Posts by Krystyna Bontrager

The Bible for Everyone

Week 1: The Bible’s Narrative

We’re setting out on a journey through the narrative of the Bible. We’ve broken the arc up into five parts: Creation/Fall, Israel, Jesus, Church, and Return. And while it’s extremely important to have these movements in mind when reading, that’s actually not the starting place. You see, the foundation is not *what* the Bible is, but *why* we have it. God desired to make himself known to humanity and show them how life and creation are meant to be. In other words, God loves you and wants what’s best for you. The Bible is his gift to you and through it, he will speak to you. So this week, before we get to the major plot developments through the Bible, we’re going to start with passages that tell us that God uses the Bible to give us stability, direction, encouragement, and challenge.

4/12: Psalm 1

4/13: Psalm 19

4/14: Isaiah 55

4/15: 2 Timothy 3

4/16: Hebrews 4

Day 40

Read: Romans 8:28-39

Separated by distance. Separated by disease. Separated by death. We have been living through a time of separation from each other and from those we love. It is now more than ever that we need to remember that there is a separation that will never happen. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

There is a story of a church father, John Chrysostom, who was brought before the Roman Emperor to be banished. He replied, “You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.” So, the Emperor claimed he would kill him. John replied again, “You cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” The Emperor then threatened to take all his possessions. “You cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.” The next threat was that John would be removed from all civilization and have not a single friend. “You cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to hurt me.”

This story illustrates the incredible power of the love of Christ. It is not that we just resist separation or are protected from it. It is that we are “more than conquerors” over any threat that pretends it can separate us from God’s love. Like John, we can stare in the face of danger, disease, death, or anything that would sow doubt around God’s love for us, and we can clearly, calmly say, “I defy you.” There is only one explanation for why this is possible: “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us.” Jesus is alive and brings us to God; now, nothing will separate us from the love of God!

Reflection:

  1. What things of this world cause you to doubt God’s love? What does this passage reveal about the impact of those things on God’s love for you?
  2. What acts of faith or obedience could you be quicker to do by having greater confidence in God’s love for you?

Loving God, sin caused a separation between you and us, but you sent your Son Jesus to fill that separation through his outstretched arms on the cross. We thank you that there is nothing that can separate us from your love with Jesus standing in the gap. May your love give us confidence in loving others. Amen.

Day 39

Read: Romans 8:18-27

Today is Good Friday, a day when we typically remember the suffering of Jesus on the cross. It is important to remember, though, that Jesus did not suffer in vain or for suffering’s sake; he did it to accomplish an end to ultimate suffering caused by sin. It is because of Jesus’ suffering on Good Friday that Paul can point you, even in the midst of any current suffering, to the hope of glory you have by being a child of God.

You only have to flip to the daily news to be confronted with death, decay, and destruction in the world. When you see these things, my challenge to you is to remember that Jesus came and took on undeserved suffering to end all of that. This is not to dismiss the genuine suffering around us. Instead, it is to equip us to boldly point ourselves and others to the eternal hope that Jesus brings. The world is groaning in wait of glory. We are groaning in wait of glory. Jesus on Good Friday accomplished a weight of glory.

“We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

Reflection:

  1. Why do you think Paul refers to future glory as a weight? What does it outweigh?
  2. Take a moment to consider the weight of sin and death that Jesus bore for us and how it compares to the weight of glory that we will experience upon Jesus’ return. What response or emotions does this evoke in you?

Jesus our King, today we remember that you hung on a cross for us, mocked and rejected by the world you came to save. By suffering, you overcame all grief. Help us be faithful in remembering and proclaiming this good news every day, not just Good Friday. Amen.

Day 38

Read: Romans 8:1-17

Guilt. Shame. Judgment. These are sometimes the words that people associate with the church or being a Christian. Let me boldly say that if this is your understanding of the church or relationship with God, then the church was not really proclaiming the gospel of Jesus to you. Here is what Paul wants you to hear today: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus is known for many miracles, but his greatest gift is what Paul describes here in Romans 8. Jesus condemned sin in you without condemning you. In fact, Jesus instead fulfilled the law for you to be presented as righteous before our heavenly Father. This miracle means two critical things for you. You have a new responsibility, and you have a new identity.

Your new responsibility is to live according to the Spirit of life and put to death sin and disobedience by the Spirit’s power. You don’t do this out of guilt or shame, but because Jesus has set you free to do this in joyful obedience to God. Your new identity is as a child of God. Previously in Romans, Paul has talked about being a slave to God, but as he has progressed through his argument for Christ’s mighty work in you, he reveals that the ultimate identity and standing you have before God is as his child. Instead of wallowing in condemnation, step with confidence into the responsibility and identity you’ve been given through Christ.

Reflection:

  1. How have you been doing with your responsibility to walk in step with the Spirit?
  2. What does your identity as a child of God mean for you concerning approaching God’s throne of grace?

Gracious Father, your perfect love casts out fear for us as your children. Help us to rest fully in our standing as forgiven and loved children. May we represent your gospel of freedom and joy to others so that your family will grow. Amen.

Day 37

Read: Romans 7:7-25

Today’s reading could be one of the most simultaneously discouraging and encouraging passages in all of Scripture. If that sounds conflicting to you, reread the passage and notice how much tension lives in the opposing forces.

It is discouraging because it points out how pervasive sin is. It is everywhere, and the presence of the law only makes it more apparent how our hearts and lives are filled with sinful impulses. Furthermore, we are powerless on our own to stop sinning. Paul takes it as a fact that all people will struggle with this inner battle of doing the wrong they know they shouldn’t do instead of the good they know they should do.

It is encouraging because we see that we are not alone. Paul, one of the most outstanding Christian leaders of all time, is putting himself out there to say, “Look at me, I struggle with this!” Friends, we are not alone; we all find ourselves in this passage when we rely on ourselves to overcome sin.

To ask, “What will resolve this tension?” would be the wrong question. The right question is “Who?” Paul sets the best example possible for how to respond to this struggle. We don’t need a rescue plan; we need a rescuer. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Reflection:

  1. What are the specific struggles that come to mind for you when you read about Paul’s wrestling? List them and acknowledge that you are powerless to stop these in your strength.
  2. How do you respond when you are aware of a personal struggle with sin?

Heavenly Father, in your perfect wisdom, you knew that we would need to be aware of our sin through the law but also be broken by our powerlessness to stop sin. We thank you that your power is made perfect in our weakness as we trust in the saving work of Jesus. Amen.

Day 36

Read: Romans 7:1-6

Far too many have the understanding that the Christian faith is all about a list of “dos and don’ts.” The thinking is that Christians are supposed to do certain things to be good and avoid doing other things not to be wrong. This approach measures a person’s standing or worth against the law.

Paul has an elementary and straightforward point to make in this passage: That’s not true! To elaborate, Paul uses the marriage analogy to show that we are no longer bound to the law. Therefore we are not measured by our alignment to it. Since we are now tied to Christ, we are measured by our alignment with Christ. Our faith’s focus is not “rights” and “wrongs” but a relationship with Christ.

Comparing yourself to the law will lead to one of two things. Either you will be prideful and judgmental because you are righteous in your own eyes, or you will despair because you know you aren’t measuring up. These are equally a focus on self and are the fruits of death. However, when we focus on Christ, we are humbled by how he fulfilled all justice while showing immense mercy.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) 

Reflection:

  1. What do you see in contemporary Christianity that suggests standing with God is based on “rights” and “wrongs”? How does this text encourage you to respond?
  2. What can you do to strengthen your relationship with Christ and have confidence in his righteousness?

Christ, you came as the fulfillment of the law so that we would find freedom and hope in our relationship with you. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on your sacrifice and sufficiency so that we would live in hope and joy. Amen.

Day 35

Read: Romans 6:15-23

Paul continues to unpack his argument for the power Christ gives us over sin. Christ has done the impossible for us in dying the death we should have died and freed us from our sinful nature. We now live under that freedom and grace. However, Paul wants to clarify that this does not mean we get to sit back and do whatever we want. “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

If we are indeed to live in freedom from our sinful nature, our desire and joy should be to walk in obedience to God. Paul believes this so strongly that he poses a choice between two different types of slavery, either slavery to sin or slavery to righteousness. The modern-day prophet Bob Dylan says it well: “it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” While either choice results in slavery, this is far from a no-win situation.

All it takes is a quick look at the result of these two different paths. One path results in wages of death, while the other leads to the gift of life. Wages implies work and suggests that when we sin, we are actually serving Satan. What is our payment? Death. Word of advice: if you ever receive a job offer where the compensation is death, head for the door. Whereas when we obey God, we find that we are our freest selves in this life while also receiving the gift of eternal life. Only one kind of slavery leads to freedom.

If you know you are ignoring God’s call to obedience in an area of your life, stop. Offer yourself to him. Obey. Be free. Live.

Reflection:

  1. Compare and contrast sin and righteousness in this passage. What do you notice about the immediate result and what it leads to?
  2. Are there any areas of life where you are obeying sin instead of God? What steps do you need to take to submit to God and follow him?

Gracious God, you have given us the greatest gift of eternal life in Jesus. Despite past disobedience, your offer to us of freedom in Christ stands. Help us to live fully into this freedom through obedience to you. Amen.

Day 34

Read: Romans 6:1-14

What did you give up for Lent? Lent is often associated with the practice of giving up something that is considered unhealthy. It could be a bad habit, a time-wasting activity, or even a persistent sin. This practice depends on human effort and falls in the realm of self-improvement. It is certainly not wrong or worthless practice, and for many, it results in needed positive changes. However, it is not the approach to killing sin that Paul is preaching here in Romans 6.

In fact, Paul turns the “kill sin” argument upside down here. It isn’t sin that dies, but us! We just examined yesterday how all humanity was infected with the virus of sin through Adam, so much so that sin became our nature. It isn’t enough to suppress individual patterns or practices of sin. We need to die to our sinful nature.

In all honesty, that sounds a bit abstract. How do we die to sin, as Paul suggests? Here’s the good news. Christ has done this for us. Christ died and was raised for us! Through belief and baptism into his death and resurrection, we die to sin. If you’ve taken these steps of belief and baptism, praise God because you have died to sin! The power of sin and the ultimate consequence of sin, death, no longer hold you as you’ve been freed through Christ’s resurrection. Now your charge is to live to God.

“The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”

Reflection:

  1. What do you think the difference is between a sinful nature and individual acts of sin? How has Christ’s death and resurrection dealt with both of those?
  2. Who do you know who has yet to take those crucial steps of belief and baptism? Have you? Pray for those you are thinking of or take those steps today.

Christ, when we were powerless under the reign of sin, you accomplished the death and resurrection we needed to be set free. We thank you that we now live under your grace and will live eternally in your freedom. We pray for those who have yet to experience belief and baptism. Soften our hearts to know you better and give us boldness in sharing your good news. Amen.

Day 33

Read: Romans 5:12-21

Many people came to John the Baptist to listen to his message of repentance. He had a powerful proclamation that attracted people and inspired action. In the Gospel of Mark, there is a profound moment as John declares, “After me comes the one greater than I…I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus came to a world utterly devastated by sin where “death reigned.” Living during a pandemic may strike us as we read Romans 5 that sin is like a virus. All it took was God’s original creation, Adam, to be infected by this virus for it to be passed on to every other human, bringing rampant death. The contagion of sin was unstoppable; until there was a cure. The purpose of a remedy is to stop a disease in its tracks. It must be greater than the origin of the disease. Just as John proclaimed, one greater than Adam needed to come. We needed a gift greater than the trespass, obedience greater than the disobedience, so that we might experience that grace is greater than law, justification is greater than judgment, righteousness is greater than sin, and life is greater than death. Jesus is greater than Adam.

It is easy for us to get bogged down by the things of Adam, to despair at the judgment, sin, and death around us. However, there is one more “greater than” statement we need to understand. Jesus is greater than a cure. While a cure might stop a disease in its tracks, it can’t undo the harm and pain already wrought by that disease. A cure resists, but Jesus restores. Jesus has brought eternal life. He will make all things new.

“There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Reflection:

  1. What do we learn about God’s heart and hope for humanity by examining both the creation and fall of Adam and the giving and resurrection of Jesus?
  2. In what areas of pain or struggle in your life do you need Jesus to be greater?

Jesus, we so often try to wash away our pain, suffering, and sorrow with water, with the material things of this world, but what we need is your Holy Spirit. You have already proven that you are greater than sin and death, and we pray that we would have the faith and humility to surrender to your grace and witness the redemption only you can bring. Amen.

Day 32

Read: Romans 5:1-11

Doubt creeps in on all of us. As we watch a world in turmoil, there is all the more reason to be unsure about things like faith, peace, and love. So how is it that Paul proclaims these very things with confidence? It wasn’t because he lived free from the suffering we see raging around us. On the contrary, one could say his life was marked by suffering. Before his conversion, he inflicted suffering on others. Then throughout his ministry, he faced suffering and persecution at every turn. His life was ultimately cut short in suffering a martyr’s death. So, we ask again: How is Paul so confident?

Perhaps he reveals his strategy here. He shares a unique formula in that suffering, through perseverance and character, leads to hope. “And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts.”

This is not just any hope. It is a hope in the love of God, which has been demonstrated in the giving of his own Son, Jesus, to us when we were powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies. By leaning into the revelation that Christ suffered unto death for us, Paul discovers and taps into one of God’s great gifts for all believers: HOPE in God’s love.

Don’t miss this. This love was not earned; in fact, it couldn’t have been less deserved. As odd as this sounds, we should find this freeing. Because there was nothing we did to get this love, there is nothing we can do to lose this love. It is unconditionally offered for us to receive through Jesus. This is why we can confidently hope, as Paul did, in a way that overcomes doubt, disappointment, and even suffering.

Reflection:

  1. In addition to hope, what other gifts does Paul identify as being available to those who have put their faith in Jesus?
  2. Pay attention to your words, your behavior, your attitude. What do those things reveal about what you are hoping for and the security of your hope? Is your hope in the eternal and unshakeable, or might it end up disappointing you?

Loving God, we rejoice as Paul did in the hope of your glory, knowing that you will not disappoint. Through your Son Jesus, you overcame sin and separation to bring us reconciliation to yourself. Your love transforms us from enemies to children. Help us to hope evermore in your eternal, indomitable love. Amen.

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