Passionate Paul (Paul’s letter to the Romans)
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans1:16-17)Welcome to our new devotional series! We have just completed summarizing Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and I thought it might be inspiring to look a little more closely at some of the powerful statements made by the Apostle Paul who is certainly an example of a purpose driven life!
I think if we had to summarise Paul’s life there would be three main passions that we could identify: Christ, the Gospel, and the Church.
In this passage we are introduced to Paul’s passion for the Gospel. The word “Gospel” implies “Good News.” Paul was writing to the Romans because he wanted to share the gospel with them, but more than that, He wanted them to help him preach the Gospel in Spain and other countries West of Rome.
Why was the Gospel so important to Paul?
1.It is the power of God for salvation. Paul had tried to succeed on his own. He had the right breeding, top education, the right contacts, and all of that didn’t give him peace – Paul knew that only Christ can save us.
2.The Gospel is for everyone – not just one race, but all people.
3.The Gospel is righteousness that is imputed (freely credited to our account) by God. We don’t have to earn or deserve it.
4.The Gospel means a life of faith – a trust-based relationship with a salvation-giving and righteousness-imputing God. This relationship can become the cornerstone of our lives.
When last did you consider just how good our “Good News” is?
Can grace be righteous?
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans3:21-24)Our normal understanding of grace on a human level is that if someone wrongs me and I am nice to them, I have put aside my right to hold something against them.
The person receiving “my” grace will do so with mixed feelings… because at any point I am entitled to resurrect the past. (Hopefully I won’t because I am generally a nice person…but I could always wake up grumpy!!!)
God’s grace is different: The power of sin lies in the broken law. God doesn’t just overlook our transgression of law – he cancels the past through Jesus’ death on the cross.
The grace I show to others is unrighteous, because the wrong remains – I just choose to overlook it – I can choose to remember it at any time.
The grace God shows us is righteous grace – when our sin is dealt with it is gone! A legal price was paid for my legal transgression and I am justified: Just-as-if-I’d never sinned.
Peace with God
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5:1)Peace with God. This is one of Paul’s key phrases.
When we read Philippians 3 we see Paul’s previous life: A true blue Jew with every academic achievement and every religious milestone that could be reached. He even went as far as having people imprisoned and martyred, breathing furious threats under his breath.
Could it be that he sought peace with God? That he was a driven man – desperately seeking a relationship with the living God? Could it be that he watched Stephen die under a barrage of angry shouts and stones and desired the peace that the martyr had?
One day on Damascus road this need was met in Christ. Up until then Paul had been kicking against the “pricks”(or goads. A Greek proverb for useless resistance–the ox succeeds only in hurting itself.)
Peace with God is not an illusive or hard to achieve nirvana but a reality. Peace comes through forgiveness and justification is instant, complete and unearned forgiveness.
No more straining to try and be good enough. No more doubting whether God hears. No more wondering if my best is good enough… Just a faith relationship with Christ and glorious, awesome, and unchanged-by-trouble PEACE.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans5:8)My son Caleb is a demonstrative child. When I come home after being out a lot, he will launch himself at me and hug me as hard as he can! I have had to coach him to be a bit more gentle with his mother who at one stage had bruises to prove her son’s love!
We are not left to doubt God’s love for us. He has _demonstrated_ it to us. (The Greek word implies “made tangible”) Our newspaper’s date bears testimony to the fact that Christ came into our world!
We were in no position to demand that God prove the reality of His love. We were sinners. Not only does it mean that God was not compelled to love us or show He loved us, but it also means that we are sin-blinded to the demonstration that has been given.
But when one considers the facts: That He came, that He died, that He rose again and established the church so that we could be reached, the inescapable conclusion is His love.
From Suffering to Hope
…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. (Romans5:3-5)Have you ever heard the illustration of the “elephant in the sitting room”? Imagine a group of people in the sitting room trying to ignore the elephant in their midst, talking about the weather or the cricket all the time twisting or bending to talk around or under the elephant!
For many Christians suffering is the “elephant in the sitting room”. They are afraid to talk about it or face it, because their picture of Christ and faith is a “fair weather Christianity.”
Not so with Paul. He is not afraid to talk about suffering. He is clear in his own mind that suffering does not negate or disprove the gospel. In fact, suffering highlights the strength of the Christian message!
When we are not surprised by suffering or fearful that its presence implies Christ’s absence, then suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. And this is not a linear process, but a circular upward spiral as hope takes us to new levels of persevarance and character.
More than that! We are not left alone in our suffering – God has _poured_ (the Greek implies “lavished”) His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.
Christianity doesn’t try to ignore or explain away suffering. Suffering does not threaten the validity of faith. In the midst of pain and loss we can know a love that is completely independent of our circumstances!
Death to Life
What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? … Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him… In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Jesus Christ. (Romans6:1-11)There were some in the church who got very excited about Jesus’ death meaning the complete forgiveness of sin. Their thinking went like this: “If forgiveness is my spiritual get-out-of-jail-free-card, then I can indulge in get-into-jail-behaviour as much as I like!” In their twisted reasoning grace became a license to sin even more and they said “The bigger the sin debt – the bigger the forgiveness, so sin away!”
Paul has two arguments here:
1. If we really realise that Jesus died FOR ME and if we really grasp that He carried MY sin, then His death is really my death and I should consider myself dead to that behaviour.
2. But we are not just dead, we have a new life – debt-free and guilt-free. We are not just alive, but alive-to-God. All of the hope of the empty tomb and the risen Saviour is the hope that is in me. I have a new life!!! Paul is not using metaphorical or symbolic language – he doesn’t mean that it was LIKE we were dead and are now alive, He means that spiritually we WERE _dead_ and now we are _alive_!
It is the incredible paradox of the faith: The more I consider the cross (an instrument of death) the more alive I feel!
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans6:23)No matter how attractive sin may be, it kills.
Eugene Peterson translates like this: “Work hard for sin your whole life, and your pension is death.” While it is a nice turn of phrase, it kind of puts the consequences into the future. It’s like saying “Smoking will be the death of you one day!” What we actually mean is, your smoking is killing you right now!
Sin isn’t just about the life hereafter, it is about now. A life of sin steals our joy and purpose. It separates us from God and from others. It points us in the wrong direction and places us on the wrong foundations.
And we get enslaved to it.
But there is eternal life as an alternative. And it is a gift. We don’t have to earn it because Jesus took the sin-wage so that we could have the life-gift.
And eternal life isn’t only about the hereafter – in John 17:3 Jesus defined eternal life as “knowing God.” Receiving Jesus’ gift of life isn’t just about the future – it is about faith, hope and love which is ours when we are in relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit.
We can earn wages or receive the gift. Our choice!
Tug of War
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans7:18)I am so relieved that someone of Paul’s calibre also continued to struggle with sin! In Romans 7 he vividly describes his struggle to live in a God-honouring way.
There are good things that should and need to be done. In his heart of hearts he knows it – but somehow he just can’t get there. I can identify: I know I should read my Bible, but that novel looks so much more attractive. I know that I need to discipline myself to more exercise, but that couch is soo comfortable!
Then there are those bad things! They come so easily and I just can’t get away from them. I shouldn’t lie about being late, but its easier to blame someone else or make an excuse that makes me look sooo busy that it’s perfectly understandable that I am late. And what about those secret thoughts about others that are so unkind?
Paul called this the law of sin and that is at in us. He also was a victim, and he understood that this is not an enemy we defeat by self-discipline or strong conviction. We do not “save ourselves” – we need a Saviour.
And there is a Saviour = a God who will take away the heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh!
(We’ll get to the details tomorrow…)
How to win the tug of war
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. (Romans8:1-3)How do you win a tug of war? Sometimes it is best to cut the rope! Very often tugs of war go nowhere – the teams are too evenly matched, and the end result is burning muscles, chafed hands and wrecked grass where the tuggers have dug their heels in!
Yesterday we looked at Romans 7 where Paul describes every human being’s struggle to do the good that they want to do but don’t and to avoid the sin they don’t want to do but do.
This is a tug of war between our sinful selfish core attitudes and God’s call to holiness so that we can know Him. It is not a tug of war that we can win by pulling harder!
Jesus cut the rope by ending the argument. We couldn’t be good enough so he became a sin offering – righteousness is ours! Not through obedience and sin-avoidance, but by faith in Christ.
Just as the temple veil was torn in two, bringing and end to the ceremonial struggle and separation between God and us, so the tug-o-war of our souls can come to an end when we receive Christ’s gift of grace and forgiveness.
15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans8:15-16)Paul is talking about how the Holy Spirit is the one in us who makes the tug-o-war between our sinful nature and God’s righteous requirements unnecessary.
We don’t need to strive to be worthy enough to be God’s children, we are that already! When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters.
The tug-o-war exhausts, frustrates and wrecks. It is a dynamic of fear, self-doubt and uncertainty: “Am I good enough?” “Have I done enough?” “How can I possibly repay my failures?” We are slaves to the doubt and uncertainty, desperately trying to earn the right to come into God’s presence.
God’s solution is awesome! He adopts us! As we are! Warts and all! He invites us to call him “Daddy!” (That’s what “Abba” means!) The amazing thing about adoption is that it is not based on merit, but on love. Adoption usually means that the parent takes on a helpless and defenceless child as an act of love. Good adoption means “parent” and “child” not “guardian” and “adoptee.”
Not only are we adopted, but the Holy Spirit personally reassures us from deep within that we belong – that the tug of war is over and that we are not trying to earn acceptance, but that we are thoroughly accepted. This is joy!
Think of it… Is there anything more accepting than a parent? Good parents accept every phase of childhood: colic, nappies, terrible-twos, the “mine” phase, the manipulation, the rebellion, and the arrogance of teenagers.
God is the perfect parent who adopts us and makes us children, not slaves to the tug-rope!
More than the power of positive thinking
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans8:18)Many people who are suffering and going through very tough times are irritated when this verse is mentioned. Their immediate response is “Don’t give me that pie-in-the-sky stuff!” BUT this verse provides real comfort and hope. There are three aspects to Paul’s statement that we need to be clear on here:
1.Paul knew all about suffering. His perspective is not sheltered, academic, or ivory tower. He has been whipped, imprisoned, stoned, betrayed, harrassed and even ship-wrecked. He would eventually die as a martyr.
2.The glory revealed in us is a now-and-a-not-yet reality. Although his primary perspective is the age to come, Paul does not exclude the fact there is help in the meantime. (On Monday we will look at how the Spirit helps us now, in the meantime, in our weakness.)
3.Paul describes a world that groans (v.19) in angst and likens it to the agony of childbirth. The reality of brokenness and pain is countered by the reality of hope (v.24-25) Hope and Faith are inextricable. We take a leap of faith into hope. Pain is temporary and hope is real.
Pain is a reality in our world. We would prefer the absence of pain but Paul knows better than to try and avoid it. His faith is one which journeys through pain with clear hope that:
1.There is a better world to come. (Pain is not unlimited)
2.Glory will be revealed in us, and will not only be in the distant future, but a present reality.
We have all met people in whom pain has been transformed into kindness, grace, patience, and wisdom. We all know people who have transformed adversity into hope and triumph.
An oyster gets a sharp uncomfortable grain of sand that gets into its soft fleshy folds. With endurance and patience, it coats the grain with a milky substance that hardens to a beautiful pearl. A present suffering is transformed into a glory that will be revealed!
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
(Romans8:26-27)When I am on my way to a tough meeting or appointment, my wife Brenda does an amazing thing. As I drive off she’ll catch my eye and say “I’m praying for you.” It’s something that really comforts me because she really knows me, genuinely cares about me, and clearly understands my strengths and weaknesses.
Martin Lund started a week long series on prayer at our church in Grahamstown with this passage and these words: “Did you know that 24/7 you are a prayed-for, prayed-in, and prayed-through person?”
It is an incredible thought that God would live in us by His Holy Spirit. It is even more amazing that He would pray for us. Paul implies that it is a passionate prayer, He will _groan_ with concern and care as He searches our hearts and brings us to God.
Our prayers are really a kind of piggybacking on a constant stream of prayer that God the Spirit prays in us. He knows my needs. He knows my successes and failures and He prays anyway! His intercession means that we are sympathetically represented to God in order to obtain assistance and favour.
This gem on the Spirit’s intercession comes to us in the context of Paul talking about present suffering, the world in labour pains, and the call to hopeful patience. In the midst of these challenges there is this stunning assurance: Even when we don’t know what to pray for, there is SomeOne who prays for us!
When I come to asking for help, He’s already started!
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans8:28)There are two circles that describe our lives here on earth. A large outer circle that we must label “God Allows” and a smaller circle inside the larger one that we must label “God wills.”
It is important that we understand this. If God absolutely controlled everything according to His perfect will, Paul would not have to assure us God is at work in all things – that would be a given if all things fitted into the circle we labelled “God wills.”
In giving human beings free will and allowing the consequences of our sin to be a reality, we have to draw an outer circle that we label “God allows.” In this circle come the things that God allows but does not neccesarily like. There are things that happen in our world that God does _not_ like – they are not part of His perfect plan. They are the result of our bad choices, the brokenness of the world, and the sin of others.
We write these events outside the “Wills” circle, but inside the “Allows” circle because although these are things that God does not neccesarily like, He still limits the extent of the pain and He is still at work in the midst of the sadness, struggle and pain.
This is what Paul is talking about. When these “outer circle events” hit our lives, God is not absent or AWOL. He is steadily at work in spite of our circumstances giving us wisdom, courage, strength, character and grace. This is work that He often does anonymously.
With God’s help we can develop inner-circle character from outer-circle events!
Three Awesome Questions: Part 1
31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans8:31-37)People love quoting Romans 8:31. Unfortunately it is often misquoted and used to justify why God _must_ bless my house, my job, or my lotto ticket!
It is easy to have the impression that God being with us means prosperity, success and abundance. The context of Romans 8 forces us to read this passage a lot more carefully… Romans 8:31 is the first of three “Who?” and “What?” questions that Paul uses to crescendo us to the end of the section. When seen together, these three questions will really help us understand what this idea of God being with us means.
Verses 31 and 32 set us off to a good start:
1. Paul is _responding_ to verses 28-30 which talk about God transforming even our sorrows and tragedies to bring about goodness and grace even in the midst of our pain!
Remember that Paul would soon be a prisoner of the Roman Empire and would be beheaded for his faith. Did Rom8:31 fail him? No! Paul knew that they could imprison his body but never his faith. He knew how to develop inner-circle character from outer-circle events! (See yesterday’s devotion…)
2. God has already given us the very best when He gave us Jesus. Everything else is second prize compared to having Jesus die for us. For Paul, “all things” is just the “by-the-way” by-product of the Father’s gift of His Son.
What does it mean to have God with us?
– We can transform our circumstances.
– Stuff is less important than the incredible knowledge that God gave us Jesus.
Three Awesome Questions: Part 2
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans8:33-34)The second of our three questions is actually asked twice. (See note below on parallelisms):
– Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
– Who is he that condemns?
The answer is given twice:
– It is God who justifies.
– Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
At first glance it appears that the question is not being answered… The two answers are actually facts that could stand alone from the questions and do not directly address the question.
Paul is very cleverly implying an answer which he qualifies AND THEN he _leaves_out_ the implied answer: Let me demonstrate.
QUESTION: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
IMPLIED ANSWER: Only God can because He made us and chose us…
QUALIFICATION: but “It is God who justifies.”
QUESTION: Who is he that condemns?
IMPLIED ANSWER: Christ Jesus (whose death and resurrection proves His deity) can condemn us because He lived a sinless life)
QUALIFICATION: Christ Jesus, “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
So, our sinfulness leaves us guilty before God. God is the only one who has the right to condemn us – but he has chosen to justify us. Furthermore, Jesus speaks up on our behalf, having died and risen for us.
What does it mean that God is for us? God is the one who has a legal right to be against us and yet He justifies us and Jesus represents us through His death and resurrection.
* The Psalms love repeating the same concept using different words or images. We call this parallelism.
Psalm 119:105 is a good example:
is a Lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.”
Three Awesome Questions: Part 3.1
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. (Romans8:35-37)We come to the third question that Paul asks at the end of the Romans 8. Remember that we are exploring the relationship between God being for us and this world “which groans as in childbirth” (v22).
The first question pointed out that God-being-for us is shown, not in the absence of trouble or the abundance of “prosperity” but in the fact that He gave us the greatest gift of all – His Son.
The second question showed us that although God is the One who has the right to condemn us, He has chosen to justify us, and He even prays for us!
The third question concludes it. If God works in all things (v28) and if He is for us (v31) then is there anything that will separate us from Him?
We’ll need today and tomorrow’s devotions to grasp all of Paul’s answer:
In the first part of the answer Paul clarifies with a question: “Let’s suppose something was big enough to separate me from God’s love: Could it be trouble and all of its henchmen?”
His answer is emphatic. Trouble’s gangsters are part and parcel of the Christian’s life. In fact, the cynic’s view was that human life had become as cheap as sheep to the slaughter.
BUT trouble does not prove the absence of God’s love, because we can and do overcome our troubles. Because of God’s love we are more than conquerors over the troubles that try to steal the show.
My friend Beryl from Grahamstown said it best. She said: “The question is not ‘What do my troubles say about a God of love?’ The real question is ‘What does a God of love say about my troubles?'”
Three Awesome Questions: Part 3.2
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.
(Romans8:38-39)Part 2 of Paul’s third question on the theme “If God is for us…”
This question started with Paul asking: “Can trouble separate us from God’s love?” His answer was that although trouble is part and parcel of life, it is not able to separate us from God’s love.
Now he goes further!
With almost poetic fervour he boldly asserts that God’s love will go the distance – we will never be alone and His love will bind us to Him through all circumstances of life!
Do we face death? – Christ has been there!
Life? – Jesus experienced the full scope of life and its temptations.
Angels? – They are under His command!
Demons? – They will bow the knee before Jesus.
The Present? – The Holy Spirit lives in us, giving us the guidance and power we need!
The Future? – The dominant hope for the future is that He is coming back!
Powers? Height? Depth? Jesus came DOWN from heaven, overcame all POWERS, and ASCENDED in victorious glory. All is in His hands.
And so this is Paul’s thundering crescendo – the conclusion of the theme “If God is for us.” His list is not exhaustive but representative. It represents all we fear and all that threatens to block out the reality of Christ’s presence.
Paul’s conclusion? Nothing in the list, nothing in all creation, nothing can separate us from God’s love because He gave us His Son!
Passion for People
1 I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit– 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race… (Romans9:1-3)This comment by Paul is an incredible insight into his nature and passion. What he is saying is that if he had to die without Christ so that the Jewish nation could be saved, it is a price he is willing to consider paying.
While it is a theoretical proposition, it is a significant guesture in two senses:
1. It tells us how much Paul cares about his people. Stop and think about that… The Jews were the ones behind 75% of Paul’s suffering and persecution. They tried to kill him after his conversion (when he had to be lowered from the city walls in a basket.) It was the Jews who went after him in Philippi and Berea. It was the Jews who ultimately arrested him and had him sent to Rome where he died as a martyr…
Yet Paul is passionate about the Jews. Time and time again Paul would arrive in a city and although he was known as an “apostle to the Gentiles,” he would always start with the Jews in the city – either at the river-prayer-meetings or in the synagogues.
It is an awesome picture of love for people.
2. What is even more striking is Paul’s Christ-likeness. His willingness to lay down his life for his people is a reflection of Christ’s willingness to go to the cross for the world.
Here we see the Saviour’s love reflected in His disciple.
Someone once said:
“People don’t CARE about how much you _know_,
until they _know_ how much you CARE.”
9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans10:9-11)What would Paul say to a Jew if he could get his attention for two minutes?
Yesterday we saw that Paul was passionate about reaching the Jews. Romans 9-10 are all about reaching the Jews… The first 11 verses of this chapter are the argument Paul would use.
To summarise we can put it like this:
1. You can get righteousness in two ways: Either by earning it or receiving it as a gift.
2. Earning it had turned out impossible! The Jews tried and they knew they were failing! Paul says that earning one’s own righteousness is like trying make Jesus incarnation or resurrection happen – we can’t do it.
3. God is near us… He has come to us. Paul quotes Deuteronomy: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart…”
So, to conclude: What does it take to get the other kind of righteousness that comes as a gift?
1. We proclaim Jesus as Lord – Lord means Boss. It means that He drives and we ride!
2. We believe in our hearts that He is alive – that His mission to save us was successful.
We believe with our hearts. This is a faith journey. The heart was not the seat of emotions, but the command centre of life.
We confess with our mouths. The Greek word here has more to do with proclamation and declaration than it has to do with confessing sin. We confess, admit, declare and proclaim that Jesus is the Living Saviour and the ultimate Lord.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Romans11:22-23)Gardening images abound in Romans 11. Paul is still talking about the Jews and in this chapter his specific focus is the fact that they were like an olive tree in the garden.
Some of the branches were not bearing fruit and so the Heavenly Gardener cut off those unproductive, unresponsive branches. Then He took branches from wild olive trees (the Gentiles) and grafted them onto the tree.
The grafted-in branches should not become too conceited. God is just. He is kind, but He is also stern. Branches, whether grafted in or natural can be cut off from the tree.
What are the things that bring out God’s sterness?
Paul highlights two:
1. If we do not continue in His kindness. If we take God’s grace lightly, if we do not walk in the constant sense that today is a gift of grace and that we need to show His kindness to all around us.
2. Persistent unbelief. When we are just not willing to walk in faith and put our trust in Him. When we rely on ourselves and ignore what He has done for us.
The good news is that any branch that gets cut off for persistent unbelief can be grafted in if unbelief becomes trusting faith and those whose hearts have become stony with unkindness can have their hearts become flesh again!
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans11:33-36)When I was studying at university, I always found these verses inspirational. Studying theology means that one wrestles with a lot of doctrine, detail, and technicalities. Not to mention Hebrew and Greek!
There is a temptation to let detail become drudgery and to let technicalities become tedious. The danger with dealing with a concentrated helping of truth is that one loses a sense of wonder.
Paul has taken us through 11 chapters of theology and doctrine. There are beautiful truths and amazing pictures of grace in these chapters, and as Paul bursts into poetic doxology, he shows us that he still cannot grow accustomed or acclimatized to the wonder of awesome grace!
How do we sum up Paul’s wonderment?
God is so much greater than we are:
– more wise and knowledgeable
– We can’t second-guess His paths and judgements
– We can’t give Him advice
– He owes us nothing
In fact: Everything (FROM Him, THROUGH Him and TO Him) is His.
Glory to Him forever!
When last did you see a sunrise and burst into a worship song?
When last were you reminded of God’s goodness and spontaneously praise?
You won’t be weird if you do – Paul is way ahead of you!
A good post-Easter response
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship (Romans12:1)Paul’s preceding 11 chapters (what the “therefore” points to) have dealt with our broken fallen state as humankind and have shown how Christ died for us and gave us His Holy Spirit so that we could become new people. The preceding chapters have revealed God’s relentless love and His passion to see us saved. And so Paul says “therefore”…
It is after Easter and we have once again celebrated the incredible love of God. We have a big “therefore” in our hearts as we reflect on our easter rememberances this year.
What is our response then?
– Some warm fuzzy feelings that fade away after a while? No!
– Paul urges us to get practically involved in ongoing spiritual service.
The hassle with living sacrifices are that they always try to crawl off the altar, so you will need to make commitments and sign contracts with yourself… Not just to feel things or think about things but to actually do a few practical things…
So here are my post-easter challenges to you:
-1- Can you think of a concrete _action_ that will benefit your personal spiritual life from here onwards? e.g. “I commit to watering a part the garden by hand and using that quiet time for prayer.” or “I commit to setting aside 10 minutes a day over lunch or before breakfast or before bedtime to read the Bible or an uplifting spiritual book.”
-2- Try to think of some practical involvement in your local church. e.g. “I commit to become part of a weekly or monthly fellowship.” or “I commit to attend church more regularly.” or “I commit to attend the evening service in addition to the morning service for a month or two to encourage my spiritual growth.”
-3- Finally, how about offering yourself in practical service to others? Get involved in caring and sharing. There are always opportunities in your local church to make a difference.
A new operating system
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans12:1-2)Those who are technically minded and who know me quite well will know that a few years ago I decided (on principle reasons) to move from Microsoft Windows to the Linux operating system.
Changing to another operating system was very challenging. It changed the way I did everything. There are some similarities (mouse, keyboard, icons, etc.) but there were profound differences and learning curves.
Paul is encouraging the same thing here. If we want our lives to be living sacrifices offering spiritual worship, then we need to change operating systems by being transformed by renewing our minds.
We can’t just change things on the surface. The key to an operating system on a computer is that the operating system has to do with how the computer runs “underneath the surface.” Being “transformed by the renewing of the mind” means we don’t just change our actions, but we change our underneath-the-surface thoughts and attitudes.
On the computer it meant that I had to re-format my hard-drive. In spiritual terms I reformat my thinking and my memories as I unlearn ways of greed, self-centeredness and lovelessness moving toward grace, forgiveness, selflessness, and generosity – all encapsulated by LOVE.
If we want to worship God with our lives, it means we have to allow our minds and memories to be reformatted by the message of grace. This means learning about Christ – filling our hearts with Scripture, teaching, and worship.
The important keys to this are personal devotional time and corporate worship. I will digress to these two issues over the next two days…
Digression#1: Bible Study
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2Timothy3:14-17)We’re on the first of two digressions looking at how we can be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” or “how can I reformat my life-drive?”
Timothy was one of Paul’s protege’s. Here Paul is encouraging Timothy to “hang in there” in the path of faith. It is not insignificant that the Scriptures play a very big role in this.
Timothy has known the Scriptures from infancy. There is a tremendous comfort and depth that comes from having a deep familiarity with Scripture. It is an an advantage to have studied them from childhood, but if this is not the case we can pick it up through a disciplined reading habit.
What are the benefits?
– The Scriptures make us wise for salvation:- Understanding and being grateful for our own salvation and for leading others to salvation.
– It’s God-breathed:- We’re getting in touch with God directly. We’re hearing His voice, His perspective and His truth.
– It’s practical for teaching, confronting that which is wrong (rebuking), correcting, and training in righteousness.
The outcome? We’ll be properly equipped!
Yes But How?
Many people would like to have a better Bible-Reading-Habit but don’t know where to start.
Here are some telegram tips. There’s much more to be said but this is a good start.
1.Set aside a regular time of the day. (Create a habit) Some time when you’re alert and awake. Some people use the 15 minutes when they have arrived at work early before the phones start ringing. Others use 15 minutes in their lunch break.
2.Start small. Don’t try to do too much!
3.Use an easy to read translation.
4.Start with the Gospels (Matthew-John) Leave Leviticus, Revelation, and Job for when you have had some practice at this!!! Read systematically through a Bible Book or use a Bible reading guide.
5.Read about a page from your Bible. Read slowly and thoughtfully. I highlight verses that stand out.
6. Summarise mentally or in a notebook… What did I learn about God, myself, or life today. Is there a prayer, action, or attitude re-alignment that needs to happen.
7. Pray before you start – that the eyes of your heart will be open.
Pray when you have finished – that you can apply what has been learned
Digression#2: Regular Fellowship
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
(Actss11:25-26)We’re talking about “being transformed by renewing our minds.” It is a process of rooting out old values and embedding Christ-likeness. Regular Scripture Study is one key. The other is regular fellowship and teaching.
Barnabus had an exciting church going in Antioch. It was a good church – there was evidence of grace and it was growing. But he saw the potential for more. Barnabus knew a certain Saul (who became Paul) who would be a good teacher and so he fetched S(P)aul and they involved the church in regular teaching and fellowship for a whole year.
Please note the following:
1. It was a process – it took a whole year! Fellowship does not transform us overnight, it takes time.
2. It needs to be regular. Although it is not expressly mentioned in our text, the clear implication from the other churches in Acts is that they met frequently, in public gatherings and in their homes.
3. There should be good teaching. Fellowship that only consists of emotional support will never move beyond being a support group. Barnabus fetched S(P)aul because Paul was a great teacher.
4. Good fellowship results in Christ-likeness. The word “Christian” means “little Christ.” Their group wasn’t just a support group that enabled people to stay like they were. It wasn’t just a group where people went through the motions. They were taught, challenged, and pastored so that they grew and were transformed.
Regular church attendance is a good start for fellowship. If you really want to grow, why not consider coming to a second service (like an evening service) or joining a weekday fellowship group. You’ll miss some TV and gain some Christ-likeness!
How to have zeal
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
(Romans12:9-13)The RSV translates v.11:
“Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.”
I like that! It really does the most justice to the underlying Greek text. It describes someone who has zeal rather than being a zealot, someone who bubbles with an energy, joy and peace that comes from God, and someone who puts themselves in God’s service.
The rest of the paragraph gives us four clues to accomplish this:
– Love: needs to be unhypocritical and devoted – placing others before self. It should be made visible in sharing in people’s needs and in showing hospitality.
– Evil: needs to be seen for what it is and hated. The Greek word is literally “hate.”
– Hope: Means that we are confident that God has a plan for us and that it is ultimately a good plan – this will give us joy and carry us through the hard times.
– Prayer: is our connection to the Spirit who will work in us to make us aglow.
John Wesley wrote in his journal “Every morning I set myself on fire and invite people to watch me burn.
“Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.”
Blessed are the peacemakers
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans12:18-21)Although they would never use the word, many Christians have an attitude that can be summed up with the word “jihad” when one considers their relationship with those who differ from them.
The history of the crusades is a grim reminder of how God’s people failed to properly understand the gospel.
Eugene Peterson has described the Gospel and Jesus’ ministry as profoundly subversive. Jesus, by His Servanthood and sacrificial death undermined the dynamic of power and strength and demonstrated the power of love.
Jesus said that the peacemakers would be called sons and daughters of God. Paul’s version of subversive Christianity is peace, forgiveness and practical love.
We are in God’s hands. He will deal with the injustices we suffer. Our task is not to balance the scales with justice. The truth is that we don’t actually have a clue about justice. Our task is to tip the scales with love.
Love will always slip under the radar and overcome the enemy.
Dear Lord, I get so caught up in “fighting for my rights” that I forget that Jesus gave up all He had for me. Help me to overcome evil with good. Help me to crawl under the barriers of resentment and cynicism in people’s lives through genuine goodness and love.
Subversive behaviour continued
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
(Romans13:8-10)Yesterday we looked at Paul’s call to love our enemies. I wrote about Jesus’ subversive love which can change people’s lives.
In the section between today’s text and yesterday’s text Paul reminded the Romans about their relationship to the totaliterian Roman state. He urged them to be law-abiding, tax-paying, and submissive as far as their consciences could allow.
The practicality of these instructions is summed up in our text. Love is a debt we are always paying. We can never pat ourselves on the back and consider our love-debt paid.
Even Jesus, who paid the ultimate price for us by going to the cross does not consider that He has now loved us enough – He continues to love us! The Bible tells us that He sends the Holy Spirit and that He intercedes for us.
Paul’s argument is helpful – love is not sloppy, soppy or sentimental – it is the powerful fulfilment of the commandments and can be summed up as doing no harm to a neighbour.
Have I harmed a neighbour by my actions or inactions? While few of us harm people by our actions, I think most of us would have to admit that we have hurt others by our inactions!
So here’s the challenge for today: Look for one or two situations today where you can choose to be active instead of inactive. Choose a positive action that will benefit either a friend or a stranger.
Then, when you have done that, give yourself a secret handshake – you have joined Jesus’ band of subversives!
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber , because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. (Romans13:11-14)It’s easy to fall asleep. Especially when life is hard and hammers the fight out of us. In the verses we looked at last time, Paul urged us to keep on loving those around us. But loving people can be exhausting and when we are exhausted, it is easy to fall asleep.
The slumber that Paul talks about here is the slumber which robs us of the vitality of hope. When life drains and empties us, when our love tanks are empty and we have little to give we fall into the sleepwalk of going through each days motions, doing what needs to be done, and even falling into some bad habits.
But every day brings us a little closer to the destination that Jesus has in mind for us. We have covered a lot of ground. Sometimes we slide backwards and then we need to repent and regain that ground. But mostly we are just lulled to sleep and have lost the vitality of hope.
I can imagine Paul’s picture: coming alongside people who are fast asleep and whispering in their ears, “Salvation is nearer now than when you first believed.”
Salvation is not just receiving Christ as our get-out-of-jail-free card – it is the complete transformation of our person and character to be more like Jesus.
I can imagine some of them jerking awake with a start and jumping into their day – some even a little disorientated. I can imagine others waking up slowly, taking stock of the day and entering it with focus and purpose. The sad thing is those who are still asleep.
Waking up means we realise that God has not forsaken or forgotten us. That although the dark seems unending, the morning will come. It is knowing that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in Christ.”(Phil.1:6) It means we embrace the hope and destiny that God has for us!
Now… WAKE UP!
The Stuff that Matters
17 For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people. (Romans14:17-18)People are quick to major on minors. Some Christians in Rome believed that their faith would benefit from abstaining from meat. They did this sincerely and out of devotion to God. They were quick to condemn those who felt free to eat meat.
So the Herbivores condemned the Carnivores and the Carnivores labelled the Herbivores as Legalists. The Herbivores were offended whenever the Carnivores organised a Church bring-and-braai and the young Christians in both groups were confused.
Today the minors that we major on are different, but the pain and confusion that arise are the same. Today it is choruses vs hymns, traditional vs contemporary and so on.
What, according to Paul, are the majors that we should home in on? What are the characteristics by which we should be known as Christ’s Servants? There are three attitudes and focus-points that he lists here:
-Righteousness: Not so much slavish adherence to legalistic codes as an inner-commitment to instinctively do the right thing. Ultimately we are not perfect, but Jesus justifies us (forgives our past) and sanctifies us (transforms our character so that we look more and more like Him). Righteousness is to honour God practically in our behaviour.
-Peace is found in the will of God and prayer. When we are in touch with God’s will and plan for our lives, we have a peace which passes understanding. When we are close to God in prayer we can receive His gracious comfort and provision in our circumstances.
-Joy is the comfort,hope, and optimism that is the product of faith. While happiness has to do with circumstances, joy is the confidence that we are in His safe and secure hands.
These are important issues in God’s Kingdom.
Dear Lord, help me to have an inner-commitment to honour You in my actions today. Give me peace and help me to walk in Your paths. Fill me with the incredible joy of knowing that You died for me!
There’s more to agree on than to disagree on
So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. (Romans14:19)Children’s activity books often have two similar pictures with the caption “Spot the differences.” This is a skill we take into adulthood. Being discerning can be a helpful skill in selecting the best product in the store or the best deal in a sale.
Unfortunately our ability to “spot the difference” means that we easily let differences divide us. Paul is continuing to address the “Herbivore-Carnivore” debate that we looked at yesterday.
I am quite disturbed by the critical spirit that I detect in Christians. What is even more disturbing is that there are times that I find that same critical spirit in me. I am quick to criticise someone who majors on a minor that is different to the minor that I am fixated on! (It goes without saying that there are some major issues that are not negotiable. Today I am talking about the _minors_ that divide us.)
Paul’s guidance is clear: We need to _pursue_ a different path. The Greek verb he uses is interesting because it can also mean “to persecute.” The wordplay is unmistakable: Instead of persecuting each other we should strive for peace with the same relentless focus that persecuters have when they pursue the persecuted.
We should strive for peace (harmony) and building up (construction) of each other. This means that we forgive where we need to forgive and work from what we agree on and strive to INSPIRE, UPLIFT, ENCOURAGE, GUIDE, and PRAY FOR those whom God places in our sphere of influence.
Even if their minor-issues and mine aren’t on the same page!!!
Dear Lord. Help me to be constructive in the lives of those I work with today.Amen.
1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Romans15:1-3)Tolerance is a word that is highly fashionable today. Paul, however, is not urging us to be tolerant of false doctrine or heretical teaching, but rather that we are tolerant when people fail. He is urging us to ensure that we are not so self-centered and self-referencing that we become intolerant.
What do I mean by “self-referencing”? When people isolate themselves from community, they become their own guide to morality, ethics and truth. They become their own source of reality, often becoming very critical of those who are different from themselves.
Paul doesn’t know about an individualistic Christianity. Faith is a community experience. We cannot be Christians alone. We understand truth best in community and we practice faith best as a community.
We should be very careful about being critical and cynical about Christ’s children in His body because the insults that we heap on our fellow-Christians fall on Christ.
Dear Lord. Please forgive the arrogant spirit that I have had toward other Christians. Help me to build up those around me and make a positive difference.
Why we need the Bible
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
(Romans15:4)Throughout Romans Paul has been quoting from the Bible (in his case – the Old Testament). This verse explains why.
There are three simple but very important points to remember when we think about Bible Study.
1. Scripture has been given to TEACH us. The more we read it and study it, the more we can learn about life and about God. Who can forget the life-lessons we get from observing characters like David, Samson, Daniel and Moses? Where else can we see such a clear picture of our Lord Jesus?
Scripture teaches us about God, the world and even ourselves! (James likened Scripture to a mirror where we can see our own image clearly)
2. The Scriptures are a source of ENCOURAGEMENT. We are instructed, challenged, guided, and inspired by the examples of the Lord Jesus and the prophets and patriarchs. Turning to the book of Psalms we even find the psalm-writers exploring the reality of pain and sorrow so that our faith journeys through success and failure.
3. We need to ENDURE. Studying the Scriptures as head knowledge will not help. We have to put it into action. On the other hand, if all we did was try to live a good life all the time, we would run out of steam. We need the “topping up” that reading the Bible will give us.
-Study _and_ Endurance,
-Meditation _and_ Action,
-Learning _and_ Faith
When we combine Scripture with Life on a regular basis the result is hope.
Dear Lord, help me to read my Bible in such a way that it regularly impacts my thoughts, attitude and directions.
Prejudice or Praise
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God. (Romans15:7)Prejudice is deep-seated in all of us. We are quick to judge the book by the cover. We are easily informed by preconceived ideas and opinions. We automatically assume that we know why people do x,y or z.
Whether our Prejudice is based on age, race, gender, qualification, social standing, church denomination or worship style, it has devastating consequences: At best it erodes trust, usually it means that relationships never reach their full potential and at worst it causes deep suspicion and terrible hurt.
As Christians we are called to accept each other – to look past differences, to dig below the surface and to find common ground. More than telling us to be open to each other, Paul actually gives us the benchmark – Christ. Jesus’ acceptance extended to those who crucified Him, those who hurled abuse, and those who plotted His death: “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Acceptance is easy when it turns out that people were not as bad as we thought. It’s tougher to accept people when we expect them to disappoint or hurt us and then they do just that! It’s even tougher when we are hurt or disappointed by someone we did not expect it from!
But we are to accept them. Jesus example shows us that we reach out to others with gracious acceptance – those who are better than we thought, those who are what we expected, and those who fail our expectations.
Acceptance does not mean we condone what people do. By forgiving those who crucified Him Jesus was not saying that they were right!
If we learn to accept people beyond our biases and natural comfort zones – God gets the praise. Our actions are a signpost pointing to God.
A Potent Blessing
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans15:13)A picture is often worth a thousand words.
I have taken the liberty of attaching a picture I drew of today’s verse.
The picture has four main parts:
1. God blesses us with joy and peace.
2. We respond in trust.
3. God’s Spirit works in us (cooks the pot in the picture)
4. We overflow with hope.
This is the powerful blessing that Paul would leave with the Romans:
As we trust in Him, God is able to unleash joy and peace in our lives. Neither joy or peace are dependent on the absence of trouble. They can be ours even in the midst of trying times. The source of happiness is positive circumstances. The source of joy is God.
When we respond to God’s joy and peace with more trust, we create an upward spiral that brings us closer to Him and allows the Holy Spirit to work in us and activate hope which can bless us and bless the world.
It’s a powerful blessing that Paul is praying for the Romans and for us! We should recognise the upward spiral that the blessing is and own it as God’s desire for us. If He prompted Paul to pray this for us, then it reflects something of God’s desire for us.
Hope is something that can pour out of us if we allow Him to fill us with peace and joy!
Paul’s Passion Revisited
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.” (Romans15:20-21)We conclude this series on Romans by coming back to where we began: Paul’s Passion. Paul wrote to the Romans because he wanted them to help him on the way to Spain so that he could preach the Gospel there.
Paul’s overriding longing and motivation was to take the gospel to those who had not heard about Christ. He is clearly focused. He is not messing around. His aim is that of a sharp-shooter. He is not trying the shotgun approach of doing something for everyone.
There are times that he seems mercenary and almost rude in his approach: Listen to his comment in v.24: “I plan to do so [visit Rome] when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and have you assist me on my journey there after I have enjoyed your company for a while.”
While we might consider him rude, Paul is focussed and there is a lot we can learn from his passion. Paul’s passion is clear: The lost matter to God. Those who have not heard yet are very important to God. Those who have not been told about God’s love are number one on Paul’s list of priorities.
We are very comfortable in our churches and our well-churched society. But there are those who do not know about Jesus’ love. Paul has written 16 passionate chapters explaining the Good News that he was longing to share with those who had no clue that God could love us so much.
Who would Paul be talking to in our lives?
I hope you have enjoyed this series on Paul’s Passion in Romans.