The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Romans

Everybody Under Sin

Sin-talk.  Mostly reserved for Sundays.  It left ordinary conversation with the Enlightenment–a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent in the West and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness–https://www.britannica.com/event/Enlightenment-European-history.

In Romans 3:9-20 Paul paints the final dark strokes of  his picture of God’s wrath.  Why God’s wrath? He explains and, therefore, the reason for the gospel.  Further, he insists “that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin”.  To prove his concluding points, Paul cites a catalogue of verses from his (Old Testament) Bible . . .

“What shall we conclude then? Are we [Jews] any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9)

Despite being entrusted with God’s very words, Jews are no better off.  All humanity is “under sin”.  Paul sees sin as a power that dominates all humans since the Fall.  No one is free from it.

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.   All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).

“As it is written” claims the words that follow are authoritative.  Paul cites Psalm 14 and virtually repeats himself citing Psalm 53 . . .

“They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1b-3).

“They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:1b-3).

No one possesses a personal, moral righteousness enabling him/her to stand before the holy God.  No one is able to comprehend his personal unrighteousness before God; unrighteousness has corrupted his moral thinking.  And no one is searching after God.  Instead, they have turned away and become depraved.  This doesn’t mean that every human commits acts of what we would call moral depravity (few are as evil as they could be); it means every aspect of our being is morally depraved because we all have turned away from seeking after God.  Not one of us does what God’s law says is good.

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.  There is no fear of God before their eyes”  (Romans 3:13-18).

Citing  Psalm 9:5, Paul says every person’s throat is like an open grave from which deceitful speech gushes.  Citing Psalm 140:3, Paul claims their words, like poisonous snakes, are aimed to destroy.  Their words curse God and man. Vile speech overflows their mouths.

Paul next turns to Isaiah 59:7,8 where the LORD condemns Israel.  Paul applies it to all humans.  They are violent in words and acts.  Theologian Karl Barth, writing near the end of World War 1 commented, “The whole course of human history pronounces this indictment against itself.”

Finally, Paul cites Psalm 36:1—“There is no fear of God before their eyes”.  No awe.  No trembling.  No sense of responsibility or accountability.  Instead, a brazen presumption that God will not judge.

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:19,20).

Jews condemn Gentiles.  But Paul reminds Jews that God’s law speaks to those under it; they can no longer boast of their righteousness.  Their lawbreaking silences their arrogant tongues.  God’s law sharply confronts their sin.   It holds the whole world accountable to him.

* * *

 Before the Enlightenment, people in the West believed in God as they believed in the sunrise.  But the Enlightenment changed that.  It elevated rational thinking.  That is, what made sense to the human mind, what was logically based on fact, won the day.  Scientific studies (man isn’t the center of the universe), geological discoveries (earth is much older than the Bible suggests) and even the Protestant Reformation (wars within the church undercut its authority) all contributed to throwing off traditional beliefs in favor of human experience and what the human mind could understand.

New scientific discoveries led to an “unprecedented optimism” based on confidence that man could “shape his material and social environment and this led man to assume that he was “to a great extent the master of his own destiny” ( https://probe.org/the-enlightenment-and-belief-in-god/).

Enlightenment thoughts still permeate ours.  But over 30 major wars in the 20th century may have shaken our confidence that man is “the master of his own destiny”.  Nevertheless, the assumption that we can shape our material and social environment remains.  And all the while we are storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5).

That doesn’t compute with the rational mind.  Remember:  the rational mind, however intelligent, is corrupted.  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened . . . ” (Romans 1:21).

We are (graciously) called to believe what the fallen human mind deems irrational–that we’re all under the power of sin, that no one seeks God, that all have turned away from him, that not even one does good, that the day of God’s wrath is coming . . .

and that God has  revealed his righteousness in the gospel
to powerfully save all who trust in his grace in Christ Jesus.

 

*Note:  Interested in a good summary of Enlightenment thought and its effect?  Go to  https://probe.org/the-enlightenment-and-belief-in-god/

 

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The Religious Right

Any group known as the Religious Right will certainly be criticized.  True to form, this group, that came to prominence in the 1970s, has been charged with self-righteousness and hypocrisy, guilty or not.

Another group definitely was guilty . . .

“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law;  if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark,  an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth– you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?  As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:17-24).

Paul warned pagan Gentiles of God’s wrath (1:18-2:16).  Here for the first time, he addresses Jews by name.  He charges them with presuming to escape God’s wrath because they are Jews who . . .

  • possess God’s Law
  • enjoy a special relationship with God
  • are taught by the law and so know God’s will and approve of what is morally/spiritually superior
  • Because they have the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the Law, are certain they are “a guide for the blind, a light for those in darkness, a teacher of the foolish and of infants”

Then come the penetrating, prosecuting questions . . .

  • You who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
  • You who preach against stealing, do you steal?
  • You who say people shouldn’t commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
  • You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (Probably by making and selling little idols)
  • You who brag about the law, do you break it and so dishonor God?

Indeed, instead of the Jews’ actions moving the Gentiles to praise God, what Isaiah prophesied of his generation (“all the day my name is despised”—Isaiah 52:5b), is also true of Paul’s:  God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”.

“Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.  A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom. 2:25-29)

Circumcision externally marks every male Jew as belonging to God’s covenant people.  But the Jew has come to trust in the external mark.  It’s valueless without obedience to the law.  Indeed, “ . . . if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.”  Furthermore, if the uncircumcised obey the law, “ . . . will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?”

Who are these uncircumcised who obey the law?  Possibly Paul’s writing of a “what-if” situation.  But I think he’s referring to actual Gentiles.  Many commentators posit that these Gentiles obey the law as the result of general revelation (the revelation of God in creation).  I think, however, Paul is referring to Gentiles who believe in Christ Jesus.  It seems to me Paul’s next statements bear that out.

Here Paul redefines “Jew” and “circumcision”.  “A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly.”  Furthermore, “circumcision (the mark that a man belongs to God’s covenant people) is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, not by the written code (or law).”

Paul has, almost incidentally, dropped a bombshell.  A new kind of circumcision exists, and by it Jew and Gentile can belong to the covenant people of God.  This “new circumcision” actually has its roots in the Old Testament from which Paul is probably drawing.

In Deuteronomy 10, Moses is rebuking the Israelites for creating a golden calf to worship.  In verses 16 and 17 he urges . . .

“Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes” (Deuteronomy 10:16,17).

How can they purify their hearts?  While it does reveal the depth of their depravity, it’s a command they can’t keep.  So later he prophesies . . .

“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Decades later the prophet Jeremiah picked up the same theme . . .

“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33b).

In the middle of a dark passage about God’s wrath, then, Paul offers Jews and Gentiles the only hope for “all [who] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23b)—not “just” justification, but sanctification, not “just” forgiveness but a new, pure heart.  But, if this puts Jew and Gentile on the same footing, a troubling question rises . . .

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” (Romans 3:1).

In other words, “If being a circumcised Jew doesn’t get us favor with God, what good is it?”

“Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”  But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)  Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?  Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?”  Why not say– as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—‘Let us do evil that good may result’? Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:2-8).

Gentiles have creation’s general revelation, while God has committed his very words to Jews.  But this raises another question (which Paul will confront in more detail in chapters 9-11):  Do the Jews (whom Paul is charging are under God’s wrath) lose God’s promises? Will God not keep the promises he made to them?

God will keep his promises (he’ll explain how in chapter 9-11).  God will be true to his word, yet pour out his wrath on Jewish unrighteousness.  And that reminds Paul of gossip against him:  “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?  Why not ‘Let’s do evil that good may result’”?  Paul won’t waste ink on more of a response than this:  “They’ll get what they deserve” (my paraphrase).

* * *

We are less like the pagan Gentile (1:18 and following) and more like the self-righteous Jew.  Because of our commitment to biblical morality, it’s easy for us to sit in judgment on egregious sinners.  The Holy Spirit warns us as Paul did the Jews . . .  “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).

 Our only hope, then, is the message of the gospel  which is . . .

” . . . the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  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'” (Romans 1:16,17).

This is real power.

“To hope when all seems hopeless, to wait in faith when all human means are exhausted, to persevere in the midst of trials, and most of all to love others (including our enemies), involves the experience of the supernatural as much as performing the miraculous does” (Robert L. Saucy in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?).

I add “to have a pure heart” in a fallen world involves the experience of the supernatural, too.  For we can be physically circumcised–just a quick flick of the knife (easy for me to say!); but we can’t cut away sin from our heart and make it pure.  Only God can do that.

And God does it when we trust Jesus.  In that moment, self-righteousness is removed;  Christ’s righteousness is imputed.  And we get a new heart.  This is the power of God for salvation . . .

 

 

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Day of Terrifying Wrath

Talk of God’s wrath is so . . . so fundamentalist.  (A pejorative term used of  midwesterners who cling to their guns and Bibles!)  Well, God’s wrath may not pop up in elitist conversations on the east and west coasts; but Paul writes 63 verses about it in “the greatest letter ever written” (John Piper).

Starting chapter 2, Paul turns to the second slice of humanity facing God’s wrath—not the out-and-out Gentile “dirt bags” of 1:18-32, but the religious Jew.  (First century Jews—as those before them—divided humanity in two:  Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).

Many readers of this blog are Christ-believers.  Even we—and certainly  those who aren’t—should soberly know that apart from Christ, we are, by application, among the people Paul addresses here.

You, the Judge?

You may be saying, “What terrible people you have been talking about!” But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Do you think that God will judge and condemn others for doing them and not judge you when you do them, too?  Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from your sin?  But no, you won’t listen (2:1-5a, New Living Translation).

Condemn the terrorist-murderer, and you condemn yourself, Paul writes.  Oh, you  don’t behead an “infidel”.  But your anger kills (Jesus, Matthew 5:22).  God will justly punish anyone who does such things.

But your life is good.  Successful.  Pain-free.  That means things are good between you and God, right?  No, God is being tolerant and patient, withholding his wrath, “giving you time to turn from your sin.  But you won’t listen.”

In Paul’s day and view, this was the Jew.  In our day, it’s the moral person, probably a God-believer who criticizes the immoral “dirt bags”, but won’t admit his own sins and turn from them.  “The religious right.” Before we condemn these folks, let’s see that, apart from God’s grace in Christ, this is us, too.

Storing-Up Wrath

“So you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself because of your stubbornness in refusing to turn from your sin. For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning– for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good– for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism” (2:5b-11).

“So you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself” is a foreboding image. The Greek word translated “storing up”, thayraurizo, is used of storing up “treasures on earth” or“treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19,20).  Here, Paul is warning the unrepentant that they are storing up wrath against themselves.  In other words, day to day their load of guilt increases and, with it, commensurate wrath.  It will fall full weight on the “day of wrath” (2:5).

“For there is going to come a day of judgment”.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, 72% of Americans believe in heaven and 58% in hell.  I assume, then, that belief in judgment day falls somewhere within those percentages.  Surprisingly high.  Behind them, I think, lies sociologist Christian Smith’s research that shows “doing good” is the criterion—which is precisely what Paul writes .. .

He “will judge all people according to what they have done.”  Specifically, Paul writes, “He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.  But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds.  There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism.”

Several comments are in order.

First, Jews would naturally presume they were God’s favorites as God’s called-out people, and therefore not subject to judgment.  But Paul will write, “[God] will punish the Jews when they sin . . .For it is not merely knowing the law that brings God’s approval” (212b,13a).  The God-believer today presumes he gets a “pass” because he believes in God.  But Paul warns God will pour out wrath on them all.  Only those who “persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers” will receive “glory and honor and peace from God” on that day.

Second, why will God judge us “according to what [we] have done”?  The question is hotly disputed with, as expected, a variety of answers.  Some say Paul is contradicting himself (later he declares salvation is exclusively by grace through faith).  Others say Paul is writing hypothetically:  this is what would happen but for God’s grace in Christ.  Still others claim Paul is referring to God judging us for how we’ve lived as those justified by faith.  Others argue all humans will be judged according to their works and, of course, all will fall short and face God’s wrath—only those who believe in God’s grace in Christ will be saved.

My view is simple with two parts.  First, Paul is focusing  not on how we are saved from God’s wrath; he’s focusing on God’s wrath.  Therefore, he doesn’t go into detail about salvation from it.

Second, God will judge us according to what we do, because what we do proves what is in our heart.  Live for yourself, refuse to obey the truth, practice evil deeds—all is evidence of a heart without grace.  Persist in doing good, seek after the glory and honor and immortality God offers—all is evidence of a heart justified and being sanctified through Christ.

God will judge us “according to what [we] have done”, because our acts reveal our heart.  Later, Paul will write, “For God has done what the law could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).  Therefore, only those “in Christ” can “do good.”  Our outside actions reveal what’s inside.  So the “works judgment” is finally  a heart judgment.  Paul omits all that here, because his topic is God’s judgment coming to all.

God the Judge, According to Law

“God will punish the Gentiles when they sin, even though they never had God’s written law. And he will punish the Jews when they sin, for they do have the law. For it is not merely knowing the law that brings God’s approval. Those who obey the law will be declared right in God’s sight.  Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right.  The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone’s secret life. This is my message” (2:12-16).

Regarding the Jews, Paul explains merely having and knowing the law isn’t enough to escape God’s wrath.  God’s approval requires obedience.  Then comes this strange notion that some Gentiles “by nature” (that is, as if by a natural action without having the law) do what the law requires, “they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.”  That is, their conscience dictates their actions.   Notice, however, Paul isn’t saying that this justifies Gentiles, merely that doing God’s law is necessary to escape God’s just judgment.  ” . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23) .  And that judgment day will surely come, bringing God’s judgment even on people’s secrets (kuptoshidden, concealed things).

Take-Away

This text offers no hope; Paul doesn’t intend it to.  Wherever we fit into the two great slices of humanity–Jew or Gentile–we are to realize we face God’s wrath of Judgment Day.  And whether we have God’s Law or our conscience, we are to know the Day of God’s wrath is coming.

I’m tempted to brush that away with the gospel.  Indeed, faith in God’s salvation in Jesus Christ does brush it all away.  But I think it best to end with God’s wrath like a dark, foreboding presence waiting in the future.  For, too easily we brush it away until it becomes only a gray, unpleasant presence awaiting humanity.

So I finish with a lengthy quote from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, followed by a quote from the writer to the Hebrews . .

  • [The wicked]  are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.

    So that it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.

” . . . it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). 

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God Gave Them Up

“ . . .  the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens” (Genesis 19:24).

That’s what my mind sees when I read about God’s wrath.  But the way God reveals his wrath today is quite different—subtle we might say, so much so that we mistake it for just a changing society instead of wrath from heaven.

Paul began this section of his letter (1:18) declaring that God is revealing his wrath against humans who, instead of glorifying him as God of creation, worship images of mortal, created things.

How is God revealing his wrath?

Paul’s first five words in the scripture below, repeated twice more in 1:26,28, give the answer (and are among the most frightening in Scripture) . . .

“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen” (1:24,25).

The original Greek is paradidomee—God handed them over or gave them up to suffer the consequences of worshiping created things instead of the Creator.  No restraining.  No protecting.  God gave them over to what they wanted—and the consequences.

A father hears his son choose a homosexual relationship.  Hours of pleading, persuading and warning accomplishes nothing.  The father can do nothing but let his son go to satisfy his desires and suffer the consequences.

This, writes Paul, is what God has done.  Humans craved what God called sexually unclean rather than seeking God’s glory.  So God let them go, knowing they were exchanging the truth that he, the Creator, is glorious and satisfying, for a lie that the creature is more.

For my illustration above, I chose homosexual practice, because Paul does . . .

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (1:26,27).

Because this is what humans craved, God gave them over to dishonorable passions. Women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.  Men forsook natural relations with women and burned in lust for one another.  So they suffer in themselves the penalty due them for their perverted behavior, a penalty Paul doesn’t define.

It’s now clear that the “degrading of their bodies” Paul has in mind, indeed all the shameful lust and unnatural behavior, is homosexual behavior.  According to Paul, homosexual behavior is not just another lifestyle choice; homosexual behavior is contrary to the nature God created and an expression of God’s wrath, because we exchange the truth about the glory of God for a lie about the glory of the creature.

Why is Paul telling the Roman church about God’s wrath?  He wants them to know wrath is why God is revealing his righteousness to powerfully save.  He wants them to realize homosexuality, though accepted by their society, is an exchange of God for a lie and to realize that homosexual practice itself is God’s wrath.  Finally, he wants them to know escape from God’s wrath is a rescue—God’s power to save.

Paul’s repetitive phrases, “God gave them over”, reflect a downward spiral of immorality/wrath.  Here, Paul says, “he gave them over to a depraved mind” . . .

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (1:28-32).

“ . . . since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God”  is the height of self-centered arrogance.  They knew God through creation but didn’t think it worthwhile to keep that knowledge.

“ . . . a depraved mind” is a mind so corrupted it no longer provides moral direction.  Thus, given over to a depraved mind they “do what ought not to be done.”

No need to define the specific vices a depraved mind produces.  To us, some seem hardly depravity (gossips?  disobey their parents?), while others do.  But in God’s book all are.

The question arises, how do “they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death . . .”? Paul doesn’t explain, but the only answer is “it’s written on their heart, beneath the conscious level. Charles Hodge (a 19th century Presbyterian theologian) said this about that:  “The most reprobate sinner carries about with him a knowledge of his just exposure to the wrath of God” (Romans, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972, p. 45).

This is mind-boggling: “they (in Paul’s day, the Gentiles who ‘do what ought not to be done’)” KNOW “God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.”  Yet, they keep doing them and “also approve of those who practice them.”  Suicidal.

 * * *

Paul was pointing to the Gentile world.  I might point my finger for a different reason.  I might point a finger of condemnation and moral pride (Paul’s not writing about me! It’s those people!).  In chapter 2 Paul will pull the self-righteous rug out from under my feet and in chapter 3 make this damning conclusion:  ” . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).

Which leads me to ask, “Why did Paul write so much about my guilt and God’s wrath?”

He wants me to see my absolute hopelessness.  He wants me to own my guilt.  He wants me (to borrow a title of Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon) to realize that I am “a sinner in the hands of an angry God” (here’s the sermon–http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html).

So that I will cherish the life-saving gospel, which is . . .

” . . . the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,
to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,
as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”
–Romans 1:16,17

 

 

 

 

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God’s Wrath

Here’s a side of God we don’t much think of and a work of God we’re unaware is going on right under our noses.

“[For] The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (1:18-20).

I inserted the word “For” because Paul originally wrote it (Greek, gar).  Inexplicably, the NIV omits it, though it’s a key word.  Paul has just noted that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel of his power for salvation (1:16,17).  With the word “For” Paul explains why the gospel is being revealed—namely, because his wrath is.  He reveals his saving righteousness to save us from his revealing wrath.

But we don’t know it.  Ask American teenagers about their religious faith, as sociologist Christian Smith did in 2005, and this is what you get: a god who “watches over” human life, who “wants people to be good, nice and fair”, who is involved in human life only “to resolve a problem” and who “takes good people to heaven when they die.”  Sociologist Smith calls it Moral Therapeutic Deism.  Deism:  a god who created the world but leaves us pretty much alone.  Therapeutic:  a god who makes things better for us when we can’t do it for ourselves.  Think “therapist”.  Moral:  a god who is concerned about right and wrong conduct, who wants us to be “nice”.   No room in that belief system for a God who reveals his wrath.

But, I’ve got to ask.  What’s got God so upset?  “ . . . all the godlessness (disregard for God) and wickedness (disregard for what God says is right) of men . . . “

For that to make sense and for God’s wrath to be fair, we have to move on to “ . . . since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

In sum, creation reveals God!  Paul’s readers had no telescopes or microscopes.  But they had eyes.  They could see stars and mountains and rivers.  They had skin.  They could feel wind and raindrops and the sun’s heat.  Paul is arguing that, through creation, God is showing himself.  He shows himself to be divine.  He shows himself to possess unimaginable power.  He shows himself to be eternal, because he existed before he created.

Humans, however, disregarded God and disregarded what is right.  That’s what got God so angry.  And he’s revealing his wrath on humans who have no excuse.

But humans’ sin does more than offend God.  Sinners “ . . . suppress the truth by their wickedness”.  Question:  what truth do they suppress?  That God must not be disregarded.  Or, as Paul puts it more clearly in the next sentence, that such a God is to be glorified and thanked.

Question:  how do godless, wicked humans suppress that truth about God by their unrighteousness?

Here are two illustrations.  A university professor unrighteously forbids mention of God in classroom discussion.  His prohibition keeps the truth about God from public knowledge.  A husband has sexual intercourse with another woman.  His unrighteous act, by magnifying illicit sex, covers over the truth of God’s glory in moral purity.

So God is angry. And he’s revealing his wrath—his punitive fury.  But it comes in a surprising way, which we’ll see later in this chapter.  For now, let’s uncover more of what’s got God so angry—and how humans’ disregard for God affects them.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (1:21-23).

“For although they knew God” is a stunning statement.  It means that everyone who can see God’s creation knows God.  Not in a saving way, not in the way Paul writes of in 1:16,17.  But knowing in a way that should evoke praise and thanks.  Instead, humans “exchanged the glory of the immortal God (seen in creation) for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

This has got to be the height of offense to God—to refuse to glorify him as the immortal God that he is and to refuse to give him thanks and instead to make (as the Romans did) wood and stone images of mortal creatures.

Why did intelligent, caring humans do it?  Because their thinking and their hearts were literally affected by their disregard for God.  “ . . . they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile (meaningless, deceptive, foolish) and the foolish hearts were darkened (made unable to morally understand).” 

Paul doesn’t mean they became dumb.  In fact, some of these men and women today  are lauded in their fields of expertise as being exceptionally intelligent.  But when it comes to God, in Paul’s day they became so foolish and morally bankrupt they actually worshiped stone idols instead of the Creator!

So God is angry.  And is revealing it.  We’ll see how next time.

* * *

Lest we boast we’d never be like that, Paul writes 3:23 . . .

” for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

And, if we’re honest, we know we’re like that.  We know we don’t glorify God the way we should.  We don’t make much of him in daily living.  (I know that I, with my handicap, sometimes blame God!)  We know that we put created things above God.  We do it when we engage in sex outside marriage, when we cut corners on our work to make more money faster, when we gossip or slander, or disobey our parents, or cut down people with our words.

We know our hearts are idolatrous.    We know that we too exchange the glory of the immortal God for our idols.  Therefore, in our most honest moments, we admit we deserve God’s wrath.  “Woe is me!” should rightly be on our lips.

But for Romans 1:16,17 . . .

“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. 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.'”

God’s wrath won’t consume us.  We won’t drown in his fury.  By faith in the gospel that reveals God’s righteousness, by faith in the gospel that is the power of God for salvation, we will live!

 

 

 

 

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Unashamed of the Gospel

The gospel. The gospel.  The gospel.  Read almost anything in evangelical circles today, and you find the “the gospel”.  What is it?  And why is it so important?  And why might we be, of all things,  ashamed of it?

Paul tells the Romans he’s champing at the bit to preach the gospel at Rome, because he’s obligated to Greeks and non-Greeks (1:14:15–  http://theoldpreacher.com/the-obligated/.)

He explains further . . .

“[For] I am not ashamed of the gospel . . . “ 

Whoa!  Why write that?  Why might Paul be ashamed of the gospel?  Primarily because the gospel is news of a Jewish Messiah crucified by the Romans like a common criminal.  This is why Paul wrote earlier that this Christ was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Remember that (Good) Friday’s events? Jesus seized by Jewish authorities (little more than a mob accosting Jesus in an olive garden in the dark) . . . dragged before Roman Governor Pilate, who wants to release him but succumbs to the mob’s cries for blood . . . flogged by Roman soldiers and herded through the city like an animal to the execution hill . . . nailed to a cross, mocked by soldiers and passers-by, forsaken by God the Father, buried in a borrowed tomb.  Days later his followers proclaim him resurrected, but only they saw him alive.

Why is Paul not ashamed to preach the news of this Messiah, especially in the heart of the empire, especially when he’s persecuted and beaten down doing it?

“[For] 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. 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’” (Romans 1:16,17).

Paul’s not ashamed of the gospel, because “it is the power of God . . . ”  The abject weakness of Christ crucified is, in fact, the dynamic power of God—God’s dynamite (the Greek for “power” is dunamis).

God’s power for what?  “ . .  for the salvation of everyone who believes”.  In other words, God, in Christ’s death, saved everyone who would believe throughout all time and in all places.  That rescue becomes our experience when we hear that good news and believe it.

Salvation (rescue, deliverance) from what?  Paul answers starting in 1:18 . . .

“[For] The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness . . . ”

And he climaxes his explanation in 3:23 . . .

“ . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . ”

We’ll dig more deeply into that text when we reach it.  For today, it tells us that God, in Christ’s death saved everyone who would believe from his own wrath against us because we have sinned against him.

This saving power, writes Paul, is the revelation of God’s righteousness.  That is, Christ’s death reveals God’s condemnation of sin.  He poured out his wrath due us believers on his Son.  Therefore, God’s righteousness is his absolute moral uprightness according to his standards.  But in Paul’s mind, righteousness is moreIt is God’s action by which he puts a sinner right with himself and which then becomes a transformative power in the believer’s life.

And this saving power, this righteousness of God, is “by faith from first to last . . .”  That is, we experience God’s saving power–God’s righteousness–when we believe.  And it’s ours progressively as we progressively  believe.  Ultimately, God will consummate his saving work in believers at the end.

This obviously implies the good news that God’s saving power in Christ is ours  not by how well we keep his laws, or how loving we are to the loveless, or how “good” a person are.  It’s ours by faith.  We trust what God says is true about Christ’s work. In the gospel, God’s righteousness is revealed, not ours.  Our part is to admit we need God’s saving power in Christ, then to trust that it reaches us.

This, writes Paul, is the gospel.  It’s God’s power to save from his wrath those who believe it.  Therefore, he claims, I’m not ashamed of it, even though it’s news of a crucified Messiah and his believers get “beat up” in this world.  I’m announcing, Paul declares, God’s power to save.

*  *  *

Put me in a church building, give me a Bible and pulpit, and I’m proud to proclaim the gospel.  But in a supermarket, or office building, or kitchen table, or anyplace else out in the world I hesitate.  Am I ashamed of the gospel?

Maybe.

Not because of the crucified Messiah.  For two other reasons, I think.  One, the claim that he’s the only way for salvation from God.  In our society, “one way” implies that all other religions are wrong.  That marks us as intolerant troublemakers.  Check out this interview by Bernie Sanders as a glaring example . . .

If we don’t accept “religious pluralism” (which probably means the ridiculous idea that everybody’s faith is “right”), we’re “disqualified”.  I think there are times I’m ashamed of that.

Second, the appearance of the church.  Is this what God’s power produces?  People who look and apparently act like other “morally upright” people?  What’s so different about believers except what we do Sunday mornings together in a building shut up among ourselves?  The answer to such questions is, “Be patient.  God’s not finished with me yet.”  In other words, nobody sees the full effect of God’s saving power until The End.  Still, a bit more visible power now wouldn’t hurt, right?

So how can I (we) not be ashamed of the gospel?  One way is to meditate on Romans 1:16,17.  Better yet, meditate on Romans 1-8.  And pray for God to strengthen our faith to believe it.  Because, after all, this Christian life is a faith-walk in our God who is mighty to save.

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The Obligated

Spreading the gospel doesn’t excite us.  “Oooh!  Ooooh!  Pick me!”  Perhaps in our “everybody’s-got-their-own-truth” culture, evangelism is  too daunting.  Perhaps we don’t know how to explain the gospel.  Or perhaps we don’t care enough.

Paul, however, is eager to tell the gospel.   Buried in his greetings to the Roman church lies an overlooked  truth:   making the gospel known is an obligation.

THANKS AND PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH AT ROME

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you (1:8-10).

Ten years before Paul’s letter, the church (composed of numerous house churches) had become a major presence in the city.  But the world knew of their faith, because Rome was the pagan empire’s center and travelers from the city spread the news.  For that Paul tells them he thanks God through Jesus Christ.

He also tells them he prays for them, invoking God as his witness to confirm how he remembers them constantly. In fact, the church at Rome is so much on his heart that he prays God may finally open the way for him to visit.

We have no reason to doubt Paul’s sincerity.  After all, this church flourishes in the heart of the pagan empire!  But Paul’s plans reach far beyond Rome:  he hopes the Roman church will become a base from which he can take the gospel to Spain.

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done–by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.  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.”  This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.  But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you,  I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there (Romans 15:18-25).

LONGING TO SEE THE CHURCH AT ROME

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–  that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles (1:11-13).

At the same time, he longs for meaningful ministry among the Roman church.  He wants to “impart . . . some spiritual gift to make you strong.”  In fact, he explains, he hopes that “you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” 

Paul will bring with him whatever spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given him as an apostle and the church will utilize whatever gifts the Spirit has given them.  The purpose:  that they might be strengthened and encouraged in the faith.

Paul may be concerned the Roman church presumes Paul doesn’t care much about them.  This concern may lie behind Paul invoking God as witness to his constant prayers for them.  And may lie behind Paul assuring them he’s often planned to visit them but has so far been prevented.

EAGERNESS TO PREACH TO THE CHURCH AT ROME

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome (1:14,15).

Why is Paul eager to preach the gospel to those who are at Rome?  Because he is “obligated” to.  In the original Greek, Paul says, “I am a debtor both to Greeks and non-Greeks . . . But why is Paul a debtor, or under obligation, to preach the gospel to everyone?

“Debtor” implies we owe something to someone.  Suppose we discovered the cure for cancer.  Wouldn’t we owe it to cancer-sufferers to make the cure known.  So we have received the good news of God’s grace in Christ.  It explains how sinners can be saved from eternal hell to know God now and in the righteous, eternal new creation to come.  Don’t we owe it to lost sinners to make the “cure” known?

Note:  Paul isn’t indebted to God.   Pay back God for his grace and grace is no longer grace.   But God’s grace in Christ to Paul makes Paul a debtor to everyone who doesn’t know grace.

TAKE-AWAY:  OBLIGATED

Am I obligated to spread the gospel of grace as Paul was?  After all, I’m not an apostle.  But obligation doesn’t spring from apostle; it springs from grace.  If I’ve received God’s grace in Christ, then I’m obligated to talk about grace.

But grace-obligation is different from law-obligation.  Law-obligation commands me to spread the gospel and warns of stiff consequences if I don’t.  Grace-obligation urges me to spread the gospel out of love for the lost and a desire to spread God’s glory.

Receiving God’s grace in Christ is like finding a cancer-cure.  Love (at least concern) for suffering cancer patients  should motivate me to spread news of the cure.   But spreading grace doesn’t depend on my emotions.  I’m still obligated.  I still am indebted to God.  But I pay the debt to him by telling others of his grace.

Lord Jesus, you brought me grace  from the Father.  It comes with an obligation to spread the good new of that grace.  Please change my heart so that I love others who need that grace too.  You know all sorts of objections hold me back, the biggest being their resistance.  So please show me who I should reach out to and how.  Talking about this grace-cure should be easy, but we both know it’s not.  I need you to work by the Holy Spirit, because this obligation is way beyond me.   I ask this for your glory.  Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Introducing the Radical

Familiarity with the Bible is a good thing.  The better we know it the better we know the God whose word it is.  But over time, familiarity has its bad side.  The same words read repeatedly progressively lose their impact.

So it is with Paul’s self-introduction at the start of Romans.  The Roman church doesn’t know him.  He’d never visited their city.  So his greeting is a bit longer here than in other letters.

What, we might ask, occasioned Paul to write this letter?  Yes, the Holy Spirit.  But Paul had natural reasons too—the Holy Spirit operating in the human realm. It’s 57 A.D., about 25 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Paul is in Corinth on his third missionary journey.  From there he’ll re-trace his route and take the Gentile churches’ collection money to the poor church in Jerusalem.

Map of Paul the Apostle's Third Missionary Journey in the New Testament

Then he plans to visit Rome and hopefully use that church as a base to reach Spain . . .

Roman World AD8

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done–by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.  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.”  This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.  But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you,  I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there (Romans 15:18-25).

With those plans in mind, Paul writes to the Roman church . . .

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (1:1).

He introduces himself with three descriptive phrases—familiar to the Roman church and to us, but really quite radical.  He is, he writes,“a servant of Christ Jesus.”  The Greek in which he wrote is doulos—slave, bond-servant, one who gives himself up to the will of another.  “Christ” is “Christou”—Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah.”

What’s radical to unfamiliar ears is that this Jesus had been crucified about 25 years earlier.  Yet, Paul claims this Jesus is the Hebrew Messiah, and he (Paul) is his servant.

Second, Paul identifies himself as a man “called to be an apostle.” The Greek apostolos refers to one sent on a mission with the full authority of the sender, in this case with the full authority to represent Messiah Jesus.  Paul claims to have been called to that mission—and he’s been engaged in that mission now for 2 ½ mission trips which have resulted in churches planted from Asia Minor to Greece.

Third, Paul describes himself as a man “set apart for the gospel of God”.  The Greek aphorizo refers to being separated for a special purpose, which we now know is to serve Messiah Jesus by undertaking the mission of making known the gospel (good news) of God.  No letter is as theologically-rich as Romans; but Paul is primarily a proclaimer of good news.

Enough of him.  This letter to the church at Rome centers in the gospel . . .

. . . which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son . . . (1:2,3a).

This good news (gospel) hasn’t suddenly appeared out of nowhere, like the sun breaking the gray sky peeking over the horizon.  Prophets promised it and wrote it in the holy Scriptures.  But this gospel spotlights, not so much an event, as a person:  the Son of God.

. . . who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . (1:3b4).

Paul doesn’t discuss what has come to be known as the doctrine of the Trinity.  What he tells the Romans and us about this Son of God is sufficiently and mysteriously radical as it is . . .

First, the Son (in which this gospel centers) “was descended from David” considering his ancestry from a human point of view.  That marked him as a descendent of Israel’s greatest king with the potential of being even greater than his forefather.

Second, the Son “was declared to be the Son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead . . . “ Wait!  Don’t rush over those familiar words.  He was crucified.  But then resurrected.  And, according to the witness of the Holy Spirit, that resurrection made a declaration about that Son.  It declared him “Son of God in power”.

Third (and this follows closely on the second point about the Son), he is “Jesus Christ (Messiah) our Lord”.  No, Caesar, you may claim the title kurios.  And you may demand worship as kurios.  But you are not kurios.  Jesus, the Messiah, is kurios.

. . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:5-7).

Paul’s call to apostleship, he writes wasn’t a reward for merit; it was a call of grace—unmerited favor, undeserved love.  And his call to apostleship carries a powerful purpose . . .

“to bring about the obedience of faith . . . among all the nations”.  Commentators historically translate that to mean either (1) the obedience that results from faith or (2) faith which is itself obedience.  For what it’s worth, I strongly favor the former.  Paul wants to call people from among all nations to faith in Messiah Jesus the Lord, but then to the obedience that comes from that faith.

Paul’s mission is breathtakingly broad:  to bring about the obedience of faith “among all the nations.”  The Jewish Messiah is no parochial deity!

“for the sake of [Christ’s’] name”.  For the sake of his reputation.  That he might be known and praised. For his glory.  That his name might be universally exalted above all.  Paul doesn’t preach so his name might be on the lips from all nations, but so Jesus’ name might be.

“ . . . including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”  These Roman Christians have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.  Their faith in him evidences their call to him.  Our faith in him evidences the same:  we have been called by the gospel and the power of the Spirit to belong to Jesus Christ.

Paul addresses his letter “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints . . . ” .   God loves the world (John 3:16), but he especially loves those whom he calls to be his holy ones (“saints”) .  Paul wants them (and us) to know that.  And to know from the beginning that his message to them is one of grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  That message he’ll unfold in the rest of this magnificent letter.

* * *

We may be most familiar with Romans.  That’s good, because its news is so good.  But familiarity may also be bad.  It may have taken the radical edge off the letter.  We may read it with a ho-hum.  I pray we won’t.  I pray we’ll be able to read it as if for the first time, so that we will realize how extremely out of the ordinary it is–starting with Paul’s greeting.  May it  stir our heart with a breath of fresh faith and hope . . .

Grace to you and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And if we want to be a bit more radical, we might personalize it like this . . .

God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
send you, Allan (insert
your name),
grace and peace.

 

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Romans: Its Impact

I write my “devotional commentary” blogs for two reasons.  One, writing helps me think more deeply about Bible texts.  Two, I hope the Holy Spirit may use whatever insights I may have to help you think more deeply about Bible texts.

Having said that, I must admit I approach Paul’s letter to the Romans with some trepidation.  John Piper has called it “the greatest letter ever written” (and spent at least two years of Sundays preaching through it).  Many commentators consider is the magnum opus of Paul’s writings.

Here are a few of the famous lives which Romans has impacted . . .

AUGUSTINE.

In 386 A.D. he sat in a friend’s garden, weeping over an imminent change in his life.  A neighborhood child’s song floated on the air with these words:  “Take up and read.”  He opened a nearby scroll and read spontaneously from Romans 13:13b,14—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts thereof.”

Later he wrote his response:  “Not further would I read, nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”  In short, Romans changed him from a lustful, self-gratifying man into a believer whose life still impacts the church.

MARTIN LUTHER.

In 1515, Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg, began to teach Romans to his students.  The more he studied, the more he realized the doctrine of justification by faith was crucial to the letter.  He describes his ensuing struggle and eventual conversion . . .

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous … Night and day I pondered until … I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.

JOHN WESLEY.

In the 18th century Wesley wrote this in his journal . . .

“… went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans … About a quarter before nine while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine; and saved me from the law of sin and death.” 

OTHER SCHOLARS IN LUTHER’S WORDS.

Luther wrote the following in his preface to Romans . . .

“This Epistle is the chief book of the New Testament, the purest gospel. It deserves not only to be known word for word by every Christian, but to be the subject of his meditation day by day, the daily bread of his soul … The more time one spends in it, the more precious it becomes and the better it appears.’ He spoke of it as ‘a light and way into the whole Scriptures …’ Calvin said of it ‘when any one understands this Epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scriptures.’ Coleridge pronounced Romans ‘the most profound work ever written!’ Meyer considered it ‘the greatest and richest of all the apostolic works.’ Godet referred to it as ‘the cathedral of the Christian faith.’ … Gordon H. Clark recently wrote of Romans that it is ‘the most profound of all the epistles, and perhaps the most important book in the Bible …’ Hamilton, in his recent commentary on Romans, calls it ‘the greatest book in the Bible.”

(The above historical information compiled from https://bible.org/seriespage/exploring-riches-book-romans-romans-1-16.)

GALATIANS.

Romans and Galatians share the same theme, Galatians being “Romans condensed.”  In 1969 I sat in a “Romans and Galatians” class at Bible college.  Like a light suddenly turned on in a darkened room I realized Christ had died for all my sins, and I understood for the first time his righteousness was mine before God.  I could add nothing to nor take anything away from the justification he gave by grace and I received by faith.  I had grown up in the church, sat in hundreds of Sunday school classes, heard as many sermons and was preparing for Christian ministry.  Yet, subconsciously I always assumed, somehow, I was right with God through Christ’s life and death plus my “being good.”  Crazy, I know.  But that day in that classroom, the gospel of Romans and Galatians set me free.

BIBLE COLLEGE GRADUATION.

I was blessed to be chosen to deliver the sermon for my graduating class.  So, in May 1971 I stood before hundreds in a packed local church in Springfield, Missouri and preached from this text . . .

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God . . . “ (Romans 1:1).

We, I told my fellow-graduates, are servants of Jesus Christ.  We are his authorized ambassadors to the world.  And we have been set apart for God’s gospel.  It was that Word which propelled me into 44 years of pastoral ministry.  I hope it did the same for all of us that night so long ago.

MY PRAYER.

Father, I’m inadequate to comment on Paul’s letter to the Romans as it should be communicated.  In coming weeks, therefore, I pray the Holy Spirit will enable me to proclaim its gospel, so that unbelievers may be brought to faith in Christ and believers will grow in the grace and knowledge of this great gospel.  “For from you and to you and through you are all things. To you be the glory forever and ever.  Amen” (from Romans 11:36).

 

 

 

 

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