Application: Consider what a difference He makes in my life
"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.'”
One of the first things that struck me differently between Romans and the minor prophets' writings was the use of different terminology. We had been reading about prophets and priests. Now Paul uses words like "apostle", "gospel of God", "Son of God", and "saints". Not writing at this point about visions from God interpreted by angels, Paul builds on logic gleaned from the writings we now call the Old Testament, finished over 400 years before Paul lived. (Romans was written about 57 AD.)
Obviously something had changed, and Paul identifies this change as the fact that the Messiah promised by the Lord over the centuries had come. In fact, because of his resurrection, the Spirit of holiness had declared with power that Jesus - by his resurrection from the dead - was the Christ, Messiah, Lord. And with this change, God continues the battle of being recognized as the Lord of the world by extending Himself to everyone who believes. As the Lord said to Habakkuk said, "The righteous will live by faith." (Hab 2:4b)
Not all the things God had promised were fulfilled yet. His wrath against those who preferred to come up with their own handmade idols as gods was still there. And He is not yet known worldwide.
Paul writes a chronology of the corruption of mankind. Knowing but not glorifying God had led to man's sinful desires, to sexual sins, to having every other kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity, including homosexuality and other sexual impurity. But Paul is convinced that judging other people is not the way to be in a pleasing relationship with God. Neither is hearing the Law of Moses. Neither is having the Law, dissecting the Law, or teaching the Law. In fact, it's not even the one-time obedience of circumcision. It's obeying the Law. "A man is a Jew (ie., one of God's chosen people) if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code." (2:29)
None of this is about pleasing church leaders or other men. It's all about seeking God's praise, not man's. As Paul writes, "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." (1:16)
What's the advantage of being a Jew? How can God judge the world?
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." (5:6)
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Application: Consider the advantage of being a Jew
The advantage of being a Jew and the value of circumcision is that the Jews the people first entrusted as a community with God's word. We read God's word and see that some of God's chosen people didn't have faith in God and some were unrighteous, but in no way did that deminish God. Everything starts with and centers around God. The God of all the earth (Joshua 3:11,13) is God of the Jews and of the Gentiles. But not everyone realizes or accepts that as fact. And both Jews and Gentiles sin. Learning the Law makes one aware of sin - a definite advantage. Jews wrote down and saved God's word, both the Law and the Prophets, so later generations could hear of the righteousness God gives people who believe Him, through faith. And faith upholds the Law.
Remember Abraham? He didn't do anything on his own that he could boast about. Even before God gave him instructions about circumcision to certify the gift of righteousness by faith, God approached Abraham, a sinner, promising that he would be the father of many nations. "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3) "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations." (Rom 4:18a) Past the age for having children, his and Sarah's bodies came back to life, as it were, to have their only child. Sarah was not able to have children until God provided a working womb for her. Abraham "did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." (Rom 4:20-21) So Abraham is father - first of all who hear and trust God as he did, whether they are circumcised or (as he) not.
This relationship is also for us who believe in Him who resurrected Jesus after He died for our sins. This is justification through faith, and it brings us peace with God as He continues contending for recognition, respect, and faith worldwide. With Abraham, have you also believed "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were"? (Rom 4:17b) With Abraham, believing God strengthens our faith, and promotes rejoicing and thanking God, whether for grace or for sufferings.
Are you concerned about God's wrath? Suffering is not the same thing (see Rom 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). We were sinners, enemies of God, when Christ died for us. Christ's death was God's plan for gifting faith and righteousness, and reconciling people to Him. Christ's death offers a reversal of the Adam process of death to all. Sin was in the world before the Law, but isn't taken into account until there is a Law, which is added so trespasses are documented. Sin then increases, but so does God's grace which reigns through righteousness as sin reigned in death.
NOTE: Having trouble understanding Paul's explanations? Don't give up! Peter wrote this about Paul: "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16)
PROMISE: "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."
What has happened to you? You believe Jesus is the one God promised would come as Lord, as Christ, the Messiah. You are baptised in water, and like Jesus you go down, buried, and back up, resurrected. Your old life is finished, dead, and a new life begins, under new management. When Jesus walked physically on Earth, only a limited number of people could hear, see, and touch him. But now the Father has made it possible for us to consider ourselves "dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus". [Our evidence for this is faith. Our invitation is to consciously offer our body - all and parts - to God daily for his use. Living sacrifice. Servant of God.] We are no longer obligated to offer ourselves to sin - we aren't under the law but under grace. No, that doesn't mean we are free to keep on sinning. That means we are free to follow God into righteousness (remember Abraham's example?), holiness, and eternal life.
Sometime after we were born we heard our first command ("No-No", "Don't touch that!") and disobeyed, and something in us died. What was to protect or purify us gave sin the opportunity to deceive us. The law of Moses was good, and in order for it to reveal and to condemn sin for what it is, the effect of the law was death, showing that huge separation between wanting to obey God and what we actually do. There is a battle going on within us - "In my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body..." (7:22-23) And, thank God, this is exactly what Jesus Christ rescues us from.
Within this life with Christ, there is a new law - the law of the Spirit of life, that sets us free from the law of sin and death. Moses's law did exactly what God intended it to do. Then at the right time, God sent "his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering." Sin is condemned. "Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." (8:5b) "If that same Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead dwells in you He shall quicken your mortal bodies." (8:11) We have an obligation to put our misdeeds to death because receiving and following the Spirit of God made us sons of God. He is our Abba. He is our Father. And we are co-heirs with Christ, sharing His sufferings and His glory.
What? We don't look like sons of God? We look frustrated and weak??? And you hear us groaning??? God knows that the purpose of frustration and waiting patiently is hope. We have the first fruits of the Spirit. We have Scriptural promises, and we trust the one who promised. We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to His purpose. (8:28) Remember what God said in Malachi about loving one twin and hating the other? God has always known our future, and His plan, and the process He would use to conform us into the likeness of His son. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (8:31)
Will "the accuser" change God's mind about us? No. Will our life be without trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword? No! Will what makes us more than conquerors spiritually be knowing that Father, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit together loves us? Oh, yes.
PRAYING 5:20-6:7 Father, I have learned that your grace increases in proportion to the increase of sin here on earth. And sin is greatly increasing in this world around me.
Lord, you say that from your point of view, I have died to sin. There is no reason for me to live in sin any longer. When I was baptised into Jesus the Messiah, I went under - buried - and then came up - resurrected into a new life. Wow! This is how I was united with the Lord both in his death and in his resurrection.
This is how I know that my old self was crucified with him so that my old body of sin could be done away with. This is Christ's solution to my sin. Hey - I can stop being a slave to sin, and not obey suggestions and ideas of things I now know aren't just or right to do. Anyone who has died has been freed from sin. And through believing in Christ the Messiah's death and resurrection, I have died and come back to life, too. What good news this is for me, Father!
What about Israel? "But Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation" (Isa 45:17a)
PROMISE: "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." (8:28)
Paul said he could have wished to be cut off from Christ for his Jewish brothers, the people of Israel. Look what is theirs: the adoption as sons, divine glory, the covenants, receiving the law, temple worship, the promises, the patriarchs, the human ancestry of Christ who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (9:1-5) God's word doesn't fail, but being a descendant of Abraham doesn't guarentee timely receipt or even any receipt of promises made to his heirs, because the promises were made to more and more specific family lines: Abraham's son Isaac but not Ishmael, then Jacob but not Esau. Don't forget, everything depends upon God's mercy and His choice, not your desire and not my effort. Focus. It's all about God. Israel stumbled in their pursuit of righteousness, thinking their desire and effort would make it happen. Whoever said "God helps those who help themselves" missed the focus here, too.
How does one replace their desire and effort with faith? Paul turned his desire for his Israeli brothers to be saved over to God through prayer. As was true of Jesus, the efforts and words of Paul's logic often fell on deaf ears.
Really, really wanting to be righteous isn't the same as submitting to God's righteousness, His way. Your way doesn't work, never has worked, and never will work. God does some things that He knows in advance won't work (see Deut 31:19-21), and He doesn't do some things He plans in advance to do (see Jer 18:7-12). But from at least Abraham through Moses on, He has asked those who would listen (i.e., the Jews) to have faith in Him - heart, soul, and mouth - and obey Him, even after blowing their first chances with Him. "Return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today" (Deut 30:2) "The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it." (Deut 30:14) Do you believe Jesus is Lord? Do you believe God raised him from the dead? Say so! This is all part of God's plan to send out His message through people who will preach to others who hear, believe, and continue the process by the faith that comes through God's message.
New Gentile Christians don't have the Jewish history or experience with the Lord to know what or who they lack. (see Isa 65:1-5) But using extreme measures is part of God's plan to prove He is Lord of the whole world. While saving a place in His heart for the Jews, the apple of His eye, God uses Gentile believers to make Israel envious. But arrogant Gentiles who think they are better than Jews will lose their place with God. The Lord is stern to unbelief, but He expects His kindness to believing Gentiles be met with kindness to Jews, including those who don't believe in Christ. Do you know which Jews will believe and return to God and which will not? Before getting conceited, Gentiles need to know that God has only hardened the hearts of Israel long enough for the pre-determined number of Gentiles to enter. "All Israel will be saved." (Remember how Jesus said when questioned about the future lives of Peter and of John, "What is that to you?".) "As far as the gospel is concerned, (Israel) are enemies on (the Gentiles') account, but as far as the election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable." (11:28-29) So Jews and Gentiles share this - their only salvation from disobedience is God's mercy.
"O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel." (Isaiah 18:6) PROMISE: "I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel." "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'" (Hosea 1:4b,10)
PROMISE: "Before Me every knee will bow; by Me every tongue will swear. They will say of Me, 'In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against Him will come to Him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult." (Isa 45:23b-25)
Father I come to you in spiritual worship, offering You my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to You. I give up trying to conform to this world. Instead, I come before you to renew my mind and be transformed, as Your word says. You promise that this leads to being able to test and approve Your good, pleasing, and perfect will.
I want to stop thinking of myself by any measure other than by the faith You have given me. This includes how I evaluate other believers in Christ. In Christ there are many believers, but we belong to each other and are one. Thank You for giving us different gifts through Your grace - prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to needs, leadership, showing mercy, whatever, to use by my portion of faith. Use and strengthen me in following Jesus's lifestyle, Lord, as I return to read these scriptures often and put them into practice. What a difference You have made in my life!
With Your guidance not to repay evil for evil, how to live in peace with others, and not to take revenge, I submit myself to governing authorities, realizing that You instituted authority. I pay taxes and respect because the authorities are Your servants. I pay my bills each month so all I owe is love. Thank you, Lord, that love fulfills the law. I know that what I do is seen, even if I think it's secret. Help me not to even think about gratifying my sinful nature.
Thank you, Father, for instructing me about differences in faith between believers. Who am I to judge Your servants on things like what they eat or don't eat, and what days they celebrate or don't celebrate? One who believes in You belongs to You. We are never alone. When we live, we live to You, Lord. When we die, we die to You, Lord. I know that Christ died and returned to life, making You Lord of the living and the dead. I'm not my brother's judge - each of us will only be asked to give our own account to You at the judgement.
Father, Lord, I stop passing judgment on other believers, and if something I do in good conscience before You upsets another believer as unclean, I want to love him or her and stop upsetting them. I know that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men." (14:17-18)
I will make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. My discipline will be to take it on myself - not to do anything that will cause my brother believer to fall because of how he or she regards things. I keep my beliefs between me and You, Father. Let me remember that someone with doubts about something (drinking? eating certain foods? smoking?) is condemned if he does them because it goes against his faith. Everything that doesn't come from faith is sin.
Paul encourages us to keep on training. Commentary by N Sween
PROMISE: "the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people" (Isa 11:11)
We use our faith and get stronger. Why? Well, not to stand around and flex our muscles, and not to appear as the "Strong Man of Faith" on the cover of a magazine. Remember, the strength of our faith has nothing to do with what we eat or don't eat, and drink or don't drink. Our faith grows stronger, not to please ourselves but, like Christ, to bear with the failings of the weak and to build up our neighbors. This life isn't easy. Insults aimed at God will fall on us, just as they did on Christ.
But we have help. "Everything that was written in the past (Old and New Testament) was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (15:4) Endurance and encouragement are from the Lord, and we can also ask Him for a spirit of unity among all followers of Jesus Christ. United, we all glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for His mercy. In mercy, Christ accepted you. That's how you are to accept each other. "Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy." (15:8-9a) Let God know how you feel and what you think. Make joyful noises - sing praises and hymns to the Lord.
Paul had a mission. Accompanied by the power of the Spirit with signs and miracles, he had proclaimed the full gospel from Jerusalem to the part of the Roman empire now called Yugoslavia and Albania. His top priority had been to tell people in the eastern empire who hadn't heard about Christ yet. This done, Paul planned to go on to Rome and Spain after first delivering church contributions to poor saints in Jerusalem (see Acts 19:21 and 20:1-21:17). "Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, (and) they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings." (15:27b)
After indicating sister Phoebe would be delivering the letter to Rome and greeting believers he knew in Rome, Paul gave this warning of discernment. There is a difference between those weak in the faith and those causing divisions and laying down obstacles of un-Biblical teachings. Keep away from them. They flatter and deceive you while serving their own appetites. Obey this and God will soon crush Satan under your feet. More believers send their greetings to the Romans. Finally, thank God for this mystery, taught by Paul, revealed by Christ, and confirmed by the Old Testament prophets - where God had hidden it in detail. Glory! Amen!
Special thanks to guest commentator David Jones, Missions Pastor, Cross Points Church (Full Faith Church of Love), Shawnee, KS
"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." (15:13)
Romans 15 - One mind, one heart and one voice
Paul is writing to the Romans and is addressing 2 sets of people. The believing Jew with their background of rules and regulations and the Gentile convert who had little or no restraint. Paul strongly encouraged each of them to look beyond their own cultural understandings and accept one another. Christ accepted them the way they were, should they not accept those who believed in Christ but walked it out differently than they did?
This message is no less important in today's world! There are many Christians who love Christ and believe in Him yet hold very differing opinions about the way Christians should behave in the society we live. There are Christian Democrats, Christian Republicans, and Christian Independents, those that have a strong desire to save the environment, others who think it will all burn up in the last day's anyway. Those that drink, others that are horrified by alcohol. Men who wear earrings, others who wouldn't be caught dead in any jewelry whatsoever. Some ladies who believe wearing make-up is a sin of pride and others who think that point of view is absurd. Some that watch movies, others that ban Disney. And the list goes on and on.
Paul through the Holy Spirit urges the believers to, "give perseverance and encouragement" to those that hold different opinions. He challenges them (and us) to be of the same mind with one another. What does that mean??? Simply put it means that we should all learn to get along with each other. It doesn't mean that we have to change our convictions but it especially means that we allow others to hold different viewpoints. It means that we should not alienate people who think differently and not shun others because they dress or act strange in our eyes. As we embrace one another and accept each other for who we are we honor God.
I believe Verse 6 is the climax of the chapter. With one mind, one heart and one voice we should glorify and worship God. We can only do this as we accept each other as we are. We do not accept and embrace sin but we do reach out and receive each other as Christ received each of us. Paul goes on to quote out of Psalm, Deuteronomy and Isaiah the prophecies of Scripture that one day Jews and Gentiles would worship God together! Peoples of all nations, all colors and races will give praise to God! At the end of time people from every culture will worship God. We will be kneeling next to people who will look different than us. We will be in heaven with Democrats and Republicans, Chinese and Americans, all who believe in Jesus Christ will spend eternity together.
As we begin to embrace one another we communicate to the world that we are Christ's disciples. The gospel of John quotes Jesus as saying, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" As this happens praise and glory go to God!
Chapter 16 - Watch out!
Paul again reaffirms what he has been talking about in chapters 14 and 15. Unity of the family of God is paramount. Paul is not talking about uniformity (where everyone acts, talks, and believes exactly the same thing!) God has made each of us unique in His image. Every ethnicity has a different cultural viewpoint that highlights the character and nature of God. Paul is not concerned about those that hold different viewpoints, have different cultural customs or those that interpret Scriptures differently than him. His concern is over division and strife. His admonition is to "WATCH OUT" for those that put obstacles in the way of growing in the faith. Be careful of those with hidden agendas those that seem so righteous and holy outwardly. To many, outward appearance and actions seem spiritual but remember Jesus railed against those with outward appearances of faith but inwardly their hearts were not transformed by God.
It is good for us to stay away from those that try and encourage us to hop on the latest heretical bandwagon - those that say, "he preaches too much about money, he teaches too much grace, he's too legalistic." Let us be careful to embrace each other in the warmth that Christ embraced us.
Paul eloquently ends his book with words that should ring in our ears. Be innocent in evil and wise in what is Good.
Father help us to love each other and get along with your children. May we not cause divisions but embrace our unique differences. May the Love and Grace of the Holy Spirit cause us to overflow with kindness that all may know and believe in Your Son Jesus Christ.