Know the Truth: “A Discerning View” – Romans 1

A SWAT vehicle carries police officers near the scene of a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. Police responded to reports of an active shooter at a social services facility.   (Micah Escamilla/Los Angeles News Group via AP)
A SWAT vehicle carries police officers near the scene of a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. Police responded to reports of an active shooter at a social services facility. (Micah Escamilla/Los Angeles News Group via AP)

The other day, fourteen people suddenly faced eternity as a married man and a woman, steeped in a deceptive ideology and false religious promises, walked into a Christmas party and riddled the place with bullets. Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters died in a horrific act of terror and violence in what was meant to be a setting of celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace. Some sought to pin the problem on the guns used, while artfully dodging any evidence that pointed to the motives of those who pulled the trigger. Others tried to make clear the reasons for the killing were religiously derived. The media used its normal wedge tactics, pitting one American after another, while the Federal government seemed transfixed with issues of climate change half a world away. Frustration, blame, covering tracks and obscuring facts seemed the order of the day. When the smoke cleared, there was a story that was mostly lost, except for to a handful of followers of Jesus – fourteen people faced eternity with a sudden jolt.

Did they know Jesus as Savior? Are the families that lost these dear to them being effectively loved and impacted by believers in that area?

Those should have been the questions of believers all over social media. Those were questions on the hearts of a few mature believers – but not most of the country. While they are busy thinking about blame and motive, the people of God are called to see through the mist with a different kind of clarity – the one that comes with an eternal perspective in mind.

The problem is that the “internet age” has brought us tons of information in a steady and unrelenting stream, but has not necessarily made us truly better informed. That seems contradictory; doesn’t it? After all, more information should provide us with a broader view of the world – but it doesn’t seem to be working that way. There are several reasons that may be so.

First, not everything we read is true, because some reporting is factually deficient. We sometimes are left with a wrong impression because of a picture that doesn’t reflect the events properly. For example, I recently saw a news clip of a terror attack in Jerusalem at the Damascus Gate. When the video pulled back, I noticed the gate appeared as it did before the recent cleaning and restoration of the Ottoman features of the gate. The gate was built in 1538, damaged in the 1967 war, and refurbished in 2011. How could the video of the attack be “current” if it showed the gate as it was before the 2011 restoration? In short, it couldn’t. A news outlet was apparently using old footage of an attack and thought no one would notice what they had done. They are supposed to place the words “file footage” on the screen – but who would know?

Second, there are significant numbers of circulated stories that are intentional misinformation left flowing in the daily media stream. I doubt I need to say much about that past this question: “Have any of you been caught ‘sharing’ a post that was bogus?” The collective groans heard in response are enough to validate this is a common occurrence today. Is the problem one of telling lies? Sometimes. Other time is appears poor listening skills and poor information gathering is the culprit. Let’s face it; Some reporters are chasing a story, but some are chasing a proof for their narrative, fighting the facts to say what they want said.

A third problem with the media stream is that truth requires context, and much in the stream lacks sufficient context to make it truly meaningful. Knowing the religious background of a gunman may be helpful in determining motive, but isn’t always. The fact that they were raised Presbyterian probably isn’t relevant as to why they shot up a Post Office. On the other hand, if they entered the build yelling an epithet associated with a specific type of worship, it is likely a key element behind the heinous action that followed.

Fourth, much information flowing our way is connected that actually should not be, creating a false sense of “cause and effect”. Let me offer a harmless example. John is coming home from school on his bicycle and stops at the small grocery store to get a candy bar. When he gets home, chocolate still around his lips, he sits down to eat dinner. He pushes away the peas on his plate. His dad comments: “You ate a candy bar, and that is why you won’t eat your peas.” The truth is, John hates peas. He hates them when he is hungry. He won’t eat them in any case. The candy bar didn’t cause the response – it was going to happen anyway. The Latin term for this was: “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” or “after this, therefore because of this”. The idea is that because something follows another they are connected through cause and effect. Many times this false proof method is used on the nightly news.

We don’t lack news. We don’t lack a stream of information. What we lack seems to be a filter of discernment, and we need one desperately to face these days of confused situations.

We lack a means to sort the truth from the error in the stream, whether planted there of flowing by inadvertent seepage. The stream is not pure – we all know that. How can we develop a filter that will keep us healthy and balanced in spite of that? We need godly discernment, and we have a way to get it…

Key Principle: To view life with godly discernment we must see clearly three people: our Savior, our self and our neighbor.

Take a moment and look at the opening chapter of Romans for a word from God written through the quill of an Apostle in the midst of a fight for truth in the first century church. He mentions the three keys to godly discernment, and models them in his own life. Start at the beginning, with an essential knowledge that moved you out of the world system and gave you spiritual discernment. Here is the weft of the screen of a discernment filter… the knowledge of our Savior!

First, a BELIEVER must KNOW THE SAVIOR! (Romans 1:1-4).

The letter opened…

Rom. 1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,

First, Paul recognized in the opening verse that our Savior’s coming was GOOD NEWS, so he called it the “gospel of God” (1:1). The Gospel is the good news that God has made a way to restore the bridge to Him that was crushed in the mutiny and rebellion of the Garden of Eden. Man sinned and deliberately walked away from God. The Gospel is the bridge, made with the wood of a cross, that spans the breach. Men and women are lost without a connection to their Creator. God made it possible to reconnect – and that is GOOD NEWS. The Savior is what I needed to bring my broken self to a Holy God.

Even more than the simple description of the news, Paul gazed upon our Savior and explained Who He is! (1:2-4):

• Jesus was the PROMISED ONE sent by God and pre-announced through the prophets of old (1:2). This was no surprise; God had been saying it for a LONG TIME.

• Jesus came with a PROMISED PEDIGREE of a ruling King (1:3). He didn’t leave a throne to USURP a new throne. He was, is and will be a King, born of a legitimate kingly line in human terms as much as in Heaven terms.

• Jesus displayed openly that He is the POWERFUL ONE from God through the resurrection (1:4). He destroyed man’s ultimate mystery – the experience of death. He walked out of the tomb, and that made His words on the afterlife more fully attested. The religions made of men have one thing in common: all their rulers died and stayed dead. Jesus didn’t.

• Jesus walked in PURITY and for that reason Paul spoke of the “Spirit of holiness” that pervaded His life and walk (1:4b).

• Paul recognized Jesus’ absolute PRIMACY (1:4b) and called “Jesus Christ our Lord (Master)”.

Here is the point: Without recognizing that man was broken long ago, that a Savior came to create a new access to God, and that recognition of the Savior as Master of my life – none of us will truly embrace the “truth” about the world and its issues.

Some will claim that man is basically GOOD in his nature, and will fail to truly grasp the deep corruption of the human soul. If you press their logic, they will be forced to conclude either that man is not truly lost without the Gospel (therefore it is not a necessary message) or that the sense in which Jesus is “Savior” is more by “example” than by “mastery” of every choice of life. They will deny that surrender makes the difference in a life effectively lived for God! (1:4b).

Without an understanding of the Savior, men won’t understand the underlying problems of humanity and the vast spiritual battle into which each man was tossed. They will not be able to comprehend the true meaning of many events on which they report. They will be pushed about by the next tragedy, with no sense of the meaning of all we experience in this world. They will fill in the gaps with nonsense.

The point is this: We have to know Jesus and the Gospel to have a basis to understanding the truth about life. Why? Paul reminded us:

Colossians 1:16 For by Him (speaking of Christ) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Let us say it plainly, we can’t know our true ORIGIN without Jesus. No godless science degree will reveal the truth.

We cannot know the full RANGE OF EXISTENCE in Creation without knowing Jesus – since He is Creator of things material and immaterial. No naturalist will truly embrace the whole picture of the material world without considering that is a mere portion of what exists.

We will not understand our PURPOSE without knowing the Savior – since we were created FOR HIM. Lost men will expend themselves looking for a purpose that is not real, and will find no contentment in it.

We will never really understand the COHESION of all things without the Savior – since He is the One Who holds all things together.

To know Christ is the beginning of knowing the truth about our world and our sojourn on earth. To attempt to explain the cosmos apart from its Creator isn’t education, it is mere promotion of continued dark delusion.

Second, to discern the truth, a BELIEVER must KNOW their identity in Christ! (Romans 1:1,5-17)

Here we can use the model of the Apostle Paul, the author of Romans 1. What exactly did the Apostle express that he knew of himself? The text reveals at least FIVE ESSENTIAL TRUTHS Paul understood about himself and his mission. These truths began to weave much more into the filter of the stream of information he received on a daily basis. In fact, these became the working assumptions of his DAILY LIFE in Messiah as he all worked to reach out to a dark world.

First, he knew HIS PURPOSE:

Paul saw himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. He referred to himself as bondservant of Jesus – not of the church, not of the darkening world! (1:1). At the same time, he saw the other believers as specifically called of God (1:6) equally as “separated ones” (i.e. “saints” in 1:7).

Rom. 1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…. 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many believers fail to serve God well because they do not believe that He truly OWNS their lives, choices and endeavors. They lay their sin at the cross, but not their wallets, their entertainments, their choices. They serve the gods of fortune, fame, power and pleasure while holding tightly to the “fire insurance” policy of Jesus for their afterlife. Their Christianity is about when they DIE, not about how they LIVE. This simply wasn’t the Biblical view of a mature believer – and still isn’t.

Second, he understood HIS AIM:

Paul knew the objective of his life: His call was to deliberately present the truth of the faith with clarity to a Gentile world in such a way that some would respond (1:5).

Rom 1:5 “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake…”

Some believers have forgotten that God blessed them to become a blessing to others. God didn’t deposit the news of the Gospel in our lives simply that we might KNOW Him – but also that we would SHARE Him. Followers of Jesus are the possessors of the Divine map in a lost generation. Some will refuse the direction – and that is their right. At the same time, a great many others are perishing and have not heard that such a map exists!

Third, he embraced HIS VALUES:

The Apostle knew the value of people to God: He saw those who came to Jesus as His “called ones” (1:6) who were deeply loved by God (1:7). He was thankful for them as they continued the work of offering Jesus to others (1:8) and prayed for them incessantly (1:9-10). He knew God loved them, but he also saw that EACH INDIVIDUAL brought something to the body – Paul recognized the need for a variety of spiritually gifted people working together (1:11-12).

Rom. 1:6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.

God’s pursuit of lost man began when Adam and Eve hid in the Garden after they sinned. They did not seek God – they hid from Him in shame. They tried to make a life that worked in the new fallen reality. They faced pain, guilt and shame with no protection – for they were not designed for these intensities. At the same time, they did not cry out to God – they hid from Him. They thought it would bring greater judgment if they stood before Him and confessed. It has been the impulse that has kept men from God since that day.

The truth is that many believers have forgotten how much God loves man – no matter how badly he is living right now. We know theologically that God wants to set the captive free, but we don’t like the look and smell of today’s captives. We love the warmth of our church tradition more than traveling in the cold to lost men and women. We value justice and right thinking more than we love the fallen man void of judicial righteousness and drained of moral conscience. We know that inviting the lost into the party will endanger the atmosphere for our children, and have the potential to “contaminate” the pure communications in our circle. There is no doubt that outreach will present new challenges and bring into the circle of believers a new dynamic – but we must remember our Master’s call on our lives. God values those still lost as much as He valued me. I may not use the language of the lost man. I may not have his attitudes. Yet, my innate goodness has not saved me, and my own righteousness doesn’t make me more valuable than the most heinous sinner.

Did you notice in the passage how Paul’s prayer life aided him in seeing the value of people? Prayer will do that! Conversely, prayerless-ness in today’s church may well be a symptom of the lack of caring for people (empathy) that has swept over today’s busy believers. We are assaulted by messages on every side. We become cynical about real needs. We fail to pray because often – we don’t truly care. That lack of caring – the cynical cold of our day – may reflect that we do not really understand the value God places on people that don’t know or love Him.

Fourth, Paul had a certain confidence in HIS IMPACT:

He knew that God was using his life and would continue to use him – and that was a good thing. Being USED was not an abuse, but a purpose. He believed that by sharing with others who Jesus is, they would come to faith (1:13). He believed the failure to reach out to people was HIS failure – not God’s failure. It was HIS obligation to serve God by sharing, not God’s obligation to offer Him eternal life and find others to share the message (1:14-15).

Rom 1: 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Isn’t it impressive how Paul really believed that God would use him if he would just continue to walk with Jesus and share his faith? Where do we hear such confidence, even among believers today? Have we lost sight of the power of God to save people? Do we believe that God has left the salvation business? Is sin too powerful for God’s forgiveness as sinners wax bold in their wickedness? Was God more interested in reaching the lost during days when the sins were “smaller”?

Almost instinctively we know that God is still in the saving business, and in the end He stands victorious over all challengers. No sin is bigger than His love. No filth scares the Father. He can and will save lost men and women. He WANTS to. He desires to allow US the thrill of seeing His mighty power in the Gospel change people as they surrender. He ALLOWS us to participate, and then WAITS on us to do what He has called us to do – with grace, love and a winsome spirit reach out to those who seem unlovable.

Fifth, he stood with HIS RESOLVE:

He knew he could not trust his natural eyes to see spiritual things the way they truly are. God’s righteousness is not revealed simply in the eyes of the flesh observing the fallen world. Those whose account has been settled before God (“the just”) make their life choices based on God’s view of things (not what their natural eye concludes – 1:16-17).

Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

Far too many believers suffer from SPIRITUAL OPTHALMOLOGICAL difficulties – they haven’t learned to see things through the eyes of a Biblical world view (the Biblical idea of faith is seeing it as God says it is!). Instead, they are depressed by the dark world and its claims. They are angered by their encroachment on our families, our way of life. They claim that Heaven follows this life and then mourn incessantly when a believer is taken from this world to be with the Savior. They even angrily fight with God about “their loss” with little view to their beloved’s gain! They can’t see things as God says they are while grasping tightly to the world’s things as though they were things that last. As a result – their outreach is dulled and their life lacks real spiritual power.

Paul could not be counted among such ranks. As a mature believer, he demanded of himself that his thinking be shot through with Biblical understanding. He drew God’s heart from God’s revelation of Himself. He measured the WORLD based on the WORD – not on any other basis or source. That offered him a great amount of peace in troubled times, and kept him from straying into the paths of wrong values.

Paul knew Jesus, but he also knew who he was in Christ and that made him BOLD, CONTENT and PURPOSED.

Third, a BELIEVER must BE BRUISED BY KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORLD around him! (Romans 1:18-32).

Romans 1 offers an elegant description of the darkened world – AND IT IS A PAINFUL ONE TO BEHOLD. The words offer a window into FOUR REALITIES of the lost world that every believer lives in.

FIRST, they stand clueless before the brink of destruction:

Paul saw the wrath of God (His consistent principles) demanded certain results from their causes (1:18). Greater and greater violation came from suppressing truths God planted in and around them (1:19-20).

Rom 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. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Don’t forget: Biblically speaking, cause and effect is a “God thing”. His wrath (Greek: “orge” is impassioned response) is the obvious result of the deliberate suppression of truth in the lives of people that want to rule themselves rather than follow Him. God knows men can discern clearly: “If there is no God, there are no external standards.” Atheism licenses man to become a law unto himself. Huxley’s rationale that evolution removed all restrictive sexual boundaries seems very much in view here.

A mature believer must take into account that generations of such rejection has left us with some who are entirely unable to see anything offensive or abhorrent in their avowed amorality – the notion that “whatever they feel like is right” is one deeply rooted within. We cannot blame them for every increment of their arrival to that destination – for the wrath of God is very much at work within and without. We must not excuse sin, nor should we work hard to become more and more indignant with the sinner. We must see them as ensnared and offer help as such. If they refuse our help, then they will need to live without it. We should love the sinner, because we are sinners as well.

Second, they are largely unaware of the weakness of THEIR SYSTEM:

It is one thing to be on the brink and know it; it is another to be there cluelessly repeating the same errors over and over. Paul saw that rejection of God was leading to a certain result of empty thinking – forcing a view of WISDOM from the foolishness of the fleshly world (1:21-23).

Rom 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Paul identified a progression in the generations of rebellion:

• They knew there was a Creator God, but denied Him the right to rule over them.
• They built up a series of empty or baseless arguments (dialogismos) to support their foregone conclusions.
• Their godless heart obscured truth.
• They replaced study rooted in truth with an unending search based on the wrong premises – rooted in the physical world.

Third, they are driven by endless and insatiable desires:

Paul saw the driving force behind the further march into darkness was the hunger for depravity that came from rejecting His Lordship over them (1:24-28).

Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,

With the full weight of their rebellion now pitched to gain “insights” based on principles of their own making, God delivered them over to what they yearned for – a “no rules but what I want” world they could BOTH do wrong and justify themselves as guiltless within. This process not only let them arrive at the wrong conclusions, but soothed any sense of guilt – because it was steeped in studies and arguments that were set upon the same false premises as they were living.

The simple truth is: No God, no ruler. No ruler, no moral wrong answers. Left with no absolutes rooted in a personal Creator, anything could eventually be academically justified, and then “morally mandated”.

Fourth, they were desensitized and did not recognize the moral spiral that appears “obvious” to a believer:

Paul saw the end working of a society marching toward freedom without responsibility – an all-pervading selfishness (1:29-31). The brazenly selfish society was quickly lacking the ability to accept any moral principle (1:32). Listen to this part of the text from “The Message” Paraphrase and see if you can envision some place in our society:

Rom. 1:28-32 “Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!”

Paul made clear the steps into darkness:

• Don’t take God and His Word seriously, and wink at injustice and ungodly logic.

• Blame God for making thing so unclear and hiding from us – even when you know it isn’t true!

• Dismiss serving God and actively take His place as the Lord of our desires.

• Find experts that will espouse the truth you made up.

• Allow any practice that matches what people want, no matter how costly to the society and how perverted it once seemed.

• Create one golden rule: Do what feels good to you – not what makes sense for society or fits what has been in the past.

• Open the flood gates as the values of the society plunge into darkness.

A mature believer can see through the veil and recognize the world’s system as empty and bereft of the truth of things. God knows what is real. Every other system will come to nothing. I must understand the world I live in.

While the world gets transfixed on blame and cover-up, with politicians and media pundits chasing a narrative and not a story, followers of Jesus look past the fray and find clarity in the One Who is Truth. That settles them. That offers them hope. That beckons them to involvement.

The people of God were more concerned about the lost souls than the wicked motives – because they saw each life and recognized they needed to meet Jesus.

If that didn’t occur to you, then you got distracted. You fell into the blame and anger trap. You may still be there. Here is the way out…

To view life with godly discernment we must see clearly three people: our Savior, our self and our neighbor.