Judge and Jury

On March 26, 2000 at 8:32 a.m., Seattle’s famed Kingdome—home of the Seahawks, the Mariners, and at times, the Sonics—was blown to kingdom come. Working for the Seattle office of Turner Construction Co., the Maryland based Controlled Demolition Incorporated (CDI) was hired to do the job of imploding the 125,000-ton structure that had marked Seattle’s skyline for almost twenty-five years. The remarkable thing about the event was the extreme measures taken to ensure no one was hurt. CDI had experience with over 7,000 demolitions and knew how to protect people. Engineers checked and rechecked the structure. The authorities evacuated several blocks around the Kingdome. Safety measures were in place to allow the countdown to stop at any time if there was concern about safety. All workers were individually accounted for by radio before the explosives were detonated. A large public address system was used to announce the final countdown. In short, CDI took every reasonable measure, and then some, to warn people of the impending danger.

The Bible teaches a final judgment and destruction for this sinful world. Like the engineers who blew up the Kingdome, our heavenly Father has spared no expense to make sure everyone can “get out” safely. He especially warns us of judgment in the first three chapters of Romans. In 1:18-32, Paul dealt with humankind’s unrighteousness in fifteen verses. In 2:1-3:8, he deals with our self-righteous in a whopping thirty-seven verses. Paul spills over twice as much ink on the self-righteousness because they are the most difficult people to persuade of their sin. The apostle’s point is that all men need salvation either because of blatant disobedience or counterfeit obedience. In 2:1-16, he confronts those who think their works can justify them before God. He will make it clear that the self-righteous person is as guilty before God as the unrighteous person. He states: Excuses for sin will not be excused. In this text Paul answers the question: How does God judge people? He then provides three ways: God judges according to truth, works, and light.

1. God Judges According To Truth (2:1-5).
Paul insists that the self-righteous person is guilty before God. Now if you’ve never judged anyone, you’re welcome to stop reading right now. But I suspect you’ve judged at least one person on one occasion, so keep reading. Paul begins in 2:1 with these penetrating words: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you5 who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” After hearing about the blatant idolatry, immorality, and wickedness of the pagan unbeliever (1:18-32), some of Paul’s readers must have become smug with pride. However, he abruptly cuts them down to size. He uses the word “therefore” (dio) to connect the overt sinner of 1:21-32 with the covert sinner who judges another (2:1-5). Paul also clearly implies that God’s wrath in 1:18-20 will fall upon the moralist. The word “excuse” (anapologetos) is the same word used in 1:20 where Paul writes that the wicked are “without excuse” because of God’s witness in creation. Interestingly, Paul’s focus moves from “them/they” to “you/yourself” (six times in 2:1). He points the finger at the moralist and says, “You are guilty!” While the moralist may not indulge in gross manifestations of sin as some do, all people have impure thoughts, motives, and attitudes. So even “nice sinners” who pass judgment stand condemned.

We are quick to notice the grain of pepper in someone else’s teeth but slow to deal with the burrito in our own. Jesus’ words are fitting: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:3-5). We need to stop being oblivious to our own sin and deal with our junk before we approach another person. This may be as simple as changing pronouns. Like Paul in 2:1 we need to stop using “them/they” and “he/she.” Instead, we must first address me, myself, and I.

Tragically, we can all be self-righteous to one degree or another. We judge both ourselves and others poorly. We defend ourselves and find it difficult to believe that God’s judgment will touch us. Yet, we judge others severely and assume that they deserve God’s judgment. Have you ever noticed how we like to “rename” our sins? We do that by ascribing the worst motives to others, while using other phrases to let ourselves off the hook. Ray Pritchard provides the following examples: If you do it, you’re a liar; I merely “stretch the truth.” If you do it, you’re cheating; I am “bending the rules.” You lose your temper; I have righteous anger. You’re a jerk; I’m having a bad day. You have a critical spirit; I bluntly tell the truth. You gossip; I share prayer requests. You curse and swear; I let off steam. You’re pushy; I’m intensely goal-oriented. You’re greedy; I’m simply taking care of business. You’re a hypochondriac; but I’m really sick. You stink; I merely have an “earthy aroma.” Are we a sad bunch or what? We need to be reminded that excuses for sin will not be excused.

Paul further convicts us in 2:2: “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” Paul is saying that deep down we know within the core of our being that judging others is sinful, and God will judge us for inappropriately judging others. Can I prove this? Yes, I can. What’s the most often quoted Bible verse in the world? John 3:16? Nope. It’s Matt 7:1a: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” The reason that this verse is so frequently quoted by believers and unbelievers alike is twofold: (1) We don’t want to be reminded of our sinfulness. (2) We are aware of God’s judgment. Yet, this verse is taken out of context. This verse doesn’t mean that we can’t judge sin. On the contrary, we’re commanded to judge sin. Jesus teaches us in this verse that we need to deal with our own sin before we point out a brother or sister’s sin. When it comes right down to it, the only positive thing that we really accomplish by our self-righteous illegitimate judgment of others is to demonstrate our awareness of God’s holy and righteous standards. If we will leave judgment in God’s capable hands we express our faith. He is the sovereign judge who judges “rightly.” Let’s give God His job back and ask Him to help us be perfectly content to allow Him to judge people instead of trying to do His job for Him.

In 2:3-4, Paul asks a rhetorical question that expects a resounding “NO!” “But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” When Paul really wants to get down to business he uses the phrase “O man!” (He uses this same phrase in the Greek text of 2:1.) It is his way of getting into his reader’s grill and going eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose. He has to be in our face because there’s a perverse tendency in the human heart to imagine that somehow divine punishment will pass us by. We’re so permeated with a sense of being “special” that we find it easy to rationalize that judgment can’t happen to us. Yet, God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience is not an opportunity to sin; it’s a call to repent! Repentance is simply a change of mind or attitude that should lead to a change of feet. It means we examine our own mind and heart first before we judge anyone else. Paul concludes 2:4 by emphasizing kindness for the second time. As important as God’s wrath is Paul sees God’s kindness as the primary impetus to bring about repentance.

In my parenting, I am prone to be a disciplinarian when necessary. I have felt that every offense needs to be punished. This may have worked well with my children up to age ten or so, but the authoritarian approach is not always as effective anymore. Instead, I have discovered that kindness cultivates obedience. When I heap love and grace upon my children they seem to be more responsive to my discipline. I became persuaded of this reality from my experience as a Dad. More importantly, when I reflected on how God treats me, I realized He overwhelms me with His kindness, tolerance, and patience. If He treated me as I deserve I would be a bloodied corpse. Instead, He pours out grace day after day. Am I suggesting we chuck discipline? Not on your life! But I am saying we need to have a better understanding of how God treats us. Honestly, I am astounded at times by how rebellious and sinful I can be. My prayer has been: “Lord, remind me of how utterly wicked I can be so that I have a great appreciation for you and a deeper empathy for my children and others.” There are times when only God’s kindness (and our kindness) can break through a hard heart. Hence, when I talk to unbelievers, I talk about sin, righteousness, and judgment, but I also woo them with God’s kindness. To always speak of hellfire and judgment is not a balanced treatment of God. It is both kindness and wrath.
Paul concludes this section with a disturbing verse: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5). Paul really goes after the moralist in this verse. He indicates that a stubborn and unrepentant heart leads to “storing up” (lit. “treasuring”) wrath. Whether this wrath is God’s present wrath, His Tribulation wrath, or His future wrath is debated. However, it seems evident that there’s a shift from God’s present wrath in chapter 1 to His future wrath in chapter 2 (see esp. 2:16). In either case, the moralist is being challenged to repent ASAP . . . before it’s too late!

You may have noticed in 2:2-5 there is a repeated emphasis upon God’s judgment. Yet many people in our culture balk at the notion of God’s judgment. Such individuals just want to focus on God’s love, mercy, compassion, and grace. While these attributes are certainly important, we must not neglect God’s holiness, wrath, righteousness, and justice. Upon closer examination, it is easy to see why that makes no sense at all. How loving is a God who ignores wrong-doing? How loving would God be if He looked at the Holocaust and said, “Oh, we’ll just ignore what happened there?” How righteous and good would God be if He saw the outright rebellion of men and did nothing? How could we call God just if He never addressed wrong? Do we consider parents who refuse to discipline their children loving? Or do we see them as weak and neglecting their responsibility? Do we see employers who overlook the disrespectful and lazy work of some workers as loving? Or do we feel they are being unfair to the rest of the workers? If our government responded to terrorist activity by saying, “Oh well; these things happen!” would we say our government was showing love or weakness? The answer to these scenarios is obvious. We respect individuals who execute grace and truth (see Jesus in John 1:14).

There are times when God’s love and kindness must be tough. This principle applies to us as well. We all want justice for the world, but we each carry within us a standard of righteousness based on our own perceived goodness. Furthermore, we will tolerate only as much evil in the world as we can accept within ourselves. When we feel resentment towards God for not eradicating evil in the world, we forget that eliminating all evil would mean the end of us too. Yet, if we genuinely care to eradicate evil from the world, we must look at our own sin. We must recognize that God doesn’t grade on a one to ten scale as we do. In light of His awesome holiness, it doesn’t matter whether our sin is in the form of an act, a word, or a thought; it’s still exceedingly sinful. As believers we must repent of our sin and then challenge moralist unbelievers to recognize their sin and turn to the Savior who has paid for their sin. Excuses for sin will not be excused.
[The first way that God judges is according to truth. Now we will see that . . .]
2. God Judges According To Works (2:6-11).
Paul argues that God will judge impartially according to a perfect standard. To put it simply: God only accepts perfect tens. Paul writes, “[He] who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” Paul is not talking about salvation in this section. He is not showing us how we are saved, because we are not saved by works. He is showing us why we are lost. This section is about God giving humankind what we deserve. But with all the emphasis in the Bible on faith, why is humankind judged according to works? Although we can be saved on the basis of faith, if we reject God’s offer, we are condemned on the basis of works (cf. Rev 20:11-15). This is a crucial distinction. When a person rejects the righteousness which God has provided as a free gift in Jesus Christ, in effect, he chooses to establish his own righteousness, and this can only be judged on a performance basis.

Remember that 2:1-16 is a paragraph which must be interpreted in its immediate context as well as its thought unit (1:18-3:20). Paul has been arguing that the moralist is under God’s condemnation because, though he condemns other sinners, he practices the same (types of) sin in his own life (2:1-5). Thus, he argues in 2:6 (quoting Ps 62 and Prov 24:12) that God pays such unbelievers back according to their works. According to 2:7, those who by perseverance continue in doing good and those who seek for glory and honor and immortality will receive eternal life. Paul means exactly what he says: Any person who shows up at the judgment matching the description of 2:7 will receive eternal life. But if someone did, it wouldn’t be salvation. A person who could do that wouldn’t need to be saved; he would just be getting what he deserved. He would be rewarded according to his works. And Paul is careful to say, “To those who by perseverance continue” to do such things . . . day after day after day. If you take a day off, you miss it. And the best of us take a day off. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory God” (3:23). Since the moralist’s deeds are evil he earns wrath and indignation just like the hedonist (1:18-32). The theological point of the whole is that God is no respecter of persons (2:11) and that all have sinned (2:12). If people lived up to the light they had (natural revelation for the Gentiles, special revelation for the Jews, cf. 10:5) then they would be right with God. However, the summary of 3:9-18, 23 shows that none ever have, nor can they! Hence, we are condemned sinners in need of a Savior. This section serves as an indictment. Humanity is being hauled before God’s bar of justice, and the standards of judgment are the issue. No one gets eternal life on the basis of their works because no one perfectly obeys. Therefore, the only method of justification is by faith alone (see 3:21-26). In other words, no one fits 2:7.

Ultimately, there are only two religions in the world—do good (400 varieties in the world) or have good done to you (Christianity). Today, will you believe in Christ’s perfect person and work? Assurance can only be found in Him.

In 2:8-10, Paul uses the term “Greek” to refer to Gentiles. He then makes it clear that the Jews (the religious) will experience “tribulation and distress” first and foremost. The reason is obvious. Jews are more accountable than Greeks because they knew more and had the privilege of knowing God’s will before anyone else. To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). Verse 11 gives the reason, “For there is no partiality with God.” The word “partiality” (prosopolempsia) literally means “to receive (a person’s) face.” God does not deal with a person on the basis of his “face” (surface considerations such as nationality, race, color of skin, wealth, etc.). God looks deeper than the surface. This verse is the point of the whole argument: Since God isn’t partial, His children should be careful not to exercise partiality. Instead, we are called to call sin “SIN” and look to the perfect One who offers salvation.
[Make no mistake, God will judge according to truth and works. Finally. . .]
3. God Judges According To Light (2:12-16).
Paul explains that no one will be judged for the light they did not receive; everyone will be judged for light they did receive. However, more knowledge brings more responsibility and greater accountability. In these five verses, the word “law” is used eleven times. Clearly, that is what is on Paul’s mind: the law of God and how God holds humanity accountable to it. He explains: “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (2:12-16). These five verses are all one long, complex sentence. If you will notice, 2:13 begins with a parenthesis, and the parenthetical section doesn’t end until the end of 2:15. (To see this, read 2:12 and then go directly to 2:16). Verse 12 is clear that humankind is guilty before God whether they have the Law or not. All men are judged and condemned. Paul’s point, simply stated is this: Ignorance of the Law will not save the Gentile; possession of the Law will not save the Jew. Both are condemned before God the righteous Judge. In 2:13, he states that if one is seeking to justify himself by the Law he must be a doer of the Law. In 2:14-15, we learn that Gentiles will be judged according to the moral law. Paul says that when Gentiles instinctively follow God’s Law, they’re revealing that they know that Law.

This explains why, in almost every culture, it’s considered wrong to steal and murder. This also explains why a man with no knowledge of the Bible will know it’s wrong to commit adultery. Let me say something very important. Every human being lives according to a law, a standard of performance. For some, this is a vague standard. These people say, “I have lived a good life. I’ve never killed anyone!” Others will point to the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Golden Rule. Each of these represents very good precepts for life. However, what most people don’t know is that God will hold them to their standard but will require 100% conformity to that law. In fact, God requires nothing short of absolute perfection. For those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, the free gift of Christ’s perfection is placed in their accounts. However, those who don’t receive Jesus as Savior face eternal condemnation for their sins.

If we’ve sinned even one time in word, thought, or deed, we’re eternally disconnected from God. In other words, we must do it all according to the Law, and we can make no mistakes to be justified. We must be perfect to please God.

Paul concludes our passage in 2:16 by stating that God will not only judge people’s actions, but their secrets as well. Are you ready to give an account of your secrets? I know I’m not! It’s scary enough to think about giving an account of my works or lack thereof. But my secrets? OH MY! In that day of accounting, the most “excused” sin will come into the light. Excuses for sin will not be excused. If you’re a believer, confess your sin to God right now. If you’re an unbeliever, repent of your self-righteous attitude and believe in Jesus as your Savior. This section begins in 2:1 with man in the seat of judgment and end in 2:16 with God on the throne of judgment. In 2:1 man is condemned by his own judgment; in 2:2-16 he is condemned by God’s judgment. The riveting point is: We ought to let God be God. Jesus is the just Judge who is also the perfect Savior. Let us cling to His cross and evade the present and future judgment that God will bring upon the self-righteous.

Did you know that judgment day is not far away? Romans 2 teaches that God’s future judgment will be according to truth, works, and light. Are you ready to face that judgment? Are you ready to stand before a holy and righteous God? God has leveled the Gentile and Jew and condemned every person who has ever lived or will ever live under sin. He has demolished us into dust and sprinkled us at the foot of the cross. It’s there that we must acknowledge our sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone.

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The Black Backdrop

A young man walked into a jewelry store to shop for an engagement ring. Standing nervously at the counter, he peered through the glass top at a tray of beautiful gems. The salesman brought out some of his finer diamonds and held each precious jewel up to the light. The diamonds were quality stones, but the young man wasn’t impressed. None of them caught his eye. Realizing he needed a new approach, the salesman pulled a black velvet pad out of the drawer and placed it on the counter. Using his tweezers, he delicately picked up one of his choicest stones and laid it on the black backdrop. As he did so, all the light in the room seemed to pour through the stone causing it to shine as it had never shone before. The man was dazzled. He had seen this very diamond moments earlier, but not like this. All the beauty of this precious stone was now dramatically enhanced and clearly showcased for him to behold. Noting his approval to the salesman the man said that this was the diamond he wanted to purchase.

What changed the man’s view of the diamond? Why did the costly gem, which only moments before had appeared so unimpressive, now sparkle like the stars above on a moonless night? In the jewelry business, the dark background makes all the difference. When placed on a glass counter, the black velvet causes the light overhead to radiate brilliantly through the stone, revealing its true beauty and causing it to sparkle and shine more brightly. Remove the black backdrop, and it’s difficult to see the diamond’s splendor. It’s the darkness that causes the stone to burst forth with dazzling light. The same principle can be applied to the spiritual realm. In order to fully appreciate God’s love, we must examine it against the black backdrop of His wrath. The blackness of God’s wrath showcases the flawless gem of His great love toward us. But remove the black backdrop of His wrath, and our appreciation of the brilliance of His amazing love fades.

The gem of Romans is the gospel—the good news. However, before we can fully understand and appreciate the good news we must understand the bad news that Paul presents in 1:18-3:20. The theme of this section is that everybody everywhere is condemned before God. Therefore, Paul makes his greatest attempt to get us lost in our sin so that we can then be found. He wants us to emerge from this section with a feeling of utter desperation. Not a little guilt, but absolute desperation! Have you ever heard the expression, “Hunger is the best cook?” That’s a true statement, isn’t it? Well, my purpose in the next five sermons will be to get you famished—famished for God’s love. In 1:18-32, Paul uses a broad brush to paint the portrait of human wickedness. This text teaches: When we sin God says, “Have it your way.” Yes, that’s right; Burger King® plagiarized God in their slogan. In this section, Paul discloses two sobering realities.

 

  1. We Have Willfully And Foolishly Rejected God (1:18-23)

Paul demonstrates that when we reject God as Creator we turn to idolatry and are ultimately without excuse. In 1:18, Paul issues a summary statement for 1:18-32, and perhaps for all of 1:18-3:20: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul begins his discussion with “the wrath of God.” Obviously, this is not a popular concept. Yet, since the Bible doesn’t shy away from this topic neither must we. Simply put, God’s wrath is His holy hatred of sin. But God’s wrath is very different from our wrath. God doesn’t fly off the handle and “go off” on people. He simply reacts to sin. Have you ever been allergic?

 

Similarly, the Bible teaches that God is so holy that He naturally and violently reacts to sin. He can’t help Himself; He’s just plain allergic to sin! Hence, one of the greatest truths we can come to grips with is how much God hates sin. When you and I understand the utter wickedness of sin, we will appreciate God’s wrath.

 

Paul states that God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. This is particularly evident in those who continually “suppress [or hold down the truth.” Please note the phrase “the truth.” God believes in absolute truth; He objects to relative truth. He states that people suppress what they know to be true. In this context, the truth is that there is a God. The German philosopher Frederick Nichtze (1844-1900) wrote, “If you could prove God to me, I’d believe Him all the less.” This is what it means to suppress the truth. We must pray for our unsaved loved ones to have soft hearts that are responsive to spiritual truth. We must also pray that we don’t harden our hearts and suppress God’s truth in our lives.

In 1:19-20 Paul now explains the reason that God’s wrath is revealed: “… because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” One way God reveals Himself is through His creation.

 

Unfortunately, Paul emphasizes that even though all people know God as Creator, they reject Him. The term “known” (gnostos) means “capable of being known, intelligible.” Paul uses the noun “evident” (phaneros) and the verb “to make evident” (phaneroo) to emphasize that God has revealed Himself. These words mean “evident so as to be readily known.” So basically God says, “They know. I know they know, and they know they know.” Paul even states that this knowledge has been evident “since the creation of the world” (1:20a). The invisible God is visible through His creation. God’s “eternal power” is evidenced by the fact of His creation. God’s “divine nature” is evidenced by the fact that His creation is a created order, and not random chaos. This implies that God has a character, which gives order and purpose to creation. Please notice that Paul states that the truth of God in nature has been “clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (1:20b).

 

The two verbs in this verse are very important. “Clearly seen” (kathorao) means that everyone has seen something of God’s handiwork in the world. “Understood” (noeo) is even stronger. It means that the revelation of God in nature strikes the heart of every man. Understand that Paul isn’t suggesting that nature contains a revelation about God which every man may see. That’s not strong enough. Paul is saying that every man actually sees the revelation and every man actually understands it to some degree. This is why Paul can say in 1:20b that man is “without excuse.”

 

Have you ever been to Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota? Mount Rushmore is a huge sculpture of the heads of four Presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt). Each head is sixty feet high! Now suppose you visited this mountain for the very first time and no one told you anything about how the heads were formed. What would you think?

(A) You would think that the heads were formed by chance. The sculpture somehow just happened.

(B) You would think that all the forces of nature (wind, rain, sleet, snow, etc.) had their effect upon this mountain for thousands and thousands of years until finally the rocks were accidentally shaped in just the right way.

(C) You would realize that intelligent men must have formed and carved out such a massive sculpture. By simply looking at Mount Rushmore you could learn certain things about the men who formed and carved it (even though you had never seen or met these men).

(1) These men must have had intelligence to be able to plan and design such a monument.

(2) These men must have had wisdom to be able to carry out such a great project. Indeed, it took more than six years to complete.

(3) These men must have had power to be able to carve into hard granite (using dynamite, etc.).

(4) These men must have had skill to be able to transform a rugged cliff into an artistic masterpiece. In the same way, by simply looking at creation, we can learn many things about the Creator. He is a God of power, wisdom, order, and beauty. Moreover, we are able to conclude that this Supreme Being deserves our worship and obedience. These facts explain why in every culture there is some belief in a Supreme Being. It is obvious that there is a God.

 

No matter how you ponder creation, God is knowable and evident. When I was growing up I was a big sports fan. I collected the autographs of famous athletes. These autographs represented the value of the athletes. Likewise, all of creation bears God’s autograph. When God wants to show off His glory and power, He points to creation. The design of creation points to the Master Designer—God.

If time permitted, I’d love to share with you about the complexity of the human cell, the intricacies of the human eye, and the immensity of the sun. I could spend hours talking about God’s creative genius.

Tragically, when we reject God we inevitably worship a substitute. This is called idolatry. In 1:21-23, Paul testifies: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor [glorify] Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Paul asserts that humankind does know God (1:21). His power and glory are apparent and irrefutable. How do we respond to this revelation? With a failure to honor God and give Him thanks. Failing to glorify God is the root sin. We were created to glorify God. It is our ultimate mission in life. Thanksgiving is also central to the worship of God. Martin Luther (1483-1546) claimed that ingratitude is the root of all evil. How true! Even as a believer, I am guilty of ingratitude. You are too. How often have we refused to acknowledge God for the great God He is? How many times have we failed to give thanks? Who are some people in your life that you can be thankful for? What are some possessions in your life that you can be grateful for? Have you expressed thanks to God. When we refuse to give God thanks there are mental and moral consequences.

 

The mental consequence is that men “became futile in their speculations.” The moral consequence was that their hearts were “darkened.” Paul also tells us that the appearance of intellectualism is in reality a sham (1:22-23). The supposed wisdom is, in reality, foolishness. This reflects the wisdom of Psalm 14:1a: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Tragically, God has been “exchanged.” We’ve taken Him back like a Christmas present that doesn’t fit and we’ve said, “We want our money back.” This is the great insanity of idolatry.

 

It’s possible that you, too, are guilty of idolatry and you don’t even realize it.

(1) Is there an object, person, or activity in your life that’s a substitute for God?

(2) Are your affections centered on something God has created rather than God the Creator?

(3) Does this activity prevent or replace your love for God?

(4) Is there something you worship more than God? If you respond honestly to these questions, you may have recognized the idolatry that exists within you. Commit yourself right now to forsake idolatry. Begin this process by exposing your idol to another person. Request prayer and press on in the worship of God.

[When humankind rejects God’s revelation, God responds in a very surprising way.]

 

  1. God Deliberately Gives Us What We Want (1:24-32)

 

When we refuse to glorify God and give Him thanks, God gives us over to our sin. In other words, the penalty for sin is more sin. The first result of idolatry is found in 1:24-27: God gives us over to sexual sin. Paul writes, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” Please notice that it was God who gave us over (see 1:24, 26, 28). When we reject God, He gives us over to sexual immorality. Although many folks think this is a dream come true—this dream leads to death (cf. Jas 1:14-15).

 

Once the “passing pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25) are over there is loneliness, emptiness, guilt, and many other potential emotional, mental, and physical consequences. If you’re committing sexual immorality, stop in your tracks. Repent of your sin and return to a lifestyle of purity. While God is a God of grace, He’s also a God of wrath. Consequently, He will exercise His present tense wrath (cf. 1:18) in an attempt to get us sick of ourselves. Even this is an expression of His love.

 

Unfortunately, the tendency of humankind is to ignore God’s love and to play once again by their rules. Verse 25 serves as a parenthetical statement to tie 1:24 and 26-27 back to the idolatry of 1:21-23.

In 1:25, the response of humankind is to exalt the creature over God. Paul writes, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” This verse states that man “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” If you have a center column or side column reference Bible, you can see that the phrase “a lie” is literally translated “the lie.”

 

This begs the question: “What lie is Paul referring to?” I believe the lie that Paul has in mind is the first lie—the mother of all lies that began in the garden. The lie is godship, that we are the masters of our fate, the captain of our souls. This is a satanic deception straight out of hell. I believe that the worst time in our history was the period of “Higher Criticism of the Bible” (1800s to the present) where man stood over the Scriptures and decided what parts were true and what parts were false. People slowly lost confidence that you could trust God’s Word. Consequently, the creature became exalted over the Creator. There was role reversal of the most demonic sort. When this happened it can be legitimately said that man “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Once God is brought down to creature level, the creature is then worshipped above God. Yet, even in the midst of penning this atrocious account, Paul bursts out into praise over God the Creator: “who is blessed forever. Amen.” What an example for you and me! When we read the Word there should be occasions when we break out into praise.

 

In 1:26-27 we come to the hot topic of homosexuality. Honestly, I’m not interested in what various denominations, pastors, and scholars say about homosexuality. I’m also not interested in how particular politicians view homosexuality. My chief concern is: What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Let’s read these verses carefully. “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

 

Paul’s view of homosexuality seems rather clear. He refers to the practice of homosexuality as “degrading,” “unnatural,” and “indecent,” and “error.” Whether our country likes it or not, whether we like it or not, the Bible considers homosexuality sin. It’s not an alternative lifestyle. God calls it sin throughout the Bible, and so must we. It’s not a hate crime to say so; it would be a biblical crime to not say so. If we’re to be Christ followers we must tow this line. But we must do so with compassion and sensitivity. We must be careful to not suggest that the sin of homosexuality is worse than any other sin. Homosexuality is only one of many unclean or dishonoring sexual practices. Many Christians can be downright brutal. We go off on this sin because it’s one that many of us don’t struggle with.

 

However, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul lumps the homosexual and the coveter together. Have you ever wanted something that doesn’t belong to you? If so, then you are covetous, and so am I. In God’s sight, we’re no worse or better than the homosexual. We must avoid being judgmental (see Rom 2:1-11). Instead, we ought to spend more time striving against our own sin rather than pointing the finger at someone else’s sin. We must seek to share Christ with homosexuals and lesbians and let the Holy Spirit work His change in their lives.

 

Additionally, fathers, don’t ever shy away from expressing your love to your boys. Lavish love on your boys both physically and verbally. Don’t be afraid to hug and kiss them. Always tell them how wonderful they are and how much you love them. This is one of the greatest ways that I know to ensure that your boys have healthy, God-honoring relationships with other men. Obviously, this principle applies to mothers and daughters as well. But it’s especially critical between fathers and sons because statistically, men are three times more prone to adopt a homosexual lifestyle than women.

 

As we wrap up these verses, it is worth noting that Paul does not specify what the “penalty” received is. Though many Christians like to infer from this that the current AIDS epidemic (or more recent outbreak of deadly staph infections among homosexual men), this is uncertain. Paul merely notes that the penalty of their delusion is received “in their own persons” (en heautois). I believe he is referring to the gnawing, unsatisfied lust itself, along with the dreadful physical and moral consequences of sexual promiscuity.

 

In either case, the consequences are severe. When we sin God says, “Have it your way.” Beware!

 

The second result of idolatry is found in 1:28-32: God gives us over to every manner of sin. In 1:28, Paul writes, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” Previously, Paul has said that God is “known,” “evident,” “clearly seen,” and “understood” (1:19-20). Yet, humankind refuses to even “acknowledge” (echo: “to have, hold”) God any longer. Their response is to dismiss God altogether. The result is dreadful: utter mental and moral darkness. This leads to a vice list of twenty-one different sins in 1:29-31. This is the most comprehensive list of sins in the entire New Testament. As you look through this vice list, please notice that many of these sins are fairly acceptable in the Christian community. Sins like greed, envy, strife, gossip, slander, arrogance, and my personal favorite—disobedience to parents— are common traits of many Christians and are found in every church. Yet Paul says that these behaviors are sin, and he cleverly links these acts with homosexuality, murder, idolatry, and every form of wickedness. This should change the way that we view sin. We are without excuse. Paul has leveled the playing field. This should humble us all and motivate us to achieve a new standard of holiness. We are to be holy as He is holy (cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16).

 

Paul concludes this passage by hitting way too close to home. In 1:32 he writes, “Although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Paul concludes by echoing a form of the verb “know” (epiginosko) from 1:19 and 21. Our tendency to rebel against the knowledge of God has been evident throughout this passage (1:18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 28).

 

Even though we know the truth, we tend to rebel against it. This is where we are at as a nation right now. As a result, God’s wrath is being revealed all over the place. We have idols everywhere we look. We’re trying to legalize homosexual marriage. Our TV talk show hosts are trotting out the most perverted guests they can find and the audience claps and roars at what they’re doing. The New English Bible captures the forcefulness of Paul’s idea when it translates the phrase as “they actually applaud such practices.” This is the wrath of God. God has backed off and has allowed the world to go stark raving mad! George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the famous playwright and theater critic, said it well, “Earth is the place other planets send their insane.” Of course, when God gives people over and puts into motion His wrath, it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House or who’s on the city council or who’s on the school board. It’s irrelevant because when the wrath of God is your problem, the goodness of God is your only solution.

 

As we close, I want to take us back to 1:18. Please notice the first word of this passage. The word “for” (gar) is important because it links 1:18 and following to 1:16-17 and gives a reason for it. The gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God and only the gospel brings deliverance from His wrath. I also would like to draw your attention back to the word translated “gave over” (paradidomi). As I stated earlier, the verb “gave over” is used three times (1:24, 26, 28). As I studied this word, I found something interesting. This word isn’t found again until 4:25 where Jesus Christ is “given over” or “delivered” for our sins. That’s good news! We have a future hope. Why? Because as Martin Luther said, “God is not hostile to sinners, but only to unbelievers.” Will you believe the gospel? Will you receive Jesus Christ’s provision for your sin today?

Plug into Gospel power

Do you sometimes feel powerless? Do you feel like you’ve failed to flip the “on” switch? Perhaps you sense that something in your life is just not working properly? Did you know that you have a power source at your disposal? It’s called “the gospel”—the good news of Jesus Christ. In the gospel is all the power that you need for life. Turn on gospel power. Unfortunately, you may not be relying upon the power source that is available to you. Perhaps you’ve been considering Christianity but you haven’t yet been persuaded. You’re skeptical or maybe even cynical. You have a lot of questions about the Bible. You also assume that Christianity is a wimpy faith designed for weak people. I’m here to tell you that the gospel is powerful. It can and will change your life. It will give you a new hope and a new future.

Don’t take my word for it; believe it yourself. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for many years and the gospel is old hat to you. I need to remind you that the gospel is more than just believing in Jesus for eternal life. The gospel is the good news that Paul discusses throughout the entirety of Romans. It will take you to heaven and then bring heaven down to earth. But you must believe and apply the gospel. You must allow the gospel to change you from the inside out. Turn on gospel power. In Romans 1:16-17 we discover the key to unlocking the letter. In a mere two verses Paul unveils the thesis, the theme, and a summary of Romans. He also imparts four significant facets of the gospel.

 

  1. The Gospel Is Powerful (1:16a)

The gospel doesn’t contain the power of God; it is the power of God.

Paul begins 1:16 with the word “for” (gar), which ties back to 1:15. There he said, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Why is Paul so eager to preach the gospel? He explains, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation” (1:16a). The first question we must ask is: Why does Paul make the statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel?” In his thirteen letters, there’s no indication that he was ever ashamed of the gospel. This phrase is a figure of speech called litotes, which is a way of emphasizing something by saying it negatively. For example, if you say, “He’s not a bad athlete,” you likely mean, “He’s a pretty good athlete.” Paul is actually saying, “I’m proud of the gospel; I triumph in it more than anything else.” However, the great apostle is a realist and recognizes that this may not be the case for many of his Roman readers. Rome was the capital of the world. It was the seat of world culture and pride, the essence of pomp and power, the city set upon seven hills. To preach a God who became a man through a virgin birth, died as a criminal on a cross, rose bodily from the dead, went to live in heaven, and would return to earth one day didn’t make sense to sophisticated Romans. In fact, the cross would have been particularly offensive to the Romans. Only the worst types of criminals were crucified. Roman citizens were not allowed to be crucified. It was too degrading, and it would disgrace the empire for one of its citizens to be executed in this way.

 

Hence, the people of Rome were shocked and appalled by the gospel. How could a crucified criminal be a Savior? It was abhorrent and unthinkable! So you can imagine the temptation of Paul’s recipients to be ashamed of the gospel. Moreover, the preaching of the gospel invited persecution. The capital city of the empire was steeped in immorality and paganism, including emperor worship. To claim Jesus as the only way to God could get you killed. Most Romans would despise believers in Jesus Christ and probably do them harm. So when Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” he explains that the wisdom and sophistication of Rome will not intimidate him, nor will the threat of physical injury or death.

 

Today in and around Longview, there are several reasons why people feel ashamed of the gospel: fear of losing face, fear of losing friends, fear of being labeled a fanatic, fear of taunting and scorn, fear of losing influence, etc. However, we have many bold believers in our church. They are infiltrating public schools, state agencies, businesses, and neighborhoods. We need these courageous believers to rub off on us. We need to share with one another how God is using us to speak up for him. Instead of always talking in the foyer about news, sports, entertainment, work, let’s talk about Jesus and how He has used us to share our faith in the past week. When we learn to share our witnessing successes and failures at church we’ll challenge and inspire one another. Furthermore, we’ll be more comfortable talking about Jesus outside of our church walls.

Paul isn’t ashamed of the gospel because “it is the power of God.” Did you catch that? The gospel releases “the power of God.” That’s why Paul says we ought not apologize for the gospel. Why apologize for releasing the power and blessing of God in someone’s life? That’s nothing to be sorry about. Unsaved people don’t stutter when they swear. They come right out with it. They don’t shuffle their feet and clear their throats when they tell dirty jokes. They are not ashamed of evil. You and I ought not to be ashamed of the gospel. I don’t hear anyone else apologizing for or being ashamed of their lifestyles. We live in a day when people go public with their evil. The sense of shame that used to characterize wickedness has been lost. People used to at least try to hide when they sinned. Now they take it out into the streets. What I’m saying is that we need to be just as bold with the gospel, because people need the message of the gospel more than ever today.

 

Unbelievers and believers alike need the gospel because “it is the power of God for salvation.” Like the term “gospel” (euaggelion), “salvation” (soteria) isn’t limited to those central truths by which a person is given eternal life. Salvation is a broad concept that encompasses three tenses: past, present, and future. When salvation occurs a believer is saved from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. This means every believer is saved to a new position, a new life, and an entrance into God’s heavenly presence. For Paul, “salvation” and “saved” are umbrella terms that capsulate all the aspects of his letter (i.e., justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification, glorification). Therefore, we can conclude that Paul is expressing his confidence that the truths that will be presented in Romans provide God’s power to deliver us from enslavement and bondage to sin. In other words, the “gospel” and “salvation” are not just for heaven, they are also for earth. God yearns to bring heaven down to earth in your experience. 

 

How can you turn on gospel power?

(1) Believe in Christ alone for salvation. Cross over from death to life (John 5:24) and receive power for this life and the life to come.

(2) Ask God for opportunities and boldness to share your faith. You won’t find opportunities to witness if you’re not looking for them. Pray for divine appointments and open doors. Remove the pressure; you’re not called to be a defender but a witness. Just tell others what Jesus has done for you (cf. John 4:28-30). Dwight L. Moody commented that the gospel is like a lion. All the preacher has to do is to open the door of the cage and get out of the way!

(3) Cultivate a hot heart. Have you ever had a friend who’s engaged? Engaged people go off! They can’t hold back. Now, there’s no class offered on how to declare the news of your engagement to a friend. The only thing that’s needed is a class on how to shut them up! Our problem is we’re too familiar with gospel, so we’re not motivated, compelled and captivated by the good news. We must pray that we’ll be moved by the power of the gospel as if we have just heard it for the first time.

 

[The gospel is powerful because it is the very power of God. A second facet of the gospel is…]

  1. The Gospel Is Simple (1:16b)

The most astonishing message ever shared with humankind is “good news” that is offered as a free gift with no strings attached. Paul states that the power of the gospel is available “to everyone who believes.” The sole condition of the gospel is belief. It is so simple that many people will miss it altogether. Belief occurs when you trust in someone else. If you know what it means to believe a doctor when he says, “You need surgery,” you know what it means to believe. If you know what it means to step into an airplane entrusting your safety to the captain in the cockpit, you know what it means to believe. If you know what it means to ask a lawyer to plead your case in court, you know what it means to believe. If you know what it means to sign up for an insurance policy, you know what it means to believe. Belief is complete reliance upon another person to do that which you could never do for yourself. It is trusting in this person because you are persuaded of his or her promise.

 

One of my great concerns is that many scholars, churches, and pastors are muddling the gospel. They are including in the gospel the responsibilities of a disciple. When we include baptism, public confession, church membership, and any form of good works with the gospel, we cancel out the sole condition of belief. Why do I say that? Because Christ plus anything equals nothing (C + A = N), but Christ plus nothing equals everything (C + N = E). We can’t add one single condition to the gospel other than belief. Have you believed in Christ alone? If you’ve trusted in Christ to bear the penalty for your sins, you’ll spend eternity with Him. I urge you to make sure that you’ve done so. 

 

[We will not discover a third facet of the gospel. Not only is the gospel powerful and simple . . .]

  1. The Gospel Is Universal (1:16b)

Since Jesus is an equal opportunity Savior His salvation is available to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Paul writes that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Last time I checked, the word translated “everyone” (pas) means everyone. While the gospel is for everyone, Paul states that it is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul uses this phrase to humble Jews and Gentiles who were at odds with one another in the Roman house churches. He wants to make them deeply aware that they depend entirely on mercy, not on themselves or their tradition or ethnic connections. Paul wants Gentile Christians to understand several truths:

 

(1) The Jews are the historic chosen people of God.

(2) The Jews are the guardians of the Old Testament Scriptures.

(3) Jesus Christ is a Jewish Messiah.

(4) “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

(5) God will again focus His program on the Jews during the Tribulation period. Gentiles are not saved by Greek culture—or any other culture; they are saved by a salvation that comes through the Jews.

 

This should humble us and strip us of any arrogance and boasting in any presumed ethnic superiority. Whether we fully recognize it or not, we are truly indebted to the Jews. Similarly, Paul says to the Jews, your salvation isn’t your own. It’s God’s and He gives it to whomever He pleases. The words “also to the Greek” (1:16b) would have been as offensive to the Jews as the words “to the Jew first” were to the Gentiles. The Jewish Christians needed to recognize that what they thought were Jewish prerogatives were, in fact, shared by the lowliest Gentiles who believed. Jews must humble themselves to receive unclean Gentiles into full covenant membership and to share all the blessings of the promises of Abraham. Moreover, during the church age (Acts 2-present), God’s primary aim is to graft Gentiles into His family. Jewish Christians must respect this work and cooperate with it.

 

Although the pattern of Paul’s ministry was to go and preach to the Jew first (Acts 13:45-46; 28:25, 28), this does not seem to be the order for the church age. The Great Commission makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the present age (Matt 28:19-20). Jesus Christ has charged Christians with taking the gospel to everyone. He has identified no group to which we must give priority in evangelism. Certainly we are still to proclaim the gospel to the Jews, but this phrase does not imply that we are required to evangelize the Jew before to the Gentiles. Even in context this phrase is preceded by the non-exclusive word “everyone.” The gospel is offered freely to all who will believe.

 

One Mercedes Benz TV commercial shows their car colliding with a cement wall during a safety test. Someone then asks the company spokesman why they don’t enforce their patent on the Mercedes Benz energy-absorbing car body, a design evidently copied by other companies because of its success. He replied matter-of-factly, “Because some things in life are too important not to share.”

This is true of the gospel, which saves people from far more than auto collisions.

But perhaps you’re feeling discouraged by the lack of believers around you. Take heart and adopt a global and historical perspective.

In 1900, there were about ten million Christians in Africa.

By 2000, the number had grown to 360 million.

By the 2025, the best estimates say there will be 630 million Christians in Africa. The numbers are even larger in Latin America and Asia. But by the middle of this century, if the Lord tarries, only one-fifth of the world’s Christians will be western Caucasians. Most Christians will be people living in what we call the Third World.

 

I share this to remind you that if you are a Caucasian, you will most likely be a minority in the heavenly state. Thus, we must do everything we can to ensure that our churches accurately resemble the eternal state. There are men, women, and children of different color, class, and background waiting to be reached with the gospel. Are you presently stretching yourself to reach out to those who may be different from you? God yearns to use you to share Jesus with others. Turn on gospel power.

[The fourth and final facet of the gospel is . . .]

  1. The Gospel Is Vital (1:17)

The goal of the gospel is to change your life. Hence, it is absolutely vital for both this life and the life to come. Paul explains: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” Paul uses the word “for” (gar) to link his powerful gospel with the “righteousness of God.” This is the key phrase in the book of Romans, and it’s used a total of eight times. In this context, the phrase reminds us that the “righteousness of God” is present in the gospel. Salvation is this: God declaring a sinful person righteous because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The moment the Lord declares the sinner righteous, He then gives this person His righteousness. As a result, when God looks upon you, He sees the very righteousness of His Son.

 

In 1:17a, Paul suggests that this “righteousness of God” is revealed in other ways than by merely saving sinners. The expression “from faith to faith” is interesting and important. Faith has its origin, but it also has its out workings. The Christian life begins with faith and initiates a life characterized by an ever-growing faith. Or simply, those who are already justified will find a rich experience of life only as they trust God.

 

Let me attempt to illustrate this with another concept—love. Love is the basis for marriage. Love leads to marriage. Marriage then becomes the context in which a man’s love for his wife (and her love for him) grows. Marriage begins with love and continues to grow and express itself in love. Married life is “from love to love,” just as the Christian life is “from faith to faith.” The “righteousness of God” Paul says, is revealed “from faith to faith.”

 

This “righteousness of God” is revealed when individuals come to faith and live by faith. This means:

(1) When things are bad at home we don’t lose heart. We keep trying do what is right and trust that God will bring new life to our homes.

(2) When finances are tight we evaluate our spending habits and try to learn how to be good stewards of our money, and then trust God to supply our needs.

(3) When the future is uncertain and we don’t know what direction God is leading us, we continue to walk through open doors and trust that He is leading us to where we need to be.

(4) When our physical frame begins to decay we look for new ways to serve the Lord and trust that God still has some work for us to do.

(5) When people criticize us we listen and try to learn anything we can, and then we entrust ourselves to the Lord to help us live with integrity and conviction.

(6) When friends pressure us to do what is wrong, we turn away from these temptations understanding that doing what is right is more important than doing what is popular.

(7) When someone we love dies we draw comfort from our assurance that there is life beyond the grave, and we trust that God will help us cope with the ache in our soul.

 

Paul seals the deal in 1:17b by citing from Habakkuk 2:4: “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Habakkuk had protested to God that Judah was corrupt, that God’s Law was ignored, and that justice was swallowed up by violence and wickedness. He asked God why He had not come to save His people. God responded in a way that Habakkuk never imagined. God was going to chasten His people with a strong and cruel people—the Chaldeans. They would sweep down on Judah and take these rebellious people into captivity. The cruelty and sin of the Chaldeans would not be excused or overlooked however, for God would punish this people for their pride and arrogance. Habakkuk was horrified! He could not understand how God could use wicked men to achieve His purposes. The Chaldeans, in his mind, were even more wicked than the people of Judah. Habakkuk determined to “file a protest with God.” He knew he would be rebuked, but he planned to challenge God’s rebuke as well. In Habakkuk’s mind God had a lot of explaining to do.

 

God assured Habakkuk that His plan was fixed and coming without delay in spite of Habakkuk’s protest. The Lord told Habakkuk that he would have to live his life, day by day, by faith. Habakkuk might not see the day of Israel’s restoration and blessing, but by faith he must believe the Lord’s promises would be fulfilled. His days might be lived out beholding the victory of the Chaldeans and the defeat of his people, but this too must be handled by faith. He must, by faith, understand that Judah’s defeat by the Chaldeans was the chastening of God and was the outworking of God’s good plan and purposes for His people. Faith was, for Habakkuk, and for every other Old Testament believer, the rule of the day, the rule for life. So it is for the New Testament saint as well. All who are justified by faith must continue to live by faith.

As I meditated on this text from Hab 2:4, I couldn’t help but think that our country may quickly find ourselves in a situation like Judah. God has been immeasurable patient and gracious with us. He’s given us power, position, pleasure, and prosperity. Yet, we have ignored Him and are now actively rejecting Him. Eventually, God’s patience will run out. Consequently, I suspect that He will one day judge America by calling one of our enemies to serve as His chastening tool.

 

The question is: Will you and I continue to live by faith when this occurs? Will we trust God’s purposes and continue to live obedient lives fully surrendered to Him?

 

At a circus a huge elephant was tied to an 18-inch stake. Could he not easily have pulled it out of the ground and be free? Sure! But he had tried it when he was a baby and was unsuccessful. The elephant had concluded that he could never pull the stake out of the ground. So there he stood, a massive creature capable of lifting whole trees, held captive by a puny stake. Many of us are like that elephant. God has given us all the resources we need to pull stakes out of the ground, but we’ve never trained our mind by exercising our faith. What small stake could faith release you from? It may be a frustrating job, financial troubles, depression, or an addiction. However large it may seem, in reality it’s merely a small stake to God. It’s not that we’re big and strong in ourselves, because we’re not; but God blessed us with the power of countless elephants when He gave us the gift of salvation. So let’s remember the power of the gospel and let it transform our lives.

A church on mission – part 2

  1. A Church On Mission Is Focused (1:11-13).

Paul’s mission is focused on building up people. In other words, he is others-focused. Paul expresses his heart in this way: “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” In 1:11, Paul writes that he “longs” to see the believers in Rome. The verb “long” (epipotho) literally means “to strain.” Compelled by Christ, Paul longed to visit the Roman church and he had three good reasons for such a visit.

 

First, Paul sought to impart spiritual benefit. In this context, the word translated “spiritual gift” (charisma) means “blessing or benefit.” Paul is speaking in a very wide and generic sense, not attempting to refer to the “spiritual gifts” discussed elsewhere in the New Testament. Are you on mission to bless and benefit your church family? What steps are you presently taking to bring this about?

 

The second reason that Paul longed to visit Rome was to establish believers. The verb translated “established” (sterizo) in 1:11 simply means “to strengthen.” This term was originally used of buildings, where it means “to be firmly fixed in place.” A building with a strong foundation that is made of solid materials can stand up under pressure. Similarly, a person who has spiritual stability spends most of his time standing up spiritually. The world may knock him down, but he doesn’t stay down. He isn’t easily moved. People who are spiritually stable don’t change their theology to conform to what they want. They know what they believe and stay with those beliefs regardless of what happens in their lives. Paul wasn’t just the greatest evangelist and church planter of all time; he was also a discipler. He understood the need for believers to be established.

 

Within the past few years, I have had trouble running. As a result I haven’t been able to run in 5K races like I used to in the spring. But after a long layoff, my endurance has undoubtedly diminished. I am likely as weak as a baby if I tried to run today. Spiritually speaking, many believers assume that yesterdays spiritual workouts are enough to sustain today’s spiritual strength. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t stay strong unless you continue to workout. Likewise, we must continue to spiritually work out and challenge other believers to do the same. How will you establish someone today?

 

One of the ways you can establish yourself and other believers is through encouragement. In 1:12, Paul uses a very unusual word for “mutual encouragement” (sumparakaleo), one that is used nowhere else in the New Testament. This verb ought to motivate you to verbally comfort and encourage other believers. One of our top goals as believers is to encourage one another as Christ’s return draws near (see Heb 10:25). Notice too that “faith” is to be the stimulus of encouragement.

 

My faith should encourage others, and their faith should encourage me. I need encouragement, and so do you. I like to say, “Every preacher needs a preacher.” One of the reasons I repeat this phrase is to remind myself of this great truth. No believer can make it alone; we need each other. Regardless of how long we have been a Christian or how active in church we have been, we will never be so mature that we can’t benefit from the spiritual input of other believers. Leaders must be humble enough to learn from others. We must learn not only to give, but also to receive.

 

Typically, the best place for mutual encouragement to occur is in small groups. When we come together for a corporate worship gathering there are certain things we can do well: We can sing worship songs to the Lord, we can listen to the Scriptures expounded, we can greet scores of believers, and we can reach out to unchurched people who come through our doors. But mutual encouragement from each other’s faith happens best in smaller groups. In a small group context, we can intimately share our faith struggles and successes. We can comfort one another and bear each other’s burdens. We can encourage each other to press on, and in doing so find inspiration in one another’s faith. If you’re not currently involved in a small group with other believers, please consider joining one today.

A third reason that Paul longed to visit Rome is found in 1:13—to bear fruit. If the church at Rome was already so fruitful, why was Paul on a quest for “fruit?” An answer to that question can be found in the fact that Paul never used the word “fruit” (karpos) to refer to new converts. “Fruit” is a broad term that points to the work of God in the believer. Thus, Paul was saying that he wanted to go to Rome to be used by God to see something supernatural occur in the lives of fellow believers who lived there. This is fundamental Christianity—living life in such a way that the fruit of spiritual maturity spills over into the lives of others. Indeed, the thrust of the book of Romans is a presentation of the process of discipleship, a virtual manual on how to be “established” in the faith. When we meet with other believers, the purpose is to obtain fruit.

 

Sadly, one of the reasons that many individuals and churches are unfruitful is because we don’t expect God to grant “much fruit” (cf. John 15:5, 8). But if (when) we expect God to bless our meager efforts, He often shows Himself in a mighty way. We must, therefore, be people of great expectation. We must have confidence that whenever we meet as a church family, God desires to pour out His Spirit and accomplish far more than we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21). May we move forward as a church of faith-filled believers, for God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

[Paul has shared two evidences of a church on mission: A church on mission is thankful and focused. Now he shares a third and final evidence.]

  1. A Church On Mission Is Eager (1:14-15)

Individual believers and churches must be thankful and focused, but it is especially critical to be eager. Apart from a passionate zeal, our mission falls flat. Paul puts it like this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:14-15). The phrase “I am under obligation” is placed at the very end of the sentence for emphasis; the entire sentence builds up to this startling statement. The word translated “obligation” (opheiletes) refers to someone who is a debtor. Paul recognized that he had been bought with a price; therefore, he wanted to glorify God in his body (1 Cor 6:20). Later in 9:16b, he exclaims, “…for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Why is Paul “under obligation?” The metaphor of a monetary debt doesn’t capture the urgency. It is like a city being conquered by a new king, who entrusts to the herald the proclamation of his victory and the offer of his pardon. The herald, therefore, owes it to all the citizens to tell them urgently. If he does not, they will incur the anger of the new king by not bowing the knee to him and accepting his pardon. This urgency makes Paul eager to preach the gospel.

 

After Paul’s Damascus Road encounter, he was overwhelmed with a burden to share Christ with others. Paul was not an intellectual snob. He saw Jesus Christ as an equal opportunity Savior. So he preached Christ to every language (Greek or any other Gentile tongue) and culture (wise or foolish). Likewise, we must seek out anyone and everyone—people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation” (Rev 5:9). Since we don’t know who God is drawing to salvation, a universal offer upholds God’s sovereign call. Furthermore, it allows our church to display a representation of the eternal state where there are people of different colors, classes, cultures, education, etc. Today, will you pray for a greater burden for those who have yet to believe the good news of Jesus? Plead with the Lord of the harvest to set your heart aflame.

 

One question remains: How can Paul “preach the gospel” to “saints” (1:7) whose “faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8)? These individuals are already saved and on their way to heaven. As I discussed in 1:1c, the gospel is more than merely believing in Christ and being delivered from hell. In this context, “to preach the gospel” (euaggelizo) means more than just initially proclaiming the Christian message, but includes providing solid “building up” of those who have made an initial response (cf. 15:20).

 

In the book of Romans Paul preaches an expanded and developed explication of the gospel in all of its ramifications. It is the gospel of the “righteousness of God” by faith. And it is this gospel which impacts earthly lives and determines eternal destinies! Are you preaching this gospel to saints? Believers require both justification truth and sanctification truth to help us press on to full maturity in Christ.

 

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a study of how human organizations change. How does a system reach the “tipping point” whereby an organizational culture is transformed? Gladwell documents that it takes no more than six children in a school to begin wearing a certain brand of sport shoe to reach the tipping point, whereby in just a few days one hundred children will begin wearing the same brand of shoe. This principle is relevant to businesses, organizations, and churches. When certain individuals step up and lead, dramatic change can occur. This can be especially true in the church. Christianity tends to be a minority movement. But when a remnant becomes emboldened and sold-out, a small group of believers can set the world on its ear. Just read the book of Acts and observe the exploits of Jesus’ eleven disciples.

 

Today, if you’re tired of playing it safe and are longing to fulfill God’s mission in your life and within your church family, step out in faith. God wants to lift you up and take you to a place of unprecedented health and growth. He wants to use you in a way that He never has before. All that He asks is that you humble yourself before Him and make yourself available. He will do more with your life and your church than you ever thought possible. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

A church on mission – part 1

In 1903, a group of seventeen men got together to form a small political organization. By 1917, this organization of seventeen men had grown to 40,000 members and had become powerful enough to overthrow the Czar of Russia. Hammer & Sickle began to make its way across our world. And before the Iron Curtain fell, communism dominated up to two-thirds of the globe. In spite of our aversion to communism, we still must ask ourselves how seventeen men could possibly have made such an amazing impact upon the world in as few as seventy or eighty years. I believe the answer is simple: The men who founded the Communist Party were committed to impacting their world. They had no plan B. They were sold-out. Nothing was going to deter them in their cause.

Today, I must ask you a very important question:

Are you a person who longs to impact your world?

Think about that question for a moment. Is there something within you that yearns to join a cause that makes a difference in this life and reverberates throughout eternity? Are you tired of going through the motions at church? Do you feel restless in your occupation? Is there something within you that senses there must be something more to life? I’m convinced that the Lord is looking for a few good men and women who yearn to make an impact. If you are teachable, available, and faithful God will use you in a powerful way. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

 

Rom 1:8-15 explains how we can join a mission that will change the world. In these eight verses, we’ll see how to make a spiritual impact like Paul. We’ll also gain a better understanding of how we can serve on an impact team—a team such as the one Paul writes to in Rome. In 1:1-7 we looked at Paul’s greeting; now in 1:8-15 we will study his thanksgiving and prayer. Remember that Paul doesn’t know these believers personally. This is unusual for Paul, because he usually visited a city (e.g., Thessalonica or Corinth), then left to continue his travels, and later wrote a letter back to the believers in that city (i.e., 1 Thess, 1 Cor). But that’s not what Paul is doing here. Hence, he spends a great deal of time introducing himself to his Roman readers. He provides three evidences of a church on mission.

 

  1. A Church On Mission Is Thankful (1:8-10).

One of the greatest indications of Christian faithfulness is thankfulness, particularly for other believers. Paul made a practice of beginning his letters with (1) a word of thanks to God, (2) a specific prayer, and (3) a personal message to those who would read his letters. In ten of his thirteen letters, Paul states that it is his relationship with others that actually causes him to be thankful. This repeated emphasis indicates the priority he placed upon thanking God for other believers. In 1:8a he writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.”

Other than the Lord Jesus at the time He spoke from the cross, Paul is the only other person in the NT who speaks of God as “my God” (2 Cor 12:21; Phil 1:3; 4:19; Philemon 4). The addition of the pronoun “my” (mou) draws our attention to the intensely personal relationship Paul had with God. Obviously, Paul was not some crusty, bookish theologian; he was a lover of God. To Paul, the Lord was not some distant abstraction to be worshipped from afar; He was close and personal—his Father and his friend.

The word “first” (protos) is not followed here by the word “second,” for in this reference the word “first” implies importance rather than the beginning of a list. The verb translated “I thank” (eucharisto) is in the present tense and can be rendered: “I continually thank” or “I thank God over and over!” It is quite obvious that Paul loved his fellow believers. His gratitude to God is expressed “through Jesus Christ.” He understood that Christ’s work on the cross brought believers into union with each other.

 

Why is Paul so thankful? In 1:8b he gives the reason: “because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Notice what Paul doesn’t say.

“Your drop dead preacher is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your killer worship team is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” “Your unprecedented church growth is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your cutting edge programs are being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your glorious building is being celebrated is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

These are the types of statements that you might hear about a “successful” church today. We can be an arrogant, consumer-oriented people. Paul, however, has a very different perspective than many contemporary believers. He is not commending the Romans for superficial things. He indicates that their “faith” was being reported all around the world. He is not referring to the fact of their faith; he is speaking of the nature of their faith. In a sin-saturated society these Roman believers progressively grew to maturity in their faith. In just a few years some of these believers would be thrown to the lions in the coliseum. Some would even be dipped in wax and lit on fire by the satanic Emperor Nero. These believers were disciples indeed. They were consistent and reflected the nature and character of Christ in their lives. Hence, Paul could affirm them for the quality of their faith.

The verb translated “proclaimed” (katangello) is a very strong verb that could just as easily be translated “advertised.” These believers were living advertisements for Jesus. They were on-fire! Stop for just a moment and let this fact sink in. The Roman Empire was desperately dark… sin abounded! No one would expect a church to thrive in Rome, the capital of the pagan world. Yet the house churches in Rome stood out as a living light in a dark world. The fervent faith of these believers was so contrary to the societal norm of their day that all who observed them couldn’t help spreading the word about them.

 

The same is true in the community we live in. No one expects a church in the Longview area to stand out and make a mark. Our culture assumes that they can dominate us and intimidate us. In many cases, this is exactly what has transpired. Consequently, there’s really no cultural pressure on us. It is assumed that the church is irrelevant. We are a non-factor. So we’ve got nothing to lose! We need to grow in our faith and trust that it will be proclaimed throughout the world. What is the Christian community saying about us? What are unbelievers in Longview saying about us? Do they recognize our faith and our faithfulness? What do people hear about us? Let’s give our county something to talk about!

 

It is also worth noting what Paul meant by the use of the phrase “the whole world.” In the New Testament, that phrase normally refers to the Roman Empire. Since Rome was the capital city, it seems reasonable to suggest that the faith of the Roman church was being proclaimed throughout the whole empire, not the “whole world” as we know it today. Obviously, the whole world couldn’t include the still undiscovered Western Hemisphere, nor would it indicate the Far East. But with the increase of technology, we have the opportunity to literally impact the entire world (e.g., video, Internet, Facebook, etc.). The key is: Let’s seek to impact our world with what really matters—our faith in the Lord Jesus. Word spreads quickly about growth, new facilities, innovative programs, but what about faith? God receives the most glory from the world when our lives point to Him. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

 

How can we follow Paul’s example and effectively express thanks for our fellow believers? In 1:9-10, Paul expresses thanks through prayer to God. He writes, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” Surprisingly, the key phrase in these verses is: “God is my witness.” This phrase is moved to the front of the Greek sentence in 1:9. In the Greek New Testament words were often moved about in the sentence structure for the purpose of emphasis. Thus, placing “witness” (martus) as the first word in his Greek sentence would be analogous to placing it in boldface or italics. “God is my witness” is a strong expression that Paul uses on a number of occasions. It probably represents an oath that he had taken to be faithful to pray for the church with great constancy and fervency. This is confirmed by the language in 1:9-10. In 1:9, the adverb translated “unceasingly” (adialeiptos) means “without letting up or leaving off.” The word suggests that there is no great length of time between prayers. His prayers were frequent and regular. In 1:10, Paul indicates that the Roman believers are “always” (pantote) in his prayers. Although praying so consistently and repeatedly may seem to be an unusual commitment for a man who didn’t personally know most of the people he was praying for, such unceasing prayer characterized Paul’s life and ministry. He was a man of great prayer. He prayed fervently for the church at Rome in the same way that he prayed for all of the other churches. Prayer was the invisible power behind his ministry. In fact, it was Paul’s passion for prayer that ensured the success of his ministry and led to the growth and maturity of the early churches.

 

How can you and I take steps to grow in our prayer lives?

We can write down our prayers or our prayer requests so that we will pray consistently.

We can pray out loud.

We can use the time we have commuting in the car for prayer.

When we exercise we can devote a portion of that time to prayer.

We can spend time in prayer before we go to bed and when we wake up.

We can pray with our church family every Sunday morning.

We can also volunteer to pray in the overflow room during one of our worship services.

One of the keys to growing in prayer is to look for any and every opportunity to pray.

Romans – Answer the call

  1. A Ministry Mentality (Romans 1:1–7)

Glen Coffee was a great football player. Like many young men he dreamed about playing in the NFL. After a successful high school career, Coffee accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama. In 2008, he concluded his collegiate career by leading his team in rushing. Coffee then realized his NFL dream when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. During his first season with the 49ers, Coffee was the team’s number two running back. Many fans had high hopes for him going into the 2010 season. But in August of 2010, the twenty-three-year-old Coffee shocked the country when he walked away from his 2.5 million dollar contract. Why did he leave the NFL? He believes that the NFL is not God’s will for his life. Coffee became a Christian his junior year of college, and that decision changed his views on everything. He determined that the NFL wasn’t where he needed to be.

 

Coffee’s life-altering decision demands personal reflection. Would you be willing to forsake your hopes, your dreams, and your goals for Christ? Or do you resist His will because it’s not what you want for your life. Today, God may be calling you to leave your current occupation and serve Him in a new way. It’s more likely, however, that God is calling you to remain in your current occupation, and to adopt a biblical mindset. True ministry isn’t about occupation or location, it’s about vocation. Your vocation is to glorify God and represent Him; your occupation is a temporary platform for your vocation. There’s no such thing as secular jobs versus sacred jobs. You’re in full-time Christian ministry whatever your job is.

 

You have a calling, and it isn’t your career. Your career is what you’re paid for; your calling is what you’re made for. Answer the call and abandon all.

The apostle Paul exemplifies what it means to answer the call and abandon all in his introduction to Romans. In 1:1–7, we find Paul’s longest introduction. In his other twelve letters his greetings range from one to four verses, whereas his greeting in Romans takes a whopping seven verses. These first seven verses are all one long sentence in the Greek text. This lengthy greeting permits Paul to identify his calling, his message, his mission, and his readers. Two very important invitations come out of these verses: (1) Imitate Paul’s calling and (2) Appropriate your calling.

  1. Imitate Paul’s calling (1:1–5)

While it is easy to assume that these words are only relevant to Paul or to a pastor, these verses are applicable to every believer. Paul wants you to imitate him in all things, including his calling. Read carefully the opening words of Romans: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul, meaning “asked for.” But he used his Roman name Paul, which means “little.” His name change is recorded in Acts 13:9, 13. When I write a letter, I begin with a greeting: “Dear whoever.” I then conclude with “Love, Wayne or Sincerely, Wayne.” In Paul’s day people did it differently. The writer placed his name first, the identity of his readers second, and a formal greeting third. In Romans, Paul is writing a church that he didn’t know. So how did he introduce himself? He identifies himself with three strategic descriptions.

First, Paul declares that he is a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus.”7 He could have introduced himself as “Paul, the premier theologian, the Old Testament scholar, the master church planter/evangelist, the front-line spiritual warrior,” but he chooses doulos—meaning “bond-servant” or “slave.” The most important thing that we can know about Paul is that he is a “slave.” In America we avoid the term “slave” because of our national history, but the word “slave” fits the idea that Paul is trying to express. It means a person who is wholly and completely owned by another. A slave has no rights, no ability to decide their own activities or the direction of their life. A slave lives and functions to carry out the will of his or her master. Paul saw himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. Elsewhere Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). He was another person’s property. Jesus owned him lock, stock, and barrel. It’s like the sign on the back of a rental truck that said: ANY LOAD-ANY PLACE-ANY TIME. A true slave says, “I’ll do anything my master mandates, no matter how hard, at any place, at any time.” Paul’s serving spirit goes all the way back to his first words to Jesus, spoken right after his conversion and found in

Acts 22:10: “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul’s conversion to Christ resulted in a radical response of zealous obedience. He went from persecuting the church to perfecting the church (see Phil 3:15; Col 1:28).

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is He at the forefront of everything you do? Answer the call and abandon all.

 

At the time Paul was writing Romans, there were an estimated sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. To be a slave in the Gentile mind was to be at the bottom of the social order. Slavery was something to escape; freedom was a goal to attain. How arresting it must have been to the Gentile believers to learn that Paul had “given up” his freedom and willing submitted himself to Christ Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

 

Here, he is talking about a slavery undertaken voluntarily out of love, unlike the forced slavery well known to many in the Roman Empire. If a person could find a master that he or she enjoyed serving, then voluntary slavery makes sense. There is a picture of this kind of willful subjection in the Old Testament in Exodus 21. If a man had to sell himself as a slave, he could serve a Hebrew master for only six years. In the seventh year, he had to be released and sent away with gifts that would enable him to become economically independent. An exception was made for the person who had grown attached to his master. He could refuse his freedom and stay with his master permanently because he loved his master. If that happened, he was to have a hole bored in his ear, marking him as a permanent slave. This is what Paul declares he has done. Paul found that pleasing Christ gave his life such pleasure, purpose and meaning that he willfully bound himself to Christ out of sheer joy.

 

Paul calls himself a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus” because he wants to communicate to his readers his commitment and devotion to Jesus the Messiah. “Christ” is a title which means “one who has been anointed.” “Jesus” is a personal name meaning “the Lord saves.” The Old Testament uses the phrase “the servant of the Lord” of men like Moses, Joshua, and David. Paul’s substitution of “Christ Jesus” into the Old Testament expression “a servant of the Lord” shows that he considers Jesus worthy of the same obedience and devotion as the Lord God—Yahweh. Moreover, 1:1 demonstrates the priority of Paul’s life and ministry. The apostle’s consuming passion was Jesus. In all thirteen of his existing letters, the name “Jesus” comes in the first verse. Paul always makes a beeline for Jesus. This is the goal of great preaching, great churches, and great believers. Jesus must be supreme and paramount in everything that we think, say, and do. Answer the call and abandon all.

Paul is a slave who has been sent on a mission. After becoming a “bond-servant,” he became an “apostle.” Paul moves from humility to authority demonstrating that service is always a prerequisite for leadership. In the New Testament, the term “apostle” (apostolos) is used with a general force to designate someone who is sent. It is also used by Paul to speak of someone who is specially gifted to communicate revelation from God, and by implication, someone to whom the churches were responsible. This latter, more elevated meaning is the sense Paul intends here. He is preparing to communicate revelation from God, and the Roman church needs to know that as an apostle he has the authority to do so. This word “apostle” means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. Paul is saying, “I have been sent with the authority of King Jesus to speak the very words of God to you.” Like Paul, are you where Jesus Christ has “sent” you to be? Has He directed you to your present ministry or vocation? Have you sought Him in this matter? Have you prayed for His direction and guidance? Is anything standing in the way of your going where you feel you are sent?

 

The final characteristic that Paul shares with his readers is his mission of being “set apartfor the gospel of God.” Being “set apart” has in it the idea of consecration and total devotion to the service of God. It was used of the offering of the first fruits (Num 15:20) and of God setting apart Israel as His special possession (Lev 20:26). One of the great failures of Judaism was that the Jews considered themselves separate from everyone else. They considered themselves too good for the rest of the world and retreated into their own closed circle. Yet, God did not intend for the Jews to be separated from, but separated for! He intended them to be separated for service (Gen 12:1–3; Isa 42:6; 43:10, 21; 44:23; 49:3, 6; 60:3; Ezek 28:25).

 

The verb “set apart” (aphorizo) means “to select one person out of a group for a purpose.” The make up of the word literally means “off horizon,” which conveys the idea of being removed from one sphere and placed into another. In Paul’s case, he was removed from the sphere of sin to the sphere of salvation, from the horizon of rebellion against God to the horizon of service under God. This Greek word has the same root meaning as “Pharisee” (“one who is separated”). A Pharisee set himself apart for the law, but God set Paul apart for the gospel. Perhaps you don’t feel like your life and ministry is significant. I can assure you that if you are a believer God has set you apart to fulfill a specific purpose. As you faithfully serve the Lord, He will reveal your ministry niche in your occupation and in your local church.

 

Paul concludes 1:1 by stating what he was set apart for—“the gospel of God.” The key word in Romans is “gospel” (euaggelion) and it appears twelve times. The “gospel” or “good news” encapsulates the message found in the entire book of Romans. This good news is the truth that God has for both believers and unbelievers. It is not limited to salvation but encompasses the full counsel of God’s good news to man. This leads to the following questions: Do you increasingly view your life as set apart for the gospel? Does your life revolve around getting people the good news and then helping them live out that good news? Do you go to work or school with a sense of urgency to share God’s good news? Are you strategically looking for ways to help others grow in their faith? This is your calling, and it is the reason you’re still on planet earth. Answer the call and abandon all.

 

In 1:2–4, Paul launches into a parenthetical statement that elucidates the good news. He writes, “[This good news] which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The only other place where Paul mentions this is 2 Tim 2:8. It is possible that both passages may have been quotes from a creedal formula of the early church. From the very beginning of Romans, Paul wants to make it clear that his message didn’t originate with him. Instead, it was “promised beforehand” (proepaggello) by God. Furthermore, the gospel didn’t just suddenly burst upon the scene of history with the birth of Christ. It has always been the theme of the “prophets,” which is shorthand for all the Old Testament authors. Paul relied heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures to give authority to his gospel message. In Romans, he quotes the Old Testament approximately fifty–seven times, which is more than he did in all of his other letters combined. I would argue, therefore, that if you and I want to understand Romans and fully appreciate the gospel, we must grasp the Old Testament.

 

During the days of World War II, the French underground used a very simple means of identification to know who their secret agents were. They simply took a piece of paper and ripped it in half, giving one man half the paper, and they then mailed the other half to the other agent. When they met, all they had to do was compare the two pieces of paper. If the papers lined up, the agents were identified without any doubt. In a similar way, Jesus fulfills all of the prophetic promises found in the Old Testament. The pages of Scripture line up; there is no other match but Him. This good news comes from the “Holy Scriptures.” This is the only time in the New Testament this phrase is used. This means that the Bible is no ordinary book and that it has the ability to make us holy as we get it into our hearts.

 

The good news of the gospel is focused upon Jesus. Notice the phrase “concerning His Son.” The gospel concerns Jesus. It’s all about Him. The word “concerning” is the Greek preposition peri, from which we get our word perimeter. Since this means “fully around,” the Lord Jesus is not just a part of the gospel; He is the gospel. He fully engulfs the good news of God. Some do not see Jesus the way we do. They mistakenly assumed that there are many equally viable paths to God. However, Jesus is the whole gospel and the Christian life, and He must be everything in our preaching, our teaching, and our very lives. We need to understand that Jesus is supreme. We then need to look for ways to speak more freely about Jesus.

 

Verses 3–4 describe Jesus’ relationships in two spheres. The phrase “according to the flesh” refers to the fact that Jesus was born in frail humanity and limited Himself by taking on human nature (Phil 2:7). The phrase “according to the Spirit of holiness” means that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (see 8:11). Christ was raised in the same way that we will be raised by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. A critical phrase in 1:4 is that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The verb translated “declared” (horizo) is more accurately rendered “appointed” (NET). The key phrase in this verse is “with power.” Although Jesus was obviously God’s Son before His resurrection from the dead, the resurrection put the exclamation point on His deity.

 

It is also important to note that Jesus Christ is called “our Lord.” Unfortunately, much confusion has arisen regarding the issue of lordship. Yet, it is relatively simple: When we trust in the gospel message we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord—He is God. Whether our lives demonstrate His lordship or not, the truth remains: Jesus Christ is both Lord and Master. That fact remains unalterably true. We don’t make Jesus Christ “Lord”; He is Lord! Yet, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of accepting Christ’s lordship in every area of our lives.

The kingship of Jesus grants Paul the privilege of carrying out his mission. In 1:5 the apostle writes that through Jesus “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul begins by making sure he puts grace in its proper place. Paul first received grace on the Damascus Road, and then later he experienced the call of God on his life to become an apostle to the Gentiles. Although Paul’s call was certainly unique when you read 1:5, put your calling in the place of the word “apostleship.” You might put, “Through Christ I have received grace and the teaching role, or grace and singing, or grace and studentship, or grace and singleness, or grace and widowhood, or grace and motherhood.” In doing so, you will be declaring that God has given you the power to fulfill a calling. Answer the call and abandon all.

 

Paul’s mission is to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” The expression “obedience of faith” (eupakoen pisteos) means obedience to the command to believe the gospel (cf. 16:26). Faith is obedience to God because God commands everyone to believe in Christ. Paul linked obedience and the gospel in 10:16, but possibly the closest parallel is 15:18–20. In this passage, Paul indicates that Christ has sent him “to make the Gentiles obedient” and so he concludes, “I have made it my aim to preach the Gospel.” Paul’s mission is to proclaim faith as an act of obedience to God’s command to trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hart agrees: “Obedience is required to become a Christian! But the obedience that is required to become a Christian is obedience to just one command—the command to believe in Christ.” Have you obeyed His command to believe the gospel? If not, do so today. Give Jesus your sin in exchange for His righteousness. Cross over from death to life (John 5:24) and spend eternity with God and with those who love Him.

[The first invitation in this text is: Imitate Paul’s calling. In 1:1–5, Paul has identified his calling, his message, and his mission, and we’ve been invited to imitate his ways. The second invitation is . . .]

  1. Appropriate Your Calling (1:6–7)

In the closing verses of this section Paul fleshes out the calling of every believer. He puts it like this: “Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The addressees of this letter (the “you also”) are connected with “all the Gentiles” mentioned at the end of 1:5, indicating that the church at Rome was predominantly Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish). Speaking to those Gentiles, Paul shares three truths about their identity and calling in Christ that are equally applicable to you and me. First, we are loved by God (1:7a). One of the greatest truths in this universe is that we are unconditionally loved by God. Perhaps you have been abused and rejected by parents or siblings. Maybe a spouse has left you. Or maybe a church has sinned against you. God wants you to know that when people disappoint, and even devastate you, His love is the one constant in this life. There may be times when this promise is what helps you make it through the day.

Secondly, we are called saints (1:7a). Three times in the first seven verses, the words “call” and “called” appear. Here, Paul states that we are called “saints.” However, we are not saints because we are so good; we are saints because God is so good. The words “saint,” “sanctify,” and “holiness” all refer to the same word group, which means “set apart” (cf. 1:1). Thus, a saint is a “holy one” or “set apart one” on account of his or her faith in Christ. Consequently, even when you feel that you are unworthy to pray or be in a relationship with God, He sees you through the perfect righteous of Christ. As a result, He can call you “saint.” You are not individuals trying to get by. You’re a saint. God wants you to act like one.

Lastly, we are recipients of “grace” and “peace” (1:7b). Real peace (eirene) comes only as a result of God’s grace (charis). Grace is what we receive; peace is what we experience as a result of God’s activity on our behalf. The word “grace” resembles the familiar Greek greeting which means “favor from me to you.” In a theological sense the word grace refers to God’s unmerited favor and gifts to humanity. The word itself is used one hundred fifty five times in the New Testament—over 100 times by Paul, 24 of which occur in Romans. We cannot understand this book if we don’t comprehend grace. Therefore, we must be certain that we understand that we are saved by grace and then are given grace to live the Christian life and fulfill our mission. The word “peace” is the typical greeting used in Jewish letters to refer to the wholeness and well being in all relationships. Paul will say much more about both grace and peace later in his letter. In a figurative sense grace and peace are twins, grace being the firstborn. Where grace abounds, peace thrives. Where grace is stunted, peace shrivels.

Today, can you honestly say that you have grace and peace? If not, you can. But you can’t have the grace and peace of 1:7 unless you first believe the gospel. As we’ve seen, Romans is all about the gospel, and the focus of the gospel is the person Jesus Christ. Therefore, nothing is more important today than knowing who He is, without question, without doubt. What do you say about Jesus? Who is He to you? Do you know that there is someone who loves you unconditionally? He loves you so much that He died for you. The Apostle Paul called him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” Can you say that as well? Is He your Savior? What is your answer? Grace and peace can be yours today if you simply believe in Jesus.

When Hernan Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519 to begin the conquest of Mexico, he had only a small force of some seven hundred men. He was about to invade a subcontinent of unknown size, filled with belligerent tribesmen of hugely superior numbers. How could he motivate his soldiers to devote themselves to the conquest? Cortez came up with precisely the right motivator. As soon as he had all the equipment off his fleet of eleven ships, he gave orders to burn them. The men who had come ashore with him stood on the beach and watched as their only means of retreat slowly sank into the Gulf of Mexico. There was only one direction to go, and that was forward into the interior of Mexico to take on whatever might come their way. That’s precisely the approach God calls Christian disciples to take. We are to be obedient to our faith, allowing our decisions to always be subject to the word of Christ. That usually involves burning your ships at some point. Are you ready to do that for the sake of your relationship with Christ?

 

Today, God may be calling you to burn your ships. How will you respond to God’s call upon your life? Will you relinquish your hold on your occupation? Will you reaffirm your vocation to glorify Jesus Christ? Will you go where God has sent you? Will you see your life as a mission to proclaim Christ? Will you be His doulosAnswer the call and abandon all. It’s really that simple.

 

Hope shared

WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU HAD TO SHARE WHEN GROWING UP?

Sharing can mean less – such as less sleep due to sharing a bed with a sibling, but sharing can also mean more – sharing a good book or movie does not diminish our experience, it gives us conversation and perspective.

When it comes to sharing our faith with others, you may think of learning a set gospel presentation (Roman Road, 4 spiritual laws, etc.).  In our culture, though, people don’t want to just hear the truth, they want to see it.  We should certainly talk about the hope we have in Christ, but we must support what we say by living it out and showing hope to others.  The Bible gives us a great example through Peter – a man who took the hope he had in Christ and shared it with others – in a way that caught the attention of others.

READ Acts 3:1-4

WHAT WAS PLANNED (time of prayer) AND UNPLANNED (not a mission to heal) ABOUT THAT DAY?

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came.  They did and were empowered – including Peter, who was forgiven and restored.  He became the chief spokesperson of the group.  Acts 1 tells us how Peter told the crowd that they could have hope in Jesus just like he did.  It was some exciting times!  But, what about the other times?

Other Jewish Christians, along with Peter and John, continued to participate in the established Jewish worship meetings and rituals in the temple complex, as well as to participate in worship and fellowship times in their homes (Acts 2:46).  The difference was that these new believers were completing the story and fulfilling the prophesies about Jesus.

On one occasion, Peter and John were minding their own business going to one of these regular Jewish meetings when they encountered a man who had been unable to walk.  According to the customs in those days, a man who had been unable to walk since birth was carried by family or friends to the temple complex (various courts, storage rooms, and work spaces) every day and place as the gate called Beautiful.  Not only did this man not have the ability to work and participate in everyday functions, but he was not able to be a part of worship either.  Putting him at this location allowed him to beg from those coming to pray or make offerings as they entered the temple area.

He saw Peter and John and asked for help like he did with anyone else.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, Peter and John had compassion on this man (and there may have been many like him).  Peter just came from an experience of hopelessness and then receiving God’s grace in his own life after betraying Jesus. He knew the power of what God can do in one’s life.

Speaking for himself and John, Peter looked closely at the man and told him to look at him.  He saw the need – not just physical, but spiritual.  DO YOU SEE THE NEEDS IN OTHERS WHEN YOU LOOK AT THEM?

Read Acts 3:5-8

Peter and John did more than merely see the lame man’s need for food – they saw his need for hope and the healing of Jesus.  The crippled man looked expectantly at the two men.  DO YOU THINK HE WAS IGNORED BY MOST?  DO YOU IGNORE THOSE LIKE HIM?

Peter’s next statement, however, must have shocked the man.  Many refused to give him a look, much less a hand out. Peter did not simply reject the man’s request, but offered him something better. He told the man to get up – by the power of Jesus!  The lame man probably had heard about the thousands who believed in Jesus and then His crucifixion and death.  He most likely heard about those that Jesus had healed.

WAS PETER’S STATEMENT THE PASSWORD FOR HEALING?  No – Peter was not using a mystical formula.  He expressed faith that Jesus would do this healing without question.  He didn’t say, “Well, you know, I know Jesus and have seen Him heal, so maybe if I say His name, you can be healed too.” Peter, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, spoke with authority and believed that Jesus would heal the man.

Evidently, the lame man did not hesitate in getting up! God did a work in this man’s body to bring physical healing.  When God does something, He does it well!  Notice what the man did – he did not just walk, he began leaping and praising God.  From hopeless to full of hope. He was able to go into the temple for the first time – a spiritual experience his lameness had prevented before this occurred.  God had done a miracle in his life.  WHAT ABOUT PETER?  This was a testimony to the power of Jesus working in Peter’s life.  The Holy Spirit had made Peter sensitive to the needs of others.  He was willing to take the risk of faith and reach out to someone else.  THIS IS AN EXAMPLE FOR US, TOO.

Before we leave these verses, let’s talk about one thing – Peter’s action was not a condemnation of giving money to people in need.  One way God’s power works to meet material needs is through those who love Him.  Gifts of money can express the love and care of Jesus to others.  Scripture encourages us to give:

READ James 2:15-16

READ Acts 2:44-45

This verse does indicate, however, that financial needs are not the most significant needs we have.  Our greatest need is to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  That is how Peter responded to the man’s need and let’s see how it impacted the community.

READ Acts 3:9-10

Healing the lame man was only the beginning.  At the time God did this, it was about 3 pm in the afternoon – when the temple courts were filled with people – people who saw this man and, most likely, ignored him and passed by. When I leave Walmart, I rarely see the same person with a sign asking for help.  It always seems like a new person is there.  In this case, the same guy was at the gate every time these people walked by.  They recognized him – and they were astonished. This was not a “oh, the lame guy is walking now” – it was a “WOW, that’s the guy who was lame – and now he’s WALKING!”  “How did this happen?”  They started talking and gathering to find out how this happened.

READ Acts 3:11-12

Peter went on to point out how the religious leadership rejected Jesus and put Him to death.  God, however, had raised Him from the dead and Peter called on his listeners to repent and turn to God so their sins could be forgiven.  The Holy Spirit directed this whole experience so that God could be glorified.

In Let Hope In, Pete Wilson wrote of discovering that life is more meaningful if he makes a decision each day before he gets up to do three practical things that day to share hope and love with others.  WOULD YOU CONSIDER DOING THE SAME?

  1. Find value in every person – rather than hurt others by what we say or do, we can enrich their lives by affirming good qualities and showing respect, love and grace. This will require us to open our spiritual eyes to others.
  2. Overcome self-centeredness – Philippians 2:1-5 tells us to live in unity, and have the goal to consider others as more important than ourselves, to look out for the interest of others, and become more like Jesus. It is a tough call to arms – but it is one that will change the world, one person at a time. Maybe this means to open our homes and lives to others.
  3. Love people more than being right – if we love people as we should, we will choose not to be offended by what they say or do. Then we will be able to be used of the Holy Spirit to see their need and offer them healing through Jesus.  Listen more than speak.  Pray for discernment and sensitivity.