Christian Unity
John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)


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Friday, April 27, 2007
  Romans part 15: Wrapup
In the Roman letter, Paul addressed the rift that had emerged between Jews and Gentiles. He based his plea on the fact that both were saved from their sins through the same gospel. As a result of that gospel, they should give up their own rights and serve the greater good of the whole church. They should accept one another despite their differences.

From the last half of chapter 15 through chapter 16, it seems Paul was having a hard time concluding this letter. He knew the Roman church was going to be tested, and he wanted to be sure he had taught everything that could be helpful. So Paul called upon the Christians to teach and admonish one another to be true to the faith:
Rom 15:14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
He was confident in their goodness and knowledge. Therefore he was confident they were able to instruct one another. Without the goodness, or without the knowledge, he would not have been so confident. Paul had provided them a thorough explanation of the grace they had received. Now it was up to them to teach one another.

Then Paul explained his future plans and his desire to come to Rome. Paul had never visited Rome before, though he obviously knew quite a few people in the church there. He intended to visit them after delivering the gifts from Macedonia and Achaia to the needy Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Given that Paul had never been to Rome, it is striking how many Christians he knew there. He mentioned by name more than 25 people in chapter 16. For many of these people Paul offered a personal comment, something they had done or some virtue for which they were known. Not only did he know these people, but he knew something about the makeup of the various house churches. Paul was personally connected to this church despite never having visited. He cared about them.

After all the instruction about accepting one another, Paul felt the need to address another threat to their unity. He knew that there were some in Rome who would do harm to the church through false teaching. So he wrote:
Rom 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
Rom 16:18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Paul's instruction was to avoid people who cause division and create obstacles contrary to sound teaching. He called them to be alert to the danger and to avoid contributing in any way to the damage that such people might do.

Finally, Paul concluded by placing the church in God's able hands. God would give them the strength they would need:
Rom 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
Rom 16:26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith --
Rom 16:27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Paul concluded where he began in Rom 1:5, speaking of the obedience of faith which was the goal of the gospel. This gospel was the mystery which was secret for long ages, but now disclosed by God's command. That is the call to the church today. Because we have been considered righteous through faith, we should respond with obedient faith. We should put sin to death. We should accept one another with sincere love. And we should use our gifts to build one another up in the Lord. May God continue to help us as we serve Him in this way!


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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
  Romans Part 14: Accept One Another
Beginning in chapter 12, Paul called the Roman Christians to live out an appropriate response to the grace of God found in the gospel. The culture of the church was to be neither Jewish nor Greek, Instead the Christians were to be transformed into a kind of assembly the world had never seen before. Jews and Greeks, who despised one another outside the church, were to embrace one another inside. Sincere love, devotion, sharing, and hospitality were to be characteristic of their relationships in the church.

Likewise, the church today must be a place of love and acceptance between all types of people. Instead of Jew and Gentile, the opposing groups involved more often might be black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural. The challenges might be based on nationality, or on differences in language and culture, or maybe even on style of music and worship. But the principle is the same. We must embrace all our brothers and sisters, even -- especially -- those who are different from us. We must show them sincere love. We must practice hospitality toward them.

In chapter 14, Paul expands this concept of acceptance to a new area. A growing challenge to the unity between Jews and Gentiles was their differing understanding of certain doctrinal teachings. These differences did not have to do with fundamentals of salvation--the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, his resurrection, repentance, baptism, and the forgiveness of sins. Instead their differences involved ceremonial questions like eating of meat and observance of special days. Paul's instruction on this was very clear:
Rom 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
It is interesting to note whom he characterized as weak and who was strong. The weak brothers were those who considered certain foods unclean, and those who observed special days. The strong were those who recognized their freedom on these matters. Many of the Jews believed they were still obligated to follow the regulations of the Law regarding unclean foods, and to observe special days according to the Old Testament Law. The Gentiles realized this was not required of a Christian. It was the Jews, not the Gentiles, who were considered weak on these topics.

Why didn't Paul just give them an official ruling on these subjects and leave it at that? Apparently the Holy Spirit chose instead to give us principles for deciding many similar disputes. If we would only follow those instructions, what a different church we would have today!

First, he called on them to stop passing judgment on one another. He gave this instruction to both parties in the disputes:
Rom 14:3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Then, he added the instruction to protect the conscience of the other party:
Rom 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.

Rom 14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
Rom 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Rom 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
Rom 14:21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
Then he concluded by commanding them not to quarrel about these things, but to keep their opinions private. He also added a warning not to violate one's own conscience:
Rom 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
Rom 14:23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
It is better to keep your convictions to yourself than to raise an issue. Paul did not just make a suggestion, but he gave a command. Keep it between yourself and God.

He placed the greater burden on the strong to protect the consciences of the weak:
Rom 15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
And he concluded where he began chapter 14, with a command to accept one another.
Rom 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Paul could hardly have been more clear about how to handle controversial subjects in the church. But history testifies that the church has done a poor job of following this instruction. Churches have split over many topics less fundamental than the ones Paul used as illustrations. Paul's examples were deeply held convictions of the Jews, bred into their culture over 1500 years. How hard must it have been for them to accept the Gentiles who ate pork and who treated Jewish special days just like any other day! Didn't they realize the meaning of those days--days like passover, pentecost, feast of tabernacles, new moons, and jubilees? Why did they treat these days as if they had no meaning?

Paul also instructed the Gentiles about how to treat the Jews. The Gentiles were to accept the Jews despite their incomplete understanding of the gospel. Moreover, the Gentiles were to give up their rights when necessary rather than grieving their weaker Jewish brethren, or rather than causing their brothers to sin. The importance of the spiritual survival of a brother far outweighs the significance of his technical misunderstandings. Sometimes the strong brother might need to abstain from eating certain foods for the benefit of the weak. Sometimes, a strong brother might need to observe a special day to protect the conscience of another Christian. Sometimes, they needed to keep their opinions to themselves.

In comparison to the differences between Jews and Gentiles in first century Rome, many of our controversies seem trivial. But we usually defend our positions and draw our lines with equal conviction. Paul's message to the Romans was to eliminate the quarrels and the drawing of lines. That is also the message of Romans to the modern church. We need to accept our brothers and sisters despite disagreements over disputable matters.


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Wednesday, April 18, 2007
  Romans Part 13: Therefore...
Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.
"Therefore...." The pivotal word in the book of Romans introduces the twelfth chapter. The preceding eleven chapters answer the question, "Why?" In those chapters, Paul explains the gospel, providing the rationale and motivation for the Christian life. Then in the following chapters he exhorts us to live as God expects, in response to the gospel. God has provided richly for our salvation. Therefore, we should live in a certain way.

In particular, the Christians in Rome who first received Paul's letter, were expected to respond in a certain way. Remember that they were experiencing tension between the Jews and the Gentiles in these increasingly Gentile churches in Rome. Paul wrote to address these tensions. Few differences in the church today can compare to the depth of difference between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first century. A millenium and a half under the Mosaic Law had a profound effect on the very fiber of the heart and soul of the Jews. They had been bred to despise the nations around them. How could they now embrace these Gentiles?

Paul instructed these Roman Christians that they should offer their bodies as living sacrifices. They were no longer to live their lives from a self centered point of view, but to give themselves to God for His purposes. The gospel changed everything. They were not to conform to the world around them (neither to the heathen Gentile world nor to the Jewish world), but to have a new mind and a new outlook that transforms their lives. If they would do this, the Jew / Gentile friction in their church would vanish.

Jew and Gentile alike were to have a sober, humble view of themselves. Both groups equally, desperately needed the gospel. They were quite different from one another, yet were all part of the same body. They were a team. As the saying goes, there is no "I" in "team". So whatever their individual gifts, they all were to be used for the good of the team, of the body. Those gifts do not belong to the individual, but to the body. God did not provide the gifts to stroke the ego of the individual, but to meet the needs of the body. We are gifted in order to serve.

He called upon them to love each other sincerely--both Jew and Gentile. They were to be devoted to one another like a family, because they are the family of God. He admonished them to honor one another, to be hospitable, to rejoice and to mourn with one another. And they were called to live in harmony with one another. Yes, even Jew and Gentile, even if they didn't agree on everything. Even rich Gentiles and poor Jews were to associate harmoniously with one another.

When someone treated them wrong (and surely someone had done so), they were not to take revenge. Instead they were to respond to evil with good--even between a Jew and a Gentile.

Then he instructed them about submission to their government. Keep in mind, this was the same Roman government that, less than a decade later, would put Paul and Peter to death. Nero was emperor. Yet Paul commanded them to obey the Roman laws, to pay their taxes, and to give proper respect to the government. Both Jew and Gentile were to submit respectfully to the Roman government. That would be especially hard for the Jews, who had always resented their Roman overlords.

Paul then referred back to the Mosaic Law to remind them to love one another. He helped the Jews to see that love for the Gentiles was right, even in the Jewish law. He called them to leave the deeds of darkness. Time was short! They must be ready to meet their maker.

With this preparation, he then turned to address the specific conflicts between Jew and Gentile in the Roman church. Next time: Accept one another!


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Saturday, April 07, 2007
  Romans Part 12: The Gospel and the Jews
Having completed his description of the Gospel of righteousness through faith, Paul turned to the plight of the Jews. The Jews reading this letter may have misconstrued Paul's point, and concluded that the Jews had been rejected and were without hope. Paul anticipated that confusion and corrected it in chapters 9-11.

Chapters 9-11 contain some particularly difficult concepts and have spawned many controversies. In the following explanation I will attempt to avoid the deepest pits of controversy and present the essence of what Paul was saying.

The main question being addressed in this section is, "What about God's promises to Abraham regarding his descendents?" To answer that question, Paul clarified the promises and explained that the Jews are not excluded from the Gospel. In fact he explains that there is great hope for the Jews to turn to Jesus. Paul's argument can be divided into five parts:
1) Not all descendents of Abraham were to receive the promise.
2) God has the right to choose whom he will bless.
3) The relationship of the Gospel to the Jew
4) The relationship of the Gospel to the Gentile
5) The salvation of Israel
Let's look at these five parts to Paul's argument:

1) Not all descendents of Abraham were to receive the promise. From the time of Abraham on, it has been clear that not all the descendents of Abraham were to receive the promise. Clearly the promise did not apply to Ishmael, for example. Nor did it apply to all the descendents of Isaac (consider Esau). God chose to deliver the promise through Isaac, and through Jacob, for his own reasons. (Rom 9:1-13)

A key verse in understanding Rom 9-11 is
Rom 9:6 It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
This verse states the basic truth which Paul proceeds to prove in the remainder of chapters 9-11. God's promises to Abraham will not fail through the Gospel. The key to understanding that is the statement that "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel."

2) God has the right to choose whom he will bless. As the creator, God has the right to choose Isaac rather than Ishmael, and Jacob rather than Esau. Neither choice was based on righteousness of one versus the other. It was simply a choice God had the right to make.

Paul illustrates with the example of Pharaoh.
Rom 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
Rom 9:18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Note that God was not unjust in choosing to harden Pharaoh. Pharaoh was not innocent in the matter. He was stubborn from the beginning (Ex 3:19). He had an unyielding heart (Ex 7:14). Three times it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15, 8:32, 9:34). So Pharaoh was guilty, and God was justified in what he did.

3) The relationship of the Gospel to the Jew. In Romans 10 Paul turned his attention to the salvation of the Jew, and the obstacles the Jew must overcome. In verses 5-13 he contrasted the Law with the Gospel. The law required obedience: "The man who does these things will live by them."

Under Law, it was in the hands of man to achieve righteousness (and of course man failed). But under the Gospel, God did things we could not do for ourselves. We could not ascend into heaven to bring Christ down. We could not descend into the grave to raise Christ from the dead. Instead, the requirements on us are things that we can do. We must confess Jesus as Lord, and believe that God raised him from the dead. Those are things we can do. In the Gospel, God placed salvation within our reach. Note, Paul did not enumerate every requirement for salvation here--just the fundamental ones that lead to the others. Believing and making Jesus Lord result in repentance and a life of obedience (including the initial obedience to being baptized.) Still, like the items Paul did name, the other items are all within our reach.

But was the Gospel really within the reach of the Jew? The Jews could not protest that they had not heard, that no one preached to them, or that God did not send a messenger to them. Quite clearly God had placed the gospel within their reach also.

However, a Jew might have protested that they did not understand the message. But that just puts them on the same level as the Gentiles, who had not understood about God since the creation of the world (Rom 1:18-32). So at the present time, God has not forgotten about the Jews, any more than he had forgotten about the Gentiles in the previous era.

Note that the Gospel was first preached to the Jews, and that the first converts were Jewish. However, that was a small minority of Jews. By the time Paul was writing, it appeared that the church was becoming dominated by Gentiles, even in Rome. As Paul continued, he warned the Gentiles not to become overconfident as a result. The disadvantage of the Jew was not intended to be a permanent situation.

4) The relationship of the Gospel to the Gentile. The Gentile Christians were being grafted into a Jewish olive tree--a tree from which most of the Jewish branches had been cut off. Paul warned these Gentiles not to boast over the branches that had been cut off. If the Gentiles did not remain humble, they could easily be cut off as well. The Gentiles had every bit as much need of forgiveness as the Jews. God grafted them in as an act of kindness, because of their belief. They could just as easily be cut off again, if they do not remain in the kindness of God.

God also loves the Jews, and has not given up on them. They are being disciplined for a time, to entice them to turn to Christ. The Gentiles must be careful not to take pleasure in the discipline of the Jews. God does not approve when we gloat over those whom he is disciplining.

5) The salvation of Israel. Paul explained that the Gentiles now hold the advantage for a time, in order to entice the Jews to believe.
Rom 11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
Rom 11:26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
"The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
Rom 11:27 And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins."
Rom 11:28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,
Rom 11:29 for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Rom 11:30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience,
Rom 11:31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you.
Rom 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Just as not all Gentiles who ever lived are saved, not all Jews are saved either. But in the end, the whole olive tree will be saved. God is delaying that day so that as many as possible may be grafted in, both Jews and Gentiles.
Rom 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Rom 11:34 "Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?"
Rom 11:35 "Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?"
Rom 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Next time: What does all this mean for the life of the Christian?


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Monday, April 02, 2007
  Romans Part 11: The Love of God
By the end of Romans 8, Paul had shown that
Then Paul turned his attention to the blessings God will bestow on us now that we have been justified by faith.
Rom 8:28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Those who respond to the Gospel with the obedience that comes from faith (Rom 1:5) have been called according to the purpose of God. God had a purpose, from the beginning of time (1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:4), to provide these blessings to us through Christ. God knew before the beginning of time. He foreknew that we would be saved. And therefore by deliberate decision he predestined that we would be conformed the the image of Jesus, and adopted as sons and daughters of God. So at just the right time, he called us and justified us.

And he glorified us. "Glorified!" It is stated as a fact already accomplished. Being adopted into God's family is a glorious status, and we already have been given that status. Yet we know that the ultimate fulfillment of this glory is yet to come. While we wait for that, we can delight in our privileged access to our Father, the creator and ruler of heaven and earth!
Rom 8:31-32 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
God has already proven his great love for us. He has proven his glorious plans for us. We have nothing to fear. We have every reason to rejoice!
Rom 8:33-34 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Do not believe Satan's lies. There is no one left with the right to bring a charge against us. Would God? Of course not. He is the one who justified us! Would Jesus? Surely not! He is the one who died for us! And he is the one who is now interceding on our behalf! The only remaining accuser is Satan, and he stands condemned. There is truly no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Rom 8:35-37 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
We will still face troubles in this world. But again, do not believe Satan's lies. Those troubles do not change our glorified status as beloved children of God. In fact, our very suffering will ultimately result in our benefit!
Rom 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The bottom line: God loves us! What a marvelous array of gifts God has given to us through Jesus!


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Thursday, March 29, 2007
  Romans Part 10: Life in the Spirit
In Romans chapter 8, Paul reaches the pinnacle of his argument about the superiority of grace in comparison to the Law. He has already shown that Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin, and that God has provided, through Jesus, exactly what both groups need in order to be saved from their sins. In chapter 7, Paul pointed out that the Law was incapable of producing righteousness in us, because of the weaknesses of the flesh. In chapter 8, he shows how the salvation through Jesus provides what the Law could not.

In the first four verses of chapter 8, Paul reviews the ground that has been already covered. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, because in Christ we are set free from the Law, and sin itself is condemned in our flesh. By taking away the sin, God has rendered us as righteous, fully meeting God's requirements.

As long as we remain in the body, we continue to be tempted by the desires of the flesh. But we have the option to walk according to the Spirit God has given us.
Rom 8:5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
In verse 5 Paul gives us one of the most important concepts for victorious Christian living. We must set our minds on things above if we wish to live lives worthy of our calling. One key to overcoming sin is to set our minds on the right things. This same principle is repeatedly emphasized in scripture:
Col 3:1-2 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Php 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
1Ti 6:9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.
1Jn 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world.
We are not alone in this. The Holy Spirit is provided to help us overcome sin and to add the fruits of the Spirit to our lives. But the Holy Spirit does not force us to become the right thing. Instead, the Holy Spirit works with our own willing hearts to produce the right fruits. Note that the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) are essentially the same qualities Peter urges us to make every effort to add (2 Pet 1:3-11). We choose whether we will walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.
Rom 8:5-14 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 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. 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.
It really does matter how we live. We must use our will and our effort to eliminate sin and add godly character traits. When we willingly make those efforts, the Holy Spirit amplifies our effort to give us victorious life. The Holy Spirit makes all the difference--but only when we make the effort.
Rom 8:15-17 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [Gk uiothesia, adoption]. 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.
Here Paul introduces the analogy of adoption. Understanding this from through the eyes of a first century Roman, the analogy comes to life for a Christian. In Rome, the father was the absolute ruler of his household -- a concept known as patria potestas. A Roman never outgrew the rule of his father. In an adoption, a child had to pass from one patria potestas to another. By law, the adopted child began a new life, losing all the rights of the old family and gaining all of the rights of the new. The adopted child was, by law, an heir just as a natural child in the new family. The old life prior to adoption was legally wiped out, including any debts that might have been incurred.

In Paul's analogy, he shows that as adopted children we are co-heirs with Christ. Our old life is wiped away, including any debts. We now are in the household of God, with all the associated privileges.

Verses 18-27 are recognized as another of Paul's difficult passages. Without going into all the particular debates about the passage, this much seems clear. Paul is making another analogy between the ongoing decay of creation and the struggle of the Christian life. The gradual decay of creation is seen in many ways--death, erosion, corrosion, various kinds of natural disasters, etc. That decay will come to an end when God brings forth the new heaven and the new earth. Paul metaphorically suggests that the creation longs for that new life, just as Christians long to be set free from the body. This world is not intended to be a permanent home.

Verses 28-29 describe yet one more benefit of the Spirit in our lives. God recognizes our fallen nature. So the Spirit intercedes for us in prayers we are not wise enough to pray ourselves. The very Spirit of God is watching our back.

God has provided us with everything we need to live godly lives in this life, while we wait for the next. Those gifts only produce the intended fruit when we have willing hearts and make our own efforts toward living that life. When we make that wholehearted effort, God supplies what is lacking and we become what we could not become on our own.

Next time: the end of chapter 8, with Paul's eloquent praise and celebration of God's love.


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Sunday, March 18, 2007
  Romans Part 9: Struggle and Victory
In Romans 6, Paul began to explain that the gift of righteousness through faith leads us away from sin and toward holiness. He pointed out in Rom 7:5-6 that the Law was incapable of this, and in fact had the opposite tendency:
Rom 7:5-6 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
A first century Jew would certainly have objected that Paul was, in effect, blaming the Law for man's sin. Paul anticipated that objection, and dealt with it in verses 7:7-13.
Rom 7:7-11 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
To answer that objection, Paul described a phenomenon that every parent has observed in young children. A child might start out with no interest in pouring his juice into the heating vents. But if Mom tells him not to do it, he suddenly starts to think about the idea and wonders how much fun it might be. Before you know it, the temptation comes to fruition, and the heating duct gets to share a taste of Junior's grape juice. Adults are no different.

But Paul insisted that the fault is not in the Law. Rather, the sinful tendencies of the flesh are to blame.
Rom 7:12-13 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
The remainder of chapter 7 has been the battleground for many debates. Was Paul talking about himself, or a hypothetical man under the Law? Does a Christian really continue to struggle as Paul described? For several reasons I believe he was speaking of his present state as a Christian:
  1. He changed from past tense to present tense starting in verse 14
  2. He spoke as one who sincerely wants to do what is right
  3. He described a struggle which is a familiar experience of every Christian
Rom 7:14-17 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
The fact that he hated violating God's law proves that he saw the law as a good thing.
Rom 7:22-25 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
The struggle was between the flesh and the mind, between his members and his inner being. Paul recognized that he needed to be rescued from his "body of death." As long as he remained in the body, he would be subject to sin. That is in agreement with the apostle John:
1 John 1:8-9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And also with James:
Jas 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
And of course it is in agreement with the experience of every Christian.

Reading the end of chapter 7 and continuing without pause into chapter 8 makes this even more clear:
Rom 7:24-8:4 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
By the sacrifice of Jesus, God has condemned sin in the flesh. Every righteous requirement of the law is completely fulfilled in us--not by our own deeds, but by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our penalty is paid in full.

Not only is the penalty paid, but we have the promise of resurrection from the dead, our delivery from the body of death. We can eagerly anticipate the sinless state that awaits us in heaven:
Isa 35:8 And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
Isa 35:9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
Isa 35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
What a wonderful place that will be! Even if they are fools, they shall not go astray! In this life, Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. But in heaven, there will be no lion. No temptations. No sin. No regrets. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away!

But we are not there yet. So, in this marvelous package of gifts that come through Christ, is there something to help us while we wait for that incredible day? More on that, next time.


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007
  Romans Part 8: Death to Sin
In chapter 6 of Romans, Paul begins a line of argument to prove that righteousness through faith leads us, not into more sin, but towards holiness.

Remember that the overall thrust of the letter is to address the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Rome (see this earlier post on the background to the letter). In the latter part of chapter 5, Paul explained that the justification provided through Jesus extended far beyond those under the Law, to include all those who died prior to Moses, in fact being offered to every person. And he affirmed that the grace provided through Jesus increases as necessary to cover the sin of all those who receive the righteousness through faith.

The natural Jewish objection was that this kind of justification encourages sin. If grace is going to cover us, why not go ahead and sin? It is not as if the Jews would have accepted that line of thinking. Instead they would have pointed to that as a logical end result of righteousness through faith, and therefore rejected the whole idea.
Rom 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
Those Jews would have known that Paul was accused of teaching this. And undoubtedly there were Gentiles who would have been glad enough to take this teaching and run with it. It even may be a precursor to the Gnostic heresies that came along later, in which it was taught that flesh is inherently evil, so that there was no point in trying to live a righteous life in the flesh.

In chapters 6-7, Paul destroys that argument. He does so by four counter arguments:

1) Baptism shows that we died to sin, and were raised to a new life.
2) We were released from slavery to sin, and became servants of righteousness.
3) Slavery to sin results in death, but slavery to righteousness results in eternal life
4) As in marriage, the death to sin set us free from the law.

Note that Paul was not primarily teaching about baptism in chapter 6. Instead he was using baptism to illustrate the point that we died to sin. We can learn some things about baptism from this passage (baptism is a burial; associated with death to sin; raised to a new life), but the primary message concerns death to sin.

"Death to sin" and "new life" form a strong metaphor for conversion. Baptism marks the point of exit from the old life of sin, and entrance into the new life of righteousness. Sin is associated with the old life, which terminates at the point of baptism ("buried with him through baptism into death.") Righteousness is associated with the new life we began as we were raised from the water. Paul was making the point that it makes no sense to carry sin over from the old life to the new. The whole point of the process was to leave the sin behind, along with its consequences.

Conversion is meant to break the addiction to sin. In the new life, we are no longer slaves to sin. But we still face the possibility of returning to that slavery and addiction. Paul's point is, "Why would you want to do that?" Our past experience with sin, its consequences and penalties should be enough to warn us away from it. The blessings and advantges of remaining righteous are additional incentive to be holy. The decision really is between life and death:
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[2] Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul then turned his attention to the effect that this death had on the relationship of the Jew to the Law. Using the illustration of marriage, he taught that the death to sin set the Jewish Christians free from the Law. The Law was insufficient to control the sinful urges of a life enslaved to sin. With the death to sin, a new life began under a new covenant, in the new way of the Spirit:
Rom 7:6 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.
Next time: the struggle with sin, and life in the Spirit.


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Saturday, March 10, 2007
  Romans Part 7: Adam and Jesus
In the last half of chapter 5 of the book of Romans, Paul explained how Jesus is the solution to the problem of death.

In the preceding portions of the book, Paul wrote of the problem of unrighteousness, which places all mankind under God's wrath. And he explained how God has given us a solution to that problem through a righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus, purchased for us at the cost of the blood of God's son. This righteousness is credited to us as a gift through faith, rather than as a reward for righteous deeds. As a result of this righteousness, we have peace with God and many associated blessings.

One of those blessings is an answer to the problem of death, which dates back to the days of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve sinned by eating fruit from the tree from which God had forbidden them to eat. As a result of that sin, God told Adam:
(Gen 3:19) By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return."
The penalty for the disobedience of Adam and Eve is that they and all their descendents would return to dust. They would experience physical death. This penalty continues to apply to us today.

J. W. McGarvey commented on this point in his commentary on Romans, saying:
Adam's sin brought natural death upon the whole human family, but nothing more. The punishment which we incur through Adam terminates at death. If men are punished after death, it is not because of Adam's, but because of their own individual sins
The salvation that Jesus brings resolves all the outstanding charges by God against man. So how does it affect the penalty of death that comes to all the descendents of Adam? Beginning in Romans chapter 5, Paul explained how in Jesus we are rescued from the permanent consequences of this penalty. He began his explanation in verse 12, then took a detour to explain some concepts, and came back to the explanation in verse 18. First we will look at Paul's overall point from the beginning and end of this section, and then we will return to look at the explanation inserted in the middle.
Rom 5:12 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--
Rom 5:18 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.
Rom 5:19 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.
In a parallel passage, Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
1Co 15:20-22 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Through Jesus, in additon to the gift of righteousness through faith, we also receive the resurrection from the dead. The penalty of death, which comes to us through the universal fall of man, is overcome by resurrection through Jesus Christ.

Paul marveled a the symmetry of God's salvation. And he offered that symmetry as part of his proof that Jesus was the solution to the problem of sin and death.

Now let's take a look at the parenthetical explanation in the middle of this section.
Rom 5:13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
Rom 5:14 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.
Rom 5:15 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!
Rom 5:16 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.
Rom 5:17 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.
Here Paul was trying to help the Jews, who were looking at everything through the eyes of the Law of Moses. To them, it seemed that all the promises and all the penalties from God were under the umbrella of the Law. To clear up that misunderstanding, Paul pointed out:
So, if all these things were independent of Law, where does the Law fit into the picture?
Rom 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
Rom 5:21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Law was given "so that the trespass might increase." In other words, it shines a spotlight on the sin so that it becomes obvious, and to increase our accountability. Law makes it clear what God expects, so that when we disobey we are all the more responsible as a result. Law leaves us with no excuse. We are forced to admit that we are sinners.

But God did not leave us there. Along with the greater sinfulness that results from our disobedience because of the Law, he also provides access to greater grace. And therefore the final result is not a permanent death, but a resurrection to eternal life in Jesus!

Next time: Paul begins to address various Jewish objections to this comprehensive salvation by faith.


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Saturday, March 03, 2007
  Romans Part 6: Benefits of Justification
In Romans chapters 1-4, Paul presented the great need of all men for salvation, and the plan of God to provide that salvation by offering justification through faith in Jesus Christ. In chapter 5, he began to explain the benefits of that justification:
Rom 5:1-2 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.
When a man realizes the wrath of God is against him because of his sin (Rom 1:18), there is nothing he longs for more than peace with God. As the Hebrews writer warns, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). Being justified removes all dread. It means we have that peace with God. And it means we can joyfully anticipate the glorious eternity in heaven, delighting in the presence of Him with whom we now have peace.

The next benefit of justification in Paul's list might strike us as odd:
Rom 5:3-5 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.
The truth is that we have to wait a while for the delights of heaven. Meanwhile we will struggle through various trials and tribulations of this life. Every person who lives faces troubles. Christians may face a few extra ones, because Satan is trying to take us down. And from time to time God decides to discipline us. Paul points out that even in these times we can rejoice--not because we have some unhealthy appetite for suffering, but because we recognize the blessings that will come as a result. When we resist evil, we are following in the footsteps of our Lord (Heb 12:3). When we suffer the discipline of God, we are being refined and made ready for greater things (Heb 12:11). We can anticipate with confidence that the God who loves us will reward us with a blessing far exceeding what we have suffered (Rom 8:18).

Next Paul explains the great security we can have in our justified state:
Rom 5:6-10 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. 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!
God loved us with an amazing devotion even when we were sinners--so much so that he sacrificed his beloved Son to save us. That was at a time when we bore the guilt of an innumerable list of sins. It was when we were enemies of God! Now, through the perfect and completely sufficient sacrifice of Jesus, those sins are no longer counted against us. The barrier is now completely removed! How much more will God bless us now, since the entire debt of sin has been taken away!
Rom 5:11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
As a result of our reconciliation, we rejoice in God! We stand amazed at His love, His truth, His mercy, His holiness, His justice, and His wisdom. We delight that such a God loves us and rules our lives. And we delight that we will never be separated from Him, from now into eternity! What a wonderfully secure place to be!


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Monday, February 26, 2007
  Romans Part 5: The Faith of Abraham
In chapter 4, Paul explained how Christian justification works. He based his explanation on the account of Abraham in Genesis 15.
Rom 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
Paul argued that, because God made his promise to Abraham (Gen 12, Gen 15) before he was circumcised (Gen 17), that therefore the blessing is not only for the circumcised, but also for the uncircumcised:
Rom 4:11-12 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
To understand what Paul is saying, and to reconcile it with what James said in James 2, one must understand the Genesis account of Abraham.

In Genesis 12, God approached Abram and called him to leave his home and travel to another place God would show him. God also made a magnificent promise to Abram at that time:
Gen 12:1-3 Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
God did not say at that time why he was making the promise to Abram. He simply gave the instructions, and made the promise.

Then in Genesis 15, God elaborated on the promise:
Gen 15:1-6 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Again in this context, God did not tell why he was making the promise, or why he had chosen Abram to receive the promise.

In Genesis 17 God gave Abram three things: a new name (Abraham); the covenant of circumcision; and confirmation of the promise of a son (Isaac). But once more, he did not explain why he had chosen to give these great blessings to Abraham.

In Genesis 22, we finally learn more about why God was doing these things:
Gen 22:1-18 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided." And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."
Here God revealed why he had chosen Abraham to receive these great blessings. The reason is stated two ways. First he said "because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son". Then he said "because you have obeyed my voice." Because Abraham was willing to obey God's command sacrifice Isaac, God made these great promises to him. For those reasons, God promised:

(1) to bless Abraham; (Gen 12:2-3)
(2) to multiply his offspring as the stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore; (Gen 15:5)
(3) to grant his offspring the gates of their enemies (Gen 12:7, 15:8, 17:8); and
(4) to bless all nations of the earth through his offspring.(Gen 12:3)

Notice that God made all these promises prior to testing Abraham. But in chapter 22 God made it very clear that the reason he made the promises was because of Abraham's obedience to the command to sacrifice Isaac. Because Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, God sent his own son through Abraham as a sacrifice for all our sins. When God made the promise in chapters 12, 15, and 17, he knew in advance all the events that would follow. God saw the faith that was already present in Abraham before he had done anything. He knew what kind of faith it was.

Also notice the relationship between these promises and the righteousness that comes from faith:
Rom 4:13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
In other words, we are told on one hand that the promises were due to Abraham's obedience (Gen 22:18); but on the other hand that they were due to the righteousness that comes by faith (Rom 4:13). Both obedience and faith are cited as the reason for the promises. That should not surprise us, since obedience and faith are inseparably linked. Abraham was the great example of obedience that comes from faith--the same thing Paul was also called to preach (Rom 1:5).

Paul spoke of this faith that existed in Abraham prior to his deeds of faith:
Rom 4:18-25 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Now let's look at what James said about Abraham:
Jam 2:20-24 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"--and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
In this passage James taught that Abraham was justified (Gen 15 "credited as righteousness") by what he did. He further explained that Abraham's faith and deeds worked together. The works completed the faith. Though Abraham was justified before those deeds, he was also justified by them, as they demonstrated Abraham's genuine faith. James even points out that by obediently offering Isaac, Abraham was fulfilling the scripture from Genesis 15:6. Without the deeds, the faith would have been incomplete and the crediting of righteousness would have been unfulfilled.

In Luke 17, Jesus taught a parable that clarifies this subject:
Luk 17:7-10 "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"
Christians are servants of God. As servants, we have been given responsibilities to carry out. We are fully expected to fulfill those responsibilities. But after having carried them out, we are still servants. More importantly, after doing everything God has required, we are still unworthy servants. Obeying the commands of God will not make us righteous. Only God's gift of righteousness through faith can do that. But like Abraham, we need to have the kind of faith that produces obedience. Those who have that kind of faith are the ones to whom God will credit righteousness.


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Monday, February 19, 2007
  Romans Part 4: Justified by Faith
The first two-and-a-half chapters of Romans describes the plight of all mankind before God. We are all under God's wrath because of the godlessness and wickendness in our lives. Not a single person on the planet is exempt from that wrath. And there is absolutely nothing we can do ourselves to remedy the situation.

Then in the latter part of chapter 3, Paul described God's solution to our sin problem. By his very nature, God had to punish sin. But because of his love for us he devised a way to save us. Rather than bring that punishment upon us, he offered Jesus as a substitute. The sacrifice of Jesus atones for the sin of those who have faith in Jesus.

As a result of God's gift, through our faith, we are granted a righteousness we do not deserve and could not possibly earn. Yet the righteousness we have been given is not imaginary nor theoretical. It is not righteousness in name only. The righteousness is real because the punishment inflicted on Jesus was real. The price that was paid was real. We are really redeemed from our sin.

From the earliest days, some people have taken this gift as a license to sin. Paul was well aware of this. Throughout Romans, Paul presented potential objections and mistaken conclusions to warn us not to draw the wrong conclusions from what he was saying.
Rom 3:28-31 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. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Both circumcised and uncircumcised would be justified by faith. The Jew would not be saved by following the Law of Moses. And the Gentile would not be saved by following the law written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15). Both would be saved by faith. And both would be expected to uphold the requirements of God.

As previously discussed, the gospel Paul preached calls us to the obedience that comes from faith. There is another kind of faith that does not produce obedience. Such faith does not save. (It is unfortunate that this even needs to be pointed out, but it most certainly does need to be said in today's religious world.) But the good news is that, to all who respond to the gospel of Jesus with the kind of faith that produces obedience, God grants righteousness. We pass from death to life, from damnation to heaven, from wrath to blessedness. What a magnificent gift we have been given!

The better we understand that gift, the more we will appreciate it, and the more we will strive to live appropriately in response. In the next post we will go into chapter 4, to look more closely at the wonderful gift of righteousness.


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Monday, February 12, 2007
  Romans: Another Sidebar
As I dig into Romans I am constantly running across things I will not have time to pursue on this time through the book. I am convinced that a month of sermons could be preached from each verse in chapters 2-3. Do not think that this series even begins to plumb the depths of this book!

I've been using a variety of study helps to dig deeper into Romans. That includes multiple Bible versions, Strongs and Thayer's Greek concordances, and several commentaries coming from different perspectives. Albert Barnes and John Gill give a Calvinist perspective. Adam Clarke, John Wesley, and J. W. McGarvey give a Free Will perspective. I think it is important to get both sides, and to realize that there is some truth to both. But I don't want to get bogged down in choosing sides on that controversy. I want to get beneath those things, to understand what God was trying to say through Paul.

I hope this series will inspire others to dig deeper into this book, to look at alternate perspectives, and to come away with a deeper appreciation for what we have in Christ. Paul often spoke of his prayers and efforts to that end (Eph 1:17-19, Eph 3:18-19, Col 1:10, Col 2:2, Titus 1:1...) God intends for us to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for what we have received. The more we understand, the more joy we will experience because of it, and the more benefit we will derive from it. We can get a glimpse of that joy and awe from Paul (note that he is the one expaining these deep truths to us!) in Rom 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?"
"Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Think back to the last time you felt what Paul expressed in that passage. I know I could not have written that. Seeing Paul's passion, awe, joy, and amazement at the glory of God, makes me want to know God like Paul knew Him, and to understand the gift we have been given as Paul understood it. I have a long way to go.

What inspired Paul to write such exalted praise of God? He had just spent eleven chapters explaining the unrighteousness of all mankind, and the gift of righteousness God has prepared for those who have faith in Jesus. What Paul understood about that gift affected him deeply. It moved him. I want to get closer to that kind of appreciation for what God has given us. So it is time to move forward. In my next post I will pick up on the end of chapter 3 and begin the discussion of the righteousness that comes through faith.


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Wednesday, February 07, 2007
  Romans Part 3: Righteousness by Faith (Only?)
In Part 1 we looked at Paul addressing man's unrighteousness, and God's wrath towards that unrighteousness. Then in Part 2 (Rom 2:1-3:18) we saw Paul show that Jews and Gentiles are equally entrenched in that unrighteousness. Paul concluded that part of the argument by stating:
Rom 3:19-20 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.
Then Paul turned his attention to God's solution to this seemingly unsolvable problem:
Rom 3:21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.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
God's solution is to grant righteousness to all who have faith. He accomplished that through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. We are saved from our sins, not by obeying the Law, but by believing in Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Paul explained futher:
Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
This one verse has been center of controversy among believers since 1522. In December of that year, Martin Luther's German translation of the New Testament first went to the printing press. Over the next 40 years, over 100,000 copies of that translation were printed, a phenomenal number for that day. The simple fact that the scriptures were being distributed in the common language was controversial enough at the time, but the greatest controversy centered on Luther's treatment of this one verse. To the literal translation of Romans 3:28, Luther added the German allein (alone), rendering it as:
Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone, apart from observing the law. [Luther]
It is understandable why Luther preferred that rendering. By the time he published his translation, he had been publicly embroiled in a controversy over salvation through works in the Catholic church for a number of years. In particular he was opposed to the practice of indulgences, a process whereby a Catholic believer supposedly could obtain absolution for sins he had committed by performing certain acts prescribed by the priest. In 1517 Luther produced his famous 95 theses indicting these and other related practices of the Catholic church. So when translating the New Testament five years later, he made it a point to add the word "alone" to emphasize how wrong those Catholic practices were.

Of course that created trouble with passages like James 2:14-26, especially verse 24:
James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
To address that seeming contradiction, Luther moved the book of James to an appendix of his Bible along with Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation, and added the following comment:
Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle, and my reasons follow.

In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works 2:24). It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac (2:20); Though in Romans 4:22-22 St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15:6. Although it would be possible to "save" the epistle by a gloss giving a correct explanation of justification here ascribed to works, it is impossible to deny that it does refer to Moses' words in Genesis 15 (which speaks not of Abraham's works but of his faith, just as Paul makes plain in Romans 4) to Abraham's works. This fault proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle.
Luther recognized that his translation of Romans was in direct contradiction to the book of James. His solution to that contradiction was to reject the apostolic authority of the book of James, rather than to question the correctness of his own understanding.

Remember what Peter said about Paul's writings. He said that some of Paul's writings are hard to understand. And he said that men would distort what Paul wrote, to their own destruction. He also characterized those prone to such distortions as "lawless," men who cast off restraints and live for their own pleasure.

Now consider the alteration Luther made to Romans 3:28. If we are saved by mere belief (faith alone), apart from any appropriate response, why not just believe in Jesus and continue to sin? What impact would the sin have on our salvation? The doctrine of salvation by faith only has led many people to their own destruction in exactly that way. As we saw in the previous post, Paul himself pointed out the folly of that teaching. Peter also warned about that kind of distortion. And James flatly stated that we are not saved by that kind of faith. It seems that all three writers, two apostles and the brother of the Lord himself, have amply warned us not to fall into the "faith only" trap.

We will still reap what we sow. In Galatians (perhaps his most direct frontal assault on salvation through law), Paul wrote:
Gal 6:7-9 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
It really does matter how we live. To teach otherwise is deception and a mockery of God.

So then, how are we justified? We will pursue that question further in the next post.


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Monday, February 05, 2007
  Romans: Distortions Then and Now
In the Romans 1 post I briefly mentioned Peter's comment about the difficult passages in Paul's letters. Before proceeding further into Romans, I want to explore the topic of Paul's difficult passages more thoroughly. Peter, Paul, and James all give us insight into the ways that these teachings were being distorted in their day. Understanding what these passages did not mean can help us in understanding what they do mean.

In 2 Peter 3, Peter said:
2Pe 3:15-17 Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
Here Peter pointed out that portions of Paul's letters are difficult to understand, and that some people were distorting those passages. Then Peter warned them not to be carried away by the error of lawless men. It seems that the distortions Peter mentioned were being taught by lawless (Gk athesmos) men. Thayer's lexicon defines athesmos as one who breaks through the restraint of law and gratifies his lusts. In other words, people were twisting Paul's writings, using them as a license to cast off restraints (rejecting all regulations against sin) so that they might sin without penalty. Peter warned us that drawing such conclusions from Paul's letters puts our secure position in jeopardy.

Apparently those lawless men to whom he referred had already fallen from their secure position. They taught, based on a distortion of Paul's teaching about grace, that Christians could sin with impunity. But according to Peter, acting on that teaching causes one to fall from his secure position. This conclusively eliminates arguments people make from Paul's letters, attempting to prove that it is impossible to fall away from grace.

Paul also gave us insight into the prevalent distortions of his teachings:
Rom 3:7-8 Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" Why not say--as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say--"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved

Rom 6:1-2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Rom 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
In these passages Paul refuted distortions of his teaching. In each of these, we see the pattern about which Peter warned. Each example shows the false teacher trying to cast off restraint so that they could sin without penalty. Paul made it clear that this was not sound teaching. How we live does matter. How can we who died to sin continue to live in it?

James also addressed the issue of faith and obedience:
James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

Jas 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

While James did not mention Paul in this context, he certainly addressed one of the primary controversies that has been promoted by distorting Paul's writings, a distortion that apparently was already prevalent at the time James penned these words. The controversy James addressed fits neatly into the class of distortions about which Peter warned -- rejecting the need for obedience. It also parallels those distortions Paul identified--expecting grace without repentance from sin. James made it clear that faith alone does not justify us, and that faith without deeds is dead. Like Peter, James recognized this distortion of Paul's teaching as a matter of spiritual life and death.

Note that in the introduction to Romans, Paul described his ministry as calling people "to the obedience that comes from faith." His commission from God was not merely to call people to faith, but to obedience. Like James, Paul called people to the kind of faith that results in deeds that can be seen.

As we continue in the study of Romans, we must be careful not to be carried away by the error of lawless men. We must avoid conclusions that would absolve us from the responsibility to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. And we must avoid conclusions that would eliminate all consequences for not striving to live such a life. Those types of conclusions are distortions of Paul's teaching.


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Friday, February 02, 2007
  Romans Part 2: Sin and Law
Paul wrote Romans to address attitudes between Jews and Gentiles in Rome. Were the Jews in some way superior to the Gentiles? Did the Gentiles need to obey Jewish law? Paul's answer revolved around the issue of righteousness. In chapter 1, Paul introduced the problem of unrighteous living, and the resulting wrath of God. By the end of chapter one, the Jewish audience may have been feeling pretty good about where this was headed. Of course, they may have thought, the Gentiles deserved the wrath of God. After all, think of all the sins they commit! Every sin listed by Paul in chapter 1 was widely practiced in Roman culture. Paul was indicting the Gentile culture in Rome. He was saying just what these Jews had been thinking all along.

But the careful Jewish listener would have realized that the message was deeper than that. Paul helped the rest to catch up, in chapter 2.
Rom 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
Jews were not innocent. A review of the sins Paul had mentioned in chapter 1 would make that clear. Maybe they were not guilty of some of the "greater" (in their eyes) sins on that list, but they certainly were not innocent. Even the Pharisees were known for being hypocrites, not practicing what they preached. And it will be the practice, not the preaching, that will be judged in the last day:
Rom 2:6-8 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
But what about the law? Wouldn't the law save the Jew? Not a chance:
Rom 2:12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
Even the Gentiles had a conscience, and a sense of right and wrong. Yet they were not innocent, and would therefore perish for their sin. The Jews had too a conscience, but they had a much better-trained sense of right and wrong. Yet they still sinned, and would perish for their sin. Paul gets right to the point about the Jews' hypocrisy:
Rom 2:17-24 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."
Yes, the Jews had an advantage by possessing the law. But they did not obey the law and therefore forfeited the advantage. Jews and Gentiles were all alike under sin. If anything, the Jews were in worse position than the Gentiles. Although they knew God and knew his commands, they chose instead to sin.

How about us?

As Christians we possess the scriptures. We serve God. We give our money. We sing "O How I Love Jesus." We don't steal, drink, smoke, or cuss (at least some of us don't...) Doesn't that make us better than the unbelievers who live for their own pleasure?

Hopefully we know the basics of God's commands. Yet we still sin. When we judge another we condemn ourselves, since we are also guilty. When we seek to justify ourselves by our long list of service and our supposed goodness, we are confusing the cause and the effect. We cannot save ourselves. We owe God a perfect life, and we have already blown it. We are guilty, and there is nothing we can do about that. We need to be rescued. More on that subject in part 3.


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Sunday, January 28, 2007
  Romans 1
I am preparing a series of classes on the book of Romans, so that will be my topic for the next few blog posts. I recently posted some thoughts on the historical context of the book.

Some of the teachings found in Romans are undoubtedly among those Peter referred to when he said:
2 Pet 3:16b His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Romans 3:8, Romans 6:1, Romans 6:15, Romans 7:7, and James 2:14-26 are a few indicators that Paul's difficult teachings were being distorted even in his day.

The evident purpose of Paul's letter to the Romans was to stop the Judaizing influences in the church. In this letter Paul proved that Jews and Gentiles were equally separated from God and equally dependent upon God's intervention to bring about redemption.

To prove this point, Paul taught the Romans about righteousness. The words righteous, unrighteous, and other variants appear over forty times in the book of Romans, and are found in each of the first ten chapters. The basic message was that Jews and Gentiles alike were unrighteous and helpless to do anything about it. But God intervened, providing a way for us to be granted righteousness through faith.

After greeting the Roman Christians in the first part of Romans 1, Paul introduced the theme of the book:
Rom 1:16-17 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. 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."
Paul then immediately focused on the core problem of unrighteousness beginning in verse 18:
Rom 1:18 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 wickedness (KJV unrighteousness) resulted from men refusing to acknowledge God and becoming fools, following after created things rather than the creator. According to Paul, this is the root cause of sin.

And then Paul wrote some of the most sobering words in all scripture:
Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them over...
God gave them over! He did not prevent man from spiraling deeper into wickedness. The consequence for not acknowledging God is to be destroyed by our own folly and wickedness.As a direct consequence of men not acknowledging God, they were "given over" to sexual immorality, idolatry, and homosexuality.

Note that Paul made it unmistakably clear that homosexuality is sin, both for men and for women. In today's American culture that is being called into question. But based on this passage, there can be no doubt where Paul stood on the question of homosexuality. This is certainly not one of Paul's difficult passages! He called homosexuality shameful, unnatural, and indecent. He called it a perversion, for which there is a penalty due. Also note that Peter accepted Paul's letters as scripture, the Word of God (2 Pet 3:16, see above). Those who take the opposing view on homosexuality cannot reasonably claim to hold the scriptures as their standard.

Paul listed numerous other sins that follow when men fail to acknowledge God, because of their depraved minds.
Rom 1:28-31 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, Godhaters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Here Paul presented an interesting list of evil deeds. Envy and deceit are in the same group as murder. Godhaters are right next to the slanderers, insolent, arrogant, and boastful. Disobedience to parents is listed along with ruthlessness. It is impossible to imagine a person who is not guilty on some point according to this list.

Then, so that there could be no doubt about the consequences for such sins, Paul stated:
Rom 1:32 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.
God has decreed that those who do these deeds deserve death.

Our proper response to these things will only become clear as we continue into the following chapters. But a few things are already obvious:
  1. We must acknowledge God in our lives. That means more than an intellectual admission that God exists. It also means that we need to glorify God and to give thanks to Him. And it means that we must not exchange God for the things of this world.
  2. We need to flee from the sins described in this passage!
  3. We must not approve of these sins, neither in our own lives nor in the lives of others.
Yet as we continue into Romans we will find that even doing all this will not make us righteous. We need to be rescued fom ourselves.


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Name: Alan Rouse
Home: Georgia, United States
About Me: I've been a Christian since being baptized in 1976 at the Brooks Avenue Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC. I currently serve as an elder in the Atlanta Church of Christ in Gwinnett. You can email me at blogger[at]rouses[dot]net About my beliefs
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