Archive for the ‘Romans’ Category


Romans part 15: Wrapup

April 27, 2007

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!


Romans Part 14: Accept One Another

April 26, 2007

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.


Romans Part 13: Therefore…

April 19, 2007

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!


Romans Part 12: The Gospel and the Jews

April 7, 2007

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?


Romans Part 11: The Love of God

April 3, 2007

By the end of Romans 8, Paul had shown that

  • Jews and Gentiles alike are lost in sin and unable to attain righteousness on their own.
  • the Law was not capable of producing righteousness in sinful man.
  • the Gospel solves every difficulty of sinful man, so that by faith we can fully meet the righteous requirements of God
  • we can put to death the misdeeds of the body through the Spirit living in us.

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!


Romans Part 10: Life in the Spirit

March 29, 2007

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.


Romans Part 9: Struggle and Victory

March 19, 2007

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.


Romans Part 8: Death to Sin

March 14, 2007

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.


Romans Part 7: Adam and Jesus

March 10, 2007

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:

  • that death entered the world before the Law, and was independent of Law
  • that death was a penalty to all mankind because of the fall of Adam
  • that righteousness through faith in Jesus is offered to all mankind because of the gift of Jesus
  • by implication, the gift of Jesus was also independent of the Law

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.


Romans Part 6: Benefits of Justification

March 3, 2007

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!