Romans 8:16-25 — Why do we have to go through suffering?

As I look at Romans 8:16-17, it starts out very encouraging.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…

Who doesn’t like to hear that?  We are God’s beloved children and we are now his heirs!

But then Paul continues,

…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Suffering?  I don’t want to suffer.  What kind of suffering are we talking about?  Paul gives us some examples in verse 35:  trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword.

All of us go through suffering in one way or another in this life.  It’s absolutely unavoidable, especially if you are a Christian, because if you follow Christ, there will always be people that hate you for it.

But why do we have to go through suffering?  Can’t God just take it away?  Why does God allow suffering in the first place?  It’s a difficult question.  Paul give us a partial answer in verses 20-22.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  (20-22)

Why do we see earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters?  Why do we see birth defects, diseases, and death?  Couldn’t God just take them out of the world?  Yes, he could.  But he allows his creation to be subject to these things.  Why?

Imagine a life without these things, where people sin as they wish, and there is nothing to shake them out of the complacency of their sin.  They would never see just how awful that sin is.  And things would be even worse than they are today.  But what these things do is make people face their own mortality.  It makes them face the fact that sin is in fact a horrible thing.  And it wakes up some to the point that they actually seek God and are saved.

So God subjects creation to these things with that hope in mind.  That people will turn to him once again, and find the true joy that only he can bring.  And when that full number has been reached, Jesus will come back and make all things new.

But until that day, Paul says the earth will continue to suffer birth pangs.  Not death pangs, mind you, but birth pangs.  And through the suffering we see in this world, we’ll see many children born into God’s kingdom as they turn to him.  Nevertheless the birth pains are still very real.

So are the sufferings we as Christians experience.  Paul says,

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (23)

We groan because of the sufferings we go through in this life.  We groan because of the sin that we struggle with in our lives day to day.  We long for the day that we can be free from all these things.

But the thing to remember through it all there is hope.  Hope that we will share in Christ’s glory someday just as we share in his sufferings now.  Hope that that future glory will far outstrip whatever pain we go through now (18).  Hope that all things will be made new.

It’s a hope unseen.  As Paul writes, hope that is seen is no hope at all.   (8:24)

But as Paul also said,

Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  (Romans 5:5)

So what do we do in the meantime?

Wait patiently.  Because we can know with certainty that our hope will be rewarded.

How about you?  As you go through the different trials in your life, is that what you’re doing?  Are you waiting in hope?

 

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 8:12-17 — Led into a whole new relationship

I think that as Paul wrote this, he probably looked back at his words on Romans 6, and felt he needed to make some clarification.  In Romans 6, he talked about how we used to be slaves to sin, but now we are slaves to God.  It seems a strange concept to be a slave to God.  While on one hand, it does carry the idea that we serve God and are wholly his, which I think was Paul’s point, it nevertheless also carries the idea of no freedom and fear of punishment.

And so I think Paul seeks to clear up those possible misconceptions in these verses.  He says,

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (15-17)

In other words, as the Spirit leads you, he’s not a cruel taskmaster that brutalizes you for your failures and mistakes.  He’s not someone that insists that we are no good, and totally unacceptable to God.  Instead, when we are discouraged because of our failures, and feel, like the prodigal son did, that there’s no way we can still call God “Father,” the Spirit whispers, “Hey!  Listen to me!  You are still God’s child and he still loves you.  It’s okay for you to call him, ‘Father.’  It warms his heart to hear you call him that.”

And as we go through suffering, the Spirit reminds us that there is hope for the future.  That we are God’s heirs, and that our suffering will not last forever.

In short, we are much more than mere slaves of God.  We are his beloved children.  May we never forget that.

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 8:5-16 — When we belong to Christ

images

Sinful nature, rest in pea….on second thought, just rot there, okay?

Looking at this passage at first glance, I wondered if verses 5 to 8 is referring to the non-Christian or a carnal Christian.  Is it referring to the person who doesn’t know God at all and follows after his sinful nature, or is it referring to the person who who is a Christian, but is still following after the patterns his sinful nature had laid down in his life before he was saved.

Looking at verse 9, though, I think it’s pretty clear that he is talking about the non-Christian.  Because he tells us,

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (ESV)

Paul tells us in verses 5-8 that a person controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God, he is in fact hostile to God, and his path leads to death.

But in verse 9, he makes a very clear distinction between us and the kind of people he was talking about.  He says, by definition, you don’t belong to Christ if the Spirit of God is not in you.  In other words, you are not a Christian if you the Holy Spirit isn’t living inside of you.

But if the Spirit is indeed living inside of you, that is, if you are a Christian, then you are living in the Spirit now, and he is working in your life and is transforming you day by day into the image of Christ.  You are no longer in slavery to the sinful nature like the people he talked about in verses 5-8.

He then says in verse 10,

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Paul is saying here we’re all doomed to die physically because of our sin.  But because Christ is in us, our spirit is alive because of his righteousness imparted to us.  It’s important to remember, though, that God not only proclaims us “Not Guilty,” but through the Holy Spirit, he is making us righteous in fact.

Paul goes on to say in verse 11,

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

I think there’s two points of hope here.  First, through his Spirit, though our body dies, we will be raised again in new bodies that will never die.  But also, in our mortal bodies that we’re living in now, he gives us life.  He transforms us day by day to become more like Christ, and because of this, we find the kind of life God intended us to have when he created Adam and Eve in the Garden.

So what does this mean for us practically?  Paul tells us in verses 12-14,

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

In short, we have no obligation to something that’s dead.  We don’t need to set a shrine up to our sinful nature in our lives and work to “keep its memory alive” in us.  The destiny it had been leading us to before it died was our death.  Why remember and celebrate that?
But now, if by the Spirit’s power and leading we put to death the residual effects of sin in our minds and bodies, we find life.  And according to Paul, that’s what all sons (and daughters) of God do.

How are you living? Are you living as though you have some obligation to your old sinful nature?  Or are you living as a child of God, led by his Spirit day by day?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 8:1-16 — Not one sentence of condemnation

One of my favorite films is A Few Good Men.  imagesAnd one of the most striking scenes to me is the one where sentence is handed down to the defendants.  Just prior to this, a colonel had just incriminated himself as the one who had given an order to two marines who, because of the order, had unintentionally caused another marine’s death.

Now the two marines stood before the judge who read the jury’s verdict concerning their actions.

On the charge of murder, the members find the defendants, “Not guilty.”

On the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, the members find the defendants, “Not guilty.”

At this point everyone is expecting the defendants to be cleared of all charges.

But then the judge said,

On the charge of conduct unbecoming a United States Marine, the members find the defendants, “Guilty as charged.”

And their sentence was handed down.

But unlike these marines, Paul says of us,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (1)

I like how John Gill translates it.  “There is not one condemnation” or “There is not one sentence of condemnation” toward us.

It’s not that God looks down the list of our sins, and says, “Not guilty,” “Not guilty,” “Not guilty,”….”Guilty as charged.”  Rather he looks at us, and says “Not guilty…on all charges.”

Why?

Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  (2)

What is the law of sin and death?  It’s the simple principal that if you sin, you will die.  If you break the commands of God, you will be judged for it.  And because of all of us have sinned, all of us stand condemned.

But the law of the Spirit of life sets us free from the law of sin and death.  What is the law of the Spirit?  It’s that through God’s grace, we are made righteous before God.  That through his Spirit living in us, we now have a new life.

Paul explains further.

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.  (3-4)

What was the law powerless to do?  It was powerless to make us righteous in God’s eyes.  Why?  Because all it could do was show us what righteousness is.  It did not have the power to make us righteous, because all of us had a nature that rebelled against God.

So what did God do?  He sent his Son to deal with our sin.  Jesus led a perfect life, and when he went to the cross, God put all our sins upon him.  And he put all of the condemnation we deserved on Jesus.  The law said sin must be punished.  And all the sins we committed were punished when Jesus died on the cross.  So in that sense, the righteous requirements of the law were met in us.

But it doesn’t stop there.  God sent his Spirit into our hearts when we became Christians.  And like I said before, through his leading, we actually start to become righteous.  Though our bodies and minds still feel the residual effects our sinful nature left on us before it died, the Holy Spirit helps us fight through through them so that we can live the kind of life God originally intended us to live.

And during those times when we feel condemned, and unworthy of God’s love and grace, the Spirit whispers to our souls, “But you are God’s children.  You do belong to him now.  There is no condemnation.”

How about you?  Do you feel like God’s just stringing you along, making you feel like you’re okay just to lay down the hammer at the last minute?  He’s not.  If you belong to him, not one charge will be laid against you.

So Paul says,

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “‘Abba,’ Father.”  (15)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 7:14-25 — Hope

As I mentioned before in my last blog, I do believe there is room for hope in our fight against sin.

The main problem Christians fight in their struggle against sin is despair.  And the question that most people ask is, “Am I really a Christian?  How can a Christian possibly do the things that I do?  I want to do what’s right, and I keep failing time and again.”

But here is something important that Paul brings up.

For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good…For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does.  (15-16, 19-20).

What is the key thing to notice here?  One word:  struggle.

The non-Christian, at least one not yet touched by the grace of God, does not struggle against sin.  They don’t even notice there is a problem.  A Christian does.

Now if a Christian were making a practice of sin despite knowing what God has said (and this is a key point because young Christians don’t always know), and telling me, “What do you mean I’m doing something wrong?  I’m not doing anything wrong,” that would be a warning sign to me that something is wrong.  Either they are not really a Christian, or they have so hardened their hearts to God that they can’t hear him anymore.

But a Christian that is struggling is a Christian that I have confidence God is working in.  And if God is working in you, he will complete his work.

Paul put it this way,

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 1:4,6)

Rest assured, if God is bringing into your life conviction of sin, he will not leave you there in the pig sty.  He will bring you victory.  That’s the hope that we have.

That’s why one minute Paul could cry out,

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  (24)

And the next minute cry out even more loudly,

Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!

We cannot make ourselves better.  We cannot change ourselves.  But God can.  That’s the hope that we have.  How does he do it?  How do we change?  Through the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.  But that’s another blog.  Stay tuned.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 7:14-25 — Why we struggle with sin

Having given my prologue, let’s look at the text.  Like I said, I can see why some people say Paul is speaking as a Christian and others say that he isn’t.  Let’s start with the latter.

If you look at verse 14, it says,

I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

And again, in verse 25, he says,

In the sinful nature [I’m] a slave to the law of sin.

The question is very obvious.  Weren’t we redeemed from sin?  Weren’t we set free?  How then, can Paul as a Christian say that he is sold as a slave to sin.

Again in verse 18,

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

Yet isn’t the point of living by the Spirit that we can carry out our desire to do good?

All good points and must be answered.  However, I think other verses are even more problematic if you hold that Paul is speaking as a non-Christian.

The most problematic verse is in verse 17 where he says,

As it is, it is no longer I myself who [sins], but it is sin living in me.

And again in verse 20 where he repeats himself saying,

Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who [sin], but it is sin living in me that does it.

How can the unbeliever possibly claim that “It is no longer I myself who is sinning?” when he is still in rebellion against God, which is the ultimate sin?

There can be no separation between yourself and your sinful nature when you’re an unbeliever.  You are your sinful nature.  You are so intertwined, that you can’t tell where one ends and the other starts.  Further, because you are married to your sinful nature, the only fruit you can possibly bear is sin leading to death.  How then can you, as an unbeliever, say “It’s not really me?”

The believer, on the other hand, can say all these things.  And I believe it is what Paul is saying as a believer.

To review, our sinful nature is dead in that the part of us that was rebellious to God has been crucified.  Our old husband is dead.  He no longer can actively influence us.

But though that part of us is dead, we are still bonded to a heart, body, and mind that has been influenced by sin from the time we were born.  The scars left by it, namely all the behavioral patterns of sin, and all the emotional ties to it, all still remain and they affect the way we live.  The old man is dead, but his influence in our hearts, bodies, and minds is still very much alive.  And as long as we are tied to our physical bodies, we are very much  still slaves to sin as long as those scars remain.

Now these other passages make sense.  It’s not me anymore that desires sin.  That part of me that was in rebellion to God died.  Now I want to do what is right.  I want to please God.  But there are still those residual scars of sin in me.  There are still those behavioral patterns and emotional ties to sin within me.  The old man is dead, but even dead, he influences me.  And right here, right now, influenced by the old man as I am, I find it impossible to carry out the good that I wish to.  I want to forgive, but I can’t.  I want to be patient with my kids, but I can’t.

So what am I saying?  That there is no hope for the here and now?  That there’s only despair for me in my fight against sin as long as I live?  Not at all, and we’ll see that in tomorrow’s blog.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 7:14-25 — Is our sinful nature really dead?

There have been many questions I have struggled with as I’ve been going through the past several chapters.  One is the question I’ve put as the title of this post.  “Is our sinful nature really dead?”

However you answer that question colors your whole view of Romans 7, particularly verses 14-25.  Is Paul talking there about himself as a non-Christian, coming into contact with the law, and facing the reality that he can’t keep it?  Or is Paul talking about himself as a Christian who struggles with sin even after he is saved?

So before I actually look at the text, I’d like to address this question of the relationship between our sinful nature and ourselves.

It’s admittedly a hard question.  I can see both points of view, and like I said, I’m still struggling with it.  Come ten years from now, I may see things differently.  But here’s my take on it for now.

As I mentioned before, the “sinful nature” is the part of us, a deeply-ingrained attitude, that was in utter rebellion against God.  From the time we were born, this attitude was there, and it started to permeate every aspect of our being.  Our body, our thoughts, and our actions.  And it so permeated these things, that it became “us.”  In other words, the sinful nature came to define who we were.  So to me, the “sinful nature” or the “flesh” is really two things.  It is the cause, and it is the result.  To go back to our “bad infection” illustration, it’s very much like how a “zombie virus” ultimately defines the person it infects.

What happened at salvation?  That part that lived in utter rebellion against God was taken away.  It was crucified and it died.  Now we are married and joined to Christ instead.  But the problem is, we still see the residual effects of what has already died in our lives.

Let’s put it this way.  A husband abuses his wife, and scars her physically and emotionally.  The husband then dies.  He no longer has an active effect on his wife.  But the influence he wielded on his wife while he was alive is still very much active in her.  The physical scars still remain as do the emotional ones.

And in many ways, the husband has defined who the wife has become.  In her future relationship with men, her former husband’s influence often leads her into behavior that is harmful to her.  She may date men that are abusive as her husband was, for example.  Or even if she finds a good husband, she may find that she is unable to sexually respond to him because of the abuse she had received from her former husband.  Only through time and the touch of a healer can she be freed from those effects that now define her.

The same is true with us and our sinful nature.  Our sinful nature was distrustful of God and lived in rebellion against him.  And it trained our mind, soul, and body to live that way.  It came to define who we were as people.  But when the sinful nature died, though that part of us no longer has an active effect on our lives, its residual effects remained.  And as long as we live, we’ll be battling those residual effects.

So in the sense that the rebellious part of us that we were born with is dead, we can say our sinful nature is dead and crucified.  But in the sense that our mind, soul, and body is still feeling the residual effects of that which is now dead, we can say the sinful nature is still very much alive.

The good news?  The sinful nature, the part that was in utter rebellion against God, is in fact dead, and can no longer actively affect us.  More importantly, the doctor is in.  And that’s what we’ll see in the next few blogs.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Leave a comment

Romans 7:7-13 — Just how bad is sin?

Paul says in verse 5, that while we were married to the sinful nature, the law aroused sinful passions within us.

The natural question then becomes, “Is then the law bad?  Is it in fact equal to sin?  After all, it’s causing me to have all these sinful desires right?  It’s making me sin, right?”

But Paul answers,

Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”  (7)

In other words, “The law is a good thing.  It’s not sin.  Rather it simply makes sure we understand what sin is so that we can avoid what would destroy us.”

What then is the problem?

But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.  (8)

Put another way, sin saw the law, and said, “Oh yeah?  God doesn’t like this, does he?”  And it immediately extends an invitation to our sinful nature which is more than happy to oblige, because our sinful nature itself is in rebellion against God.

Paul then says,

For apart from law, sin is dead.  (8b)

Here we see an important truth:  you can’t break a law that doesn’t exist.  You may be doing something God says is wrong, but because there is no law, he can’t hold us accountable for it.  The only thing God really held people accountable for before the law came was choosing to turn their backs on him and going their own way, which of course, is the true root of all sin.

But then God laid out the laws through Moses.  And they were meant to show people the way to true life.  To show them what God was like, and how God had designed them to be.

When God gave the law, though, what happened?  Did people happily say, “Oh, this is the way to life?  Great!  Let’s follow it!”

No.  Rather,

When the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  (9-10)

Why?

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.  (11)

As we said before, when the commandment came, sin in the sense of breaking a commandment became possible.  “Sin” sprung to life and deceived me into thinking breaking the commandment was a good thing, thus bringing me under the law’s judgment.

All of this, of course, is figurative.  There is no actual person named “Sin” out there.  Nor do I think “Sin” is a reference to Satan, although he can tempt us to sin.  The main point is that the opportunity to break the law came when God gave it, and because our sinful nature is in rebellion to God, we did.  The result?  Death.

Paul concludes,

So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.  (12)

In short, “The law isn’t the problem.  The law is good.  The problem is you.  You brought death upon yourself by breaking the law.”

He then asks,

Did that which is good, then, become death to me?  (13)

Here he pictures the person who says, “Great!  The law is good.  But it means my death.  How is that good?”

But Paul answers,

By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.  (13)

What is Paul saying here?  He’s saying, “Now you’re realizing what makes sin so bad.  It takes something that is good and twists it so that evil results.  The law shows the way to life, but sin used it to bring death to people.”

When you look at all sin, this is true.  It takes something good and twists it.  Even something like sadism is twisted good.  Sadism is pleasure derived from another’s pain.  But pleasure itself is a good thing.  What’s bad is how you derive that pleasure.

And so one of the main purposes of the law is to help us realize just how bad sin really is.

One of the main problems with sin is people don’t realize just how bad it is.  And until they do, they will never see their need for a Savior.  That’s why we need the law.

How about you?  Do you truly understand just how bad sin is?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 7:1-6 — Married to Christ

One of the problems of interpreting Romans 7:1-6 is trying to determine who’s the husband in Paul’s illustration and who’s the wife.  I think it’s pretty clear from the illustration that we are the wife.  The question is, “Who were we married to?”

I mentioned earlier that it can’t be the law, because we never see any passage referring to the law dying.

I’ve never heard this analogy made, so I could be wrong, but I think our sinful nature was the husband we were married to.

What do I mean by our “sinful nature?”

It’s a part of us that is in total rebellion against God and insistent on going its own way.  And from the time we were born, we were married to it.  Put another way, we were joined to it, heart, soul, and mind.  And the fruit of this joining, the “children we bear” so to speak, is sin leading to death (5).

More, as long as we were married to our sinful nature, it was impossible to be married to Christ.

Here, the analogy breaks down a bit, but bear with me.  When we divorce our first spouse and marry someone else, we are considered adulterous to our first spouse.  The opposite is true in our relationship to our sinful nature and Christ.  Though our sin nature was “our original spouse,” nevertheless, we are considered adulterous to Christ if we try to marry him while continuing to being married to our sinful nature.

But when God saves us, we die to sin in that God cuts off the chains that held us in slavery to it.  It no longer has power to control us.  More, he crucifies the sinful nature that put us into bondage to sin in the first place and it too dies.

What happens, though, when the sinful nature we were married to dies?  Two things.

First, the law no longer has authority over us, just as when a husband dies, the law of marriage no longer has authority over a woman.  She died to the law of marriage when her husband died, and we died to the law of Moses and all its requirements when our sinful nature was crucified with Christ on the cross.

Second, with our sinful nature dead, we now are free to marry Christ, free from any adulterous relationship with that sinful nature.

And as I said yesterday, through this joining with Christ, we no longer give birth to sin that leads to death.  Rather, we give birth to the fruit of righteousness that leads to life.

It is ultimately the reason that only through Christ we can be saved.  As long as we are married to a nature that is rebellious towards God, we can  never bear fruit towards eternal life.  The “seed” it plants within us causes us to give birth to sin.  But when we are joined with Christ, through his seed planted in us, we give birth to true righteousness in our lives, and the result is eternal life.

Who are you married to?

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 7:1-6 — The jurisdiction of grace

I must admit (for the second day in a row), I had a blog all written out to post, but as I looked at this passage again, I started to wrestle with it all over again about what it meant.  As a result, there will be some disconnect with what I wrote yesterday.

In verse 1, Paul writes,

Do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to men who know the law–that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?

Looking at it now, I think the best way to see this passage is to look at it this way:  “The law has authority over a man (or woman) as long as they live under its jurisdiction.”

I know it’s dangerous to “add words” to the Word of God, and I don’t do it lightly.  And I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.  But bear with me for a bit, and see if you don’t agree.

Why do I add “under its jurisdiction?”  Because it makes the most sense of the illustration of marriage he uses.

Most certainly, the law of marriage loses its authority over a couple when the husband dies.  But practically speaking, who does this loss of authority affect?  The person who is literally dead, that is, the husband?  No.  It affects the wife who is still living.  Prior to her husband’s death, she was under the jurisdiction of the law of marriage, and she was bound by that law to her husband.  And that’s Paul’s whole point in verses 2 and 3.

But when her husband dies, she no longer lives under the jurisdiction of the law of marriage.  She is a non-entity to the law because it no longer applies to her.  In effect, she is “dead” to that law now, and is now free to marry another person.

How does this apply to us?

Before we came to Christ, we were under the jurisdiction of God’s law.  What did that law say?  It said, “You must do everything God has commanded or you will die.”

But there was a problem.  None of us could keep the commandments perfectly, and so all of us were condemned to die.

So God sent his Son into the world, and Christ did what none of us could do.  He kept the law perfectly.  He did everything the law required.  Then having kept the law perfectly, he paid the price for all our violations of the law.  He paid it in full by dying on the cross and taking the punishment we deserved.

Now God accepts us not because we keep the law, but because we put our faith in Christ and his work on the cross.   That’s the jurisdiction of grace in which we stand.

But because we stand in the jurisdiction of grace, we no longer stand in the jurisdiction of law.  We are a non-entity to the law.  In effect, we died to it (and I now think that’s what it primarily means in verse 6).

So we no longer live our lives trying to keep its commandments.  Rather, now we are married to Christ, led by his Spirit day by day.  The result of this joining to Christ?  We give birth to the fruits of righteousness leading to eternal life, something we could not do under the law.

How about you?  Are you living under this jurisdiction of grace?  Or are you still trying to live under the jurisdiction of law?

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 7:1-6 — Dead to sin? Dead to the law? Dead to both?

I must admit that I’ve wrestled with this passage more than almost any other I have come across.  The reason?  The illustrations and the words that Paul uses are almost impossible at first glance (and second, and third, and fourth) to reconcile.

The first part he says is pretty clear.  He says,

Do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to men who know the law–that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?  (1)

That’s common sense.  I have to pay taxes as long as I live under Japan law.  But the day I die, it no longer has authority over me.  Now, the Japan government will still want my money, but they can’t walk up to my dead body and say, “Pay up!”  They’ll have to bother my wife.  The law has authority over her at that point, not me.

And so Paul says later,

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.  (6)

What does it mean, “by dying to what once bound us?”  Is this in reference to the law?  Or our dying to sin?  I kind of guess both.  In chapter 6 verse 2, Paul specifically tells us, “We died to sin.”

What does that mean?

When the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, the Egyptians had no power to control the Israelites any more, separated as they were by the Red Sea.  The Israelites were effectively dead to the Egyptians and their old lives as slaves were over.  In a sense, their old selves that had been slaves were left in that sea and they came out entirely new people, free to serve God and walk in relationship with him.

In the same way, when we become Christians, and pass through the water of baptism into Christ (I mean this spiritually, although we act it out in the physical rite of baptism), sin lost its power to control us.  We are effectively dead to sin, and our lives as its slaves is over.  Our old selves are left in that water of baptism, and we come out totally new people, free to serve God and walk in relationship with him.

But when that happens, the law no longer serves any use to us.  It was our “tutor,” as Galatians puts it, that was meant to lead us to faith in Christ.  (Galatians 3:24)  But when we came to believe in Christ, its work was done and so we “died” to it as well.  So we no longer live our lives focusing on keeping God’s law.  Rather we walk each day, focused on on our relationship with God, and letting him lead us each day through the Holy Spirit.  More on that when we hit Romans 8.

At any rate, I think this dual idea of us dying to sin and our dying to the law as a result is where a lot of this confusion in Romans chapter 7 comes from.  Because Paul talks about dying to the law and people naturally connect that to verses 2-3.  But that totally messes up the picture when you try to see it that way.  Here were my thoughts (literally) as I sorted through this.

“So, we died to the law.  That means we are the husband and the law is the wife, right?  No, that can’t be right.  Because Paul says with the husband gone, the wife is free to marry Christ.  The Law marries Christ?  No, Paul says we marry Christ.”

“So is the law the husband, and we are the wife?  No, because the law doesn’t die, we die.”

And so on and so forth.

In short, we have an inveritable mess.   So how do we interpret this?

More on this next time.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 6 — True freedom

Why do so many people flee from following God?  I suppose it comes from a desire to be free.  What does freedom mean to most people?  It means being able to live however they want to.  But if they follow God, they feel they can’t do that.  Instead, they have to follow a series of dos and don’ts that will put a crimp on their happiness.

I think that a lot of what Paul faced, these questions of “Shall we sin so that grace may abound even more,” and “Shall we sin because we no longer under law but under grace” came because of this kind of thinking.  These people simply wanted to live however they wanted to.

But is true freedom simply the freedom to live however you wish?  Or is there something more to it?

I think there is something more.

Let’s put it this way. One problem I face in Japan is whenever I’m dealing with Japanese electronic goods, the instructions are always in Japanese.  Now my Japanese level is okay on a speaking level, but reading and writing is another thing altogether.  I can do it to an extent, but whenever I do my Japanese blogs, I make sure my wife edits it to get rid of any embarrassing mistakes.

At any rate, I bought a  new Blu-Ray recorder recently, and was trying to connect it with my TV and our cable box, but because the instructions were in Japanese and I couldn’t understand them.  As a result, I was left trying to figure things out on my own, and was in utter frustration for hours.

At least, though, I had an excuse for not following the instructions.

So many other people who can read Japanese try installing their Blu-ray recorders, or computers, or other electronic goods, and just think, “Who needs the instructions?  I’ll just do what I think looks right.”  And they end up, like me, in total frustration.  Is that freedom?

In the same way, people look at their lives, and God tells them, “This is how I designed your life.  This is how it works best.  Just trust me, and you’ll find blessing.”

But people say, “Forget that, God.  I’ll do things how I think is best.  I’ll do things my way.”

In doing so, however, they destroy their relationships with their wives and children and the people around them, they make decisions that destroy their health or even their very lives, and ultimately, they end up in utter frustration.  The happiness they sought by doing things their way ends up utterly eluding them.  Is that freedom?

And that’s what Paul says in verses 20-21,

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of ? Those things result in death!

In other words, “Yes, you were ‘free’ from God.  But what did your ‘freedom’ get you?  It brought you shame?  It was destroying you.

But when we put ourselves in God’s hands, and we follow his leading, what happens?

The benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

Like I said yesterday, the idea here is that we become whole.  And eternal life doesn’t start with heaven.  It starts here on earth, living a life that is full and complete.  Why?  Because we are living as we were designed to live.  That’s true freedom.

The key to freedom?  Trusting God.  Trusting that he knows best.  Trusting that he loves you and actually wants your best.  And because of that trust we have in him, offering our lives to him every day.  As we do, that’s when we find true freedom.

How about you?  Have you found true freedom?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 6 — Going back to misery

I wonder when Paul wrote this if he thought back to the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.  He certainly makes the parallel in I Corinthians 10, when he compares the Israelites going through the Red Sea to baptism in Christ.

But in so many ways, the things that he talks about here reflects what happened to the Israelites at that time.  They were dying in Egypt.  They were living miserable lives as slaves, and it says in Exodus 2:23,

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.

So as we know, God delivered them.  But as they were going through the desert and went through many trials, they started complaining and saying,

If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.  (Exodus 16:3)

Then later, just as they were about to enter the land God promised to give them, their faith faltered, and they said,  “Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?  We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”  (Number 14:3-4)

Here, Paul faces a similar situation.  He had just written that where sin abounded, grace abounded even more.  So he posed the question, which undoubtedly had been brought up to him before,

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  (1)

To that he gave a resounding, “No!”

Later after talking about how we are under grace, not law, he again asks,

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  (15)

Again, his answer is crystal clear:  No!

Why not?  He tells us,

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

In other words, we died to that old way of life of living in sin.  We died to that kind of life so that we might live a new life, a better life.  A life in relationship with God.  (Romans 6:10)

So how can we go back to our old way of life?

But so many Christians are like the Israelites.  The Israelites had passed through the Red Sea and “died” to their life of slavery.  They came out of the Red Sea new people.  Free to live a new life.  Free to live a life of victory.

But instead, they started thinking about “the good old days.”  They thought about the delicious food they ate there.  And they started to think, “Let’s offer ourselves back to the Egyptians to live as their slaves again,” all the while forgetting just how miserable their lives had been there.

That’s what’s so deceptive about sin.  It reminds you of its pleasures while causing you to forget the misery it brings.

And so Paul says,

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?  Those things result in death!  (20-21)

In other words, “Those of you who are saying, ‘Let’s go back to sin and give ourselves as slaves to it once again,’ don’t you remember just how miserable that life was?  That not only did it cause you shame, it was killing you?  Do you really want to go back to that?”

So he says,

Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.  (13)

Why?

The benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  (22)

When we offer ourselves to God, our lives become holy.  Put another way, we become all that God meant us to be.  We become whole as people.  And the result is life.  True life.

And the best part is that it’s all free.  If only we could see the true worth of this gift of life God has given us instead of selling ourselves back to that which leads only to death.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (23)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 5:20-21 — A grace that reigns

These two verses show two things:  The weakness of the law, and the power of grace.  It says in verse 20,

The law was added so that the trespass might increase.

That sounds a little weird.  God gave us the law so that people might sin more?  But if we look back at verse 13, we see what Paul means.

For before the law was given, sin was in the world.  But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 

So even before the law, people were doing sinful acts.  But people cannot be held accountable for what they don’t know is wrong.  What they were held responsible for was for rejecting God and for breaking their own consciences and laws whenever they matched with God’s standards.  (Romans 2:14-15)

But those consciences and standards were imperfect.  They were dirty mirrors so to speak.  So God gave the law so that people might see the true standard of right and wrong.  And as people became aware of it, sin increased because now they were deliberately crossing the lines God had set.  That’s the weakness of the law.  It can’t make us good.  Rather, it simply makes us more responsible for the sin we commit.  More, our sinful nature sees those laws and because it’s in rebellion against God, it leads us to cross those lines even more.

The result?  Death.

The good news?

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (20b-21)

One might think God was cruel in giving us the law.  That he purposely did so in order to pour out his wrath upon us even more.  But Paul shows us that this isn’t the case at all.  Because no matter how much sin might increase, grace increases all the more to those who will receive it.  No one can ever sin so much that God’s grace cannot cover it.

More, no one can be so bad, that his grace cannot change them.  Paul tells us here that his grace will reign through righteousness.  This doesn’t merely mean that we are made righteous in legal terms before God, that is, we are declared “not guilty” before him.  But as we mentioned last time, through God’s grace we receive a new nature, and through that new nature, we start to do the things that are right.  We actually become righteous in the things that we think, say, and do.  And the end result of the work that God does in us through his grace is eternal life.

That’s what’s so amazing about grace.  No matter how bad you are or have been, his grace has the power to change you.  All you have to do is receive it.

How about you?  Do you know the grace of God in your life?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 5:15-21 — Good infection (aka, the Walking Living)

I’d love to take the credit for the phrase “good infection,” but I must give credit to C.S. Lewis.  I can’t even remember how he used it, but I did read Mere Christianity, and somehow, that term must have floated back up to my head as I was writing yesterday’s blog.

Yesterday, we talked about “bad infection.”  That through Adam, we all have been infected with sin.  We’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

Fortunately, there is also a “good infection” that comes through Jesus Christ.  Paul writes,

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.  (15-19)

In other words, so many died have died because of the bad infection of sin they received from Adam.  But through the good infection of grace and righteousness we have received from Jesus, we receive life.

And just as we were condemned through this bad infection we received from Adam, we have now been justified through the good infection we received from Jesus.

More, through this good infection, we become something totally different.  And thankfully, we don’t become zombies.   Rather, we become someone with a totally new nature, a righteous nature.  And we become righteous not because we do righteous acts.  Rather we start to do righteous things because we actually are already made righteous in Christ

We’ll see this later in II Corinthians 5:17 where Paul writes,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Maybe I should have named this post, “The Walking Living.” Because that’s what we become in Christ.  People who are truly alive.

(In fact, I think I’ll rename this post right now.  Hold on a bit…Great!  Done!)  :)

So let us pass on this “good infection” we have received in Christ, that they might become the “Walking Living” too.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 5:12-14 — Bad infection

This is admittedly a tough passage to completely fathom, though I get the general gist.  The most difficult part, I suppose, is our relationship to sin.  The big questions we need to ask is, “Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners?  Are we condemned to death because we do acts of sin, or are we condemned to death because of the sin that is in us by nature?”

From what Paul says, it seems to be the latter for both questions.  He says in verse 12,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.

Part of this is clear cut.  According to Paul, sin entered the world through Adam when he sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).  And through his sin, death came into the world.  He died.  Eve died.  And everyone that followed after him died.  The ratio of death to humans is still one to one.

The latter part is not so clear.  It says death came to all because all sinned.  On the face of it, it seems that this is saying that people die because of the sins that they have committed.  I think this is in part true, but not fully true.  We who have lived for some time will be held accountable for any sin that we have committed, and by right, we should be punished for it.  We should die.

But what about the child, for example, who dies in infancy, or for that matter is stillborn.  Which of God’s laws have they broken?  They don’t even have consciences or any concept of good or evil.  Did they die because of their sin?  Paul addresses this somewhat in verse 2.

For before the law was given, sin was in the world.  But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.  (13-14)

Paul’s saying here that between the time of Adam and Moses, there were no laws sent from God telling people what was good and evil.  There was not even a command, as God had given to Adam.  As a result, sin, in terms of committing a sinful act, was not taken into account by God.  Yet people still died during that time.  Why?

Because Adam’s sin is in us all.  What was Adam’s sin?  An attitude of rebellion toward God.  An attitude of “my way.”  And this attitude is ingrained in each person from the time that they are born.  It is the inborn trait of every human.

So in verse 12, when it says “death came to all because all have sinned,” it’s referring to the fact that because Adam sinned, we all became sinners.  Not because we have committed a sinful act, but because through the nature we have received from Adam (and we are all his offspring), we have all been born sinners.  It is as if his sin has infected us all, as a virus infects a body.

How can this be?  I really don’t know.  Nevertheless, history tells us this is true.  There is not one person in the history of the world who you can say was utterly good except for Jesus.  Everyone else has sinned.  They didn’t become sinners because they sinned.  They sinned because they are sinners.  That’s what sinners by nature do.  And because we’re all sinners, we are condemned to death.

Well, that’s pretty depressing.  I hate to stop here, but this is getting long.  But needless to say, there is good news, and we’ll see it in tomorrow’s blog.

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 5:1-11 — But isn’t God punishing me?

I talked about verses 6-8 in yesterday’s blog, but I think it would be good to place them back in their context, so that we can get the full picture of all that Paul is saying.

Paul was talking about how we can rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that sufferings produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

But for many Christians, they don’t rejoice in their sufferings; they become bitter.  They don’t persevere; they give up.  They don’t find hope; they despair.

Why?

Because they start to get the feeling that the reason they’re suffering is because God is punishing them.  That because they messed up, God’s really angry and so he’s taking it out on them.

What’s even worse, though, is if they feel this way and they’re not even sure what they did wrong.   Or they feel like God is punishing them unjustly.

But what is Paul saying here?

He’s telling them, “Get out of your heads the idea that God is punishing you.”

“Think about it,” he says.  “Before you became a Christian, at a time when you had turned your back on God, and were utterly lost in your sin, Christ died for you.  He didn’t wait for you to turn back to him.  He didn’t wait for you to clean yourself up.  Before you ever reached out to him, he reached out to you.

“Very rarely, will anyone will die for the ‘morally correct person,’ though some may die for the ‘good guy.’ But you were neither and yet God showed his love for you.  He gave up everything for you.

“With that in mind, how can you possibly think that God has it out for you?”

Paul puts it this way,

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  (9-10)

In other words, he’s already justified us.  How can you then think he’s now pouring his wrath on you?  We’ve been saved from that.  And if God reached out to us when we were his enemies, won’t he reach out to us in our trials when we are his friends?

It is for these reasons that we can rejoice in our sufferings.  God isn’t punishing us.  Nor is he turning a blind eye to our circumstances.  Rather, in the same way he saved us from our sins, he will deliver us from our trials.  And so Paul can say,

Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Are you going through hardships?  Are you wondering if God is punishing you?  He’s not.  If you have put your trust in him, he will bring you through the fire you’re passing through, and it will not consume you.  Rather, it will purify you and make you stronger.  So hang in there.  Don’t lose hope.  Keep putting your trust in God, and as Paul says,

Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  (5)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Romans 5:6-8 — What grace is all about

I have memorized many Bible verses in my lifetime.  But one of the first passages I memorized was this one, and though I haven’t really tried to recite it in some time, I’m pretty sure I can still get it word for word (although maybe not the punctuation).

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

A few punctuation mistakes, and a missed capitalization, but other than  that, pretty good if I do so say so myself.  :)

So many things struck me about that passage way back when and still do now.

It wasn’t as though God did for us something that we could do ourselves.  We could not save ourselves.  We were drowning in our sin, with no escape, no life preserver, no boat in sight.  We were powerless.  In spite of all that, we weren’t even searching for help, no less searching for God.  Yet though our backs were set firmly against him, God sent Jesus to die for our sins that reconciliation between us might be made possible.

Very rarely will a person die for a “morally correct person,” such as a Pharisee.  One who keeps the rules and looks down on anyone who doesn’t.  Some people, though, might die for a “good guy.”  A person that is kind and caring.

But we were neither “morally correct” nor “good guys.”  We had rebelled against God, turning our backs on him, and living our own way.  And by doing things our own way, we hurt God, we hurt others, and we even hurt ourselves.  Yet God didn’t simply turn his back on us and say (literally), “To hell with you.”

Instead, he came down as a man and died in our place.

That’s what grace is all about.  That though we deserved nothing good from God, indeed, though all we deserved was punishment, nevertheless, he loved us and reached out in love to save us.

And it’s the grace that God grants to us who believe in him.  We who are guilty.  We who are unworthy of his love.  We who have been utterly stained by sin.  We who were wretches before him.  It truly is, as the song says, amazing grace.

Amazing grace,
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost,
But now I’m found.
Was blind but now I see.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 5:3-5 — Coming through the fire

Every once in a while, something in the Bible will puzzle me.  This passage certainly qualifies.  Paul writes,

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  (3-5)

This is a pretty famous passage, and I’ve read it a hundred times, but I’ve never thought of this until a few days ago.  I can see how suffering would produce perseverance, and perseverance, character.  But character, hope?  What’s the connection between the two?

So I looked up the Greek, and the word translated “character” has a much richer meaning than what we see in the English.  The idea is of someone who has come out of a time of testing.  They have come out of the fire so to speak, and have come out tested and approved.  Their faith is no longer simply a matter of head knowledge; it has become real in their lives.  They’ve experienced the faithfulness and love of God in their lives, and it has made their faith all the stronger for it.  They themselves are made stronger for it.  They now have a character that can stand through even the toughest tests and because of that, no matter what comes, there is hope.

And as Paul says, it’s a hope that never disappoints.  Why?  Because our hope is not based solely on who we are and the character we have developed.  Rather, it is based on the unshakable fact that God loves us and will always be with us through his Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

I think of Job in the Old Testament.  He certainly experienced all of this.  His whole life was taken from him, his family and possessions; even his own friends turned on him.  Yet he persevered.  And when he came out of the fire, he had an even deeper sense of the love and faithfulness of God in his life.  And because of that, he found hope.

How about you?  What trials are you going through?  Don’t let them chase you away from God.  Rather, let them cause you to draw even closer to him.  Because as you do, you will experience his love and faithfulness in your life, and you will find hope for your life.  And in the end, that hope will never, ever leave you disappointed.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Leave a comment

Romans 5:1-2 — The grace in which we stand

It would be so easy to just zoom past these passages, having read them so often.  But I can’t help but linger here, and think about all Paul is saying here.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Peace with God.  I think of my own household.  Sometimes my wife and I will have a disagreement, and the tension is utterly palpable.  But then we resolve things and there’s peace.  No uncomfortable silences.  No sudden need to “get some air.”  Instead, a relaxed smile.  Laughter.  Just enjoying each other’s company.

And because of Jesus, we can enjoy that same kind of relationship with God.  No stepping on eggshells.  No wondering what God is really thinking about me.  But relaxing in his presence knowing I’m accepted and loved.

Standing in grace.  I was standing in judgment.  The judge, gavel in hand, was about to pass sentence.  And then Jesus came, sweeping me out the door, and now I stand somewhere else.  In grace.  Grace in terms of forgiveness for every sin I’ve ever committed.  Grace in terms of being in the King’s favor.  That though I deserve nothing from him, he looks upon me with a smile, and delights in showering me with good gifts.

So whenever I fail, whenever I fear, whenever I’m in need, all I need to do is look at where I am at.  In grace.  Not in judgment.  In grace.  And because of that, there is joy.  There is hope.

All because of what Jesus did on the cross for me.  He gave me access into this grace I now stand.  And he gives access to all who put their trust in him.

Father, thank you for the grace in which I stand.  Thank you that Jesus opened up the door and gave me access to this grace through his death on the cross.  Help me to revel in your grace every moment of every day that I may know your joy, your peace, and your hope.  And may I pass on that grace to those around me that they may know and experience it too.  In Jesus name, amen.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 4:16-25 — Fully persuaded

It’s always cool to find something new in scripture, even after having read it all my life.

The verses that strikes me here are verses 16-17, and especially 17.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.  As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

The God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

When you think about it, that’s what our salvation is all about.  We were walking dead men before God saved us, condemned because of our sin.  But through Jesus’ death on the cross for us, we have now been given life.

It’s the second half of that that really strikes me, though.  It seems to point to creation first of all.  The ESV puts it this way,

[God] calls into existence the things that do not exist.

In other words, from the mind of God came all that exists today.

But we also see this concept of “calling things that are not as though they were,” in the story of Abraham.  God told him that he would be the father of many nations and that the whole world would be blessed through him.

The incredible thing about all these promises is that God made them when Abraham was 75 and Sarah 65.  Yet they all came to pass.  What was true in the mind of God concerning Abraham, eventually all became reality.

And Abraham never wavered in his belief that God could do what he promised.  He did have his doubts on how exactly it would happen, (thus the whole debacle with Hagar and Ishamel), but as to the actual promise of God, he never considered the possibility that God would lie.  Paul puts it this way,

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.  (19-22)

Paul then says,

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  (23-24)

As I was looking at this today, it seemed to me that all that Paul said points to the idea of justification.  It’s a tough concept to grasp.  How can God call people who are clearly not righteous, righteous in his sight?  How can God call people who clearly still sin, righteous?

The answer is found back in verse 17.  He “calls things that are not as though they were.”  That’s justification in a nutshell.  He calls us righteous as though we already were.  Why?  Because in his mind, we already are.  He sees us not just for what we are now, but what we will be.

Before God created the universe, in his mind’s eye, he already saw what it would be like, and with a word, it came to be.  When God made his promise to Abraham, in his mind’s eye, he saw that all he promised would come to pass, and by his power, it did.

And when God looks at us, he sees in his mind’s eye what we will be.  And by his power, we will be transformed into his likeness.  It’s a process that is happening day by day, and will come to its completion when we stand before him in heaven.  Because of this, God can look at us as we are and call us righteous.

So often, though, we like Abraham look at the reality of today.  That we are weak.  Sinful.  But like Abraham, let us believe without wavering what God has promised.  Let us be fully persuaded that he has the power to do what he has promised:  to change us and make us truly righteous someday.  Not just in God’s mind.  But in reality.  (II Corinthians 3:18; I John 3:2)

With that in mind, let us be strengthened in our faith, giving glory to him, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of what Jesus did.

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  (25)

 

 

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 4:4-5 — Salvation: gift or obligation? (Continued)

I wanted to touch on this a bit more because it’s a point that people often struggle with.  It’s a simple point, but even from the time of Jesus, you see this kind of thinking in the minds of people.

We saw in the gospels the story of a rich young man who came to Jesus and asked,

Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?  (Matthew 19:16)

Here you see implied in the man’s very question the idea that salvation is an obligation on God’s part.  That if we fulfill our side of the bargain and do A, B, and C, that God has to give us eternal life.

Jesus plays along with this idea by saying, “Well, do the commandments.”

The young man says, “I’ve kept the commandments.”

Jesus says, “Really?  Let’s put that to the test shall we?  Give all that you have to the poor, and then come and follow me.”

Now if this man loved God with all his heart, soul, and strength, and if he loved his neighbor as himself, the two key cornerstones of the law, he would have had no problem with this.  Indeed, if he had kept the first of the ten commandments, to put nothing in front of God, he could have done this.  But he couldn’t.  He loved his money too much.  More than God.  And more than his neighbor.

The very law that this man said justified him, instead condemned him.  The only thing God was “obligated” to do was condemn him.

The sad thing is, this young man learned only half of what Jesus was trying to teach him.  That no man can keep his end of the bargain, so he can’t possibly earn his own salvation.

Had only this young man looked up at Jesus at this point and said, “I can’t do it.  I can’t keep the commandments as I thought I could.  How then can I be saved?”  I believe Jesus would have smiled at this man and told him what he later told his disciples.  “With man this is impossible.  With God, all things are possible. ”

But instead, the young man walked sadly.

We see this again in a parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14.  One man in the story, a Pharisee, boasted before God about his own righteousness.  In short, he was saying, “You owe me, God.  You owe me salvation because I am so good.”  The other, a tax collector (one of the most despised of people in Jesus’ day for multiple reasons), instead cried out to God, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Jesus then told them, “Do you know who went home justified before God that day?  It wasn’t the Pharisee.  Despite all the Pharisee’s boasts, his “righteousness” fell far short of God’s standard.  He will be condemned.  That’s what he earned.  But the other, the tax collector, he went home justified before God.  Why?  Because of something he did?  No, he was forgiven purely by grace.  His salvation was a gift granted to him by God merely because he asked for God’s mercy.”

Finally, we see this in the cross and Christ’s interaction with the thief.  The thief had done nothing to earn salvation.  Quite the contrary, his actions “earned” him crucifixion.  But when he put his faith in Christ, Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Though he had done nothing to earn God’s salvation, he nevertheless received it as a gift.

All throughout the gospels we see this theme woven into the narrative.  What do we earn for our “works?”  Condemnation.  Salvation is a gift.  It always was, and it always will be.

 

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Leave a comment

Romans 4:4-16 — Salvation: gift or obligation?

In this passage, Paul takes on a very important issue.  Is salvation from our sins and eternal life with God a gift from Him, or an obligation on his part to give us what we deserve?

Paul is very clear here.  He says,

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  (4-5)

Paul couldn’t be clearer.  When a person works under contract, the boss doesn’t at the end of the month walk up to him and say, “Here’s your paycheck.  Aren’t I so generous?”  And if he tried, the employee would probably be spluttering with indignation.  “What do you mean you’re generous?  You’re giving me what we agreed to.  I did the work you required of me.  Now you have to pay me.”

But with God, that’s not the case at all.  We are not forgiven of our sins and given eternal life because we keep the law.  We are not made God’s children because we kept the laws God set up.

On the contrary,

Law brings wrath.  (15)

In other words, no matter how hard we try, we fail.  We can say, “Okay, I failed this time, but from now on I’ll keep the law perfectly,” but in the end, we’ll find that we can’t keep our end of the bargain.  No matter how hard we try, we keep breaking the law and incurring its wrath.

It’s what the Israelites learned throughout the Old Testament.  And finally God had to say (although this was his plan all along), “This Old Covenant based on law is not working because you can’t keep your end of it.  So I will make up a new Covenant, not based on what you do, but on what I alone do.”

We see this in Jeremiah 31:31-34,

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD.

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.   No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

In short, “I will no longer require you to change yourselves.  I myself will change you from the inside out so that you can do what is right.  You won’t need priests to mediate between you and me.  You yourself will have a relationship with me for I will completely forgive yours sins, and those sins will no longer be a barrier between you and me.”

On what basis would this new covenant be based?  Jesus told his disciples during his last supper with them before his death.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. ”  (Matthew 26:26-28, Luke 22:19-20)

So then, salvation from our sins and a relationship with God are based not on what we do.  Based on what we do, we deserve wrath.  Rather, salvation is a gift based on what Jesus did on the cross.

It was a gift that was first given to Abraham, long before the law was given.  And now it is given to both Jew and Gentile who come to God on the same basis as Abraham did.  By faith.

So Paul says in verse 16,

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

More on this next time.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 4 — Righteousness by faith: a new idea?

It would be easy to think that this idea of being made righteous by our faith is a new thing.  That it was an invention of Paul and the other apostles.  It was, in fact, a contention that Paul probably dealt with back in his day.  “What is this ‘righteousness by faith’ thing?  I’ve never read anything about this in scripture before!”

And so in this chapter, he shows what Jesus revealed to him and the other disciples after his resurrection.   (Luke 24:27, 44-47, Galatians 1:11-12).

We already have seen him quote the prophet Habakkuk in chapter 1, where he said,

The righteous will live by his faith.  (Habakkuk 2:4)

Now he writes what Moses said about Abraham in Genesis.  This was important to the Jews because they considered Abraham the father of their nation, and their example.  So Paul writes,

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  (1-3)

He then asks,

Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!  (10)

Conclusion?

So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  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.  (11-12)

He also points out what David wrote in Psalm 32.

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.  (Romans 4:7-8)

Why was David forgiven?  Because he did a lot of good things to make up for the bad things he had done?  No.  Because he had simply thrown himself upon the mercy of God and put his trust in him.  (Psalm 32:5, 10)

Paul writes much more on this in the chapter, and we’ll get to that in the following blogs.  But he concludes by writing,

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  (23-24)

That’s the good news for all of us:  not that we somehow make ourselves righteous before God.  Not that we somehow have to work to clean ourselves up before God and then he accepts us.  But that right here, right now, if we put our faith in him and the work that Jesus did for us on the cross, he accepts us.  It’s the truth that sets Christianity apart from all other religions.  It’s the truth that sets us free to have a relationship with God without fear.

How about you?  Do you have that kind of relationship with God?  Or do you live with that little doubt in your heart, “Does God accept me?”

May you truly come to know the grace of God in your life today and every day.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:31 — Completely throwing out the law?

I suppose the logical question to all that Paul is saying is, “If the law can’t make us acceptable before God, can’t we just toss it?  I mean, it’s worthless if it can’t do that, right?”

But Paul answers here,

Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.  (31)

What does he mean, “We uphold the law?”

Basically it means that we recognize that it has its proper role in our coming to salvation.  It was our “tutor” as Paul would later write in Galatians.  What did it teach us?  It taught us about God’s holiness.  More, it showed us our unholiness.

Paul writes in verse 20,

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  (20)

By being made conscious of our sin, we recognize our need for a Savior.  If we never see our sin, if we think we’re good enough to be accepted by God, none of us will ever think we need a Savior.  And we’ll never understand why Jesus had to die for us.

But while the law can show us our unrighteousness, it in itself cannot make us righteous.

Let’s put it this way:  A mirror can show a man the beard on his face, but it has no power to shave it off.  Only a razor can do that.  In the same way, the law is the mirror that shows us our sin, but it has no power to take it away.  God’s grace, however, is the razor by which our sins can be forgiven.  We are therefore, “shaved” by grace.  (Sorry, terrible joke).

But let’s take this a step further.  Just because a mirror can’t shave my face, does this mean I don’t need it?  Of course not.  I still need the mirror to see where I need to be shaved.

In the same way, the law shows me as a Christian where I’m still imperfect and need to be made whole.  And as I look at it, God by his Spirit starts to lead me, and say, “You know where it says here to love your wife?  Here’s what you can do to show love to her today.”

Or, “Do you see this area where it says to forgive?  Here’s a person that you haven’t forgiven.  I know it hurts when you think of this person.  But let me minister to that hurt.  Let me heal you so that you can forgive.”

So then, the law is no longer a matter of me trying to keep a bunch of rules by my own efforts.  Rather, it’s a way of opening my eyes to what God wants to do in my life.  And as I look at the mirror, I don’t look at it alone, I see the loving face of my Father looking at it with me, with his razor of grace in hand.  It can be a scary thing to see that razor in the hands of another, but if we have the faith to say, “Yes, God,” by his grace, he will shave off those areas of our lives that are hurting us and the people around us.  antique-shave-from-a-barber

How about you?  When you look into the mirror, do you see only yourself and your flaws?  Or do you see the loving face of your Father, working in you to heal you and make you whole?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:27-30 — No room for boasting

One of the big conclusions that Paul comes down to in this passage is found in verses 27-30.

Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded.  On what principle?  On that of observing the law?  No, but on that of faith.  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.  Is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles too?  Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

In short, when it comes to grace, there is no room for boasting.  God does not accept us because we keep the law perfectly.  Nor does he accept us because of our racial background, as the Jews thought.  He accepts us solely because we have put our faith in Christ’s work on the cross.

I think because people don’t understand this, two problems often creep up among Christians.

One is the Christian who says, “How can God accept me when I mess up so much?”

Their problem is that deep down, they still think they have to earn God’s acceptance, and because of that, they feel inadequate.  They feel undeserving of God’s love.   But that’s the whole point.  Grace is all about the undeserving receiving God’s love and acceptance.

Nobody can stand before God and say, “God, you’re so lucky to have me as your child.  Look at how good I am.  Look at all the things I can do for your kingdom.”

Instead, all of stand before God, spiritually poor and needy, with nothing in our hands to offer him.  As the old hymn puts it,

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace.

The other problem is the Christian who, because they think they’re good, look down on others who are “not so good.”  They become like the Pharisees, judging all those around them, without seeing their own failures and need for grace.  And instead of extending grace to those who need it, they instead bash them further down.

How about you?  Do you truly understand God’s grace in your life?  Or are you depressed because you think God can’t accept you?  Worse, are you judging others you consider lesser than you and withholding God’s grace from them?

Here’s a good test for you.  When you hear the words “amazing grace,” do they touch your soul?  Or are they just words to you?

May “Amazing Grace,” not just be a song, but words that penetrate your very soul.  For when they do, you will never be the same, in how you see yourself, and how you see others.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:25-28 — Forbearance and justice

Paul puts in some very interesting thoughts concerning those who lived and died before Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  He said,

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (25-27)

In this passage, Paul talks about God’s justice.  And he says that God showed justice by not punishing the sins committed before the cross.  What does he mean by this?  Does this mean that all that lived and died before the cross are saved?

No, it doesn’t mean this.  One thing that Paul makes clear through the scriptures is that all are saved by faith.  He says in verse 28,

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (28)

And as we will see in chapter 4, he goes all the way back to the time of Abraham to point out that even Abraham was saved by his faith.

So if a person did not have faith in God, they were not saved, but condemned.

However, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the rest of the Old Testament saints who did put their faith in God had a problem.  All the sacrifices they gave as an expression of their faith were not effective in taking away their sins.  All the sacrifices they gave were mere pictures of what Jesus would do hundreds of years after they died.  (We’ll talk about this more when I eventually get around to blogging Hebrews).  But it wasn’t fair to punish them just because Jesus had not come yet to die for their sins.

So instead, because they believed in this Messiah to come, God accepted their faith as righteousness, and put off the justice they deserved for their sin.  And when Jesus went to the cross, God put all of Abraham’s sins, Moses’ sin, David’s sins, and all the rest of the Old Testament saints’ sins upon Jesus.  And at that point, their sins were completely wiped out by the blood of Christ, and they could enter the presence of God in heaven.

God shows that same kind of forbearance and justice with us.  Though we all deserved death for our sins, and God could have immediately put us to death, he showed forbearance.  He worked in our lives, preparing our hearts for Jesus.  And then when we put our faith in him, God wiped out our sin just as he did with the Old Testament saints.

He did this, not with a forgiveness that says, “Oh, I know you did wrong, but I’m a nice God so I’ll just forgive you.”  He did it with a forgiveness that says, “What you did was horrible, and a price needed to be paid.  Justice needed to be served.  But Jesus paid that price, and in his death, justice was served.  Now because of your faith, you are forgiven.”

But this message is important for you if you are not a Christians as well.  Remember that God is a God of forbearance.  But he is also a God of justice.  He is patient.  He will wait for you to respond to him.  But he will not wait forever.  And if you don’t accept his grace, you will receive his justice.  So don’t wait.  Receive his grace while you can.  As Paul wrote in another passage,

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  (II Corinthians 6:2)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:21-30 — To be accepted by God

Our deepest need, whether felt or not, is to be accepted.  And not just by anyone.  But to be accepted by God.

When we are accepted by God, and we understand this in our souls, our life changes.  We find contentment, joy, and peace.  We find life.

But how can we be accepted by God?  One thing Paul makes clear:  it won’t come from following the law.  In verse 23, he writes,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The word for sin in Greek is a very interesting one.  It’s an archery term that means “to miss the mark.”  But it’s not just a picture of missing the bulls-eye.  It’s a picture of completely missing the target.  In other words, we’re not even close to perfection.  We fall far short of God’s holiness.

Let’s put it this way.  Imagine you sin three times a day.  That’s not too bad right?  But multiply that by 365 days in a year.  Then multiply that by your age.  Suddenly, depending on your age, you’re talking about the tens of thousands.  God can literally read off a list against you that would take hours to complete.  And that’s if you’re relatively “good.”

Because of this, we all stand condemned.   None of us can stand before God and say, “I’m good enough to be accepted by you.  I’ve kept all your laws perfectly.”

The good news?  In verse 21, Paul tells us,

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

How do we get this righteousness?  Paul tells us in verses 22-25.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

What is Paul saying?  We have a lot of what I call Christianese here.  First he talks about redemption.  What is redemption?

Redemption is the buying of someone’s freedom out of slavery.  All of us were in slavery to sin and the kingdom of Satan.  But Jesus bought us out from all that.  That’s redemption.

How did he buy us?  Through his blood on the cross.  It says that God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement.  Atonement simply means a covering.  That through Christ’s death on the cross, he covers over our sin and forgives it, drawing us to himself.  Perhaps a better translation of atonement would be another 50-cent word, “propitiation.”  The idea is that God poured his wrath for our sins on Jesus, and now that wrath toward us is appeased.  However you translate it, the point is clear.  It is through Christ’s work on the cross we are accepted, not by our works.

And through his death we have now been justified.  That simply means that with our sins paid for, God no longer looks upon us as sinners.  You can look at it this way.  “God sees me just as if I’d never sinned.”

So now, we are accepted by grace.  Grace is simply the receiving of something that we don’t deserve.  We deserved wrath because we turned our backs on God.  But instead God accepts us as his sons and daughters.  All we have to do is have faith, that is put our trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

It starts with a prayer.

“Lord Jesus, I’ve lived my own way, trusting myself instead of you.  Because of this, I’ve hurt you, others, and myself.  Forgive me.  I believe you died on the cross for me, taking the punishment I deserved.  Thank you.  Help me to trust and follow you from now on.  In Jesus name, amen.”

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:9-18 — But aren’t we exaggerating a bit?

I don’t think I can go on in this passage without addressing at least one major objection, that being, “Isn’t Paul exaggerating a bit here?  I mean…no one seeks God?  I know many people that are seeking God.  And no one does good?  I know lots of people who do good things.”

Let’s take both questions one at a time.

What does Paul mean that no one seeks God?  We find the answer back in Romans 1, where Paul tells us that people rejected the knowledge God gave them concerning himself, whether it was the witness of creation, the witness of their consciences, or the witness of God’s written Word.

Instead, they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and while they said they were seeking God, they were following after things that were not gods at all (1:25).

In some cases, they followed idols.  In other cases, they corrupted scripture’s teaching of God and started following a different Jesus Christ, a different gospel, and a different Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 11:4).

“But I’m a Christian.  I don’t belong to a cult or another religion.  I started seeking after God and he saved me.”

That may be true.  But it’s only an incomplete picture of what really happened to you.  You see, long before you chose Jesus, he chose you.  (John 15:16)

Long before you started seeking him, he was seeking you.  (Luke 19:10)

The only reason you started seeking God was because he loved you first and started seeking you.  He took the blinders off so that you could see your need for him and start going after him.   But had God left you to your own devices, there is no way you would have ever started to go after him.  No one seeks God on their own.  They seek God because he touches their lives first.  And if you take a careful look at your life, you will come to realize just how he did that.

What then does Paul mean when he says there is no one who does good?  Let’s put it this way.  Imagine you make a cake, but instead of using sugar, you intentionally put in salt.  When it’s done, the cake looks good on the outside, but is it edible?  No.  The only thing you can do is throw it out.

That’s what our “good works” are like when we have turned our backs on God.  Doing “good works” when all the while, you’re salting them with an attitude of rebellion against God makes those deeds worthless in his eyes.  Your works may look good, but your attitude of rebellion against God makes it impossible for him to accept them.

The prophet Isaiah puts it this way,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)

In short, no one is saved because of the good things they do or because of some inner goodness within them that sets them apart from other people.  We can only be saved by God’s grace alone, and we’ll see that more as we go along.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:9-20 — But I’m not that bad

One thing that many people can’t seem to understand is how God could reject a person just because they don’t believe in Christ.

“After all, there are a lot of good people in this world who don’t believe in Jesus.  I can understand sending murderers and rapists to hell.  But what about people like Ghandi?  He was a pretty good guy.  You can’t tell me God would send him to hell just because he didn’t believe in Jesus.”

The problem with that way of thinking is that we have a warped view of what “good” is.  “Good” is what God is.  “Good” is not a thing we can define on our own.  “Good” is God in all his essence.  So in order to see what is truly good, we need to look at God.  And we need to look at how he says he created life to be lived.  That’s what the law was for.  It was to show us what God is like, and how he designed us to be.

So if we are going to measure our goodness, we can’t measure ourselves on a sliding scale of how good we are compared to other people.  Nor can we measure ourselves based on a standard that we have set up or even our own cultures have set up.  We need to measure our goodness by what God says is good.

And by that standard, no one measures up.  Paul puts it this way.

We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  (9-13)

What is Paul saying?  He’s saying that there is no one whom God considers righteous on their own merits.  Why not?  Because they don’t even understand what’s right.  And the reason they don’t understand what’s right is that they don’t seek God; rather they have turned their backs on him.

And that is the ultimate evil.  Not murder, not rape, nor anything else.  Rather, the ultimate evil is turning your back on God.  Why?  Because as I said, God is good.  And what is evil but turning your back on what’s the ultimate Good.  What happens when you turn your back on the source of all that’s good?  It starts to creep out in your words, and in your actions.

How often have you lied?  Or slandered someone?  Or cursed someone?  How often have bitter things come out of your mouth?  Do those kinds of things come out of a good heart?

How often have you messed up your life by your decisions?  How often have you hurt others because of your actions?

How often have you said, “I know this is what God has said, but I’m going to do things my way anyway?”

If you’re completely honest with yourself, you have to plead guilty on all charges.  And that’s what Paul tells us here.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  (19-20)

When Ghandi stands before God, there’s not a word he will be able to say when God judges him.  Because God will lay out all his sins before him, things that Ghandi knows were wrong.  And he will be without excuse.  Because even when he didn’t know the Bible, his own conscience smote him.  And when he came to a knowledge of the Bible, he became even more responsible, because it showed him his sin, just as a mirror shows us the dirt on our face.

And you’ll be in the same position if you face God, having rejected Christ.

So let’s not kid ourselves by trying to convince ourselves we’re not so bad.  All of us are sinners in need of grace.  It’s better to realize and admit that now than to do so when we stand before God on judgment day.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Romans 3:8 — It’s the result that counts, right?

Yesterday, we talked about ways of thinking that God condemns, and how some of the things people say today are similar to, but different from how they thought in Paul’s time.

One thing they said was,

Let us do evil that good may result.  (8)

In Paul’s day, this meant, “Let’s do evil, so that people will clearly see the difference between us and God, and thus glorify God.”

It was a very perverse way of thinking (not to mention strange), and Paul quickly condemned it.

But people today say the same kind of thing, though with a different meaning.  Namely, “The ends justify the means.”

In other words, “I know what I’m doing is wrong, but it’s for a good purpose.”

For example, “I know I shouldn’t move in with my boyfriend, but we can save money this way for when we get married.  Plus, we can find out if we’re truly compatible before we tie the knot.”

Or, “I know I shouldn’t twist the truth on my resume, but it’s the only way I can get a good job.”

Or, “I know I shouldn’t marry this guy because he doesn’t believe in Christ.  But maybe if I do marry him, he’ll become a Christian someday.”

But God condemns this way of thinking.  He wants us to follow his way, and that includes both the ends and the means.  When we try to take shortcuts, it often leads to disaster.

If you look at the whole Arab-Israeli conflict today, it came because Abraham thought the ends justified the means.  God had promised to give him a child and that through that child, the whole world would be blessed.  But when years passed, and no child came, Abraham decided to “help” God keep his promise.  He slept with his wife’s servant girl.  Now this was at this wife’s suggestion, and it was also in line with the social norms of the day for those whose wives were barren.

But it was not in line with God’s way.  And now the descendants of the servant (the Arabs) are at bitter odds with the descendants that came from God’s promise (the Jews).  How much trouble and strife might have been avoided had Abraham not gone with the idea that the ends justified the means?

How about you?  Are you living your life by faith, doing things God’s way and trusting that God will bless you for doing so?  Or are you instead making excuses for your behavior, saying that it’s for a good purpose?

In God’s eyes, the ends never justify the means.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:5-8 — A damned way of thinking

No, I am not swearing.  The things we see in this passage are literally ways of thinking that will lead to people’s damnation.

To be honest, I find it hard to believe that people in that time held these ways of thinking.  Some people were saying, “God is happy when I sin because when I do, it shows how good he is in contrast.  So why does God judge me when I’m simply doing what he wants?”  (5)

But Paul quickly debunks that idea by saying, “What are you talking about?  God doesn’t take pleasure in your sin, even if it does “show how good he is.”  If God thought that way, there’s no way he could judge the world.  (6)

On a similar vein, others were saying, “Well, if I do evil, good will result.  When I sin, everyone will see just how good God is in contrast to me and they’ll glorify him.  So I should just sin more.”

To that, Paul simply says flat out,

Their condemnation is deserved.  (8)

I doubt that people still hold these ways of thinking, but there are still other similar arguments people make today.  Today we’ll look at one, and tomorrow we’ll look at another.

God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us.  (5)

People nowadays use this in a different context than in Paul’s day.  They say things like, “How can God punish people who have never heard?”  But as we’ve seen in previous chapters, God has given people enough evidence to believe that he exists, even in lands where the gospel has never reached.  They have the evidence of creation and their own laws and consciences.  And yet they reject what they’ve been given.  These people will not be judged based on what they don’t know, but on what they do know.  So the judgment they receive will be entirely just.

Other people say, “How can God send people to hell?  That’s so unjust, making people suffer forever just for rejecting him.”

I’ll be honest.  I don’t like the teaching about hell.  I’d rather believe that all people will eventually go to heaven.  The problem is, that’s not what the Bible teaches.  That’s definitely not what Jesus taught either.

But I’ll make two points on this.  First, God is simply giving people what they want.  And what people who reject God want is to be as far away from God as possible.  They want to live their own way.  They want to do their own thing.  But what they eventually find out is that God is the source of love, joy, life, and everything that is good.  And so separation from God is separation from everything that is good.  What is that kind of existence?  Hell.

Second, God did everything he could, short of forcing people to believe in him, so that people didn’t have to go to hell.  He sent his Son to suffer and die for our sins.  Jesus did all the hard work.  All we have to do is put our faith in him and his work on the cross.  To say, “Father, I know I’ve messed up my life by going my own way.  Forgive me.  I believe that Jesus died on the cross for me and rose again.  I’m putting my trust in you from now on.  Now please work in me to change me and make me more like yourself each day.”

And when we make that choice, we find life.  It’s not that hard.  The only hard thing about it is not wanting to let go of our way.

I love how C.S. Lewis put it.  In the end, people either turn to God and say, “Your will be done,” or they turn away from him and he tells them, “Your will be done.”

Whose will is being done in your life?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 3:1-4 — God’s faithfulness

It would be easy for the Jew to conclude from what Paul said in chapter 2 that there was no value in being a Jew or being circumcised.

Yet Paul makes clear in verses 1 and 2 that there is indeed value in both.  He said,

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?  Much in every way!  First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.

In other words, one of the big advantages of being a Jew was that they got direct revelation from God as to who he is and what he’s like.  While all the other nations had to settle for the general revelation of God through creation, they had much more.

Of course, as mentioned before, this is a double-edged sword.  While this can be a great blessing, it can also be a curse, because the more you know, the more you’re held accountable.

And unfortunately, throughout Israel’s history, though they knew who God was and what he was like, they nevertheless walked away from him to follow after other “gods.”

It would be easy to conclude from that that God has turned his back on Israel.  Some Biblical commentators argue this, and say that we who are Christians are the new Israel.  To some degree, this is true.  As we’ll see later in Romans, we were grafted in with those who are called God’s people.

But to say that God has completely given up on the Jews is going too far, particularly considering what Paul says in verse 3 and 4.

What if some did not have faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar.  As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

In other words, though there were Jews that turned their backs on God, God has not turned his back on the Jewish nation.  Their lack of faith did not nullify God’s faithfulness to his people.  God is true to his promises, though many people are not.  Because of this, no one can ever accuse God of being anything but honest and fair in his judgments.

And also because of this, I do believe there will be a day when all Israel will eventually come to recognize Jesus as Messiah.

But I also believe that this passage is an encouragement for us non-Jews, because so often, we, like the Jews, are lacking in faith and in faithfulness.  We fail to trust that God desires our best and sometimes we even fail to trust that God knows what is best.  And because of this, we stray from him and his Word.  Yet God never gives up on us.  He keeps pursuing us and reaching out to us.

Sometimes that means discipline, but it’s a discipline in love that seeks our very best.  And we never have to worry that God will simply give up on us because we’ve failed so often.

As Paul said in another place,

If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  (II Timothy 2:13)

So when we fail and when we fall, let us never forget the faithfulness of God.  And let us always remember his promise to us.

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.  (Hebrews 13:5)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 2:25-29 — A true circumcision

One of the main problems the Jews had in Paul’s time was that they forgot that God wasn’t so interested in outward appearances as he was in their hearts.  In particular, they thought it was circumcision that made them right before God, all the while ignoring the sin that was in their hearts.

God had made that problem clear through the Old Testament prophets.  In Jeremiah, he said,

The days are coming…when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh —  Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places.  For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”(Jeremiah 9:25-26)

In other words, God wasn’t so interested in people cutting off parts of their body.  He was interested in having their hearts.  And if he didn’t have their hearts, circumcision meant nothing to him.

And so Paul said,

Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.  If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.  

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.  Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.  (Romans 2:25-29)

Again, Paul is speaking mostly hypothetically.  He’s saying that if someone were able to keep the law perfectly, even though he were not circumcised, God would accept them.  On the other hand, if a circumcised person doesn’t keep the law, God will condemn them as a lawbreaker.  And for that matter, the law-keeping uncircumcised person could do the same.

Of course, no one, circumcised or not, has ever been able to keep the law perfectly.

So Paul tells them, “You’re not a Jew, that is, you are not truly God’s chosen people if you are simply circumcised, because circumcision isn’t merely physical.  It’s a matter of the heart.  Only if your heart is circumcised by the Spirit of God are you truly accepted by God and can be called his people.”

What does it mean to have a circumcised heart?  Paul tells us in Colossians 2:11.

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.

In other words, when we came to Christ, he cut off the chains that bound us to the sinful nature.  Prior to that, we were pulled around by that nature and acted in accordance with it.  But now, that nature has been circumcised and we belong to God.  And having been set free from that sinful nature, we are free to follow after God and have been given the power to live a righteous life.

But again, that circumcision is not done by our own efforts, but by giving our hearts to Christ, by coming to him in faith, and saying, “Lord Jesus I need you.  I can’t save myself.  Please save me.  I’m putting my trust in you and your work for me in the cross.  Now forgive my sins and make me yours.”

And when you do, that’s when you become God’s child.  That’s when you truly right before God.

How about you?  Have you given your heart to God?  Is your heart circumcised before him?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 2:17-24 — Looking at ourselves

Paul specifically talks to the Jews in this passage, and as he does, he’s trying to get them to understand one key thing.  If you’re going to claim you’re right before God based on his law, it’s not enough to just know it.  You need to live it as well.  And so he tells the Jews,

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself ?  You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?  You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?  (17-23)

In other words, “You guys are so proud of yourselves because you have the law.  You’re so proud of yourselves because you’re God’s ‘chosen people’ and he has given you his truth.  You think of yourselves as those who know it all.  And if anyone wants to know about God and how to live, they need to come to you because, ‘You know.'”

“But are you practicing what you preach?  Or are you saying one thing and doing another?”

He then tells them,

As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  (24)

I have to admit, as a teacher of God’s word, this passage scares me.  Because I don’t want to have God’s name blasphemed because of me.  I don’t want people to blaspheme God because I’m a hypocrite.

And yet, often times, I do fail.  I am a hypocrite sometimes.  And sometimes I really struggle to do what is right.  Worse, I struggle to do what I preach.  So often, when I preach or write these blogs, I’m talking to myself.

In the end, all I can do is fall on my face at the throne of God and ask for his mercy.

And that’s the whole point.  All of us need God’s grace.  Because if we are going to claim righteousness based on God’s law, we need to keep that law perfectly.  And none of us can.

How about you?  Do you realize just how much you need God’s grace in your life?  If you’re thinking, “I’m pretty good.  I’m much better than a lot of people I know,” then you need to take a much closer look at your life.  Because none us of are as good as we’d like to think we are.  And until we truly understand that, we will never really understand our need for God.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 2:9-16 — What happens to those who never hear?

One of the things that people argue when it comes to Christianity is, “How can God hold people accountable for what he has commanded if they have never even heard of the Bible?

We find the answer here in this passage.  Paul starts by saying that judgment will be passed on all who do evil, first on the Jew and then on the Gentile.  On the other hand, those who do good will be rewarded by God, the Jews first, the Gentiles second. Why?  Because it was the Jews who received the law from God.  And because they directly received it from God, they are more accountable.

Jesus puts it this way,

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.   (Luke 12:47-48)

Paul expands on this idea, saying,

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.  (Romans 2:12)

In short, people will be judged by what they do with what they know.  They will not be judged by what they didn’t know.  If they know God’s law as given to the Jews, they will be judged by that.  If they don’t, they will be judged by another standard.  What standard?

One standard is their own laws, insofar as they coincide with God’s.  Paul tells us,

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,  since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.  (14-15)

In other words, all people, no matter where they are or what culture they are from, have laws that conform to the law of God.  They may not conform perfectly, but where they do conform, they will be held accountable for whether they keep them or not.  So, for example, different cultures may have different definitions of stealing, but when they break their own laws concerning stealing, God holds them accountable because it falls in line with his laws.

The other standard God judges these people by is their own consciences.  Sometimes, people may do things that are acceptable even to their own culture, for example, sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend.  But the next day, their conscience tells them that it doesn’t matter what they culture said, they did something wrong.  And God will hold them accountable for it because their own guilty feelings show that though they didn’t know the Bible, deep down they knew their actions were wrong.

This is not to say that our consciences are perfect reflections of God’s law.  They are not, any more than people’s laws are in perfect conformity with God’s law.  But insofar as they coincide, they will be held accountable.

One other point.  Paul says in verse 13,

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

When Paul says this, I believe he is being entirely theoretical.  He’s saying, “It’s not enough to know the law.  You need to keep it.”

And theoretically, if you can keep the law perfectly, you will be declared righteous.  But as we will see later, there is no one that fits that description.

The main point, however, is this.  God is fair.  He will not hold you accountable for what you don’t know.  He will hold you accountable for what you do know.

So the main question you need to ask yourself today is this, “What are you doing with what you know?”

 

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 2:1-11 — Pride and insolence

In this passage, we see two problems concerning the grace of God.

The first problem is pride.  It’s an attitude of, “I don’t need God’s grace.  I’m good enough.  The people around me on the other hand…”

Paul addresses this attitude in verses 1-3, saying,

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

Here you see the judgmental attitude some people have.  They look around at the people around them, and judge them as “sinners.”  But at the same time, they are blind to their own sin.  They are so proud, thinking, “Other people may be messed up, but I’m not.”  Yet Paul asks them, “What right do you have to judge others when you do the same things?”

We condemn others for being stubborn and thick-headed, for example, but we can’t see our own pride that causes us to be just as stubborn and thick-headed when relating to them.

Or we look at murderers in the news and are horrified.  We demand punishment for them.  But in our hearts we cut people off for the hurts they’ve caused us.  In our hearts, we murder them, and they are dead to us.

And so Paul says, you have no room to judge others.  You have no room to look down on others as “sinners” when you do the same things as they do.  You need God’s grace just as much as they do.  And without it, you’re lost.

Paul then addresses another problem.  Those who presume upon God’s grace, and say, “Well, since God will forgive me anyway, I’ll just live as I want and ‘repent’ later.”

But Paul tells such people,

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?  (4)

I like the wording of the ESV here.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

In other words, God’s grace is not given to us in order for us to indulge in sin.  God’s grace is given to us in order that we might repent and turn away from our sin.

Yet so many people presume on the grace of God, living as they please, hurting both God and the people around them.

So Paul says to both types of people,

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”  

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  

There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism.  (5-11)

In short, no one’s going to get away with anything.  If we in our pride, think we are above God’s grace because we are so much better than others, we will be judged, and shown to be just as bad as those we judge.

If in our insolence we abuse the grace of God, we also will be punished.

How about you?  Do you think you’re above the grace of God?  Or do you think that God’s grace is something to be despised?

Such attitudes will lead to judgment.  So let us come humbly before God, admitting our need, and marveling at the love and grace he gives us.  There is no room for pride or insolence in the kingdom of God.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 1:18-32 — The problem of sin

As Christians, we often talk about salvation.  But what are we being saved from?  What have we done that is so bad that we require salvation?

We find the answer in this passage, one of the darkest in all of scripture, because it describes just how desperate our condition is.

Paul starts by saying,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

The wrath of God.  If you really think about those words, they’re pretty scary.   We all love to talk about the love of God.  No one ever likes to talk about his wrath.  Why is his wrath being poured out?

Two reasons:  godlessness and wickedness, both of which are described in much further detail as we go along.

What is godlessness?  Essentially, it’s a turning of our backs on God.  Paul tells us in this passage that God has revealed himself to everyone.  Not just to the Jews.  Not to just a select few.  But to everyone.  How?  Through his creation.  All of creation screams out that there is an intelligent creator.  Even those who reject that idea, in honest moments admit, “You know, just by looking at everything, you’d almost think there was an intelligent designer behind all this.”  They then of course do everything to bury that idea behind their arguments and theories.

And that’s what Paul talks about here.  Through his creation, we see his power and his divine nature.  Just by looking at his creation, we see just how big he must be.  We see his mind.  We see his creativity.  We see his goodness.  We see his beauty.  God makes all of these things plain through his creation.

But what do people do?  They suppress the truth of all this by their wickedness.  If you look closely at the motives of most if not all of those who would argue against the existence of God, at its root, it comes down to the fact that they don’t want to believe that they are accountable to him.  They know that if God truly exists, they can’t just live as they desire, but are responsible to him.

By turning their backs on God, though, what happens?

Their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.  (21-22)

We can see this in literal idol worshipers.  They make things with their own hands.  They are the “creator.”  And yet they bow down and worship what they themselves created.

But people set up other idols as well.  Their own intelligence.  Their own wisdom.  Their own money.  Their own lusts.  And by trusting these things, they become blind.  They become blind to what’s truly good and right.  And they become blind to how these things they are worshiping are destroying them.

But worse than all of this, because they turned have their backs on God, he has turned his back on them.  God says, “You don’t want to follow my will?  Fine.  Your will be done.”

What’s the result of our will?  We see the ugly results from verses 24-31.  Not only our godlessness.  But our wickedness.  All the things that we do that hurt others and ourselves.  I don’t need to go into them all.  All you have to do is look at the world around you, and you’ll see what happens when people turn their backs on God.

Verse 32 also very much describes the world today.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

People know in their hearts they deserve to be punished for what they’re doing.  But not only do they continue doing them, they cheer on those who practice them.  I don’t think I even have to comment on what that means.  In America, we see the media constantly doing this.  Celebrating when those who do what is evil in God’s sight are open about it.  Celebrating when laws are passed that are contrary to the Word of God.

And because of that, we are condemned.  That is the problem of sin.  And that’s why we all need salvation.

How about you?  Do you recognize the world’s need for salvation?  More importantly, do you recognize your need for salvation?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 1:8-17 — The gospel

In this passage, Paul talks about his longing to come to Rome that he might share the gospel with them as he had in so many other places.  Not to say that they didn’t know the gospel, as they had already come to faith.  But all of us need reminders of what the gospel is, and not only that, to get grounded deeper into it and all its implications.  And that’s what Romans is really all about.  Getting rooted deeper into the gospel.

Verses 14-15 strike me where Paul said,

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.  That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.

Obviously, Paul as an apostle called by Christ, had this obligation to share the gospel.  But for him, it went beyond obligation.  It wasn’t a drudgery that he had to force himself into.  He was eager to do so.  The same should be said of us.  We shouldn’t have to force ourselves into sharing the gospel with others.  We should be eager to do so.  Why so eager?

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (16)

It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.  I wonder sometimes if we truly understand what this means.  The gospel is God’s power to change lives.  Not just so that people can go to heaven.  Salvation doesn’t simply mean a one-way ticket to heaven  Salvation also means that people’s lives can be made whole here on earth.  That their lives which have been broken by sin, can be made whole.  That their hearts that have been wounded by the hurts of this world can be made whole.  That their marriages and relationships with others that have been torn apart can be made whole.  And most importantly, that their relationship with God which was broken by sin can be made whole.  That’s salvation.  And the gospel is God’s power to bring that salvation.

And the good news is for everyone.  It was first brought to the Jew because God had originally chosen them to be his special people.  But after Jesus died on the cross and was raised again, it became possible for all people to approach God, both Jew and non-Jew.  We who believe are all now accepted as God’s children.

How is this possible?

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.   (17)

“Righteousness” has several nuances in scripture, but the idea here is that the gospel shows us how to come into a right relationship with God.  Our relationship with God was broken because of sin.  How then do we come into a right relationship with God?  Through faith.

When you think about it, it totally makes sense, because our relationship with God was broken…how?  By not trusting God.  By not believing that he is looking out for out best.  By distrusting his motives.  And as a result, we turned our backs on God and started living our own way.

How then does that relationship get repaired?  By turning back to God and saying, “I will trust you.”

That starts with trusting in Jesus’ work on the cross to make us accepted by God.  To say, “Jesus I believe that when you died, you took the punishment for my sin.”

When we do that, God not only forgives us, but gives us a new heart that can trust him, not only for salvation, but for everything in life.  And as we learn to trust him more each day, and as God works in our lives empowering us to do the things he asks, our actions start to change and we start becoming more like Jesus in everything we do.  The result?  Our lives are totally transformed and we are made whole.   That’s salvation.

Do you know that salvation in your own life?  And do you understand it so deeply that you are eager to share it with those around you?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 1:1-7 — Loved and called by God

And so we hit Romans, perhaps the most important book in the New Testament, because it so clearly sets out what the gospel is.

It was written by Paul to the church in Rome before he had had the chance to visit there.  And unlike many of his other letters, he is not addressing any church-specific problems or issues.  Instead, all his focus is on the gospel God had set him apart from birth to preach.

In his greeting, Paul talks about how God had called him to be an apostle and set him apart to specifically reach out to the Gentiles.

It would be easy to take this almost as boasting.  “God chose me!  God loves me!”

But then Paul wrote,

And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.  To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.  (6-7)

You also.

I love those words.

You also. 

Paul told the Romans, “You also are called to belong to Jesus Christ.  It’s not just us Jews.  It’s not just us ‘special people.’  You too are special.  You also are loved by God.  You also are called to be his saints.”

Sometimes, we wonder how God could possibly love us.  We’re nothing special.  Why would God even bother with us?  And yet God looked down upon us, even before time began, and said, “I choose you.  I love you.”  He saw all our faults, all our sins, all our weaknesses, and despite all that, said, ” I set you apart for myself.”

And that’s actually what “saint” means.  It means “people set apart for God.”

A lot of us look at the word, “saints,” and we think, “Me?  A saint?  I’m no saint?”

We think that because we picture saints as people with this halo over our heads who live perfect lives.

But you are a saint not because you are intrinsically better or purer than anyone else, but because God has loved you and chosen you.

That’s grace.  The imparting of God’s love to you though you did nothing to earn it.  Though you are no better than anyone else.  And because God has bestowed his love upon us by grace, we have peace with God.  We don’t have to worry about whether God accepts us or not.  We’d only have to worry about that if we had to earn God’s acceptance.  But we don’t.

Before the creation of the world, he already chose you and accepted you.  And if we could only understand that, how different would our lives be?

No longer striving, no longer fearful.  But resting in the love, grace, and mercy of God.

Father, as we go through Romans, I pray that you would open our eyes.  Open our eyes to your love.  To your grace.  Open our eyes to the fact that you have already accepted us.  That you have already chosen us.  And teach us to rest in that love and acceptance.  Help us to stop our striving and our stressing over trying to be accepted by you.  But let us learn to relax in your love, that each day we may walk in closer relationship with you.  In Jesus name, amen.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Acts 28:11-31 — A story that doesn’t end

We now come to the end of the book of Acts.  I can’t believe that with this, we come to the end of Biblical history.  All that remains are the letters that were written by the apostles and the Revelation given to John.

But the story ends in an unusual way.  It in fact has no ending.  We see Paul arriving at Rome and sharing the gospel with the Jews who were there.  As was the case throughout his ministry, some people believed, and some didn’t.  And when some utterly rejected his message, he moved on to preach to the Gentiles.

At the end of the book, Luke tells us,

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.   (30-31)

You’d expect to read about his appearance before Nero.  Or to at least hear about the end of Paul’s life.  But you hear neither.  Instead, you just see him preaching the gospel to all that would listen.

Why does the story end this way?  I don’t know.  But perhaps it’s a way of telling us that the story of Acts goes on to this day.  To this day, the gospel continues to go out.  Some people when they hear it close their eyes and ears as the Jews did and continue to do to this day.  But God has made sure throughout history that his gospel, despite persecution and all kinds of attacks on the church, both from within and without, has continued to go out.

And now we are a part of the story.  We have heard the gospel and come to believe it.  Now, like Paul, we are called to go out, filled with his Spirit, and preaching the gospel to every nation.  Are you?  Are you filled with his Spirit?  For without his Spirit, we won’t have the power to share the gospel as God has commanded us.

A lot of people call this book the “Acts of the Apostles.”  But from the very beginning, it has truly been the acts of the Holy Spirit working through his people.  So as I finish this book, I go back to the beginning to where Jesus told his apostles,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  (Acts 1:8)

May we all go out, filled with the Spirit, and continuing the story started 2000 years ago.

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Acts 28:1-10 — When the Spirit is working within us

There was an old action show I remember that was based on the phrase, “One man can make a difference.”   And we see that here.  I should probably amend that phrase, however, to,  “One man filled with the Spirit of God can make a difference.”

Paul and his shipmates landed on the island of Malta, and cold as they were, they built a fire.  Paul, being the kind of man he was, instantly volunteered to help build the fire.  But as he put some wood on the fire, a viper came out and bit him, literally hanging on his hand until Paul shook him off.

When the islanders saw this, they said,

This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.  (4)

And they waited for him to die.  When he didn’t, however, they changed their minds and said, “He must be a god.”

I’m sure Paul quickly disabused them of that idea as he introduced them to the one true God.

Then, Publius, the chief official of the island welcomed them onto his estate, and when Paul saw that Publius’ father was sick, he prayed for him, and immediately, he was healed.  When the people on the island heard of this, they came from all over to be healed by Paul.  The result of this?

Malta eventually became a Christian nation, and remains so to this day.

The point?  When the Spirit is working within us, we can make a difference.  We may not be shaking off poisonous snakes or healing people, but when the Spirit is working in us, people will notice and lives will be changed.  So as Paul once put it, let us continue being filled with God’s Spirit day by day (Ephesians 5:18) that others may see him in us and come to know him themselves.

Father, fill me with your Holy Spirit today.  When others see me, let them see a definite difference in me and wonder why.  I want to be used by you.  Make me your vessel and a channel of your grace this day and every day.  In Jesus name, amen.

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Acts 27:21-44 — A beacon in the storm

Jesus once said to let our light shine before men, and you really see Paul’s light shining through in this passage.

At a time when everyone on the ship he was sailing on had lost hope because of the storm, Paul brought hope.  He told them,

But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.  Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’  So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.  (22-25)

Later, with things still dark, and the men still discouraged, he told them,

For the last fourteen days…you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food–you haven’t eaten anything.  Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive.  Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.  (33-34)

He then broke bread, gave thanks to God, and ate.  By doing so, he gave the men in the boat hope, and they ate too.

That’s part of what it means to be light.  To give hope to the hopeless.  So many people in this world are without hope because of their circumstances.  But in Jesus, we have the source of hope, and as he shines through us, it gives hope to those around us.

But Paul was light in another way.  By his words and his life, he encouraged people to do what was right.

We see this first when some of the sailors were planning to sneak off of the ship without the prisoners and leave them all to die.  But Paul warned them,

Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.  (31)

And so they let the lifeboat go.

Then, after the ship had run aground, the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners lest they escape.  But because of the light that Paul had been, the centurion in charge refused to give them permission to do so, and in the end, all were saved.

In the same way, being light means showing people what it means to live right, both through our words and through our lives.  And as people see our lives, it should inspire them to do what is right as well.

How about you?  Are you light to those around you?

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Acts 27:1-20 — Following the majority

Following the majority is always the easy thing to do, especially when it happens to be what you want to do.  But it’s not always right.  And that’s what the centurion in charge of taking Paul (and the other prisoners) to Rome learned in this chapter.

Because of weather conditions, they were making much slower headway than they had hoped, but Paul knew that the weather would only get worse.  So he warned them,

Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.  (10)

Whether this was direct revelation or insight from God, or merely Paul’s own sailing experience is not clear.  What is clear is that the centurion didn’t want to wait.  And after consulting with the pilot and the owner of the ship, the “majority” decided it would be best to sail on and winter at another harbor.

Why didn’t they listen to Paul?  For one thing, they probably figured he wasn’t a sailor, and they trusted their own judgment over his.  For another, they were impatient.  They had lost time and probably wanted to make up for it.

But by following the “majority,” it nearly cost them their lives.

How about you?  Do you follow what God is telling you, or do you simply follow the majority?  Sometimes, we follow the majority in terms of peer pressure.  Everyone is doing something we know is wrong, and it’s hard to go against the grain.  Sometimes we follow the majority in terms of culture.  I see this often times in Japan where Christians will compromise their faith at Buddhist ceremonies for the sake of “culture.”

But just because you’re following the majority does not make you right.  And there are times when it puts you at odds with what God is telling you to do.  And not only can that lead to disastrous consequences, those decisions also pain God.  Paul tells us,

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  (Ephesians 4:30)

When we follow the majority at the expense of turning our backs on what God has said, that’s exactly what we end up doing:  grieving God.

Who are you following?

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Acts 26:20-32 — Compelled

In this passage, we see three reactions to the gospel.

One is persecution, like the Jews persecuted Paul.

The second is people thinking we’re crazy, as Festus thought of Paul.

The third is a patronizing attitude toward us and the gospel, as Herod had.  An attitude that looks upon us as naive children for believing such a thing.

And yet, Paul continued to speak.  Why?  I think we see the reason in I Corinthians chapter 5.  Paul wrote,

If we are out of our mind (as Festus contended), it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind (as Paul asserted), it is for you.  For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.   (13-14)

Why did Paul speak?  Because he was convinced in his heart that Christ loved us so much that he died on the cross, taking the punishment for our sins.  And the love of Christ that had touched him now compelled him to share that news with others, no matter what they thought of him.

And that’s the attitude that we should have.  If we truly believe that Jesus died for us, and if we have been truly touched by his love, that love should drive us to share the gospel with those around us that they too may receive the same gift of life that we have.

Some may persecute us.  Some may think we’re crazy.  Some may look on us patronizingly.  But does the love of Christ drive you to share the gospel with them anyway?

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Acts 25-26 — Obedient to the call

As we look at this passage, we see Paul’s appearance before Festus and Herod Agrippa II.  This last of the Herods that we see in the New Testament, was the son of Herod Agrippa I who had killed James, and had attempted to kill Peter.

At any rate, the Jews once again tried to get Paul to be brought to Jerusalem so that they could kill him, and when Festus tried to convince Paul to appear in Jerusalem (not knowing the Jews’ plot), Paul appealed to Caesar.

That left Festus in a bit of a quandary because he wasn’t sure how to present the charges that were made against Paul, which were purely religious ones.  So when Herod came by for a visit, Festus consulted with him, and Herod agreed to hear Paul’s defense.

And so for the final time in the book of Acts, we see Paul give his testimony.  Each time he spoke, we see a bit more of his story, and one of the most interesting things here was the mission Jesus gave to Paul on the road to Damascus.

I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.  (17-18)

The same mission that Jesus gave to Paul, he gives to us.

To share the gospel with those around us that they might see their own bondage to sin and the darkness that they’re in, and be set free from the kingdom of Satan and brought into the kingdom of God, forgiven of their sins and adopted as his children through faith in Christ.

Concerning this mission given to him in the vision, Paul told Festus and Herod,

I was not disobedient.  (19)

How about you?  God has told us to go and spread his gospel to those around us.  Are you?  Are you fulfilling the mission he has given you?

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Acts 24:26-27 — Integrity

Although Felix had been freaked out by Paul’s discussion of God’s coming judgment, he nevertheless, continued to call Paul in to chat.  Why?

He was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe.  (26)

One wonders what kind of subtle hints he gave Paul.

“It sure must be tough being restrained as you are.  You’re so gung-ho for your religion.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could just get out of here so you could spread it more easily?  Your God would want that, right?”

Or,

“Your church must be really worried about you huh?  Say, how big is this movement?  What kind of resources do they have?  I’m sure they’d do anything to help you, right?”

Paul wasn’t dumb.  He knew what Felix wanted.  But he refused to violate his integrity.  For two years this went on until finally, Felix was replaced by another man named Festus.

It would have been so easy for Paul to take the easy way out and give Felix the bribe he wanted.  And there were so many “good reasons” he could have given for doing so.  But he refused.  Why?

One, he loved his Lord.  And he put his trust in God that in his timing and his way, God would set him free…or not.  Either way, he refused to do anything that would displease his Lord.

Second, it would have destroyed his witness before Felix.  Think about this.  He had just been lecturing Felix about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment for sinners.  What would have Felix thought if Paul had suddenly turned around and offered a bribe?  Felix would have thought, “There must be nothing to what Paul said.  If there was, he wouldn’t have offered me this bribe.  He’d be too worried about this coming ‘judgment.'”

But Paul never compromised and his testimony stood.

How about you?  Do you hold on to your integrity even though it may seem more convenient not to?

Hold on to it.  Keep putting your trust in God, knowing that he would never ask you to do something that he has said is wrong.  Commit yourself to doing things his way.

To do otherwise would not only sadden God, but destroy your witness with those you’ve been sharing Christ with.

Are you holding on to your integrity?

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged | Leave a comment

Acts 24 — The whole counsel of God

Paul once told the Ephesians,

I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.  (Acts 20:26-27 — ESV)

What did he mean by “the whole counsel of God?”  I think we catch a glimpse of it here.  Paul was brought before the Roman governor Felix to face his accusers.

After the initial hearing was held, Felix called in Paul more than once to chat, and Paul took the opportunity to talk about his faith in Christ.  But Paul didn’t stop at talking about God’s love, the cross, and the salvation that comes by faith.  Rather,

Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.  (25a)

In short, Paul told Felix, “You know that your life is not right before God.  You know that you have sinned, and unless you turn from your sin, you will be judged someday.”

The result?

Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now!  You may leave.  When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”  (25b)

The gospel is not all God’s love and good, warm, fuzzy feelings.  The gospel also is, “There is a serious problem.  You have sinned and are facing condemnation.  So turn to Christ.  Put your faith in him and his work on the cross for you while you can.”

And if we fail to tell people this, we are not giving people the whole counsel of God, and we will be responsible for their blood if they go to hell.

I’m not saying we should literally “scare the hell out of them.”  The Gospel is “good news.”  And the good news is that we don’t have to go to hell.  That God loves us so much that he made a way, not only to escape hell, but to live a life that’s full and complete.  To have a life filled with his joy and peace.  And that’s where our main focus should be.

But we do need to warn people, “If you refuse Jesus, you are facing judgment.”

Some people, like Felix, may become fearful as a result.  They may chase us away until a more “convenient time.”  But how they respond is not our responsibility.  All we can do is share the message God has given us.

How about you?  Are you giving the people the full counsel of God?

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Acts 23:12-35 — A God whose purposes cannot be thwarted

I mentioned yesterday that God will accomplish his will in our lives and no power on this earth can stop him.

We see an example of this in this passage.  Some men had taken an oath to kill Paul, and had asked the chief priests to assist them in this.  I wonder what kind of an oath they took?  That is, did they swear before God that they would do this?  That would be the ultimate irony.  “I swear before you, O God, that I will break the sixth commandment and murder a man.”

Now I’m sure they didn’t word it that way, but that’s essentially what they said.  Even worse, the priests not only condoned it, but agreed to help them keep their oath.

But God is not one whose purposes can be thwarted.  And so he placed Paul’s nephew in such a position that he somehow heard about the plot.  God then put favor in the heart of the Roman commander to not only listen to the warning, but to do everything possible to keep Paul safe until he could have his trial.  As a result, the murder plot went for naught.

That should encourage us in our lives.  Sometimes the world can seem against us as we do God’s will.  Sometimes they actually are plotting against us.  But ultimately, nothing can thwart God and his purposes.  So as Moses once told the people at the Red Sea,

Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you…(Exodus 14:13)

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Acts 23:11 — The God who stands near us

Sometimes, we tend to think of the apostles and other people in the Bible as superheroes.  That they always faced death courageously and without fear.  And certainly there were times they were like that.  (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego certainly seemed that way, among others).

But I don’t know if that was always the case.  They were human just like us, after all.  And as I read this passage in Acts 23, I wonder what was going on in Paul’s heart.  He had just been involved in a situation that had become so violent that the Roman commander got him out of there thinking Paul was going to get torn to pieces by his accusers.

As Paul lay in bed that night, what was he thinking?  Was he experiencing doubt?  Fear?  Was he worrying about if he could accomplish the things he had thought God desired him to do.

Whatever he was thinking, it says in verse 11,

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage!  As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

A few things strike me here.  First, the Lord stood near Paul.  And it’s a reminder to me that even through our darkest times, through our trials, and through our doubts and fears, the Lord is always standing by us.

Second, the Lord told Paul, “Take courage.”  Why would you tell someone to take courage if they already had it?  And perhaps because of all his circumstances, Paul was wavering a bit.  But the Lord steadied him and said, “Take courage.”  Sometimes we too waver a bit in our faith.  We waver concerning the path God has put us on.  But God gives us the same message he gave Paul.  “Take courage.”  Why should we take courage?

Because God will accomplish his will in our lives and no power on this earth can stop him.  He told Paul,

As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.

In other words, “Don’t worry about all those opposing you.  You will fulfill the purposes I have called you to.  Just stand strong and keep trusting in me.”

How about you?  Are you starting to lose faith because of your circumstances?  Are you starting to give in to fear because of the opposition you’re facing?  Take courage.  Know that the Lord is near.  And keep trusting and following him, knowing that he will accomplish his will in your life.  Let us remember the words of Paul himself, who said,

The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:5-7)

Posted in Acts, New Testament | Tagged , , | Leave a comment