The Gospel Applied: “Red Card” (Romans 14, part one)

A “red card” is a penalty card used in many sports as a means of reprimanding a player, coach or team official. They are usually used by referees to indicate that a player has committed an offense. I mention that, not because this is a sports lesson, but because there are times when it seemed appropriate to the Apostle Paul to raise a “red card” to some of the people in the church of the first century, because they were acting in ways that needed to be “called out”. It isn’t unloving to call out bad behavior, though it can be done in an unloving way. In fact, the basis of much of parenting is doing just that: letting a child know what behavior will not be accepted as they journey through life. In this lesson, we are going to watch as Paul pulled a “red card” out of his toga for instruction during a service in the growing infant church of the first century. They were doing something wrong – and it is something we need to take another look at as we pass through this letter.

If you will allow me, I want to begin this lesson in an unusual way – with a story that is both NEGATIVE and PERSONAL. I won’t end there, but I am choosing to do this because I believe it will help us understand the passage of Scripture we are about to study together – both the specific features of the text and how emotionally deep the issues involved truly are even in our day…

A couple of years ago I got a phone call from a young woman who was very upset with a leader in the church where I was serving. She reported to me that she was in a public place in town and she saw one of our church leaders at the time ordering a beer with his sandwich at a vendor’s stand. Even worse (in her mind), that leader offered to buy a beer for the guy that he was going to sit at lunch with, but the man declined because he didn’t drink. It turns out, the man the leader was sitting with was a friend of the woman who called, and he was a Christian who grew up being taught that any consumption of beer was a sin – a violation for any Christian. Though he thought it was terrible that anyone who confessed Christ as Savior would drink a beer, much less offer to another brother a beer, he didn’t tell the church leader that he was offended at the purchase and offer, but rather took his offended spirit to the young woman who called me. She was indignant when she brought it to me.

I think she thought she knew how I would respond – and I didn’t live up to her expectations. I know that because she was so deeply offended that she left that church and verbally shared her disappointment with others in the Christian community. In fact, four others left that fellowship – never to return to the best of my knowledge. They left primarily because their expectation was that I would strip the man from any leadership position and that our church would publicly apologize to her friend for his “sin of participation” in alcohol consumption. I honestly tried my best to respond to her kindly, but because I didn’t do what she wanted, she left and took her friends with her.

I wasn’t hurt because she chose to leave the church where I was serving – I try not to let that be a problem to me. Over the years I have come to recognize there are many reasons people may be led to move from wherever I am to another place. God is at work in people’s lives, and I believe my voice is just one among many. I truly know many who do this work well and I admire them, and feel privileged every time you take the time to walk back in and sit down for another hour together. I did hurt when she left, though. I hurt because I enjoyed her company when she was with us. She brought a great testimony for God. I hurt because she didn’t mind defaming a whole room full of brothers and sisters she once called her “spiritual family”.

The Bible makes distinctions about three kinds of behavior, and different passages address each. Sometimes, the passage we read is encouraging an appropriate expression of the faith by a Christian – it is a GOOD behavior. Other times, the passage is explaining why God put limits on a choice and how we should not pass by the fences He placed – that is a BAD behavior. Still others, like the ones we are going to look more closely at in Romans 14, are behaviors that God neither forbids, nor encourages – they are PERSONAL CONVICTION behaviors. The passage we want to examine is very much about things that different Christians view in different ways. These are passages that often confuse people that don’t know God, as well as immature believers, who read nothing more than “you don’t get to judge others” and conclude they understand the Bible.

Let’s be clear: the same Apostle that wrote what we will study today also told a church to remove a man in sexual sin from a congregation of believers in 1 Corinthians 5 – because that was a BAD behavior. Later when he repented, Paul told them to “let him back in” and stop forbidding his participation – because that was GOOD behavior.

Despite what people say, the Bible doesn’t say that real believers make no value judgments about behaviors.

You can’t raise a child without making judgments about who they should, and should not spend time with. That is part of good parenting. At the same time, there are choices that each believer is privileged to make with the Spirit of God that are not another person’s choice to make for them.

Because you love Jesus doesn’t mean you must be a Republican or Democrat – that is your choice, and it is based on how you grew up, and who you believe has a better vision, in general, for the country. Your Christianity isn’t wrapped in whether you like the new healthcare legislation. We don’t run campaigns in the foyer, and we don’t try to speak for or against every piece of new government legislation – though even our staff has personal opinions, I am sure, about many of the news headlines. You can agree or disagree on whether our country should be pressing to make an agreement with Iran this month – or not. Let me say it plainly: You may have many very passionate ideas and beliefs that are truly are rooted to your best understanding of how to apply God’s Word to daily life – but that doesn’t mean that you are right. It also doesn’t mean you have the right to expect to win the argument even in a room full of Christians. In fact, your argument may be wounding other believers… so we need to talk about it.

I know we need to talk about it, because God prompted Paul to write about it in Romans 14 (and 1 Corinthians 8-10), and our study in Romans will be where we place our attention for this lesson. Here is the point…

Key Principle: Believers must be taught not to harm those who are weaker in their Biblical world view with things the Bible allows individuals to decide between them and God.

The idea is summarized in the beginning of the passage…Paul warned the Roman believers: “Include those who are not mature in their faith (ability to see what God says is true), whose Biblical worldview is limited. Include them to help them, not simply to judge their condition (and control by your preferences their choices)”. (14:1).

There are two points we must recall before we can embrace the passage and truly understand it:

First, none of the things we will discuss are explicitly WRONG (as defined in the Bible).

These same principles DO NOT APPLY in cases where the Bible is explicit about what must be done or avoided. Two believers who are engaged in a sexual relationship outside of marriage are violating Scripture and committing sin – and that isn’t what we are talking about. A man who is breaking into your car is stealing. If you find out about it, you needn’t worry that you are being judgmental, you can just call 9-1-1 and let the police worry about that. We ARE allowed to stand against sin that is called such in Scripture – in fact we are commanded to do it. When people want to persuade the public that they should be able to do something the Bible calls sin, we have every right as a American to object, and every duty as a Christian to live inside the text – no matter what the world accepts as their ever-changing moral standard.

Second, believers are all at different points of growth in their journey to follow Jesus, so we must learn to distinguish between what is WRONG and what WE BELIEVE someone shouldn’t do.

As much as we may hesitate to admit it, they aren’t an identical list. When people aren’t doing what we think they should – we have a tendency to mislabel them. Sometimes we can’t tell if the person in front of us is really a rebel or just a confused person who doesn’t know enough about God’s Word to really understand what we are saying. If we treat a searching or immature Christian as a rebel, we can wound them badly, and perhaps push them from a proper walk with God. Their hurt can become Satan’s playground to hinder them from growth – so we need to be careful.

Let’s get into our study of Romans 14, and set it in the letter Paul wrote, as he moved his thoughts from Heaven and God’s work to earth (Romans 1-11) to the believer’s daily experience (Romans 12-16). Certainly both Heaven’s work and earth’s testimony are important. Certainly the first one affected – and even made possible – the second. The fact is, though, believers need to know more than their position – they need to know what being a “believer” means in practical terms. How does an eternal relationship with God affect a Tuesday in July? That is what the second part of Romans is all about.

Romans 12: The Transforming Believer

In Romans 12 set the stage for the section, in three simple facts.

First, we are not our own, and therefore must recognize God has the right to inspect and correct our behaviors (Romans 12:1-2).

Second, we were empowered to serve one another, not simply saved to change our eternity (Romans 12:3-8).

Third, God set the parameters of proper attitudes and actions (12:9-21). He offered a series of them:

1. Authentic love (12:9a).
2. Life choices that stand against evil and for what God calls “good (12:9b).
3. Showing Deference: A “my brother first” deferral that puts away selfishness (12:10-11).
4. Good attitudes: A hopeful voice, a patient spirit and prayerful decision making processes (12:12) and even a kind gentleness (12:16).
5. Inviting: A loving spirit toward people (12:13).
6. Forgiving: Blessing one who has tried to smear our reputation (12:14).
7. Supporting: Coming beside the hurting to be a refuge of tears, or celebrating with party hats one who is rejoicing (12:15).
8. Confidence: A tongue that tries to make peace without compromise (12:17-18) a heart that quickly regains peace when wounded (12:19-20).
9. Outreaching: We should do what it takes to be renewed to the task of constantly peering into the painful darkness – not to curse it – but to rescue those lost in it (12:21).

Romans 13: The Good Citizen

In Romans 13, Paul took a few moments to leave the relationships between believers in the church, and addressed how a follower of Jesus should be a good and obedient citizen if it was at all possible. The important point we acknowledged when we looked at Romans 13 is that we are entirely unable to “pull off” the Christian life in the flesh – but NEED the Holy Spirit to empower our lives and convict us when our choices begin to “wander off the rails”.

He didn’t linger in that thought, but turned back to relationships between believers to continue his points from Romans 12, as if certain behaviors were necessary to address right away – and it appears they truly were. People were hurting each other in the circle of believers, and what was worse – they thought they were right in doing so. Let’s look closer. Paul began by introducing someone:

Romans 14: Meet the Weak Believer – where we all began our journey.

Romans 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

The weak in faith are not, in the context, those who don’t know God. They are clearly followers of the Lord Jesus based on how he described them in the remainder of the text. They are apparently those who are still unstable enough in their walk that they will stumble if someone’s behavior drives them off course. They probably don’t know the Word very well (though they may not know they do not), and clearly aren’t strong enough to grasp on their own what God allows and what God doesn’t.

In my experience, they are often compassionate people who accept out of love those who are walking in sin and are dangerous – but they love them and cannot see danger in both their closeness to them, and their inability to answer of the hope that is within them clearly. They may be those who continue to think in un-Biblical ways because God has not yet begun a transforming work in them in some area and they may not understand the critical thinking path that allows a more mature believer to see the issue with the greater clarity and context that comes from years in the Spirit and the Word.

Two Test Cases

Look at the description of the “weak in faith” person, and note the problems they enter the room bearing (consciously or subconsciously). The Apostle offered two distinct issues that plagued their thinking. One of them related to the mundane world of food and its preparation. The second related to the spiritual demands of corporate worship and its timing.

Look at the first case – what appears to be a dietary issue:

Romans 14:2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.

Here is the key: The case of the food is not simply about “carnivores” and “vegetarians” – it is about people who perceive the dangers of “unholy affiliation” (14:2-4).

Jews who were scattered throughout the provinces in the Roman period had very specific eating requirements based on Leviticus 11 and other passages of the Law. Unless they had access to both a kosher butcher, and a rabbi who was recognized to be able to declare foods kosher under the law (in terms of their origin and preparation) – they had to eat vegetables alone. Some of them came to Jesus and yet were still Jews, so they ate restricted meals, and their faith in Messiah did not mean they could simply buy the local ham or  improperly bled beef.

Add to that, the meat that was available in the marketplace was often associated with pagan offerings as described in 1 Corinthian 8-10. Gentile born believers knew well the pagan associations with meat “offered to idols” before it hit the market (often at discount prices). Some believers associated the meat with the idolatry – especially if they had been involved in that kind of cultic life before they came to Jesus. It felt like a deep regression into the power of the occult to have that burger – and they couldn’t in good conscience do it. Other Gentile born followers of Jesus grew up in small villages, and it simply never had that connotation in their mind – so they didn’t care.

With all that as background, here is the problem: some Jews associated meats with improper standards of preparation, while some Gentiles felt a cultic influence was creeping into the life of a believer if they bought meat offered to idols. In short, some people associate certain practices with a part of their life before their walk with God. In their minds the practice is inextricably linked to the evil foundation in their mental association. It can’t be right, because it was a part of the life of darkness to them…they believe all followers of Jesus should see the purity of their thinking and stop a practice based on their logic.

They were likely tempted to lean into two opposite extremes as a result:


The one who eats meat is not to belittle the one who is so concerned they refuse all meat. (14:3a) It is often the temptation of those who have a broader perspective to look down on those who restrict their behavior but seem somewhat legalistic.

Here is the problem with the partaker’s line of thought – they don’t see the depth of passion and strength of heart the Kingdom gains by having someone like an abstainer among them. They can easily lack appreciation for the amount of time and energy the abstainer put into making their walk with God a very pure behavior. It takes discipline and work to walk with God, and they may not be correct at all their conclusions, and may even be overly restrictive – but that doesn’t mean they are trying to be a pain – they are working to sharpen their walk and help us all be the spotless bride that Jesus deserves.

The more liberal mind often has grasped more information on a subject, but that doesn’t justify less respect for a brother. We live in times when the simplest problems are being obscured by complexity. Rather than take all week to read the details of an Iran treaty, why not ask a simple question like: “Is it right to deal with people while they are actively seeking to destroy you and your interests in their speeches and support of terrorism?” All the complexity of what IS and IS NOT included in an agreement gets clarified by the contextual question of whether we should negotiate with people actively and openly engaged in terrorism on an international level. Regardless of how you feel about the agreement, my point is that it is easy to end up befuddled by complexity and lose the simplicity of any right and wrong anywhere. Everything becomes a relative grey because you are so educated – you no longer can call evil what it is. Can we not agree that blowing up children on a bus to make a point make you inherently uncivilized? Can we all agree that supporting such actions should keep you from sitting at the table of civilized nations?


The one who abstains should not judge the one who eats the meat. (14:3b). It is natural that those who believe something strongly enough to discipline themselves to keep from it will tend to see those who participate as “liberal” and “less dedicated” to the truths that they have experienced.

Here is the problem with that abstainer’s thought – they aren’t as consistent as they think they are. The days of the week in our modern English speaking culture were named after the classical planets in Hellenistic astrology, according to a system introduced in Late Antiquity. The Germanic tribes added to the terms, but all were thoroughly laced in a pagan system of celebration. For instance, the term Sunday came from the Old English Sunnandæg meaning “sun’s day” and a Germanic myth of a goddess who gave birth to the other days. We could go on and on, speaking of names of months, holidays and the like. In other words, no one can cut all that pagan influences out of their life and still function in the world. Paul wrote Scripture in a Greek language with words heavily laden and often derived from pagan mythology. He didn’t tell people to learn Hebrew before he would give them the Gospel.

Be careful with what I am saying. I am not arguing that because we have a little paganism in our culture you should dive into the deep end of the pool. I am simply making the point that purists only see the parts of purity that bug THEM, and not the total picture… it is perhaps more complex than they like to realize. Therefore, two things are essential: we must remove from our lives the things God speaks into our heart about, and we must be gentle toward those who do not – if it is not specified in Scripture. We can pray that God will show them something, and we can lovingly discuss their view – but we have no right to even THINK of ourselves as BETTER because we have a particular view on a preference. If the Bible doesn’t say it, it isn’t dogma – and you don’t have the right to be dogmatic about things that aren’t dogma.

A Warning to Both Sides of the Argument: Don’t argue!

Paul offered these words to the “hyper-careful vegetarians” and to the “liberal thinking carnivores” – stop arguing and don’t hurt one another. Why? Listen to the word:

Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

In other words, it isn’t the menu that is a problem – it is the attitudes and treatment to one another that are problems. Both responses are wrong (14:4), because neither is to live comparing their walk to the other, nor are they to attempt to control others who serve God. They are to call on their Master for personal direction and live according to the conscious presence of the Master in their lives.

The Second Case: The case of Christian corporate celebration isn’t only about which days to worship, it is actually about inappropriately forced application of God’s Word (14:5-18):

Take your time with this one, because it can be hard to follow, and it is critical. In Romans 14, Paul wrote:

Romans 14:5 “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.”

Some people have been deeply blessed by practices that God commanded them to keep. They know what God did in their lives through obedience, and they cannot understand their limited application – how a believer could live without that practice that is so meaningful to them…Some of my Jewish believing friends fall into this camp – but mostly it comes from people who weren’t born Jewish, but insist that all followers of Jesus must follow the practices given specifically to the Jewish people. They essentially are forcing what God commanded a specific group onto the whole of those who would follow God.

Let’s say it this way: God commanded that some people were to keep particular days (Jews and Sabbath, Holy Days) but others had no such command, and weren’t a part of the context at the time the Scripture command was given. Some people began, already in the first century, to try and enforce these prescribed days and celebrations on all believers in an effort to make all one (14:5a). Still others tried to make the case that although some believers were not commanded to keep those unique Jewish markers, still they would benefit from keeping them.

Paul outlined principles for three proper behaviors:


Since God is in charge and God created communication, we can safely leave some things to the Holy Spirit (smile) – like giving believers direction in areas not specified by Scripture. Keep reading:

Romans 14:5b “…Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Each believer that was not specifically commanded by God’s Spirit to celebrate on a certain day or in a certain way was free to choose, but needed to consciously consider the choice (14:5b). Each of us serves the Lord Jesus – and when His Word hasn’t clearly told us what to do, we have His Holy Spirit within to do that.

Let’s be clear: Legalism kills the work of the Spirit, because it allows someone else to play the role of the Holy Spirit in leading God’s people. It stifles conviction and rests control in the hands of men, but God didn’t put that decision in the hands of men. Legalism is thwarted by people of conviction speaking out against “lowest common denominator” faith.

Why didn’t God tell us everything? First, He offered principles to virtually every area of life I can think of. Second, it occurs to me that these disagreements opened the opportunity for the Lord to develop backbone in the family of faith. By developing thoughtful reasons for behavior, we consciously choose to live for the Lord instead of obediently following the dictates of human institution!


Every believer must remember that Jesus will judge our behaviors and performance:

Romans 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

We must ever be mindful that Jesus is the Righteous Judge, and He alone must be pleased by our walk. He is perfectly capable of righting what is wrong. Don’t skip over 14:12, because it is critical to understand. I will not be standing with you at the judgment of your works. Jesus was judged for your sins, but your works are open for inspection NOW and when you stand before Him – and you will do that ALONE. You will need to explain to Jesus why you chose to do things His Spirit told you not to do. Your mom won’t step in an explain your “special case” – this one is all on you.


Finally, Paul made clear that we must do everything possible to avoid causing another brother to stumble into sin because of our behavior. (14:13).

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.

It is possible the best way to avoid any possible offense may be to participate in some behaviors only in private – but that is for the second part of this lesson. In the next lesson, we will talk about the “avoiding all appearances of evil”. For now, it is important that we make sure we understand that we can be WRONG in attitude even when we are RIGHT in practice.

Believers must be taught not to harm those who are weaker in their Biblical world view with things the Bible allows individuals to decide between them and God.

I cannot close this without finishing what I told the woman with the complaint about the church leader, or I know what mail I will receive this week!

I asked the woman to meet with me, and asked her to bring all that she could find on what the Bible said about ordering a beer at a vendor stand. In addition, I asked her to read Matthew 18 and answer this question: If you or your friend were offended at the leader’s behavior, did you take the time to tell him that? Why or why not?

When we met, I asked her if the Bible said that any alcohol consumption was sin. She said, “No! I believe drunkenness is a sin.” I asked her if the leader acted as if he was intoxicated, or consumed anything more that would make you believe he had been intoxicated at that or any other time? She said, “No! But I was offended!” I said, “Do you have the right to dictate his behavior in an area where the Bible does not?” She said, “If I am offended, he shouldn’t do it!” I said, “First, he doesn’t know you are offended, because you didn’t tell him – you told me. Second, the Bible did not give you the right to dictate the work of the Spirit in an area where you agree the Bible does not specifically call out the proper choice.”

Then, I stopped. I could tell she was hurt, and I didn’t want that. I tried to share about this passage and the one in 1 Corinthians 8-10. She agreed in principle, but was just sure that because she felt so strongly about it, it must have been a “God thing”. I told her the same Spirit at work in her was at work in that leader. I asked if she prayed for him. She said, “No! I want him to step down!” I replied: “That’s fine. My question is, does Jesus want him to step down? You’ll only know if you take the time to talk to Jesus about that, and then sit and talk with that leader directly.” She left, took others with her, and never returned. She missed the lesson.

You see, I know that leader. I know he would never touch another beer in public again if he thought it would genuinely cause someone to stumble. She didn’t stumble. She tried to dictate legalism, and when she couldn’t make the rules – she left to spread her sense of righteous indignation elsewhere.

Despite what our culture says, you have no divine right to walk through life without being offended at another person’s choices.

Let me end with this: You will never fix broken things by making up your own rules. Jesus told us how to act with one another, and He is the Master.

The Gospel Applied: “Mission Impossible” – Romans 13

peter-gravesWhen I was a kid, Peter Graves used to get his spy assignments for a secret team of agents on a reel to reel tape recorder. Every episode, we heard the words: “Your mission, should you decide to accept it is…” The fun part was the end of his listening to the message when it ended with: ”This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.” Right in front of our eye the tape would start smoking, and evaporate! Oh those were simpler days! We sat mystified at how these secret spies of the underworld could pass undetected messages beneath the nose of an unsuspecting public. During the whole series (1966-73), Bruce Geller (the producer) kept us guessing at how the “IMF” or “Impossible Mission Force” would trick one bad guy after another. Every problem seemed insurmountable. Every enemy seemed clever. Yet, episode after episode, the “Impossible Mission Force” pulled out some new magic.

Don’t lose me on the illustration… As I was preparing anew the lesson from Romans 13, I recognized it was a very simple passage. It contains plain instruction and is not written in a pretentious style that demands too much of any reader to grasp. Yet, though it is simple on the surface, the demands of the passage require an understanding of the broader context that we must recognize, or the passage will leave us wanting. We will read God’s Word, seek to do what He told us, and find ourselves defeated and depleted. What do I mean? Look for a moment, even before reading the whole chapter, at the last line of Romans 13, found in verse 14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.”

Now ask yourself, “What does that truly mean?” Am I about to listen to a message that encourages me to look at a model Christian as one who leaves today in their car without using the air conditioner? Will they refuse a good restaurant for lunch and go home to eat bread, drink water and send the money they would have spent to missionaries? Will they avoid comforts through the week, and sleep on a hard floor rather than a soft mattress? “You’re being silly!” some will protest. Maybe. Now, let me ask you, how does one make NO PROVISION for the flesh in regard to its lusts and walk through a buffet line? There must be more to this! The passage appears to tell us what God expects from us, but not HOW God expects us to do what He told us to do.

In an effort to make clear what I believe must be understood about the passage, I am going to ask you to allow me to change the normal way I construct a lesson. If you will be patient, I would like to take a few minutes and take apart the passage BEFORE we look at the key principle we will consider… If you will be patient, the method will make sense.

Before moving into the lesson, we should note again that our text is part of the section that deals with God’s desired behaviors from those who have first recognized their sinfulness (Romans 1-3), and the gift of God that is our salvation (Romans 4-5). It is written for those who know that God empowers us to walk with Him (Romans 6-8), and for those who trust God for doing what is right in His plan – keeping His Word at all times, as exemplified in His relationship with Israel (Romans 9-11). Romans 12-16 was clearly written for the believer and about the measure of a believer. In that context, it offers four simple, straightforward instructions.

Four Instructions for Believers

Instruction One: We must recognize that God gets to put people in charge, and accept the truth that God is ultimately in charge of the whole plan.

As a follower of Jesus, we accept that what is happening in the physical world is but a symptom of the spiritual world. We believe that behind the scenes are two competing agendas – that of a loving God and another of a deceiving enemy. Though God’s enemy has great power on our planet, he is limited to the realm God has set for him until the time that evil is brought to an end. Ultimately, all things happen under the authority of our Heavenly Father – even the things He is not pleased by. Yet, the underlying system, though at times suffering from later corruptions, is still a reflection of His original establishment. Paul put it this way…

Romans 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

The text argued for obedient and respectful believers in the public realm. Don’t miss that there are three important principles related in this portion:

• Design: First, God had an original design for civil authority. Part of honoring God in this text is choosing as believers to in practical ways place ourselves beneath the authority the Word claims God placed over us (13:1a). The text also made clear that it was God’s design that authorities were placed to help those who desired to do good and cooperate with society, and to keep those who did evil in fear (13:3-4). Government had a divine design. Civil authority had a God-strategy.

• Rebellion: Second, God expects believers to follow His appointed authorities. Refusal to follow the authorities (with the exception of the most radical circumstances covered in the few places concerning civil disobedience elsewhere in Scripture) is ultimately a refusal to follow God’s ordained order (13:1b). In fact, our rebellion against God’s placed civil authority is another form of rebellion against God. The statement is not absolute – for there were times when believers had to stand against civil authority to preserve life and obey God – but they were the rare exception. We must remember that there is a distinction between people in Scripture who were motivated by an intense desire to follow God with their whole heart – that ran into conflict with the authorities, and people who were motivated by rebellion and self-will to fight the authority at hand. With rare exception, God expects His followers to respect civil authorities.

• Results: Third, God endowed civil authorities with effective tools to punish those who would not follow. Those who refuse to follow the God-ordained authority do so at their own peril and should anticipate no aid from God in doing so (13:2). Standing against God-ordained authorities will not only incur certain negative outcomes, but will also violate your sense of guiltlessness before God and man (13:5). God has not appointed them without some real power.

Instruction Two: We must act out submission by paying our taxes.

The theory of obedience was made much more practical by Paul pointing to our use of money to show obedience and honor. He noted:

Romans 13:6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

This isn’t heady, it simply requires that we not “in theory” to embrace civil authority and then feel justified starving its ability to collect revenue necessary to perform its vital civil tasks. The passage requires that we openly agree to pay, honor and show respect to those in authority. Bear in mind Paul was a Roman, writing during the early years of Emperor Nero. Though he was not yet acting out, there were ample illustrations of inequitable rulers readily available at the time.

Don’t cynically read this as some kind of patronizing passage to keep the authorities off the back of the early church leaders – it is both their record and the breathed Word of God! The instruction was clearly to respect, fear and honor civil authority based on their placement by God. This included paying taxes into a system that used the money for purposes we wouldn’t individually agree to as believers. There is yet a third instruction…

Instruction Three: We must be clear: taking or withholding something that belongs to another (according to God) is both a violation of God’s law and an unloving act.

It is important for us to note that when God calls for us to give honor, fear and treasure to civil authority, He has the right to direct my finances. All that I have has come into my life because of My Heavenly Father. Listen to what God directed:

Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law. 9 For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law.

We are to keep our ledger clear of debt, but recognize there is one part of the ledger that can never be clear: the part concerning our love. We OWE it to people to love them. If we violate the sacredness of another person’s marriage – we steal from someone. We steal their special bond, violate the sacredness of their promises and covenant to each other, and potentially wound their children and family. When we kill another human being, we steal their right to more opportunities for forgiveness, more chances to find love and experience grace – we take from them what is not ours to take. When we take from another the things that are justly theirs, we remove from them the fruit of their labors, and we show ourselves discontented with what God has placed rightfully in our hands. All these are sins: adultery, murder, theft. We must not take, but we are equally commanded not to withhold – or we also sin. We are not to withhold our deliberate action to meet the needs of those around us, without the expectation of any specific return on our action. We are to love, because we were commanded to by God. – that is reason enough. There is one final command…

Instruction Four: Because we claim to be Jesus’ followers, we should endeavor to take on the Master’s looks: His actions, attitudes and the focus He had on finding fulfillment in His Father, not the flesh.

Perhaps summarizing the whole passage, the end of the text calls for us to deliberately change our appearance…

Romans 13:11 [Do] this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.

God called on every follower of Jesus to lay aside the works of a life built on self, and put on the attitudes, character and action that were exemplified in our Savior Some things are to be removed: carousing and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, sensuality, divisions and the poison of jealousy. Some things are to be increasingly evident: Christ-like focus on fulfilling the desires of our Father in self denial.

What is absolutely clear is this: Paul, under the direction of God’s Spirit, made a list of things in Romans 13 he wanted believers to observe with their lives. He instructed them to DO some things. Left by itself, Paul’s words can look like a “self-help” directional seminar. It can sound like he is giving us a shopping list of things to do in order to have God “check off” on our life sheet – “Good job!” To some limited extent, that is true…but only in the context of a yet greater truth – and here is the point you waited so patiently to understand…

Key Principle: What God calls us to do MUST be understood in the context of who we are in Christ and what He does with one who trusts in Him. Without that context, we will try to walk with God in the power of the flesh.

Years ago I heard a Pastor in Canada say that he thought of these kinds of Bible passages like a J C Penney catalogue. He could look through the catalogue of God’s Word and see the things he wanted to have, spiritually speaking, in his life. To get them, he would pray. He looked at prayer like “placing the order” from the catalogue of the Scripture. He could visualize himself praying, and as he did, his request was sent it up to Heaven. He imagined a long room full of angelic employees who would take his request, let’s say, to be “more loving” – and drop it on the angel’s desk marked “more love”. They would package some special amount of love and shoot it down to his heart with a spiritual arrow. If he read that he shouldn’t be jealous, he would ask God to give him more strength to keep him from succumbing to jealousy, and then could just see an angel at the “spiritual strength” desk shooting an arrow at him as he slept, hitting him in the heart. This is how he viewed his Christian life for years – the Bible catalogue and the “angelic arrow” Federal Express. The problem is that kind of life gets heavy – because it isn’t a whole view of what God told us about the spiritual world and walking in it well.

Behind the problem with that thinking is that doesn’t take into account ALL of what God told us, only part of it. Paul knew something about the list he gave the early believers that we must understand or we will work hard to be good Christians and fail every time. Here is the truth: the standards were absolutely impossible for them to pull off on their own.

Let me say it another way directly from the passage we have just studied. You may want to walk in constant obedient subjection to those in authority over you. You may desire to pay everyone everything you owe them – all the time. You may seek to be known as the most loving neighbor in the history of mankind. You may have a sincere yearning to reflect only works that are in harmony with the life and teachings of Jesus. You may aspire to walk without a hint of sexual impurity in your innermost thoughts. You may voraciously hunger to live a life without a single conflict with those around you, and never allow the cancer of jealousy to eat away at your soul. You may truly, whole-heartedly and with all your best intention crave a life that could stand before God and man and say: “Inspect me, within and without, and you will see one who makes not even a slight provision for my fleshly hungers – but lives a life of purity and wholesome thinking.” Here is the truth: you don’t have the power to pull it off. There isn’t one Christian you have ever met that can make the claim that they have successfully pulled off that list – not one.

But I have the Bible!

Some will react inside with objections because they have worked to know the Word and believe that alone should bring about victory. Your knowledge of God’s Word will be helpful, but it won’t get the job done, either. Before you reject what I am saying… listen. Most of you know me. I am a Bible teacher and I push with all my strength to get people to study the Word and know the Word in order to LIVE the Word. Yet, I have to woefully admit that that isn’t the whole story – by itself that prescription won’t work.

Consider the context of Paul’s earlier words in Romans 7, where he clearly showed that while the Law of God made clear we are self-willed and fall woefully short of right behavior, that same Law was entirely inadequate to make me pleasing to Him – because it didn’t provide the power to pull it off. In fact, Paul went on to tell us HE couldn’t pull off the Law:

Romans 7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I [would] like to [do], but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want [to do], I agree with the Law, [confessing] that the Law is good.

Paul made it clear: He was inadequate in his will power to follow the patterns and practices God outlined for him, and the knowledge of the will of God didn’t come with the power to obey God in and of itself. Is it any wonder you and I struggle with the same thing? Most of us have far less training, far less successful church planting and far less impact on our generation than Paul had on his, and yet HE couldn’t pull of godliness with his own power. He couldn’t get from text to practice without dropping the ball!

Here is the truth: Your knowledge of God’s Word will make greater obedience eventually possible, but it will not, by itself, make you obedient to Jesus. Those of us who have both known Christ for a long time, and who have carefully studied His Word can testify without exception that we are sure of our salvation, that we are thankful for the Word of God – but that we are very much still strugglers against sin in our own lives. There is no question about it, I won’t “learn my way out of temptation” or “learn my way into consistent victory over sin.” The power simply isn’t there. If Paul couldn’t, what makes me so arrogant to think that I will be able to accomplish this? But wait… that isn’t the whole problem. I must also face a world that is cold to my labor to obey and honor God.

My Environment is no help!

Add to the truth that I am a fallen vessel the fact that I live in times that are increasingly discouraging me to walk in a way that pleases God. This world is no friend to grace, to obedience and to honoring Christ. It hasn’t been since Paul’s day. He wrote:

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 [we are] afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Paul made clear that his power wasn’t from the flesh, but the weakness of his flesh would make it clear to anyone who was watching that when he did right it was God working through his broken life. You read no arrogance in 4:7, but a broken man who exalted Christ in each victory! Immediately after, Paul made clear that life wasn’t easy. The world wasn’t friendly to his faith. He described the constant pressure on him in 4:8-10. Listen to the words closely: “afflicted – not crushed; confused – not despairing; persecuted – not alone; struck down – not destroyed; marked by the call of the Cross – dead to self. He didn’t want to live for Himself… he wanted Jesus to live through Him.

Here is the great challenge of our time – not battling people who believe they found liberty by forcing an agenda through judicial fiat, but by battling a false view of hope, love and true fulfillment. As God’s church in this age, we must renew ourselves to the task of articulating clearly the truth that finding ultimate freedom cannot come from trust in this world and its pleasures. The call of Christ is to “come and die to self that I might live through you!”

The Bible is clear: true happiness will not be found in even the best human relationships, because all of us are fickle, fragile and frail. Our “lifetime lover” may believe they will be faithful, and they may love us deeply – but we may still end up sitting beside their empty chair. Don’t forget that they are not in control of the length of their days, and if they were, they would honestly reveal they struggle to be in control of their wandering desires throughout their life. We rob people of the truth when we act as though real fulfillment can be found in relationships with people.

Come now, believer, let us renew ourselves to the grand message yet again! Relationships on a broken planet filled with flawed people cannot be where ultimate fulfillment is found. It is the Gospel that sets people free. It is Jesus Who saves! It is God’s Spirit Who brings true liberty! No acceptance by the crowd, no sense of empowerment, no decoration of earthly riches and no form of sexual expression ever will make me free. Only Jesus can do that.

If I cannot pull off obedience to God in the flesh, how can I take the Word and grow? How can I be held responsible for what happens in my growth.

Your growth isn’t dependent on you alone, but you play a role in it.

First, I must reckon that the foundation of my relationship with God is not based on my performance – but on Christ’s work.

Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did]: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…

That doesn’t mean that I should get mystical and fuzzy about obedience – it means that I shouldn’t look at my relationship with God like I am hanging over a precipice and clinging with my fingertips to God – hoping to stay strong enough to get through and not fall. Jesus said the Father holds me in His hand, not the other way around. I am to live my life on the solid foundation that God loves me, wants me to succeed in my walk, and is willing to help me do it. Listen to the words we read from Romans 8:

I do not live under a heavy weight of condemnation, because I am in Christ. The Atonement Law was temporary and brought renewed need for sacrifice – but Jesus paid it all. He became all the condemnation to lift it from me once and for all. God won’t condemn me. He isn’t looking for a way to get rid of me, judge me or guilt me. He wants me to respond to our relationship – not to try to earn one. That part is DONE.

I need to grasp that the operation of “Christ in me” is to become my directing force, and not the threat that more condemnation and death. When I read, I skipped verse 2, where this idea is very clear:

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death… who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Did you notice the two laws that were posed against one another? The first was the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ” and the second was the “law of sin and of death”. What are these laws? Work backwards from the end.

  • The law of sin and of death was the law that God made in which He planted the whole framework of substitutional atonement. It is the law that said “Sin brings death. When one sins, one must die.”
  • The law of the Spirit of life in Christ supplanted the “law of sin and of death” when justification replaced atonement. The new law was this: Jesus took all your condemnation and replaced your identity with His own. God sees you as clean in and through Jesus. He sees your spiritual life as the new breath of Jesus in your once dead flesh.

Let’s unpack the verse anew… the law that there must be constant sacrifice to keep you in standing with God has been replaced by Jesus breathing life into the dead and marking them before the Father as His very own – filled with His life. We live in constant fellowship with a Holy God Who sees us as alive with the life of His Son. We walk, not to earn His love and His acceptance, but embracing that we fully have both.

Second, we must recognize the beauty of the empowering work of the Spirit. This is not a mystical force, but God doing in and through us what we cannot do, as we open the doors of our inner man to Him. We offer Him control, and He does with that openness what we cannot:

Romans 8:5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so], 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Note the phrase: “set their minds”. This is a term about our human responsibility. We have the Spirit of God indwelling us (8:9a), but that isn’t all there is to the operation of the Spirit. In fact, there is a process of “setting our mind” according to our Spirit-filled status. We can open ourselves to God’s direction by refusing to feed on rebellion and deliberately refusing that which would quench His work in us.

Years ago I read a story about men in one of the concentration camps in World War II. The war was nearly over, and the SS guards left the camp early one morning as the Allied army approached. They left the gate unlocked. Remarkably the bewildered prisoners did not leave. Some thought it was a trick. Others were simply beaten into subjection by their evil captors. In the end, they all realized them were free men living in the trap from which they had now been freed. Many believers are like that. They live under sin as though it is still their master – but the power of Christ and the work of His Spirit has set them free to please the Father!

Finally, we must see the world properly. Paul wrote again in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

• We recognize that we cannot put our hope for fulfillment in the flesh, because it is falling apart.

• We commit ourselves to allowing God to renew us within even as things fall apart without.

• We recognize that physical suffering is temporary and small compared to eternal reward.

• We measure life, not by what the eye sees, but by the eternal nature of the spiritual world.

James White illustrated this when he wrote: “I sat down and looked through some magazines this past week. I discovered that if I want to feel right, I need to get a NordicTrack. I don’t have a NordicTrack, just a membership down at the gym, so I suddenly realized that I didn’t feel as healthy as I thought I did. I then read that if I wanted to be stylish, I would need to buy a Toyota Camry. Our family van was in the shop, so I had been driving our old Mercury Sable. That felt bad enough. Real men drive SUVs or bright red sports cars. I’ve got four kids, so I don’t have the luxury of driving what real men drive. So I found out that I couldn’t be stylish with the cars I owned. Then I saw that if I wanted to really feel the spring season, I had to dress for the spring season, and the only place for that was at Dillard’s. I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to go to Dillard’s that week. Suddenly the beautiful weather just didn’t seem that beautiful. I just wasn’t dressed for it. It didn’t get any better. I learned that I needed to be opening my mail with knife from Oneida. I only had a two-dollar letter opener from Office Depot. Now even my mail was disappointing. On top of that, I discovered that I couldn’t have a good meal if I wasn’t in Texas – at least not a meal that would satisfy me. So much for my Lean Cuisines. Then I read that if I wanted to be a man, at least a manlier man than my neighbor, I had to drive a Yard-Man mower with a Briggs and Stratton engine. At least it was cheaper than a new SUV. I like my house until I saw the new development’s ad. I thought my family and I were close until I realized we didn’t have season passes to the amusement park. I even thought I loved my wife, but since I hadn’t bought her a diamond necklace from the jewelry store, I was informed that I didn’t. I found out that I can’t even be romantic with my wife unless we use Sylvania light bulbs. Wouldn’t you know, we have GE. By the time I got finished with those magazines, I wasn’t just depressed – I needed counseling. Ever felt that way? We all have. It’s the sad fruit of living life that covets. James Emery White, You Can Experience an Authentic Life (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), 139-140

Believers don’t look at the world the same way as those who haven’t yet met Jesus! We live in JOY to follow our Heavenly Father – but we do it in His power and Jesus’ identity. We know what He called us to do, but we also recognize that apart from Jesus we can do nothing.

The things we are called on to do in our walk with God MUST be understood in the context of who we are in Christ and what He does with one who trusts in Him. Without that context, we will try to walk with God in the power of the flesh.

The Gospel Applied: “The Look From Above” (Romans 12, Part Two)

Unhappy EmployeeIn a Harris Interactive poll taken in several job sectors in the US throughout 2013, undefined work expectations topped the list of five work stress factors. The most unhappy employees on the record were NOT those who were the least paid by their companies, but rather those who felt that a loose work structure, the lack of a formal job description and generally poor leadership left them uncertain when they were doing their job well. Psychologists remarked that affirmation and acceptance are important, but they are meaningless without real measurements. It seems that people need to know what your expectations are as an employer or you will frustrate them in their work.

What is true in our work lives can also be said of other parts of our life as well. Even in our spiritual journey, we will be frustrated if we don’t know whether we are following Jesus well. Fortunately, the Master outlines His expectations clearly, so there should be little surprise when we stand before Him for inspection at the end of all things.

Before I get too far along, let’s step back for a moment…In our last lesson we made the note that the view from above is a different view. The Bible makes clear that from God’s lofty perspective, human history appears much differently than it does to us as we pass through life. He both designed and observed the end from the beginning in the text and He alone sees it all from the Creator’s unique perspective. Part of the understanding of the “Holiness” of God is recognizing His uniqueness.

From His lofty position, God has not remained silent. He has told us that in our fallen state, we cannot work our way to Him. He has made plain how one can have a relationship with Him. He has even told us what to do after we have invited Him to take our lives and use them for His glory…Let’s say it this way: God knows what He intends for us, as well as what He expects from those of us who claim to follow Him. In Romans 12, Paul appeared to cite five specific expectations of God for each person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus. All of them help me recall…

Key Principle: God knows what He wants from me, and (thank God!) He took the time to explain it.

Of course, there are those who disagree. They believe God has not been clear about what He wants from a follower. More often than not, when I meet them, they are either people who invest little in the study of the Word, or they do not take the text of Scripture seriously. Because you are engaging this lesson willingly, let me assume that is not you’re your approach. Let’s challenge that thinking with Scripture… Let’s boldly ask the question:

“What does God want from my life?”

In Romans 12, we find five expectations that are clear and require something of us as followers…

First, we found that God’s expectation is a “right to inspect” my life.

Romans 12:1 “… present your bodies … to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.”

Second, God articulated in the text that He held the “right to expect” every follower to present active resistance from becoming like the world.

Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world….”

Third, God clearly reserved the “right to remake” my thinking.

Romans 12:2b: ”…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Each of these three points we spent significant time unpacking in our last lesson. We also introduced the next two, but took much less time to really make them clear. Let’s look at them now…

The fourth expectation God expressed was His “right to connect” each follower with other followers to tell His story for His glory.

Scan the New Testament and it will become immediately clear that when I was “born again” it was into an identifiable body – not simply an individual thing. Add to that , it is clear in Romans that God called us to DO SOMETHING with our new life in Him. Yet our ACTIONS begin with, and are founded on, our CONNECTION to other believers. Consider God’s instruction…

Romans 12:3 “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Paul chided: “Christian, Know Thyself!” We aren’t good enough to save ourselves, and we aren’t clever enough to figure out what a life in Christ is to look like. If we were, we would not need God’s Word and the indwelling of God’s Spirit.

At the heart of the teaching, Paul claimed something important about the SOURCE of the truth he was about to express. He wrote: “For through the grace given to me”… which was a way of expressing: “Based on my own gifts…” In other words, Paul’s apostleship gift set helped him to see clearly this truth: some believers think they are too good for the body. Some people think the flock holds them back from being what God wants them to be – and they are WRONG. Paul made clear:

Romans 12:4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, [each of us is to exercise them accordingly]: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let us not waver in this truth: Each believer’s salvation can only be obediently worked out in the context of relationship to the rest of the body.

It is sheer silliness to believe that individual body parts can thrive without the whole of the body. One who believes this is wrong, and one who acts on a belief that the “body connection” is somehow “incidental” is disobedient to revealed Scripture. The sad truth is that amounts to literally millions of people who claim to follow Jesus. Biblically speaking, we must recognize that just as salvation and giftedness were dispensed from God’s hand, so our walk has been outfitted with our place in the body of Christ in mind.” The church is the body of Christ active and alive in the world today, and we have not been gifted to stand apart from the body. We were designed to be challenged together, grow together and be moved by His hand together.

I appreciated Ed Stetzer’s recent column about the Christian Church in America. He wrote an article published in Christianity Today called: “The State of the Church in America: Hint: It’s Not Dying!”

He noted that in 2009, the results of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) caused some to predict the coming and swift demise of Christianity in America. The media across America quickly bought in. The poll showed that from 1990-2009, Americans who “self-identified” as “Christians” fell from 86 percent to 76 percent. It indicated Americans who claimed no religious affiliation rose between 8 and 15 percent in the same time period.

Pundits couldn’t contain themselves. No word on the mass immigration of Near Eastern people into the country during that time. No context… just a “tongue in cheek” sad anthem for the demise of the Christian message. Newsweek ran on its cover: “The End of Christian America” while the internet buzzed with word of “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”. No one dug deeper, for the numbers obviously meant Christianity was in precipitous decline.

On to the Pew Research Study from 2012, where the number of “unaffiliated” increased another five percent in the previous five years alone. Some concluded that Christians were leaving the faith in droves. Ed posited something with more depth than a funerary dirge: Nominal Christians of yesteryear found that it was no longer to their public advantage to claim that faith to which they were tenuously attached. It didn’t get votes or promotions anymore, so they stopped checking the box that had, to them, little meaning anyway.

Today, around 75 percent of Americans call themselves Christians—regardless of how others might define them. Ed made the helpful distinction of separating those who profess Christianity into three categories: cultural, congregational and convictional.

• Cultural Christians are those who believe themselves to be Christians simply because their culture tells them they are. They are Christian by heritage. They are not practicing a vibrant faith. This group appears to make up around about one-third of the 75 percent who self-identify as Christians—a quarter of all Americans.

• Congregational Christians are also marginal about their personal practice, but have some connection to congregational life. They have a “home church” they grew up in and perhaps where they were married. They might even visit occasionally. Again, we wouldn’t observe them in what would be normally called “vibrant faith”. They are occasional attendees. They appear to comprise another third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.

• Convictional Christians are those who would openly say that they have met Jesus, and He changed their lives. They appear to also make up the final third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.

In essence, he argued that the Church is not dying – it is just being more clearly defined.

Why the media hype, then? Stetzer wisely quipped: “Crises sell books but usually don’t fix problems.” (I have leaned heavily on the article, but there is much more meat to it. I encourage you to read it at:

Though I agree that the church is being clarified (and I invite that action in these days), I do think Christians need to get off the page of how the church is the problem. Jesus isn’t feeding the press the negative stories – they are coming from another direction. Let’s be clear: Just as God demanded our recognition of CONNECTION to Him – so He demanded our connection to the Body of Christ. Both are essential for effective Christian living. Based on this passage, I am forced to conclude two things:

• God expects us to see ourselves first as connected to the head of the Body – to Jesus Christ. Without a deep understanding of both our union with Christ, and the headship of Christ, we will inevitably end up in harsh Christian legalism or woeful Christian license. The only proper and delicately balanced fix for both of these sinful states is intimacy with the Savior, allowing His mind to flow in us.

• After we have decided to yield ourselves to His thoughts as our “head”, we must, in turn, acknowledge the rest of the body to which we are attached. We should give PRIORITY to the body as we serve and follow the Savior.

Look again at Romans 12…

Romans 12:4 “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function…”

It is clear that parts of the body function differently, and each part has a specific role in the body of Messiah. We are uniquely created to work as one body.

May I kindly ask you: “Have you discerned what role you play?” It seems that would be a very important foundation beneath our obedience in the rest of the passage. It appears we would need to learn what that role is (by carefully examining the Divinely-appointed gifts placed in us), and then measure where we are to expend our energies “serving Jesus by serving His body.”

If the work of the Shepherd is, in part, to “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry,” it seems I am responsible to actively encourage you to find a place for those gifts to be at work in this community. We are going to enlist you to help move the body forward in the areas where you are gifted and growing. We need to grow, but we need to serve in order to develop spiritual “muscles” properly tuned to accomplish our Master’s desires. If we choose not to – even the prime purposes of the church will be subverted in our lives.

This is a truth we must recognize: “No team takes the field without each one knowing their positions and the requisite responsibilities of that position.” You and I both have one, and you must actively seek understanding of that role. Look again at our text…

Romans 12:5 “…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

God has a goal that many believers in our culture simply do not seem to be grasping. It appears they haven’t “bought in” to God’s plan. His goal isn’t simply about salvation – that is CONNECTING PEOPLE to Him. It is equally about “body life” where each believer recognizes their connection to EACH OTHER.

I cannot let this pass. I must make sure this is clear: If you go to church because you like the messages, but you have no interest in connection to the people, something is wrong inside. You need to talk to Jesus about it.

Since Paul finished his thought on the body a few verses later, it is important we see the two final thoughts:

After he made clear in 12:6 that an obedient believer exercises his or her individual gifts according to what God placed in their lives, he said something you may have missed. Paul said the limitation for their operation and effectiveness is “according to the proportion of his faith”. What does that mean? If “faith” is “seeing it the way God says it is in His Word” or “a Biblical world view”, then it is clear that one’s gifts are only PART of the equation of one’s ability to be used effectively. The other part of the equation is how much we know and understand of God’s Word.

That means, that a believer is not hindered by “not being gifted” but may be stunted in their effectiveness by “not being diligent” to learn and live out God’s Word! In 12;7-8 it is clear that whatever our gift area, we are to perform it with all our might. What stops effective service, it appears, may be our unwillingness to work hard at knowing God’s Word and at giving our best to God’s people. When Sunday becomes the END of the week – we are missing the point of what God wants in connection. The body isn’t to get “what we have left” – but the first fruits of our labors.

The balance of the passage seems like a shopping list of behaviors, but they all come together at a singular expectation of our Father in Heaven…

Expectation Five: God expressed that He alone sets the rules of life for His followers.

In other places, God said things like “You are not your own” and “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Here, Paul specified by the Spirit some straightforward behaviors:

God is the Engineer Who has specified our behaviors in five areas:

In relationship to other believers:

The Spirit of God spoke through Paul and instructed us to get along with one another by being REAL, by deliberately working to HELP ONE ANOTHER in whatever way we can, by laying down our rights to our preferences on behalf of one another and serving one another as best we can. Look at the verses:

Believers should be authentic: 12:9a: “[Let] love [be] without hypocrisy. (an-oo-pok’-ree-tos – without pretending) – We are called to be REAL PEOPLE…Our action to meet needs must be done without pretending that we care. Many a church could finish the sermon there. People come to GET, but not to CARE.

Believers should hold other believers in high regard: 12:10a “[Be] devoted to one another in brotherly love;

Believers should yield our preferences to other believers wherever possible: 12:10b “…give preference to one another in honor;

Believers should serve one another with enthusiasm: 12:11 “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit. We are called to build WITH PROFOUND EAGERNESS AND ENERGY. It is easy to let the body come a distant second. We must not be lulled into thinking that my attendance is optional and self-oriented – I will come if there is ‘SOMETHING FOR ME”. That isn’t Biblical thinking and does not reflect the eagerness God wants. I will not settle in my life for a cool and self-interested life – I want Jesus to keep the fire HOT.

What should our service to each other look like?

First, believers should view their service to each other as service to the Savior: 12:11b “serving the Lord.” Second, they should keep it practical – Believers should show practical love: 12:13 “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Third, they should serve with a goal – Believers should strive for unity: 12:16 “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Fourth, we should be relational in our service. We aren’t waiters or slaves – we are brothers. Believers should rejoice with compassion but without jealousy: 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Let me be as clear as I know how. If you find a believer that lives for Jesus apart from any local body of believers, if they criticize the Christian community but do not live connected to it – they are walking in disobedience. There is no way they can take seriously God’s commands for how we are to walk together in that state.

In relation to the world:

God didn’t only speak about how we should live with each other as believers – He instructed us on the fine art of living in the lost world. Can anyone use some instruction on dealing with the lost world right now?

Here is what God said. Take it in slowly:

Believers should respond graciously to the world: 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Later, he added: 12:17a “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Later he wrote: 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”

Stop and consider what we just read from our Father in Heaven. We are to BLESS and we are to WITHHOLD what seems just. We are to patiently respond to attacks that are illogical, unwarranted and harsh. People will insult you and angrily curse at you – all in the name of YOUR intolerance. It won’t seem illogical to them – because they are living in a world with its feet planted firmly in the air.

There is no logical basis for morality in the context of a naturally developing and evolving planet that had no Creator and no particular purpose. None! If you are looking for fairness, you are looking in the wrong generation and belief system.

Though you should not anticipate fairness, believers should walk circumspectly and deliberately: 12:17b “Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. We aren’t supposed to look for ways to aggravate those around us! Not only that, believers should walk victoriously! We need to keep our head up and do right no matter how much it is criticized Romans 12:21 explains: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Let me take a moment here…

We believe is an Eternal, All powerful, All knowing, Loving, Gracious, Holy, Unchanging, Matchless God Who made a million angels, threw the stars into place, created man from the dust of the ground and woman from man. We believe He has flooded the planet, and saved a man’s life in a fish. We believe He raised His Son from the dead, and rolled the stone from the tomb. We believe He called His Son up to Heaven and Jesus left the earth in front of His followers. I don’t know another way to break this to you… God is not overwhelmed by the powers of evil on this tiny third rock from the star we call the sun. Satan and his ilk operate until the Father says they cannot. In that moment, right will conquer wrong. Don’t forget that. Don’t get worn down with evil. God isn’t … and He has told us not to allow it to happen to us.

In lifestyle choices:

There has perhaps never been a time when rehearsing this truth seemed so relevant as in this generation. The Scripture is absolutely clear on two points that must be emphasized in Biblical terms:

First, believers must cut some things from their lives: 12:9b: “…Abhor what is evil.” We cannot, and we must not be comfortable with the world’s choices when they violate what the Scripture teaches. We cannot support wrong to sound more reasonable, more educated or more up to date in our thinking. What God calls wrong is exactly that. Finding more palatable terms for evil will only place you on the side that argues against God.

Second, believers must deliberately add some things to our lives: 12:9b “…cling to what is good.” Our faith is about a positive relationship with a positive God. We are not to be known simply by what we are against. Remember, we are talking about lifestyle choices here! We should choose to be a part of things the Bible calls good. We should “cling” to them. They should be our first choice. How shall we gauge them? Paul left us with these words through the Spirit:

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

In attitudes:

While removing from my life evil and clinging to good is essential, there is an attitude about life which I must reflect:

Believers should be encouraging people: 12:12a “rejoicing in hope…” We aren’t supposed to be “doom and gloom” people. We should look for God’s hand in all things and celebrate His goodness in our daily walk! If you drain people with your presence, your demeanor and your words – you are NOT representing Jesus well, even if you are telling the truth about things. There is more to it than speaking the truth – there is also winsomeness and love!

Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, visited a church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, nearly a year after the devastating earthquake. The church’s building consisted of a tent made from white tarps and duct tape, pitched in the midst of a sprawling camp for thousands of people still homeless from the earthquake. In the front row of that church sat six amputees ranging in age from 6 to 60. They were clapping and smiling as they sang song after song and lifted their prayers to God. The worship was full of hope…[and] with thanksgiving to the Lord. No one was singing louder or praying more fervently than Demosi Louphine, a 32-year-old unemployed single mother of two. During the earthquake, a collapsed building crushed her right arm and left leg. After four days both limbs had to be amputated, but she was leading the choir, standing on her prosthesis and lifting her one hand high in praise to God… Following the service, Stearns met Demosi and her two daughters, ages eight and ten, who were living in a tent just five feet tall and perhaps eight feet wide. She had lost her job, her home, and two limbs, but she was deeply grateful because God spared her life on January 12th last year (2010)…”He brought me back like Lazarus, giving me the gift of life,” says Demosi…[who] believes she survived the devastating quake for two reasons: to raise her girls and to serve her Lord for a few more years. Richard Stearns comments: “It makes no sense to me as an ‘entitled American’ who grouses at the smallest inconveniences–a clogged drain or a slow wi-fi connection in my home. Yet here in this place, many people who had lost everything…expressed nothing but praise.” Then he continues, “They have so much more to offer me than I to them. I feel pity and sadness for them, but it is they who might better pity me for the shallowness of my own walk with Christ.” (Richard Stearns, Suffering and Rejoicing in a Haitian Tent Camp,, 1-12-11).

Believers should be enduring people: 12:12b “persevering in tribulation…” Our discipleship should train people to withstand setbacks, to walk under the load of scathing rebuke. Early believers were lit as torches and nailed to crosses. We must be able to endure with great love the anger of social media without considering it equal to early persecution. “They could suffer defeats, we must be able to endure negative tweets.”

In our walk with God:

We would be wrong if we did not make sure that everyone understood we do not have the power to go on without God. We must seek intimacy with God: 12:12b “devoted to prayer…” God’s church is powerless unless it is DEPENDENT ON GOD. In these days we NEED God’s power. The community will not support our aims. The government will not reckon our objectives as good. The courts will increasingly be at odds with our goals. Our power doesn’t come from history. It doesn’t come from our financial strength. Our strength, our hope, our destiny comes from the Lord. We must fall before Him or we will be a people without strength.

Paul Wallace tells the story of a little church that learned to trust God:

A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smokies built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member. Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. Until the church doubled the size of the parking lot, they would not be able to use the new sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church with its undersized parking lot had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built. In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain out of the back yard. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.” They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the scheduled opening dedication service the following week. At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen.” “We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time too.” The next morning, as he was working in his study, there came a loud knock at the pastor’s door. When he called, “Come in,” a rough looking construction foreman appeared, removing his hard hat as he entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from Acme Construction Company over in the next county. We’re building a huge new shopping mall over there and we need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge, if we can have it right away. We can’t do anything else until we get the dirt in and allow it to settle properly.” The little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned and there were far more members with “mountain moving faith” on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week!

If you roll your eyes inside, cynicism has already set in. God is still God. He is still in control. Nothing is too difficult for Him.

God knows what He wants from me, and He took the time to explain it. He wants me to be inspected, resistant to the world’s mold, open to His remodeling of my mind, connected to His body (the church) and set in life to act according to His command.

The choice to allow His hand to do it is mine.

The Gospel Applied: “The Look From Above” – Romans 12 (Pt. 1)

inside st peters domeThe massive dome at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome rises nearly four hundred fifty feet in the air, with its interior is nearly one hundred forty feet wide. It is the highest dome you will ever see, but not the largest one. The dome of the Pantheon built in the second century is a few feet wider and Brunelleschi’s massive dome on the Duomo in Florence is a few feet wider still. To me, what is striking about the dome found in St. Peter’s is that you can make out, if you look ever so closely, the shape of people walking around the catwalk who dared to take the elevator up to the dome for what I am told is a fantastic view of Rome. They look like tiny specks and perhaps ants, but they are people at a great distance above your head if you are within the massive church. Those who know me well, know that I enjoy watching the people from BELOW, because (though some would call me afraid of height) I like to believe I merely have a “more healthy respect for gravity”. I am told by those “in the know” that the view is awesome…and I have decided to accept their view without the need to check it out on my own!

What I can easily imagine is that the view from above is a different view. Just as in a parade, we generally see only the float in front of us and perhaps the one behind (as well as the crowd gathered on the side of the street), but we cannot see clearly the turns in the road ahead. From beside the parade, we could see each float as it passes by us, and we may even be able to glimpse at coming floats and anticipate what may appear next. Yet, from above the parade, let’s say from the perspective of a blimp, we could see the end of the parade perhaps from the beginning place – all from one vantage point. The whole parade may be observed at one time! That view would be far more informed than any other!

Now, life isn’t merely a parade, and human history is not simply a series of floats wafting by a group of admiring spectators – but there is a point to this illustration. The Bible makes clear that from God’s lofty perspective, human history appears much differently than it does to us as we pass through life. He both observed and designed the end from the beginning in the text and He alone sees it all from His perspective. Let’s say it this way: God knows what He intends for us, as well as what He expects from those of us who claim to follow Him. He has graciously taken the time to share with us some small pieces of His plan through His word. For that reason we want to take a few moments and look at what He says about the lives of believers and His expectation of us. In Romans 12, Paul appeared to cite five specific expectations of God for each person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus. Let’s first be clear…

Key Principle: God knows what He wants from me, and He took the time to explain it.

Like the pervasive road signs designed to tell us when to stop and how fast is “too fast” on the road – God’s Word gives us what the Engineer planned for the road of life…

Before I begin, let me stop here and say something that may help you concentrate. All week long you may feel people place expectations on you. It may not be fun to come into church and hear that God also has a set of expectations. The popular message of today is all about BENEFITS – not about responsibilities. You may want to simply let me blather on and you will politely listen and then go on about your life. I am asking you to stay engaged. Don’t turn off. Why? Because our greatest privilege in this life is to walk with our Creator and fulfill His designs for us. It isn’t heavy unless we resist Him and ignore the Engineers road signs… and that never leads anyplace but to pain.

Let’s boldly ask the question: What does God want from my life?

The five expectations of our passage begin with God’s right to inspect our life…

Expectation One: “Right to inspect” – God has what He called a ‘reasonable expectation’ of my total surrender to His direction.

Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.

Note Romans 12:1 began with a simple word…”Therefore”. The connective term links what Paul wrote after to what he expressed before that word. There are two senses for this connection – a big one and a small one:

The big one: The letter has explained the big plan of God – moving from lost men (1:1-3:20) to God’s incredible gift – declaring sinner that trust the sacrificial work of Jesus as righteous (3:21-5:21). Astoundingly, God did not stop there. He went on to take those He declared righteous and empower them to be free from slavery to sin (6) and the arduous constraints of a singular legal set of contracts (7) – to be energized through the very indwelling of His Holy Spirit (8). He took pains to describe how God would continue His faithful and eternal love for the Jewish people who for a time were blindly acting in opposition to their own Promised Son (9-11). This was a power-packed “therefore”. God saved lost men, empowered them, and kept His over-arching plan to one group while embracing another. Everything Paul said after was with that in mind.

The “small” one: Not to minimize the content, but the “therefore” has a more immediate context as well. The immediate context was the few verses that ended chapter 11. Remember this was originally one letter, without the chapter divisions, so the “therefore” flows from the words of an exclamatory prayer:

11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

In Romans 11:33-36, Paul was marveling over what God did in putting a judgment of temporary blindness on the eyes of the Jewish people in order to save the nations that Israel did not reach out to, on His way back to opening their eyes. Paul’s heart was overtaken by the mastery of it all. Paul was experiencing as he offered eight important truths from a heart of worship:

• God’s wisdom is deep and rich – He is neither impractical nor outsmarted by the problems of men in their blindness.
• God’s knowledge is vast – He is not waiting for help to understand the situation.
• God’s way of judging things are beyond my capability to properly understand – He alone knows how to “do history” the right way..
• I can offer nothing to Him in counsel – I stand before a vast God as a man undone by His brilliance. I have no “better way” to do what He does in telling His story to the universe.
• He owes me nothing – for all that is belongs to Him “free and clear”.
• Everything started with Him – He is the origin.
• Everything is held together through Him – He is the purpose and connecting tissue.
• Everything consummates in Him – He holds the destiny of everything.

That expectation of my surrender to God is based on two things: knowledge of His Person and acknowledgement of His work on my behalf.

In light of the incredible work of God in saving men that will believe, and in light of the astounding Mastery of God over all, He expects that I will surrender to His plan and not try to “write a better plan” for my life.

Look again at Romans 12:1 and read it carefully with me as I translate each word from the original language with some additional fullness:

Therefore: (because of all that I have told you about God’s magnificent person and His wondrous saving work for you)…

I urge you brethren, (I come beside you, as a paraklete – “one brought alongside to brace”). Don’t forget that he addressed them as brothers – a term Paul uses of other believers. The call to inspection will not work for someone who does not know Jesus personally already.

by the mercies of God: (based on the mercies or “oiktirmos”: pity or compassion; In the Modern Hebrew version the translators used the Hebrew equivalent word “racham” – a word that infers the bonding with a mother. It is related to “rechem” – the word for the womb”. If that choice was accurate – as I believe it was – the mercies of God mentioned here and in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 are the deep comforts of God that flow from His bond to us as from His own “womb connection”. That sounds strange, but it makes sense if you think about it. We call Him “Father” because we came from Him, and were “birthed” from within His mind.

to present your bodies: present is the Greek term “paris-taymee” – to “place beside”. The idea was vivid in the mind of the Hebrew worshipper like Paul who had been to the Temple in Jerusalem. On the north side of the Temple proper (the Hekhal building) a chamber called the “chamber of the lambs” was used to hold animals before sacrifice – a place of holding and inspection before they were taken to the final inspection pen near the slaughtering place. It was given water to drink from a golden cup so that it would be easier to skin.”

Beside the altar were additional pens for inspection. The point of the command by God to “present your bodies” is a call to VOLUNTARY COMPLETE INSPECTION. It is not a call to be sacrificed – but to be inspected for eligibility. The inspection is not simply of the body, but of the sound state of the whole being – it INCLUDES the body. Practical purity matters as much as theoretical theology.

a living and holy sacrifice: This life matters – not just the afterlife. The terms “living” (zao – alive) and “holy” (hagios) remind us that we are to become an offering while alive by being distinct for God’s purposes. Either we embrace the purpose of our life is to serve God, or we live life to serve self. It is our choice.

acceptable to God: Mature believers know that PLEASING GOD is the goal, a fulfilled life is the mere byproduct of it – not the other way around! We don’t serve simply to GET, we get because we live to SERVE Him.

which is your spiritual service of worship: Paul even exclaimed it was “a reasonable plan” from God. The word “spiritual” is the LOGIKOS – it is logical. God thinks rebellion is ILLOGICAL based on the reality that He made everything, connects everything and stands at the end of it all.

Maybe it is time for me to offer the most basic concept from God’s revealed truth – there is nowhere to turn in eternity but to Him. He is not One of many. That is at the core all that God said in the Law. He made clear over and over again this simple but powerful truth. He felt so strongly about it He etched it out on stone with His very finger before Moses:

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

It is as though God said simply this: “I am God. You can look, but you won’t find another real alternative. There isn’t anyone else. Buddha didn’t create anything – he was a guy with an idea under a tree who died and realized he was wrong. Mohammed was a man with an ability to tell stories, but he died as well. Confucius offered some interesting nuggets of wisdom, but he was not around when I created everything. To think that I will perhaps not notice your rebellion, or somehow you will be able to talk me into how you are actually right when in your heart you know you are selfish is a pipe dream. It’s not going to happen. I was there at the beginning, I am working a plan in these days – and I will be there, alone as King of the Heavens – at the end of it all.

Let’s say it clearly: Unhindered worship only happens when I surrender every part of me to God. A softened spiritual heart that is living in sexual sin won’t do. A pleasant-natured person that is in church every Sunday morning but denies God’s right to call the shots at your work place isn’t going to work. A tear-filled eye in worship won’t negate a hardened heart when it comes to choices that honor God outside the sanctuary. It doesn’t mean that I am perfect and do everything correctly – it means that I am laboring intensely at allowing God to access every room of my heart and rearrange the furniture in each. One door left closed to Him denies Him His right to everything.

The bottom line on God’s expectation is this – you have to VOTE to let Him place you in the inspection cage or pen – every part of you. You must yield and surrender to Him – a whole life, not just the “religious” part. Any partial vote will not be counted.

Expectation Two: “Right to Expect”: We need to recognize that God wants to reconstruct our thinking to see things correctly on our way to walking correctly.

God is in the remodeling business. The Word reminds:

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world….

Look at the phrases – don’t gloss over these familiar words.

We must recognize that the “default” setting of our life is to become “conformed” (soos-khay-mat-id’-zo – is from “sun” – the word “together with” and “schematic” – to assume a certain form or figure as in a schematic sets the design of). The term “of this world (ai-on)” are actually “of this age” – a time related term. The term ‘not conformed to this world’ is literally ‘not conformed to this age’. The call to distinctiveness is a call to look different than others in our time. We are to live as those with prophetic voices, not try to become public relations officers for our Creator.

Let that sink in… the call to distinctiveness is a call to look different than others in our time.

What God has said, then, is that He has an expectation that He can and will inspect our lives. Further, He desires us to intentionally SHUN becoming what everyone else is. Yet, He goes on…

Expectation Three: “Right to Remake”: We need to recognize that God wants to reconstruct our thinking to see things correctly on our way to walking correctly.

Romans 12:2b: ”…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

A fallen world thinks wrongly. When God marked us as needing “transformation” (metamorphoo: from morphe – shaping) He was referring to the reshaping of our way of thinking (the word “mind” is nous – our comprehension or understanding). We do what we do because we think what we think.

Did you ever walk across the floor with only socks on your feet only to “find” the thumb tack that was lost yesterday in the rug? You walked with confidence until the pain shot into your foot. When the pain comes, you recognize that your walk was hazardous. God wants to change our walk by changing our comprehension of what we SEE and THINK before we walk.

Second, we need to recognize that to change thinking, our mind must be “renewed”. The word “anakainósis” is a compound word that would be translated today as a “total make over”. You have seen them on TV – total makeover houses. Producers come upon a family with a sad story and an aging home. They bring in a group of creative professionals, a small budget and a short span of time – and off they go making changes to the building that leave astounding results. What that team does to a home, the Spirit of God is doing in believers that will allow Him.

Third, it is essential that we realize that God’s goal in changing our thinking is so that we will launch into a new series of experiences in our life to test what will delight our Heavenly Father. The phrase “so that you may prove what the will of God is” can seem a bit cryptic. What it literally says is this: In order that you can test and find true (dokimadzo) the desire of God (thelema: his desire or delight). That desire of God will both please Him and be a filled with good, kind and generous things. It will also bring you purpose (“perfect” is the term “telios” or purposed, mature and complete).

God’s expectation is that we will open to inspection, to shun conformity to the world, and to allow a total remake of our minds… but there is still more…

Expectation Four: “Right to Connect”: God expects that He will connect us to each other to tell His story for His glory.

By now, our reading of Romans 12 made clear that God is not merely looking for passive surrender without active participation. He wants each of us to yield, then He wants us to DO SOMETHING. What is it? In a word, it is to CONNECT.

Romans 12:3 “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, [each of us is to exercise them accordingly]: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Break the text down, for God has an expectation that we will actively do three things:

Action One: We need to check our EGO baggage (3).

Romans 12:3 “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

We live in a time when the mooring of a firm moral pillar including an absolute recognition of a Creator has eroded away. As G.K. Chesterton quipped: “Modern man has his feet firmly planted in mid-air.” Because of that, the call to radical individualism and profound uniqueness is more often than not nothing more than a masked call to ego and self-exaltation. It goes against the grain to call people to live a connected life of serving one another above self.

Remember that “faith” is a form of the word that we could best translate “Biblical world view”. It is “seeing the world as God says it truly is.” God says that we have to stop looking at ourselves in the same way we used to in the world. We are not the tent of our body. We are not the accomplishments of our workplace. We are not the relationships of our home. We are, at our core, His deeply loved child, designed to bring joy to His heart and mature in His truth. We need not falsely puff ourselves up – for there is no higher place for us than what we were truly called to be as a child of the King!

Why is the EGO hindering us? Because it keeps us from attaining what God really wants for us. Some of us will not function in the body because we believe we are too important in other arenas of life to get busy with the needy believers around us – that hurts but it is just the truth. We are too busy to set aside what we are doing to help. We are often busy at work making more money for things that will not have eternal value, so we cannot be faithful in co-laboring for souls. Others are self conscious and cannot bring themselves to get past their own problems. When EGO wins, the cross loses – whether it is an inflated ego or a marred self-image. In the end, it is nothing more than self-indulgence – which is at the heart of conflict with the Gospel of surrender.

Action Two: We need to find our function in the body (4).

Romans 12:4 “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function…”

We are told to actively seek the specific function we have in the body of Messiah. We are uniquely created to play a role. We are to learn what that role is (by carefully examining the Divinely appointed gifts placed in us), and we are to expend our energies “serving Jesus by serving His body.” In the coming studies we are going to work to identify our gifts. We are going to study where such gifts are normally used. We are going to actively encourage you to find a place for those gifts to be at work in your community. We are going to enlist you to help move the body forward where you are growing. We need to grow, but we need to serve to develop muscles properly and to accomplish our Master’s desires. If we choose not to – even the prime purposes of the church will be subverted in our lives. All of this is to help equip you to function in your role. No team takes the field without each one knowing their positions and the requisite responsibilities of that position. You have one, and you must actively seek understanding of that role.

Action Three: We need to work toward His goal right now – connection (5).

Romans 12:5 “…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

In the coming studies we will be able to see it even more clearly… God has a goal that many believers in our culture are not grabbing. They haven’t bought in. God’s goal is CONNECTING PEOPLE to Him and to EACH OTHER. If you go to church because you like the messages, but you have no interest in connection to the people, something is wrong inside. Your thinking needs to be remodeled. We MUST break out of this drive through window Christianity that gets personally served into our mobile spaces designed for my comfort and isolation. If we do not break out, we will never be the church God intends us to become.

When you look intently at Romans 12:4-8, seven facts surface quickly:

• Fact One: The church has a MODEL. God compared the church body to the physical body we live in – believers are designed to be connected and disconnection kills our real functions (12:4a).

• Fact Two: Each part of the body has UNIQUENESS (12:4b).

• Fact Three: The design is for FUNCTION. God openly revealed that the purpose of each part is to have a specific function – to DO something. (12:4b).

• Fact Four: The work must have UNITY (12:5).

• Fact Five: God has provided EMPOWERING. God has specifically enabled us to maintain a function in the body that is vital and differs in nature from others – and He expects us to use them.

• Facts Six: Each operation must be absorbed in MAXIMIZING (12:6a). Seven examples of gifting are offered with one binding idea – we are to use them to their fullest in accordance to what we were given.

• Fact SEVEN: Basic body operations are named for SERVICE. (12:6bff).

God wants to make you over your thinking and restructure your life to connect you deeply to Him and other believers. Connection is the expressed goal.

Expectation Five: “Right to Build”: God expressed that He alone is the engineer Who gets to set the rules of life.

We are going to spend time here in our next lesson. For now, just touch the edges of what God revealed about our behaviors…

Romans 12:9 “[Let] love [be] without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 [Be] devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

God is the Engineer Who has specified our behaviors:

Here are just a few…

We should be an authentic lot: Rom. 12:9 Let love (agape) be without hypocrisy. (an-oo-pok’-ree-tos – without pretending). We are called to be REAL PEOPLE…Our action to meet needs must be done without pretending that we care. Many a church could finish the sermon there. People come to GET, but not to CARE.

We should be a selective lot: Rom. 12:9b “…Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.” The architects dream must be carefully constructed by our careful choice of materials in with which we build life.

We should be a dedicated lot: Rom. 12:10 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”

We should be an energetic lot: Romans 12:11 “…not lagging behind in diligence fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; We are called to build WITH PROFOUND EAGERNESS AND ENERGY. It is easy to let the body come a distant second. We must not be lulled into thinking that my attendance is optional and self-oriented – I will come if there is ‘SOMETHING FOR ME”. That isn’t Biblical thinking and does not reflect the eagerness God wants. I will not settle in my life for a cool and self-interested life – I want Jesus to keep the fire HOT.

We should SOUND like the church: Romans 12:12 “…rejoicing in hope …persevering) in tribulation …devoted to prayer. God’s church is powerless unless it is DEPENDENT ON GOD.

We should LOOK LIKE the church: Romans 12:13 “…contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality.

Look at God’s Church in Scripture…

• She is called a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD that exemplifies in lifestyle a separate set of values than that of its age – she is not patterned by Madison Avenue nor driven by Rodeo Drive.

• She is called the Branches of the TRUE VINE, drawing her life from Her Savior. She doesn’t suckle the world’s nourishment to grow, but derives her life from spiritual truth and surrendered conversion.

• She is the flock of a GREAT SHEPHERD, being led by the staff tap and voice of one that knows the place of green pastures and still waters.


THAT IS GOD’S CHURCH. It isn’t some sand castle that can be swept away so easily. Armies have tried. Governments have nailed doors on church buildings shut and thought they could stop her from growing. Philosophers have mocked her and tried to shame her. Scientists have tried to out think her. Still she lives and grows. Beloved, she is God’s church! Paul was used by the Spirit to say it plainly:

God knows what He wants from me, and He took the time to explain it.

He wants me to be inspected, resistant to the world’s mold, open to His remodeling of my mind, connected to His body (the church) and set in life to act according to His command…The choice to allow His hand to do it is mine.

The Gospel Applied: “The Artist” – Romans 11

montmartreAlmost in the perfect center of the north end of the city of Paris, the hill of Montmartre and its grand white Cathedral of “Sacré-Cœur” (Sacred Heart) seem perched above the city. From the church you are afforded one of the most magnificent views of the “city of lights” that doesn’t require going up in a rickety elevator on an old “erector set” called the Eiffel Tower. Montmartre is noted for several things, but probably best known for the quarter’s daily working street artists. Gathered near the square due west of the church, these artists sit in front of easels painting either in oils or watercolor, while others around them are sketching, chalking and creating in a host of artistic media. Though I could not do what they do, I confess that I love to walk around and see artists at work.

One of the most fascinating parts of the experience of watching an artist develop a picture is what I would call the “layering” of the picture. For a long time, the artist of a landscape (and even many who detail the background of a portrait) may work on the background of a picture with a variety of colors and shades that have no discernible purpose at all to the lesser trained eye. Often, I cannot make “heads nor tails” of the picture as they develop it in the early stages. Yet, if I wait patiently and don’t distract them, the artist will carefully offer an amazing transformation of the canvas – and the scene will begin to assemble and make itself known…

Let’s face it: One of the best ways to describe God may well be that He is the greatest of all Artists. He is the author of art – just as He is the Author of all things. He works the background of something, sometimes for hundreds of years, before anything becomes clear at all. He works very carefully on every detail of the setting, so that His picture becomes clear. In fact, there are many words that describe God, but none sweeter than the word “patient”. If you watch Him work the canvas of history, you get the same thrill as standing over the artist’s shoulder. That is one of the things that His Word affords us – the longer view of history from the Artist’s perspective! Watching His work, it becomes readily apparent that God works through the eons of time to tell His story and is meticulous about every detail- because each layer will affect the later story – and all of it is a singular picture. I mention that truth because our lesson comes from a text that exposes this very idea… Paul’s writing in Romans 11 teaches this central truth…

Key Principle: God is working a plan to show Who He is through His historic people – and it is being artistically sculpted from materials that do not look now like they will look when He is finished.

Because that is true, we find that God’s work with the Jewish people, in spite of their rejection of Messiah’s first coming, is not finished. He wants His estranged bride to return to Him, and see the gift He has given for them. As a result, their rejection of God is…

Not total: There is a remnant!

Paul made the point that NOT ALL Jews refused to see the work God did in Messiah for them. Some believed and remained people of faith…for God was not done with the Jewish people. He wrote:

Romans 11:1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in [the passage about] Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

Before we go too far into our lesson, let’s remember something: It is easy to “tune out” to passages that don’t seem immediately relevant to “us”. Don’t do it! Be patient with the Artist – He has something profound and wonderful to show us! The earliest layer to the picture was a time when Jews pointed the way to God. The atonement sacrifices brought temporary, but real peace with God. The nations made their own false gods, while the Jewish people were endowed with the revealed truths of the Creator Who had been rejected by the sons of the sons of Noah. The first layer was the layer of joy from a people of the Law, a layer with Mount Sinai in the background.

Over that was a “second layer” of the historical canvas – the layer of the Cross. The Jewish people were represented on that dark part of the canvas by some leaders who were bitter and self-interested. They rejected Jesus when He stood before them, and they had no place for the work of the people of the Way – who seemed as “upstart Jews” who were unwilling to follow Jerusalem and the Temple leadership. They sought to shut down the message of the nascent group, and they hounded the steps of Paul as he led people to Jesus’ teachings and the work of cleansing through His death. Paul opened Romans 11 with a question: “Is this the last layer of the canvas?” His answer was a loud and clear: “No!”

He made a few points:

First, God’s curtain of spiritual blindness that fell on the Jewish people as a whole did not include all of them – for he was an example of a small piece of the original cloth of the Jewish people: he and other Jewish believers were pieces of remnant fragments of the nation. That should remind us that the message of the Lord is not MORE TRUE because His Word is MORE POPULAR. As our culture moves from its Christian moorings back toward a rebirth of paganism, don’t underestimate the power of God to revive His message at any time. The Bible promises that even in the darkness of the Great Tribulation, yet there will be a remnant of witnesses that will proclaim a walk with God – even to their own peril.

Second, this wasn’t a strange work of God – but a familiar theme from the earlier canvas. God was probably NEVER held by the majority on a personal and intimate level, and at times, it seemed like believers were almost ALONE in their following of God. Elijah was provided as an example in verse two. God’s reply in verses three and four help set things in perspective: I have always had more in my fold than people could obviously tell. That is an important truth: often when it comes to the believers and their strength – things aren’t what they appear to be. Sometimes we look much weaker than we are. Remember that in the days ahead… the world will call our message as “defeated” – a relic of the time past. Yet, they will not know how many draw their personal strength from a personal and vital walk with the Lord and His Word.

The end of the short passage encouraged people who believed that there were others who also found refuge in the faith that brought life. Their belief in the sacrifice of Jesus became the basis of their walk with God, and they were now living examples of the remnant – in spite of the rejection of the majority of their people. Herein is a great lesson: The greatest “take away” to this short view of a snapshot from the history of the relationship between God and Israel is this: It doesn’t matter what you have done, if you are still alive, you can turn back to God – because of His grace.

That isn’t a lesson for someone else from some other time and place: it is a lesson for us right now. You haven’t done anything to get too far from God. He is still beckoning you to come to Him if you haven’t made that choice. He still wants you, no matter how profound your rejection has been, and no matter how deliberate you have been at defying His Word. Grace is unmerited favor. Faith is seeing it His way. Salvation is embracing His forgiveness – given in grace and accessed by faith. Here is the truth: It doesn’t matter what brought you to this point – you are still invited to have a relationship with God through the completed work of Jesus – until you breathe your last breath – and then time runs out. The people of Israel committed many heinous acts against God – but He kept coming at them. In the same way, it could be that He is coming at you right now, once again, to get you to respond. Don’t back away. Israel has been an example of God’s patience – and you can be the benefactor of responding to a patient God!

Yet, that isn’t all! God’s work in Israel is not total – there were SOME who believed even at the time of Paul (just as there are some now)! Yet, Paul offered more…God’s rejection of those who led Israel, and the dark curtain He placed over many of their hearts is not the final layer of the canvas. His veiling is…

Not final: There is a promise!

God STILL has a future for the Jewish people. Paul wrote:

Romans 11:7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written, “GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.” 9 And David says, “LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. 10 “LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER.” 11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!

Paul returned in verse seven to a familiar theme of the past few chapters, because it was an argument being pressed by those who were drawing men and women to defect from their faith in Jesus. The argument was this: “How is it possible that the God of Abraham would draw many pagans to Himself, while those who stood in long Temple lines in Jerusalem were largely blinded from a true and vital walk with Him?” Paul’s answer was clear: God promised that would be the case in the prophets.

People are always surprised by God when He does EXACTLY what He promised for generations in the prophets. God told them that a “spirit of stupor” would overcome them spiritually. They would stop seeing, in spite of the fact they would have the Scriptures all around them. The Word would become tradition, the miracles of their dramatic rescue from Egypt would become mere relics of memory. Verse ten explained they would stop “bending their backs” – they wouldn’t worship and fall down before God. They would have all the trappings of a grand cathedral in Europe that bears nothing more than a museum of art themes of the Bible. In Christian terms – the Cross would become jewelry, the hymns a form of entertainment. Even the grandest memories of worship, the very “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel, would become a warm memory of times with family – not a pricking memory of deep worship of God. That is what happened to the Jewish people long ago, but it has happened to my people in my lifetime – so it is not nearly so remote and strange. I understand how it happens… I have seen it happen. When people play with holy things and don’t treat them as unique and distinct – they become common. Even the very sharp and powerful Word of God can become a source book for scholarly quotation, rather than a guide for our daily walk in worship and service of God.

Yet, that isn’t the end of these verses. There is a wonderful conclusion to the ancient paragraph that reveals something of the character of God. He closed his thought with the fact that God had OTHER PROMISES as well. Not everything God promised was judgment – it was directed at warning. It was given to draw people back from their sin. God promised that a new relationship would rise from the darkness like a living Phoenix from the pile of dry ashes. Verses eleven and twelve press the case – Israel will again live. They will go through a time of jealousy, unable to understand how the God of Israel could become the God of so many others and yet feel distant from them. That nagging jealousy would eventually result in their own return! How could that be??? Here is the truth: God isn’t just about where people are, He is about where He is taking them. This is the encouragement to the parent who is sobbing at night because of the hardness in the heart of their grown child: God isn’t done with them yet!

People often don’t get to their destination by all good experiences and good feelings. Sometimes events scare them and put them back where they belong.

I am thinking of the story of the man who stumbled into an open grave when cutting across the cemetery to get home more quickly. You see, he was in a hurry, and he thought he could take a short cut. He lived nearby, and wasn’t easily spooked because he had passed through the cemetery hundreds of times. This time was different. He didn’t see it coming. An open grave came upon him and his foot fell where he thought ground would be – only to find himself stuck in a hole. Startled, but unhurt, he tried climbing out of the hole… but each time he clawed the sides to boost upward, the earth crumbled in his hands and he tumbled back into the grave. After several unsuccessful and painful attempts, he sat down in a corner and decided to wait for help to come, or the sun to rise when the workers would return to the hole. What must have been a few hours passed. Another man wandered into the cemetery, also one who had been there many time. He was a street drunk, and like a movie “on cue” he stumbled thru the cemetery and fell into the grave. After a few misguided attempts to jump and claw and climb his way out… he also concluded there was no way to get out. The first resident of the hole said nothing as he watched the drink struggle for a bit, and then quietly said to him: “You’re never going to get out of here.” Yet, in a burst of fear and energy – the old drunk DID!

Take a moment and think about the words of verse twelve: Romans 11:12 “Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!” Can you see the promise in the verse. Jews WILL again have a relationship, as a people, to the God of their past. He has affirmed they will come home to Him. Their long struggle in man-made rules and intricate laws will finally be broken by a path back to His arms – for He has declared it!

How can that be? The answer is simple. God is at work in them even when it appears He is not. Paul continued…God’s work is…

Not haphazard: There is a plan!

Romans 11:13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will [their] acceptance be but life from the dead?

It is hard for us to hear this truth, but it is important: Sometimes the time spent in darkness defines God’s future uses of us in the light. Sometimes the years our children spend walking in the world as though we had not taught them of Christ are exactly what God will use to shape their heart for outreach in the future. Perfect Christians cannot reach fallen neighbors. Only those who have felt the pull of temptation can help others recognize the prints of her icy fingers on their heart. I am in no way justifying some “sowing of the wild oats” theology – but am making a simple point: Our experiences, for good or bad, shape us as a tool in the hand of God. It could be that your son or your daughter today walk in defiance of the Lord – but today isn’t the last day. Ask some of the great leaders of our time if Christian kids are always examples on the way to being leaders of the faith? You know the answer!

God declared that the temporary and partial rejection of the Jewish people of Him brought benefits to the world – but it did something more. Through time it showed them graphically that there is no one like the Lord. There is no one Who would love them in spite of their sin and deliberate rebellion against Him! There is no one who would see all of the darkest and most selfish parts of them, and yet still conclude they are worth giving all to embrace. You are loved as Israel is loved – and so is your wayward child or grandchild. It hurts to see it – but remember this: God knows that hurt. He has lived with more of it than any of us can imagine!

At this point in his argument, Paul changed his tone a bit. He saw a problem emerging that has become profound in the centuries… the conceit of pagans who come to Christ in the face of kicking and rebellious Jews who await a promised return to God. Paul warned we of the church must walk…

Not with conceit: There is danger!

There is a temptation to see what God is doing in US as the APEX of what God desired to do in the ages. Every figure, when painted onto the canvas, can begin to feel as though the whole picture frames ONLY THEM. Paul made the problem clear:

Romans 11:16 If the first piece [of dough] is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, [remember that] it is not you who supports the root, but the root [supports] you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural [branches] be grafted into their own olive tree?

God delights in using broken people and broken things. All of us who have a walk with God know that we don’t deserve His love – and we can easily make as big a mess out of our lives as any of our lost neighbors are doing right now. We are not better than others. We are not more loveable. We are not more stable. We know ourselves…

Here is the truth: A walk with God brings delight – but it can also bring arrogance. We can look down on others because we feel a specialness that was designed for our encouragement, not for our hard-hearted exclusion of others. When we see ourselves as the center of God’s plan – but we must also be wary that we don’t make more of ourselves than we ought!

In this history of the church, it is obvious that those from a pagan background felt superior to the Jewish people, probably as an initial reaction to the Jewish attacks on the early faith. We must admit this history of Anti-Semitic tradition within the church and move to seeing them again as a people of future promise. That was Paul’s point.

At the same time, we must apply that principle to many others around us. God is at work in people that we may easily disdain. That philandering man at the office, now on his fourth wife and seeking yet more “action on the side” is falling through life trying to find happiness in the bedroom – but it isn’t there. That gay neighbor who believes their whole being is somehow tied to their feelings of attraction may not seem a likely candidate for a close friendship, but God is at work there. The lonely and fearful prisoner, sitting in a jail cell and surrounded by strangers may not seem the best investment of your time on earth, but if God leads – you would be wrong about that! That young hyperactive child with the frazzled and underpaid single parent may not seem like fertile ground for the Gospel – but you are wrong. God has already planned a spouse and five more children slated for a family of the future that will be an example of godliness in their future neighborhood. What is missing from the recipe? Your participation!

Let’s face it: People who are too good to get involved in the lives of other people are of little good to the Kingdom. The church of our day needs to take this to heart. People are the center of God’s outreach plan. Those of us with a walk with God are the people assets of outreach, and lost people are object of God’s affection. If we get so busy running the church programming to suit the believers, we can forget that the church wasn’t given to the believer to give him a place to feel at home – it was primarily given to the community so that a people of witness would be equipped. We are left on earth for those who do not know Him, but desperately need to know Him. He is there only hope for fulfillment now and “forever peace” in the future.

Let’s not get arrogant about God’s work in us – and become more focused on God’s work THROUGH us. The Jewish people have a future because God declared it so. Yet, so do a great many others – if we will not be TOO GOOD to reach into their lives! The tricky part about God’s work is this…It is often…

Not obvious: There is a secret!

Paul knew his people were going to be renewed to a walk with God. Yet, he knew that believers who only looked at the current attempts of Jewish leadership to discourage and dissect the early church could not see the bigger program of God. He saw it, because his view wasn’t based on the news – but on the Word of God.

Romans 11:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery– so that you will not be wise in your own estimation– that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” 27 “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of [God’s] choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him [be] the glory forever. Amen.

A Biblical world view allowed Paul to see what others could not see – that God was at work carefully painting another layer on His picture of human history! God was working an intricate plan, and believers who took their cue from the news would not see what God was doing. That is STILL a major problem with the church of Jesus Christ.

Many in the church see Israel as replaced – but verses twenty-five to twenty-seven make no literal sense in that scenario. Others focus on current Jewish opposition to the Gospel and conclude that because they are hard to reach, the efforts would be better spent elsewhere – but that doesn’t take into account Paul’s answer in verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine.

Here is the simple truth: God doesn’t give up on His plan…He keeps steadily working it out. He works it out when even the believers don’t believe. He plods ahead, unaffected by our doubt and complaint – because He knows what He is doing. He knows where it all ends… in His glory.

Let me ask you a serious and important question before we leave this lesson: “What role to YOU play as the Artist does His work on the canvas?”

This past week I read an article by a man who was part of a team of managers tasked with revitalizing failing departments in the business world that were badly under-performing. He made a remark like:

One of the first things we did was sit around and watch. A simple seat near the water cooler helped me understand the workers in the office. They were in every office! There was the:

· GOSSIP – Did you hear about so and so?
· WHINER – Did you know the other department got a raise? Can you believe…
· MURMURER – I can’t stand our boss. I hate this company…
· LAZY – Between the restroom and the water cooler, my morning is all booked!
· THIEF – You can go, I will clock out for you later…

He said: Every area had its GOSSIP, its WHINER, its REBEL LEADER IN THE MAKING, its HIDING LAZY PERSON… its THIEF. I was no industry genius, all I had to do was WATCH. If I paid attention – people made their own reputation, day by day.”

Let me ask you plainly again: “What is your role in God’s outreach work? Are you busy doing Kingdom work, or hiding on the golf course and whining at the political media desk? People aren’t won to Christ by outrage – but by loving engagement. Yet, it seems, many prefer to spend the time consuming the next story that will fuel their outrage rather than spending their time engaging in love the people God placed all around them.

Last week is GONE. You cannot recover it. What will this week bring? Are you walking away from this short lesson in the Word anticipating that God wants to work through YOU?

God is working a plan to show Who He is through His people – and it is being artistically sculpted from materials that do not look now like they will look when He is finished.

Isn’t that the best news you have heard in a long time? You may not look the way you will when God is done transforming you, but God is at work on you, just as He is on the whole picture He is making.

You may not know her name, but Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer with a remarkable career. Her influence on modern dance has been compared to Picasso’s on modern visual arts, Stravinsky’s on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s on architecture. Her career longevity was also impressive. She danced and choreographed for over seventy years! Professional dancers experience the same physical wear and tear as other professional athletes. Martha Graham surpassed every standard. Her success and acclaim extended beyond the dance world when Graham was the first dancer ever to perform at the White House and travel abroad as a cultural ambassador. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown, and the Key to the City of Paris. Her most famous quote was: “No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” (Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Kelly Mitchell, sermon

Would you be open to the idea that God is still at work on the canvas, because so many are still lost? So many still need to see your life, hear your story and know your God. Some of them are the Apostle Paul’s distant relatives… and a great promise awaits them someday soon!

The Gospel Applied: “Intruder Alert!” – Romans 10

rodentsRodents and pests are both creative and enduring creatures – but they are intruders. To be fair, in many cases, we may be the actual invaders, for we build houses in the middle of their habitat and then desperately try to keep them from living in our space. How do we do it? We fill every gap and close every opening so that we can keep them from getting into our space. What do they do in response? They find another way in! It can be a battle if they have found your stuff to their liking. We may think of them as pests, but what they do is actually quite ingenious. A mouse can squeeze his body into a hole the size of a dime. He can pull his bones from joints to get himself from tight places. There is something admirable about that kind of tenacity. At the same time, such an ingenious behavior and tenacious approach doesn’t always work.

In this lesson, we want to think about the door to a relationship with God. We don’t want to neglect to point out that the letter from which we are taking our lessons, the Epistle to the Romans, already made clear the door to God. The simple term we use for that door is “Gospel” – a word used in our modern English to mean “the truth” but in antiquity it meant “good news”. No matter, to us it is both! The Gospel is the message that Jesus of Nazareth was not just a good man, but the dispatched Eternal Son of God, who came into the world to make it possible for men and women to have an intimate, personal relationship with the God of Abraham NOW, and enjoy conscious life with Him after this physical life is ended. That message was based on several component truths that must be grasped:

First, all men are sinners. We weren’t made that way; we became what we are in a revolt against God that took place many generations ago in the Garden of Eden. We don’t become sinners when we start sinning as children – quite the opposite. We sin as children without any need to be told how – because we are born sinners.

Second, because we have fallen from a guiltless state, we are unable to have a direct access to God because of the “law of sin and of death” that mandates that when sin occurs, some part of our free flowing relationship with God withers, and someone or something must die as a result – in part to symbolize the “death” of the life flow from God to us. In the atonement laws of Moses, animals substituted in a temporary way for the sacrifice that satisfied God for a time.

Third, God didn’t leave man with atonement – animal blood to temporarily cover our sin. He sent His Son to become a “Lamb” that was slain once for all as a perfect sacrifice for man’s sin.

Fourth, like all sacrifices, the one seeking relationship with God must believe the offering cares for the need – or the sacrifice is in vain (as it applies to them). We have to see the sacrifice as OUR sacrifice, and desire personally the relationship with God.

That elemental instruction of the Gospel was made plain in Romans 1-5. If you kept reading, you would then discover that the good news has implications for daily choices, life priorities and behavior in Romans 6-8. There Paul made plain that we are not to serve lust (Romans 6) nor list (Romans 7), but rather be led by the Spirit of God. As you continue studying the letter, you will quickly realize the next section of the letter (Romans 9-11) describes why the plan to transform lives is absolutely secure – because it rests on a FAITHFUL GOD who painstakingly works in lives for generations to tell His story.

As Paul watched his own countrymen defect from the faith in Jesus, he made plain that some began with the Christian movement, but did not remain with it – and that was no indication that the message was false. In fact, it was anticipated by God and prophesied by His holy ones of old. By Romans 10, Paul was describing the simple truth that NO OTHER DOOR existed to access God beside the Gospel. He argued that intruding NEVER works with God. He has made known in the Biblical record exactly what He requires for a man or woman to have a relationship with Him. As Creator, He has the right to require what He chooses (Paul made that point in Romans 9). As he continued his writing, Paul made clear another related truth…

Key Principle: No one intrudes into a relationship with God. By His grace, there is a door, but that is the ONLY way in.

Take a look at this as we study again from the letter of Romans in chapter 10. In that chapter, Paul was gripped in the heartbreak of watching his fellow countrymen walk away from God. He recognized the decline, and he felt he needed to explain it. The problem was that the Gospel, the story of salvation through Jesus the Jewish Messiah, was taking hold in the Gentile world, but under severe attack in the Jewish world. How could that be? The place where the story unfolded was largely rejecting the story – and people who were distant from the story were embracing the tale, as well as the salvation that Jesus offered. He felt he needed to explain why Jews were rejecting the message, and why that had no bearing on the truth of its claims.

Paul made the case that Jews were abandoning the message but Gentiles were coming to Christ even though they hadn’t been seeking the God of Abraham, at the end of Romans 9:

Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. 32 Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone…”

The first insight that we surely must gain from that reality is this…

Religion isn’t the way to God

Paul’s heart was broken because of Jewish defection from the message he brought to his people, and that was made clear in the beginning of Romans 10. He admits that Jews were religious, but not saved:

Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for [their] salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

That is worth considering. Religious zeal doesn’t save a person. Prayerfully ascending a stone stairway, weeping as I move upward on my knees, even if it is accompanied by beating my back with a whip and moaning about my sin is not the God-ordained method to open a relationship with God. It may leave me with bloody knees and a scarred back – but it isn’t the door God provided to get into a relationship with Him. Why do people seek religious zeal, then? There are two ideas we should recall:

First, they confuse what truth is. We must admit that it isn’t the AMOUNT of zeal or sincerity of belief in something that makes it true. You may feel something deeply, but that doesn’t make what you feel true. Truth is what conforms to reality – not what you wish reality is. You may FEEL WEALTHY, but your bankbook holds the story of your monetary standing. You may FEEL pure, but an exacting record of your thoughts and actions tell the truth about your heart. You may FEEL honest, but a precise record of every word you have thought and spoken when placed beside the truth you know will tell the actual story. We are living in a time when this basic premise is being obscured. People are saying often in public things they FEEL and making them TRUTH CLAIMS – even if they don’t conform to reality. The Bible claims that God deals in ACTUAL TRUTH, not in people’s self-evaluation of their own net-worth.

Second, it is SO appealing to come in through the door of religion – because we FEEL WE DID SOMETHING TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE RELATIONSHIP with God. In essence, in religious practice, we can easily claim that we earned the relationship with God by our labor. It feels like Heaven is a wage for our perseverance and dedication – and that is just another way for man to tell God what God SHOULD want. Rebellion is resetting the rules; it is establishing a different door than the one that God provided to enter and meet Him. What we need to remember is this: If God is Creator and Redeemer – we must come through the door He provides and according to His instructions.

Atonement isn’t the way to God – even if it ONCE was.

Paul continued addressing the problem Jewish people had during his time accepting the message of justification by grace through faith in the work of Jesus alone.

Romans 10:3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Here Paul claimed four truths:

First, that Jews did not truly understand the character of God’s righteousness. Anyone who supposes that a bottle of lamb’s blood is equal to the violation of the Holy One doesn’t truly understand the nature of God in an intimate way.

Imagine you were due for a very delicate brain surgery. The best surgeon in the world was flown in for this most difficult of all surgeries. You signed all the papers. You recognize that there is a good chance the surgery will fail and even that you may be making an exit from the planet. The surgical suite is meticulously maintained. The surgeon scrubbed every necessary part of his arms and hands. Masks were donned. Surgical scrubs were worn by the entire crew. The instruments of the surgery – from scalpels to saws were all sterilized with the best techniques known to man. What is all the fuzz about? The tiniest particle of impurity can DESTROY the carefully sterilized area and cause major health issues for you as a patient. Here is the truth: God’s righteousness is absolute – a factor much more complete than our most sterile man cleaned environment. The tiniest breach of righteousness destroys the perfection of the environment. God tolerates nothing imperfect in His righteous state. If one understands the exacting detail of God’s righteousness, they see the tiniest sin as a ‘BIG DEAL’ to God.

Second, the Jewish people sought to establish their own righteousness. They aren’t the only people in the world to ever try to do this. Every religious group that gets confused between revealed truth and their own rules does it. When people make up rules that help them participate in their faith, they also run into the danger of creating the feeling they ‘EARNED’ standing with God – in that way they can even misguidedly establish their own door to God. The problem is, only the one that God opens will get you in. Heaven isn’t a well-guarded bank, it is an “impossible to access” place designed by the Designer of YOU. He knows what He wants, and what you think He should want is utterly irrelevant.

Let’s say you are trying to lose a few extra pounds. The problem is that you have a metabolism that appears to be smarter than you do. When you eat less, it burns less. When you eat more but exercise more, it still packs on pounds. Late one night you are watching television because you can’t sleep. One of the world famous ads fills the screen with promises. “Eat whatever you wish – as much as you wish. Just take this little supplement, and you will shed pounds.” It sounds too good to be true, but you figure, “Hey, they are on TV, right? I mean there must be SOMETHING to what they are saying, don’t you think?” You order. Your supplements show up four to six weeks later. The only weight you lose is what leaves your wallet… A few weeks later you are watching late night TV again. After the pictures of starving children go off, a religious looking man in a nice suit fills the screen, and now he is standing in front of a big choir in what appears to be a church. He tells you that you can have a relationship with God, but you need to join his group – which incidentally costs a few dollars. Here is what I am saying: It won’t even work as well as the supplements you bought. If the man isn’t making clear that a relationship with God comes only through the grace of God (unearned) by means of believing exactly what God said about access to Him from His Word – He is offering a worthless message to a hopeless listener.

Third, the Jewish people would not submit to the door God provided. Here is the big problem. The more we believe another message, the more we reject the one God gave us. We can fuss all we want about our good works and how we are not as bad as someone else, but the bottom line is this: What has God said He wants you to do to walk in the door He has provided.

You decided after much bugging by your spouse that you would finally go on a cruise from one of our lovely Florida ports. You don’t really want to go, but it seems to make your spouse happy, and offers the ‘air’ of romance to your marriage, so you figure…”Why not?” You book the state room with a lovely balcony. The third day of the cruise you take an excursion to do some scuba diving. The company has everything arranged and off you go in the little skiff they provide to go out to sea. For whatever reason, the man steering the little vessel doesn’t warn you about a big wave approaching, and you are not seated properly in the boat as it moves swiftly through the water. The wave hits hard, and you fly out of the boat. You are a decent swimmer, but the water is pretty rough, and you hurt your arm as you were hurled from the boat. Now you are struggling a bit, hurting and disoriented from the sudden toss overboard. The skiff slows and turns. The operator tosses you the lie preserver. You look at it and decide you don’t like the color. He circles the boat toward you and you decide to backstroke in the other direction, yelling at him because he won’t provide rescue the way you want it to be. You blame HIM, and he is watching you drown in your own objections. That sounds ridiculous, but it is happening all over the world right now. People are sinking in sin, rejecting the life preserver because they think they should have the right to decide its shape, its color, its make.

The fourth truth is the most significant, the only door that works is Jesus. During that last night of Jesus’ earth ministry, He shared with His men about the place to which He was about to go. John 14 recorded these words:

John 14:1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, [there] you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Look closely at what Jesus said. He told the men He was leaving, and He was about to be preparing their place in Heaven. Thomas wanted to location and the directions. Jesus gave them – I am the way there, and there is no other.

A second truth about the way to God was offered in Romans 10 that is also worth our time and attention…

There are significant differences between the old system of atonement and the completed system of justification by grace through faith in the Person and work of Jesus.

Atonement required continual practice and devotion to the system that must be repeated throughout one’s life while justification by grace through faith in Jesus provides complete cleansing based on the open confession of submission to the Person and work of Christ:

Romans 10:5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”– that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

The Law provided an education in substitution and clearly established the need for covering of one’s sin before a Holy God. It even provided a temporary solution for sin by instructing a people in continual blood sacrifice and a regular calendar of performances of those sacrifices. It was effective, and really made many things clear that would not have been without the help of God in special revelation at Sinai. The Jewish people were to learn important lessons: the seriousness of sin in the law of sin and of death (when one sins there must be death) and the need to be clean to have an intimate walk with a Holy God.

People that do not understand these concepts because they have been raised far from God’s Word will struggle with the Gospel, not because they don’t want to follow God, but because they do not see the point of the story. They may even be offended that God chose to allow His own Son to die in our place – judging that to be a cruel requirement. Men who know little of God’s story feel the right to judge Him based on their own sense of righteousness and truth. To the believer that sounds foreign and offensive, but we are seeing it more and more as young people are being educated according to pagan thought processes.

Look at the verses. God related the problem with atonement law is that it is a closed system. Once you are in it, you have to stay connected to all the requirements – because it has no self-completion. Yet, the message of faith in Jesus can also be confusing. After all, where exactly is Jesus now? Who can bring Him into the room to testify of His message today? That is the idea behind Romans 10:6-7. Yet there is a solution, and it is found in Romans 10:8-11…

Jesus will testify within you. He will transform you. Your desires will change and your hungers will change. He enters when you ask Him to do so, and He transforms as you yield yourself – choice by choice – to Him. The confusion is that so many people CLAIM to follow Jesus, but are walking a path entirely unfamiliar to anything Jesus would say or do.

Last night I stood in line in Walgreens, getting a few items. Behind me were two young women. The woman who was making the purchases was talking to her friend, and evidently hadn’t learned appropriate words that weren’t what my mom would have called “potty mouth”. She expressed dismay and excitement with the same debased language, assuming her bodily functions were appropriate for casual conversation. When we walked outside, I saw her enter her car with her friend – a car decked out with the name of her church and some pretty interesting Christian sayings on its bumper stickers. I wondered if she considered herself a follower of Jesus but thought that maybe Jesus didn’t care about her mouth. If that sounds “judgy” to you – you may have little true knowledge of what Jesus sounds like. What I know for sure, is that He never sounded like that.

When we speak of a “church” we are not speaking of a denominational outpost or weekly meeting, but an public expression of people who come together to submit to Jesus as both Messiah and Master of their lives. Any group that claims to be a church that does not follow what the Word of God teaches is a false expression, period. If the standards of that work don’t follow the standards of the Word – they reveal they are not following Him – regardless of what they say they are doing.

Inadvertently, the grace in the message of the church has become part of the reason for the misunderstanding in our culture of the righteousness of God. Stressing that God desires a relationship given freely in Christ but failing to make clear the egregious nature of sin before God has led to a populace in America that confuses Jesus with Fred Rogers of “Mr. Roger’s neighborhood”.

Jesus never stood for “nice guy of the year” award – and wouldn’t be elected by current standards if the Gospel record is accurate, as I believe it is.

There is another startling difference revealed in these verse, but you have to really grasp the idea they contain. Atonement offered relationship to people who became part of ONE people (the Jews), while justification allows anyone access to God through the same door – but ONLY that door. Paul wrote it this way:

Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same [Lord] is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

The process of the Gospel then is this:

• First, submits to Jesus and is transformed by His mastery (Romans 10:9-10).
• Second, they find satisfaction and complete identity in Him (Romans 10:11-13).
• Third, they share their faith with others (Romans 10:14-16). Paul wrote:

Romans 10:14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” 17 So faith [comes] from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Virtually every believer I have ever met would offer a hearty “Amen!” to the idea that the Gospel needed to be preached, shared and spoken – yet few give the Gospel. We talk to many people during the week. We share about news, weather and even politics – but seldom do we share Christ. Yet, it isn’t because we don’t believe, and it isn’t because we don’t care… or is it?

Paul wrote that the Gospel is a message that must be proclaimed. It must be verbally shared. Some must feel the tug of God and be sent… Now look again at the excuse people gave – even in the first century: SOME FELT IT WOULDN’T BE BELIEVED.

Jesus promised that if you faithfully and lovingly gave it, the message would not return without use. A Biblical world view (faith) comes by hearing the message of the Word and having that hearing energized by the Savior within.

Our lesson closes with an admission, though. There will be resistance. Some won’t listen. Some are hardened by life, others by blindness in the Spirit. Paul’s own countrymen were experiencing that blindness:


Do you see what God promised about the Gospel’s reach? He said the message of the Gospel would go around the globe. Have you ever considered that truth as one of the great evidences of the faith – that a small and backward people would bear a child in a stable who was executed under the auspices of Roman power, but His story would become the backbone of western history’s energizing belief? It would give birth to European nations and eventually to our own country.

Atheists are quick to point out that not all the founding fathers of our nation were Theists – and it is true that Jefferson and some others were Deists. What they were NOT was a large group of atheists. They believed in moral truth. They believed in Divine purpose and destiny. They believed in human dignity, and inalienable rights of human beings as the basis of our legal framework and rights. The current teaching of some of our best modern minds have left little so powerful as their ideas, rooted in Scriptural language and thought.

We end this lesson with a word about Divinely-promised jealousy. Israel was passing into a time when their Scriptures would be launched to the nations – but not by them. This was being done in the name of One their leaders publicly despised. That could not have been easy to stomach.

Here is the point: God is working a plan. Religious behavior won’t tunnel beneath the wall around God. Good works cannot vault across the deep divide between God and man. Pedigree won’t get you into a relationship…

No one intrudes into a relationship with God. By His grace, there is a door, but that is the ONLY way in.

His name is Jesus.

There’s a website called that lists “The Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time.”

One was called the “Swiss Spaghetti Harvest”: In 1957, the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Another great was “Smellovision”: In 1965, the BBC featured an interview with a professor who had just invented a device called “smellovision.” This miraculous technology allowed viewers to experience directly in their own home aromas produced in the television studio. The professor offered a demonstration by cutting some onions and brewing coffee. A number of viewers called in to confirm that they distinctly experienced these scents as if they were there in the studio with him. Since no aromas were being transmitted, whatever these viewers thought they smelled coming out of their TV sets must be chalked up to the power of suggestion.

A generation later came the “Left-Handed Whopper”: In 1998, Burger King published a full-page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper, but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customer. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, “many others requested their own ‘right-handed’ version.” (Original source unknown).

Yes, people can be trained to believe almost anything, and sadly they ARE being trained that way. But the truth is alive and well. Salvation is available – but there is only ONE DOOR. That isn’t myth. It isn’t urban legend – it is the Word of the Savior Himself.

“The God Who Is There” – Romans 9:1-10:4

god-is-faithful2If the first five chapters of the Book of Romans describe the Gospel, the next three chapters (6-8) make clear the implications of the Gospel in your life. You don’t follow lust or list, but are Spirit led. The next section of the letter (9-11) describes why the plan to transform lives is secure – because it rests on a FAITHFUL GOD who painstakingly works in lives for generations to tell His story.

Key Principle: The resistance of men to follow God isn’t evidence of God’s failure, but His faithfulness.

Imagine living in a country that once openly embraced a relationship with God as a GOOD THING. It didn’t mean that everyone had such a relationship, but it did mean that people openly acknowledged such a relationship built character and framed the general principles of good society. One day those who felt themselves on the outside of a relationship with God pressed hard against that frame. They decided the moral statements of those who expressed a relationship with God made them feel demeaned, and they didn’t think anyone had the right to make them feel the things they wanted in life were wrong. They saw themselves as victims, abused and misunderstood by those who held a moral premise based on a relationship with God. They found a forum in which they could come together and gang up on those who believed, attempting to topple the premise that a relationship with God was a good and necessary thing. As those who felt the moral foundations were important began to respond, they were shouted down and called “intolerant” and “argumentative”. Sensing new power, those who once felt ostracized began deliberately pushing out those who once held the foundations in place and claimed the right to close off opportunities to those who once were assumed as in charge – because they felt they could prove a history of intolerance. In order to defeat the beast they perceived in others in the past, they became that beast. As those who felt victimized, they became attackers – victimizing others without sensitivity. This they called progress.

Look at these problems:

• Some nations used to follow God and now don’t – does that mean the story about Him is not true?
• If God designed the world and only some believe, does that mean that God is unjust?
• If God wasn’t reaching people who used to know Him – how could He justify reaching those who never tried to follow Him?

Because a people once followed God and now do not – Has God failed them?

We are fortunate that God’s Word offered a model of this very problem long ago. You may have not thought about it this way, but Paul lived as a part of the premier nation that had, in the past, followed God – and then turned away from doing so. It leaders had very deliberately moved from support of what God wanted to do into a position of opposition to it. Staring at the situation of the Messiah’s coming, it is easy to forget how someone like Paul felt about the departure of his people from following God, and how much he longed for them to move back into a position of desiring God’s leadership.

Romans 9:1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, [separated] from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the [temple] service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But [it is] not as though the word of God has failed.

Watching people fall away from their former standing is emotionally tough. It makes a believer sad to think that things that were once “common understanding” were now thought to be both regressive and harmful. Paul used words like “great sorrow” and “unceasing grief” because he felt the slipping into darkness that a sensitive believer feels when he watches people walk away from their long held God relationship. It is true that the Jewish leadership didn’t refuse the symbolism and religious life that went with their former aspirations of a personal God and intimate walk. Sometimes that happens. Long after the relationship is no longer the center of their culture, the religion continues. At the same time, those with a true walk with God recognize the religious life to be a mere “shell” of its former self.

Paul made an observation that God had not failed in the process of his people turning away. When you first read those words, they can seem odd. Yet, don’t pass by that observation too quickly, because one of the outcomes of watching a curtain of darkness fall can be “disappointment with God”. Paul made clear is wasn’t unusual in the plan of God to have only PART of the people of God following Him at any time.

Paul offered two supporting arguments to show that God had not failed…

First, from within that people, only some of them ever truly followed:

Romans 9:6b ”…For they are not all Israel who are [descended] from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”

This is one of those passages that needs to be read slowly. Do you recall “sets” and “subsets” in mathematics? Imagine the “set” is all of genetic Israel. Imagine within that “set” is a smaller “subset” of those through whom God would work a special and intimate relationship. Notice the set is genetic, but the subset is the group through whom God is working His promises. This isn’t a story of how God left Israel and started working with Gentiles – since all of the set was genetically Israel to begin with – that isn’t Paul’s point. The issue was this: God always had a part of the whole He worked His promises through – it was never the whole pool of people.

We need to remember that God’s work of intimately working in lives has always been a minority work. There have always been those who weren’t really on board with following God, even when the culture seemed to hide them. A moral shift in a culture isn’t an indication of truth or of God’s existence and goodness – it is a power shift between those who are experiencing a move of God in their live, and those who think frame life in another way entirely. Maybe they believe that “religious stuff” is all nonsense. Maybe they wanted it to be true, but didn’t experience God personally – and concluded it just wasn’t real. In any case, one of the outcomes of a moral shift in the power base of a community can be disappointment in God – and that is unwarranted. God always works in a subset, even when they seem to hold sway over the culture.

Second, God specifically designed His story to work in a certain line of people:

In the second argument, Paul wanted people to recognize that the events he saw were part of God’s plan. They didn’t take God by surprise…

Romans 9:10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived [twins] by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though [the twins] were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to [His] choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

Recognition of God’s sovereignty in His work with people can be a tough subject to tackle. Even believers can become so earthly minded that we forget that God is not an elected leader Who seeks our approval. He is the Supreme. He is the Creator. All answer to Him, and He answers to none. That can be deeply offensive to the American mind, but that makes it no less true. God is God – and as such, He is the Planner, the Author and the King. Don’t skip what Paul wrote and focus only on the offense: Paul made the point that God had (and has) a plan. He is at work. He has decided on the basis of His own desire to work through some people, and that wasn’t based entirely on them – but on His sovereign right to make such a decision.

Before you dive into what seems objectionable about those words, look at them. If you have a relationship with the Living God, you can celebrate the fact that you are not a cosmic accident. God has a plan He is working. He wanted you, and He chose you! How can that not be an exciting reality?

To be fair, any sensitive believer immediately thinks beyond their own choosing about those who DON’T KNOW GOD. The converse of the choosing of God seems harsh. As a result, almost in the same breath, Paul recognized the objection of people to this stark truth about God, so Paul offered a bit of further explanation…

Because in God’s plan He chose to have only some relationships, Has God been unjust?

Romans 9:14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!

Paul un-spooled answers to this objection along four lines of reason.

• He attacked an “underlying presupposition” (that people deserve a relationship with God).

• He unraveled an “approach error” (that people can sit eye to eye with God and call His judgment into account).

• He suggested a “limitation error” (that we may not fully grasp what God is doing in His choices).

The objection was over the JUSTICE of God. Let’s take a moment and see how Paul responded…

First, he made clear there was a “Presupposition Error”:

Such a challenge to God’s justice begins with the notion that people deserve a relationship with God – but that is wrong!

Look at Paul’s writing for a moment, and follow the words closely:

Romans 9:15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

It is easy to frame these words in the harshest way, and make God look uncaring and unloving in His justice. That is a mistake. The qualities of God are so deeply intertwined that they do not separate from one another. God isn’t JUST – Hie being DEFINES JUSTICE. God isn’t GOOD- He being DEFINES GOODNESS. God isn’t merciful – His being DEFINES MERCY. Christians need to stop viewing life through DUALISM. There isn’t ‘GOOD’ and ‘BAD’ and God falls into conformity to doing GOOD. God defines good and evil. He is the beginning template of all things. No one loves more than His love – since He is the core definition of love. No one is more just than He, since His character is the basic form from which the idea of justice flows.

We believe the Bible explains God’s revealed perspective of humanity. In the beginning of the human experience, the Bible explained that people began with a relationship with God and after a time they rebelled against Him. Given an opportunity to stand with God against the temptation of God’s enemy or follow that enemy – man chose rebellion. He didn’t do it because He was underprivileged or ignorant of God’s will – it was a mutiny pure and simple. That set the tone for the entire story of the Bible between man and God.

Don’t think of people in terms of innocence anymore – that isn’t the Biblical view at all. Think of the woman who walks into the house and discovers her man with another woman for the fifth time. Later, you meet the man and the line of his reasoning is that “He deserves more chances from her”. Do you agree? His desire for a renewed relationship overcame his memory of infidelity – but she remembered! HE abandoned the relationship, and now HE feels he is entitled to more chances. That is the kind of mutiny men pulled on God in the Garden. It isn’t right to blame God and assume people have a right to a relationship after a mutiny.

God wasn’t heartless – He made a way to bridge the gulf of man’s mutiny. Yet, here is the interesting thing. Even today, a great many men seek another way to God that isn’t according to His plan. They choose religion or good deeds over the plan God revealed of the gift of Jesus’ full payment at Calvary. When they attempt an alternative way to God, they continue their mutiny. Mutiny is a willful rejection of God’s plan in favor of our own. It happened in the Garden of Eden, and it is happening in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and philanthropic pursuits around the world even now. When men make their own way to God, they continue to deny His absolute right to set the rules for all things – including how He is to be accessed.

Let’s be clear: God loves more than any of us. God is just in the purist sense of the word. Yet, God has been snubbed. Men are not innocent. They cheated on Him. They have no right to claim they deserve God’s changing of the plan to overlook their mutiny.

Approach Error: Such a view places God across from men in an equal relationship – but that is wrong!

This wasn’t the only line of response. Paul knew that the very trial of God’s justice was inappropriate. He wrote:

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

Paul explored a fairness argument that often rises in a heart that has been swelled. That argument goes something like this: “If God has a plan, is it just to include in the plan some who reject Him? If He does that, isn’t that unjust?”

The questions are based on a misunderstanding of Who God is, and who we are – a blunder that I will simply call “an approach error”. The questions presuppose things that are not true:

First, that I have the standing to ask such a question. Paul made the point that the thing created cannot put on trial the Creator and judge the purposes for which it was created. That sounds offensive to the human mind – particularly the one raised in our culture. We have been trained to believe we ‘DESERVE’ anything we ‘DESIRE’. We aren’t used to being told “No!” by anyone and thinking it is just. Here is the stark reality: Because we don’t like the feeling has nothing to do with the fact that we are created beings and our Creator is not our peer. He doesn’t need to answer anything that arrogantly presupposes equality between the Creator and the creation.

I don’t create much artistically anymore. I used to try, but life has gotten bigger and squeezed out any artistic pursuits. Besides, I was never particularly good at it. Most of my shaping and creating is now done strictly with words on a page. What I do know about artistry is this: things I make are for my own purpose. If I want my pile of wood to be a bookshelf, that is what I make it. It doesn’t get to “weigh in” in its best use.

Someone who is sensitive is looking right through my little illustration. They are sitting there quietly, but vehemently objecting on the inside. “Wait a minute!” they are quietly objecting. “That’s fine for a book shelf, but we are talking about PEOPLE!” Of course, you are right… to a point. The Bible isn’t man’s perspective on God, but God’s perspective on man. God is Creator, and God is the first cause of everything. Men and women have value because He ascribed it to them. They are not intrinsically more that many complex organisms apart from the Creator declaring them to be so – and thankfully He has made that declaration. Don’t get arrogant, though. God created who and what He created to tell His story…and it is His right to do so. There is no one and nothing that rivals Him as an equal. We simply don’t have the right to stand up and think we look Him in the eye. We cannot demand anything from Him – we don’t have the standing.

Second, that I could understand the intricacy of the plan if it were fully explained. Job sat in a pile of ash and contemplated the reversal of his family, fortune and physical soundness. He and his friends posed ideas about suffering that God included in the record of His word. Yet, at the end of the book when God intervened – He largely left the questions about “Why?” unanswered. He did so on a singular basis: Job couldn’t grasp the size of the question, let alone the answer. God wasn’t being cruel – He quizzed Job to illustrate that Job didn’t know what he was even asking God. The text posited this truth: Men can’t ask God about the plan, because they don’t have enough knowledge and understanding to understand the full range of their QUESTION, let alone God’s ANSWER.

Limitation Error: Such a view neglects to consider that God may be working an agenda greater than for one people!

Paul wasn’t done. He also revealed that God’s agenda is often larger than a man’s ability to comprehend it! He wrote:

Romans 9:22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

Many years ago I was trying to build a full sized replica of the Wilderness Tabernacle in Israel. I wanted people to see and touch the materials that were the setting of God’s people and their work in Exodus 25-40. The problem was that I didn’t know fabric. I worked and worked to get the little tabletop model of the way the fabric was supposed to lay across the top of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies – but I couldn’t get it to work. It just kept coming out uneven, no matter what I did. My wife was quietly watching me. She walked up, picked up the fabric, and put it over the little model in about ten seconds – and it was perfect. I had studied for YEARS about that building. I knew things about the detail of construction that I am certain only Bezalel, Moses and I will be able to discuss in the afterlife. Yet, I didn’t know fabric. I didn’t know how to get it to work. Someone who did made it work without effort. Here is the point: If you don’t have the requisite knowledge of an area, you can think forever about it and not comprehend the question, let alone the answer.

Paul offered an insight: God made Gentiles with a purpose to eventually embracing them during a period of darkness for the house of Israel. That dark period was planned and revealed by earlier writers of Scripture. Paul made clear that God had said…

I will reach other people:


Hosea 2:23 revealed seven hundred years before Jesus that God had a plan to re-open the door to a formerly estranged people that was scattered throughout the earth that we lump together in the term “Gentiles”.

I will reach only a portion of my own people:


Contemporary to Hosea was Isaiah, a prophet who acknowledged that God was going to precisely fulfill His prophecy through PART of Israel, but not ALL of Israel. Paul was part of that remnant, as are born-again Messianic Jews today. They are minority, but they exist as part of God’s plan until the re-opening of the eyes of Israel later.

If I didn’t reach my people – none of them would come at all:

We dare not overlook the last part of what God said, because it is an essential point: God’s mercy is seen in any of even His unique people coming to Him…


Let’s be honest: The world isn’t filled with people who get up in the morning with the heartfelt desire to deny their inner desires and serve their Creator. We are, on the whole, a pretty self-centered lot. We WANT what we WANT. Watch the traffic for confirmation of that! Everyone is moving ahead with their own agenda, but trying to get there without crossing into another’s lane and smashing society. Sodom and Gomorrah were cities that made what was wrong seem moral. If you cannot see the connection, look at the news – it is all around you. We want to do what we want, and we want to stop anyone else from thinking we are wrong, even if we are. We want a life without an account.

Las Vegas now has a call-in “Connection Confession” line where people can call and confess their sins to a recording. America’s first confession line makes it possible, for a fee of $9 per three minutes, to record your sin, and if you want to pay a little more you can listen to other people’s sins. Apparently the service is being bombarded by calls. One of the originators said, “It’s a technological way to get something off your chest without the embarrassment that comes from confessing one on one.” But do you know what it really is? Besides a money maker for someone? It’s confession without accountability. -Contributed by: Timothy Smith (

Paul asked one more set of questions…I believe he didn’t think the issue of watching his people slip into darkness was fully explored. He asked and answered two questions:

Paul asked: “Are we saying that the Jewish people, who I deeply love, have fallen out of an vibrant relationship with the God of Abraham while those who were reached by missionaries (but weren’t looking for God to meet them) are now the recipients of a great and intimate walk with that same God?” Then Paul followed up with another question: “Why is that the case?”

Don’t relegate this discussion to some cold theology of the past. Paul was losing his nation. Have you felt that about your nation?

He was sensing a rejection of God’s way by the people and he was broken by it – as we all should be if and when it happens. Look at the question again…

If God is saving people who didn’t ask Him to, while rejecting those who for generations pursued Him, what went wrong?

Paul offered one answer in the Spirit: “People made their own standard of relationship – and didn’t follow God’s standard”.

Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. 32 Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for [their] salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Here is the truth: God doesn’t want you to EARN a relationship with Him – He wants you to accept it as a gift based solely on His unmerited favor. When we pursue a relationship based on religious life, personal morality or merit, we rebel and demean His right to be the sole provider of salvation and eternal relationship. Let’s be clear: Any plan that attempts to rival God’s plan is the device of a rebel.

A man in North Carolina bought a new car with a voice-warning system. … At first he was amused to hear the soft female voice gently remind him that his seat belt wasn’t fastened. … Edwin affectionately called this voice the “little woman.” He soon discovered his little woman was programmed to warn him about his gasoline. “Your fuel level is low,” she said one time in her sweet voice. Edwin nodded his head and thanked her. He figured he still had enough to go another fifty miles, so he kept on driving. But a few minutes later, her voice interrupted again with the same warning. And so it went over and over. Although he knew it was the same recording, Edwin thought her voice sounded harsher each time. Finally, he stopped his car and crawled under the dashboard. After a quick search, he found the appropriate wires and gave them a good yank. So much for the little woman! He was still smiling to himself a few miles later when his car began sputtering and coughing. He ran out of gas! Somewhere inside the dashboard, Edwin was sure he could hear the little woman laughing. People like Edwin learn before long that the little voice inside, although ignored or even disconnected, often tells them exactly what they need to know. Source: From a sermon by Gerald Flury, “Sputtering, Stuttering and Shuddering“; (

God isn’t failing our country – we are making choices to rebel because we don’t think beyond what we want. It happened before, and it is heartbreaking to watch – but it isn’t a new phenomenon. We have been here before, and the Gospel survived. The message continued. When God’s people don’t get distracted trying to fix problems they cannot and get back to offering their neighbor the Gospel – the message keeps moving forward.

The resistance of men to follow God isn’t evidence of God’s failure, but His faithfulness.

Don’t misunderstand. You are still here…and you possess the answer to salvation. It isn’t a government program. It won’t start from the White House or Capitol Hill. It is a message from the lips of a stooped grandma to her nine year old grandchild, delivered while they make cookies together. It is a lesson that will cost you investing in the lives of neighbors and your community. It is a message that transforms others, just as it did you.

“Dying to Change” – Romans 6-8

The first issue we explored from Paul’s letter to the Romans was the “meaning and message of the Gospel” – in Romans 1-5. In this lesson, I want to offer a reminder of Paul’s message about CHOICES and BEHAVIORS of those who are following God because of the Gospel. Romans 6-8 moved from the issues of salvation, to the issues of transformation of a believer – since God’s purpose in salvation wasn’t simply to change where you go when you DIE, but how you live in the “here and now”. Paul taught in the middle section of the Epistle to the Romans that believers are to be transformed because they have completed their old life, died, and now have a new life to live.

cemeteryLet’s start by admitting the obvious: “Death changes many things”. Finally, we don’t have to pay taxes anymore when we die. People can send whatever bill they want to us – and not only are we not going to pay it, no one expects us to do so. Death makes our old obligations null and void. That may sound so obvious that it is really stupid, but the fact is that the center section of Romans was dedicated to that single idea: When you surrendered to Jesus – you “died” as your own master and turned your life and direction over to Jesus, so you don’t have the same obligations you had before to serve self and sin.

Paul wanted believers to understand that the world is not our master, nor are our lusts and desires that which has mastery over us. Let me ask you: “Is that true of you?” Do you live to fulfill the desires of the One Who saved you?

If that is not true in your daily life, it may be because you aren’t truly one of His, or it may be because you are still somehow convinced that you are under an obligation or an authority that has been broken by your choice to follow a new Master – Jesus. This simple fact is this: Because Jesus is your Master – you don’t have to serve your old masters anymore.

Key Principle: Our surrender to Christ is like a “death” to the former masters of our life. That act breaks our obligation to serve sin and meticulous atonement laws to “keep ourselves in God’s favor” – replacing sin and service with the gentle guidance of God’s Spirit within.

All of us face the choice to let outside forces drive us, or inner desires press us to do what we do. People are very often driven by inner desires – I see them every day. They act like they are free, but they cannot find resolution in life without their pills or the bottle that seems to satisfy an inner sense of incompleteness. Many are driven by an addiction to the affirmation of other people – the hunger to be loved. They move about seeking someone to tell them how important they are and how good their work has been. They aren’t happy about it – they seem more like addicts driven to please than those at peace with life inside.

At the same time, I regularly meet people who are so hounded by fear and inadequacy – they adopt standards of a religious life because they feel God would not love them without “doing big things” for Him. They move about through life nervously practicing things, sure that if they fall off the ledge of some right behavior, God’s grace is insufficient for them to remain in His good graces – and God will withdraw in horror over their choices – never to return. They seem unaware that it is far better to be led by the God’s Spirit into grace than to be driven by the need to practice things in a way that seeks to “keep God’s interest” in them. I think they feel boring, unlovable and unstable in their tenuous connection to God.

The good news is that these tendencies – to feel driven by sin or driven by religious prompting are not new to the faith. People have struggled with both since the beginning of the spread of the message of Jesus. Paul encountered the two tendencies, and he wrote to the people of Rome about both – along with a practical solution. His basic argument was this: You can be driven by your desires, tossed about by your spiritual inadequacies – or be led by God’s Spirit – but it is always better to be led than driven. God’s leading comes with God’s peace. Driven individuals (those chasing after the hole in their sufficiency and adequacy) know little of peace. Look in Romans 6-8 for a few moments and let’s follow his basic argument…

Believers need to take control of their choices.

Paul reminded us that since God’s grace is so rich, free and complete –we should find rest in it, and live to please Him, allowing Him to continue to lavish forgiveness on us in spite of our continued selfishness. He asks a strange question that anticipates a negative answer…

Romans 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?

On the surface, that may sound like a ridiculous idea – to sin more so as to experience God’s grace in a deeper way – but it is one that many believers have had over the centuries. The idea that God would “forgive them anyway” led some to think there was no urgent need to deny self and follow Jesus. That thinking is is neither new nor silly – it is an area worked over through the ages. Some extreme versions are even to suggest that we are “helping God” by allowing His forgiveness to increase as our sin does. It is flawed logic rooted in selfishness – a “God helps those who help themselves” theology. It is true that God will forgive you for sin. It is true that Jesus paid for all of your sin as a believer in Him. It is also true that your new identity in Jesus means that you aren’t supposed to think in rebellious terms anymore.

The Illustration of Death

Paul flatly turned down that reasoning. He contended that sin and desire no longer hold us in chains, because they were broken by Christ. Therefore we don’t need to be driven by sin, because we died to it when we surrendered to Jesus. We don’t have to serve our desires – because of our new identity and new life in Christ! Look at how he continues…

Romans 6:2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

There it is – you can choose to allow God to transform your allegiance to following your desires and hungers – and let Him work in you to engage a new life. Let’s take apart what Paul wrote, because it has some “religious” terms that can lead us in the wrong way if we don’t carefully understand them.

First, Paul made clear in verse two that sin’s hold on us is changed because we have died as believers. I feel alive, how about you? Who has died? Clearly what he said was that our surrender to Jesus Christ was like a “death” to self-direction, or at least that is what it was SUPPOSED to be. Let me illustrate: If I were to join military service this week, I would cease my ability to serve this congregation. I would cease making most all decisions in my life, and my days and nights would be surrendered to the military authorities to whom I gave charge of my life. I wouldn’t decide when I woke up in the morning, nor when I went to bed. My clothing, hairstyle and daily schedule would be entirely surrendered to their charge. I would eat what they told me to eat, when they told me to eat it. I would, in effect, “die” to self-choices. Paul made it clear that my commitment to Jesus was intended to be very much like that.

So that we don’t pass by it too quickly, let’s make sure we understand that God never designed the Christian life to be about our comfort or our fulfillment in this life – but rather we view our earth time as the beginning of a transforming process that continues at our death, and eventually fulfills us. Here I serve Christ, in death He offers me peace and fulfillment in His presence. The Christian life simply wasn’t designed for me to choose things that satiate my desires but dishonor my Savior. That isn’t Christian – it is selfish, soulish and disobedient. I am to make choices in life that honor the Savior –every time.

As we continue looking at verses three through five, notice that Paul used the language of “baptism” to show a demarcation between my old life and my new one. This is tricky, because he used a term that is “religious” and significant to the Christian faith – but it is a word that has a symbolic (metaphoric) meaning, and a literal one. As a metaphor, it was a common idiom for “identification” at that time. When people were identified with a cause or message, they could be said to be “baptized” into it. In the literal sense, it meant that you were dripping wet because of a ritual. Did Paul mean that when I was “baptized” I began following Christ? I don’t think so, but there are some scholars believe that. Yet, it is still true that when I publicly identified as a believer (whether with water or not), I declared myself under a new authority. Instead of getting caught up in the mechanism, step back for a moment and see the whole picture. Paul argued that when I was publicly identified as belonging to Jesus, my self-choices ended, and Jesus began making my choices. Our life became NEW because the One making our choices was changed. Let me lean in for a moment… If someone were to look at your choices this week, and had the ability to see the motivation behind your choices – would they see that Jesus’ honor was the prevailing factor?

Self-willed Christians must grasp the Word and recognize they are doing something that is unnatural and unsanctioned by God. He didn’t save us so that we could keep living according to our own wisdom, chasing after our own desires. Our choices became His choices – but verse five declares they are not a heavy, dead, negative sentence, but a life-producing and exciting new life! In verse six Paul made it clear that when we served self – we served sin. We couldn’t help it. Our fallen desires led us about like a master that pulled us with a chain leash.

broken chainsFinally, in the balance of verse six and seven the truth was made plain. Our commitment to Jesus broke the leash of sin’s mastery. I am no longer required to be responsive to my desires because I died to self-choice. I don’t live, as a Christian, caught up in my insatiable hungers and felt needs – I am led by the Risen Christ.

Paul continued to try to pull the truth of my freedom closer to my life and understanding – by moving from theory to practice. Why do so many people keep living as slaves to their old selfish ways? Drop a few verses down to verse eleven:

Romans 6:11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

Paul’s argument was that some believers don’t seem to understand that our allegiance to self and sin must be broken by our CHOICE to do so. Just as Jesus was raised to a new life – so we have been given a new life. The problem is that we must RECOGNIZE that the chains of sin were cut, and make daily choices based on the leading of our new Master of choices, Jesus.

What does that mean in practical terms? Verses twelve and thirteen are very direct. Paul wrote: “Don’t let your old sinful past, or your kindling of fallen desires push you around and tell you how to live now. Don’t let any part of your life be drawn back into wickedness – things God has declared unhealthy and unsuitable for believers.

The Illustration of Slavery

A few verses down, Paul offered the law in terms of an illustration that Roman citizens could really understand – that of slavery. Nearly half of the Roman empire consisted of slaves. They could be seen on virtually every city street, scurrying about in service to their masters. They were routinely bought and sold, and by the time of Paul (thankfully) they were no longer forced to be summarily executed on the death of their masters. Paul made clear that when entered the slave service to their own desires, they make a choice to follow the path to a life separated from God. He wrote:

Romans 6:16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

The simple fact is this: we were servants of sin and self-desires, but are now servants of the Savior and His desires. Since Paul has argued that sin cannot force a believer into servitude, he now clarifies the fact that it is OUR CHOICE to continue to serve our own lusts. Don’t try to victimize yourself – sin is your choice. He continued:

Romans 6:19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. … 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul helps us understand something important: We choose the daily path we take. We aren’t forced to “look out for “number one” – we do it because we are used to doing it from our former life, or we are simply not being diligent to choose in a way that honors Jesus as we should.

Here is the point: Every day we make choices about what is truly important to us. When we choose simply on the basis of what we want, we go to work when it suits us to do so. When we love our family and want to provide for them, we choose to go to work even when we aren’t feeling well. When we love our infant child more than ourselves, we wake up and feed them in the still of the night, because they are hungry.

The problem is that far too many people think they are believers, but they have some permanent right to be selfish and spend their lives on their own lusts. They want to have stuff – so they work – not to steward the things they earn to honor God, but merely to enjoy life for themselves and do what they want with what they earn. God isn’t the God of their time – they control that part… but they do try to drop by on Sunday every now and again. God isn’t the God of their treasure – they “earn it” and spend it on whatever makes them happy.

Here is the truth: If I am freed from service as a slave of sin – then my choices to act in selfish ways are my own – and I cannot blame God, temptation, my boss, my spouse, the world around me, or the devil himself for my choice to serve my lusts, my desires, my selfish dreams. That choice is mine, and I must be honest and own it.

Believers need to set aside their hunger for earned righteousness.

Sometimes we chase after inner desires. Other times, it isn’t LUST that we serve, it is a LIST. Paul went back in Romans 7 to the DEATH ILLUSTRATION he used in Romans 6, this time to move into the argument against living to serve religious lists and keep God happy:

Romans 7:1 Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man. 4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

Paul understood the Law at a level few of us ever will. We didn’t grow up raising a sacrifice lamb and keeping it spotless for presentation in the Temple. We don’t really understand how hard it was to follow exacting rules regarding food and clean living in a time and place where running water was just becoming common in the wealthiest of homes. He knew that keeping the list – albeit a holy list – meant much effort. He didn’t choose a tough subject of law, but rather a simple and well understood principle: “You are under the terms of the Law while the parties are all alive.”

Just as in Romans six he drove home the point that our choices are our own, and that we are dead to the old master of “self” or of “sin” – so now Paul proclaimed that believers were “dead” to atonement law because Jesus replaced it with full justification. He didn’t “amend” the atonement; He cancelled it and replaced it. You don’t have to “maintain” a constant observance to be assured of God’s full acceptance.

Does that mean my life is now a free for all? Can I live anyway I please? No, not at all. In fact, the last chapter made that plain. What Paul was explaining was that Jesus DID ALL that was necessary for our complete acceptance by God, but verse four made clear that He did it for a purpose: that we might “bear fruit for God”. We were given a new life that we might choose to serve God with our life and produce things that please Him.

Feeling the Fight

feeling the fightFrom Romans 7:5-20 Paul verbally wrestled with himself. He wanted to do good things, but the old man followed him throughout his life, and he kept finding himself doing the opposite of what he knew he should do. Trying to follow God, while I walk through this life with the old nature still alive within me is TOUGH. The Law informed Paul of what he did wrong, but didn’t help him DO RIGHT. It showed him many things about himself – and most of them weren’t good! Paul continued:

Romans 7:21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The Apostle knew of the very famous reference in Virgil’s Aeneid in which there was a reference to an ancient king, who offered a cruel punishment for the capital crime of murder. He was said to have chained the dead man to the killer until the murderer died of the “dead tissue transfer”, unable to separate himself from his rotting burden. The story was famous, as was the whole of the Aeneid, written a generation before at the time of Caesar Augustus. Paul employed the image as an extreme reference, certainly because his nagging sin nature made him feel wretched from time to time, with the stench of his old man’s sinful desires – just as any believer who really looked at the things that well up inside of us from our old life would begin to feel!

The point of Romans seven was that a war is at work within us. We know we don’t do the right things because God’s Word tells what the right things are. At the same time, we don’t have to struggle so hard under the weight of constant guilt. God knows you. He knows what He got when you came to Christ. That is not and should not become a reason to be lazy, undisciplined and unwholesome – but our walk with God is also not supposed to be a drudgery, an unreachable goal stuck around our shoes sinking in the muck. God called us to Himself to walk through life WITH us, not to make it harder to navigate life. With God, we can make good choices. With God, we can fill our homes with laughter. With God, we can know the thrill of being right with our Creator. Following the rules will leave you exhausted – following the Savior will fill you with wonder over God’s goodness.

Let me ask you honestly: “Have you lost the wonder of a walk with God? Does holiness sound like a burden?” In the world you will be trained to think that all the fun is in the wrong doing. It isn’t true. There is no relationship more fulfilling than a good and guilt-free marriage. There is no bond like two brothers in Jesus. There is no joy like embracing another who has just surrendered their heart to Jesus. The world knows little of “guilt-free joys”.

A New Approach – Life led by the Spirit

The simple fact is that many people around you today are driven. They are trying to satiate their inner lusts. Others are clothed in religious piety and chasing a list. Neither of those things will work for very long… they are both exhausting and will leave you tired and empty. There is a third way… and Paul offered us a picture of it in Romans eight:

First, get rid of the guilt, and grab the Savior’s hand:

Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Christians notoriously get wrong the meaning of this passage. The “law of sin and of death” is this: “sin brings death; where there is sin, one will die.” The atonement system was a temporary substitution – a man sin but a lamb died. In Christ, a man sinned but the Savior died, once for all. The law of continuous and temporary atonement through the death of animals was voided, because Jesus paid the full bill for sin.

Step back for a moment. Take a breath and recognize that Jesus paid for your sin. Take your choices seriously, but don’t think that it all rests on your shoulders. Jesus is walking through this with you.

Second, remember that Jesus’ payment was for a purpose:

Romans 8:3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Atonement was able to cover sin, but not change the heart in the way that surrender to Jesus does. His coming as a man, and His full payment at the Cross offered us a new relationship, characterized by the lodging of the Spirit of God within us. That should change our focus. Jesus didn’t come to make us miserable list-keepers, or licensed sinners. He came to make salvation fully available, and the Spirit’s indwelling permanently operative.

Here is the problem: without the indwelling Spirit, we would have to tough out a walk with God, fighting relentlessly against the sinful desires of our flesh – but that isn’t the call of the believer. Jesus came to bring us peace with God and the powerful work of the Spirit within. In fact, Paul made clear:

Romans 8:5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

Third, recognize that you need to choose to live the life God called you to live:

Romans 8:7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. … 12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. …14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. …

We have a choice, but we also have an obligation. Don’t think that God doesn’t notice how little you regard Him in your life’s decision making. He knows. He notices. He is ready to offer you the greatest gift you will ever be given – more intimate time with Him – if you will desire it and choose time with Him!

Finally, stop worrying about doing it all right, and start focusing on a walk that embraces God’s love.

Make choices BECAUSE HE LOVES YOU, not to get Him to love you!

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.

Beloved, the days are drawing to a close when we can keep “playing at our faith”. We must look more carefully at the choice to follow Jesus, and how that affects all of our life choices. We must not dabble in lust and license or chase after loveless lists. It is time for us to recognize the great gift Jesus offers us – Himself. He will walk with us. His love will move our hands and feet if we learn to move at the impulse of His will. Giving yourself to Jesus is an act of dedication that needs to happen again and again – until we truly recognize that a Spirit-led life is something more than avoiding big sins and saying God words. Dedication is costly. An old story reminds…

Bertoldo de Giovanni is a name even the most enthusiastic lover of art is unlikely to recognize. He was the pupil of Donatello, the greatest sculptor of his time, and he was the teacher of Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time. Michelangelo was only 14 years old when he came to Bertoldo, but it was already obvious that he was enormously gifted. Bertoldo was wise enough to realize that gifted people are often tempted to coast rather than to grow, and therefore he kept trying to pressure his young prodigy to work seriously at his art. One day he came into the studio to find Michelangelo toying with a piece of sculpture far beneath his abilities. Bertoldo grabbed a hammer, stomped across the room, and smashed the work into tiny pieces, shouting this unforgettable message, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!” – Gary Inrig, From: A Call to Excellence

Our surrender to Christ is like a “death” to the former masters of our life. That act breaks our obligation to serve sin and meticulous atonement laws to “keep ourselves in God’s favor” – replacing sin and service with the gentle guidance of God’s Spirit within.

Resurrection Sunday: “Paid In Full!” – Romans 1-5

little old houseFor thirty years they struggled in that little house on the corner. They raised five children in a house barely large enough for two. Its halls heard the daily squabbles of rambunctious children, the tussle of trying to get ready for school in one bathroom. It seemed for years there was constant fighting for counter space at the single little bathroom sink, just as there was incessant poking of one another and squealing as the lunch assembly line was launched in the tiny kitchen nearby every school day. Now the towel snapping “battle lines” had long ceased, and each child graduated, married and headed out into life. The old house held only the two of them now – just as the place had done where it all had started many years earlier.

It seems, that in the process of life, both that house, and the occupants of it had grown old. There were scars in the floor from the wooden rocking chair that pressed into the hard wood floor during the long nights of rocking sick children, and later worrying when they didn’t come home on time for curfew. There were little ascending pencil marks on the wall inside the closet that reflected the growth of each child. Those days were ended now…and the two of them sat in the place, laden with memories as they cut open the envelope that was delivered to their box. The words in the lower right corner gave them a rush of feeling – a long due recognition of struggles. The words on the mortgage letter read: “Paid in full”.

If you have ever worked long and hard at anything, you know the relief they felt. If you have ever rallied through setbacks and painfully “soldiered on” during burdensome times – you know what that “coming to the end of the road” satisfaction is all about when the final bill has been paid… The story of Easter is that story. It is the final stamp on a bill log paid that read: “Paid in Full”!!

Key Principle: Jesus paid for sin at the Crucifixion, but the letter with the stamp “Paid in Full” was publicly verified on the morning of the Resurrection.

This lesson is about Jesus, and it is about hope. This lesson is about the Gospel, and the fact that we are all broken, sinful people who can’t fix ourselves. This lesson makes clear that the New Testament reveals that trying hard won’t do it… Our only hope is to follow the Savior who already completed it. This is the story of the Gospel, as the Apostles revealed it in the ancient story… and we find it clear and crisp in the letter we call the “Epistle to the Romans”, beginning at the first chapter of that letter.

When Paul wrote the letter to Rome, he wrote it with the intent to share two very important concepts – the description of the Gospel (because people of every period need to know what the Biblical prescription is for the gap between them and God) and the definition of the Gospel (so they won’t just know ABOUT the message, but be able to examine the claims of Jesus up close).

First, Let’s see if we can grasp a clear description of the Gospel:

Paul opened the letter to Rome with a grand announcement, in the form that was used by an ancient orator to announce the birth of a prince to the household of Caesar. He claimed to be a mere slave of that prince (1:1), and he claimed to be one that was selected particularly for that task (1:1b). He claimed the story of Jesus fit what was promised long before (1:2-3), and that Jesus’ announcement wasn’t made because of His birth – but because He walked out of the tomb after His Crucifixion (1:4).

Paul made clear that the Gospel is an announcement that is given based on the power of God shown in the Resurrection – and that is why we are mentioning it on this Resurrection Sunday!

The Gospel is a message that some people feel uncomfortable with:

Drop your eyes down a few verses and look at Paul’s boldness about the message the Jesus came, Jesus died, and Jesus rose…He wrote:

Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…”

The Gospel is a message that challenges people to believe something they have never seen. We have all been touched by death – but few if any of us have been touched by someone who WAS dead and is now alive. Like Joseph, trying to describe how Mary got pregnant without a man – the Gospel rests on a fundamental belief that there is a God, and that the normal laws of nature do not bind Him – because He made those laws. Some people cannot accept what they cannot observe – especially in the time we live in, where science has been mixed up with the philosophy of origins – and people in lab coats have become priests of naturalism disguised as impartial scientists. The Gospel can make a student feel embarrassed at school – arguing for purity in a world where freedom has come to mean the swift removal of moral restraints to gain what I want when I want it.

The Gospel is a message that rescues every person who believes the message:

The Gospel message can bring embarrassment if one plays with the message – but not if it really reaches your heart. Paul continued:

Romans 1:16b: “…because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

The Gospel drives the power of God into my heart. It makes plain that God hasn’t abandoned us on the planet and left the fallen mess we see playing out in the news. God brings rescue to anyone who will believe what He has said – those with long and deep religious ties, and those who haven’t had any of that in their lives.

The Gospel is a message that reveals that God is truly righteous:

The Gospel is a message that isn’t centered on man’s abilities, but God’s righteousness. Paul wrote:

Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

This is the message about a God who is entitled to our allegiance, but Who has suffered from our mutiny. God made us to walk with Him, and we “voted Him off the island” of our heart. His absolute judicial right to be God is bound in His making of all things. He is the Creator, and we are the created.

How can I know Him? Paul made clear it is by “faith”. Don’t get lost in that word. Faith isn’t merely “leaping past evidence and just believing”; rather the very opposite. Faith is the response to the evidence that demands a verdict. Faith in the Bible is “God glasses” – seeing it the way He says it is in His Word, rather than the way my eyes would see it without His revealed truth. Faith is the reasonable response to what I see that is in harmony with what God said about it.

I believe there is a God by faith. That doesn’t mean that because I cannot know if there is, “I just believe.” It means that I have eyes, and I can see that there is a highly ordered universe that operates on precise and exacting mathematical properties. Everywhere I look in the world, such intricate design requires the hand of a designer. I am taking what I know of the world and applying it to the whole cosmos: design requires a Designer. Then I look into the Bible, and I see that it clearly claims a Creator, and that He made His qualities known by what He made. When I believe what He said about Himself, I am agreeing through the “glasses” of what God said… and that is faith.

Bible faith requires knowledge of Bible content:

George Barna wrote “The State of the Church” a few years ago based on a carefully conducted survey of self-pronounced Christians. Here is what he discovered about their knowledge of the Bible.

• 48% could not name the four Gospels.
• 52% couldn’t identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples.
• 60% of them couldn’t name even five of the “Ten Commandments”.
• 61% of them agreed with the statement: “The Sermon on the Mount was an important sermon preached by Billy Graham.”
• 71% thought the saying “God helps those who help themselves” can be found in a verse in the Bible.

Barna’s conclusion was this: “Americans revere the Bible, but by and large they don’t know what it says. And because they don’t know it, they have become a nation of Biblical illiterates.”

The Bible terminology for that group is a generation “weak in faith”. They don’t know what God promised, and they don’t see life through it. They may go to church. They may even think the Bible is important – but they cannot and will not make decisions based on its contents – because they don’t know them.

The Gospel is a message that makes clear the problem of God’s judgment:

The message about Jesus isn’t just uncomfortable because it rests on a Personal God and a Risen Savior, but also because the Bible makes clear that the relationship between God and man is currently, on the whole, not a good one. Paul wrote it this way:

Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

The verses make plain a simple progression:

Though God made us, many among us have decided to simply push God off the throne of the world in our own minds, and turn our lives over to ourselves. We do it because we want to do what we want to do – and we don’t want a God to tell us what we want is off limits, wrong or forbidden. We re-define freedom, not as the guilt-free life of pleasing our Creator, but as the “right to do what I want and ignore that I was created at all!”

Verses nineteen and twenty (1:19-20) argue that God didn’t keep Himself secret. In fact, it states that God hung the stars and gave us understanding of the exacting qualities of what it would take to make such a world and put life in it – so that we would conclude that He is there, and we would know more about Him by the observations we made of the world we live in. The problem came when we decided that with God came moral restraints – so we closed our eyes to the Heavens and decided to turn our attention only to little and controllable “gods” that we could invent, mold and worship.

In America, we worship a well-fashioned and ever popular “Mush God”. Nicholas Van Hoffman wrote about him:

The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions. The Mush God has no theology to speak of, being a Cream of Wheat divinity. The Mush God has no particular credo, no tenets of faith, nothing that would make it difficult for believer and nonbeliever alike to lower one’s head when the temporary chairman tells us that Reverend, Rabbi, Father, or Mufti, or So-and-So will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer, for this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hooker’s convention and he/she or it won’t be offended. God of the Rotary, God of the Optimists, Protector of the Buddy System, The Mush God is Lord of the secular ritual, of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that hush the divisive and derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are chiseled not on tablets but written on sand, open to amendment, qualification and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all our wars holy, all our peace agreements hallowed.” SOURCE: Nicholas Van Hoffman as quoted by Adrian Rogers in Ten Secrets for a Successful Family, pp. 29-30.

Man, generation after generation, seems to create a god that isn’t the one revealed in the Bible – but one he makes up to make himself feel ok about whatever new desires he wants to Christen as holy. What we are seeing today in the nation may be more brazen in its definition – but not new in its application. Paul continued:

Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 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, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 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.

The Gospel is not a message of tolerance, but a message of deliverance. It is not designed to make our sin seem less heinous, but our Savior more glorious. Its message demands all of us to face our record before God as He calculates it. The record God uses to measure us is not a comparison with other people. On the contrary, we are placed against the yardstick of absolute righteousness – a standard we cannot attain in our fallen state without God’s gift of salvation. The Gospel is the grand message of that gift. It is summarily rejected by one who feels self-righteous, for they believe themselves to be in a position to negotiate their good with the Holy One. It is routinely ignored by one who feels God wasn’t overly serious about demanding that we receive the gift of His Son’s payment for sin at His Crucifixion. Yet, the message is one of rescue to the person who simply receives it – because they affirm that God is both Creator and Judge, and we are not His equal. I am set free from my debt when I accept God’s antidote and stop fabricating my own.

Herbert Lockyer said a generation ago: “ At the old rugged cross we see man at his worst, but God at his best.”

Don’t let the hard words we just read throw you. The Gospel isn’t all about how bad people are – it is about how NEEDY people are. When we look inside, all of us are broken. We are all deeply selfish. We may not be open about our sin – but we KNOW we have it. As a society, man’s brokenness is manifest in the angry world wide web, the filthy mouths of hate-filled citizens that demand me to both tolerate what they do, and want to force me to stop saying it is wrong. The problem with that is it is an abstraction. I am just as selfish and broken as any of them without God.

After all, what John R.W. Stott said is still true: “The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales.

For time’s sake, I want to skim a few verses through the next chapters to help us grasp a fuller description of the Gospel message. Drop your eyes down into chapter two for a moment. Do you see the first three verses? They make the argument:

The Gospel is a message that shows “living by conscience” won’t fix my sin problem.

We’ve all heard it. “I do the best I can. I hope God will see that I was a good man.” Look at what Paul wrote:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

The Bible writer makes the awkward point that we aren’t very reliable judges of what is good and right. We have a standard for others that is often much different than the standard we have for ourselves. God judges based on ABSOLUTE TRUTH. He knows when I lie, when I cheat, when I steal, when I allow hate and prejudice to burn within. He sees me as a liar, a cheater, a thief and a (using Jesus’ standard for murder in my heart) killer. I AM those things. I may try to be GOOD, but I cannot be RIGHTEOUS. I don’t have the ability to “get my heart together” in a way that will please God. I just can’t.

If I took the time to describe each line, it would be clear that the Gospel isn’t about God looking PAST my sin – but looking directly at it.

The Gospel is a message that shows God doesn’t ignore my sin:

Even when God doesn’t strike me down, it doesn’t mean He is happy with my life. Paul wrote:

Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

In simple terms, the bill for sin will one day be due for all of us. God kindly puts off punishment to call us to see His love, but there is a day when that will run out.

Don’t be deceived into thinking that this whole scenario doesn’t apply to you, because of who you are.

The Gospel is a message that doesn’t play favorites based on pedigree:

Romans 2:11 For God does not show favoritism. 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.

Don’t try to claim you didn’t know you weren’t following God, and that you have been living for yourself. You DO know. You know right now, right where you are sitting if you are surrendered to God or living for yourself. No one else may know, but YOU do.

Even if you have kept your decisions secret, you should read a few verses down… Romans 2:16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Don’t squirm, everyone in the room is either in this position, or we were at one time. That is the simple truth. You aren’t the only one who has ever felt God’s conviction. In fact, Paul made clear that is the REASON for the Gospel.

The Gospel is a message that reveals exactly who we are and what we need:

Romans 3 shared the clear and plain truth…

Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.

We don’t walk right, because our heart is our own. That is true because of something even deeper shared a few verses below…

Romans 3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

In our heart, we don’t really fear God. We think we can negotiate with Him when the time comes. We believe that IF He is there, He will see that we aren’t all that bad.

Here is the problem. Suppose for a moment you were the Creator of a universe, and your creation became stubborn and mutinied against you. They decided to live according to their own standards. Then suppose, out of love, you parted with your only son – and allowed Him to be beaten and broken to pay for their rebellion. Would you be open to that creation simply dismissing your gift and seeking to bring other accomplishments and works to you, all the while snubbing Your openly stated plan? Wouldn’t allowing YOU to make the terms keep YOU in control of the relationship, thereby setting aside the true place of the Creator?

Keep reading, because the Gospel is GOOD NEWS. There is a solution to the sin problem. The gulf between God and man now has a bridge that spans the cleavage…

Romans 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Drop your eyes further down in the next chapter to Romans 4:24:

Romans 4:24 [They were written] “…also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

There it is! Jesus died to pay for your sins. Jesus was raised because God accepted the payment. Let’s be clear about what the content of the Gospel message truly is:

The Definition of the Gospel

First, when we believe what God has said concerning our lost state, and His acceptance of Jesus’ payment on our behalf – God fully accepts that.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Second, even if others don’t accept us and our message, we know God has accepted us.

Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame…

One writer said it this way: “Jesus was never interested in having fans. When he defines what kind of relationship he wants, “Enthusiastic Admirer” isn’t an option. My concern is that many of our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to becoming stadiums. And every week all the fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in truly following Him. The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.” Kyle Idleman “Not a Fan” p. 25

Third, we not only have eternal salvation, but God in our life NOW!

Romans 5:3b “…because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Fourth, and this is essential to remember, we never got salvation because we were good, but because God provided it and we responded to His gift!

Romans 5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

On August 30, 2005 Coast Guard Lieutenant Iain McConnell was ordered to fly his H46 helicopter to New Orleans and to keep that machine flying around the clock for what would turn out to be a heroic rescue effort. None of his crew were prepared for what they were about to see. They were ahead of every news crew in the nation. The entire city of New Orleans was under water. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs and two cats. On the fourth mission, despite twelve different flights to New Orleans, he and his crew were able to save no one. None! They all refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the Coast Guard to bring them food and water. Yet they were warned that this extremely dangerous. The waters were not going to go away soon. Sadly, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued. In our Gospel lesson today we come face to face with the Son of God and with the greatest rescue effort of all time. (From Sermon Central archives, taken from a sermon by Michael P. Walther, Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord, 5/25/2011)

In Jesus’ death, the work of payment was FINISHED. In the Resurrection, the notice became public: It is done. I have accepted it! There is no better message than the one that shows all the debt has been satisfied!

Dear Ones, you must know this: If Christ has not risen, leave your church. Don’t go back. They have been telling lies to the world for generations – it is all a farce. If Christ is not Risen, we have no way to know if the death of Christ was enough, for God did not place His stamp of approval on the deal. If Christ is not Risen, put down your New Testament. It is not a good book, but a tale of cleverly devised myths. Death awaits us all, and the message of Jesus cannot help us – for our source is so deeply flawed as to lie about its central story…

But He was Risen as He said. Angels proclaimed it to the women at the tomb. He was Risen – twelve times He appeared to people – at one five hundred in the same place! He was Risen, and His power was revealed and God’s satisfaction with His death was made clear.

  • A mere stone could not hold back the One Who made millions of planets.
  • A mere inactive heart could not resist the order to beat again from He who formed man from the dust of the ground.

Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed!

God on the Move: “The Divine Right” – The Epistle to the Romans

rope7What do you do when your life is falling apart? For some it can be the dreaded phone call that announced, “Sorry, the test came back positive, we are going to need to discuss options”. Perhaps yours was the announcement of a spouse, or the loss of someone you loved deeply. For others, your job fell apart even though you gave it more than any healthy and sane person should. One minute life is moving along, the next minute a powerful storm pummeled your life, and your plans seem to be in tatters. What do you do?

I read a Huffington Post article some time back by a life coach named Tamara Star. In it she described her process of recovery. I was stuck on how powerful the reversal of her fortunes has been. I don’t know her, and from the sound of what she described, we don’t agree on many lifestyle choices – but we are both human, and I can the heat of pain rising off the page of her writing.

She wrote: “In a 30-day period I lost it all. My money, love, health, a baby, beloved pets, security and pride. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me while I held the still dripping, positive pregnancy pee stick. His response to having a baby with me was to end our relationship and share that he hoped to tile his kitchen and travel that summer.
I lost the baby at nine weeks and suffered an extreme crash of hormones. Being in my 40s, I realized this was probably my last chance to have a child. To make matters worse, 48 hours after losing the baby I learned my bank accounts had been emptied. I had 40 cents in my pocket when I stood at that blinking ATM on an early July morning.
Someone had sued me out of state and due to a loop hole in the serving process, I never received notice and didn’t show up to defend myself. When you don’t show up, it’s as though you’re admitting guilt and judgments were issued — every account was emptied. Seven days later, I was faced with putting my 16-year-old pet down, only to be followed by the rapid decline of my other 15-year-old pet 10 days later. If you’re like me, pets are family. This was a loss beyond words. My health was shot and continuing to decline, my mind was a mess, my heart was broken and I had 40 cents to my name. My father died years ago and I had been the one helping my mother financially. I was in my own words, lost.” (Huffington Post: “How to Bounce Back When Life Falls Apart: posted: 11/25/2013).

Don’t exercise the religious temptation to judge her life choices – that isn’t my point. Listen to her pain. She isn’t alone – people all around us are hurting… In fact, every Sunday, across America and around the world, people will enter churches and seek God. Some will come in with great problems on their heart – financial struggles, failures in love, brokenness in relationships – all seeking both Divine guidance and inner comfort from the One Who created them. Our hurts often make us more sensitive to our vulnerability, and we seek help in times of trouble. In that moment, we need someone to get past judgment and bring us to truth and then transformation. I am not going “soft on sin,” I am trying to make a point. People see their lives as their choice – but when life collapses, they recognize how fragile and out of control life truly is.

In a world where our rights are so often asserted, we may easily forget that we have a God. We are not in control. We didn’t choose our color, our sex, our parentage… none of it. We cannot add an inch to our stature or a minute to our life. We don’t have the power to make change the most important features of our life. We have a God, and He is our Creator, not subject to larger influences, and not limited in options like we are. In fact, one of the great difficulties we have is to recall the truth that the Creator of all that we see and know also has rights – and they are far more significant than our own. That may not seem important in times of pain, but it is the single most transforming truth – that we live in the plans of One greater – we are not our own.

As Christians, we must recognize that God has a right to expect to thoroughly inspect those of us who claim to follow Him. He has the right to mold our lives. He has the right to all the “stuff” we call “ours”. We are not self-made and we cannot be self-fulfilled – in the end our purpose is found in Him. That was Paul’s message to the expanding number of back alley believers in the center of the ancient empire. He wrote that truth to them in a letter of the New Testament that we simple call today “Romans”. It is a letter so often referenced in Christian circles, so often quoted in our literature – one would think EVERY Christian fully grasped its central truth – but that would be wrong. Remember, before it was a book of the Bible, it was a letter, written by a church leader, directed by God’s Spirit – and sent to a growing group of Jesus followers still uncertain about many things…At the core of the letter was this truth…

Key Principle: God revealed the pattern for a growing believer: we are to recognize His work on our behalf, humbly yield to His inspection and correction – and have our lives transformed. That is the true pattern of the Christian life.

Romans were, generally speaking, very confident people who truly believed that in their armed conquests they actually brought “civility” and “culture” to the barbaric tribes north of the Alps. They subdued people with regularity and believed they were “helping” them! They were a proud people caught in a moment of history that seemed to validate their exceptionalism. At the same time, the idea of bowing to a god was not new – but they bowed for “reciprocation” – the notion that they would serve a god or make an offering IF that god performed certain acts on their behalf – a sort of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” paganism. That gave way, eventually to the “patron saints” of the Latin church – but that is a lesson for another time.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was written from the port city of Ephesus in Asia Minor during the third mission journey (54-58 CE, cp. Acts 18:23-21:14). Paul was in his early 50’s when he wrote it, and he made a swift pass through what is now central modern Turkey toward the west coast of Asia Minor, but remaining for an extended stay in Ephesus (nearly three years). A careful reading of what Paul wrote at the time shows that he wanted to take a trip and get away from western Asia Minor, but he was caught – bogged down in the mud of harassing heresies that were hitting the church and being lobbed from all sides at the same time.

In Galatia, Gentile believers were slipping backward from the Gospel – and he wrote Galatians to them to stem off the effects of Judaizers and defectors.

In Corinth, sinful practices and arrogant believers that allowed them in the “name of love” were pulling down the roof on the church. Paul wrote them several letters addressing their compromises and the consequences to the Gospel of each.

In Rome, Paul sense the need for a different kind of letter. This is the one we want to quickly view in this lesson – because he recognized there was both a lack of understanding and resistance to God’s right to inspect their lives and hold the believers to His standard of life. Salvation was by grace through faith, but the life that followed it validated the true access of God to their hearts. Some argued, apparently, for a theoretical faith – one that did not touch life choices. “If God saved me without my work, then He will sustain me without it as well”, they argued. The end result was a named faith that didn’t change them…We can all understand this argument because it hasn’t gone away.

Stop for a moment and consider what Paul said to the Romans in a short paragraph. He wrote:

“Dear brothers in Rome: Because you were, like all mankind condemned judicially before God as a result of our fallen state (1:1-3:20), but God justified you through the completed work of Jesus on the cross and your acceptance of that payment (3:21-5:21), you are His privileged children. Yet, God didn’t stop there with you. The salvation He offered began a transformation in which you were released from bondage to sin (6), and empowered by His Spirit to be distinct apart from any continued obligation to the old atonement system (7-8). Yet God has not forgotten His promises, but rather still maintains His plan to keep His promises to Abraham (9-11). Because of all that God has done for you, it is right for you to submit your life for Divine inspection (12:1-2), and live the life of a real believer (12:2-16:27). In short, God did much for you – and He has a right to hold your life to account. In Messiah’s name, the Apostle Paul.”

Take your Bible in hand, and follow as we pass over the pages of this letter to make sure we grasp the argument completely…

Paul slipped quickly from making much of himself in the opening of the letter when he wrote merely: Romans 1:1 “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” and moved into a description of the Good News, and the Savior in Whom it rests. He declared Jesus:

• As the “Promised One” in verse 2.
• As a descendent of King David in verse 3.
• As the One declared as God’s Son, announced in the Resurrection in verse 4.
• He was the “Lord” or “Master” in verse 5.
• He was the patron Who called each of those who believed at Rome in verse 6-7.

From the beginning it was to be very clear – Paul’s message was about Jesus the Son of the Living God who was promised to men as the one and only remedy for the sin problem. The Apostle was not a social reformer – his task was to present the simplicity of the Gospel as man’s remedy.

The first statement Paul left us is this: Jesus is Lord – the fulfillment of man’s sin need.

Only a few words into the letter, Paul already expressed thanks that God saved them (1:8) and made their faith known across the world. Paul claimed that he spoke of them often, prayed for them always, and longed to be able to come to them and spend time together (1:9-15). Regardless of any rumor they may have heard, Paul said he was unashamed of the message of Jesus’ death and Resurrection – for it held the power to transform men, both Jew and Gentile. The end point of that message, Paul declared, changed men’s lives to become a clear picture of (not only God’s mercy but also) God’s righteousness (1:16-17).

The second statement Paul left us is this: the Good News of the Gospel is the message of the church.

Moving on in the letter, there is a third important statement Paul wanted the readers to understand…

Man is Condemned (1:18-3:20)

Foundational to our understanding of God’s work, and countering many (if not most) world philosophies is the truth from Scripture that man is broken on the inside as a result of the Fall in the garden of Eden. He is depraved and needs saving… Look at how Paul made the argument:

He wrote:

There is a gap between God and man, and it is known and obvious to all who do not try to cover it over.

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

“How do men know it?” you may ask. In Romans 1:20 mark these words: “creation” – “invisible attributes” and “clearly seen”. God says He hasn’t been hiding. Any microscope or telescope will scream DESIGN to one who is honest about it.

In verse 21 Paul made clear that men didn’t want to HONOR GOD – so they made up other explanations for Creation and human history – but they are empty. Truth doesn’t need a vote to become true…it is true whether believed or not.

Man is condemned and it isn’t because God made Himself hard to find.

In verse 24, Paul said God, in response to man’s desire to shut out His right to be worshiped, simply gave man over to the “lust fest” man wanted, but the result is one broken society after another. Verse 27 used the term “degrading passions” for the same sex explosion. Verse 28-31 explodes off the page with all manner of evil that will reign in godless society. If you aren’t familiar with the list, read carefully the text here – or simply consult your local newspaper.

Flip to chapter two, because he is still on the same idea. Mark in 2:1 the words: “condemn” and in 2:2 “judgment”. Paul made the point clearest in 2:5 “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…”

Lest someone say, “We didn’t know God’s law, so we shouldn’t be accountable to it… God replied: 2:11 “For there is no partiality with God. 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.” Why? Some had the law and others did not! True, but all men had something inside God wrote into them. Note the word in 2:15: “conscience”. Everyone has one – and everyone violates it. Even if we didn’t have the Word of God in written form – we have a conscience and we don’t follow it whenever it gets in the way of what we truly want to do.

Man is condemned and it isn’t because God “hid the rules” from people as they “tried their best to do good”.

“Wait a minute!” Some may say. “I am religious, and I have had the Word of God in my life for years!” Jews in Rome certainly would have echoed this idea. Paul told them in 2:19 “…[you] are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness..” but drop your eyes down to 2:23 “…You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

Paul punched them in the practice. “So, you know God’s laws? Do you LIVE them?” Who can say they actually DO the things God told them in every area? His point:

Man is condemned and even religious people cannot claim they really surrender to God. We are condemned, even when it is hidden under a religious cloak.

Paul acknowledged that Jews had some advantages in history. The possessed for centuries the very “oracles of God” in 3:2- the Word of God was passed along to the world by them. At the same time, that didn’t make them righteous. In those very scrolls was the condemning message of 3:10 “…as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

Man is condemned if left to himself and that is what God has been saying all along.

The next part of the message lifts us every time we hear it. It is our one hope. It is our central message. It is the GOOD NEWS…

God Broke in and Made Justification Possible (3:21-5:21)

God took care of the gap between man and God – He closed the breach and made access to Him possible. He made the unrighteous able to attain righteousness through a gift. Paul recorded in 3:23 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” God made a way for judicial satisfaction for condemned man – righteousness was made available to the unrighteous.

Yet, there was still a problem. Access to righteousness wasn’t enough. God led the horse to the water. The horse now had to drink or remain in want. Paul explained man’s role in response to God’s gift. He used Abraham as an example in Romans 4:3 “…For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Man is justified, not by work, but by trusting the completed work God did on his behalf in the death of Jesus.

Paul made sure they understood that faith was enough. He told them in 4:10 that it wasn’t through “circumcision” but by belief alone. God made the way, but man had to respond to enact the justification personally. A great summary of this whole idea is found in 5:1-2, where he shared: Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”

That isn’t the end of the message – and that isn’t the end of this letter. Paul went on to remind those who accepted Jesus as Savior that there was more ahead for them. The point of the book wasn’t simply to DESCRIBE SALVATION in theory, but to offer a pattern for the DAILY RESULTS of surrendering to Christ. Paul made it clear that…

Salvation is about Transformation (6-8)

Life is changed by Jesus. We are not to live like the world. He wrote in 6:1 “…What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Through chapter six he argued that we are “dead to sin” – meaning we don’t have to serve our old nature any longer. We are set free by dying to self and living in Christ. He wrote in 6:5 “…For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.”

A man or woman who is justified is no longer a slave to the passions, lusts and actions of their former self.

How should they live a life that reflects their freedom? Are they to become like the Jews of old and launch into a careful life of Torah practice? “Not so fast”, Paul said.

In Romans 7:4 he wrote: “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” He continued in 7:6 “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

The Law was given to the Jewish people to accomplish certain ends. Atonement laws led us to understand sacrifice. They are no longer the way to deal with sin – because that work is done already. In 8:1-3, Paul made clear that atonement law – where sin brings the demand of more blood and another death – has been replaced by a completed justification.

A man or woman who is justified cannot live the Law to be transformed as they ought to be – for the Law was incomplete and not for that purpose.

How then can I be transformed into an obedient, surrendered, transforming follower of the Savior? Look at Romans 8 briefly… and there is a word that makes the whole picture crystal clear. See it in verse 8:4? It is the word “Spirit”. Do you see it again in 8:5, not once, but twice? How about again in 8:6? Is it not three times in 8:9? 8:10 has the word, so does 8:11… you get the idea. The second half of Romans 8 helps make clear what the Spirit of God provides, and how we can stand in the face of trouble – because God is changing us from self-willed men and women to surrendered people. Our hope shifts, day by day, from this life to the next.

A man or woman who has been justified by Jesus will be transformed by the Spirit’s power.

Jews in Rome were probably getting a bit upset by this point. After all, they were given God’s Word, and carried it for generation. They were given the promises of God through their Father Abraham, his son Isaac, his son Jacob and his many sons in the tribes from which they sprung. Paul had a message for them as well…

God is Still Keeping His Word concerning Israel (9-11)

Paul had no hard heart for the Jewish people; rather he had a broken heart. Romans 9:1 recorded: “…I am telling the truth in Christ, …2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul ached for the Jewish people and their need of Messiah.

God made them promises, and Paul wanted to be clear that in Christ those promises were still being worked out. He said in 9:6 “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED…” In other words, throughout time, God has always worked within a subset of those born to Israel’s people. Don’t get sloppy in the reading – everyone in the text here are born as Jewish people – but only some of them are “real” Jews – in the respect that they have more than the name – they have a walk with God.

God is keeping His promise to the Jewish people right now because some of them have found a walk with God through Messiah. They aren’t a majority, but they exist right now.

He made the argument ever so clear by using the words of Isaiah when he wrote: 9:27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED.”

The remnant was small, but it was real. It remained small because, as Paul made clear, Jewish people were trying to make their relationship with God work on their own terms. He wrote in 10: 3 “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” He said that the present age was, in part, to help the Jewish people see their distance from God, become jealous of others in their relationship, and turn back to God. He argued this was a long prophesied strategy made known by God as he wrote in 10:19 “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, “I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER.”

Paul wanted the Jews in Rome who knew God to feel a special part of God’s program as a remnant, but that was not the whole picture. He wanted them to know God continues to have a future for the Jewish people. He wrote in 11:11 “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!” “Yes”, Paul admitted, “the majority don’t know God today…but that won’t always be the case!” God will do a work in the Jewish people after a time, Paul promised.

To the Gentiles in Rome he offered a stern warning: “11:13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. …. 15 For if their [the Jewish people’s] rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” He told them not to become arrogant, but to listen to his words: 11:25 “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery -so that you will not be wise in your own estimation -that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved…”

God will save the people of Israel in the future – every one of them who are alive when Messiah returns to rescue them – because God keeps His word- always.

Paul understood the resistance among Gentiles that were being persecuted by some Jews. How could they still hold God’s promises? Paul answered in 11:28 “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Men are fickle, but God doesn’t revoke promises.

At this point in the letter, Paul placed the two lines that were the point of the whole letter… God has something they needed to be aware of…and they needed to respond to…

Time for Inspection (12:1-2)

Paul made clear, the letter he was writing was to elicit action. He wanted them to DO something. He told them what it was. He said… On the basis that we were all condemned, that God justified us, that He provided His Spirit and power over sin, and on the basis that He ALWAYS keeps His word…

Romans 12:1 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The words are unmistakable…it is time to place yourself under God’s inspection. You will be examined for how thoroughly you have surrendered – how you have yielded to Him and allowed His Spirit to work at your transformation. God will look closely.

God wants to look at your life – all of it. He is not looking for how capable you are – only how much you have truly yielded of your heart to Him.

How will I know if I have yielded…Paul made clear…

What a Christian looks like (12:3-16:27).

• He looks like someone who recognizes the value of other believers, and serves the body faithfully (12:4-13).

• He looks like someone who isn’t combative, but overcomes evil with good (12:14-21).

• He looks like someone who respects authority, even government authority (13:1). He pays his taxable due (13:6) and walks in love of his fellow man (13:7-12).

• He doesn’t feed his own lust (13:13).

• He walks intimately with God and allows God to govern his daily choices (Romans 14).

• He follows the example of the Savior in becoming “other person centered” (Romans 15).

• He builds his life as a team player with others who are following Jesus (Romans 16).

You can tell if someone is a Christian even if they have no t-shirt or bumper sticker that says they are!

Let me encourage you… God is at work in many places today, even where you think He is not.

In December 2001, Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, a leading Saudi cleric, appeared on a live interview on Aljazeera satellite television to confirm that, sure enough, Muslims were turning to Jesus in alarming numbers. “In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity,” Al Qataani warned. “Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity.” Stunned, the interviewer interrupted the cleric. “Hold on! Let me clarify. Do we have six million converting from Islam to Christianity?” Al Qataani repeated his assertion. “Every year,” the cleric confirmed, adding, “a tragedy has happened.“…

Seminaries are being held in caves to train pastors to shepherd the huge numbers of people coming to Christ. Why such a dramatic spiritual awakening? “People have seen real Islam, and they want Jesus instead,” one Sudanese evangelical leader said, Iran — in 1979, there were only 500 known Muslim converts to Christianity, but today Iranian pastors and evangelical leaders say there are more than 1 million Iranian believers in Jesus Christ, most of whom meet in underground house churches. One of the most dramatic developments is that many Muslims are seeing dreams and visions of Jesus and thus coming into churches explaining that they have already converted and now need a Bible and guidance on how to follow Jesus.” (Reported from Worldwide: 174,000 converts daily — David B. Barret and Todd M. Johnson of the Global Evangelism Movement).

If an interviewer would ask me the same question: Why is this happening? I wouldn’t answer anything about Islam – that isn’t the point. I would answer simply: “Because Jesus said the Gospel would get there – and it changes people.

God revealed the pattern for a growing believer: we are to recognize His work on our behalf, humbly yield to His inspection and correction – and have our lives transformed. That is the true pattern of the Christian life. If you know Jesus, the time to get into the pen to be inspected is now.