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.