldn’t point to a building with a steeple, as if a physical structure defines what Christianity is all about. And I hope you wouldn’t point to any individual, even one as godly as the Apostle Paul or Billy Graham. My hope and prayer is that you would say, “Well, that’s easy. Christianity is Jesus Christ!” Here is how John Stott put it:

Rome. It is only one word, and yet it evokes an entire world of history, drama, and political intrigue. One cannot speak the word without thinking of the Coliseum and the Catacombs, not to mention the many Caesars: Julius, Octavian, Augustus, and Tiberias. The pomp and circumstance of Rome, its social influence, military might, as well as its moral decadence, have made it perhaps the most famous city in all of human history, second only to Jerusalem.

I still vividly remember the first time I shared the gospel with another person, face-to-face. I had spoken at a couple of evangelistic rallies and shared my testimony about becoming a Christian. But this was the first time I sat across a table from one person and talked about Jesus.

Last week we talked about the reality of shame when it comes to sharing the gospel with unbelievers. I related my own experience with a high school classmate who, by God’s grace, actually came to saving faith. But as I told you last week, I was afraid that he might ask me a question that I couldn’t answer. The fear of being challenged in a way that we feel inadequate to address often keeps Christians silent when they know they should speak.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many non-Christian religions in the world? Have you ever wondered where they came from? How and why did they develop? Are they all simply variations of the truth or perhaps imperfect pathways to the one true God? What relationship, if any, do they sustain to biblical Christianity? And is it arrogant and judgmental of us to suggest that they are all in error and that Christianity alone embodies the truth about God and eternal life?

I face an immediate and unavoidable challenge in talking about homosexuality. In Romans 12:9 Paul exhorts us to “let love be genuine.” And in Romans 12:10 he commands us to “love one another with brotherly affection.” Here is the challenge. He also says in our passage in Romans 1 that some expressions of human sexuality are impure, dishonorable, contrary to nature, shameless, and deserving of eternal judgment. So, how can one be loving and yet say such things about homosexual conduct?

Last week we examined what the Bible says about homosexuality, both in the OT and primarily in Romans 1 in the NT. Today we turn our attention to two topics. First, I want to say a few words about the so-called “transgender” movement. Second, I want us to think deeply about the practical implications of how to live consistently with what the Bible says on these two highly controversial subjects.

In his acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1983, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed the reason for the Russian Revolution that resulted in the slaughter of 60 million people. After spending fifty years studying this question, Solzhenitsyn summarized his conclusion with this statement: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

To the extreme frustration of most preachers, sermons are frequently forgotten moments after they are delivered. I ought to know, I’ve preached my fair share of truly forgettable sermons!

There is no more important question for anyone to ask and answer than this: How might I be forgiven of my sins and reconciled to God, my Creator? I’m not suggesting that we don’t face other challenging issues in life. For some, it may be about which political party one should align with, or perhaps whether one should remain independent. I know many parents who feel the most pressing question right now concerns the education of their children: home school? private school? public school? Or perhaps some other option I haven’t considered.

I can’t begin to tell you how often people challenge me, either in the form of a question or a protest, that goes something like this: “How can God be just when so few people have access to the Bible? How can God possibly be good and fair if he condemns people for failing to believe something they never heard?” “I can understand why God would hold the Jewish people during the time of the OT accountable for their sins. They had the Law of Moses. They knew what God’s will was. They knew what he demanded and commanded, so their disobedience is certainly deserving of judgment. But what about the rest of the world that didn’t have the privilege of reading God’s law or the opportunity to obey it?” “How can God fairly judge all people when everyone has differing levels of access to God’s will and ways? Wouldn’t it be unfair for him to judge someone who grew up in remote regions of the Sudan by the same standard that he judges someone who grew up in OKC?”

I assume that most of you have heard of Ravi Zacharias, a world-famous and widely published Christian apologist. I heard him speak in person for the first time at a conference where I was also speaking in Orlando, Florida, back in the early 1990’s. I was astounded by his range of knowledge. He displayed what appeared to be a photographic memory as he cited at length, without notes, extensive quotations of famous individuals. He was articulate, energetic, passionate, and many, to this day, attribute their Christian faith to his influence. His books sold more than 2,000,000 copies.

By God’s grace, I’ve only been called to serve on a jury once. It was in Dallas in 1983. As it turned out, the accused had already pled guilty. Our task was to assess the appropriate punishment. In order to make our job possible, the assistant District Attorney of Dallas County rehearsed for us the evidence against the man and called several eyewitnesses to the stand to testify concerning the heinous and high-handed character of his crime. I’ve thought often since that day that we were, perhaps, too severe in the punishment meted out.

Most of you will not know the name of Dr. Marvin Knight, but he served for many years as the orthopedic surgeon for the Dallas Cowboys professional football team. Those of you who are old enough to remember, can probably envision in your mind a tall man wearing a huge cowboy hat lumbering out to the middle of the field to check up on a player who had just been injured during the game. That was Dr. Knight. I saw him dozens of times on TV treat injured Cowboy players before I ever met him in person.

If you were to ask me who, in my opinion, was the most frustrated and pathetic man ever to appear on TV, I would immediately point the finger at Hamilton Burger. Many of you are too young to know anything of Hamilton Burger, as he appeared regularly as the District Attorney on the TV show, Perry Mason, which ran from 1957 to 1966. I refer to Burger as frustrated and somewhat pathetic because he never won a single case against Mason, the defense attorney. He suffered one crushing defeat after another. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort or skill. Burger would amass before the court what he believed was irrefutable and convincing evidence against Mason’s client, the accused.

Do you remember the famous story told by Hans Christian Anderson concerning the Emperor and his clothes? According to the tale, a group of very clever con men approached an Emperor offering to weave for him a rare and costly garment that would be unlike any other garment in the world. This garment would have the marvelous, indeed, the magical capacity of revealing to the Emperor all the fools and idiots in his kingdom. Because of the special quality of the threads, the garment could be seen only by the wise. It would be invisible to all fools and morons.

When I was in seminary a group of professors and students went into the streets of downtown Dallas to take a survey. They approached the people on the street with two questions:

Donald Grey Barnhouse was for many years the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia. He died in 1960. During the time when he was actively in ministry, he was asked to address a combined meeting of several civic clubs in a certain city. After speaking on the gospel, a friend whispered in his ear: “Dr. Barnhouse, that man over there is a prominent businessman who always tries to trick our guest speakers. I just thought I’d warn you in advance.”

The founder and first President of Dallas Theological Seminary was Lewis Sperry Chafer. He died in 1952. When I was a student there we were required to read most of his 7-volume Systematic Theology. Virtually every theological issue was addressed in those seven volumes, some of which I disagree with.

I don’t know if you have picked up on this over the years that I’ve been senior pastor here at Bridgeway, but one of the primary things that I have tried to do is to prepare you for suffering. I know that sounds strange, but there is a reason for it. Suffering, more than anything else in life, poses the greatest threat to our belief in God’s goodness. When stuff happens, painful, distressing, discouraging stuff, our instinctive reaction is to blame God either for causing it or for not intervening to make it go away. When that happens, we take offense at God. We become bitter and resentful, and our faith starts to dwindle and weaken.

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture and immediately recognized yourself in the text? I do, every time I read Romans 5:6-11. You may wonder how that could be, given the fact that the personal name of “Sam Storms” does not appear in it. Oh, but I’m there. I’m there, writ large. I am the one who is “weak.” I am the one who is “ungodly.” I am the “sinner.” I am God’s “enemy.”

Romans is known for many things, one of which is that more than a few scholars consider it to be the most theologically complex and challenging book in the Bible. That being the case, it is worth asking: “What specific passages in Romans give it this reputation?” Some of you who are familiar with Romans might point to Romans 7. Others would argue that Romans 9 is the most challenging chapter. But I believe it has to be Romans 5:12-21.

Why did God become a man? Why did the transcendent, majestic Lord of the universe, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, condescend to become a human being in the person of Jesus Christ? Why did he suffer humiliation and rejection from his own creation, ultimately to die naked and beaten upon a Roman cross? Why did Jesus Christ come into this world?

There quite simply is no more pressing, practical issue for every one of us than how to gain victory over the temptation and sin that we encounter each day of our lives. Those temptations are many and varied, ranging from pornography to deceitfulness to selfishness to theft to lying to lust to irrational outbursts of anger to adultery, jealous, envy, and so on. I’m sure if I provided you with an even more extensive list of the challenges we face every day, most if not all of you would at some point raise your hand and say, “Yeah, that’s me. You nailed it. That’s my struggle. That’s my sin.”

I want to tell you a story about an exceedingly odd Christian man. He is known to history as St. Simeon the Stylite. Simeon was born in 390 a.d. and died in 459. At the age of 13 he heard a sermon on the Beatitudes of Jesus from Matthew 5. He immediately cast himself down at the door of a monastery, begging to be granted entry. He lay there several days and refused to eat or drink. He grew accustomed to eating only on Sundays.

I’ve been profoundly affected these past few weeks by something in Paul’s language here in Romans 7. I didn’t at first give it much attention, as I was focused on trying to make sense of what he says about the law and our relationship to it. But there it was, in Romans 7:4.

Can anyone who just heard the text we read from Romans 7 honestly say, “I can’t relate to that? I don’t recognize myself in what Paul says. I’ve never experienced this internal battle with indwelling sin. I don’t know what the apostle means when he describes himself as wanting to do one thing only to discover that he does its opposite. I can’t relate to his description of himself as doing the very things he hates while failing to do the things he loves.”

What are the two most glorious words that a sinful soul can hear? What are the two most encouraging and heartwarming words that I could speak to you today? What two words have more power to lift you out of depression than any others? What two words can put your fears to rest and deliver you from anxiety and doubt? What two words do each and every one of you here today need to hear from God? No condemnation!

When I was a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, the Christian apologist Josh McDowell arrived on campus and spoke at the student union. If you’ve ever heard McDowell speak, you know that he is incredibly articulate and persuasive. He spoke that night on a wide range of topics, but focused primarily on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The many facets of that gospel which we have been examining thus far in Romans were addressed.

I’m often blessed by reflecting on the many ways in which the Bible portrays our relationship with God. There are all sorts of illustrations and metaphors and vivid word pictures that in one way or another describe who we are. For example, in the OT the people of God are an army, of which God is the commander-in-chief. Numerous times, in both the OT and NT, we are described as sheep, with God as our shepherd. We are also portrayed as a building or a temple, of which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. On several occasions we are portrayed as a body, of which Jesus is the head.

In reading your Bible, have you ever felt as if a verse of Scripture suddenly seemed to leap off the page and smack you upside the head with a thud. And it hurts! When I say, it hurts, I mean that it is a sudden jolt to the system. It’s a bit scary. It’s unnerving. It may be downright painful to your soul. You read it and say to yourself, “I wish I hadn’t read that. My life and emotional stability in general would have been much better off had I never seen this statement.”