Changing Clothes

Lesson 52: Romans 13:11-14

Changing Clothes

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Long ago, in 386 AD, in Milan, Northern Italy, a 32 year old man sat in tears in a garden. He had been well educated, but much of it was forced upon him by beatings. When he left home to study Rhetoric in Carthage, he lived the way many do once they are out of the house and on their own. He lived for his own good pleasures for the moment. His mother Monica, was a Christian and deeply grieved over her son’s disregard for God’s ways.

In trying to find satisfaction he dug into the philosophers to satisfy his mind. He lived with a woman and had a son with her, though they were not married. His sinful ways, far from satisfying him, came to deeply convict him of his lostness though still mixed with a bit of insincerity. He remembered praying, “Give me chastity and self-restraint — only not yet.”

In time his way of life tore at his heart. He found it hard to go on any longer that way. But he was filled with questions — how could he really change? How long would this go on? “How long? How long?”, he repeated.

Broken and devastated by his life he wept in that garden, knowing his life was an offense to God. With bitter tears overtaking him he threw himself to the ground under a fig tree.

He became aware of a sound coming from a neighboring house. It was a child’s voice repeating the Latin words, “Tolle, lege, tolle, lege,” which means “take up, read, take up, read.” He didn’t know if it was some child’s poem or a game they were playing, but it turned his mind to a book he had been reading. He put it down back in the garden where earlier he had been talking with a friend. His tears let up for the moment. With anticipation he ran back to that bench and opened the book. He had been reading the Book of Romans.

It opened to Romans 13 and his eyes focused first on verses 13 and 14 where he read, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

When he later wrote about this moment he said, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”

He ran to find his friend and told him of this calm God had put into his heart. He found a new trust in God who Sovereignly had redeemed him by Christ alone.

He then ran to tell his mother Monica who had been praying earnestly for him every day. In his record of this he said that she “leaped for joy” at the conversion of her son. Then he told his girlfriend he could no longer live with her unmarried. He determined to live as becomes one redeemed by so great a love. His mother did not live long after his conversion, but she died at peace.

His life was only beginning. He became the Bishop of Hippo, the greatest of the Church Fathers. We know him today as St. Augustine.

He struggled hard to build his life and faith upon the teachings of Scripture alone. He prayerfully interpreted and applied the texts of the Bible by comparing Scripture with Scripture, not by combining it with the questionable logic and observations of man, church, or philosophy. He laid the foundation for the Reformation that took place over a thousand years after his death.

Augustine understood that all humans fell into sin by representation in the fall of Adam, that they all are therefore totally depraved, that salvation was an act of grace alone extended to the undeserving elect of God, and that the grace of God was irresistible.

He understood that the only reliable foundation for truth and belief was the Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, and that man’s reason alone could only lead to probabilities, not to reliable truth.

Augustine was the first to articulate what today we call Calvinism, Reformed Theology, and Presuppositional Apologetics. It was his writings which alerted Martin Luther to the errors of Rome, and led John Calvin to see an clarify what God had revealed to us in his word. His life turned upon these words from our text today, powerful words of God.

Paul had just made the point in the last section that love is the fulfilling of God’s law. The next few verses continue that thought.

Romans 13:11-14, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

Paul uses the imagery of night and day.

He tells us that the night is over, and the daytime has started, so it’s time to wake up from our sleep. To understand Paul’s point we need to know what the night is in this context. We need to know what day is at hand? We need to understand how our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

Night is often used in the Bible to describe the darkness of sin that encloses us. Day is often used for the relief from that night, our victory over sin and its darkness.

The word “salvation” means deliverance from some kind of danger. It may be either salvation from physical harm, or of the soul from condemnation. The Bible uses the same word to refer to many types of deliverance. The outward delivering of people or nations from physical harm takes place by God’s providence and sovereign care. The deliverance of the soul comes in several stages.

First, we see the beginning of our salvation in the ancient and eternal decree of God who knew his own before creation itself. Then in the unfolding of history, the salvation of God’s people from sin’s guilt was secured by Jesus in his earthly work which was completed on the cross. Individuals are delivered applicationally by the work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their regeneration.

However, though they are delivered at that moment from the dominion of sin, from it’s guilt and penalty, they are not yet fully delivered from sin’s influence in their lives. There is a daily deliverance as individuals overcome sin and grow in holiness to become more and more like Christ. This continuing salvation from the presence of sin will one day be completed in the presence of Jesus when this life is over.

So which salvation is Paul talking about here? Which is “nearer than when we first believed,” and corresponds to the night becoming day?

It cannot be the dawn of the era of salvation coming to the Gentiles as some suggest. That idea does not fit Paul’s theme here as he talks about putting off the works of darkness in our lives. It is also strained to fit that in with this deliverance being nearer than when an individual was regenerated and first believed.

It cannot be a reference to the individual salvation of Christians when they become born again. Paul and his readers had experienced that already. The salvation of regeneration was not just closer than when they first believed. It was completed when they first believed.

The promise of our continuing victory over sin is the deliverance that seems to fit best here. We should be growing spiritually and becoming more and more conformed to the ways that honor our Creator and Savior. The fulness of our deliverance when this life is over is secured by his promise. The darkness of our past sinful ways must be set aside. We need to dress in our work clothes and get busy with the spiritual work given to us by our Redeemer. An analogy is being drawn with our common experience of getting up to get ready for the work we must do each day to provide and maintain the things we need to stay alive.

Paul wrote of being saved more and more from sin’s effects in Ephesians 5:8-10, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”

He calls his readers to wake up out of their moral laziness. It’s time for work. Others are up and about all around us, and we have a job to do for Christ. It is not right for us to keep sleeping on, and living in our dream world of false pleasures.

When we neglect our duty of growing in Christ we are ineffective in our work of advancing God’s Kingdom. If we have no interest in loving the principles he calls upon us to respect and obey, it shows that we have no real love for Christ as he really is. This was Paul’s point in the previous section of this chapter.

Peter warned about this duty in 2 Peter 3. In verse 11 he wrote, “… what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” Then in verse 14 he said, “… be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”

He tells us to take off the clothing of our former ways.

Romans 13:12-13, “… Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.”

But wait! Is there something wrong with the text here? Put off revelry? drunkenness? lewdness? lust? strife? envy? Isn’t he writing to Christian believers in the church at Rome? Yes — he certainly is.

Make no mistake. The church is not made up of people perfected in holiness. Though they are redeemed by grace, and declared holy in Christ, there is still a lot of growing to do to conform personally to his perfect holiness.

The Christian life is a process, not just a one-time event. Salvation from hell happens all at once when we come to Christ, but salvation from the effects of sin is a daily battle here in this life. As we put on the right clothing, we are told to take off the inappropriate outfit.

Paul gives a list summarizing some of the clothes appropriate for the night, the darkness of sin, clothes that ought to be removed as we wake up to get busy with the day work of the believer.

1. Do not be engaged in revelry.
In our lost condition, the soul enjoys careless and wild living. The believer should put off those things which cater to impure and unbridled passions.

Our parties, get-togethers and evening outings should honor Christ, and remain within the bounds of moral behavior and honorable conduct. We must never put ourselves into places where we will confuse our love for God’s law, or become tempted to indulge in conversation, humor, or immoralities that grieve our Lord.

2. Do not be involved in drunkenness.
Abuse of alcohol and drugs darkens the mind. It dulls the wits and judgment. Its results have destroyed individuals and families. To become intoxicated or “high” is inappropriate for those claiming to live for Christ’s glory.

Proverbs 23:30 warns us not to be among “… those who linger long at the wine.” When that which we take in begins to cloud our thinking, its final effects can be deadly. In verses 32-33 it says, “At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.”

3. Don’t be taken in by lewdness and lust.
Sexual sins strike at the heart of what God establishes as the family. The 7th commandment does not only warn spouses against sexual infidelity. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount that God’s word forbids even sexual fantasies and impure thoughts. All sexual pleasures outside of marriage are dishonorable to Christ and defy God’s law.

Today, sexual activity is no longer seen by many as a moral issue. The believer should not let this cultural attitude effect his life. The temptations of pornography in its many forms, sensual humor, open sex, and homosexuality, are destroying lives and weakening communities.

The person who engages in sex in any way outside of a biblical marriage is a danger to the church. Proverbs 23:27-28 warns, “For a harlot is a deep pit, And a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, And increases the unfaithful among men.”

Like a deep pit, such sexual addictions are hard escape. The believer must do the hard thing and change out of those garments. Otherwise the person will suffer deep pain in the soul, and undermine the foundation of society. Such things offend the eyes of God, the One whom we say we love.

4. Do not be identified with strife and envy.
We live in a world of tension. Law suits, arguments, hatred, jealousy, coveting, and envy are found everywhere. The Christian has no justification for giving in to such things.

Proverbs 23:29 continues the discussion about the dangers of sexual immorality and overindulgence in wine. It points out the tragedy it brings into the lives of all those effected by moral rebellion, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?”

These are not the ways of the child of the living God. However, Scripture shows that believers are not immune to these kinds of activities.

Today, society calls these victimless crimes. They say it is no one else’s business how we party, drink , use drugs, or have sex. We are taught that jealousy and envy are the secrets of getting ahead, that man was made to party and indulge his urges. They tell us that these are personal and private matters. They condemn us as unworthy of respect, if we question what they call alternate life styles. Real moral conviction has become like leprosy to many in today’s society. However, God in his Bible does not call them alternate ways of life. God calls them sin. They are the deeds of darkness.

They may be the trendy and seasonal fashions of the world, but they are not to be clothing for the children of God to be wearing around. Real joy and satisfaction are not found in sinful behaviors.

Paul tells us to replace those old outfits
with ones that please God.

Romans 13:12, “… let us put on the armor of light.”

The Lord does not just tell us what we should not wear. We are not to be just nothing, to do nothing, and to desire nothing. Once we put off the evil, we are to put on the wardrobe that pleases God. We should be clothed in Christ which should show in our attitudes and attributes. We put on our work clothes and get busy living for our Redeemer’s glory.

Of course he is not talking about fashion and fabrics here. He means we are to conduct ourselves in a modest, decent, and becoming manner. As we go out to do the work of the day, we ought to be clothed in the good moral attire that humbly demonstrates Christ at work in us to do what we freely admit we cannot do, and would not do on our own.

The Bible often represents the attributes of godliness in terms of clothing we put on.
Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

1 Thessalonians 5:8, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Ephesians 6:14-18 describes the armor of God we wear in battle with evil. It says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”

The items of clothing are sometimes different in each account. Each biblical writer uses them to illustrate different things. What we are to put on are these: salvation, the righteousness of Christ, faith, hope, love, God’s word, the truth, the Gospel, and prayer. This is the uniform of those who live in the daytime when we go out to work for the Lord. This is the armor of light. We need to put on the whole wardrobe, the things of Christ. We have no need to dig out the old costumes of foolish and hurtful living.

Since Jesus was perfect God as well as perfect man, and since he is our perfect example, we are told to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must read about Him, learn about Him. We must set our goal to be like Him, but not by imagining that the ability and power to do so comes from ourselves. We draw upon his promises that when we truly long to be like Jesus, he shows his love at work in our hearts, and moves us to strongly desire to overcome our sinful ways.

Paul says about the same thing in Ephesians 4:22-24, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

These characteristics are the only proper clothing for God’s children. All other outfits are but filthy rags, mere fig leaves needing to be replaced by God’s provision.

We should not make any provision for the flesh regarding its lusts. Do not keep the old outfit hanging in the back of the closet. Don’t set up occasions where you are likely to lapse into problems you have struggled with before. Don’t go to the parties and places where there will be immoral themes that will entice you. Don’t put yourself in sexually tempting situations or indulge them in your mind as if just imagining them was exempted. Jesus made it clear that the sins of the heart are contrary to the moral principles God built into his universe.

When you get out of those old patterns of life and thought, don’t be like Lot’s wife. Don’t look back. Make sure you are not leaving that foot in the door to keep it from closing all the way. Don’t leave open any provision for breaking God’s law.

Don’t involve yourself in the envy and contentious ways of the world. If success requires you to be rude, covetous, and ruthless, then what good it is? The world has its own rewards, but they are like cancer in the soul.

Instead, make provisions for righteous living. Make a plan in advance for when you are lonely, depressed, or driven by impure urges. Know what you will try to do and where you will go to avoid being taken in by temptations. Go to those you know are redeemed by God’s grace and who can pray with you and encourage you to honor what is good and right.

In Galatians 5:16 Paul wrote, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” This is the positive remedy God gives us in his word. When we put on the clothes of christian virtue, and become engaged in them, there is no nakedness of the soul needing the other filthy garments that insult God.

If Christ is loved and his ways known and practiced, as Archbishop Leighton once said, “What need you go a-begging elsewhere?”

This text in Romans is the one that changed the licentious Augustine. One of his most famous prayers to God is, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”

This is one of those duties for the believer. God says “take off” the evil, and “put on” Christ. It is not to be a passive change where we excuse our sins and lazy attitudes because we are unable to do that which is good on our own. We are told in these places to get busy and do what God tells us to do. These are among those “ought statements” in the Bible.

This is an area which often confuses believers. How can we strive to be obedient to God when we are told that we can do nothing good. Are we to wait to see Christ force us to do good things? That would be contrary to the facts of Scripture. We are told to do things for God’s glory. The Bible speaks of good actions of the Apostles and disciples, that they are really the doers of what they do. When we dismiss our lack of effort on the grounds that we are unable, we neglect the command and promise of God that by the power of the Risen Redeemer his rescued children are brought back into fellowship with God and made able to glorify him.

Yes, Jesus is the cause within us for our good desires, words and deeds. But we are not like an avatar in a computer game, or a robot programmed and controlled to do things it has no real desire to do. We are real persons who are made to love God and to desire his glory. Though it is always imperfect, it is that life put into us by grace that makes us able to live again spiritually. These are liberating “oughts”. God gets all the glory but we rejoice that we are made to be willing tools in his loving hands.

Christ-likeness cannot be put on until Christ is in the heart. “Clothes don’t make the man” as they say. But for the person to say Christ is inside, and for it not to show, is inconsistent with the promises God makes to us who are redeemed by his grace.

Do as did that future great Christian, while he fell wailing with tears in the garden. Stop the deeds that destroy. Put on Christ. Make no provisions for lusts. God’s promises have changed many before. He can change you and your loved ones too.

(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

Always In Debt

Lesson 51: Romans 13:8-10

Always In Debt

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I was too young to understand what was going on when the relatives on my mother’s side of the family all gathered at my grandparent’s house for a Mortgage Burning. It seemed a little strange when everyone gathered in the kitchen and gave little speeches. Then they set fire to a piece of paper and dropped it into the sink. Everyone cheered when the flames appeared. Then there were congratulations and lots of smiles.

I didn’t notice anything particularly different about how that paper burned, no sparks or colored flames. Why did it mean so much to everybody? That thing they called “mortgage” burned just about like all the other paper I ever saw set on fire.

After it was over my parents tried to explain what it was all about. They have retold the story a few times or I would not remember what they said. They explained that when someone buys a house it costs so much that you have to borrow money to pay for it. The mortgage was the paper that said the house wasn’t completely yours until you paid back the money you borrowed. After many years my grandparents owned their house in full so the mortgage paper could be burned. The debt was gone and everyone was happy.

As I got older I learned that there are many things we are not able to pay for right away. We borrow to be able to afford things like college tuitions, houses, and cars. Sometimes our debts can become quite a burden. It is a nice feeling when a debt is retired and the payments end.

There is a debt which is neither a troublesome burden, nor can it ever be retired. It is the debt of love. It is a joy to make the payments on this debt. Unlike that mortgage, the debt of love can never be paid off so that we are free of its obligations. It is a debt that we love to have. Unlike our financial debts the debt of love relieves our burdens and brings joy.

Paul had just spoken of our duty concerning material debts in verse 7, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” These kinds of obligations can be a burden. Owing money or service to someone can be a nagging misery. Then Paul brings up that un-retireable debt in verse 8.

Our only unpaid debt to others,
ought to be our love toward them.

Romans 13:8a, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, …”

Some misunderstand this verse believing that it forbids all borrowing. Paul is not addressing the economic issue of borrowing here. Loans were regulated in God’s law, but they were not forbidden (see Exodus 22:25). Jesus said in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:42, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” If God approved of borrowing in those instances, it must not be a moral problem in itself.

There will always be debts. Our goal and duty is to satisfy them by paying them off responsibly to eliminate the obligation. There is that one exception to our desire to retire our debts. We ought to be conspicuously unable to stop loving.

But what is this thing called love? If we are going to understand the principle taught here we need to know what we are dealing with. We have dealt with the “love” issue many times before because it is one of those central themes we see evidenced all through the Bible.

Moses summed up the law not only in 10 Commandments. He also summarized the first four commandments in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” and in Leviticus 19:18 he summarized the last 6 Commandments saying, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus quoted those words of Moses in his summary of what the law is in Matthew 22:37-40, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Paul quotes these same words of Moses in verse 9 of Romans 13.

Law and love stand in such a close and intimate relationship, that it is hard to find places in the Bible that talk about one of the two without the other. Jesus made these two indivisible when he said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

I defined love by its biblical boundaries a few lessons ago in our study of Romans 12, “Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.”

Therefore there are those three distinct aspects of love as God created it.

First, there is love’s foundation. The human ability to love as God defines it was lost by the fall in Eden. To be made able to love as we should, we need to be regenerated by the application of the work of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. Only then are we made able to honor God out of gratitude, and to be devoted in our actions and attitudes to promote godliness in others. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” His redeeming love is our enablement.

Next we experience the work of love. This is the obedience of a grateful heart changed by grace. Once restored by the work of our Redeemer we become a tool in the hand of a loving God. We are moved by the compassion he implants in our hearts to do those things which put our concerns for others into action. When people do helpful things for their own benefit or advancement, it is not love. The biblical concept of love shows itself when others are treated as God says they should be treated, and when it is done with the driving desire to glorify God and to give him all the credit for the good that we do.

Finally, when we engage in doing that which is love, we receive its blessing. There is a feeling that overtakes our hearts when we love. Therefore the legitimate feeling of love is a result of God’s blessing upon our being loving. Love is not just a feeling as the world often sees it.

God gave us his written word so that we could look there to know what things we should do to be really acting with love. Jesus said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. …”

Unregenerated people, cannot know love as humans were created to know it. Their inner disposition remains unsubmissive to the glory of the True God. However, since love is such an important part of what it is to be human, a substitute for love had to be switched for the real thing. The feeling was turned into the reality of love, completely reversing the way God made our hearts to work. They believe the feeling of love is what stirs us to act lovingly toward someone. Love then becomes something mysterious into which we fall. It is reasonable then to suppose that if we just fall into love, we can fall out of it just as easily. Some marriage vows promise to remain married “as long as we both shall love,” rather than the biblical form God gives us to remain loving “as long as we both shall live.”

This does not mean that unbelievers never do kind things which they may call “love”. God restrains sin in all people every day. If he did not do that, total chaos would break out. However, their obedience does not come from a redeemed disposition. God’s glory is not their main object. When people are motivated to be kind by what makes them feel good, the whole idea of love is turned inside out and upside down. Self interest becomes the driving force, rather than thankfulness for the grace of God and a true concern for others God has created.

This is why the things the world calls love are often fleeting and unsatisfying. When the Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love,” there was some truth to the words, but they had a completely wrong view of love. It was divorced from the Savior who alone makes love possible, and from God’s word which alone shows us what love does.

The debt to love, is never satisfied or set aside. It is the one debt we cannot pay off. Dr. Robert Haldane says of those who treasure the debt to love, “The more they pay of this debt, the richer will they be in the thing that is paid.”

The debt of love here in Romans 13:8 is actually a blessing because of the fact that it can never be retired. We can no more be released from the command to love, than from the moral principles God summarized as expressions of love in the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

The debt of love is owed to all our neighbors, not just to believers. No one is excluded, and the obligation is never concluded.

Love and law are closely connected in God’s word

Romans 13:8, “… for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Dr. Charles Hodge wrote on this verse, “Acquit yourselves of all obligations, tribute, custom, fear, honor or whatever else you may owe, but remember that the debt of love is still unpaid, and always must remain so; for love includes all duty since he that loves another fulfills the law.”

Since the Gospel enables us to love by grace, and since the moral law defines what loving behavior is, therefore if God puts the desire of love into our hearts, and we learn from the law what is right to do, then by loving our neighbor, we will be fulfilling the law of God most perfectly. Perfect love would be perfect obedience to the law of God. Love is the thing the law demands and reveals. Love is the very thing the law shows the unredeemed he cannot do. The whole law is grounded in our love to God and to man. So Jesus said in Mt 22:40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

To illustrate what law he meant, Paul quotes a few Commandments.

Romans 13:9, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

It wasn’t necessary for Paul to list all ten of the Commandments. It was sufficient to quote Commandments: 7, 6, 8 and 10. Then he quoted from Leviticus 19:18 showing that it is all summed up by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Love was never given as a replacement for the law. That is never said in the Bible. The Antinomians who say that, cut the meaning out of both love and law. God never gave love to be instead of law. He gave the law to show what it means to love. The inability to do so condemns the lost and proves the depravity of us all aside from God’s grace. Jesus satisfied the law for his people judicially by dying in their place. He satisfied its demands practically by granting them his righteousness. Yet he also works in the redeemed person’s life so that they will be being conformed more and more to the moral perfections God reveals to us in his law.

The first 4 commandments show that God is not loved in just what ever way we imagine. He is loved when we worship only him and no other god, when we refuse to make physical images to represent him, when his name is used only with due honor and respect, and when his whole Sabbath Day is kept as he tells us to keep it.

The last 6 commandments show what it is to have true love toward our neighbor. Loving our neighbors is not just whatever makes people happy and comfortable in some nebulous sort of way. It is to honor parents and those God puts in authority, to respect life and oppose murder. It is to work for what we have and not try to get things by wrong or immoral ways. It is to tell the truth because it is right to do so, not only because it might feel good or further our own interests. And love is to enjoy and manage responsibly what God gives us, not coveting what God has given to others.

As Moses, Jesus and Paul all put it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It does not say because you love yourself. The modern idea that self love must come first is a tragic lie that ruins lives in a very cruel way. Self-centeredness is condemned throughout Scripture. Rather, it says we should love our neighbor “as” we love ourselves. God made us to instinctively protect and look after our safety and well being. We duck when things come at our heads fast. We blink when our eyes are threatened. We jump out of the way if something is about to hit us.

We are glad to protect ourselves from murder, theft, lies and oppression. We try to make sure that God’s law is not violated by others trying to hurt us. This is how we ought to deal with our neighbors. We ought to do all we can to promote God’s blessing in their lives.

Only when a person learns to make God to be his first love can he begin to appreciate the worth of all humans as creatures of God, created in his image and valuable, even the tiniest unborn baby. Only then can he appreciate the awesome debt Jesus paid to redeem a sinner, transforming a rebel against God, into child of God who is loved forever.

Love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

The Apostle draws the simple and obvious conclusion. If we do what God says is right and good toward our neighbor, we do him no wrong. Love looks for ways to help others to be blessed. It does this because it is right and because it honors God to do so.

Real love is not just a gushy feeling we fall into and someday may fall out of. It is not a deep need to be with someone who makes us feel good to be around. It is not the occasional charitable things we do for the poor and needy.

Love is a behavior that flows from a heart redeemed by Christ. Love is a source that creates a river that keeps flowing, a debt that is constantly being paid, a debt that makes us glad to owe it.

Those who do not love in this way are not redeemed by grace. They do not want to love in this way. It goes against the core of their nature which is centered in self.

1 John 3:17, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

1 John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

The love we show in this life on earth is imperfect in all of us. Such love is perfect only in Jesus Christ. However, though imperfect it grows in us if we belong to the Savior through the new birth.

Our humble and sincerely repentant effort to love God and our neighbor shows Christ to others. Our Christian witness is not just the occasional opportunity to explain the Gospel. That is a wonderful act of love and should be done whenever possible. Our witness is also that life we lead hour by hour every day. It is how we shop, drive, work, invest, play, party, relax, lead, or follow. It is the continual showing of the evidence of our Savior’s work in our hearts. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The original Greek text of this verse (Romans 13:10) begins and ends with the word love. That is the emphasis God gives to it.

So Paul again states his theme: “love … is the fulfillment of the law.” If we do not have love for God’s glory, or for our neighbor’s benefit, what does it profit? What good is it to love with a false compassion that is only a disguise for satisfying self? There is no blessing in that. Evil dressed in the mask of godliness insults the divine law, which love is indebted to promote.

So, First, make sure of your salvation in Christ. Then, become so exercised in the ethics and morals of the Bible that those good principles seem natural to you. And pray for God’s sanctifying Spirit to mold you to be Christ-like toward God and others.

Love as if it is a wonderful debt to owe. Joyfully make the payments, all day, every day.

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

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Who Is In Charge Here?

Lesson 50: Romans 13:1-7

Who Is In Charge Here?

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Some people are just plain bossy. I remember kids like that in our neighborhood when I was growing up. On the playground, along the streets going to and from school, and when we got together after school the same kids always seemed to take control. When somebody had enough of the self-appointed bosses they’d ask, “Who put you in charge, anyway?” The answer was obvious — no body did. They were self-appointed.

There were exceptions though. Some had real authority given to them. The most trusted kids were picked by the teachers to be on the Safety Patrol. They were helpers to the crossing guard. They would stand at the street crossings, hold out their arms, and keep kids from crossing until the adult guard blew the whistle and waved for us to cross. The Safety Patrol got to wear a fancy white belt with a shoulder strap that bore a genuine shiny silver badge.

But there was more to it than that. They were enforcers of the law. If someone stepped off the curb too soon or pushed someone toward the street the Safety Patrol kid was expected to report them. So you learned to honor the Safety Patrol. They may have been just kids like all the rest of us, but unlike the self-made bosses of the neighborhood, these kids had authority behind them. They represented the school’s Principal, the highest power we knew in our lives back then. If you gave the badged students a hard time you would be called into the Principal’s office, and probably have your parents called in too. Nobody wanted that. So the Safety Patrol was obeyed and respected. To disobey the one delegated by the Principal, was like disobeying the Principal.

This is a principle that God built into his universe. All real human authority is delegated by God himself. To disobey those he puts in charge, is to disobey God himself.

The last part of Chapter 12 teaches that we should never take our own revenge. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. Now in Chapter 13 we see one way in which the Lord’s vengeance was to be carried out.

God delegates the exercise of his temporal vengeance
upon law breakers through rightful authorities.

Romans 13:1, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”

Paul begins with a general principle. God has ordained that there would be some who govern, and others who are governed. The existence of authority structures at every level reflects the relationship of God as King over all of his creation.

Here Paul uses a very general term, exousiais huperechousais (εξουσίαις ὑπερεχουσαις), which means “Governing authorities” or “higher powers”. This principle applies to all types of governments. At various times God has granted the power of rule to monarchies, empires, republics, social democracies, tribal systems, and dictatorships. Their hold on power was not an endorsement of their methods or standards. God uses all that comes to pass to advance his plan. God has empowered imperfect civil governments to limit dangerous social behaviors, and to ensure a common peace and safety for his people.

All authority is from God alone, and is established by him. This means that God alone defines the powers and limitations at each level of authority. Charles Hodge put it this way, “All human power is delegated and ministerial.”

Human authority does not come from the consent of the people, from social contracts, from traditions, or from the power of the military. It comes from God who sovereignly appoints every human to his place of power. Even the wicked King Jeroboam is said to have been appointed by God over the Ten Tribes.

The Bible speaks of four primary areas of human authority. Each is there to administer order in a specific way, and over specific people. Those who are under that authority are to respect the office of those in headship over them in that limited sense. It is their God-given responsibility.

In the home God holds husbands responsible for providing for their families, for protecting them, and for helping them grow spiritually. Both parents are to care for their children and oversee all that promotes their well-being. The wives are to help their husbands carry out their responsibilities and honor the covenant God established between them in marriage. Children are to honor their parents as those God has put over them for their good. It is a horrible perversion of authority for husbands to degrade their wives, make them serve their personal mandates, or to do harm to their wives in any way. Likewise Parents do not have authority to harm their children or to abuse them.

In the work place employers, business owners, and managers are to oversee the work of those they employ to make sure they both do the work they are paid to do, and to ensure that every worker is properly compensated for his time and talents. The workers are to honor what their masters at work expect of them. They should honestly do the work with such diligence that it will be pleasing to God.

In the church, God has called and ordained Elders to oversee their congregations spiritually. They are to guard the purity of worship and the administration of the Sacraments. The Elders are responsible for teaching and shepherding all those under their care. Discipline is to be carried out justly within the boundaries of authority God grants to the church. Those in the church are to honor the offices of leadership, and show respect for the Elders as long as what they do and teach is not in conflict with the instructions God has given us in his word.

Likewise in civil societies, leaders are held responsible for keeping peace and order within the boundaries of the territory God places under their authority. Our respect is to be directed to their office, not to their personal merit, or power to subjugate others.

When Paul wrote this epistle, pagan Rome ruled the civilized world. Some Emperors came to power by violence, some by the vote of the senate, some by the power of an army, and others were illegal successors to the throne. No Roman Caesar in that era honored Christ or viewed the Scriptures as God’s law. Yet Paul said that all existing governing authorities are established by God.

God establishes different governments to accomplish different purposes. The civil leaders may be a blessing or a curse. They may bring honor or dishonor, but always by God’s wise providence. Wicked governors are appointed by God as a just reward and to execute judgments. He raised up Babylon to judge Israel when that nation wandered from him. He raised up the Pharaoh of Egypt to reveal his power to deliver, and to show his justice toward those who defy him. God said about the Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16 “… indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”

Dr. Robert Haldane wisely said, “No tyrant ever seized power till God gave it him.” The Bible is filled with absolutely clear statements of that fact. For example, Psalm 75:7 says, “But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.”

Even the sufferings of societies justly show us God’s rule. Daniel wrote from captivity in Daniel 4:17, “This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.”

The prophet Jeremiah records God’s words in Jeremiah 27:5, “I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are on the ground, by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and have given it to whom it seemed proper to Me.”

We should keep this in mind even while we pray for some who undergo persecutions. Sometimes even the church has defied rightful government and brought God’s wrath upon them. Haldane warns, “When the ignorance of God’s people is punished for any offense against the government of their country, their chastisement should be looked on as a chastisement from God”

There is only one biblical limit — we ought to obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29). If governing authorities force us to defy God we are duty bound to disobey, but respectfully and humbly.

There is a grave danger that comes
from insubordination to governing authorities.

Romans 13:2, “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”

Since God appoints every power, good or evil, to resist them is to resist God. It deserves to be condemned. It is very serious when we break a civil law. The danger is not just that we may get caught by police, fined, or put in jail. It is not that our reputation might be damaged, or our social status might be brought down. It is that breaking civil law is disobedience of this ordinance of God.

We easily get discouraged about government corruption when we lose sight of this. No matter who wins an election, or what disgraces are done by our leaders, or what turmoil and damage their rule might bring about, we need to remember the words of Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We also should remember Psalm 9:20 “Put them in fear, O LORD, That the nations may know themselves to be but men.” Pagan King Nebuchadnezzar learned, “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men” (Daniel 4:17). This passage puts an awesome price upon this disobedience. It brings God’s condemnation.

As startling as it may seem, even evil governments serve God’s purpose. No human government is ever perfect. They all enforce some wrong laws. There is no greater abuse of authority imaginable, than the crucifying of Jesus Christ. The Roman authorities and the Jewish Elder/Priests put to death the one who appointed them. Hellenistic paganism was a state religion. The Roman Empire was oppressive to God’s people. The Jews, even the faithful ones, were restricted. The early church became its target, and after Nero many were tortured and put to death. Yet it was to this oppressive Empire of lustful, egocentric pagan rulers, that Paul called his readers to civil obedience. Even though they would jail him, and later execute him. This totalitarian state of Rome was to be honored and obeyed in the civil realm as God’s appointed servants.

This in no way implies that God sanctioned their evil. God uses such imperfect states to restrict evil to the degree that it serves his purposes. This protects us against the outbreak of total chaos, mass murders, lootings, and against large scale brutality of the church to take its property, or to kill and defile its people. Even poor courts limit the flow of oppression, though they may be motivated in their judgments by power and greed.

Sometimes corrupt governors were used to show God’s people their own failures, and to provoke them to repentance and renewed obedience. In times of martyrdom the church often grew in strength even though its numbers were diminished. God used the pagan Roman Empire, Egypt, Babylon, Syria, Canaan, Philistia, and many more. God’s people under oppression were not directed to overthrow the governments, or to provoke dissent. They were to live responsible godly lives under that which was instituted by the authority of God.

Even in captivity under Babylon, the captured Jews were told to pray for the cities. Jeremiah 29:7, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”

The duty of civil governments is stated in God’s word.

Romans 13:3-4, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

Since civil leaders are ministers of God for good, there should be no fear in the hearts of those who obey rightful laws. However, for those who do evil, who defy the laws God gave governments the authority to enforce, they have reason for fear. Their fear should not be only the threat of jail or fines, but also and more so the wrath of God.

The word translated here as “minister” is diakonos (διακονος). This is the same word meaning “servant” which was used for the office of Deacon in the church. Government’s job is to administer good in our communities, to keep the civil order for all who obey the civil laws. Good governments are called upon to preserve and protect our creation rights of life, work (which implies earnings and ownership), marriage and family, and liberty of conscience to obey God. Civil leaders are not to control our lives, work, families, and conscience. They are to ensure that these rights are secured for their citizens.

These ministers of the civil order do not bear the sword in vain. That is, they do not bear the instruments of force for no purpose. Governments have a right to use physical force against criminals. “Bearing the sword” is most often connected with the execution of capital punishment. It is not murder when the state executes a properly convicted murderer. God’s word makes this a capital crime because of the absolute dignity of human life.

This is how God ordains to carry out his wrath in this world. Government, through its courts and under the limits of due process and the laws of evidence, are the only rightful avengers in society. No one may take the law into his own hands.

Even the Apostle Paul when under arrest agreed with that principle in his own case. He said in Acts 25:11, “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

As Christian citizens we have an absolute moral duty.

Romans 13:5, “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”

Our subjection to civil rulers is mandated by God. Peter had learned a lot since that impetuous moment in Gethsemane when he drew his sword. Later in 1 Peter 2:13-17 he wrote, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”

Later Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 3:1, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,”

Government has specific areas of proper God-given authority. For example, to ensure public safety and to protect life and property our governments enact laws such as those against robbery, theft, assault, murder, rape, incest, and perjury. For our safety against irresponsible citizens they regulate traffic with speed laws, issue licenses to qualified drivers, and register motor vehicles. If we think some laws are unwise, we can work to change them. But like it or not, we must obey them as long as they do not require us to disobey God’s own laws.

To provide for the national defense governments may prosecute people for treason, aggression, terrorism, and espionage. They can use military force to protect us against evil aggression from other nations. Just as personal self-defense is justified, so is international self-defense.

However, government may not intrude upon the rightful authority God gives to others. It cannot do the work of Elders by controlling church membership, worship, or doctrine. It cannot do the work of parents by taking over the education and discipline of children. They cannot do the work of our masters in the workplace by assuming control over industry or businesses.

When government officials show disregard for other authority structures, they too will answer to God for their disregard of his order. The tendency of the fallen arrogant heart is to presume that others are not smart enough to carry out the duties God has given them. Corrupt governments believe they can do better than parents in raising and teaching children, better than medical professionals in determining what medical procedures are to be employed, and better than the owners of businesses to determine how budgets, materials, properties, and employees are to be managed.

Many in government are intent upon taking control of these areas of life. Civil leaders may sincerely see businesses not making good choices, or parents not raising their children in ways that seems most wise. However, just as Paul was respectful to Rome in areas of the Empire’s legitimate authority, so also governments should respect the authority God assigns to the home, the church, and the work place.

There are times when an invasive or oppressive government is perhaps God’s judgment upon citizens who have neglected their own responsibilities. If civil leaders are immoral or corrupt it may bring God’s judgment. On the other hand, these abuses of government may already be God’s chastisement upon a lazy or immoral society.

Paul next adds that we are to be in subjection for important reasons. Our respect for authority is not only to avoid judicial wrath when we do wrong, it is also to ensure a clear conscience before God, that we have not defied the authority structures he instituted.

Government must be provided for
so that it can do its work effectively.

Romans 13:6-7, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

Government has a right to collect reasonable taxes. Funds are needed so that governments can carry out their duties of law enforcement and defense. Given our fallen nature, it is not surprising that taxation is often abused.

Under the economic system God set up for Ancient Israel during the Levitical Period, there was a single amount each household had to pay. The only percentage fee was the Tithe (one tenth of all income). However that was designated for the Priests and for the costs of worship, not for the costs of funding armies and keeping neighborhoods safe from criminals.

Often taxes are used for things which are in themselves evil, just as they were in ancient Rome. It is interesting that even with those abuses, Paul says we are to pay the taxes and fees anyway. Jesus said in Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”

God charges the abuse of taxes against the corrupt governments. God does not hold the citizens guilty for what their leaders do with the tax money. We must not withhold taxes simply because we believe they are wrongly collected or improperly spent. We should work within the law to see that irresponsible tax laws are changed, but we do not have the authority to refuse to pay.

At times governments impose other fees to curtail unfair trade practices. When there are customs, the charges must also be paid. These are fees placed upon imports and exports, or taxes on items or services purchased or sold.

We are to render these payments with humble respect. They must be paid in fear of the awesome power God has entrusted to our leaders, and with the honor due to the office God has given them.

As we work to bring Christ’s lordship into every area of life committed and talented believers ought to get into government work. We need statesmen of integrity and principle rather than those who simply want fame, fortune, and power. This brings us to yet another duty which should be obeyed every day.

We are to pray for the civil authorities
God has placed over us.

Paul wrote to Timothy reminding him in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

Just as the Safety Patrol kids represented the school’s Principal, so also the police, the sheriff’s deputies, the mayors, governors, congressmen, president, and all those in civil authority represent the kingship of God on earth. To disobey or to dishonor them is to defy God, and call down his judgment.

Our duty is to be responsible and godly citizens. We should elect leaders who will honor the boundaries and responsibilities God has placed upon civil authorities. We should pray for and encourage those who hold rightful offices, and we should honor their laws and leadership within the area of authority God has given to them.

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

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The Poison of Revenge

Lesson 49: Romans 12:17-21

The Poison of Revenge

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Violence has been a part of our world since its earliest recorded moments. It uses whatever technologies are available to do damage and harm. There was a time when swords and well crafted clubs were the best and only weapons of terror. In time arrows, cross-bows, and the powerful long-bows extended the arm of terror and made it possible to penetrate the best protection and defenses available at the time. Not long after that gunpowder made it possible to hurl projectiles like canon balls and bullets hitting targets at greater distances and with more penetrating power. Riffling made the bullets even more accurate. Firearms became more portable, higher powered, and more sophisticated in their ability to hit targets quickly. Explosives have evolved into sophisticated nuclear devices able to be lobbed at enemies by missiles crossing oceans and continents with ease.

It is wrong to blame our present dangers on advances in technology. History records that some of the most devastating and savage acts of terrorism were not caused by bombs or automatic weapons. Entire populations were left maimed and dying in the wake of sweeping attacks by enemy nations in the time when the most sophisticated weapon was the sword.

The poison that gets out of control in terrorists and in unstable people is present in every fallen heart. We see it when aggressive drivers on the highway try to run others off the road, or take shots at them. We see riots where neighbors using rocks and clubs take out vengeance upon one another. We even see fights break out on playgrounds between children at play.

Vengeful attacks are not limited to physical violence. They may be launched in a barrage of hateful words spoken in hatred and revenge. People use cutting remarks or a sarcastic gestures to hurt others by belittling them or insulting them. They lash out to hurt back when they have been hurt. Vengeful attacks cannot be excused on the grounds of self defense. They are moved by a self-deified heart.

Paul explained the root of it all in Romans 5:12 where he said, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.” The result is what Jeremiah described in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

Justice is imperfect in our world. Often the wicked appear to be getting away with evil. When victims see justice not carried out as quickly or as severely as they see fit, they may take the law into their own hands, or lash out to get even.

Revenge can be a sophisticated poison, one that is in some ways socially accepted and encouraged. They call it standing up for yourself, getting even, or sweet revenge. But it is not sweet at all. It’s a bitter poison to the human heart. It eats up the soul of those who steal God’s sole prerogative and right. Getting even often gets us a sour spirit. It usurps what is God’s, and shoulders a divine duty which no one can bear.

In Romans 12:17-21 Paul reviews God’s prescription for his children

Christians ought to resist the
temptation of personal vengeance.

Romans 12:17, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.”

Evil done toward us should not be paid back with evil of our own. It is the natural tendency of the lost human soul to seek revenge, retaliation, or retribution. That attitude must be replaced by a more proper view of justice and its deserts. Only our faith in the power of the risen Christ can enable us to overcome that urge to get even on our own. Testings of our character when we are wronged often expose the false hearted “Christian”.

We should be careful that our behavior is honorable in the sight of everyone. We should never let vengeance move us to lay aside right principles when we are wronged. There is no good moral law of God that can be set aside just because someone else is wicked. Personal vengeance is an unhealthy attitude, and it brings reproach upon the gospel, upon the name of Christ which we bear.

Believers are bound to do all they can to promote
peace rather than to return evil for evil.

Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

Jesus said that the peacemakers are the ones God blesses. When we promote peace we also fight against the misery that comes from revenge. The best thing for our own souls is to live as the God who made us prescribes. No one knows better than our Creator about what is good for us.

However, in this sinful world our attempts at peace are not always accepted. We cannot control all situations or how others respond to what we do or say. Our duty is to persevere toward promoting peace.

We also need to remember that peace at any cost is too great a price to pay. We cannot compromise with evil or abandon the demands of justice simply to make things seem to be peaceful. That which is purchased at the expense of duty or godly obedience cannot truly be called “peace.”

Revenge is not ours to take. It belongs to God.

Romans 12:19, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

People read the expression “give place to wrath” in different ways. Some have taken this to mean we should give room for the wrath of those who are against us, that we should step aside and give it room to rush on by. Though that is certainly correct in one sense, it is not what the words mean here.

The grammar indicates that this is making reference to the wrath of God. To clarify this the NASB translates it as, ” leave room for the wrath of God.” We ought to let wrath occur, as God has instructed us. It should not come by our personal attacks on others, but by just and proper authority. Let those God has put in charge deal with justice, though it may be imperfect for now. Give it time, give it room, and in the end, justice will be done without our violating God’s order.

Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35 which confirms that interpretation. There it says, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.”

The Lord is the only one who has a right to vengeance. He will deliver it justly in his good time.

Here on earth God assigns justice to be carried out only by certain people. Parents are to raise their children in love. When they disobey, their parents must discipline them kindly in ways that will encourage them in godliness. Elders are to shepherd the members of the church. When members are unrepentant, the Elders admonish them, bar them from the sacraments, or in extreme cases remove them from the church. Masters are to provide fairly for their employees. When they are unfaithful workers their employers may withhold pay, or dismiss them from work. Civil judges and governors are to keep the peace in society for their citizens. When crimes are committed they may impose fines, or even execute capitol offenders.

However, even those who hold these offices are not to take vengeance personally. They are to impose the corrections they are authorized to administer as agents of God. To interfere with these authorities is to defy God’s designation of his ministers (Romans 13). When we respect these authorities, and refrain from taking our own vengeance, we promote happiness for ourselves, and for all whose lives we touch.

Instead of personal vengeance,
we are to overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21,”Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


While there are some confusing things about this passage, its meaning is clear. When people do evil against us and behave as enemies, we are to overcome the evil by doing good to them.

To illustrate this Paul uses the most common needs we can provide for them: food and drink. The principle is that we are not to return evil for evil, but should do good when ever we can. This was the law of God from the beginning. Human philosophy and culture perverts this idea as the Pharisees did in the time of Jesus. They said in Matthew 5:43, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” That is found no where in Scripture. It was a horrible corruption of God’s word.

Jesus corrected them and said in the next verse, “But I say to you, love your enemies” Then he expanded on that with references to the law they should have known: he said, “… bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

This fits perfectly with the elements of love we derived from Scripture in our last study. The foundation of love is a heart regenerated by the work of Jesus Christ. In our fallen estate we cannot love as God defines it. Only when new life is given to the lost by grace, can self-centered concerns be replaced by God-centered motives. The actions which are called “love” are the obediences to what God commands us to be and to do. Without God’s revelation, love would have no definition. When we do what God commands toward our neighbors and toward our enemies we are loving them. Jesus is said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” When we love as we should, God blesses us with a feeling of peace and satisfaction because we are being what he created and redeemed us to be. The “feeling of love” is a fruit of love, not its cause.

The confusing part of this passage is when Paul adds that in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Paul was quoting from Proverbs 25:21-22 following the wording of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament commonly used by the Jews at that time). This passage reads, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.”

Paul quotes this to explain why we should do good to those who do evil to us. this is our proper motive. But how is heaping coals of fire on an enemy’s head like doing good toward him? This is obvious figurative. It should not be taken as literal. Giving food and drink is not the same act as putting burning coals on a person’s head.

So what did this figure mean to those Hebrews who first read Proverbs 25? It seems to have been a common figure of speech or idiom understood by God’s people representing some judgment of God being poured out upon the wicked. For example we see in Psalm 140:10, “Let burning coals fall upon them; Let them be cast into the fire, Into deep pits, that they rise not up again.”

The idea of Dr. Ridderbos that this meant a neighborly gesture of given them a bucket of coals for their fire which they could carry home on their heads is creative. But he shows no support that this expression ever had that meaning.

So why should we hope that our doing good would bring down God’s judgment upon them? Certainly making them suffer should not be our motive in doing good. We do not leave them to God because he can hurt them more than we could. That goes against the whole context here. However, if our doing good is an evidence of God’s work in our own hearts, then it serves as a testimony to the truth and power of the gospel. Just before Jesus said that we should love our enemies, he also said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

This judgment of conscience (as God describes it in Romans 1 and 2) will show them their own corruption which they do not want to admit. It hurts them and works against what they want to believe, but God will use it to bring his chosen ones to repentance and conviction of sin. In this way some of those who are enemies are transformed into brothers in Christ.

Those not brought to repentance will become all the more angry when we respond kindly to their attacks. It reveals their lost rebellious hearts. It shows them as vessels of God’s wrath designed to reveal his power, justice and holiness (Romans 9:22). To them whose debt to God is not paid for by Christ, one day judgment will come eternally. The weight of their conscience serves as a warning to them of the wrath to come. Dr. Haldane points out that when a person is not overcome by good done to him unworthily, he must be in “the most awful state of hardened wickedness, and their punishment will be dreadful.”

God may at times use the pain to their conscience to cause them to back off. Regardless of how God uses the good we do to those who oppose us, it is the right thing for us to do because God commands it. Our motive in doing good is not to punish our enemies. It is an obedience to our Redeemer. To yield to anger is to be conquered by the enemy.

Vengeance shows weakness and frailty, not strength. The idea of personal vengeance is totally un-Christian. If we are vengeful, desire to get even, and if we inflict pain on those who hurt us (either physically or by our words), we reject this biblical teaching. We should have the attitude of Christ in us.

One of the sad chapters in my own childhood was the time I hurt a friend. As a child I was not a fighter. It was not something I would have been very good at anyway since I was one of the smaller kids in school. But my size made me a good victim when some of the bigger ones wanted to impress somebody. They would come up behind me as I walked home from school and start pushing or saying provoking things to make themselves look tough. Of course I was not so foolish as to give in and start a fight. That’s what they wanted me to do. I tried to turn the issue aside by the way I responded to their prodding. Most times it worked. Now and then I would end up taking a few hits, no serious harm. It was done more for show. They would walk off with their easily impressed friends.

One day I had a disagreement with a friend of mine, a boy whose family had moved to Buffalo from England. His name was John. He and I had the same birthday which we found to be a good start for a friendship. Now I don’t remember what the issue was, but John and I got into an after-school argument one day.

There were others who had gathered around watching us argue. Those more violently minded kids sensed a good opportunity to provoke a fight. That was a favorite after school pastime for some who lacked other things in which to excel. They started pushing us together and adding to our argument. We started to rather tamely poke at one another. Somehow, in the heat of the situation, the confrontation escalated into an all out punching match. Then I noticed that the bullies who had used me as their victim before, were actually urging me on and cheering for me against this new guy who wasn’t quite as well accepted yet. My selfish desire to take advantage of the moment, and to show John who was really right in our disagreement got the best of me. With one well thought out swing I gave it all I had. My little fist flew through the air and hit poor John right in the face below his eye. He bent over and grabbed the bruised spot and started to cry. The gang crowded around me with congratulations. For that moment I felt like a real hero.

The next day in class my already troubled conscience was stirred by my 4th grade teacher, Miss. Turner. I highly respected her and the patience she had with the class. I remember her noticing John’s bruise and asking what happened. There was no way I was going to help her out on this one. But the witnesses who had urged the whole thing on proudly shouted out that I did it. There it was — my moment in glory. The bullies actually attaching my name to victory and justice. But Miss Turner didn’t seem to see it that way. She looked at me with her kind but obviously troubled smile and said, “So I guess that means you won.”

It didn’t sound like she was really asking. Her tone of voice cut deeply. I didn’t feel like a winner at that point. And I knew I hadn’t proven that I was right about anything we had been arguing about either. I had done something I had no right to do. I felt very cowardly and defeated as that moment. I realized that the teacher I had so respected was disappointed in me. She had put her finger directly upon the real issue. There was no victory or justice there at all. Later that day I apologized to John. We continued as good friends until his family moved away again. Since then we have lost touch with one another as so often happens with our childhood friends.

That incident drove home an important lesson for me. When in God’s providence we are treated with cruelty, belittled, or taunted, we should realize that such matters cannot always be avoided. In God’s hidden purposes our suffering always has a very important purpose. Our responsibility is to respond to it in a proper way.

We should try to promote peace. We should do it prayerfully, depending upon God alone, and only in ways prescribed to us in Scripture. Peace with others is never found by abandoning the demands of justice when civil order is violated. Judicial penalties are the exclusive duties of the offices God has designated. Parents should deal with their children when they disobey. Elders oversee the spiritual lives of the members of their congregations. Business managers may terminate or redirect the responsibilities of workers who do not fulfill their responsibilities on the job.

When victims try to take justice into their own hands and execute wrath aside from God-given authority, society descends into chaos rather than peace.

The world glorifies the “tough guy” who stands up for himself and makes those suffer who get in his way. In reality, that person is neither strong nor tough. He is weak and to be pitied for his inability to overcome evil with good, and to leave vengeance to the Lord. His is the way of a child, not of one with maturity and strength.

If in moments of sinful weakness we resort to personal vengeance, we need to confess it to God. We should apologize humbly to those we hurt, and work hard to grow in Christ so that others will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

By God’s grace, through Christ, may we find the strength to love as God tells us to love.

(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

Genuine Christianity

Lesson 48: Romans 12:9-16

Genuine Christianity

by Bob Burridge ©2012

When the Christmas season approaches each year, people make up wish-lists and start dropping hints to loved ones and friends. Stores put up displays designed to entice us to want the products they invested in and put up on their shelves. Commercials on television and ads that pop up on websites try to show us how delighted we will be if we buy their product. Children are made to think that this year’s number one toy will bring them endless hours of delight and fun. Teens become convinced that certain products will instantly make them attractive and popular.

Armed with scribbled or downloaded lists, and minds full of well dropped hints, we shop. To fulfill the dreams of those we love, we brave the traffic either on the streets, or on the internet. Urged on by the joy we hope to bring to those we deeply care about, we fill secret hiding places with gifts, and empty our bank accounts of our extra earnings.

The lists help us select what our loved ones have said they want. However, we need to be careful that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that these outward things will really make anyone truly happy, or that they are the best way to show our love and friendship. We need to keep our balance. Our shopping traditions, while probably expressing a genuine love in many cases, may also betray that we put our trust in the wrong things.

In our world of self-interests, people often look to find their joy and satisfaction in clothes, cars, toys, gadgets, entertainment, leisure, sports, and countless other things. They look for security to their investments, possessions, and savings. They measure their worth by earned titles, degrees, and how many people know them by name. Things like these become obsessions. None of them really provides a lasting sense of inner satisfaction. People who get them soon need more, better and newer of whatever they hoped will provide what they believe is missing.

Not that any of these things are wicked to have, but when we think they will bring us inner peace, security, joy and satisfaction, we have elevated created things over the promises and person of the One who made them. To be a healthy part of the body of Christ serving in this present world, we need to know the kinds of things God tells us are best to be the objects of our highest affections. In this next section of Romans Paul shows us that upon which the genuine Christian life should be centered.

As Christians, we ought to love with a genuine sincerity.

Romans 12:9a, “Let love be without hypocrisy.”

The word “hypocrisy” comes from ancient Greek. It came to be used in those times to describe actors playing a part in a play. Today, we say a person is a hypocrite when he pretends to have attitudes and convictions other than what is really in his heart. Dr. Haldane points out that our fallen society is filled with “false pretensions of love”.

The Bible is our Creator’s word to direct us in how those redeemed by Grace can live to show proper honor toward God. In a sense, it should be our operator’s manual for life. There God teaches us that love is not what the world imagines it to be. Our love should come from a heart made alive by Christ. It should reflect the undeserved love of God toward sinners whom he makes into his children.

To the world love is a confused mixture of unexplainable things. Some see it in outward acts of kindness and care for others. The word is often used for the satisfying physical and emotional needs in a romantic situation. Often it is seen as a feeling that mystically overtakes us so that we fall into and out of love passively. These things can all come from very selfish motives. People may to these things only to make themselves feel good or to get others to treat them favorably. They are not the essence of love as God explains it in his word.

Confused fallen people even say that it is love that moves them to abort certain babies, set murderers free, encourage sexual activities outside the bonds of marriage as God instituted it. These are not acts of love at all. They are tragic counterfeits. Biblically, love begins in the redeemed heart, evidences itself in godly actions and attitudes, and results in a good and satisfying feeling because of our engagement in what pleases God.

Those are the 3 elements of love in the Bible.
1. Its foundation is a heart regenerated by the work of Jesus Christ. In our fallen estate, we cannot love as God defines it. Only when new life is given to the lost by grace, can their center of concern change from self to God. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Jesus as Savior, enabling the person to purpose and to do what formerly he could not and would not.

2. The evidence of love is obedience to what God commands us to be and do. Being born-again sets the person free form the bondage of sin and death. This makes the person want to do what is good and right, both toward God himself, and toward others.

Jesus is said in John 14:21 “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Love is always defined by the principles God has revealed to us in the Bible. There is no other way to know what is really right and good. The loving person’s attitude and behavior toward his neighbor should be what God says it ought to be. Also, his attitude and behavior toward God is what Scripture reveals is truly pleasing to the Lord. In this way love is something we can do as enabled by redeeming grace. It is not just something we feel. God commands us to love one another as an action, not as a feeling. 1 John 3:18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Therefore, Biblical love is concerned about the true needs of others as seen by God.

3. There is also a feeling of love. This is the blessing that God gives to those who humbly show evidence of his grace at work in their hearts. The feeling is a fruit of love, so it should not be mistaken for love itself. As feelings come and go people often believe they fall into and out of love, almost as if they were victims of forces of nature. Biblically we are commanded to love. It is something we do in obedience to our loving Redeemer. The feeling is sure to follow as the blessing God covenants to give when his ways are honored.

I define the general biblical use of the word “love” this way, “Love is an attitude implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled to obey joyfully the revealed desires of our Creator both toward the Lord Himself and toward one another.”

The love believers should have as members of the body of Christ should not be just an outward show, or a mystical feeling. It comes from redeemed hearts doing all things for the glory of God, and for the advancement of the spiritual growth of their neighbors.

We should not treat evil and good in the same way.

Romans 12:9b, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”

The lost soul has no standard by which he can identify what is good. He tends to think something is good if it makes him feel comfortable. He clings to those things, and avoids as evil whatever disrupts his security and personal peace. He may even see things God forbids as good things if they feed his selfish lusts. He will probably also see the good things God encourages as being time wasting annoyances.

Genuine Christianity should agree with God about what is evil and good. We need to cling to the good tenaciously, while we avoid evil. Bad things cannot simply be pushed out because you suspect they will keep you from happiness. That is just more self-centeredness. You must see how they offend God and therefore you become appalled by them.

To remove the evil it must be displaced by what God says is good. There is no moral neutrality or vacuum. If you wanted to get the darkness out of a room you don’t look for ways to chase it away. You get rid of it by filling the room with light. To successfully overcome hurtful attitudes and behaviors, you need to replace them with that which is good. Paul says you should cling to, become united with, what God says is good. Literally the words mean “be glued together with what is good.”

Our attitude toward others should be honorable.

Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;”

Instead of being devoted to self-needs, the Christian needs to look to the needs of his brothers and sisters in the Lord. The word for “brotherly love” is philadelphia (φιλαδελφία). It is the kind of affection family members have for one another.

We should be good examples by showing honor toward others in Christ’s family. Unlike the world, our goals in career and with friends should never be simply to out-do others. As Paul said it in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Serving the Lord should be the prime concern in our lives.

Romans 12:11,”not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”

The 1611 King James Version has “not slothful in business …” Today we think of the word “business” as having to do with commerce, buying and selling things, and managing a profit making company. That is not the meaning of the words here. The word translated “business” is more broad. It means any activity, whatever we set out to do. Believers in all their zeal need to be motivated in every area of life to be serving the honor of God.

In all we do, career included, we must do our best as those who represent Christ. In Colossians 3:22-23 Paul wrote, “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

There ought to be great joy in the believer’s outlook.

Romans 12:12a, “rejoicing in hope.”

The world around us follows the natural way of our fallen souls. It rests in temporal securities such as stable jobs, sound investments, savings, and good health. These are all very uncertain things which bring no assurance of happiness in themselves. Often, concerns about security become destructive worries and obsessions. The more people get, the more they worry about losing it.

When we are redeemed in Christ, we have a more sure confidence. God’s promises are at the foundation. By counting on his word we find hope in whatever circumstances we face, both gains and losses. That sure confidence becomes the foundation for real joy.

The Bible records those promises in undeniable clarity:

Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”

Hebrews 6:19, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,”

Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Difficult times can be endured and overcome.

Romans 12:12b, “patient in tribulation,”

Even in times of suffering we know that our God rules in heaven and earth. Life brings tragedies into every life at one time or another. We all experience losses and pain. But through it all we have that confidence that we are not alone. Psalm 23 reminds us that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. In those times we do well to remember Job, David, Habakkuk and so many others who faced losses and hard to understand circumstances. Trust in God, not that he will keep you from adversity, but that he will preserve you through those challenging times.

The true believer relies upon his Heavenly Father.

Romans 12:12c, “continuing steadfastly in prayer;”

Those who trust in God’s promise through Christ must learn to see the importance of prayer. Talking to our Heavenly Father who alone holds all things in his hands, is a great comfort. The greatest cure for human anxiety is to learn the power of personal and regular prayer. Paul, in advising the Christians in Philippi wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

A tragic loneliness comes to those who cut themselves off from communion with God in prayer.

We ought to show concern for the struggles
of others in the family of God.

Romans 12:13, “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”

The world around us would rather leave mercy and care to charitable agencies or government. However, God does not call institutions or governments to care for the needy. He calls his children to do it in love and in the name of Christ to bring glory to God. The greatest benefit in the work of mercy is not the relief of hunger, disease, or poverty. It is the promotion of God’s glory by showing the humble compassion he puts into his children.

The hospitality it speaks of here is not social entertaining in our homes. It is providing for those away from home and family when they have needs. Believers ought to budget their resources and time so that they are able to do all they can to be quick to take care of others in times of special need.

As Christians we should have
a godly response to persecutions.

Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Here Paul summarizes a larger issue. The world is quick to curse those who trouble them. In contrast, we as children of God ought to actually bless those who treat us badly. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “… love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

How easily we respond with an angry glance, a sharp word, or a cold rejection when people take advantage of us, hurt us unjustly, or belittle what we hold dear. Some even respond with violence or try to cause harm and suffering in return.

But it’s to our shame when we act in a way so unlike Jesus Christ. His warnings to the haters of God and to his persecutors was never from personal hurt. He even prayed regarding the forgiveness of the civil crime of his own crucifixion. There were some yet to be redeemed who foolishly called for his death. The first Christian martyr Stephen prayed similarly.

We should learn to be more empathetic toward others.

Romans 12:15-16, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”

The world of fallen souls, of which we too would be a part if it was not for the grace of God, has little real concern for the feelings of others.

In the grip of sin, our society is moved by self-mindedness. When things go well for others, people often jealously wish that the blessing was theirs. When others suffer, they often distance themselves from the situation so their peace of mind will not be troubled. When the lowly in society face problems, the proud bask in their own success as if they were better than those who suffer.

Christians need to join with those who rejoice, to be happy for them and with them. We need to enter into the sorrows of others when they weep, and understand their suffering.

This verse is not so much calling for feelings of sympathy, which often looks down in pride upon troubled people in a condescending and haughty way. Rather it is calling for empathy.

The American College Dictionary defines “empathy” as, “entering into the feeling or spirit of a person”. Being of the same mind is to become united with their feelings about things. When God blesses them, we ought to thank God with them. When they endure adversities, we ought to struggle with them.

We dare not be concerned only for our own feelings and needs. We should learn to see through the other person’s eyes. Understand their struggles and needs. Remember that we are all sinners saved by and blessed by God’s grace alone. Calvin said “… a Christian ought not to aspire, in an ambitious manner, after those things by which he may surpass others, nor indulge in haughty feelings, but meditate rather upon modesty and meekness….” Ambition and personal drive is often the mask of selfish greed.

We ought not to dwell upon our own successes, and conceitedly take pride in our own wisdom. Rather we ought to rejoice in every success as God given. We should also learn to sorrow in every pain since it is the consequence of the fall of man.

A “God-first” attitude changes everything. What a wonderful blessing it would be if we could be such a person for our friends and loved ones. Be a friend, a brother or sister in the body of Christ, a bright spot in a shadowy world of self-interest. God in his word calls us each to develop these characteristics through the power of the one who gave himself that we unworthy rebels might become emissaries of the Creator of all that is.

(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

What Part Do You Play?

Lesson 47: Romans 12:6-8

What Part Do You Play?

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I was always the little agile guy who could wiggle and squeeze into small tight places where my bigger friends could not go. This was in the days when there were no computer game consoles. It was even before to old original Atari. When we played soldiers we had to put together the battle plans, and do all the running and crawling on our own. There were no computer generated characters to do it for us. We had to fall down and grimace when we were shot. Thankfully, by our own rules, the medics could heal anything and we would immediately be back in action.

Living in the steel plant community of South Buffalo, we were not rich. We had to improvise and use our imaginations when we waged pretend war. We did not have all the plastic weapons, walkie talkies, and toy helmets that were on the market for kids back then. However, that did not bother us much. So what if our combat sidearms were silver and had the name “Roy Rodgers” stamped on the side, or that our combat helmets strongly resembled the hats we wore playing baseball, or even that our grenades looked suspiciously like clumps of hardened mud (a fact not so much appreciated by our parents after a battle in the basement or attic).

When our guns fired, the most skilled of us could do a reasonable sound effect with our mouths. We even got grenade sounds down fairly well. This was done way before the time of George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic Company.

Being the size I was, I was always the one who had to crawl through the small basement window into enemy territory, then stumble my way through the coal bin to make a surprise attack while the rest of my larger buddies made a much easier assault down the basement steps.

In such times my smallness and bendability was appreciated, and I became a daring hero. We all had our talents and we were glad to use and develop them in our back yards, alley ways, basements, attics, and along the streets to help our side win the war. We were a team, and everyone had an important role.

God also uses even the least of us as important parts in the work of his Kingdom. When talking about all the different kinds of people in the church, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:22 “… those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

In our previous study of verses 3-5 we saw that every Christian needs to maintain a healthy view of how he fits into the whole family of God. Paul used the example of the human body. Every part has a purpose so that together they make one whole functioning person.

Christians organized in to a spiritual family called the Church are like the members of a body. When a believer becomes centered upon himself instead of upon the Lord he develops a destructive attitude. If he esteems his own abilities too highly he forgets how all that he accomplishes is a gift of grace, and he tends to be less considerate of the work of others in God’s plan. If he tends to always pity himself, or put himself down, he fails to respect the promises of the God who calls him to his particular place. These wrong attitudes produce depression, discouragement, and crippling self-injury.

Instead, the Christian should learn to love his own calling in life. He must pursue that calling with the diligence of thankful obedience and humble gratitude toward his Savior. He needs to appreciate his own duties, and the uniqueness of every member in the church.

Paul then listed some of the gifts God was giving the church at that time:

Romans 12:6-8, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This list is just a sampling to illustrate the principles he had just explained. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list. The Apostle gave us other lists when he wrote to other churches too. When he listed some of the gifts for the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12 he even made the same comparison between the human body and the church as here in Romans 12. In Ephesians 4:11 he listed still other special duties from God for specially called individuals in the church at that time.

Keep a few ideas in mind as we look at this list of seven abilities God puts into his church.

  1. Since these gifts, abilities, and opportunities are given by God’s grace, there is no cause for self-glory.
  2. They are to be used together for the benefit of the whole family of God.
  3. They are for the church as a whole body, and apply to every area of life, not just in the areas of worship and acts of mercy. Our gifts are to be used in our homes, at school, at work, in the community, and with friends.
  4. It is the gifts that are spoken of in this list, not just specially gifted individuals. Sometimes the same gift appears in the same person, or many gifts are needed in one situation.

We each have gifts that differ. Each must be used responsibly for the good of the whole body

1. God had given to some the gift of prophesy.

When Paul wrote this book to the Romans the Bible was not yet complete. God was still speaking by special revelation directly to his Apostles and prophets. This special gift to the church was necessary until God completed his written word.

In Ephesians 4 he listed more of these special gifts. In verse eleven he said, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,”

We do not have apostles and prophets in the church today. Their unique job of receiving new revelation from God for the church is now ended.

The work of evangelism, pastoring and teaching continues primarily in the office of Elder. This is the office of overseeing the application of what God had already revealed. In every age of the church, the Elder embodies these last three duties. Though some Elders may be more gifted than others in one of these skills or another, they do not represent three different offices of the church.

These are special callings, not things in which every believer engages. Even the special gifts were for the benefit of the whole family of God.

In Ephesians 4:12-13 he explained the purpose of these special callings, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Today God’s revelation is complete, and is available to us all in our Bibles. We do not have Apostles and Prophets to add to it. We do have specially called Elders to promote the gospel, shepherd and teach God’s people. These spiritual leaders are enabled to more competently understand and report God’s truth to the church.

There is a sense in which all believers carry out the work of the prophet. We each ought to be ready and able to give an answer for the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15). We need to be ready to tell what God has said to others when the opportunity comes. We tell about the prophetic word in the Bible.

So the warning and admonition for the prophetic work applies to us all too. The prophetic work is to be done according to the proportion of faith God has given us. The biblical faith must be presented in confidence for what it is, the very word of God. If God puts you in a situation where you can help a person find out what God says, do not imagine you are incompetent. God gifts us for the jobs he brings our way.

Do your humble best to help the person find out what God has said in his word. You do not have to be an expert. The Samaritan woman at the well was no trained expert. She just invited the people of the city to where they could hear the word of Christ. If you do nothing more than invite the person to church, to hear the word taught you have done a wonderful service for the kingdom.

You need to be careful not to say things if you are not sure what God has said. Do not guess or go by your feelings about what is right and true. Stay with what you know the Bible says. Beyond that, help the person find answers as you learn along with them. Ask your Pastor or Elder for some direction as to where to get good help. This is what it means today to limit the prophetic work according to the proportion of faith. Stay within what God has made you sure of by his written word. The teller of God’s word must love the truth, and trust its promises.

2. God sometimes gifts us for the work of ministry.

This is the work of a servant, humbly helping others, particularly the needy. When there is a need among those in the church, God calls his people to meet that need.

Our lost world sees no value of the work of being a servant. Their goal is to be served. Humble service is a most “Christ-like” and honorable duty. In Luke 22:25-27 Jesus said to his disciples, “… 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.”

The word used here for “ministry” is the same as the root word for Deacon. These specially called officers lead the church in being humble servants of Christ. They do the kinds of daily jobs that are often not highly rewarded or appreciated. However, without such things the church of Christ would be crippled and hampered.

Under that leadership, all believers are called to this work of service. When you have an opportunity to serve others for the glory of Christ, do it. Follow the lead of those specially gifted in this way. Learn from them as they follow the lead of Jesus Christ. Do not wish your job was something else, something more honorable, with more authority. Humble service is a wonderful, Christ like behavior, and gift of God to his church.

3. God sometimes gifts his people to be teachers.

The prophets were those who received the word of God. Teachers apply what God has said and help others to learn and obey.

Again, all believers must tell God’s truth and present his gospel at every opportunity. God has called some to set aside other things in their lives and become teachers. God is not just concerned with teaching about Bible stories and salvation. His word also has guidelines for how we view history, science, politics, and every other area of life. There are principles that effect us every day. Parents are specially called to teach their children. It is a special and holy calling. Elders are specially called to be the teachers in the church and to oversee all its educational work.

In using these talents, we must communicate God’s truth clearly. Our goal is to make it understood to the best of our ability to all of God’s children. If you have the opportunity, be doing it. Teach, and teach well.

4. God sometimes gifts his people for the work of exhortation.

This is the job of exciting believers to their duties, and dissuading them from sin. Pastors, parents, publishers, writers, artists, Sunday School teachers, and youth workers all need to be diligent to use every opportunity, every ability, to encourage believers zealously to apply God’s revealed truth in their daily living. When you can be an encouragement to godly living, do it.

5. God sometimes gifts us for the work of giving.

God gives us many things. What we have is entrusted to us to use for God’s glory. The first 10% of what we earn is the Lord’s for his church. That is what the word tithe means. That giving ought to be done obediently before we look at our own expenses and desires. The work of the church requires physical means to operate and to care for its people. That would not be done if we keep for ourselves, or give to charities, what belongs to God.

What remains ours is to be managed to provide for our needs and those of others. Sometimes we give thank offerings to the church to show God our gratitude. Sometimes we use our means to help family, friends or neighbors in times of need.

In all of our management, we ought to try to be able to give as it says here, “with liberality”. That means freely, not grudgingly or holding back. The word here literally means “with simplicity”. We give without qualifications, excuses, or grumbling. Giving must be done with devotion and joy for the work of Christ. There must be no “ulterior motives” or “giving for personal honor or reward”.

This is a work to which some are better suited than others. By the gifting of God, some are able to do much more than others. Being a godly and successful businessman or investor is a gift of God. Without such the body of Christ would be lame.

Our goal should be to have enough to help out with our giving as God enables us. Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

6. God sometimes gifts his people for the work of leadership.

There is a broad principle of headship in Scripture. Some are called to rule. Husbands are called specially to manage the homes, and parents to manage their children. Bosses are to responsibly oversee their businesses and workers. Governors of various sorts are to rule in society for God’s glory. Elders are to rule in the church representing God’s principles of operation.

Where God has given the authority to rule it must be done with diligence. Leaders must be faithful to their duty and submissive to God’s moral law. They my use the talents of others, but they are not to pass off their responsibility. It is their duty to see that the work they oversee is not done poorly. Those in charge must put forth a good effort, relying on God’s enablement. Godly leadership, conducted in love, is a wonderful gift to develop at every level.

7. God sometimes gifts us to do the work of mercy.

This is the compassionate and personal care of those in need. In some ways this is a job for all of us. Every believer should want to care for the sick and the sad. The office of a deacon is specially a calling to the work of mercy. They lead the rest of the congregation in this service too.

All who are called to show mercy, must do it with cheerfulness, not as a chore. Attitude is very important in our obedience to Christ. John Calvin, showing his pastor’s heart, wrote, “nothing gives more solace to the sick or to anyone otherwise distressed, than to see those cheerful and prompt in assisting them …” And he warned of what happens to the needy when cheerfulness is lacking, “… so to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given makes them feel themselves despised”

Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”

What part do you play?

Do you serve faithfully and gladly, however God calls you to serve in his family? Do you serve according to the faith God gives you? according to your confidence in what he says in his word? with obedience to your calling at the moment? with singleness of mind? with diligence? with cheerfulness?

Love for God and his mercy, sincere gratitude, is what drives us as we function as a body. There are no unimportant jobs in the church, no dispensable members. The simple acts of praying for needs, inviting people to worship, and encouraging the discouraged are each a part of how God works in us to promote the health of the whole body of his church.

As a good, faithful and humble member of the body of Christ never despair your own inadequacy as if God might have made a mistake in putting you there at that time. On the other hand, never become puffed up as if God should be thankful to you for your own skills.

Use every skill and opportunity as a wonderful opportunity to show your love to God. He will be glorified in your 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

Parts of the Whole

Lesson 46: Romans 12:3-5

Parts of the Whole

by Bob Burridge ©2012

My grandfather on my mom’s side of the family was a railroad Engineer on the Lackawanna Railroad. He was also quite a handyman and a hobbyist in mid 20th century electronics. In his basement he had drawers full of old vacuum tubes, resistors, capacitors, coils and every imaginable part of that era’s technology. I would follow him into his workshop and sit on a stool watching him work with his testing probes and soldering iron — bringing old radios back to life or making inventive circuits.

He showed me how to make a crystal radio out of just a stone, a needle, and scrap parts. I slowly learned how each of the strange looking components worked. I’d ask, “What does that little thing do? Why’s it important?” In his quiet, patient way he would explain as he went about his work.

Of course the parts were all important. No decent circuit designer would include components that didn’t serve a purpose. Some parts took a weak signal and made it much more powerful. Some stored up a charge, then fed it back through the circuit at regular intervals. Some would choke out certain frequencies and enhance others. Some held back the flow of electricity in one wire, making it flow more easily in another. Every little part, no matter how small or strange looking, was there for a reason.

Together they did what the circuit designer wanted to accomplish. By itself, each piece was just a puzzling little component in a drawer.

When our Lord gathers his people to form a church family, each part has a purpose. When individuals fail to see that they fit into the larger picture they easily can get discouraged. Paul warned the Roman Christians to appreciate how each person has a purpose in making the body function well.

Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Paul was well aware that his message was not his own. It was given him by God’s grace. He was saved by the same grace that he had in common with all believers. His Apostolic office and duties were a special grace by which God used Paul to minister to the church.

He warned that we should have a healthy view of ourselves. We live in an age where self-gratification is considered the purpose of everything. Self-centeredness can make the quest for self-esteem become a disastrous obsession. That attitude never satisfies and usually leads to self-defeating abuses. We are warned here that we should not exalt ourselves unduly. We need to remember that we are each an important part of something much larger than ourselves.

The sin of self-exaltation, self-centeredness,
can show itself in two different ways.

The first is self-importance. Remember that you are just one small part of a whole work far greater than what you see. Our sinful hearts can so easily forget God’s grace which alone has enabled us whenever we succeed. It becomes easy to think of our abilities as works of our own raw efforts bettered by opportunities that come along randomly.

Every Christian needs to keep his successes in perspective. Maybe you have earned enough money that you are able to contribute to the church beyond just your tithes. Perhaps you have helped by counseling someone in Christ, taught a really good lesson, spent time to work on the church grounds, or have come to understand some profound biblical truth. If so, guard against becoming puffed up in your attitude. These are wonderful things to accomplish for the Lord, but never imagine that you accomplished them on your own, or that there is no one as valuable in the church as yourself. Guard against thinking you deserve special recognition or honor.

Pride can also show itself in self-pity. This is a more subtle symptom of self-centered thinking. At first glance, putting yourself down may seem the opposite of a high view of self. In reality, it maybe the more common way self-absorption shows itself. Even great prophets like Jeremiah, Elijah and Jonah had times when they struggled with this sin. To think that there is none so miserable, or ill treated and deserving of pity as yourself is a slight against God who has made you for what you are called to be and to do.

This self-centeredness sees God’s work only as it effects you. It diminishes the value of your gifts and contributions as if God has failed to give you enough. Professor John Murray said, “by underestimating, we are refusing to acknowledge God’s grace and we fail to exercise that which God has dispensed for our own sanctification and that of others.”

Self-pity can make you neglect what God has given you to be doing for his glory. A paralyzing self-deprecation ignores God’s enablement and diminishes the importance of his assignments for your life. You tend to not see how you are an important component in God’s plan.

In either case — self-importance or self-pity — we focus too much upon ourselves. We each need to take our place in the church, what ever it is, and to do it faithfully and diligently for Christ’s glory.

Paul then tells us that we should use sound judgment in serving Christ. That expression in this verse is translated in different ways. They each help us understand the flavor of Paul’s words. The King James and the New King James translate it, “think soberly.” The New American Standard has, “have sound judgment.” The New International combines the two ideas saying, “with sober judgment.”

The sound and sober judgment about our place in God’s Kingdom work is allotted to each with a measure of faith. It is God who not only gives us the gifts, but also our confidence to exercise them. We need to rest upon God’s revealed word to show us how to use our gifts, and to direct us to trust in his promise to enable us. We are to see our work as an important part of the whole.

When my grandfather taught me to fix old radio circuits, the first thing was to find the broken part. Sometimes it was a burned out vacuum tube. I remember taking a whole bag of glass tubes down to O’Malley’s Drug Store to test them on the tube testing machine. My parents came to trust me to do that job when electronic things broke down at our house. I learned to put each one into the machine, test the filament, test the vacuum of the glass tube, and then set the dials to check the performance of the component. Sometimes it was a bad capacitor, or resistor, or a shorted out coil. Just one of those little things would stop the whole TV, Radio, or Phonograph from working.

When we look at our lives we need to find out what elements need repair too. To serve Christ in the best way we need to have God diagnose the problem for us so we can turn to him to fix it. We pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;” (Psalm 139:23). Then we need to trust his power to mature us spiritually so that our part in the work of his Kingdom will be done well. When we are functioning as we should, we bring greater health to the whole church.

When we fail to trust God in our work, when we get too focused on how our little part is making us feel, we may be crippling the best functioning of the church of which God has made us an integral part. We must be at our best for the sake of the larger job that is to be done.

By faith we must follow God’s instructions, and boldly do what we are given to do. We should avoid worrying about how others may judge us, or how we measure up to others. Our concern should be how faithfully we carry out our own little job to advance God’s glory and to encourage other believers.

Awhile ago I got one of those e-mail stories that presented a very good little parable. A man who lived off in a remote cabin was told by the Lord that he had a job for him to do. He was shown a large rock in front of his cabin and told to push against the rock with all his might. The man obeyed day after day for many years. He would put in time every day pressing his shoulder against the rock and pushing with ever ounce of strength he could put into it. After a time the man became discouraged. The rock remained unmoved. He started to wonder what the point was. Why should he keep up the efforts when obviously it was doing no good. The man was troubled about his doubts and prayed to the Lord saying, “I have labored hard in your service, putting all my strength to do what you told me to do. But after all this time I have not budged the rock at all. What is wrong? Why am I failing?” The Lord’s compassionate response was this, “I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength. This you have done. I never said I expected you to move it. You have not failed. By obeying me, your arms, back, and legs have become strong, your heart and lungs are healthy. You have not moved the rock, but I had not expected that. When the rock is to be moved, I will move it.”

Our job is to do the specific duty God calls each of us to do, no matter how small or large it may seem. We should not let our own self-importance get in the way of obeying the Lord. We should neither become discouraged that we are not recognized by others for what we do, nor descend into self-pity that we do not have a more important place in God’s Kingdom. We cannot see how all things fit together just yet. When we make judgments like that we dare to be judging God.

When you wonder why you keep working so hard for little recognition, or when others seem to do better, or when you cannot see immediate success, remember; just push against the rock. The healthiest outlook is to keep in mind what God calls and enables you to do. Then do it diligently and humbly for his glory out of gratitude, and by the power of the Risen Savior.

Self-obsession only produces depression and discouragement. It is often self-destructive, even suicidal, when we dare to stand as judges over God’s success in what he does with us.

I recently read a number of suicide notes published in a psychology journal. They were written by young people, teenagers. I found one theme in them all that seemed to be the factor that drove these particular ones beyond reason. They became obsessed with introspection, with trying to understand themselves and life itself. They wanted to know how it all fit together and how they fit in. Being driven to madness by expecting to know what was beyond their finite abilities they tragically took their lives.

Paul learned to rest in the revealed promises of God as he went through hard times. He was ridiculed, forced to live under hardships, beaten, arrested, and hated. But he kept on because, as he said in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Our duty is to keep pushing on the rock God has set before us.

Paul goes on to remind us that
we are not alone in our work

Romans 12:4-5, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”

Paul compares the working of the Church with our physical bodies. One organism is made up of many members, many parts. They all differ in function, but each one is important.

The parts are mutually exclusive. That means that each has a unique job to do. In the human body we have eyes, ears, hands, feet, liver, lungs, heart, brain, and so on. No two are exactly alike. Each is suited to a particular task.

It is the same way in the body of Christ. God has given each of you your own unique background, resources, opportunities, and talents. Some are good at providing well cooked meals as nourishment for God’s people, with others we are glad they don’t cook. Some are good at repairing things, treating wounds, teaching classes, providing transportation, tutoring children, mowing lawns, pouring concrete, creating internet web sites, counseling, selling and buying, protecting, governing, showing tenderness, etc..

Regardless if your job is stirring souls, or stirring soup, each has his special place. Some get more attention and honor than others. Some get more reward and blessings. Each person should do his job to glorify God. Each has his rock to push against.

Together the parts are jointly exhaustive. This means that together they accomplish the larger goal. The digesting of food includes the work of each tooth, the enzymes in your mouth, stomach and intestines. Speaking is the work of lips, larynx, teeth, and tongue, as well as that of the brain which figures out what to say. The body would be rather immobile without each toe and the ankle tendons. All the organs, all the members work together to make up a fully functioning organism.

So also is the body of Christ. God blends together all the little components, each humble servant, to bring him glory. You might ask, “How does my little part help?” All are called to pray and attend worship. Some spend most of their days going to work or to school. Some mow the lawn, wash the windows, or drive a disabled person to the store or to a church service.

Do not look so closely at self that you miss how what you are called to do fits together with all the others. God’s kingdom is made up of many jobs, many parts. Together, we display the wonders of our Creator, the grace of the Redeemer, the kingship of the King, the tender care of the Good Shepherd.

Each of our churches is but one congregation adding its own work to that of all the other true churches here on earth in the 21st Century. We are each part of the larger work spanning the ages of history. This includes the congregations in Jerusalem under King David, in Antioch in the 1st century, or in Geneva in the 16th century under Calvin. Each is to do its part obediently pushing against the rock assigned by God.

What God enables you to do or to give must be done with joy, devotion, and competence. It must be done for God’s glory, for the good of the whole church. As servants of Christ’s kingdom, you must push on the rock with all your might, what ever rock God has set for you to push against. In God’s time he will move it. Our duty is to be faithful servants, using our gifts diligently for the honor of the King.

(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

Transformed Minds

Lesson 45: Romans 12:1-2

Transformed Minds

by Bob Burridge ©2012

In my earliest days of school I had little interest in Math, English, History, or Geography. Even mediocre grades on my report cards failed to stir me to put in more time on them. I worked enough to pass tests and move on to the next grade. I didn’t want those subjects to take time away from my true love which was Science. I read avidly about electricity, chemistry, astronomy, biology and other fields of that subject because I had a driving fascination to understand how things worked. I took things apart rendering them never to go together again. I wanted to know what was inside. I dismantled radios, TV sets, door bells and a few unfortunate insects.

No one made me do all that. There were no threats of tests of punishments if I didn’t pursue my curiosity. I spent that time and effort because of my amazement that such things existed and worked as they did. It wasn’t until later in life when I began to appreciate the benefits of Math, History and English that my overall school performance came to match my grasp of science.

Most teachers will tell you that an inner motive will always make a better student than external threats and pressures. When I was a teacher I tried to keep that in mind. I tried to present my classes with problems that would intrigue them rather than to just schedule deadlines, or threaten them with bad grades. Of course, not every student became motivated so easily. But those who did learned a lot more than what was in the text books. They even seemed to love doing it.

God constituted us humans to be motivated by inner desires in our relationship with our Creator. In our fallen estate, even though redeemed, our motives are imperfect. It is often the fear of immediate personal consequences that keeps us paying attention to what is right, and striving to put it into practice.

In moments of terror we may be motivated to cry out for mercy and divine help. The stark reality of the eternal consequences of our foolish actions and evil thoughts should certainly motivate us to desire a way of escape from the fires of hell. That kind of motive is part of why we to turn to the Savior for forgiveness, but we need a deeper cause in our hearts to hold our devotion every day, during the ordinary times that dominate our lives. We have such a motive, one that is greater than the threats of immediate discomforts or the deserved fires of a future hell.

As Paul begins the second half of the book of Romans, he turns to how we ought to live. The first 11 chapters build the groundwork for the greatest stimulus to godliness there is.

Paul begins chapter 12 by laying out
the right motive for godly living.

Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

All Paul had said before this should stir the Christian to do what is right. In chapters 1-11 he outlined the doctrines of grace. There he showed that God is sovereign over all things, and is perfectly holy. He explained the work of Christ in redeeming some lost humans from their sin. This was an amazing act of mercy. No one deserved anything but condemnation to eternal punishment, but God had chosen some to be vessels of mercy. For them he came as Savior to redeem them. He obeyed in their place, and met the demands of justice in their place.

Their salvation was not because of works they had done, motives that were pure, or because of things that were foreseen that they would do. It was by God’s grace alone. He loved them as his own before the foundation of the world, before they had done anything good or bad.

This grace of God is our strong incentive to be living for him. This is the “therefore” of the first verse in chapter 12. Since God’s mercies are as described in these first 11 chapters, therefore the Apostles urges the Romans to live in a certain holy way.

This is far different than the best motives imagined by the world’s false religions. Fallen heart tends to think we will obey better if we think we need to earn forgiveness, but God’s message is the opposite. We will obey better if we realize that we deserve wrath, but receive mercy instead. Gratitude, not merit, is the gospel motive for obedience.

The Heidelberg Catechism gives three things we need to appreciate to be happy in life and death.
1. “the greatness of my sin and misery” – by that we realize how much we owe to our Savior.
2. “how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery” – this work of grace redeems the undeserving through the sufferings and death of Christ.
3. “how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption” – we ought to be thankful for this amazing grace.

When we only obey out of fear of the consequences, we obey to the minimum. As long as we can avoid bad results, we will do as little as possible. If we study in school only to avoid a failing grade we will lean only enough to get by. But when we study because we are excited to find out interesting things, we will learn all we can.

A child motivated to avoid spankings or other punishments will learn to keep from getting caught. When he does wrong he will lie or deceive mom and dad. When he learns to drive he will keep a closer eye on where the police may be, than he does on the speedometer. When he goes into business he will say what ever he needs to advance himself.

A child develops a different attitude when motivated by a genuine love for his parents. This child sees their deep care and faithful tenderness, rather than just the punishments. He pays attention to the sacrifices made for him and the pain his rebellion causes them. A child like this behaves out of gratitude and devotion, rather than by coercion.

As children of God, we will best stir our hearts to overcome sin and temptation when we occupy our minds with the amazing goodness and grace of God.

John Calvin said that iron indeed must be the heart which is not kindled into love towards God by the doctrine which has been laid down. Calvin’s pastoral heart is seen in his application of this verse, “by no precepts, by no sanctions, is a pious mind so framed to render obedience to God, as by a serious meditation on the Divine goodness …”

If we would be more dedicated children of God, we will spend a good amount of time learning about and thinking about our Heavenly Father.

We should present our bodies a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice. He speaks of our bodies here. Christian living is not just a spiritual thing that remains unseen. If it is real it will make our outward physical lives different too. Our whole person, body as well as soul, will become involved in holiness.

Our involvement is called a “sacrifice“. This certainly would have reminded Paul’s original readers of the Old Testament system. There were two kinds of sacrifices in the period before the Cross.

1. Some sacrifices were to show how God would send Messiah to make atonement for sin. They involved the killing of animals, the shedding of their blood, showing that sin required death, and that a coming Savior would be the Lamb of God. The Temple sacrifices did not actually remove sin. They provided an act by which the believers showed their faith that God’s provision would satisfy their guild for them. When Jesus satisfied for sin, no more sacrifices would be acceptable to God.

This cannot be what Paul was referring to here. To imagine the somehow our bodies, our lives, atone for sin by some personal suffering or sacrifice would be to deny the work of Jesus Christ.

2. But there was another kind of Old Testament sacrifice that exactly fits what Paul meant here. Those sacrifices were to show a believer’s gratitude for God’s mercies to him. These various meal offerings and thank offerings were a response of the redeemed heart. Since we are redeemed from the spiritual death of sin, we must be living sacrifices showing our thankfulness to God for his mercies.

Hebrews 13:15-16 repeats how as a sacrifice of thanks we give praise to God continually, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

This is how we show thankfulness to God in our bodies. By speaking to God our gratitude, and by doing good to represent him on earth.

We are to be a “living” sacrifice, that is a sacrifice that continues and grows as our we give our daily energies to serving our Lord. Earlier in Romans 6:13 Paul had already explained this, “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.”

Peter said about the same thing in 1 Peter 2:5 , “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Our Lord gives us life to enable us to live obediently within his covenant. In Christ we show our gratitude by learning to walk daily in newness of life.

We are to be a “holy” sacrifice. The basic idea of the word holy is to be consecrated to God, marked out for him. We now live as those who gladly belong to him. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “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.”

We are to be an “acceptable” sacrifice. Our living must be well pleasing to God, according to his standards. Paul explained about this quality of our lives as we live for him, by living like him. In Ephesians 5:1-2 he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

This obedience is our “reasonable service“. The word for “reasonable” here is logikae (λογικη) from which we get our English word, “logic”. It is rational or reasonable service to show the involvement of our souls, our hearts and minds, along with our bodies. This is the idea. We serve God as whole persons, willingly and thankfully. Some translate this as “spiritual service” in that it involves not just outward acts, but the devotion of our hearts.

This is a “service“. This is a word use specially of the act of worship to God, latreia (λατρεια). Our living for God is a humble response to his mercies, a devoted praise, worship, for his goodness to us.

In the days of the Early Reformers there were some wanting to update the worship of God just as there are today. They introduced methods not revealed in God’s word as proper worship acts which are pleasing to him. John Calvin’s words are exactly fitting in warning the modern churches of today. He explained it this way, It is “… as though he had said, ‘Offer yourselves a sacrifice to God, if ye have it in your heart to serve God: for this is the right way of serving God; from which, if any depart, they are but false worshipers.’ ” This was the Genevan reformer’s theme to his congregation.

Calvin went on to say, “If then only God is rightly worshiped when we observe all things according to what he has prescribed, away then with all those devised modes of worship, which he justly abominates, since he values obedience more than sacrifice. Men are indeed pleased with their own inventions, which have an empty show of wisdom, as Paul says in another place; but we learn here what the celestial Judge declares in opposition to this by the mouth of Paul; for by calling that a reasonable service which he commands, he repudiates as foolish, insipid, and presumptuous, whatever we attempt beyond the rule of his word.”

The second thing must follow.
Our lives must be different as Christians.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

We must not be conformed to this world. By “the world” Paul means here the attitudes and values of fallen mankind. Society’s morals and beliefs about God are not compatible with the true Christian’s heart. 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

Of course this does not mean that we must be cultural misfits. He is not telling us to speak with 17th century English, or to wear 1st century robes and sandals. He is not asking us to repudiate computers, wrinkle free fabrics, or automobiles. Nor is he asking us to refuse to be aware of modern literature, or to avoid taking a stand on political issues. We are not to act like space aliens who have no point of contact with the world in which we are called to live.

Quite the contrary we are to be effective communicators to this world. We are to live in it boldly trying to bring our part of it under his lordship. But we are to do it without compromising one point of God’s word and ways.

Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The change is a fundamental one. It is permanent and real, not just adding new ideas to the corrupted ones. When a person is redeemed by God’s grace his heart is changed. He is spiritually born again. The regenerated mind is then set in motion. If it is really alive it will grow. This is the duty part that is the evidence that the change in us is not just religious zeal. It shows that the Holy Spirit has quickened what was dead.

There is a purpose in this transformation of our minds. It is to prove the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. The proof here is not some logical argument to convince a doubter. It is a term that means to demonstrate the truth and rightness of something. If we claim that the gospel changes lives, but there is no change in us, then we live a lie. If we are transformed, we demonstrate God’s plan, his will in action.

The same word is used in another place where it is often translated differently. In Ephesians 5 we are told to walk as children of light (5:8). Then in verse 10 the NASB says, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” The NKJV translates it, “finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” The KJV translates it as “proving what is acceptable unto the LORD”

The word translated as “trying to learn” or “finding out” is dokimazo(δοκιμαζω), just as it is here in Romans 12:2. It means to demonstrate as true what God reveals in his word as acceptable to him. The old King James comes closest to this meaning with its use of the English word, “prove”. We are to present the evidence, the data God reveals, as pleasing to him. We are to demonstrate the truth of it in our lives.

Transformed lives must show what is the good, acceptable, and perfect way that is pleasing to God. It is the way of confession: that we are lost sinners without hope except as we are redeemed by Christ. It is the way of profession: that the work of Jesus accomplished all that is needed to make us right with God. It is the way of obedience: that the transformation he performs in us makes us alive and drives us to holy living.

Holy living emerges from the heart transformed by the work of God’s grace. Right Christianity must include right living. Theology is not good if it does not move us to please God in our hearts and lives.

Our primary purpose in being created and redeemed is not simply to be accurate. Even Satan likely knows the facts about God and his creation better than any of us. Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This has to do with our attitudes, our thoughts, our motives, our values, our actions and words.

In the next chapters of Romans Paul lays out God’s standards for what a godly life is like. He writes about our unity as a church family, our life as citizens in a nation, living by love, dealing with those who differ with us, dealing with questionable social practices, and counseling one another in discouraging times.

If by sovereign grace the Holy God has saved us unworthy fallen sinners, then we must live in obedience moved by gratitude that flows from a changed heart. The way we accomplish this is to learn to appreciate the mercies of God and the grace that saved us. We are to respond with gratitude that shows the reality of that work in our hearts. We must live as those belonging to him by grace. Gratitude for God’s mercy is the most perfect and wonderful motive for a person’s life.

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

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A Most Wonderful God

Lesson 44: Romans 11:33-36

A Most Wonderful God

by Bob Burridge ©2012

The most skilled Bible teachers, Theological Professors, and Pastors from the English speaking world, gathered at Westminster in the mid 1600’s. Their job was to examine Scripture to test every doctrine believed by the church. It came time to write their definition of God for the catechism they were preparing. Having already examined the facts of Scripture, it was time to find the right words to express such an awesome reality. So first they turned to seek direction from God in prayer. The assembly asked the youngest delegate to lead them. This would have been the Scottish Pastor George Gillespie of Edinburgh. It is said that in his prayer he addressed the Lord as, “God who is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” His words became the definition they had been seeking for Shorter Catechism Question 4.

The matter of God’s infinite nature is obviously more than just complex. It is absolutely beyond our full comprehension. However, God has made himself known in ways we can be made able to understand. He reveals himself in creation, in his acts of providence, in man’s moral conscience, and most clearly in his word.

The nature of God is the most fundamental truth in all the Universe. It is to be studied, and the results made known to others. Paul and the other writers of Scripture make no attempt to avoid the issue. Though humbled by the problem, they sought to express God’s nature in careful terms. They were directed by the Holy Spirit to say a great deal about the matter without error.

To know God’s nature better, is to know your Creator, Lord, and Redemption better. It is to appreciate more completely the hope of salvation and the way of sanctification. It is to help us develop right attitudes and behaviors toward the things we face in life every day.

This is a hard subject. Not that it is hard to know what God says, but it is admittedly hard to comprehend it all. Paul summarizes the glories of God in a most poetic but absolutely fact filled passage. Romans 11:33-36 is a response of praise at the end of the first eleven doctrinal chapters of the book.

First, the Apostle is overwhelmed by the depth of the wonders of God.

Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

Here Paul exclaims about the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Translators are somewhat divided about how Paul expressed himself here. Either he is amazed at the depth of the riches which come from God’s wisdom and knowledge, or he is amazed and the depths of God’s riches, wisdom and mercy. It is a technical issue not really differing much in substance. There is no question about what he meant. Either way we translate it, it means that the nature of God is amazingly deep!

I remember when I loved to dig holes. Specially when I was a pre-schooler. I had a good sized area behind the house, on the side of our porch that was my play area. I had a swing set there so the ground was pretty well trampled down to the bare dirt. We lived in an upper story flat. It belonged to my grandfather who loved to fix up the yard and keep a nice garden. He took it very seriously. Once he ordered a truck load of soil and had it dumped in the corner of my play area. It was out of the way, and out of sight, so he could leave it there until he was ready to use it. But when I saw it I was thrilled! “A dirt pile!” He had a grandfather’s heart toward me though, so he gave me permission to dig in it, and in time he abandoned the pile to me, and ordered more soil for his garden.

I’d spend hours out there, sometimes with my friends, just digging and hauling the dirt around in my little toy trucks. I remember my mom saying that someday I’d dig all the way to China. I took her literally and suspected that if I dug deep enough I’d break through into some exotic underground city of Chinese people. I never did. But a few times I got so deep that I could stand down in the hole waist deep. I always thought it was amazing to see guys along the roads digging so deep they were in over their heads. I never quite made it that far, but I kept trying. That’s the image I always picture when I think of things being deep. I kept shoveling out dirt, but somehow China was always a long way off.

When we talk about deep things about God it’s even more of a dig than reaching China [which now I understand is a little under 8,000 miles down, and through some pretty rough and hot digging.] This verse tells us that God’s wisdom and knowledge, and the richness of all his glories, are deep beyond our comprehension. Generally, wisdom is more the right use of information, and knowledge is the information itself. Both are unbounded in God. He knows everything about all things, all the time.

Since his wisdom knows no limits we say it is infinite. Infinity is a mathematical concept invented to help solve some otherwise impossible problems. If you had a line that started right in front of you and it extended out infinitely, you could cut a piece off the end of that line, and it would still extend into infinity. You could cut a mile off of it, and it would still reach out forever. You could cut off the whole distance through the earth to China, and it would still go on infinitely. In fact you could cut off billions of light-years, and it would still go on infinitely!

God does not only know all the facts we can name about the whole universe and its history. He knows about an infinite number of things which we don’t even know about. If we studied all our life times about the things God has made known, about the things we can see, or measure, still his knowledge is infinitely greater. All the wisdom of the ages is but a small piece on the near end of the line of God’s infinite wisdom. All the riches of God that we can name are but infinitesimal, compared with his vast treasures.

When I was growing up in that upstairs flat in Buffalo, we had a big family Bible laying out on the coffee table in the living room. One of the verses I found there always fascinated me. It was Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” (KJV)

There are many other verses that express the same thought. Psalm 139:17 says, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” This is a central fact of Scripture.

Then Romans 11:33 tells us that God’s judgments are unsearchable. His judgments include his rule over all things, his decrees and the purposes behind them. They include providence by which God directs all things to work together for his own glory. All these things are beyond what we can search out and discover.

Today, when we want to find out about something we use the internet. There are search engines which are web sites with programs that search through the millions of web pages to find what we want to know. They make encyclopedias and almanacs seem as archaic as horse drawn buggies. There is so much information available that if you aren’t precise about what you are asking for, you might end up with an unworkable pile of information.

For example, when I asked what is the diameter of the earth it listed 101,387,038 web sites all of which dealt with the subject in some way. Because of the way I asked, my answer in kilometers and miles was at the top of the list. But overwhelming results like that are nothing compared with all the judgments of God through which we might hope to search.

God’s ways are unfathomable. The verse here in Romans says “… His ways past finding out!” Literally the reference is to the impossibility of following a trail, or footprints. All that God is pleased to do, all the things that promote his glory, are impossible to trace out. The reasons behind them are vastly beyond our ability to follow along, or to grasp fully. Our finite minds can much less hold all the majestic truths about God than juice glass can hold all the oceans.

Next, the Apostle shows how far short
of these glories every creature falls.

Romans 11:34, “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?”

His question makes it clear that the answer is, “no one”. No creature knows the mind of God. Since God’s understanding is infinite, his mind will always be beyond us.

On the one hand we are finite creatures. The infinite is always beyond our comprehension. Our brains are of limited size and capacity. We can only process the information we know in limited ways.

On the other hand we are fallen beings. Sin has effected every human mind. Even if we are born again in Christ, we never overcome all moral corruption in this life. What we see in nature, and even what we read in the Bible, is imperfectly understood. Our outlook is hindered by self-interest and neglect of God’s holy glory.

Sin prejudices our minds against God’s awesome revelations. Its the ultimate foolishness to think we can improve upon what the Bible says by adding our own conjectures and theories.

This Book of Romans deals with such profound truths as: depravity, election, saving grace, reprobation — deep truths! These are ideas which go against our own fallen intuition.

False religion tries to dream up theories which attempt to explain away God’s Sovereignty and make the infinite seem more graspable to us mere creatures. Romanism, Fatalism, Pelegianism, Arminianism, Amyrauldianism, and so many others all begin by presuming to know enough to be able to reconcile hard truths with humanly imagined models. The Reformed approach is to let the facts revealed in the Bible stand on their own, and to resist elevating our theories to the level of doctrine.

The Canons of Dort wisely warn us (in Head 1, Article 14), “As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God … is clearly revealed in the Scriptures … so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God … provided it be done with reverence, in the spirit of discretion and piety, for the glory of Gods most holy Name, and for enlivening and comforting His people, without vainly attempting to investigate the secret ways of the Most High.”

It hurts needy souls and feeds heresies when we pervert the character of God to make him seem more controllable or limited by the imaginations of man.

No creature can be God’s counselor. How dangerous and foolish to think that God listens to us in deciding how his universe will unfold and bring him glory. God is independent. He needs no supervision or direction by his creatures.

The arrogant small mind of fallen man often thinks, “If only God would do this my way.” We pray as if we knew better what should happen, as if we would improve things if we could get God to change the course set by him eternally. We need to take the advice of James 4:15 … Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”

In ancient times, Job dared to challenge God’s treatment of him and his family. Then the Lord asked him if he understood the complexities of the universe. In Job 38:1-5 we read, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?’ ”

The Lord went on, until in chapter 42 Job was humbled and responded in verses 2-3 saying, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

David, in Psalm 131, understood that before God he was but a child in his understanding. There he wrote, “LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever.”

How vain for men to dare to speculate beyond what is revealed. The inability of our own limited minds to explain God to our own satisfaction is no test for truth. Who are we to judge what God has said by a standard invented by fallen creations?

The Apostle Paul himself dared not to speculate yet he had the unparalleled privilege of direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. No human could better have known the flow of thought and intent of the verses of Romans, yet here he humbles his own mind before these incomprehensible realities.

The combined intellectual ability of all men and angels could never come close to the infinite.

No creature can obligate God.

Romans 11:35, “Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?”

No creature can do anything that obligates God to some return or reward. This has been Paul’s message in the first 11 chapters of Romans. Man could never merit election from his justly deserved damnation. He cannot earn his calling to sonship, his justification from sin, or secure his sanctification in holiness. The Creator owes nothing to his creatures. All blessing is from divine mercy alone. In Job 41:11 the Lord said, “Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him? Everything under heaven is Mine.”

Next, the Apostle directs us to the foundation for God’s absolute wonder.

Romans 11:36, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

God is the origin of all things, the means by which all things happen, and the goal toward which all things move. Charles Hodge writes, “it is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects.” Robert Haldane calls this “… the grand truth which lies at the foundation of all religion.” All things are from, through, and to God.

The Apostle ends this chapter by exclaiming the glory of God. Glory is his “weighty majesty”, the display of which is the ultimate purpose of all Creation.

Philosophers put man’s happiness as the greatest human good. In contrast, the Bible reveals to us that the greatest good is to proclaim God’s glory. This is why our own self-glory is so wicked and immoral. It takes from the Creator the honor toward which he designed all things. To steal God’s glory is the most horrible theft in all the universe.

The Shorter Catechism begins by teaching us that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

No enjoyment or happiness can ever be independent of first bringing glory to God. And God cannot be duly glorified, that it does not bring us the greatest happiness in being part of proclaiming that glory. All attempts at happiness that do not begin with directing glory to God produce only an imitation of happiness to the hurt and deception of the soul.

Paul tells us that God’s glory is forever. Even in eternity we will never be able to understand the infinite mind of God. Our wisdom will never equal his counsel. In heaven we will certainly learn more than we can possibly now imagine. However, we will be made able to grasp an immense piece of God’s infinitude. God’s wisdom and knowledge will always extend out beyond us forever. Therefore we will always be learning, always be growing, always improving. We will never exhaust the inexhaustible.

Paul concludes with an “Amen”. The Greek word Paul uses is amaen (αμην), which comes from the Hebrew word ahmaen (אמן). That root word means to affirm or to support something as true. Here Paul adds this word to affirm all he has said, to exclaim the wonders he beholds in God as he really is. It is the truth. When we say “amen” it means we solemnly declare that we are in humble agreement with what was said, that it is true as seen by the mind of God as revealed to us.

This high view of God is the groundwork upon which every belief and conviction must stand. This most awesome truth is also the most comforting of facts. As those redeemed by Grace, on the basis of the work of Christ, through a faith implanted into our hearts, we ought to honor God who is able to make us triumph regardless of our inabilities and in spite of all our fears.

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

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The Other Side of Grace

Lesson 42: Romans 11:7-10

The Other Side of Grace

by Bob Burridge ©2012

One of the hardest teachings of Scripture for us to understand and accept is that God did not intend to choose every person to be redeemed by Christ. There have been many attempts to try to explain away this clear teaching that permeates God’s word.

In our last studies we saw that though the nation of Israel had become corrupt, it was not a failure of God’s plan. He chose her as a special nation to reveal specific parts of his plan, but he never promised to redeem all her citizens. All those with whom he made his eternal promise, those he foreknew (Romans 8:28, 11:2), could not be lost. Salvation is based upon grace alone. It does not come by physical heritage, by religious rituals, or by the performance of what is perceived as good works.

God redeems both the Jews and Gentiles of his choosing, but the time of Jewish special privileges has ended. What about those who are not foreknown by God in this way? those of whom Jesus said at the judgment, “I never knew you, depart from me…” (Matthew 7:23)?

In Romans 11:7-10, Paul shows us
the two sides of God’s promise.

Romans 11:7, “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”

Paul’s answer is very simple, but quite profound. Israel as a nation did not obtain the righteousness she was seeking so zealously, but the election obtained it, the remnant. The rest were hardened, blinded.

The thing being sought was righteousness. People want to be found acceptable to God, even if it is a god of their own imaginations. They want to be assured of divine tender care and salvation. However, not everyone will have that for which they seek.

It is the elect, not all of Israel,
who obtain deliverance from sin’s guilt.

Though they tried hard to be special to God, their whole motive was evil and self-defeating. They thought they would be accepted by earning God’s blessing. That was never the way God redeems his people. That is the fallacy and error of all man-invented religion.

Thinking they could deserve God’s blessing was evidence of what condemns them. It is what made the Jewish leaders reject Jesus as the Messiah. His message was not what they expected or wanted. They sought salvation by their own efforts and goodness. In contrast, God had repeatedly said that all our works are imperfect and would always fall short of what pleases him. No matter what sinners do, no act, word or deed can remove the guilt they already have. In Romans 9:15-16 Paul quoted God speaking to Moses when the Apostle said, “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”

Attempts to earn salvation are more than useless, they are condemnable and offensive to God. They deny what he tells us about our inherited depravity, and our need for his grace. They deny the absolute necessity for a perfect divine Savior to come to die in our place. They deny the greatness of God’s love that redeems the unworthy. Israel as a nation, in spite of all her zeal, perverted the way of salvation and blessing. She deeply offended God, her benefactor.

This is another of the direct biblical statements which affirm the doctrine of election. Israel was chosen and privileged to be God’s special nation, to represent him in the world. But it was not a promise that all of them would be redeemed. From among those marked out by the Lord outwardly as a nation, and now also from among the Gentiles, God has chosen some to be saved by the Savior’s death, to be preserved as his own children for all eternity.

Those redeemed would also be changed inwardly. They would truly grieve over their offenses against God and repent. They would respond in true faith, trusting in God’s promise alone for their eternal hope. They would try to live obediently, out of gratitude, not thinking it earned them salvation.

They are called here God’s “choice”, “called out”, or God’s “elect” eklogae (εκλογη) . They were by nature unworthy and sinful. Before God regenerated them they could not even seek after the true God (Romans 3:11). Yet they were redeemed by the Savior and drawn into the loving arms of the Heavenly Father. They obtained the righteousness that the majority of religious Israel missed entirely.

Next, Paul turned the issue to the other side. It is expected that some would ask this question, “What about those God does not redeem?”

Paul tells us that the rest were hardened.

Obviously the rest he is talking about are those not elected to obtain righteousness. These would be the ones left to what all fallen humans deserve.

The word translated “blinded” or more literally “hardened”, poro-o (ποροω), was mostly used of hardened hearts. It means to make a person unaware, unable to understand. It was sometimes used figuratively of being blinded, as when the eyes are hardened so they can no longer see. This is a hardening that effects both the person’s understanding and his desires. It makes him calloused and insensitive to things that truly please God.

We need to be careful not to think that God hardens innocent hearts. The basis of God’s hardening is always Judicial in Scripture. The sinner is hardened because of his sin. God does not make people do what they do not want to do. Their hearts already love sin. Remember Romans 1:24-26 where it says, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.”

There are no innocent individuals to be hardened. We all are fallen in Adam. It is the “the lusts of their hearts” that underlies their sentence of impurity (1:24). As Pastor Haldane put it: “Condemnation supposes positive criminality.” Their hardness came from their sin, it was not an imposed hardness that made them sin against their true desires.

Paul gives two reasons for God giving them over to cling to sin all the more (1:25),
1. They abandoned the truth God had made known.
2. They worshiped and served created things instead of the Creator.

This is the root of sin — when we put ourselves, or our ways, over honoring God first in our lives, when we put our preferred realities above his revealed truth.

Those who are forsakers of God, are also forsaken by God. He gives them over to their forsaking hearts. When the sinner is hardened, he sins all the more. He does it quite voluntarily. God gives them over to their corrupt desires. Hardening is part of their punishment.

The term used for the non-elect is “reprobate”. In reprobation, God passes by some leaving them to what all of Adam’s descendents deserve. Those passed by are justly condemned for their sin. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death …” That includes the eternal spiritual death that follows our own physical death which is unavoidable. All deserve to be eternally separated from God and tormented forever. That is not an easy truth to accept, but it is undeniably true. This is a clear biblically revealed fact.

The natural dessert of all the human race is eternal alienation from God because of sin. Some are chosen to become part of God’s family due to nothing special they have done. God chose them to display his glory and mercy. The rest are left for what is also an important function. They show God’s justice, power and wrath.

That’s the purpose Paul gives in Romans 9:21-24 using the Old Testament example of the potter, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”

The facts in God’s word are as plain as can be. There are two groups in God’s plan: the elect, and the reprobate. The Bible is filled with clear statements that can not be reasonably denied. These truths are only hard to accept because our small human minds and sin infected hearts struggle with such infinite and holy concepts.

When Peter wrote about how some were chosen from within national Israel to be saved, he too showed that it was by the appointment of God for his own purposes. 1 Peter 2:8-9 says, “… They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”

Jude makes this doctrine clear too in Jude 4 where he calls the ungodly, “who long ago were marked out for this condemnation.”

Sinners sin most willingly. It is never because God coerced them against their will. In Scripture, those not redeemed by Christ are always said to be condemned for sin, not for being in the wrong group. To try to explain more than what God tells us in the Bible is to step into very dangerous territory. How does it all come together in the eternal and unchanging mind of a holy God? We dare not imagine because we do not have all the facts. The infinite mind of God cannot be contained in the little mind of a human, no matter how smart it is.

It is not unfair that some are left to the condemnation we all deserve as covenant breakers. Those who are passed-by show God’s power, justice and wrath just as we all deserve. Those chosen by God for salvation, show his undeserved grace and glory.

In the next few verses Paul quotes
Scripture to support this hard lesson.

He combines several familiar Bible quotes the Jews would have known very well.

Romans 11:8, “Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ “

The Bible confirms that the ungodly are hardened, made unable to understand or to love God’s truth. Isaiah used this language in several places. For example in Isaiah 6:9-10 God said, “… Go, and tell this people: ‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”

Then in Isaiah 29:10 it says, “For the LORD has poured out on you The spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.”

Moses had said this to Israel from the beginning in Deuteronomy 29:4, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”

The same purpose and result of reprobation is confirmed in Romans 9:17-18. “For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.”

This hardening of the hearts of those left in sin, continues all through history. There are many great minds of science, literature, history, art, mathematics and other fields who have proven that lack of comprehension about the spiritual truths of Scripture and of life.

Paul next quotes from King David
showing the tragic results of this hardness:

Romans 11:9-10, “And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.’ ”

The quote is from Psalm 69:22-23, “Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually.”

Our table is where we lay out our provisions, the food we eat to become stronger. But for the ungodly, they who take glory for themselves for what God gave them, they live as if they deserve the things they have. So their food is made into nonnutritious filler that adds nothing to their health. They are snared by their blessings because they pervert them, and fail to honor God in them.

God had warned that even the blessings become a curse for the ungodly. Malachi 2:2 says, ” ‘If you will not hear, And if you will not take it to heart, To give glory to My name,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will send a curse upon you, And I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, Because you do not take it to heart.’ ”

Their backs are to be bowed down. They were to be humbled as slaves, serving God’s glory unwittingly as vessels of his wrath. Their backs are bent by work they did not fully comprehend or appreciate. God used their efforts to display the awesome attributes of a just and holy God.

This hardness and its effects are a recompense, a retribution because of their sin. It is a judgment that keeps the mind spiritually dull all the way to the final judgment scene. What horrors they will then face when at last they see their future laid out before them. Until that day, God justly blinds their eyes to the truth of that which fallen hearts have already despised.

Some imagine that the most dreaded temporal judgments in this life are the obvious things such as natural disasters or personal tragedies. But these things come to us all whether we are his or the Devil’s children. The judgment in this life we ought to fear the most is one that never makes the headlines. It is not one likely to get sympathy from others. It is the closing of our hearts to the true knowledge of God and of his redeeming love.

Israel with all her privileges and blessings, showed her spiritual depravity. The Jews took the law that exposes sin, and perverted it into a means for earning God’s blessing. They denied their need for the cross, and hated the idea of a suffering Savior. They killed the Messiah when he pointed out the error of their beliefs and ways. They showed themselves to be spiritually blind and foolish.

Today too, we are surrounded with God’s blessings, and the liberating truth of the gospel. Yet some still think they can merit forgiveness, or that our debt to God can be worked off. Some think that the cross was a nice idea, but not absolutely necessary for all to believe. Some think they can claim to love the Savior, yet knowingly excuse the breaking of his commandments. They make excuses as if their special circumstances justify their particular sins.

These attitudes do not belong in the heart of those redeemed to be the eternal children of God. When we detect them in us they should set of alarms.

Awareness of our bad attitudes is in itself a good sign. Those forever left to their lostness never admit the plague in their souls. This conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit as he applies the work of our Savior to our hearts to assure us that the guilt for our sins was paid for already on the Cross of Mount Calvary. This conviction drives us to God in humility resting in his grace alone for what we come to understand we do not deserve.

We will not be perfect in this life, even when we are given that new life by God’s grace. We come again and again to admit to our own inabilities, and to thank our Redeemer for his infinite love and mercy. We pray diligently for him to mature us in our Christian walk so that we might give clear evidence to the world around us of our love for God, and of the transformation he produces in the heart willing to admit its own total dependence upon him.

Hardened reprobates see God’s honor as unimportant, and his revealed moral principles as annoying. As Peter said in 2 Peter 1:10 “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” As a child of God — repent and repair you walk with God today.

Think about this hard but amazing exercise of undeserved divine love, that from among the whole undeserving fallen human race, from among the vessels of wrath destined to show God’s power and righteous judgments, some are chosen, and gathered in love, to be honored as joint heirs with Christ. Their sins are forgiven and new life is infused into them, making them into vessels of mercy showing God’s glory and redeeming love.

Fall in humble gratitude before our Lord Jesus Christ, that you were gathered into his special people by the secret counsel of his will.

NOTE: For a more in-depth look at the decree of God as it relates to election and reprobation, see our Syllabus article about God’s Effectual Calling.

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

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