Watch for the Warnings

Lesson 40: Romans 10:18-21

Watch for the Warnings

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Living in Florida we hear a lot about hurricane warnings. Many thousands of lives have been saved by the amazingly helpful warnings. Thankfully, we have not had an actual hurricane hit our area for many decades. But we have seen the horrible results of those category five storms and smaller ones that skirt the coast. Precious lives have been lost, thousands left homeless, and damage in the staggering range of billions of dollars.

When the storms are over, there are always those who become cynical. Some in Florida have complained that they were evacuated needlessly. The foolish come to ignore the warnings and are likely to become future victims.

Some ignore warnings even when the danger is obvious and imminent. One news report showed a car entering a street flooded with water. Ahead was another car that had been caught in the rising water. Only the top of its roof showed above the surface. The approaching car entered the flooded street anyway. As the front of the car slowly dipped below the surface, the news commentator said, “Sometimes, you’ve got to wonder.”

When I was a scout, our troop often went camping in the snowy Western New York winters at the Schoellkopf Scout Reservation, near Cowlesville. One morning the lure of a freshly snow covered hill tempted me to break the rules. It had been a typical late night of telling silly jokes, trying to out-do one another with scary stories, and good natured torments of one another.

The next morning, while everyone else was still in bed sleeping it off, I ventured out with my sled to the top of the long sloping driveway that let to the meeting hall. We had been warned not to be out of the cabins until we heard the morning bugle.

The crunching of the freshly fallen snow under my boots should have been a further warning, but I pressed on to the highest point, imagining the fast ride I’d have as the first one down the hill that day. I stopped at the top and placed my sled on the ground aiming at the steep slope in front of me. I took a moment to notice the beauty of the rising sun glistening on the crust that had formed over the deep powder underneath — that was the last warning, which I also chose to ignore.

Without another thought I flopped down on the sled which began sliding faster and faster. The frozen crust on top of the snow was slick. As I picked up speed I steered along the road feeling the cold air blow past my face.

Suddenly something unexpected happened! My sled broke through the crust of ice and continued on through the loose snow underneath. However, laying on the sled, I was just about at the level of the ice as my face tore through the sharp edges.

It hurt a bit and I was quite disappointed that my ride came to such a sudden end. So I dug out my sled and trudged into the cabin where others were beginning to emerge from their sleeping bags and gather around the little pot-bellied wood stove. When I walked in everyone went silent and stood there staring at me in shock. “What happened to you?” was the first thing I heard.

I managed to work up a smile on my rather frozen cheeks. But someone handed me a mirror, and to my shock, my face was covered with blood. I had cuts from the ice all over my nose and cheeks which took weeks to heal. You can imagine my poor parents when I showed up at home after the camp weekend was over.

There are warnings all the time. It’s wise to pay attention to them. In our modern age we get advanced warnings of storms, fires and drought. We have alarms that tell us when burglars break into our houses or cars. There are the warnings of parents, teachers and consumer agencies. But even the good advice does little good if we ignore it.

There are spiritual warnings too, that God lovingly gives to alert his children. They come to us in God’s word preserved for us in our Bibles. We need to take them seriously. God also put examples in Scripture of how others have responded to the warnings. Ancient Israel had done very poorly with the cautions of the prophets.

The Gospel was not what the Jews expected, or wanted. They turned the promises of grace into works of merit and special privilege. It was hard for them to accept the words of the Prophets that predicted God’s judgment on them, and that there would come a time when all nations will be equally blessed by God.

In our last study in Romans 10 we saw that Paul wrote in verses 12-13, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’ ”

The Jews hated that message, and for it they persecuted the Christians. Romans 10:16-17, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Unlike the Messiah the Jews came to expect, Jesus came as a suffering Messiah. His gospel included the Gentiles as equals in God’s Kingdom. This was not a new message. There had been warnings included in the prophetic word they should have recognized.

Paul asked a question to get them to realize
how they had ignored the clear warnings.

Romans 10:18, “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ “

Paul was quoting a very familiar Old Testament texts from Psalm 19. In verse one it says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” Then in verse four it says, “Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. …”

The Psalmist was speaking of how God makes himself known to all in nature. Everything he made is showing his glory and divine nature. It is so clear that even the unbeliever is said to be without excuse for not honoring God as revealed. Paul said in Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

So if God proclaims his word in nature to all men indiscriminately, then why should the Jews complain about the gospel being proclaimed to all nations too? This is Paul’s reason for quoting this verse here. Have all heard? and are held responsible for honoring God? Absolutely!

Hengstenberg wrote, “the universal revelation of God in nature, was a providential prediction of the universal proclamation of the gospel.” If the word of God goes out to all by what he made, then the gospel should too.

This should not have been a surprise to the Jews.
They had been warned it would happen.

Romans 10:19, “But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: ‘I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.’ “

So was this new information for Israel? No. Moses had warned that God would use an ignorant nation to make Israel jealous. Paul was quoting from Deuteronomy 32:21, “They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation.”

God would stir up this apathetic and proud nation. The word translated “to make jealous” is qinnae (קנא), which means “to stir up to zeal, enthusiasm, passion.” The word translated “to anger” is ca’as (כעס), means “to irritate, provoke to anger.”

Israel had stirred the wrath and anger of God by idolatry. The god they were worshiping was not the same as the one described in their Bibles. As they had provoked him, God would stir them up specifically to a passion of anger.

There it was! a specific warning if Israel did not repent of her rebellious ways. God would use a nation that was not his people to stir them up. It was going to be a prophetic judgment, and the sign would be the use of the Gentiles.

That’s exactly the result the gospel produced. In Acts 4:1-3 we see what happened when the first offer of the gospel came to the Jews, “Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.”

As the gospel first started to spread, the book of Acts shows its results among the Jews. They were not content to not believe. They were stirred to rage over the gospel!

Acts 13:45, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.”

Acts 17:5, “But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

Acts 17:13, “But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

Acts 22:22, “And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”

Matthew Henry explains, “God often makes people’s sin their punishment.” In Romans 1:26-27 Paul said this directly, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

I wore scabs and marks on my nose and cheeks for weeks after my sled rebellion. My sin of not paying attention to the warnings brought a very natural penalty. It would have been fitting if God had given me over to do the same stupid thing again. But in his mercy, he didn’t. He taught me a lesson instead. I learned that it’s not smart to ignore the warnings when you see them.

More seriously people wear the scars of their sinful lusts and addictions in ruined bodies, shattered lives, and troubled souls. Israel was given over to the god she had cherished more than the true God. As you sin, God may give you over to your offensive behavior too! There is nothing so alarming than when a person who says he is a believer ignores God’s warnings. Particularly when he admits that something is sin, but continues in it anyway. That was the message God’s prophets brought to Israel that revealed her true lostness. That is the message that should send absolute alarm to the soul of any who hears it today.

Hearing the languages of foreign nations being spoken in their midst, was a sign to alert Israel. This is how God would sound his warning to the Jews for their unfaithfulness, that God would judge them by using the Gentiles.

This was predicted when Israel was still wandering in the wilderness. The warning is recorded in Deuteronomy 28:49 “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand.”

Isaiah said it again when the Jews rebelled in later times. In Isaiah 28:11 it says, “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.”

In the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, God marked the beginning of the New Era. The work of Jesus was finished, so the Temple, its priesthood, and sacrifices were ended. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Christians to mark God’s anointing of them as the ones he would empower to be Jehovah’s continuing Covenant People as the prophet Joel had predicted. This also marked the bringing in of Gentiles, and the end of the Jewish era. God supernaturally moved them to speak in other languages to confirm his warnings. As Luke records it in the book of Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

This special experience was repeated as the Gospel came to other communities in the first few decades of expansion. Some in Corinth corrupted this prophetic sign as if it was a special continuing gift. When Paul corrected them he quoted directly from the warning in Isaiah 28:11. In 1 Corinthians14:21 he wrote, ” ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord.” He added that last part of Isaiah 28:12, “yet they would not hear.”

Israel had not paid attention to the warnings of the prophets. They re-interpreted the signs into privileges, instead of indicators of danger and pending judgment. The covenant penalties were about to fall, and the Gentile era was about to begin.

Even today, some imagine the sign of speaking in tongues as a continuing gift for the church. They make the sign of judgment into a badge of spiritual pride. Those who believe that God moves people to supernaturally speak in tongues today, sadly pervert one of the covenant alarms. Though unknowingly, they turn it into a distortion of what God said it would be.

The gathering in of the Gentiles was
an amazing message of grace.

Romans 10:20, “But Isaiah is very bold and says: ‘I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ “

Again Paul used the Bible to show the Jews that God had already clearly warned them. He quoted from Isaiah 65:1, “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ To a nation that was not called by My name.”

God was to be found by those not even seeking him, by Gentiles. What a humiliation to those in the unbelieving nation of Israel, and an amazing display of grace, that totally undeserved favor of God. Israel had forgotten her own past. She had not earned her place as God’s nation. It was God’s sovereignly imposed covenant alone that made an unworthy race into a people so richly blessed. The Gentiles were no more undeserving than was Israel, or than is anyone. God’s sovereign right to save those whom he chooses is confirmed.

God’s warnings also show his
tender care that never fails.

Romans 10:21, “But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.’ “

God had patiently offered his warnings. Now he was giving this final prophetic sign to the Jews to call them to come back to his truths. Paul continued the quote from Isaiah 65:2 about God’s perseverance and longsuffering, “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts.”

God’s faithful love to his people continued, even though they ungratefully provoked him.

It is the foolish and immature who ignore clear warnings about dangerous things. There are flood victims who drive their cars directly into raging torrents of water. There are those who disable fire alarms so they won’t wake them up at night. Then there was that scout who took an early morning sled ride against the warnings of those in charge and the ominous signs that the hill was dangerous. There are those who read the warnings of Scripture about the offense our sin causes against God, of the judgments that will fall on those whose faith proves to be a deception, of the awesome price that was paid to overcome the serious consequences of our guilt, yet they continue in the same sin and self-arrogance imagining that somehow they will escape the consequences.

God’s warnings come to his erring children to call them back, not to torment them. Even a study like this one might be the sounding of a spiritual alarm in your heart. What will you do with that warning? Will you be like Israel and basically ignore it? Will you presume that since you are in a sound church, or have made a particular profession of faith, or been baptized into membership, or done some good things every day, or belong to a Christian family, that somehow God will count that as merit? Do you think you can impress God enough so that you can continue in sin with no consequences? What a foolish deception human hearts throw over the truth of God’s loving word.

Rather, when you see your sin it should humble you to think that by grace God loves you in Christ. Considering his undeserved mercy, and patient warnings, you ought to love him all the more!

How God has stretched out his hands to call you back when you wander. He has given loving warnings as a caring father to his children threatened with danger. He has been so loving and good, yet still he is relegated to such a low place in some lives.

He warns us that, though he bears long, he does not wait forever. In time the corrupt nature of some emerges above their empty claims. It becomes evident that they are not the Lord’s people at all.

Isaiah 5;3-6 tells exactly how that was to happen to unbelieving Israel, “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.”

By grace, God calls you to be a loving and faithful part of his family. But his call also transforms your soul so that his warnings will not go unheeded. When you sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit it should be great cause for thankful praise that God is indeed your Father and persistently warns you as his child.

Prove that conversion by responding with sincere repentance and a passion for pleasing God in all you think, say, and do.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

An Unexpected Deliverance

Lesson 39: Romans 10:12-17

An Unexpected Deliverance

by Bob Burridge ©2011

The way things really are may not be the way we expect them to be. Sometimes our strong but wrong expectations make the reality rather unwelcome.

For example, people have always watched the stars move across the night sky slowly toward the west making a complete trip across the sky every night. The next night each star rises about 4 minutes earlier than it did the night before. By the time a year has gone by, the stars movements would have completely cycled around to the same positions in the sky they had the year before.

Even in the most ancient of times people noticed the way the moon seems to move around the earth once a month. They saw five other lights in the sky that seemed to wander around us on unique paths. They called them planets, which means “wanderers”.

To explain it all, including such things as eclipses, became confusing. The problem was that they had it all worked out in the wrong way. They assumed that the earth was stationary,and that all the objects in the sky revolved around the earth. The stars were imagined as imbedded on a large celestial sphere which wrapped around everything else. The moon, sun, and planets were each thought to be attached to clear crystalline spheres within that outer celestial shell. They assumed that each layer rotated around the earth, each a little larger than the one it surrounded.

The movements of the planets were not fitting that model so to make the system work they came to believe that the planets were rotating on clear disks around points on the rotating spheres. That still didn’t solve the problem so more circles had to be added. Still some observations just could not be made to fit. The scheme became very complex and hard to handle. By 1538, just a short time after the Reformation, the system required 79 interconnected spheres.

The wrong starting point produced a complex system that was very impressive and somewhat convincing. There was only one problem — it was not the way things really were.

When the answer came it was most unexpected and unwelcome. Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus found evidence that the sun was at the center of the system. It was the earth and the 5 planets that moved around the sun. Very soon after that Kepler added the idea that the planets orbited in ellipses, not perfect circles.

Many like Tycho Brahe rejected the idea on philosophical grounds. They insisted that it could not be true. Brahe thought that the Bible itself demanded that everything revolved around the earth. Of course the Bible teaches no such thing. The truth was not liked at all. The Copernican idea was condemned as heretical foolishness.

However, once the basic structure was settled, the measurements started to fit much better. Without all the spheres and circles orbiting points on other circles with off-set centers, things were much simpler. In time even the skeptics had to admit that the unwanted truth was unavoidable.

Of course we are still measuring the light from stars and distant galaxies trying to answer many remaining questions. But we are making better progress now that we have the right foundation.

The most important issue of all has also been commonly misunderstood. There is that question that concerns those who come under conviction of sin, “How can I be forgiven and become accepted by God forever?”

Our fallen nature will not see or admit the problem as it really is. Therefore wrong answers are assumed. Spiritually dead souls imagine all sorts of abilities they don’t have, and imagine rules that don’t exist. Even God’s word is distorted to protect an assumed scheme of things.

People often assume that, “God loves everybody and could never punish anyone eternally.” Some say, “We are all really good deep inside, we are all God’s children.” Some propose that, “if we live a good charitable life God would have to bless us.” So they adopt mystical religions, impressive rituals, self-denying lists of taboos, and think of all the good things they have done that should impress God.

Since they build their ideas upon a wrong foundation, things cannot fit together well. If we are all good deep inside, how can we explain why so many violent crimes are committed? Why do people tend to lie so easily and ignore responsibilities? How can they justify punishing certain actions and behaviors while still trying to respect all views as right? Supposedly rehabilitated criminals are set free only to commit more crimes. Morals tend to evaporate away as cultures progress from their beginnings leaving a seething pool of raging humanity. Abortions of humans are championed as a right to be protected while they make laws protecting unborn sea turtles. To cope with frustrations they cannot explain people turn to drugs, suicide, multiple marriages, unrestrained and unsafe sexual habits, alcohol-abuse, over-eating, gossip, addiction to TV and computer games, and many more conscience blinding activities to avoid facing reality.

God’s answer comes unexpectedly to the fallen human heart. The truth had been confused from the beginning. The prophets were hated and persecuted when they declared what the Creator revealed to them. When Jesus was born fulfilling the prophesies, the Jews stumbled at it because it did not fit their scheme of things, and the Gentiles hated it because it did not fit with their philosophy either.

But there it was — the great promise was fulfilled in a suffering Messiah. Fallen humans, both Jews and Gentiles, expected a formula for earning blessings and rewards, but God sent Jesus to die in his people’s place to give undeserved life to all he called to believe in him.

Today it is no different. The secularists imagine that no Savior is needed. Religionists imagine that the Savior did not finish the job, so they hope in altar calls, emotional decisions, mystical rituals, and good deeds.

The deliverance God provided was unexpected
both in Scope and Method

Romans 10:12-13, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’ “

God’s work of salvation was unexpectedly large in its scope. The Jewish teachers in Paul’s time expected a Messiah to bless them specially because they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had become proud and bigoted in their customs and heritage. They were sure that salvation required everybody to first convert to Judaism. They imagined a revolutionary Messiah who would overthrow Rome, humiliate the Gentiles, and give the Jews advantages over them. To make that idea fit the words of Scripture, the Rabbis had completely re-interpreted Moses and the Prophets. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:29 “Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

In Christ the difference between Jew and Gentile was being done away. The truth of the gospel brings salvation to all believers without distinction. There are no more national privileges in the Gospel. There is only one Lord, no other God, no other Sovereign by which anyone is saved.

Many Jews were highly offended at the challenge being made by the Christians against the distorted view they had of their special standing. When God began to bring in Gentiles without first requiring them to become Jews, it was too much for the Rabbis and their blinded followers. It stirred hatred and persecutions to save a system that was unraveling in the light of truth.

God’s work of salvation was also unexpected in its method. The abounding riches promised by God were to be for all those who called upon Him. This had always been God’s plan. The symbolic rites of Judaism were to teach what was to come. They were never a means of salvation.

The quote here came from the Old Testament in Joel 2:32, “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. …” Joel was announcing the judgment of the Lord upon unbelief, and the salvation of his true people.

The same verse was quoted by Peter at Pentecost as a clear reference to the Messiah’s Coming. Peter also gave the context that shows that Joel was writing about the era of the New Testament. Joel 2:28-29, “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; …”

Calling upon the name of the Lord as it is mentioned in these verses is equivalent with identifying ourselves with his work of redeeming his people. It is an exercise of a true saving faith. It is not just calling out with specific words. It is an expression of heart-trust, asking for deliverance and expecting it to come as God promised it would. That is what it means to be a believer, one who calls out to the Lord trusting in his promise.

Paul used the same quote in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:”

There Paul substituted the name of Jesus for the word Jehovah in Joel. This calling out is a humbling confession that drives a person to the one true Deliverer.

Salvation is neither inherited nor earned as the Jews imagined. It came by what we call “vicarious atonement”. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross. There he removed the offense by paying the debt of sin for his people. It is vicarious because he does it in the sinner’s place as their representative.

Faith is the means God uses in applying our salvation. He implants confidence in the heart which then trusts in the true way of salvation as it is learned.

The Gospel was unexpected in both its scope and method. The free offer of the gospel to all nations had always been God’s promise. The Jewish leaders and teachers were wicked to have rejected what had been so plainly revealed. Therefore, Israel as a covenant nation was without excuse.

This unexpected deliverance
employed very ordinary means.

Romans 10:14-15, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ “

These obvious logical steps which God ordained involved his people in the process. If you call trustingly upon the Lord, you must first believe the truth of his gospel message. If you trust in him, you must first have heard about him. In order to hear the gospel, someone must have presented it to you. If you have been presented with it, some “proclaimer” must have been sent by God to deliver that message. That is how God planned that his work of redemption would be carried out.

The Greek word for “preacher” is the participle kaerus-sontos (κηρυσσοντος). It means one who “announces, tells, proclaims, publishes, makes something known”. This is not just the formal preaching that ordained ministers do. It includes that, but more broadly it is a promise to all those who tell the gospel truth to others. It includes those who translate and publish Bibles or write books, those who teach it in the worship services and Sunday Schools, those who take it to foreign countries and help establish new churches. It is also the work of us all as we talk with our children, friends, and co-workers. Every faithful believer becomes a link in this important chain.

The sending spoken of here is not only the commissioning and supporting of missionaries. This may be included, but unlike its common use in missions conferences, there is nothing in this verse that justifies limiting it to that one special application. God sends us all to bring his truth to others who have not yet understood it. By that proclaimed word, God gives people understanding, implants faith in them, and moves them to call out to Jesus showing the reality of the faith he put into their hearts. We who are sent on this mission by our Redeemer must obey, even though there will sometimes be strong opposition.

This was Israel’s job to declare the truth of God’s salvation to everyone, but she disobeyed, became arrogant and isolated. When the day came to expand to the Gentiles, the corrupted Rabbis became persecutors of those doing what they should have been doing all along.

When we explain the gospel truth to others, we speak with God’s authority because we are telling his words. Jesus said in Luke 10:16 “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

This is a wonderful duty to which God calls his people. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ ”

Isaiah was speaking of those bringing news of release from captivity to Israel. That event represented the future coming of the promised Messiah to set his people free from sin. Those who were the enemies of God will be humbled by the undeniable power of the King of kings. The promise of deliverance, embraced or not, will be laid out before the whole world. A close reading of Isaiah showed that this included the extending of the truth about deliverance to the Gentiles too. Isaiah 52:10 says, “The LORD has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God.” This is how Paul uses the verse here.

Joy ought to be attached to bringing of the gospel message. The Jews who were angered by it, and found no joy in taking the truth to the Gentiles, showed that they were aliens from the true spiritual nation of God. Their feet were not on the mountains. They were propped up before them in selfish comfort.

As we take the gospel to those who are not already believers, we should never fear how they might treat us or what they will think of us. There will be those who oppose us whatever we do. It is far better to be the enemy of those who hate God, than to join his enemies and contribute to the confusion and silencing of the gospel.

Though God’s deliverance was not what they expected,
it was not a new idea.

Romans 10:16-17, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

God had foretold not only the bringing in of the Gentiles, but also the apostasy of Israel. When the Messiah came in the way he did, it was to most of the Jews an unbelievable series of events. They had so confused the message with their expectations that it seemed unacceptable.

Isaiah 53 foretold the coming of a Suffering Messiah. That is the chapter from which Paul was quoting here, “Who has believed our report?…” (Isaiah 53:1). Literally it means, “who would have believed the thing reported?” Isaiah was speaking of the unexpectedness of the Suffering Messiah which is described by the prophet in the verses that followed.

To the Jews it was a stumbling block. They assumed that salvation would have to be earned by keeping the law, by doing good works. They wanted a Messiah who would destroy Rome, and set up the Jews on an earthly throne. They wanted the Gentiles to be looked down upon as an inferior race of people. The truth was not what they expected or wanted to hear.

Like those who rejected the ideas of Copernicus, the truth about the Messiah was not appealing. It went against what they assumed was true. It meant that we humans are not as innocent or as powerful as it seems. The false ideas of of the fallen mind do not quite fit the reality we see around us, but in that spiritually blinded estate, the lies seem more appealing.

The gospel exposes what humans really need, but deny. It dashes the idea that someone could be redeemed by earning it through their efforts and choices. It shows that God is rightfully the judge of all who remain in their sins. It puts us all on the same level: Jew and Gentile alike, rich and poor, intelligent and slow of mind. This is a difficult message until the heart is changed by the inward work of the Holy Spirit.

So God sends us out as his people to tell the good news, even to those who do not see it as good. We are duty bound to bring it to as many as we can. It is not our duty to make them believe. It is our duty to tell them the facts as clearly as we can. It is our duty to pray for the Spirit to gather in all God calls to himself by grace.

God gives us a simple message, one that confounds expectations, but transforms the soul.

What is your mission field? It is where God puts you every day. It is made up of the people around you who are confused about the truth, those who cry out for answers but have a wrong system into which to fit everything.

How will you tell the message to those people? You can bring it up in your daily conversations with others as a caring friend. You can invite someone to coffee, lunch, or dinner where you can help them understand what it is like to trust in God’s promises.

When you have the opportunity, tell them the truth, not just what they want to hear. Speak humbly as one who knows he is as equally fallen in Adam as they are. Explain how salvation is promised by God himself, to all who call upon the true Christ in true faith.

It is by such simple obedience that Christ builds his kingdom. The right growth of a church is not found in attracting people to fancy architecture or entertaining programs. It is not found in social activities designed to appeal to every unique category in society. As helpful as these things may be, the real work of Kingdom growth is the gathering of each one who believes into a loving family in the Lord. There we each do our best to help one another. We should speak out when we can to spread the message about this wonderful truth.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

The Abused Blessings of a Corrupt Church

Lesson 33: Romans 9:3-4

The Abused Blessings of a Corrupt Church

by Bob Burridge ©2011

In chapters 9 through 11 in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul is dealing with the true nature of the church. This section of Romans presents a very different view of the church than the popular one both then and now.

When Paul became a Christian, he left behind the confusion of God’s word he had come to accept as a Pharisee. Some of his former Rabbi friends thought he had turned against God’s ancient church, but that was far from the truth. It was his love for the true church that troubled him so much. He called them back to what God had originally revealed about the coming Messiah.

He grieved deeply over their abandonment of the truth. The first 3 verses of Roman 9 say, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”

Paul cared deeply for the family of God, and for the reputation of his Heavenly Father. He was calling Israel back to the terms and promises of the ancient Covenant.

Israel had been entrusted with great privileges and blessings, but she had not honored God with them. She had perverted them and confused them. Israel was set up by God to display his glory to the rest of the nations. She was to preserve the promises and covenant for the time of the coming of Messiah. By the time Messiah actually came, she had for the most part corrupted what God entrusted to her.

Paul got very specific about the advantages God had entrusted to his ancient church in the next two verses.

Romans 9:4-5, “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

1. The first thing he mentions that God had
entrusted to them was their adoption as sons.

The Israelites were adopted as the special people of God and pronounced to be his children. For example, God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “Thus says the LORD: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’ ” (Exodus 4:22)

They were chosen as God’s family, by grace, above all the other nations. In Deuteronomy 14:2 it says, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

This did not mean that each Israelite was redeemed to new life and forgiven for his sins. The Covenant of God with the nation was external as a way of revealing his Sovereign glory. By circumcision each person identified himself with Jehovah and in a special way represented God in this world.

Some took on that covenant sign as if it meant far more. They assumed that simply by being a member of the ancient form of the church God would be bound to bless them, save them by their profession of his name only. However, they changed what God said, and by complex rules justified ways that offended God. They were rebellious children. As his family outwardly, they were specially held accountable.

This is one of the key ideas in understanding the whole Bible. It is central to understanding this next section of the book of Romans.

God establishes an outward church representing his blessings of grace. This outward organization of professing believers and their families is called the Visible Church. It is what we can see of God gathering a people to himself. It is the outward form God set up.

There is also an Invisible Church. This is made up only of those truly redeemed by Christ. These are those he saves from sin by the death of Jesus in their place. Since only God knows for sure who these are, and we cannot judge this without error, to us the boundaries of that membership must remain un-seeable, invisible. God gathers these saved ones into his visible church to live as a spiritual family, and there to represent him in the world.

All who are truly redeemed are commanded to join in the worship, fellowship, and discipline of the church. There is no biblical justification for believers refusing to be a part of the visible church. There is no biblical justification for thinking that all members of the visible church are redeemed.

The New Testament church continues that covenant body of believers. There is a new sign commanded to mark them out in the name of the Triune God. The sign of purification in the Old Testament has been fulfilled as it took the form of what we call “Baptism”. All who are baptized are marked outwardly as the children of God. God seals them as participants in his covenant. This does not mean that all who are baptized into the church are redeemed individuals. We must avoid confidence in the mere outward form of Baptism.

All Israelites were called to be part of God’s covenant nation, but not all Israel is true Israel (Romans 9:6). The members of the covenant are both those who receive its blessings, and those who receive its curses. A church is only honoring to God if it church honors God’s word and ways. The majority of Israel had abandoned its true spiritual family obligations in Paul’s day. There are those churches today which are a false family too.

Being called outwardly the sons of God is a wonderful privilege. However, we need to be legitimately adopted children of God, born again spiritually so that our profession is not just outward, but comes from a converted heart. We show evidence of this transformation by caring for the rest of the family, and respecting the truths our Father has entrusted to us.

2. God had given glory to Israel.

Jehovah had shown his glorious presence in the midst of his chosen people. He appeared on Mt. Sinai, showed himself as their protector in the fire and the cloud, and revealed his glory which filled the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-2).

The glory of Israel was the glory of God which was shown among them. His presence distinguished them from all other nations. Deuteronomy 4:33-36 says, “Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire.”

Sadly, they turned his glory into something abstract and magical. They took comfort in the outward appearances, but ignored the spiritual realities they represented.

God’s glorious presence among us in the church today is shown in a different way. It is no longer shown in voices from heaven, pillars of fire, and clouds. It is shown in three basic ways. God is seen among us in the pure preaching of the Bible which is his holy word. He is seen in the elements of the Sacraments when rightly administered. And he is seen in the lives of his redeemed people as taught, led and comforted by the faithful shepherding of church leaders ordained to represent Christ’s headship.

The corrupted forms of the church today abuse these advantages. The Bible is used by some only as a source book for arguments, or as a book of inspirational stories and quotes. The sacraments are either reduced to mere symbols, or elevated to magical ceremonies. The church authority structure is modified to fit various political theories and business models. The glory of God’s presence is therefore obscured and turned into a mockery.

Being privileged to bear these signs of God’s glory among us, we need to make sure we preserve them faithfully to the honor of our Heavenly Father.

3. God made the Covenants with Israel.

The word “covenant” in the Old Testament is the ancient word berit (ברית). It means a solemn set of promises imposed by a Sovereign Lord upon the threat of death. There was always a symbolic shedding of blood when a covenant was ratified. It symbolized the just punishment deserved by covenant breakers.

God’s covenant to redeem some from the fallen human race was special. He would come as Messiah to suffer the punishment in place of his people. This is called the Covenant of Grace. There is only one such covenant in Scripture. God made it known in stages, each time revealing more about his plan, each time ratifying it with those he chose to bring it to his people: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, then finally Jesus Christ and his Apostles. In each case it was the same Covenant of Grace, but an ever-clearer picture of Redemption.

Nothing more clearly marked out Israel as special to Jehovah than that in her era she was the special object of God’s gracious covenant promises. The Christian Church is the present form of that same covenant. We live in the predicted age of the Messiah’s Kingdom as promised and described by God through his prophets.

Israel had confused the meaning of God’s Covenant. She assumed that the outward advantages of living under God’s protection as a nation were all the covenant was about. However, the outward form was to illustrate what God does for individuals by grace. Being in the visible covenant nation of Israel no more removed a person’s guilt before God, than does being a member in the visible Christian Church today.

Those today who bear the covenant sign of Baptism, and who come under the care of the shepherds in a local church, and yet do not come to trust in Christ alone as their Savior and Living Lord, bring disgrace upon Jehovah and his covenant. They bring further condemnation down upon themselves.

As Covenant Children of God we need to restore the ancient promises and duties. We should trust in the amazing Grace that is ours by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

4. God had entrusted Israel with his written law.

The term used here is not just a reference to law in the narrow sense of rules and punishments. It encompasses all that God has revealed to us as a standard by which everything we believe and do is to be tested. These principles are not just to be looked upon as mere literature. Anyone from any nation could get a copy of the written word of God.

This verse has to do with God’s act of giving a revelation which was unique to Israel. God gave his word to his people through the prophets, and by his own hand on Sinai. Though they were the nation God trusted to guard his word, they had added their own ideas and corrupted its teachings.

The church today is also entrusted with the Bible as God’s revealed truth. Bibles are more available today than at any other time in history. They are sold in astounding numbers, and are electronically available free for home computers, smart phones, and tablets.

The church as a whole has not guarded God’s word as he has commanded. Some new translations change the text to fit man’s own ideas of what he thinks it ought to say. One current trend is to take out the male language about God so that he might be our Mother God as well as our Father. This misses the whole point of why male language is used, or why maleness even exists. They re-word the commandments to permit homosexuality, promiscuity, and divorce.

In many churches the preaching of the word is neglected. Instead of a systematic teaching from the Scriptures there are only brief homilies on morals, self-esteem, personal psychology, or social problems. At the other extreme the only message some hear preached week after week is how to be born again and do evangelism.

God has given his people a written word to love and obey. We need to learn and re-affirm the full range of teachings given to us in God’s word.

5. The services were entrusted to Israel.

The word translated here as “services” is latreia (λατρεια). It means the forms of worship God commands. By his word, God has always regulated how his is to be worshiped. Israel had desecrated the forms and attitudes God called for in gathered times of worship as a congregation. The Lord did not just prescribe what was to be done outwardly in the Temple. He made it clear in his word that only certain practices and motives please him when his people gather for worship at the call of the Elders.

The Jews had misrepresented the Sacrifice as a means of removing sin without a Savior. The creeds of Israel’s faith were no longer the biblical teachings, but the doctrines of Rabbis. The tithes and offerings were supplemented with other means of getting money for the ancient church. Their prayers had become proud declarations, instead of humble confessions of gratitude. Israel had so confused worship, that the temple itself would be destroyed in God’s judgment. The final destruction of this desecrated structure took place by the Roman armies in 70 AD during the ministry of the chosen Apostles.

Today the corrupted form of the visible church has turned worship into a time of entertainment, morality lectures, and mystical sights, sounds, and experiences. The goal is to get more people to come, instead of to give God glory in the ways he asks. Instead of the mandated reading of God’s word, prayer, psalms, creeds, sacraments, collections, benedictions, calls to worship, the leadership of Elders, and an atmosphere of holy respect, their worship includes new inventions added to the elements given in God’s word. Some of the new elements are outrageous. They have been known to bring in mimes, magicians, clowns, dance troupes, skits, film-clips, and pyrotechnics. Some do not even know that the Bible has a lot to say about the elements of worship. The current ignorance of God’s word is no excuse.

As those who are given the form God calls for in worship, our duty is to maintain the services God has given. Otherwise we will be like the popular, but unfaithful nation of ancient Israel.

6. God gave the promises to Israel.

There were many promises specially made by God to the Jews, particularly the ones about the coming Messiah.
The word “Christ” is our Western form of the Greek word Christos (χριστος) which means “anointed”. The Hebrew word for “anointed” is Mashiakh (משיח). In the time just before Paul, they had killed this Anointed One who was the greatest promise of all. In spite of the promises, they rebelled again and again to the disgrace of the God who blessed them.

Similarly, many in the church today redefine the promises made to them. They replace them with things they wish were true, things borrowed from paganism, humanism, and from a terribly uninformed reading of the Bible. Instead of God’s word about forgiveness of sin, inner peace, and the future hope of glory, people flock to hear a gospel that promises health, wealth, and fun. Gone from many churches is the gospel message of God’s amazing grace.

What God has promised is better than all the health, wealth, and emotional experiences one could imagine. Like unfaithful Israel, we need to return to the promises God has actually given us, and again behold the superior value of what our Creator said are the most important things.

7. Israel had the ancient fathers as their heritage.

It was from the Covenant People of the time before Christ that we have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, all those ancestors who are the spiritual teachers of us all. Paul was reminding the faithless Jews of the blessed heritage God had given them. Tragically, just as their ungodly predecessors persecuted the Prophets, they were now persecuting the Christians, those continuing to put their whole trust in the promised Messiah.

We have a wonderful heritage as God’s people. We need to treasure that history.

8. And from Israel came the Christ, God’s Messiah.

This promised Savior came from the Jews. He was an Israelite according to the flesh, yet they turned from this great honor and crucified him. He was not only an Israelite as to his fleshly nature. He was also God by nature.

Romans 9:5b, “… who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

These words strongly affirm the deity of Jesus Christ as the Sovereign Lord over all. No other interpretation of this fits the grammar, the flow of the context, or the argument Paul is laying out for them here.

Many who call themselves the Christian church today do not believe Jesus was the eternal God. They have stripped him of his deity, and made him a mere example of kindness, and a lonely martyr.

God had richly blessed ancient Israel with wonderful advantages, but she had traded them for superficial substitutes. The time had come for Israel as a people to give an accounting before God. Paul was not teaching that God was abandoning his true people. He was warning the corrupted ones in Israel that they had rejected God’s promised Messiah. He was calling them back to the principles and promises they had abandoned. As a nation they had drifted far from what they were called to be, so they were soon to lose that national privilege. The true church within the corrupted nation would grow beyond racial and national boundaries to include believers from all groups of people.

The churches today also have great advantages. To them is entrusted wonderful blessings as the called out visible body of Christ. But to those who bear the name of Christ’s church in vain, to those who re-write the promises to fit their own self-centered dreams, to those who would rather be comfortable than faithful, to them is promised the just and certain wrath of God.

We are called to represent God’s covenant family as those transformed by Christ. What kind of children are we in God’s family? Do we live to honor him? or to dishonor his name? The health of the church as a body is the health of the parts of that body. Each of us in our daily lives must appreciate, guard, restore, and represent the truths God has revealed to us in his word. We must strive in the power of our now Resurrected Savior to bring this gospel to those who are still in darkness. We ought to live as those who no longer belong to themselves, but to the Savior who bought them with the price of his own life.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

The Tragedy of the Superficial Church

Lesson 32: Romans 9:1-5

The Tragedy of the Superficial Church

by Bob Burridge ©2011

While I was pastoring a church here in Florida, I took a sad phone. Unfortunately it was not all that unusual. A woman was looking for help from a church. She asked how our denomination (the PCA) differed from other Presbyterian denominations. I wasn’t sure at that point if she was concerned about certain issues, or if she just saw different designations in the phone book.

At first I gave her a rather simple answer. I explained that we have great respect for the Bible’s authority and teachings. I told her that we hold to the conviction that it is God’s word filled with encouragement and help for the lost through the work of Christ. We try to follow what God tells us there about what we should believe, and how we ought to worship and live. Then I added that by grace alone God forgives things we have done in the past, and makes us his children by his unfailing love and infinite power made possible by only one thing, the death of Jesus as our Savior.

She said she didn’t care about any of that. All she wanted to know was did we have a large budget and active committees. She said she wanted a church to care for her financially, particularly for a family member’s psychological care.

When I explained about pastoral care, the biblical counseling we offer, and the importance of a church family, she politely said that was not what she needed, and that she would keep looking. That ended the call. She was not interested in what the Bible had to say. She wanted material benefits. That is what she thought the church was all about. She reflected a tragic fact about what is often seen as “Christianity” today. The biblical concept of the church is to a large degree lost.

Confusion about how God deals with his people has existed in every era of human history since the fall in Eden. We see this sad distortion of God’s promises in the days of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostles. It is tragically there today. Many churches which call themselves “Christian” simply are not according to how God himself defines it in his written word.

Four Kinds of Confusion

There are basically four major ways in which what is commonly called the church often becomes confused about itself. The same ancient errors Paul was addressing among the four sects of Jews in his era, are reflected in the world today. This is the focus of the section of Romans we now come to in this series of studies, chapters 9-11.

The first group is like the ancient sect called the Saducees.
Today, most of the large denominations believe the Bible is a flawed book. They say that we can find encouraging ideas in the Scriptures anyway. They see Jesus as just a great teacher, leader, and example of love, but not as God who took on human flesh to pay the price of sin for his people. They believe that social action and community involvement make up the real gospel. They see our belief in salvation as nothing more than bigotry and superstition. To them the most evil doctrines are those that teach that God holds us accountable for our sins, and that trust in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.

This is classic religious liberalism and post-modernism. They worship a god who is not much more than an undefinable cosmic force. They put their faith in the physical sciences, psychology, sociology, and politics, yet throw in enough mysticism to keep the congregations feeling they have spiritual help.

I remember talking with a young man studying for the ministry in one of the large main-line denominations. He said he did not believe there was a real God, but he would talk about God to his congregation because most people need that kind of belief to face their struggles.

These humanistic churches believe that man is the center of all values and concerns, not God. They empty religion of any real truth and spiritual life. Yet for some reason they like to call themselves “Christians.” They confuse the watching world, and desecrate the honorable name of the Savior.

A second group today is like the Pharisees.
They believe that man determines his own future by his choices and decisions. They see God as a beggar for our souls, pleading to make his work on the cross successful. They emotionally sing about the Holy Spirit, but to be consistent they ought to be singing about their own permission which is really why they believe God blesses some and not others. To them grace is a good word, but its meaning has been lost, because it goes against what they would rather believe about themselves and about God.

They are moralists, mystics, religious humanists believing that man dictates to his Creator. Yet they claim they are the true Christians. They confuse the watching world with a message that makes them feel in charge of their eternal future.

Today many openly reject most of what is revealed in the Old Testament by saying it was just for the Jews. That makes it easier for them to deny the plain meaning of the New Testament texts that go against their theology. They ignore the fact that Jesus, the Apostles, and the New Testament writers all quoted the Old Testament as God’s support for their teachings. To them it is as if God regretted his first attempts to reveal himself, so he instituted a new body of believers. They see the New Testament as one more attempt by God to succeed with lost mankind.

Some recent fundamentalist groups have gone way beyond the fundamentals. Like the Pharisees they make up long lists of sins, even longer than what God reveals in the Bible. Personal decisions and abstinence from a list of things forbidden replace the fruit of the Holy Spirit as evidences of regeneration. They have lost the idea of true religion as James describes it. Instead of hearts transformed by grace into being humble servants submitting to God’s revealed principles and provisions, they live for emotional mysticism set in motion by man’s own choices and material self-denials. They do not believe in a God who is the Sovereign Lord over all.

The third group is like the ancient cult of the Essenes.
They are the isolationists who will not submit to the church authority God himself places over them. They look to independent Bible studies, radio or TV preachers, and books for their spiritual guidance. They see membership in a local church as optional, or even hypocritical. They quickly and ignorantly dismiss biblical church order as mere “denominationalism”. They are left to disobey the many commands in the New Testament which require believers to respect and submit to Elders ordained to shepherd God’s church (Hebrews 13:17).

When they do come together to form churches, they use the methods of democratic-socialism. They water down the biblical offices to make them mere servants of the majority.

While saying they have “no creed but the Bible”, they have many man-made dogmas about the end times, what they consider worldliness, how to dress, and the arts, none of which are supported by a study of the Bible alone. Instead of being the salt of the earth, they fail to become involved in the world around them. They leave the movie industry to Hollywood, government to Washington, schools to the state, and TV to the Gallup polls.They form a closed culture, and just pull back ignoring the world as much as they can.

They are like the Essenes of Jesus time who went off into monastic desert camps. They are isolated cells calling people to come in, but then avoiding their duty to the world. Yet many see these extreme separatists as being Christians. They confuse the watching world about what Christianity is really about.

A fourth group is like the ancient Zealots.
Some have become violent revolutionaries. They become impatient with God’s timing and take the law into their own hands. They disobey police and defy the courts in illegal public demonstrations. They show anger and hatred but little mercy, no real humble repentance or trust in God’s grace. Some even set off bombs to kill unbelievers. They desecrate God’s holy law.

They justify breaking good laws because they want to protest bad ones. They will not represent the fruit of the Spirit toward those they perceive as the enemy. They will not even love their neighbor if the neighbor’s needs might inconvenience them. They judge others without biblical authority and reduce the glory of Christ’s kingdom to mere material victories limited to this fleeting world of our present age.

Yet these too are represented by the media and others as being “Christians”. They confuse the watching world and desecrate the honorable name of the Savior.

Many churches today are like those of the Jewish nation in the time of the first century.
Jesus contended with the popular preachers and the successful synagogues of his day. The Apostles were condemned, beaten, jailed and put to death by those who claimed to be the chosen people of God.

There are Super-Churches, growing in leaps and bounds. Tragically, many of them abandon God’s ways, trading them for what appeals to the values of those who will increase their numbers and budgets. They have the means to provide the programs and fun activities so many prefer over the true teachings of the word of God. They quote many portions of the Bible, but use them in ways that compromise their true message. They strongly appeal to expectations rather than to real spiritual needs. They are not super in honor or obedience when compared with God’s word. They are super in only one way, they are Super-ficial.

What is the True Church?

This next section of Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapters 9-11) deals with this problem directly. What is the true church? What is wrong with what most people think of as the church? What can we do to redeem the name of Christ from the disgrace of those who distort his church? What importance is the church to be in the lives of individual Christians and their families in very real daily struggles?

In Paul’s time Israel had fallen into a spiritually diseased condition. Though the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Zealots had all twisted God’s truth in serious ways, there were also those who still hoped in a suffering Messiah who would redeem men from sin. They understood the message of the Bible as it was intended. They were scattered throughout the Jewish world, and were not very popular. It was these faithful Jews who were rapidly becoming Christians forming the early church.

The rest of the Jews strongly criticized Paul as he corrected their distorted views. Paul was originally a Pharisee,
a Jew by birth, and a rabbi by training. When he discovered that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, the large majority of the Jews thought he had rejected all that God had said before. This was far from the truth.

He was rejecting the artificial teachings of a superficial church. He rejected their twisting of the law and prophets which led to their cultish ideas and ways. He had discovered by God’s grace, the fulfillment of the ancient promises in Christ. Real Judaism had been lost by the majority. Paul had found it again. More accurately, it had laid hold of Paul by the work of God’s marvelous grace.

In the first 5 chapters of Romans Paul showed that according to Scripture all were lost, and in need of redemption, Gentiles and Jews alike. He explained how the human race had fallen when Adam, who represented them, sinned.

He then showed that the only hope of being restored to fellowship with God was that the promised Messiah had come as a perfect Redeemer, that he died representing those God promised to bless, that in their place he satisfied all that God’s justice demanded. He found that aside from these ancient promise, there was no other way to be made right with God.

In chapters 6 through 8 Paul explained how Jesus Christ gives victory in the believer’s continuing struggle with sin. It is not by the works of the priests and the keeping of the law, but by spiritual transformation of the soul by grace. Real spiritual change produces repentance, a true faith, and a desire to live in God’s ways.

This did not mean that Paul was now an enemy of the Jews. Far from it. He was calling them away from their corruptions back to the original promises. He wanted an end to the confusing sects and their distorted denominationalism. He wanted them to understand his passion for them to become Christians, followers of the promised Messiah.

Paul was struggling with a sincere and deep grief in his heart over their condition. He was about to tell them something very hard for them to accept. Their distorted ways were bringing down the condemnation of God. They were confusing the world about what God’s Covenant was all about. Soon God was going to end their national privilege.

Paul’s Sorrow for the State of the Church

Romans 9:1, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,”

He begins this section of the book with a series of affirmations. The Jews needed to hear the truth. They needed to understand that there was something they had been missing, something good, something that could re-unite them around the gospel promise of a gracious covenant.

Paul wanted them to know how personal his compassion for them was.

Romans 9:2-3, “that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”

Paul uses the Greek word anathema (αναθεμα) which is here translated “accursed”. Literally it means something separated from something. The most common use in the Bible is of something condemned and rejected as offensive.

Paul is not saying that he really expected to redeem them by his becoming accursed by Christ. The original grammar here sets up an hypothetical condition: If it was possible for him to give up the greatest blessings God gave him, he would do it for the Jews, because of his deep concern for them as God’s covenant people.

Words should not be pressed beyond their obvious intended use. It would be foolish to think that Paul actually considered such an exchange to be possible. The plain meaning is sufficient when taken for just what it says and no more.

God’s blessings had been corrupted by the covenant people

Romans 9:4-5, “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

Israel had been entrusted with great national privileges and blessings, but she had not honored God with them. She had perverted them and confused them. Israel was set up by God to display his glory to the rest of the nations. She was to preserve the promises and covenant to prepare the world for the coming of Messiah. However, by the time Messiah came she had for the most part corrupted what God entrusted to her. [We will look into the specifics of these blessings in our next studies.]

The same is sadly true of many who call themselves the Christians today. They promote a different gospel and a different God. They hold forth beliefs, agendas, and values other than what is revealed in Scripture by God. Yet this is what the media, educators, our neighbors, and the world at large think of as Christianity. This is tragic! The message is so confused.

What did Paul do in this situation? The masses of Jews had totally distorted the message and the worship of God. Did he get depressed and give up? Did he learn to live comfortably with the unbelief of the Saducees? Did he give-in to the Pharisee’s man made rules and dogmas that implied man’s ability to manipulate God? Did he withdraw like the Essenes to create a little community wrapped up only in itself? Did he turn to revolution and join up with the Zealots?

There is a better way. He told the truth with great compassion and persistence. That is what we need to do too. We need to work on reforming God’s church. It is not enough to guard our own worship, feed our own family spiritually, make correct statements about morality and spiritual birth. We must represent the transforming work of Christ with true compassion to the lost, to our neighbors, families, co-workers, and to others who are part of the family of the Redeemed at large.

If God calls his people his “family”, there must be similarities with our earthly families. We manage our homes to protect against things that will do harm to our loved ones . We do not defend germs that might creep in. We try to keep things clean and healthy. We guide chidren as they grow up, rather than let them take dangerous or foolish chances. We do not allow guests to bring illegal things into our homes. Similarly we should love the church so much that we do our best to guard against wrong beliefs about the Bible, or having teachers who have a poor understanding of God’s word and ways. We should not tolerate clearly sinful behaviors that go uncorrected.

The church is Christ’s family. It is to be organized and run for the benefit of the children he loves. It is to preserve the dignity of God, and the principles he teaches us as the Father of our spiritual family.

The True Church in Romans 9-11

In these next studies in Romans 9 through 11 we will see a view of the church which is very different from the one that most see today, perhaps different from what we ourselves expect to find.

Our goal and duty is to come to God’s word ready to be taught, ready to abandon every idea not found in his written testimony. We should be ready to faithfully trust in, and to boldly obey what ever we find in our Bibles, ready to improve our understanding of the wonderful message we have for the world.

Our job is to lead others to the shelter of the faithful church of Christ. That is where God promises to administer true peace and comfort to his children.

Our own little children do not need candy for food, lies to built their dreams upon, or pain killers instead of doctors to make them feel healthy when symptoms come. Neither do people need churches with entertainment instead of worship, false but comfortable doctrines, or promises that cater to their feelings only. They do not need churches considered to be good simply because they have big budgets and big committees. They need a gospel with a big Savior and a church that humbly trusts in him.

We do not help hurting sinners with promise God has never made. They need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We cruelly deceive the lost struggling soul if we offer deadly pacifying substitutes. People may want to be entertained, but they need the blessings of the Covenant of Grace.

Let us make Christ’s church what God wants a church to be. We are commissioned to diligently call others to join us in a restored worship of Christ as a faithful and thankful family of God, upholding one another in the promises which cannot fail.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Lesson 28: Romans 8:18-27


by Bob Burridge ©2011

In my study I have an old time-worn teddy bear sitting on a shelf along with my books. When I was little more than a year old I named him “Mike.” We have no idea where I got that name. We didn’t know anyone named Mike. Today he looks a bit thin and limp. I don’t know where the long lost stuffing has ended up, and like his owner — he has a lot of hair missing. I dimly remember clinging to him in those lonely times when children feel alone. In a child’s way, Mike became a symbol of that need we all have for something secure.

Of course it was my family, not Mike, that actually guided me through the difficulties of growing up. As I got older my family expanded to take in my wife and two children. We stood together through those challenges that come along in God’s providence.

Nothing we cling to in this world around us is perfect and infallible. We imperfect people often need to give comfort as well as receive it. Mike was just a stuffed toy. Our family members, friends, and we ourselves are mere humans saved and kept by God’s grace alone. Through these flawed but important earthly channels God displays his care for us, and sees us through. It ought to be to him and to his promises that we look for security and unfailing comfort in times of need.

We live in a world that often makes us very much aware of that deep need for security and comfort. It is a place full of changes. The things we rely upon and take for granted today may be gone tomorrow. Sometimes tragedy seems to close in around us like a dark cloud. We feel empty and isolated. Our plans for our futures may suddenly change taking us down paths we had never imagined. Familiar things are taken away needing to be replaced with new things. As a pastor I stood by many of the people in my congregation through times like those. They stood by my family and I when we faced deep losses too.

Living here means needing to find ways of coping, dealing with changes, handling daily disappointments in ourselves, in our friends, and in our community.

Tough and uncertain times make us aware of how much we need comfort and security based upon something that is certain to always be there reliably. Our Lord has given us a hope that is so great that nothing in this fleetingly short life can dim its promises. If only we could, in those hard times, fix our eyes effectively upon that for which all this is preparing us.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians
he directed them to that hope.

Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

What we suffer through in this life is brief compared with eternity. In that day there will be no more losses, no tragedies, no unwelcome changes. Infinite and eternal blessings will dwarf our present struggles.

God encourages us with a glimpse of what lies ahead. He has often done that for his people. Israel was able to see fruit from the land of Canaan which was brought back by the spies. It was to encourage them while they were still in the wilderness with memories of Egyptian slavery. Many missed the message and doubted God’s promise represented by the fruit. Those who believed pressed on until the land became theirs. The Disciples saw the transfiguration of Jesus Christ as a foretaste of glory. That prepared them to face the trying years of ministry ahead.

Paul could say “I consider …” as he began this verse because he had suffered so much personally. The Lord privileged him to see a bit of the glory that lies ahead for us all.

In Christ, and through God’s word, we can see in advance the fruit of the “heavenly Canaan.” It is encouraging to think upon the divine promises when we face times of trouble. If we become so focused on our own sufferings that we hardly see our Lord’s promises, we miss the consolations that outweigh the discomforts of this life.

With our eyes fixed upon this hope, it helps us to keep things in perspective here. It helps us understand that our loving Father is preparing us to live with him forever. The pains we go through help us grow into the image of Christ. They are to discipline us when we get out of line before our foolishness and doubts cause us greater harm that we anticipate.

The hope of glory helps us keep our values straight too. If we treasure these material, temporary things too much we forget the greater value of the treasure laid up for us in heaven forever. We need to remember that this is not our Canaan. It is not our land of rest. Even the best things here are only a foretaste of the glories that will be ours forever. When tempted by the fleeting things of this world, we should remember to say to them, “No. It’s just not worth it.”

Moses gave up the glories of Egypt, the “pleasures of sin for a season”, because he looked at the outcome of all things, the reward that was ahead (Hebrews 11:25-26). Even King David, when he looked to this world as his standard, was confused by the temporal prosperity wicked. But he saw their end and the future glory of God’s people (see for example Psalm 37:9-22).

When we look to God’s promises, we find that consolation that bears us through. Not only will we behold his glory when all things are completed at our final day of reward, we all so will be the redeemed testimonies to all the inteligent creatures of God. In us and unto us God’s wonders and grand attributes will be displayed in richer detail than we can anticipate in this life.

Creation itself longs for the day when it will be set free.

Romans 8:19-22, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

The “creation” Paul speaks of here icludes the material world of things and animals. It is not specifically speaking of men, angels, or a combination of them. We know that rocks, roaches, and rain have no emotions or consciousness of suffering. The expressions here are figurative and poetical. They are a “personification,” a common figure of speech where things are described with human characteristics to help us understand through terms with which we are familiar. God often does this in his word.

Isaiah 55:12, “… The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Jeremiah 12:4, “How long will the land mourn …?”

Isaiah 49:13, “Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.”

The mountains cannot literally shout for joy. The trees have no hands to clap. The land does not actually weep in mournful cries. However, there is an anticipation in creation itself related to the hope that awaits us.

When God made all things, he declared them “good” — suited to what he made them to be. When Adam sinned a curse came upon all the earth. It became subjected to “futility” or “vanity.”

When God created Man, he gave him dominion over all that was made. He was to represent the rule of the Creator, the Sovereign King. Man’s job was to subdue all things for God’s glory. When mankind became corrupt, humans abused their dominion. The things God made became tools of sin and self indulgence. Creation was used to serve evil instead of good. Dr. Haldane says about the created things mentioned in this verse, “they have become subservient to the criminal pleasures of man and are the victims of his oppressive cruelty.”

There is a hope of deliverance for creation. The things God made groan anticipating the revealing of the sons of God. The “groaning” should not be thought of as a vocal moaning as we use the word today. The word here has to do with the emotion of agonizing.

The Greek word is stenatzo (στεναζω). It comes from the root word stenos (στενος) which means “something narrow or constricted”. We use “Stenosis” today as a medical term. Stenosis of the heart’s mitral valve is a hardening or narrowing of the opening of a valve in the heart that restricts the flow of blood into the left ventricle.

The word picture Paul uses is of agonizing to squeeze through a narrow opening. Creation groans in its agonizing struggle through these times of sinful abuse by man.

The suffering of the soul as it strains to get through hard times is a spiritual stenosis. It is compared with the straining pains of childbirth in verse 22. The process of child labor is hard and agonizing, but there is a promise that helps the mother endure it — the birth of that baby.

Creation has a promise too. One day its misuse by fallen man will end. Those who are the sons of God will be completed into the likeness of Christ. The heavens and earth will be renewed and set free of that abuse to declare fully the glory of the Creator.

There is a deep longing with in us too
as we look toward that day of promise.

Romans 8:23-25, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

God’s redeemed children also groan toward the promise of full salvation. Salvation includes all the benefits of our redemption in Christ. In one sense all believers in Christ are already saved. They are immediately delivered from their guilt and bondage to corruption. In another sense all believers are being saved. They are being sanctified more and more as they are set free from the ways of sin which remain in this life. In another sense all believers are yet to be saved. When we are raised up at the coming again of Jesus Christ we will be delivered from all the workings of corruption, and transformed into glory. Then we will be free from all sin and suffering. It is in this sense that the Bible says “he that endures to the end shall be saved.”

Hope is at the center of this whole passage. It is the focal point. Hope has to do with things yet future, things net yet seen by us. It is meaningless to speak of hope in things we already have. It points toward wonderful things yet to be enjoyed.

In this way Hope is contrasted with faith. By faith we believe God’s promises. By hope we expect to receive the good things God has promised. The object of faith is the promise that is present with us now. The object of hope is future and unseen, it is the reward yet unrealized.

Therefore faith is the foundation for hope and precedes it. Faith is a convincing certainty. Hope is a comforting expectation.

Paul says, “in hope we have been saved.” Some translations say we are “saved by hope”. That is not as accurate. Hope is not the way of salvation. It is the fruit of it, and the promise of its final results. Faith, not hope, is the means of our laying hold of the promise of Christ. It is by means of this faith that we are justified.

Only those who are redeemed can have this strong expectation of things yet to come. God does not implant true faith in the hearts of the lost. Without that foundation, hope becomes just wishful thinking, a vain vision of possibilities. To the believer, hope is founded upon the word of God himself. This hope is called an “anchor for the soul.” Through storms of doubt and tragedy it keeps us from drifting from the things promised.

Hope also generates patience in us (verse 25). By it we persevere through the trials and the agonies of this present life.

To confirm the promised blessings, he produces in us certain “first fruits”. Paul’s readers would have known the historic meaning of that term. Jews were required to bring the first fruits of harvest to God as a thank offering. It meant several things. On the one hand it was a way of showing faith in God as the giver of all things. On the other hand it was God’s pledge that the rest of the harvest was yet to come. The spiritual fruit produced in us is a pledge of what God promises to complete in us one day.

The Holy Spirit also helps us anticipate
the glory that is ours to come.

Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Spirit helps our weaknesses while we are yet not in full possession of what lies ahead. He intercedes in groanings too deep for words. Groanings, as we have already shown, are not sounds. They are agonizings and longings. Those who look here for support that the Spirit stirs us to pray in special prayer languages, in the tongues of angels, not only misunderstand the passage, they miss the promise given to us here.

It does not mean that the Holy Spirit prays for us as Jesus does. Jesus is our intercessor in heaven. He represents our needs to the Father. The Holy Spirit is our intercessor here, in our hearts. He moves us to pray as we ought. He affirms the truth of God’s promises in us, and causes us to call out to our Heavenly Father.

God searches our hearts. In our fallen condition we do not know what is best for us, or how our needs are best met. David said, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:4).

When we are confused about the will of God, the Spirit in us knows. He is God! He is omniscient and alone knows perfectly the decreed outcome of all things, and the holy way to those ends. He brings to pass that for which he leads us to pray. The Holy Spirit always works in perfect harmony with the will of the Father. 1 John 5:14, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

This is our great expectation. While we agonize here through the struggles of life in this world, we have a great hope.

The focus of our heart is Paul’s great concern for us here. If we mind earthly things, what we gain here, what we feel at the moment, then our struggle will be hard, agonizing, uncertain, and unrewarding. If we mind God’s promises when we think about what lies ahead, and live for the things yet to come, when we obey the ways of God, and hope in his certain rewards, then we will have strength to endure all the way to the end.

Turn your eyes to the hope that is yet to be realized in us as the children of God. Hope in the things promised, and think about them a lot. This will carry you through the toughest of times. It will bear you through and ease the burden of what you face in this relatively short and fleeting moment.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Life of the Soul Set Free

Lesson 25: Romans 8:1-13

The Life of the Soul Set Free

One day each of us, every human without exception, will stand before the Judgment Seat of our Creator. It will not be like the courtrooms we are familiar with here on earth. It will not be a time of making decisions, or presenting arguments. It will be a time of revealing eternal determinations. In that day you will stand before the perfectly Holy God who made you.

As we have seen in the first chapters of Romans, the charges if read aloud would be something like this: “You are a descendant of Adam. Along with all others naturally descended from him and represented by him there in Eden, you have inherited inexcusable guilt. This corruption which was yours since conception has produced a sinful life. Perhaps you have not been perceived as wicked in the eyes of other humans. Likely you have not all lived a life of civil crimes, open blasphemy, or blatant immorality. But your life has failed to honor God as you should have. As Romans 3:23 declares, ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ ”

Based upon God’s revealed moral principles you must be condemned forever. Anything less would be injustice.

The gavel is raised. As it falls you know only one verdict would be fair: Guilty as charged! Only one sentence would be consistent with God’s pure character: Death for eternity! That death sentence is not mere annihilation. It will not be some comic book or Hollywood version of hell. It will be an unrelenting torment, and an unending separation from God’s comfort and joy forever.

However — when the judges gavel falls, what an astounding judgment stuns the court! He says, “You are in Christ Jesus, therefore there is now no condemnation!”

This is what Paul tells us clearly in Romans Chapter 8:1-4.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The word “law” is not only used to describe sets of rules in God’s word. Another common way the word is used is to describe a principle at work. We use it this way today for principles we see at work like “the law of gravity” or “the law of supply and demand.” Here in verse 2, it identifies two principles that operate in the hearts of men: the Principle of the Spirit of Life, and the Principle of Sin and Death.

The principle that originally condemns
us is the law of sin and death.

The standard by which we will be judged is God’s Moral law. This law is as a set of moral principles which emerge from the Creator’s nature as it relates to his created world. The Moral law of God is summarized in the 10 Commandments, but is not limited to those representative situations. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:21-30, the sins pointed out here begin in the heart. Even personal hatred and extramarital lust violate the principles of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments. The standard is not only high, it demands absolute perfection. Since we inherit the guilt of Adam and a corrupt nature, no one can measure up.

Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ”

James 2:10, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”

Therefore God’s Law justly condemns us. Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” This is not just threatening us with physical death. It includes eternal spiritual death, which is separation from God’s blessing forever. The principle that condemns the children of Adam is that sin resides in, infects, and is at work in every heart, and that this offense demands a death sentence that never ends.

How then can we be found innocent when are all equally guilty? Certainly neither the Law of God, nor the principle of sin and death have the power to remove guilt. Paul says the Law is weak according to the flesh. Our depraved nature is unable to obey the law of God. This “fleshly life” of ours is out of touch with God. We are cut off from the flow of spiritual life which comes from our Creator to those who stand innocently before him. The law therefore can never be a way of salvation for the guilty.

Deliverance was never the purpose of the Law. The commandments were not given to redeem anyone. They were given both to expose our sin nature, and to prove our just condemnation. Their continuing benefit is as a guide only for those already redeemed so that they can know how to live in a way that honors God.

The other principle is the one that liberates us:
the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

This is what sets us free from that condemning principle. Jesus Christ laid down his life for his own people, paying the debt of sin in their place. As the “Second Adam” he represented those given to him by the Father. In their place he lived a perfectly holy life, and died an infinitely horrible death. For the believer who stands before God’s bench of justice, Jesus paid his eternal sentence in full, and has given him the benefits of his own righteousness.

This is how those justly accused are judged to be not guilty. There can be no other way. If it was not for this gospel, this good message, no one would escape his deserved and just damnation.

When Jesus satisfied the requirements of the law for you, he set you free. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those redeemed by our Savior.

This is an astounding truth! When the gavel of the divine Judge falls he declares, “Not guilty.” Though we know we deserve nothing but the fires of hell forever, in Christ we are awarded an unending place of residence in God’s glorious city.

Our sentence is served. The capitol punishment of our guilt was carried out at Calvary. Now, nothing can be alleged against us that is not already paid for in Christ. There is no sin that can condemn those set free in the Savior.

A redeemed soul is also a changed soul.

Far from this assurance of grace leaving us to become casual about sin, it has exactly the opposite effect. Christ not only set us free from condemnation, he also delivers us from our inability to do good. A redeemed soul will be a converted soul. The new life will show up in its manner of living.

Some have wondered why Paul tells us to “put to death” (“mortify” in some translations) the the deeds of the body (“the flesh” in some translations) if we have been crucified with Christ. The “old man” is dead as he said in Romans 6:6, yet in Ephesians 4:22 Paul tells us to put off this “old man.” Is he not already dead? Then in Colossians 3:9 Paul tells them not to lie since they have put off the “old man.”

There are two senses in which our relationship with sin being addressed. On the one hand we are judicially declared innocent and holy in Jesus Christ. Our guilt is credited to him who paid its penalty. The perfect Righteousness of our Savior is credited to us who do not deserve it. The “old man”, our old relationship with sin as our master, is declared to be dead. Paul has been showing us in this section of Romans that this does not mean that we never sin again. The ways of the old relationship continue to need eradication. Notice that in Ephesians 4:22 Paul qualifies his comment about putting off the old man by saying, “concerning your former conduct”. The old relationship is gone. We are set free. The habits and former influences of that old relationship now need to be brought into conformity with our new relationship. The “new man” is to be conforming his life, not just his thinking or legal standing, to the ways God has revealed for his children to live.

Not all fallen humans will be declared innocent on the basis of the work of Christ. The promise is for those not walking according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. This does not mean that forgiveness is earned by the way we live. That is contrary to everything Paul had said so far. There is no justification by our works.

What it does mean is this: the defendant standing before the bar of God’s justice does not plead his own merits. He pleads only the merits of Christ. In this life on earth, he finds assurance and confidence when he sees his life changed by Christ. Those who walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh can know that the Savior has set them free. As we will see, Chapter 8 of this Epistle to the Romans is centered upon how we can be assured that we belong to Christ.

So then, how do we know when we are redeemed? Paul clears up what it means to be walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh. The person’s true mind set is exposed by specific attitudes and behaviors. The mind includes the whole disposition of the person: his thoughts, intentions, and choices. He is either inclined to evil or to good.

In the language Paul used in the last chapter (Romans 7), either a person remains under the mastery of law which condemns him, or he is set free from that condemnation to become a servant of righteousness in Christ.

Now, here in Chapter 8, Paul continues in verses 5-13.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

The lost person’s mind is inclined to the flesh alone. That is, he honors the body as a thing with no spiritual dimensions. Those not declared innocent in Christ are identified by these things:

  • The mind set on the flesh is death. (8:6)
    Such a person remains unredeemed and under the just condemnation of God’s law. His moral offense causes him to be forever separated from God’s blessing and forgiveness. Without this flow of spiritual life, his attitudes and behaviors are those of a dead soul.
  • The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. (8:7a)
    Instead of living for the glory of his Creator, he measures all things by how it will benefit himself. He is the enemy of God, though he may claim to be godly and good.
  • The mind set on the flesh is not subject to Law. It cannot be. (8:7b)
    Paul has already supported the fact that the lost soul is depraved. Not one of us honors the commandments God has revealed as he intended them. The nature of the fallen heart redefines morality to meet its own self-centered standards. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The whole concept of moral inability is confirmed here. As Olshausen said, “No man can free himself from himself.”
  • The mind set on the flesh cannot please God. (8:8)
    God is not pleased with any actions or thoughts which come from a creature-serving heart. Instead of acting with respect to what God has revealed as good, it acts upon what promotes his own interest. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please (God)…”

Upon those minded toward the flesh, the Judge’s gavel falls with a guilty verdict. But those graciously declared innocent in Christ have a different set of mind:

  • The mind set upon the Spirit is life and peace. (8:6)
    Where once we were dead, Christ has made us alive, reunited with God. As those whose offense is removed, they have peace instead of turmoil. Instead of being the enemies of God, they are his allies, they are citizens of his own Kingdom, his dear children. They are guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The mortal puts on immortality in Christ — he has hope in the resurrection of the body, as well as in the benefits of regeneration in this life.
  • The mind set upon the Spirit is empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (8:9,11)
    The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an astounding promise that goes beyond the scope of this study. The basic benefit is that the believer has a special enablement in living for God’s glory. The presence of that Spirit will be seen in his life.
  • The mind set on the Spirit is alive because of righteousness. (8:10)
    Righteousness is innocence before the law. It is not our own righteousness that makes us alive, but the gift of Christ’s righteousness.

Those declared holy in Christ by grace are not only justified, they also begin to grow in personal holiness. That is what we call subjective sanctification. The life implanted progresses as it more and more makes us conform to the ways of our Savior, and die more and more to the false pleasures of sin. While this holiness is a process never completed in this life, is for now imperfect, and there are sad lapses at times, nevertheless it is always moving forward — if the person is truly reborn in Christ.

This leaves us with some serious work to do in our lives.

This is not a burdensome obligation to which we must resign ourselves. It is our joyful privilege and benefit to do. Though we are set free from the law’s condemnation and are enabled to truly love God, the remains of sin in our lives gives us a constant duty. We are to be putting off the ways of mere flesh-mindedness, and to be abandoning the things that offend God. We are to put on the ways of the Spirit, to dress ourselves in honorable living.

As Paul wrote to the believers in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Our great privilege as those who are promised to be judged “innocent” through Christ, is that we are forgiven and made to be sons of God. Our great duty is to be mortifying the ways of the flesh as those who are truly members of the family of God.

How serious are you about this? Imagine that you were struggling with a horrible degeneration of your body. Medical test revealed that your body was strangely allergic to a specific type of food. The doctor said that if you just stopped your intake of that particular substance you will recover fully. That would be good news! You would go home, and clear out your house of the things that were harming you. You would make sure you provided yourself with a supply of safe foods. When hunger cravings come along, you would have planned to have no supply of the harmful foods available in your cupboard. Instead, you would stock up on the good nourishments that would not harm your body

God is telling us through his law that believers are still infected by the presence of sin. It will not condemn them to hell. They are set free from guilt, and declared righteous in Christ. However, sin will continue to put up a battle in their lives. If they have no concern for waging war with continuing sin, they have cause for alarm. Since no one is justified who is not also being sanctified, an apathy for holiness brings to question that person’s true salvation in Christ.

Is your mind set upon the things of the flesh? Or are you at war with sin in your life? Are you compelled to becoming more Christ-like?

Get rid of all those things that injure your soul, things that tempt you to sin. Clear away the opportunities for them from your schedule. Cut off the bridges to things that dishonor God. Remove them as if they were poisons destroying your real enjoyment of life. Mortify the deeds of the flesh and make no room for them. Show that you are a child of God. Get busy setting your plans and efforts to encouraging what will promote life. Put off the old man and put on the new. Stock up on those things which will promote godliness. Replace the things that tend toward sin. Build up your Christian friendships and work in the church. Attend all its worship services. Strive to obey with all the resources God has given you.

Only as evidence is shown that you belong to Christ, can you be confident of acquittal before the Judgment seat of Christ in that last day.

The Apostle John warns us in this same way. In 1 John 2:15-17 he wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

If you are not sure of your how you stand, if you fear that you might still love your sin too much, then make it right today. Come to Christ in humble confession. This is always appropriate for all of us. Call out to him who alone makes you alive by his death. As Peter warns us in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

As those resting in Christ there is this continuing duty: search out and strip away all the opportunities of sin. Show the evidence of a soul set free. When that day comes, when that gavel comes down with an unappealable verdict, you can know that you will hear the words, “Not guilty by reason of the finished work of Jesus Christ.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Serving the Right Master

Serving the Right Master

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 22: Romans 6:15-23

The world has known its share of cruel masters. They have taken advantage of their workers and have driven them to sickness and death. They have often physically abused them, sexually defiled them, and treated them with inhumane cruelty as if it was their right.

Sometimes it was in the context of racial slavery where certain classes were subjugated as animals and bought as if they were mere possessions. Sometimes it was in the workplace where workers were driven into debt to the management and held in fear for their lives. Sometimes it was the enslavement of children who were forced to work against their will and considered easy prey to greedy and callused opportunists.

There is also a cruel master that enslaves all the descendents of Adam. We are all born into a state of moral bondage that deceives us into obedience. It rewards us with unsatisfying promises, and ultimately pays off in eternal damnation. When the mind itself is held in moral chains, it does not realize its own disadvantage. The lost soul knows only the false promises of its master’s lies. It comes to crave more of the unsatisfying practices which only enslave him more. Living in that awful condition, fallen man lashes out in hateful vengeance at others, or he sinks deeper and deeper in to the quicksand of depression and despondence. Sometimes he imagines deliverances which are mere fantasies. They disappoint him all the more.

That is the slavery Paul describes in the first part of Romans chapter 6. But the message of Scripture tells of a way out, an effective liberation for the bound soul. The chains of moral bondage are broken in only one way, by the effectual work of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died, he acted as a substitute for God’s people. He paid the debt that justice demanded for their sin and for the guilt they inherited from Adam. When the Holy Spirit applies that atonement to the individual, he is set free! The bondage of sin is ended and he is united to a new master, righteousness. Romans 6:6, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”

We are told to live in the reality of this promise.

Romans 6:11-14, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

In that last verse, when Paul says we are not “under law,” he does not mean that God’s good law is cruel, or that we are free from obeying God’s law. No! The law was graciously revealed so we can know how to please God once enabled to do so when regenerated by grace. The law reveals our sin and our bondage to it as descendents of Adam. It shows us how much our Savior endured in paying the penalty in place of his people. When God’s grace delivers us by the work of Christ, the condemnation revealed by the law is gone since the penalty was satisfied by our Savior. We now serve a new master. We are set free!

The delivered believer still struggles with the remains of sin. Paul asks his next question to correct a horrible excuse some might suggest.

Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”

It is obvious as we read the New Testament that though we are not “under law” but are “under grace”, we are not now free to sin without any concern. Doing things contrary to God’s revealed moral principles offends our Creator, and does harm to our representing him as those made in his image. What Paul is saying here in the context is that we are delivered from the cruel mastery of sin, and have by grace come under a new mastery: the mastery of Christ and of Righteousness.

The same Savior who redeems us and pays for our guilt, also restores us to fellowship with God from whom we draw true spiritual life. When we are renewed this way, our moral desires are changed. Believers are no longer comfortable in their sins. The illusions and false promises are gone. We see sin for what it is; a horrible offense to God, and a wicked master who only destroys his blind servants.

What can be said about looking for such excuses to sin?

Romans 6:16-18, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

If the soul is really made alive, it will be seen in the person’s attitudes and behaviors. What you obey reveals who your master really is. This is the test the Apostle John gives in 1 John 2:3-6.

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”

No one can stop sinning altogether in this life, but the believer is troubled by his sin. Since righteousness is his new master, sin weighs on the true Christian’s heart. It brings him to repentance and humbles him before God. He calls upon God to strengthen him to overcome sin. He uses the means God gives him in the battle to grow in his obedience. He isn’t going to be asking “How can I excuse my sin?” He will be concerned more with asking, “How can I overcome my sin?”

This leaves us with a clear duty.

Romans 6:19, “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”

Now that you are under a new master (the righteousness received through Christ) you need to be presenting the members of your body to serve holiness.

In the same manner that before you used you hands, feet, mouth and heart to serve sin, now you are to employ all you have to honor the one who redeemed you by grace. Just as in your past life of planning sinful opportunities, you need to plan for righteousness, spend time doing it, longing for, looking for, the next opportunity. Now that you are bound to serve your new master, Paul is saying that you must put forth your energy to use your hands, feet, mouth, and hearts to serve righteousness.

It is easy to get confused here. Many confuse what God does, with what we are called to do. One of the most destructive deceptions is the “Let go, and let God” mentality. It often makes holiness into a mystical state where we are just passive observers waiting for God to make us do what we should, rather than striving to live for his glory in all things. People sometimes excuse spiritual laziness with the deplorable excuse, “the only really important thing is to be born again.” In contrast with that, Jesus called us to “disciple all men”, to “teach them all he commanded.” We are called to live holy lives, to “be holy as he is holy,” not just to have forgiven lives.

Those taken in by this view believe they should not be concerned about doing good works or obeying law, since we are saved by grace and not by earning eternal life by the law. This is a total misunderstanding of the work of grace.

First of all, our hearts are changed by God’s work of grace alone, and not by our works. In fact law was never a means by which anyone could earn salvation from his fallen condition.

However, it is also true that after we are regenerated by grace we are made able to obey. We are commanded to do so. We are not only declared to be innocent by Christ’s righteousness being credited to us. We are also told to conform our lives to his righteousness. If we are saved from condemnation, our hearts are changed by becoming bound to a new master. We will not feel comfortable about our sins any more. The true believer is not the one looking for excuses, but the one looking for ways to change out of gratitude and love for his Redeemer.

Not striving with all our might to be holy is not Biblical. It is typical of the spiritual laziness of our apathetic world. It minimizes the offense of continuing sins, and looks for something to stop them without much personal effort or sacrifice. If the sins continue, they see it as God’s will for their lives and dismiss the issue from their minds. “No pressure Christianity” is a destructive illusion.

This kind of thinking turns the grace of God into a license to sin. Jude 4 warns about such dangerous influences in the church, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is the very problem Paul was dealing with here in Romans 6. Saving grace does not liberate us to sin, or to have a careless attitude about our offenses to God. It’s just the opposite. Grace liberates us from bondage to sin so that now, by the power of Christ living in us, we have the strength to overcome our sins and to be progressing in holiness for God’s glory and honor.

Gardens are beautiful places when they produce lush, healthy plants. We know that God makes the seeds germinate and grow. He provides the sunshine and rain. If that is all that is required for a nice garden, they would fill up our lawns and fields. God produces gardens by means of gardeners. He told Adam to cultivate the land and to work to bring forth the fruit of the earth.

The gardener cannot make seeds germinate, grow and produce fruit. His job is to dig up and aerate the soil, plan for good sun exposure, irrigation and drainage. He may have to add nutrients to the soil and protect the plants from freezes or insects. The gardener cannot cause the fruit to be produced. God does not do the work of the gardener. He created us to carry out that work here on earth to demonstrate what he is.

In our spiritual lives, we cannot regenerate or empower spiritually dead souls. However, God has ordained to use means to accomplish his plan. He calls us to pray, to be instructed out of his word, and to strive to obey. He warns us to flee temptation and to pursue holiness. To accomplish this we draw from the power we have promised to us in Christ. We are enabled by changed hearts. God calls us to consider ourselves to be dead to the mastery of sin. We do this by resting upon the work Christ did as our substitute. This is not just an idea to simply inspire us emotionally. It is a God-revealed fact we need to relay upon. By grace he makes a change in the condition of our moral nature.

Our rewards will differ,
depending upon the master we serve

Romans 6:20-23, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Those who remain as slaves of sin earn its just reward: eternal death. The Bible is filled with alarming descriptions of the pains of eternal hell and unending separation from God. It also points out how our present spiritual death is at the root of pain and depression. Sin is no real rewarder of men. It is a lying employer who gives out death as its paycheck. The temporary pleasures of sin only produce shame and continuing isolation from their Creator. The anticipated rewards of sinful pleasures are lies. What we earn is not what is deceptively promised by our tempter, nor what is expected by the lost human soul.

When we become slaves to righteousness, we are given the gift of life. This wonderful slavery spoken of in verse 22 is the only real freedom. Those who serve righteousness as their master learn of the satisfaction that can be found in honorable things. Loving, God-centered obedience of the redeemed soul is not only found in the peace and strength promised for here and now, it is also ours in the eternal union with God in glory.

Paul puts it quite bluntly in verse 23. When we sin, we earn a wage. The paycheck is death. When we are in Christ Jesus, we are given a gracious gift which is not earned. The paycheck is eternal life. This eternal life works in us now to change our attitudes about sin and holiness. We demonstrate the truth of it by striving to be obedient to that which pleases God in all things.

What a wonderful master we serve! Psalm 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.”

As we grow in Christ,
sin ought to be detested, not defended.

When we continue in sin, we show an immature understanding of two things:
1. We fail to appreciate the deep offense of sin in the eyes of God. When the Bible’s description of sin is seen as a mere set of religious rules for earning salvation, the whole point has been missed. God gives us his word, his law, so that we might understand how offensive some things are to the Creator who made all things to reveal his nature and glory.

When we begin to comprehend how God is disgusted by our transgressions, we will have a new motive to stop sinning. We strive to obey not merely to avoid consequences for ourselves, but more importantly to show gratitude and love for our God. When the prophet Isaiah became aware of his sin, he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5)

2. We fail to appreciate the wonder and power of what Christ has accomplished. He did not just die as an example to us, or to inspire us to religious living. He died to actually satisfy divine justice in our place, taking that awful offense upon himself. He died to set us free so that we can become bound to a Master of Righteousness and life.

When we justify certain sins (as if we are set free from moral law to do what we please) we pervert grace into license, and cast doubt that we have been liberated to serve a new master. We live in a world where even so called “Christians” steal God’s Sabbath Day for themselves, and excuse it by imagining that the 4th Commandment given as Creation was completed has somehow expired. Many take the tithe of their income which God commands to be brought to the Elders, and they spend it themselves, making excuses by doing some good things with it. Many abandon marriage as the only moral setting for sex and family. Many kill their unborn to avoid unwanted responsibilities. They lie to serve themselves, and cheat to become rich and powerful. They cultivate the attitudes of the world. These are the socially “accepted” sins. The list in Galatians 5:19-21 includes the sins of sexual impurity, improper worship, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, envy and such things.

In the next verses (Galatians 5:22-23) God commands that we cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

The Bible calls all these things “sin.” The wage is death. They deeply offend God and cast doubt that the soul is converted and bound to a new master.

These are our enemies. They are not the way to success as the world pretends. Do not give place to them! Do not let their cruel mastery continue another moment! If you try to pull against the chains of cruel oppression in your own strength, it will only gives you sore wrists. Come to Christ if you have not been set free. He will give you a new master.

Once you are liberated in Christ, trust in and act upon the promises God has given. You have the power in Christ to really progress out of sin and into holiness. It is not just a promise to some select few fortunate believers. It is a promise of grace to all who are in Christ. You are liberated! Live that way!

Keep striving in prayer, trusting in the change God promised he has made in you. Never let sin become less than the greatest enemy in your life. Make holiness your greatest goal.

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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God: Faithful, True, and Just

God: Faithful, True, and Just

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 13: Romans 3:3-8

Something was lacking in Israel at the time of the New Testament. It wasn’t that they weren’t large enough or rich enough. It wasn’t that they lacked influence, or didn’t have their doctrines all spelled out. Though they had many errors, there were some who had stated things correctly. The problem was that they were not holy. They were not living in a way that truly honored their God, and set them apart as his people.

While we identify many problems in churches today, the most pressing problem is not that we aren’t large enough or rich enough. It’s not that we don’t have enough influence in our society, schools, businesses or governments. It’s not that we need to better spell out our doctrines, and better define our organization or methods. Though there are always imperfections in our understanding, there is a place were things are stated correctly. The problem is that we are not holy enough. We need to get our lives in order so that we truly honor our God according to the principles he gives us in his word.

In the first two chapters of Romans Paul showed from the Scriptures that all have sinned, both Gentiles and Jews, and are equally condemned before God. So then, what advantage is there in being marked out as a covenant child of God if it doesn’t liberate you from the final judgment?

Chapter 3 began by explaining the great advantage to the members of God’s covenant family. They have the Scriptures, the word of God. In this book God’s true character is spelled out and our duties to him are made clear. This book also points to the restoration that is possible by the gospel.

Even with the advantage of Scripture, instead of learning what God was really like, and learning how to be holy, Ancient Israel assumed their blessings assured them of eternal salvation without a Savior like the one promised.

What had happened to Israel, the people of the book?

Romans 3:3, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?”

God made his covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was renewed through Moses, King David, and the prophets. He would make their descendents a special nation blessed uniquely. Through them the Messiah would eventually be born. All this was clearly spelled out in God’s word which had been graciously given to them.

The problem was that Israel did not remain faithful to the covenant. In Acts 7:51-53 Stephen summarized that history to the Jewish leaders, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

Through their long history of unbelief and sin God had not abandoned them. He sent his prophets, and delivered them from their captivities. So why did God preserve Israel through all those times of rebellion?

She had not yet completed the purpose for which God had chosen them. By them was to come the Messiah who would reign on the throne of David forever, who would be the final Passover lamb to actually do what the other sacrifices only represented. He would suffer and die in place of his people to redeem them.

By the time Paul wrote to the Romans, the promised Messiah had come. The atonement had been made. The gospel message had been explained. God had completed the purpose of the Jewish nations as an image of the church to come. The church was now born. The symbolisms of it were no longer needed.

The time had come when their unbelief reached its absolute limit, the breaking point. Israel committed the final and ultimate breach of God’s covenant. She rejected and crucified the One God had promised from the beginning.

Their rejection of Messiah denied a major point of the law (if it is understood rightly). The law was intended to reveal God’s perfect holiness and fallen man’s inability to live up to it. It was designed to drive humbled sinners in repentance to the promised Christ. But the Jews changed the idea of the Messiah from a needed Redeemer, into a Jewish conqueror. They made the law into a way of salvation instead of what reveals the need for salvation.

Far from admitting that, the Jews saw the problem in a different way. Their question was, “If what you are saying is true Paul, that there is no special treatment for us Jews. Has God’s faithfulness to his promise to us been annulled? Was it no longer in effect?”

Paul dramatically denied that idea in his answer in verse four.

Romans 3:4, “Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.’ “

Just what had God promised Israel? God had not promised them that each person would be exempted from judgment. God had not revealed his holiness as an optional thing which they were free to redefine. He said, “… You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy…” (Leviticus 11:44)

They had imagined that God’s covenant exempted them from that responsibility. They reduced the awfulness of sin into a minor issue. Jewish scholar Abarbanel once wrote, “If a Jew commit all manner of sins, he is indeed of the number of sinning Israelites, and will be punished according to his sins; but he has, notwithstanding, a portion in eternal life,” Many other statements of the Rabbis could be added saying the same thing.

When what we believe or practice differs from what God has said, God’s truth must prevail over man’s theories and excuses.

Paul quotes from two portions of Scripture that were familiar to the Jews. First he used Psalm 116:11 to remind them that lies are common to man, not to God. When what we say or do differs from what the Scriptures teach, we must abandon our position.

Then he quoted from David’s psalm of repentance, Psalm 51:4. He quoted directly from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament popular in his day. In Psalm 51:4 David prayed, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”

The problem was not that God did not live up to what he promised. It was that he never promised what they had imagined. The prophets often warned Israel that she had misunderstood God’s promises. Jesus gave a full explanation of how Israel had distorted God’s truth. Paul, the other Apostles and other New Testament writers continued that same lesson.

According to the prophets, and as Paul was teaching here, even Israel’s unbelief was part of God’s design. By their unbelief God revealed his mercy and revealed more of his plan. It was their unbelief that produced the atoning death of the Messiah on the Cross when their sin-blinded leaders demanded his crucifixion.

So a new objection is anticipated by Paul in this next section. If God used their unbelief and sin to further his plan and to reveal his glory, then how can he hold them guilty and condemn them?

How can God judge unbelief if he uses it to promote his plan?

Romans 3:5, “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.)”

Paul makes it clear that he is raising a hypothetical question. He is speaking not for himself now, not for God, but as one of their objectors might speak. So if Israel’s unbelief was all a part of God’s plan, how can God find fault with them?

This is the classic problem of the place of sin in the sovereign plan of God. “If God uses even our sin for good, then how can he rightly judge us?”

People creatively justify their sin by making it appear good and acceptable to God. Though this relationship between our sin and God’s plan isn’t directly explained in Scripture, it is the height of presumption to assume that no explanation exits.

The question, as Paul words it, implies the negative. God is not unjust or unholy when he uses man’s sin and rebellion to advance his plan.

Paul quickly and clearly lays aside that charge.

Romans 3:6, “Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?”

This question only becomes a problem for those who presume unfounded things.

The pantheist sees everything as nothing more than God acting. If God is the force in us that sins, then there can be no human responsibility, no just judgment, and no real acts of men. By this line of reasoning Hitler’s desire to purify the human race would justify his atrocities. By this line of reasoning we are wrong to arrest or punish criminals of any sort. By this line of reasoning no one should be judged by God for anything.

This is clearly false. Scripture shows that individuals are clearly held accountable for their immorality. Therefore the sins of people are their own acts, not God acting in them.

The religious humanist sees God as being controlled by man’s choices and actions. God is reduced to a beggar-deity hoping man will make the right choices so his plan will work out. By this line of reasoning man is god and is sovereign over the final outcome of all things. By this line of reasoning God does not direct anything to a planned outcome. By this line of reasoning nothing is certain and there is no wrong way for things to happen.

This is clearly false. Scripture shows that God has decreed all things eternally. He has also decreed that individuals will be held accountable for immorality. It is the sinner who is morally responsible for his acts which are really his, though God decreed them to happen as part of his perfect plan.

Assumptions like these attempt to gut the idea of holiness. They presume that God cannot hold us responsible since his plan never fails. The fact of God’s Sovereignty and Providence are clearly established by direct statements in the Bible. God calls us to be holy. We are to be specially his children, set apart from what we were before the transformation of our souls by grace, and from what we would continue to be aside from his power at work in us as his beloved children.

Since neither of these views is consistent with Scripture, man has no excuse for his sin. Israel has no exemption from judgment for her many sins, and for her recent rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah.

The unredeemed often blend biblical language with those pantheistic or humanistic theories. Men object to the biblical teaching that “no one is saved by his own choices or deeds.” They hate the doctrines of God’s grace and the stated fact of eternal election of some to life. They ask “How can anyone be blamed for rejecting the gospel if God has ordained all things?”

Why would men dream up such convoluted ideas as these to explain away plain biblical statements? Our fallen nature hates the truth, and love its sin. It wants the kind of God who doesn’t hold them accountable for their actions and attitudes. It wants the kind of power and enlightenment Adam and Eve hoped for in Eden, to be like God.

To sweep away such a plainly wrong notion, Paul points to one simple fact: God does judge men in the final judgment. If the Jews could say their sin is excusable because God uses their unbelief for good, then anyone could say the same thing. No one would be held guilty for any sin since all is part of God’s decree. That is obviously not sound reasoning. There is a judgment. Therefore their logic and the data they assume to be true must be flawed.

How ridiculous it would be if a child said, “Yes Dad. I did play out in the street today. I know that was bad and against your rules. But by such bad things you get to show what a loving and forgiving parent you are! If you punish me it will make me feel bad, and you don’t want that. So instead of punishing me you should maybe reward me for giving you such a good opportunity to show your kindness.”

Or if a convicted felon said, “Yes Judge. I did shoot that man while I was trying to rob him. But it’s by such things that we get to see our fine judicial system at work. You get to show what a loving, kind, wise, and fair person you are. These jurors get to be good citizens, and the whole idea of civil law ends up looking good. Perhaps we could write a book or go on talk shows together! Since what I’m doing can be used for good, then certainly I don’t deserve any punishment.”

Though parents and courts may bring good results out of our bad behavior, that does not excuse the bad behavior.

Certainly the same is true on a much higher plane with God. Though our Lord uses our sin and rebellion to move along his greater cause, this does not excuse the sin and rebellion. It still demands the death of the sinner, and his eternal separation from God.

Only if a perfect Savior pays the debt in the sinner’s place is the guilt removed. This removal of guilt is not an indication that God doesn’t care about our sin. The infusion of spiritual life when a sinner is redeemed ought to produce something wonderful. It is not to produce a care-free sinner unafraid to sin again and again. It is not to produce a judgment free society which we call a “church”. It is to produce people who are holy, set aside to honor God as his covenant people.

This is “scriptural optimism”. It is stated in clear language many times and summarized well in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

This does not mean that the sins of individuals become good. It shows that God in his plan uses even the sins of men for good, contrary to the nature of the act. Ancient Israel’s and modern man’s reasoning is wrong. We dare not presume that a loving God will not judge rebellion. The same Bible that teaches us that God is loving and has made a covenant, also tells us that his promise does not excuse us from accountability.

Only being born again by the work of the Savior can we be set free from our guilt. Those who are free, are also made alive, and will evidence it by their love for holiness.

Those who dig for philosophical excuses to sin without accountability show they have no place in his covenant except for taking advantage of and abusing its outward privileges. They heap judgment upon themselves by such conjectures.

Paul then takes this dangerous idea another step
to show how its implications are inconsistent.

Romans 3:7, “For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?”

If the Jews are so quick to excuse their own rejection of Messiah and their own sins, and if they presume that since their unrighteousness furthers God’s glory, then why do they find fault with Paul and his gospel? Isn’t Paul’s gospel, even if it’s a lie, a part of God’s plan and by their reasoning excusable?

This reasoning is clearly false. God judges all sin and all sinners. Judgment is a fact. The same Scripture that declares there is a God, tells us what kind of God he is and how his moral principles work. You can’t believe only the parts you like or you become the judge of all things over God.

The only hope anyone has is that Jesus the promised Messiah has suffered for him. That was the ancient promise. It was not that every Israelite would be exempted from judgment, but that all who show the evidence of grace in their hearts are judged innocent by imputation. The righteousness of Christ is declared to be theirs, and their sins are declared to be his. He suffered and died as the infinitely perfect sacrifice who alone could be their substitute.

It is not Jewishness that delivers men from judgment. It is the Savior. Salvation was not to make us able to sin and still be saved. Salvation is to make us holy even as the Lord our God is holy.

Paul took his reasoning one last step.

Romans 3:8, “And why not say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? — as we are slanderous reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.”

Why not go all the way to the extreme then, and do more evil to make more good. Some had obviously slandered the Apostle by actually saying that he taught this.

Those who misunderstand the purpose of God’s law will misunderstand the message of grace. Law does not save us. Neither by our obeying it to earn salvation (which no man can do sufficiently), nor by assuming that the covenant God makes with us frees us to sin without judgment. There is no legal code or promise of God that defends sin. The law always promotes holiness, even though it cannot produce it aside from the work of our Redeemer.

When we understand our lack of this important quality, we are brought by grace to the Savior Jesus Christ. He not only forgives and declares us holy, he also transforms us and makes us begin to grow in holiness.

So what marks out the true covenant child of God? What affirms that he is delivered from judgment by Christ? It’s not his circumcision or baptism. It’s not his pure theological correctness. It’s not his response to an altar call or an emotional decision he made. It’s not his heritage, culture, or family. the legitimate child of God does not try to philosophically justify his sins.

The mark that distinguishes us is Christ-likeness implanted into a changed human heart. We are called to be different than the fallen human race into which we were born. This practical side of holiness should be our goal, our passion, the test of all we allow to be part of our lives.

Paul summarizes the objections to what God has said with one terrifying thought: “their condemnation is just.” Though God uses even sin to advance his plan and to display his glory, that sin is still evil, and is not excused.

Our human creativity is able to make up complex excuses. We imagine all sorts of theories attempting to fill in what God has not made known. In our fallen nature we arrogantly reject his truth on the basis of our own foolish assumptions.

The Gospel promotes holiness. There are reasons for our rebellion, but there are no excuses for it. Those who are transformed by the Gospel will seek to be holy. They will see that their excuses for sin do not make it acceptable.

As you set important goals for yourself, for your family, for your job, for what you will leave behind in the memories of those you have loved and known, make sure that they are all directed toward holiness. We were created to bear the image of our Creator in the world he made. Individuals are redeemed to be restored to fellowship with God so they can display the grace, mercy, love, and power of their Redeemer.

This is our created purpose. It is that for which our Savior died. It is your vocation in every part of your life. Nothing else is more important. Nothing else will bring true inner peace and happiness.

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Encouraged Together

Encouraged Together

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 04: Romans 1:8-12

People were not created to be alone. We were created to be families and communities. We were created to work together to produce the things we need. We were commanded to organize into churches, and into governed societies. This can get frustrating at times. These groupings are as imperfect as the individuals that form them.

There are wrong ways of dealing with imperfect groups of people. Some people just withdraw and isolate themselves when they have a hard time with the behaviors of others. They might tolerate working with others in limited ways out of necessity, but they try not to develop close relationships. They may even attend worship, but limit their contacts with the others in the church beyond that.

Others keep jumping from group to group looking for a more perfect situation. They have little commitment to their workplace, community, and sometimes even to their family relationships. They often drift from job to job. They may even move from community to community. They are the ones who never find a church they like. To justify their lack of commitment they list all the faults and imperfections of those who make up or who lead the group.

This is not the way God taught us to live. If there are problems we need to become part of the solution. Loyalty and commitment are important character traits. We ought to develop them. The fallen world has abandoned those values in favor of a more self-serving ethic. Today loyalty and commitment ends when the going gets hard.

Marriages end for reasons not justified by God’s law. People leave their spiritual families in churches as easily as they leave their spouses. It’s hard for employers to afford new workers when they leave as soon as opportunity comes along, even after considerable expense has been made to train them.

Instead of abandoning others when problems arise, and in place of that critical spirit of finding faults, there ought to be mutual encouragement of one another in Jesus Christ. There is great joy in seeing God at work in families, churches, workplaces, and communities.

Paul appreciated the Roman church’s
great reputation which was spoken of world-wide.

Romans 1:8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”

The faith God had put into the hearts of the Roman believers was testifying powerfully. It provided a real-life demonstration that the gospel is God’s truth, it works!

In our study so far (Romans 1:1-7) we have seen that the gospel means “good news”. All humans are separated from God’s fellowship because of the offense of real moral guilt. Not just individual guilt, but primarily the guilt and corruption we inherit from Adam. But God made a promise in Eden after the first sin. One would come who would be born of a woman, who would suffer in place of God’s people and crush Satan.

As history unfolded more details were made known. By the time of the Apostle Paul, it had become clear that Jesus was that Promised One.

The good news that there are fallen humans who are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ had come to Rome too. The hearts of believers there had been changed by the power of God. Faith had been implanted along with life-transforming power. Good News indeed!

The watching world had seen the changes in the lives of the Roman believers. Paul calls believers “epistles.” In them, the world could see the effects of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 Paul wrote, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

Similarly Paul said to the believers in Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8, “… you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.”

We should all be concerned to show the work of Christ in our lives. Others, both in the church and outside of it, will observe our words and actions. God’s truth and grace in Christ ought to be evident in us. Jesus said our lives should shine like light so that men might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

The believers in Rome, were imperfect (we will see more of that as we continue), yet they were being a good testimony to the world of Christ’s life-transforming power.

Paul explained that he was in continual prayer
to praise God for what he had seen in them.

Romans 1:9, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,”

Similarly, when John saw other believers living as evidence of Christ’s power, he rejoiced. He wrote to them saying, “I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.” (2 john 1:4), and “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.” (3 John 1:30).

Man’s fallen nature tends to become jealous about the success of others. However, we should not be just individuals trying to get gain for ourselves. We ought to learn to rejoice in the success of others. Specially others in the body of Christ. We are a family together with them. There should be evidence of certain family traits in each of us. The fruit of the Holy Spirit and our spiritual loyalty ought to mark us out.

There is a fundamental unity that we ought not ignore, even when things are imperfect. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

There are also some limits placed upon our fellowship. There ought to be some kind of division that separate us from those who have no loyalty to Christ and to his church. There should be no confusion about who is a representative of Christ, and who is not. A compromising testimony by the church does not honor God. It confuses his message and obscures the gospel.

In that same letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.’ ”

From the larger context we see that this is not about shunning those who sin. We would have no one left in our lives if we did that, since we are all sinners by God’s definition of it. The context is in the membership of the church. Those who continue to rebel against God’s standards unrepentantly should not be on the roll as members of God’s family. They are not rightly part of our spiritual family’s meals and trust. Out of respect for the standards God demands of his church, such people need to be put out of the church as long as they insist on defending their rebellious behaviors and attitudes. But we are not to be unkind to them. We are told to treat them as unbelievers and work to bring them to humble repentance and restoration to fellowship through the power of the gospel.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.’ ”

When the church stands together, marked by loyalty, it presents a powerful testimony to the world. The goodness of God’s news is made plain by the transformation of lost souls woven together into a family of God.

We should set aside time in our prayers to praise God for his blessings upon his people. Paul’s prayer reminds us again of the wonders of Grace. Paul does not commend the Romans as if God had them to thank for the good testimony of the church. He thanks God for their obedience of faith. God is the one who works goodness in us. Nothing remains in which we can boast. There is no place for self-pride. Instead, we have a marvelous sense of God’s redeeming and sanctifying grace.

Paul had a compelling desire to be encouraged
together with the Roman believers.

Romans 1:10-12, “making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”

Paul very much wanted to go to Rome to see these believers in person. However, God had not provided the opportunity. When we study verse 13 we will see how Paul, though wanting to come to them, kept his own desires in submission to God and his greater and often hidden plan.

The Apostle’s purpose in wanting to go to Rome had two parts. On the one hand he wanted to build them up by imparting spiritual gifts to them. Some of that work was special to the office of Apostle. There were unique miraculous gifts in that Apostolic era for the building of the church’s foundation.

Some of the gifts to be imparted were a common work we all do as believers. By our fellowship we are to stir one another to spiritual growth. We help one another develop the fruit of the Spirit. We become mutual examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (see Galatians 5:22-23). In humility we correct one another when we fall into sin or into neglect of these fruits.

On the other hand Paul longed for himself to be encouraged by the believers in Rome too. Ministers and members of the church alike are important to one another in Christ.

The union we have as a church is very special. Our bond is not just because we have common interests, or like temperaments, or similar backgrounds and circumstances in our lives, or even plans for the future. Those may occur among us but our bond is much stronger than that. It is not just because we have common beliefs and convictions.

These are the things that cause union in the world too. But in the family of God there is an element the world cannot know. The special nature of our fellowship consists in our real spiritual union in Christ. We have an actual family bond. We have the same Father in heaven. We are joint heirs of eternal blessings in Christ. We are truly brothers and sisters spiritually.

In John 15:5 Jesus used a helpful analogy. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

We all draw from the same nourishment. The same sap flows through us. Our spiritual life blood is the same. We share in the same covenant benefits, live by the same rules, and are one with the same Lord. 1 Corinthians 6:17 says,”But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”

Paul wrote important instructions to the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:2-6 he said, “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Though we have this unity, we are not all the same. Not by far. There is a diversity of gifts in the body of Christ. We are all very different from one another: We are born in different decades. We dress differently, wear our hair differently (for those who have it), and have different styles of speech. We have different talents and abilities. God has called us to different occupations.

1 Corinthians 12:14-18 explains it so well, “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.”

Every member of the body is vital to the whole. Paul adds in verse 22, “No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” In verses 25-27 he says that we need to value every member of the church, “that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”

Because one of us has a gift, we all have it too as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are a family in Christ.

Ever since I was very little, I’ve loved to take things apart. I disassembled radios, television sets, door bells, carburetors, kitchen faucets, and so on. Putting them back together was always harder. I know you have all had the experience in one way or another of putting parts together. It’s a bit unsettling when you have some parts left over. A few times I’ve ha to install new kitchen faucets. I remember once when there was a rubber washer left over. When I turned it on all seemed ok — until I tried the rinsing hose. Water sprayed all over. That little washer was important! Just as every component and wire is important to a radio of computer, so also every one of you is important to the proper functioning of the body of Christ.

What happens when a vital part of the body is missing? even just for a while? Can you imagine what it would be like if your body parts only worked once-in-a-while? What if your eye or a particular finger only was available occasionally? What if a lung shut down unexpectedly every few days? Could you be just as effective if you never knew when you would have to do without an arm or leg for a day? or for a week? Think of what it would be like walking down the street and a foot unexpectedly decided to shut down for a while.

That is why it is important to have regular attendance in the church. When attendance is occasional, it’s like occasional paralysis. Each part contributes to the whole. It could be a little story, or experience in your life, a little personal insight or a lesson you’ve learned, or how you smile at one of the children, or when you show a bit of humility among the adults. These each may seem insignificant to you in casual conversation over refreshments after worship, but maybe that little gesture or comment is exactly what someone else needs to see or hear.

When one person is absent it effects the whole — as when a family member is gone. Of course sometimes God in his providence keeps us away. We may get sick, or may be called out of town, or travel on vacation. Unless we can’t be there by reason of God’s providence, we have a job to do for Christ as part of his family.

Jesus Christ has called each one of us to family union and Kingdom service. Don’t cripple the body by withholding that talent or experience God has entrusted to you. It ought not be a chore to be with God’s people in worship on the Lord’s Day. It ought not to feel as if you are making a sacrifice. Being there instead of home watching TV, or sleeping in, is an important family duty. Getting to bed decently on Saturday night so you can get here on time Sunday morning, ought to be a satisfying preparation for your service to the church, and for fulfilling your part as the whole body comes together to worship the God who saved us.

We each have a joint obligation to devote our gifts to the glory of Christ, and the growth of the body of his church. It is a job for which we need to make preparations. We need to take our Christian responsibilities seriously. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”

Our service together on Sundays, and our support of one another all week long, is not an option or an extra to add to our lives as Christians. It is our reasonable service.

The fallen world around us has a different standard. It makes friends to satisfy self-needs, to gain what friends can offer, or to feel accepted. We have been transformed from that by Christ. Our friendships in the Lord are to honor our Savior and to help one another.

Christ did not call us to be alone. Nor has he called us to neglect our families, jobs, church, or community. They may be very imperfect places. Other families, jobs, churches, or communities may look more appealing to us in some way. However, children don’t leave families and move in down the street with another family because they have a better pool or TV set, because there are more kids to play with, because the allowance is better, or because it’s a shorter walk to the mall. There should be loyalty and commitment to the family. So also there ought to be an undying loyalty to the imperfect unions we have at work, and in our communities. We should not looking for something better, but how to serve where God puts us. Even more so there should be loyalty and a sense of belonging in the church, our spiritual family, the body of Christ. Be an active member lending all you can to the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The church works best when every part is committed and working hard as a family. Oh, what a testimony that is to the glory of our Heavenly Father when the spiritual family works together, when all its parts are functioning, when everyone is present and on time looking for opportunity instead of looking for gain.

This is what Paul is saying in this part of his introduction to the letter to the Romans. He longed for a time of fellowship with the believers in Rome so he could encourage them, and be encouraged by them.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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A Servant’s Perspective

A Servant’s Perspective

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 02: Romans 1:1

The first words of the book of Romans tell us a lot about its author, and they reflect its main themes.

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

This first verse shows us that the author saw himself as belonging to his Master, Jesus Christ, and that he was called to serve as an Apostle promoting the good message God had made known.

The message is summarized in this book of Romans in three main themes:
1. We are restored to fellowship with God only by what Jesus Christ accomplished.
2. Those restored to fellowship with God always show changed lives.
3. Lives changed by God ought to effect the society in which they live.

Living by these principles is neither common, nor valued in our world. Instead of seeing our hope and purpose centered in Christ, we are faced everyday with self-centered attitudes that are poisoning our society. Instead of asking what is right and what is true, people are asking what will further their own personal interests.

The idol of “Self” has become the god of our modern culture. Ego has become the center of our attention and concerns. Moral law has been re-written to justify anything that promotes a person’s self interests. Even much of our worship has been turned into entertainment to gratifying the god of self.

We live in an era where things are badly out of order. The idea of man being created and redeemed to serve God, who is truly his Lord, is not well liked, nor has it ever been truly popular. Individuals, homes, schools, businesses, churches, and governments don’t like to admit that there might be absolute standards they must obey. God is usually re-defined in some way that limits his authority over us. Even our duties to others are modified so that they will mostly benefit the doer.

One of the things most people try to avoid is being in the position of a servant. How different is Paul’s attitude as he begins this letter to the Roman believers.

Romans 1 begins …

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

The author of this book is the Apostle Paul.

We know from the rest of Scripture that he was born Saul of Tarsus. He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and a citizen of the Roman Empire. As a very gifted student of the Hebrew Scriptures he went to study in Jerusalem. His teacher was Gamaliel, one of the most celebrated rabbis of that era. Even today Rabbi Gamaliel is quoted and honored among the Jews. As a strongly committed Pharisee Saul lashed out at the Christians. He saw them as a new sect that threatened the traditions of the rabbis.

Saul’s life changed dramatically. As he traveled to Damascus, fully authorized by the high priest to hunt down and arrest Christians, the risen Christ stopped him, set him free from his bondage to sin. Jesus put faith into Saul’s heart enabling him to trust in the work of Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Soon Saul was promoting the Christian faith. He told the gentiles about the ancient promises and principles of God’s word. He explained to both Jews and gentilesthat Jesus was the Messiah promised ages ago in Scripture. In his travels outside the Jewish communities, Saul became known by the Greek name, Paul.

While on his third missionary journey he wrote his letter to the Romans. Paul had not been able to get to Rome in person. So he wrote this letter to tell them what he would have taught if he had come in person. Romans comprehends and summarizes the basics of the Christian faith.

Paul considered himself a “servant” of Jesus Christ

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

Paul used this unpopular idea of servant to summarize his relationship with Christ. We need to know what he meant.

In the Roman culture slavery had become very abusive. The Greek word used for bond slaves was doulos (δοθλος) which is the word Paul uses here. In Rome slavery had become ownership of the servant. They were forced into service against their will and often treated abusively. Even today we think of slaves as people who are demeaned and mistreated.

However, that would not be how a Jew of Paul’s training would use the word. Nor does that oppressive idea fit with what Paul is saying about his relationship with Christ.

In his law, God had explained what his people ought think about being servants. Back then, People weren’t hired with contracts and pay-scales in the way they are today. To work, they willingly bound themselves to a master to work faithfully expecting fair wages. Debtors could work their way out of obligations by working as servants. Law breakers not guilty of capitol crimes had to work to pay off those they victimized. There were no jails or prisons in God’s law.

Unlike the pagan nations, God’s people were to treat those who work for them with respect. The biblical idea of slavery should not bring up the cruelty and racial bondage we usually think of. Ownership of a human, or the sale of a human, was a serious crime in God’s law. Slavery could not be forced upon anyone unless it was to pay off debt from a crime. Slaves were never to be mistreated and had to be released after a set period of time. Abuses are not inherent in the idea of servitude according to God’s law.

There is a sense in which all believers are to be servants of Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers saying, “And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:23), “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-20).

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul called believers “… bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6). In 1 Peter 2:16 Peter told believers to act, “… as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” Later in this book of Romans Paul develops that theme even more as he applies it to Christians.

Certainly a Christian’s relationship with Jesus Christ can’t be compared with pagan slavery. Paul was not abused or forced into service against his will. He found love, not abuse, from his master. Paul became a most willing servant of Christ. His hardened will was changed by the Holy Spirit who gave him spiritual life.

But he did consider himself as a purchased possession of his loving Lord. That’s what makes human ownership of another human so wicked and immoral. People belong to their Creator, not to other creatures. Believers belong to their Redeemer, therefore it is wrong for men to possess other men.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

1 Corinthians 7:22-23, “For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”

In the Old Testament godly men were often called “servants of Jehovah” ‘eved YHVH (עבד יהוה). This title was used of Abraham, Jeremiah, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah and many others. The Messiah himself is called a servant in the great passages of Isaiah (49:1-7, 52:13, 53:11).

Paul was glad to be under the mastery of Jesus Christ. This duty and devotion to his loving master is the first thing he mentions in describing himself to the Roman readers.

Jesus told his followers they would be better to be servants than masters in his kingdom. Luke 22:25-27 reads, “And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called “benefactors.” But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.’ ”

This is how we ought to see our work for Christ. We ought to think of ourselves as servants, purchased by our Lord’s own death in our place, so that we can do the work of the one who loves us so. We ought to love being the subjects of the King of kings.

Paul understood his service to be in the office of an Apostle

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

When the church of God entered a new era after the death of Christ, officers were appointed. Titles were needed to identify these offices. Words that already existed were used.

The church was to be governed and instructed by Elders. The Greek word for Elder is presbuteros (πρεσβυτερος). It literally means someone who is older or wiser. This word was already used in Israel as a special title for the spiritual office of teacher and overseer.

The church was to be served by Deacons. The Greek word deakonos (δεακονος) literally means someone who serves. In the general sense anyone who serves could be called a deacon. When the Jewish office of Levite ended with the finished work of Christ, there was a need for a new office to carry out the daily administrations of God’s church. A new office of service was created by God’s direct command. The ordained deacons were to care for the needy, maintain the place of worship, and act as daily administrators of the church’s resources.

And the church was to be established and set on its course by Apostles. The Greek word Paul uses is apostolos (αποστολος) which means “someone sent forth with an assignment.” As a general term “an apostle” is anyone sent out with an assigned duty. In New Testament times cargo vessels were called “apostolic boats”, boats sent on a mission. In that general sense, all believers sent out to serve God may be called apostles. In a more specialized way certain men sent out on special missions were “apostles.” The word is applied to Barnabas, Apollos, Timothy and others. But there was a very specialized use of the word for a limited number of men chosen by Christ. The office of Apostle applied only to the original 12 chosen by Christ, to Matthias chosen to replace Judas, and to Paul, who was specially chosen by Christ.

All holding the office of Apostle met these qualifications:

  • They were directly chosen and called by Jesus Christ. (John 6:70, 13:18, 15:16,19, Luke 6:13, Acts 1:24-26, Galatians 1:1,6)
  • They were eye-witnesses to Christ, his teachings, and his resurrection. (Acts 1:8,21,22, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8, Galatians 1:11-12, Ephesians 3:2-8, 1 John 1:1-3)
  • Their calling was affirmed by special supernatural signs and miracles. (Matthew 10:1,8, Acts 2:43 3:2, 5:12-16, Romans 15:18,19, 1 Corinthians 9:2, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Galatians 2:8)

This means that the office of Apostle could not continue past the first century. Unlike the other church offices described in the New Testament, no qualifications were stated by which new Apostles were to be chosen by the church.

Due to that direct calling by Christ, they had a unique authority. They ordained elders to rule in the newly established churches. They had direct revelation and instruction from Jesus Christ. They uniquely explained the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. They laid the foundation of the church upon which later generations were to build.

Paul was to serve as an Apostle. He was called to that office directly by the risen Christ.

Paul was set apart to promote the good news God had revealed.

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

Some times men are set apart by the church for special assignments such as being missionaries, ministers, Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, heads of committees. Paul and Barnabas were set apart for the first missionary journey in Acts 13:2. The setting aside Paul refers to here was his special call to explain the gospel. It was his calling to make known the saving work of Christ. This is why he gave up his comfortable life as a respected rabbi. This is why he spent the time and effort to write this well planned out 16 chapter book to Rome.

In a similar way we are all are called to obey God and to tell others about the gospel of Christ. We are not all set apart in the special way Paul was. However, when God gives us a duty in any area of life we must let nothing else interfere with it. We must carry it out as if we were given over to be bond-servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We each have divine callings in our lives too.

We must be devoted to each of our duties as servants of Christ. Some of you are called of God and gifted to be engineers, machinists, mechanics, sales representatives, managers, designers, students, teachers, home makers, husbands, mothers or fathers … many things.

The ways of our Master must be carried out in every assignment given to us by God

  • We have a duty toward ourselves to maintain a personal walk of devotion to Christ. Every day we need to learn more about his word, talk with him in prayer, encourage his people, obey his moral principles, and hope in his promises.
  • We have a duty to our family to be a good spouse, child, parent and family member.
  • We have a duty to our church, the spiritual family. There we must be faithful in worship, fellowship, and in promoting its work and ministries.
  • We have a duty to our calling at work to bring forth our provisions from our labor, and to do that faithfully.
  • We have a duty to society to help and encourage others in our community.

We are to carry out each duty as bond-slaves of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must honor him as our master and do all things within the boundaries of his standards.

The world sees these areas of life only in how they bring personal gratification. To our fallen souls, all work and relationships are to satisfy our own feelings and desires. God is seen only as one of the ways for getting what we want as individuals. Ego becomes god, and self-gratification becomes the standard for all judgments and decisions. When seen this way our order of priority is confused. Our personal lives, families, worship, work and society become twisted and wounded.

As Paul shows us here, to be what God has made us to be and redeemed us to be we need to fulfill our callings as those who are bond-servants of Jesus Christ.

The tragic myth of the world is the belief that freedom is found in serving one’s self privately, in the home, in church, on the job, in the workplace, and in society. Proverbs 16:25 warns us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

The most frustrating and oppressive servitude is to live as if you were free from God. The most satisfying freedom, is to be a devoted servant of Christ.

When we serve our Lord Jesus Christ in each duty he gives us, remaining within his boundaries, giving him recognition for every ability and blessing, we begin to discover the wonderful blessing of what God can make of our lives.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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