Romans 16

Reading through this last chapter of Romans, as Paul remembers all those dear to him, I start pondering my own life. I’m drawn inward so often. I have friends working on their yards, struggling in their relationships, losing jobs, on drugs . . . and I’m sitting in my office, selling junk on ebay. Sure, I’m making money. Sure, I’m being clever. But am I concerned with others the way Paul was? Do I help my friends in their yards? Do I encourage my friends who are slaves to their addictions? Do I preach the word the way Paul preached it? Do I spend my time worrying about people or do I spend my time worrying about myself and what I want? I think, more often than not, I’m busy with my own interests. I’m busy with what will make me more comfortable, more happy, more secure . . . here is this life anyway. It’s so easy to serve myself. When will I start serving others?

Romans 15

We have an obligation to bear with those who are weak, and not please ourselves. That’s almost verbatim from verse 1. Do I do that? Do I bear with others? Do I do the necessary things to build up others instead of worrying about my own selfish desires? No. I fail in this . . . I fail constantly. When Saturday rolls around, am I out helping people or am I on the computer, listing items on ebay? I fail in so many ways.

There comes a time in life when we have to make a decision. Do we continue ignoring the obvious commands of Scripture and continue to live for ourselves? Do we continue living a lie, or do we start living the truth? Jesus makes it clear that if we love Him, we will do what He commands.

15If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
John 14:15

Do we love Him? If we do, we’ll listen to what the Bible says. We’ll start living to please Him, which means living to bear with others, and not to please ourselves. Simply put – if we’re too busy with our own interests, we’re not doing what He says.

He gave His life for us. It’s our reasonable service to give our lives for Him.

Romans 14 – Let the Spirit Speak

This chapter clears up a lot for me. It renders useless the arguments and strivings of a great multitude of believers. So then what of debatable matters?

4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Paul makes it clear. Our duty lies not in passing judgment or arguing about such matters. We simply need to be sure that we prepare ourselves to stand before our Master. Whether we eat certain foods or honor certain days is of little consequence. What matters is that we must be able and ready to give an account of our lives to God.

Paul doesn’t really mince words on this topic. People will decide to live differently but God will accept all of us who live by faith in Jesus Christ. As Christ-followers, we possess great freedom, but we need to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit.

Paul does make clear that we should avoid causing anyone else to stumble. If our freedoms hinder the faith of another, we should limit ourselves.

20Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

Pray without ceasing, listen to the Spirit, live in freedom, and consider others’ perceptions before you act.

Romans 13 – Taxes and Love

Romans 13 doesn’t mince words. Sometimes, as Peter says, Paul writes some things that require some brainwork to figure out. But not this time. Paul makes it very clear that we need to be subject to those in government. God puts all authority in place, and it’s up to us to be subject to that authority. He doesn’t really address what to do if the government is corrupt, but I don’t think he needs to. We still need to follow the laws set in place. Paul makes it very clear that God sets up those in authority – and they accomplish His will and His plans.

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Peter concurs with Paul that we need to be in subjection to those in authority:

13Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

I think it’s pretty clear. In order to remain in God’s will, we need to be in subjection to our government. For me, it’s a simple matter. Whether Bill Clinton or George Bush is in office, I need to support them in prayer and not speak evil of them. That’s not to say that governments aren’t corrupt. Our government may be corrupt, but my duty is to support them, pray for them, and honor our laws.

Later on Paul says all the commandments are summed up in this – to love one another. The simplicity of it strikes me. If I seek to show love to those around me, I won’t be envious. I won’t be greedy. I won’t be self-seeking. Yet loving people is hard. There are people at work who really, really bug me. Some of my friends’ friends constantly irritate me. I find myself wanting to avoid them. I’d rather be alone, on the computer, riding my bike, playing basketball, watching a movie with my wife – anything but being near them. But God calls us to love one another. When we learn to do this, so many other things will simply fall into place. Anger, jealousy, strife . . . those things will simply fade away.

Romans 12

I like Paul’s appeal at the beginning of the chapter.  His “therefore,” to me, refers back to the 11 previous chapters.  Therefore, since God has done so much for us and has given us the ability to have eternal life, by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, we ought to give our lives to Him.  In fact, that’s our reasonable service.  Because He’s given us the opportunity to cheat death and live eternally, since He’s given us His only Son, it’s only reasonable that we devote our lives to Him. 

 1I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

The ESV says “spiritual worship,” and this version tends to be very literal, but I really like the way the New King James renders this phrase – and that is, “reasonable service.”  How can we do any less for Him when He’s done so much for us?

The rest of chapter 12 always frightens me a bit, as I live my daily life.  I wonder sometimes, “Is it possible to live this way?  Am I actually capable of doing all this?”  It seems so impossible at times.  Do I think too highly of myself?  Do I love everyone?  Do I show honor to others?  Am I patient when trials occur?  Do I seek to show hospitality?  Am I constant in prayer?  Do I contribute to the needs of the saints – in a real way?  Do I bless those who make my life difficult?  These are things we deal with on a daily basis!  People at work aren’t always seeking to bless me.  Do I always seek their best interests?  Do I associate with the lowly?  Am I conceited?  Do I seek to love and respect my enemies? 

The honest answer hurts.  I am not so perfect.  But that’s the beauty of God’s plan.  We are saved by grace, through faith in the risen Jesus.  He expects us to live righteously – that’s our reasonable service for what He has done for us.  But I am human.  I make mistakes.  My human nature comes through at times and I fail.  But as I seek the Jesus of the Bible, my desire to please Him and serve Him becomes stronger.  His Spirit gives me power to live as I ought as I mature in Him. 

So why don’t I just sin?  Since I’m saved by grace what’s the big fat deal?  The truth is that in any true relationship, one seeks to please the other.  If a person has a real relationship with the God of the Bible, that person will seek to please Him.  And He will reward that faith and dedication with eternal life.

Romans 11 – God's Plan

Reading Romans 11 is difficult for many people, because they think, “How could God possibly blind the Israelites on purpose? What is it with the choosing and the elect and the hardening . . . is God really this unfair?

Well, chapter 11 does start out with a message that seems to say that God has chosen some for salvation and some for damnation. But I don’t think that’s what chapter 11 is saying. Vese 11, of chapter 11, says volumes about God’s character . . .

11So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (ESV)

I like the way some other versions render this verse . . .

11Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. (NIV)

11The next question is, “Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. (The MESSAGE)

11So I ask, Have they stumbled so as to fall [to their utter spiritual ruin, irretrievably]? By no means! But through their false step and transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, so as to arouse Israel [to see and feel what they forfeited] and so to make them jealous. (AMPLIFIED BIBLE)

In other words, God’s plan wasn’t to send them to hell, but His plan was to use their sin to bring Gentiles to salvation. Again, as in chapter 9, He shows us that He uses people where they are to accomplish His purposes. And later in the chapter Paul reiterates that it was not the Jews who believed that were condemned, but the ones who didn’t believe (they had a choice). Those who believed were saved by God’s grace, through faith, just like us. And Paul also says again that the branches that were broken off could be grafted back in! How? Simply by returning to God.

20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

And Paul concludes chapter 11 by saying God wants everyone to be saved.

32For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

So . . . the message is clear . . . if you have faith, you will be saved, no matter who you are.

Romans 10 – The Ball's in Our Court

9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This is the crux of our faith – if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved. It is awesome. It means we no longer have to try to work our way to salvation. We simply need to seek a relationship with the God of the universe. We need to believe that He came, lived, died, and rose again. Faith saves. Works don’t. And everyone has the option to believe – not just the Jews. God is sovereign – chapter nine makes that very clear. But chapter 10 puts the ball back in our court. We need to have faith, and we can become vessels of honor. It’s an amazing message for those who choose to listen.

Those of us who possess this knowledge need to share it.

14But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Do I do this? Do the people I come into contact with know that I’m a Christian? Is my speech having an effect on their lives? Sometimes I know I’m not doing enough. The news is good – and I need to share it. We need to share it.

Romans 9 – Some Hard Stuff to Swallow

Romans 9 is one of those chapters I think we should just rip out. Just toss it. It causes too many people too much consternation. People wonder how God could “make” Pharoah sin. But I don’t think he made Pharoah sin. Paul says in II Timothy that even dishonorable vessels can make themselves honorable.

20Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

And in I Timothy 2, we see that God desires that all be saved . . . and I really do think that “all” means all.

4 . . . who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I think, though, that Chapter 9 makes it clear that God makes decisions, that, at times, seem unfair to us. He chose Jacob over Esau, but not based on what either had done. He chose Pharoah to make His name known among the nations. He uses us, where we are in life – to accomplish His purposes – whether we have made ourselves honorable or dishonorable vessels. He makes His choices – and we live within His parameters.

Chapter 9 reminds me that I’m simply human, a creation of God’s. It is not my place to question His sovereignty – I am but clay.

20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

So much more exists in this chapter – but I am not writing a book here. I love the way it ends – Gentiles can be saved, by faith. That means me!

30What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith . . .

Romans 8 – Some Observations

Again, I note that the law is powerless to save us . . .

3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh . . .

And I’m sobered by the painfully clear message Paul sets forth in verse 6 . . .

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

For those who live in the flesh, their end is death. But the message is equally exciting, because those who set their mind on the Spirit need not fear death – their end is life and peace.

I especially like the end of chapter 8. If God is for us, who can be against us? We have absolutely nothing to fear in this life. We have God on our side. And if we are His, then we have been set free from the law of sin and death, and nothing can separate us from Him.

38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 7 – We are Dead to the Law

It amazes me that some still believe we are under law. Yes, and these people read the same Bible I read. Paul makes it altogether clear, here and in other places in Romans, that we are completely dead to the law. We belong to Christ! The law no longer holds any sway over our lives.

4Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Verse 6 says it again . . .

6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

That, my friends, means we possess freedom in Christ. We seek a relationship with Him – not a life of rules and regulations. What an amazing message.