Romans 14: Laws of Love and Liberty

The ending context of Romans 13 had us ruminating on what it means to cast off darkness and put on light. An importance is put on living for, and as, Christ. We are encouraged not to spend energy on fulfilling the lusts of our flesh, but rather to dwell in the blessings and teachings of Jesus Christ. In doing so, our priorities and the hierarchy of importance will make itself known. Chief within this hierarchy is spiritual things over the physical. Simply because people ascribe spiritual meaning to physical things does not make them spiritual things. Eating food, for example. Just like modern times, people in the first century placed spiritual importance on the things they put into their bodies.

This concept would have been familiar to both Jews and Gentiles, but especially so to Jews. There were many restrictions against the types of food and food preparation methodology in the Old Testament. Looking at these provisions from a modern perspective, it is easy to conclude that they were in place for health and safety. This includes the regulations against imbibing things such as blood and meat from hoofed animals. This was God’s way of protecting the health of his people.

Compounding these provisions for the Jews would also have been the food offered to foreign idols. Living in Rome, there were innumerable temples receiving animal sacrifices throughout the day. Some of this food would ultimately make it to the markets, where it would be sold indiscriminate of the religion of the buyer. Some Jews and early Christians would call it sin to eat the food offered to foreign idols. Others would see no issue with eating this food as the idols were nonexistent anyway, so what would it matter? Still others might realize that the idols were false but perhaps they had been converted from some pagan practices and now it was just too close for comfort to eat food offered to idols that they once worshipped.

Paul is instructing the Christians in Rome to be tolerant of the views of others and to let them live and eat in a manner that they are comfortable with. If a person violates their conscience by engaging in an activity, it does no good to force them to change just to prove that the activity is not actually sinful. To them, the knowledge that there is no sin in eating food offered to idols is enough. Their faith, just like yours, needs room to grow and understand the true context of how the spiritual interacts with the physical. We know Paul’s opinion on the matter, he feels (and I think this is right), that all things are allowable. In a companion passage to Romans 14, Paul goes into greater detail on this topic in I Corinthians 10. Within that passage, he quotes from Deuteronomy 10:14 and Psalm 24:1 alike to remind us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” I Corinthians 10:23-33 here for a more detailed discussion of eating/not eating to avoid violating conscience:

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

This passage makes it apparent that the issue of eating food is far less in importance than the well-being of our brethren. Everything we do should be to glory God, and if that means submitting to another’s provisions, provided they are not sinful, then may it be so. Paul reminds us that the entire goal of life is to bring others closer to Christ.

It is safe to assume that in the time of the New Testament, food safety and hygiene has improved to the point where the archaic provisions from the old law are unnecessary. And by no mistake, the theme of all things’ allowance to be eaten coincides with the idea that God’s salvation is now for all people. Recall the vision that Peter had in Acts 10:9-16. Through this vision, Peter understood that all edible things were allowable by God and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is meant for all men, everywhere. His teaching to and baptism of the Roman Centurion Cornelius’ household supports the theme.

Given all of the history around eating and food in the context of the time, we might wonder, does this bear any meaning today? Yes, it does. In modern times, there are Christians that abstain from certain foods. Primarily these are for reasons of health, but we could also confront our brothers and sisters in the faith that abstain from eating meat for more of a spiritual reason, believing that a diet of red meat is harmful to health, or that it is disingenuous to use living creatures for food. Now is where the point of this chapter should truly come alive for us. Because here Paul does not focus on what is right or wrong in the area of eating. Paul proclaims that the more important thing is to consider spiritual health; the conscience of our brothers and sisters in the faith.

It may be that one stance has deeper Biblical roots than the other. But in the big picture, there is a hierarchy of ideas in terms of our closeness to God and our faith. It is more important to God that we show tolerance to our brothers and sisters in the faith than we split hairs on a topic for which the consequences are not dire.

I must interject here that there remain many sinful ideas and topics for which tolerance should not be exercised, even among brethren. However, in God’s kingdom, in His church, as the brethren grow their faith in the Holy Word of God, these instances recede and abate as faith and knowledge grow. There is another discussion that could be had in this context, which would be to answer the question, besides eating certain foods, what other practices or principles are there whose rightness or wrongness are not as important as recognizing the conscience of our brethren? This might make for a good discussion topic for study with your own family or Bible class.

The main message of Romans 14 is to withhold judgment and “advice” in such inconsequential matters to our fellow brethren and instead to concentrate on building up one another in the faith, creating deep and lasting relationships with them; some things are more important than others. We need to see things in the proper context of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In some matters, considering the feelings of your brothers and sisters is more important than the “rightness” of the matter at hand.

Paul explicitly states such in verses 17-19: “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”

In the final words of this chapter, Paul urges us to look inside. If we are looking at a brother or sister and judging them, have we also allowed the same thing for ourselves? Or do we play favorites? The most condemning aspect is the exercise of inspecting the source of our condemnation or judgment. Is the judgment of another based on our faith, or is it based on another motive? What are we truly after? Paul’s suggestion is that if we truly think and act in faith, we will not create strife for those of like faith. If our judgment or condemnation is based on a spiritual principle found in the Word of God and we are righting a wrong, we remove sin and we should be happy and give God the glory for such change. But when we openly condemn others for small matters, or, even worse, speak ill of them when they are not present, we are sowing division and hurting ourselves in the process.

Romans 13: Clarification of Hierarchy and Echoes of Christ

Paul, now one chapter into his inspired instruction to the Romans on how to live, explores the origin of earthly authority as we begin chapter thirteen. He makes it clear that the source of all authority is God. Any power that ruling bodies have on earth has been given to them by God, and it is therefore our duty to submit to them.

Not only does submitting to government demonstrate our capacity for obedience (a quality that God seeks in each of us), but it also helps to maintain order in civil culture. Submitting to the government is an idea that would have been difficult for many Christians at the time. You may know that the Roman government looked down on the Jews as a people and as a nation. As a minority, the Jews were seen by the Romans as a small group of religious people that needed to be managed and to a degree, controlled. In the dramatic scene played out by Pilate where Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion, elements of this attitude can be seen (John 18:28 – 19:22).

Even though some Christians at the time may have resented the Roman government and its subsequent representatives, they are encouraged to obey them in alignment with the commandments of God. For the same authority that calls upon them to believe in Jesus Christ calls on them to obey the ruling bodies on earth. And the same rewards and consequences are to follow for disobedience to these bodies, as seen in Romans 13:4-7: “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. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 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.” If this last phrase in Romans 13:7 sounds familiar to you, that is likely because it echoes the same concept as spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The conclusion in Romans 13 is simple. We honor God by obeying the government, paying taxes, and being responsible citizens. Governing bodies such as Nebuchadnezzar’s, where the authorities sought to find fault with the Jews, namely Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, and Daniel (Daniel 3:8-18 and 6:1-9), are exceptions to this rule as they attempt to supersede the authority of God.

This guidance leaves little to no room for what is today common protest against governing bodies. God calls upon us to be obedient, which includes receiving punishment for lack of obedience and reward for obedience. This is a simple and clear concept, easily explained and very accessible to readers of all ages, cultures, and timelines. It applies to all people, at all times, everywhere. God is our Creator and source of all authority and power. Christ, as part of the three persons of the Godhead, identifies Himself as an authoritative benefactor as well in Matthew 28:18: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” In the sense that God gave Jesus the authority mentioned in this verse, God has also given it to our local and national governing bodies.

The final portions of the chapter provide gentle and righteous encouragement to love your neighbor. This includes being good, honest, and kind to your fellow man, showing them love and honor in your dealings with them. The fact that Paul mentions that love is the fulfillment of the law bridges the gap yet again from old law to new, showing that Christ was part of God’s extended plan from the beginning.

Romans 13 concludes with the encouragement to be like Christ because the end is nearer now than it was at the first. This statement likely had a bigger impact on the readers of the time than it does on us. Their proximity in timer to Christ was much closer and reading the warning from Paul that “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” would have persuaded the Christians at that time that Christ was coming back very soon. This would have been very easy for them to believe because many of them would have remembered the time not long before when Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Paul’s expression about the night being far spent suggests that the waiting for Christ to come back was nearly over but of course we know now that the waiting was only beginning. In fact, where we are now, in this moment, is a place where our salvation is “nearer than when we first believed.” This is something we very much have in common with first century Christians.

It behooves us then to also obey the strongly encouraged words of Paul to imitate Christ in all we do: “…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.”

These words encourage us, much like the words in Romans chapters 6, 8, and 12, to walk and live in the spirit. Where do we think we are going? Do we think we are heading towards college, family life, or retirement? Of course, many of us are heading towards these things. But God’s Word in Romans asks us to think deeper, to reach higher. Because we are definitely heading towards one of two places: heaven or hell, and with this ultimate and finite fact, our prime efforts in life are best spent preparing for eternity rather than making plans and expending energy that have their ends in the physical world and with our mortal bodies. Our bodies, our homes, our earthly possessions after all are wasting away further and further each day.

Let us conclude this study with the words of Jesus on the matter: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Romans 12: How to Live

The three previous chapters in Romans have been educational for believing and unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. The information went a long way towards explaining Christ in the context of the old law. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul spoke to Israelites using figures and examples that were meaningful to Jews, while also helping Gentiles by explaining the history of the relationship between God and His chosen people. These explanations were leading up to the climax at the end of chapter eleven, where Paul recognizes God’s divinity, sanctity of judgment, and glory. Having arrived at the conclusion, chapter twelve is a “therefore statement,” enlightening believers in Christ on the best ways to conduct themselves as children of God under the new gospel. There is both spiritual and practical guidance. There is direction on how to interact with believers and unbelievers. The wise, profound one-liners in this chapter present a paradigm, a philosophy on how to live as a Christian, ancient or modern, it makes no difference. One could even make the leap to say that Paul, as an apostle, is elaborating on the teaching of Christ, boiling the platitudes of God’s Son down to advice that is at once applicable, accessible. The encouragement and advice given in Romans chapter twelve is simple and in agreement with the Words of Jesus Christ.

Let us review these statements, along with their lessons and implications:

  • Present your bodies as living sacrifices (v. 1)
    • Where physical animal sacrifices were once what God desired, now we are called to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of God. This spiritual sacrifice involves us daily foregoing those things that we want for ourselves in exchange for what God would have us do for Him. 
  • Be not conformed to the world, but be transformed (v. 2)
    • Do not align yourself with worldly values, but heeding the Words of Christ and the commandments of God, allow yourself to live in conflict with the worldly standards, principles, and morals, which are very often opposite to the holy statues of God.
  • Do not think of yourself more highly than you should (v. 3)
    • Humility is key. When we are convinced of our own greatness, our sense of morality is warped as we tend to base our judgment on our internal standards instead of practicing the divine teachings of God. 
  • Understand your function in God’s kingdom (v. 4-5)
    • Know yourself. Understand what your talents are and use them with purpose in service of the Kingdom of God. 
  • Use your talents appropriately (v. 6-8)
    • Apply your abilities in the proper context, not forsaking their benefit to others, seeking opportunities to increase and abound in God’s work with excellence.  
  • Love one another sincerely (v. 9)
    • Treat fellow believers with authentic love, relenting from showy displays that lack honesty.
  • Reject evil and embrace goodness (v. 9)
    • Be purposeful about recognizing goodness and evil. Actively value good and reject evil. This can be both an internal exercise done privately as well as one that is done publicly in the presence of believers and unbelievers.
  • Serve the Lord by tirelessly serving others in affection and love (v. 10-11)
    • Have a happy spirit when serving others in the faith. Do not tire of it and serve them as if doing service to the Lord, which you are.
  • React to life’s situations appropriately (v. 12)
    • When there is hope, rejoice
    • When there are trials, be patient
    • Pray continually
    • Live so that you automatically have the right reactions to life’s challenges. This requires patience, practice and prayer.
  • Give and be hospitable to needy believers (v. 13)
    • Be aware of the needs of others in the body of Christ. Be ready to give them what they need out of your abundance and share your belongings, your wealth, your blessings, and your home.
  • Conduct yourself and your relationships appropriately (v. 14-21)
    • Do not be evil to those that are evil to you
    • Visibly value the good things in life
    • Endeavor to live in peace with all men
    • Do not take revenge, for it is the dominion of God
    • Be kind and have mercy on your enemies
    • When evil intrudes, react with goodness
    • We are often called to react opposite to what our natural reactions would be. God desires for us to rise above our sinful and selfish natures. We should understand that God’s place in our lives and in the lives of others supersedes our desire to take revenge and exact harsh judgment (active or mental) on those that have caused us pain, worry, or insult. We need to practice the reflex of goodness when we are hurt by others. Our default setting as children of God is to trust in the Lord to manage our relationships and ourselves. 

When we follow the guidance of these eleven statements, we are doing the hard work on the ground where God has already established the perfect pathways and methods that will give us the best version of our lives, and the best version of ourselves.

Romans 11: The Effects of Grace

In this chapter, Paul delves into the nuances of salvation being now available for all people, instead of just the Israelites as has been the case for generations. Some Jews may have supposed that since God is now offering salvation to Gentiles through Jesus, that the Jews had lost their chance since they neglected countless opportunities to have the right relationship with God. To help make and support his points, he pulls from as many as five different old testament passages, starting with Elijah from I Kings 19. In verses 14 and 18, Elijah and God have an exchange where the disobedience of Israel is recognized, yet God makes it clear that there is still a faithful remnant preserved to honor and glorify God.

Paul makes this point easily and obviously for a couple of reasons. For one, a story about the major prophet Elijah to incredulous Jews would have increased the credibility of the idea that God has not forsaken the faithful of Israel. A second reason is that the Jews referenced in I Kings 19:18 (who had not worshipped the false god Baal) represent a commonality in the faithful of God’s original people. For there were still a number of Jews that worshipped and honored God properly and without all of the self-effacing and hypocritical methods we read about in the gospels. Paul is appealing to those believing Jews (aka the remnant) whose hearts were fertile for news of the great Messiah that was prophesied. These believing Jews can rightly and easily access God’s grace through His Son. This grace is precious, and would have been a new concept to the Jews, who have been obeying God on the basis of works alone for generations. By invoking the example of the revered prophet Elijah and also using himself as an example (“For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin”), Paul is attempting to persuade faithful Jews to Christ.

To help support his point, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29, Deuteronomy 29, and Psalm 69 in verses 8 and 9 of Romans 11. These passages describe the state of those Jews that lost their way. The passage in Isaiah describes the Jews’ departure from God, that both God and Israel played a part:

“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…“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…”” Isaiah 29:10, 13

Then, in Psalm 69:22-23, he uses the words of David to show the result of their estrangement from God, as is the case for us all: “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.”

Paul is telling those Jews that would believe in Jesus that their state and also their fate is part of a larger plan of God over generations. There is a fear and hopelessness that comes when we live apart from God, particularly after we have already come to know and obey Him. But God singled out and punished the Jews, leaving them in darkness and fear. Some Jews were faithful, but these verses in Psalms call out those Jews that forsook God and all of His statues and commandments.

With knowledge comes power, and Paul is attempting to empower those Jews that still believe in God and tend towards faith in Christ. Through understanding their faith-heritage in the written context of respected men like Elijah and David, the Jews reading the letter to the Romans would have been enlightened. By quoting these verses to them, Paul is revealing the permission space to believe the words of Jesus.

Ending the first ten verses of this chapter, let us consider that all of the context of the history of the Jews’ disobedience to God and the penalties it incurred would also have been very enlightening to newly converted Gentiles. Understanding these themes would have helped them to understand the plight of the Jews and could have created compassion towards them. In essence, Paul is explaining the equal playing field of salvation that God has created through Jesus Christ, with a particular concentration on the Jews.

Verse 11 suggests that beyond the strong and simple desire to be saved, the Israelites have other motivations to be saved as well. The Gentiles’ access to salvation provokes jealousy in the hearts of the Jews, and Paul insinuates that the jealousy could spur them on to belief in the true Savior.

In verse 13, Paul pivots a bit to speak directly to the Gentiles on the subject of their now having access to God. To illustrate the condition, he uses the olive tree and the ideas of grafting on and breaking off branches. It is a simple but effective device. The newly grafted on branches are the Gentiles, whose belief in Christ saves them. The broken branches are those Jews that eschew Christ. The roots are the same, always having been God, from whom all blessings, truth, and goodness flow. Paul concentrates on the attitude and behavior of the Gentiles in respect to the Jews in verse 18: “do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” Boasting is off limits here no matter the case; the idea of boasting against God is anathema. The resulting condition of the newly believing convert ought to be gratitude and fear, not pride and haughtiness.

Reading on, we see that even those Jews that had left God can return to Him through Christ in verse 24: “For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”

Paul begins the conclusion of chapter 11 by quoting from Isaiah 59:20-21, making the point that the Gentiles have all obtained mercy through the disobedience of Israel. Indeed, the sins of Israel are taken away through Jesus, but their disobedience opens up the door for mercy; such is the nature of God. If Israel had accepted Christ absolutely, there would not have been the need for mercy. But, since many rejected Him, God’s mercy is needed for reconciliation and those at first disbelieving Jews can access God through Christ by the same mercy that blesses the Gentiles.

These are not simple concepts, the deep things of God rarely are. The conclusion, then, is fitting. As Paul quotes from both Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11, he makes it clear that God’s mind is unknowable. The mystery of Christ was unknown for generations, and no one could have predicted it. God’s decisions to bless and punish then, too, are righteous and appropriate, but still can remain mysterious to those that experience them. No one is in the place to predict or to aid or to charge God. He is everything, and our gratitude and fear should follow:

“”For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” “Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

Romans 10: The Righteousness of God

The discussion of Israel’s salvation continues as we move through Romans chapter 10. Paul acknowledges that Israel has a passion and desire to serve God. They err, however, because they desire righteousness according to their definition and not according to God’s. Paul indicates that when they seek God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ, they will find it. Christ is the fulfillment of the law established by Moses. The Israelites that make this connection through faith in God’s Son will access God’s righteousness and the path to salvation.

The concepts that follow in verses 5-13 are intricately woven together to demonstrate that:

  • The old law of Moses attempted to establish righteousness through works, but could not absolve sin
  • The righteousness established through faith starts in the heart, then is confessed by the mouth
  • Faith and confession play major roles in the salvation of man: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Jesus Christ is the object of this faith, of course, and there are no preferences, distinctions, or differences in the one that calls on Him. From verses 12 and 13: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

In the relationship between righteousness, works, and faith, there are many mysteries. Men attempt to confirm the nuances of these relationships, and reach limited success due to the limit of their reach. I will not attempt to codify righteousness, works and faith in the context of our salvation and relationship with God. I will quickly point out, however, that the righteousness produced by faith and strengthened by confession receives a premium in these verses. Reading verses 5-13, one tends to conclude that the relationship of righteousness produced by faith is a great deal closer to the state of salvation than is the righteousness produced by works. But we must resolve these statements with others in God’s Word, such as found in James chapter 2 and Romans 2:13, where the effect of works cannot be denied. What is our conclusion – what is more important or has a greater bearing on our salvation – faith or works? The answer is that there must be a balance of both. The righteousness that we attain through faith in Jesus Christ spurs us on to good works, which glorify God. It is a delicate and encouraging cycle of hearing, believing, submitting, and acting. Faith is made perfect in works.

In the latter portion of the chapter in verses 14-21, Israel is the subject again, and once more unfavorably. But through Paul’s explanation of why much of Israel is lost, he walks through some of the plan of salvation. Firstly, there is the need to be exposed to the teaching and the preaching so that people have the opportunity to believe. Then, hearing the good news is necessary so that the seed will be planted. Once the truth is heard, people will either believe or they will not. Once belief resides in the heart, the action of repentance from those sins forbidden by God follows, after which confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God takes place. Completing the salvation plan under Christ is the obedient act of baptism, shown in Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, and I Peter 3:21.

The lament of Israel continues to the end of this chapter, as Paul pulls verses from Nahum, Isaiah and Deuteronomy to demonstrate how Israel has had opportunities aplenty to cling to God. The Word of God and the prophecies of Jesus Christ have been proclaimed at large for all to hear for a sustained period of time, leaving no Israelite an excuse. Indeed, the passages invoked by Paul here have an ironic feeling to them because many of God’s people, the very ones that heard the teaching and preaching over the years, deny Christ. But the Gentiles prove themselves believers of God’s Son and will have the salvation that so many erroneous and proud Israelites forsake.

The conclusion of the chapter, then is that salvation is available for all, despite the nation of Israel having been God’s chosen nation prior to the dispensation of Jesus Christ. But when thinking of the personal value that this chapter can have for us today, we may find a more useful meditation in the concepts of faith, works, righteousness, and confession.

Romans 9: Israel’s Rejection of Jesus Christ and God’s Supreme Judgment

Paul has great sorrow in his heart. Why? Because the Israelites are partakers of the blessings of Christ, but they do not all recognize it. The opening five verses of chapter nine confirm that God has given all of the blessings in Jesus Christ to the nation of Israel, “to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.”

Paul is greatly grieved that the Israelites seem to be excluded from the blessings of Christ, although in truth he knows that God’s chosen people have access to Christ and are actually closer to Him than other peoples of the time. Paul knows that Christ’s origin was divine, but that His path to earth as a man was afforded by the Jews.

In truth, the majority of the Jews simply do not accept Jesus as their Savior, as the One spoken of in the Old Testament as the Messiah. This saddens Paul to such an extent that he would be separated from Jesus if it meant that his people, the Israelites, would be united to Christ. His statement to this effect in verse three, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,” echoes a similar statement from his forefather in faith Moses, that was made in Exodus 32:32: “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”

Whether Paul’s declaration was made in conscious knowledge of the parallel sentiment expressed by Moses is unclear but it suggests that Paul’s faith and sense of self-sacrifice for the benefit of his fellow countrymen was at least as great as that of Moses, a giant of faith in the Old Law.

Paul is quick to appropriately divide the blame for this situation. He clarifies that it is not due to the lack of power in God’s Word or lack of power of Christ that results in the Israelites’ alienation from the blessings of the Savior. Not all children of Israel are left out of the blessings of Christ; some have recognized God’s plan and accepted Christ. But for others, even though they are God’s people and have a heritage of being cared for by God, their physical lineage does not secure them a relationship with God under the new covenant. To help make this point, Paul uses Abraham as an example. Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac inherited the promises and not Ishmael, even though Ishmael was firstborn. Another example Paul provides is that of Jacob and Esau. Even before they were born, God had purposed that Jacob would be the prominent son. This election by God is referenced as “not of works but of Him who calls,” suggesting that our destiny is bound up not only in the choices we make but also by the foreknowledge of God. God’s election in this sense is a mystery to us; we know that our free will determines our destiny, but God’s sovereign will plays a part in the tendency of belief and obedience. We will not truly understand the nuance of God’s election and our free will this side of eternity, but we should be amazed by God’s power and ability to see all from His divine perspective. His living outside of time and other factors must play a part in His purpose for creation.

The chapter continues in verse fourteen to affirm that it is up to God to determine who receives mercy, compassion, and salvation. The fact that God defines true justice is a given; we know there is no partiality and therefore our faith prompts confidence in His judgment, as well as some healthy fear. The point of verses fourteen through eighteen is that God decides our fate based on His righteous judgment of each of us, but that there is still a bit of mystery in the process. “Him who calls,” in respect to His divine perspective and perfect wisdom and judgment, considers many things unknowable to us when He weighs our hearts and executes His judgment.

Verses nineteen through twenty-four have a humbling affect in the midst of this complex discourse on judgment and God’s perspective on mankind. We need to count it a blessing simply that we have the knowledge of God and Christ that saves us. To question God’s judgment, methods, or rationale is absurd. To drive the point home, Paul uses the simple illustration in verses twenty through twenty-four: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 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?”

Paul attempts to explain the unknowable complexities of God’s plan by submitting the ideas of vessels made to demonstrate God’s wrath and vessels made to demonstrate God’s mercy (vessels = people). It is important to note here that Paul is not saying that God designs some for punishment, but He is making that point that if God decided to do this, who are we to question? We are His creation, completely under His control and at His mercy. Gratitude, not contempt or insolence, should be our response to His blessings and judgements alike.

Two verses are then quoted from the minor prophet Hosea to show that God had purposed to call both Jews and Gentiles to Him. The passages quoted from Isaiah that follow affirm Israel’s place in God’s plan through Jesus Christ. Christ was the seed that came through Israel, but that does not mean that all of Israel will be saved; Jews and Gentiles alike will be saved through Jesus, dependent on their belief, strength of faith, and obedience.

The final three verses of this important chapter sum up the discourse through the lens of law versus faith. The Israelites, who sought to serve God through the law as commanded, were not justified through the law but now have their chance to be justified by faith in Jesus. If the Israelites deny Christ and continue in the law, they are not justified. Likewise, the Gentiles, having access to God through faith in Jesus, also have the opportunity to be justified by faith in Jesus.

Where does that leave us? Most of us are not Jews practicing the Old law. If we were, it would behoove us to recognize the law in its proper place and instead turn to Christ. But as Gentiles, we are today faced with the very personal question: “Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” If we do, we are bound to listen, study, and obey the Words of the Son of God.

What do you believe?

Romans 8: Walking in the Spirit

This chapter contains a masterful treatise on mankind’s prime conflict of the flesh vs. the spirit. We have delved into this subject in previous chapters in Romans, and Paul goes even deeper here, explaining aspects of walking according to the flesh vs. walking according to the spirit.

Verses. 1-17: Flesh vs. Spirit

In addition to the obvious dichotomy of the flesh vs. the spirit, Paul also makes mention of how the old Mosaic law depended more on the flesh and physical things compared with the new law under Christ, which is spiritual in nature. In clear yet deep discourse, we are shown the negative results of walking in the flesh compared with the abundant blessings received when we endeavor to live spiritually.

Flesh

  • Law of sin and death
  • Weak
  • Set your mind on worldly things
  • Antagonism towards God, cannot please God
  • Body is dead due to sin
  • Living according to the flesh brings death
  • Bondage

Spirit

  • Life in Christ brings freedom
  • Righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled
  • Set your mind on heavenly things
  • The Spirit of God dwells in you
  • Spirit is life due to righteousness
  • If led by the Spirit of God, you are children of God
  • Adoption by God

Verse 12 sums the deepest takeaway up very well: “we are debtors—not to the flesh…” We are indebted to God because we live in the flesh but according to the Spirit. In other words, God has given us a way to live in harmony with Him while we are still in the flesh. We maintain this harmony by walking in the Spirit, meaning that we seek to fulfill the needs of the spirit over the needs of the flesh. We incorporate Christ’s example, His teachings, and His ways into our lives. We sacrifice what we want for what He would want for us. We seek God in study, prayer, through serving others, and in so doing we deny ourselves and glorify God. And “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” God makes the impossible possible through the Spirit.

Verses 18-39: More Than Conquerors

We are all waiting for the next thing. It is part of being human. We crave news and the next new thing. People are at once scared and fascinated by the afterlife. What is coming next? Where is this all leading? For Christians, we know that Christ died for us and that we are promised “heaven,” but we do not know exactly what that means. We will be in the presence of God, awash in His glory, but what will that be like for all eternity? We can surmise, we can daydream, but the truth is that no one of us has concrete answers. Alternatively, we can rest in the confidence given to us by the inspired Word of God: “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

No matter how bad life is or how bad it seems, it is not even worthy to compare with the glory that awaits us in the afterlife. Verses 18-25 has Paul zooming far out on the creation story, describing that God created us in the hope that we would love and cling to Him, but that we would eventually require the most precious sacrifice for redemption. From God’s side, He sacrificed His son because He loved us so. But from our side, we are left waiting on a deity we cannot see, which increases the importance of His return.

In the confusing challenge of life, we pray and we seek God’s help, sometimes not even knowing what it is that we desperately need. Enter the Holy Spirit, who communicates to God on our behalf the deepest yearnings of our heart. When our desires overlap the will of God and He desires to answer our requests (made with and without our knowledge), God grants us our deepest desires. What a mysterious and alluring comfort that is.

When we love and serve God, sacrificing our fleshly lives to serve Him in spirit, He blesses, justifies, and glorifies us. When we have a God that so lovingly created us, forgave us when we sinned against Him, and accepted us when we repented, the only sensible, logical option is to serve and love Him. What foolishness it is to turn our backs on Him and surmise that a future (here and in the afterlife) would be worth living without Him. In Him we are protected, in Him we are justified, and in Him we find the only purpose we have that has real consequence. When we are in the face of such power and obvious superiority, it is foolish to deny Him. Then, consider the love He shows, and the effort He expelled to reconcile us, and the result is to create in each of us a devotion to God that is unending. In the latter part of this chapter, a verse is taken from Psalm 44: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

This poetic willingness to suffer for the One that has given us everything is a balm to the tortured soul. It is the answer to life’s questions and it invigorates us towards the right priorities over the trivialities of the flesh.

Put simply, God has made us conquerors of a malady of our own making. And nothing can erase our success except the proclivity to satisfy our own weak and foolish flesh.

Romans 7: We Do Not Do What We Want To Do

Paul begins this chapter by relating the simple rules of marriage/divorce/remarriage: The woman that is married to a husband is bound to her husband for as long as he lives. If the husband should die, she is released from the law of her husband. But, if she marries another man while her husband still lives, she will be an adulteress because she is still under the law of the marriage. But if the husband dies, she is of course free to marry another.

Paul paints this picture of law in marriage to relate to the Romans the idea that they are no longer under the old law now that Christ came and established the new covenant. Followers of God now known as Christians are effectively dead to the old law through the body of Jesus Christ and live primarily in the spirit, denying bodily lusts. Paul takes the analogy further, explaining that this new shift in the faithful man’s relationship with God does not mean that the old law is equated with sin. Rather, as we have touched on previously in this study, the old law existed to reveal the sin in the lives of those that would follow God: “…sin that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.”

There is also the idea that the old law produced sin in that when there are rules, there will always be those that will seek to break them. In this sense, the commandments brought death. Ironically, this was eventually proved to be a good thing because man, aware of the parameters set forth by God, sought not death but life and in that pursuit, man avoided breaking the commandments. This led man to avoid sin and as a result come closer to God.  

Verses 15-21 are a masterful treatise on the human condition and the vague frustration and ennui that can encroach on our souls. If we seek goodness, we are doing something noble, righteous and good, because we are seeking to please our Creator and also are putting our God-given faculties and blessings to their proper use. But we live in a fleshly body, the appetites of which can more often than not produce desires that, when not properly expelled or fulfilled, lead us to sin. So, what we want to do, which is serve God and be righteous, we do not do, because we find ourselves seeking to fulfill fleshly desires, which lead us away from God because we are fulfilling them in the wrong ways. This is the sense in which we do those things that we do not want to do. This push and pull is a lifelong struggle that few, if any, ever truly grasp, and fewer still understand and master. It helps us immensely to understand this passage because it can be an answer to the seemingly unanswerable questions:

  • When will I ever be happy?
  • Why can’t I ever seem to be happy?
  • Why is life so difficult?
  • Why do I seem to be the only one that is struggling with this sin?
  • Why is everyone against me?
  • Why am I always alone?
  • Why won’t others behave like they should?
  • Etc.

We will find that when we are steeped in God’s Word, in prayer, in service, that we are able to identify the stumbling blocks that prevent happiness and peace. When we are honest with ourselves and seek to truly eradicate those practices and habits that have us going against the grain of God’s design for us, we will find that our spirits can be happy indeed, and that (oftentimes surprisingly), there is a way for us to be able to master our human appetites, transcend our bodies, and serve God in spirit and in truth.

We value Jesus Christ so highly for many reasons. Chief of them is that He provides the way to salvation. Perhaps the second most important is that Christ also shows us how to live spiritually with all people, proclaiming the gospel of peace, going two miles with a person that asks us to go with them one, and thinking more of others than we do of ourselves. Of course, the answers are not so simple in the morass of close relationships and the relationships we have with those that do not believe in, much less obey, God. But what we do get is a glimpse of heaven. When we pass from this life, and we are ushered into the heavenly home, where there is no time, no tears, no agony, we will need only to praise God in His presence and will not have this body of flesh, that brings temptation, sin, and separation.

Protection: Psalm 91 and the Armor of God

For tonight’s study, let us contrast two different ideas from the Old and New Testaments.

As we will see, both of the readings are on the topic of protection. But the manner of protection and what we would be protected from are slightly different. In fact, there are some lessons to be learned as well from the overall application of the Old and New Testaments in these two small passages.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 91 first. Overall, these sixteen verses are a long if/then statement. If you “make the Lord your dwelling place,” He will protect you from danger, physical calamity, and evil. What does it mean to “make the Lord your dwelling place?” There are answers to this question throughout Psalm 91. From verse two, we know that it requires that we trust God. And from verse fifteen, we should call on Him in prayer. These two ideas mean that we understand and believe without doubt that God not only has the power to protect us, but that He will protect us when we seek Him in prayer.

From what does God protect us? The “snare of the fowler,” “perilous pestilence,” and “terror” are some of the examples given. The existence of these threats suggests an ongoing war for our loyalty. There are forces that are aiming to bring us down, to discourage us and make us weaker. Agents of the devil that seek to disrupt through chaos, dishonest gain, and destruction surely will cause us fear, but when we trust in God and go to Him for help in prayer, “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.” An important component of God’s protection in particular is truth. While other forces of power stand on dubious foundations, God has the market cornered on truth, inspiring confidence and stability in all that He touches and influences. Truth will protect us. As long as we accept God and have confidence that truth originates from Him, we are protected by Him and our confidence in God is complete. The satisfaction and calm that comes from knowing that we trust in and worship the one true God is deeply gratifying and allays all manner of personal worry and trepidation.

Psalm 91 ends with verses 14-16, which make a narrative change to the voice of the chapter. Until verse 14, the Psalmist (likely David), was speaking to the reader the encouraging words of seeking God for protection. But in the last three verses, the voice of God takes over and we experience the words coming directly from God: “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation.”

The lessons of Psalm 91 are valuable, if not somewhat general. The action items for us are to trust that God can and will protect us, and to call on Him in prayer to do so. If we do, then we will prevail while many others all around us fall prey to the wiles of the devil and his machinations. In turn, God protects us with His angels and providence.

The New Testament reading for our study is from Ephesians 6:10-18 and concerns the armor of God. This passage goes deeper than Psalm 91. As the various pieces of the armor of God are listed and explained, the Word of God asks us to understand all of the advantages that faith in God provides. The pieces of armor and what they symbolize guard against wickedness and temptation.

One standout difference between Psalm 91 and the armor of God in the New Testament is the dangers that they protect from. In Psalm 91, the dangers come from outside ourselves in the form of external threats like the fowler, pestilence, and terror. While the dangers repelled by the armor of God have physical threats also, more often mentioned are the spiritual ones such as rulers of darkness, spiritual hosts of wickedness, and the fiery darts of the wicked one. The battle to be fought in the present time is one that is internal, warring against powers of evil that seek to corrupt us and tear us away from God. Be it slowly or dramatically, the powers of evil want to separate us from God’s protection. And the perfect list of tools in God’s armor show us how to use God’s spiritual blessings to win the daily battles that seek to bring us down.

  • Belt of truth
    • A belt holds our clothes together. It tightens and strengthens, holding close what is important for protection. If we are wayward in our convictions or assumptions, our protection will falter. The surety of truth in God brings a confidence that increases our safety and protection against evil forces.
  • Breastplate of righteousness
    • Righteousness is that virtuous quality that revels in doing and being good, as defined by God. Right ways of thinking, right ways of judging, right ways of acting: all of these things are determined by how righteous we are. We obtain righteousness by listening to God, keeping His statutes, and seeking to do the right thing in every case. If we are righteous, our heart is protected against the efforts of the devil.
  • Shoes of the Gospel of Peace
    • The Good News of Jesus Christ is the information that has the power to save mankind. If we use the knowledge of Christ as a purpose to travel and protect our way, God will make a peaceful path for us. This means keeping the knowledge of Christ at the forefront and seeking to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).
  • Shield of Faith
    • Our faith is a belief that sustains us as we move forward along the difficult path of life. Faith in God will make mountains seem like anthills and will easily repel the foolish efforts of the devil to tempt us away from the care of Almighty God. We must believe that God can save us, and He will.
  • Helmet of Salvation
    • This is the sure and secure knowledge that God has saved us through Jesus Christ. The trust in our relationship with God though Jesus (the state of our salvation) brings a confidence that can come from nowhere else. To have our head protected by the knowledge of salvation is to rejoice in the invaluable grace of God that saves us and compels our lifelong obedience.
  • Sword of the Spirit
    • This may be our most valuable piece of armor. The Sword of the Spirit can be understood as the Word of God, our Holy Bible. There is no other book like it on earth, and we get from it all we need to live a faith-based life in service to God. It can be used as a weapon or as a defense. It can cut our attacker as well as ourselves. The book of God is the vital communication from our Creator that sustains, protects, and propels us to righteousness.

These armor pieces, when properly assembled by us in our faithful pursuit of God, will create righteous people whose lives compose a beautiful song for God. 100% protection from every threat and danger of life (physical and spiritual) is not assured, as trials increase our faith and are often part of God’s plan for our spiritual journey. But protection from easily escapable and highly dangerous afflictions is promised if we don the whole armor of God.

Lastly mentioned (although debatable whether truly in the list or not) is prayer. Prayer and truth are those common threads running between Psalm 91 and the armor of God. Prayer and trusting the Bible comprise our daily path to Him that shores up our protection.

Taken together, Psalm 91 and Ephesians 6:10-18 promise us protection from God if and when we seek Him. One is more general and physical, while the next is more specific and detailed. Both of these rich passages have a lot of encouragement and comfort to offer. Truly, we are missing out on the most valuable protection available if we do not take advantage of these rich blessings offered to us by God.

Romans 6: You Will Serve Something

This chapter is so very thick with meaning. It has applications to our daily lives and it is simply astounding that it is still relevant after having been written so long ago. Its relevance is a testament to its divine authorship. Who else but God could have handed to His creation something so deep and powerfully meaningful? This chapter pulls us out of our physical state and speaks to us on spiritual terms, waking us up to the spirit inside of us and how to direct it to God.

The previous chapter ended with the exposition that the law was put in place to reveal man’s sin. The law, being inadequate to remove our sins, was replaced by the law of grace under God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is the context for the beginning question of this chapter: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul answers his own question with an emphatic “Certainly not!” The passion here comes from the onus that is put on us to appreciate the free gift of salvation from God through Jesus and not to deny the effort and impact of the event by continuing in our sin. How could we, with clear consciences, continue in sin knowing of the perfect and sinless sacrifice that was offered on our behalf?

In verses 1-14, the instruction consists of the following primary ideas:

  • The importance and meaning of baptism

Through baptism we receive the blessings of Jesus Christ: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” These verses make it plain: how are we to come in contact with salvation through Jesus if not through baptism? There is also an idea here about how we are changed through salvation, with Jesus as our model. Note the comparison of Christ’s death and raising to our own spiritual death in the waters of baptism, only to raise up with new life.

  • The importance of leaving sin behind

Once we have our new life in Christ, sin has no part in it. A theme is begun here on slavery to sin, which is a component of the bigger idea that we are meant for service. One way or another, you will serve a master and this essence boiled down is the idea that we will serve either God or Satan, either righteousness or sin. These two macro ideas of course have many subtexts and serving Satan can look a lot like NOT serving Satan due to the trickery of temptation and the infinite guises of righteousness that sin can take. Serving righteousness is often simpler but also more difficult. Our encouragement here is to point our hearts, minds, spirits, actions, purpose, and energies toward God and away from self, from fruitless distractions, and from influences without a godly component. A good rule of thumb here to get us started can be taken from Phillippians 4:8-9: “…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

  • Use your abilities in the service of God

The language in verse 13 is fresh and compelling: “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.” The vague meaning of “instruments” is intentionally wide-reaching. The ideas are building on Christ’s raising from the dead. Now that we have been baptized into Jesus Christ’s death, we are encouraged to use all of our faculties for good. This includes our mental skills, our physical energies, our limbs, our speech, our feet, our words, our kindness. Free will means freedom of thought, movement, and action. God has bestowed us with this blessing that feels all too common to us. The “radical” idea here is to use our freedom to honor our Creator. We are meant to ask ourselves: What rules my body? Is it my desire to follow God or do I give my physical desires free reign to rule my body? What rules my thoughts? What do I care about? What concerns me? All of these questions, answered honestly, will give us an indication of where we are spiritually with our God. Am I near to Him or am I drifting away?

Verses 15-23 play a devil’s advocate of sorts. Since we have God’s grace that forgives sin through our relationship with Jesus, this means that all of our sins, past and future, are bound to be forgiven! Right!? Wrong. Paul explains to the Romans here (and not so gently) that since they are now in the relationship with Jesus, they have now become slaves of righteousness, having been set free from sin. Returning to willful sin dissolves the relationship of grace from God through Jesus Christ, for as we know from Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”

Here again is the responsibility we have to use our faculties in service to God, and not to simply bask in His grace, hoping for forgiveness: “For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” The message is clear: after we believe and commit ourselves to God through Jesus, we are to serve God with the physical, mental and spiritual gifts with which He has blessed us.

As the chapter concludes, Paul follows the logical result of the paths of sin and righteousness. The fruits and wages of sin are death, pure and simple. But when we pursue righteousness and virtue, we receive holiness and everlasting life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Put in these terms, the right choice to pursue righteousness and turn away from sin is obvious. It is easy to see, but difficult to practice. I pray for our success as slaves of righteousness.