Romans 9: “God Can vs. God Does”

And here we are, Romans 9. If you thought Romans 7 was hard, read 8, if you thought 8 was hard, don’t even start reading 9! This means 10 and 11 are right out! I’m obviously saying this tongue-in-cheek, because the reality is, if we only read the “easy” parts of the bible, we would be done reading in a day or two. This isn’t a shocking fact, but some parts of the bible are hard to read! There, I said it!

The truth about Romans 9 is that it can’t be read without 10 and 11. It’s only when you read Romans 9, 10, and 11 together that you begin to get a broader context of what exactly Paul is saying in Romans 9. At first glance, God comes off as a tyrannical jerk who does what He pleases and you better get used to it. Now to be fair, God can do whatever He pleases, but the question isn’t whether or not God “can,” the question is whether or not God “does.” It’s not a challenge to believe or understand that God knows all thing, but it is a challenge to understand how his knowing fits into our choice. I want to be very clear up front, I will be reading a sharing on Chapter 9 from a Wesleyan/Arminian theological view.


Longtime Asbury Professor, Ben Witherington, asks a challenge question that’s really at the heart of Romans 9: “What is the relationship between what God knows, and what happens?” 

To begin, in order to wrestle with God’s foreknowledge (Predestination), you have to wrestle with a just and holy God choosing, on purpose, that some of the people of his creation would not, and frankly should not, be saved. This means that before time began, God would intentionally create disposable people. People who’s lives ultimately are meaningless, don’t matter to God, and are without hope. Now this doesn’t make sense to me. Multiple times throughout scripture we see a just and holy God indicating that he would desire that none would perish. 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

It doesn’t mean that some won’t perish, but that’s not God’s choice. So if it’s not God’s choice, then who’s choice is it? Well, that the beauty of free will.

Article 7, Prevenient Grace (Nazarene Manual 2013-2017). We believe that the human race’s creation in Godlikeness included the ability to choose between right and wrong, and that thus human beings were made morally responsible; that through the fall of Adam they became depraved so that they cannot now turn and prepare themselves by their own natural strength and works to faith and calling upon God. But we also believe that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed upon all people, enabling all who will to turn from sin to righteousness, believe on Jesus Christ for pardon and cleansing from sin, and follow good works pleasing and acceptable in His sight.



Foreknowledge is one things, election is another, and salvation is yet another from that! Paul even shares here that you can be a part of an elect group, like the Israelites, but in the end still not be saved. Paul communicates clearly to his Jewish brothers and sisters that, just because you’re Jewish, doesn’t mean you’re saved. In fact, Chapter 9 isn’t about individual believers at all. Instead Chapter 9 is in reference, just like the consistent theme of Paul’s letter, to the people of Israel.

We have to be careful when we associate “election” with “salvation.” Election is about God calling a specific group of people to a specific task on earth. God chose Israel, and here in Chapter 9, Paul is dumbfounded how Israel could have gotten it wrong. Here me, election does not have eternal purposes associate with it. Again, look at what Paul indicates in Romans 9. Who was the “elected” person in Romans 9? verse 17 reads, 17 For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed (elected) you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So when we read in Romans 9 that God “foreknew,” it doesn’t mean he chose for them, but that ultimately it points to is God’s supremacy and sovereignty.

Again, the key takeaway from Chapter 9 is not whether or not God “can,” the question is whether or not God “does.”



Romans 8: “Our Aching Groans”

Romans 8, by many scholars standards, is the quintessential chapter of the entire New Testament. Think about that! They’re saying that out of the 260 chapters of the New Testament, Romans 8 is the most important.

It’s here that Paul begins to hit his stride as result of a shift in his letter. Before we go any further you have to know that up until this point, Paul only mentions the Holy Spirit twice in his letter; Paul, however, will mention the Holy Spirit nineteen times here in Romans 8 alone! Paul will begin to help the reader begin to fully understand the role the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the believer. Simply put, Romans 8 is the answer to the questions raised in Romans 7.

Popular Verses of Romans 8

Growing up, and even now, when ever the preacher said Romans 8, for you, what verse typically followed? 28! As a refresher, let’s take a look at that: Romans 8:28 (NIV) 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

This is the “everything is going to be okay” verse. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great verse, but it’s served more like a band-aid for bad things than a faithful promise of things to come. Go ahead, tell the parents who just lost their daughter to an accident caused by a drunk driver… well, we know that in all things God works for the good…

The second verse that we typically herald out of Romans 8 is…? 37! Wow you’re good at this! Romans 8:37 (NIV) 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Now I have to admit, this is one of my favorite verses! This is like the Braveheart, Gladiator, General, speech before the soldiers go off to fight. Nothing can stop us! You’re not a conquerer today, you’re MORE than a conquerer! Now go fight to the death…or something like that. You can even keep reading other passages that fit this theme like Romans 8:31 (NLT) 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? And the church said… Amen!

But if I’m honest, these verses don’t settle the anxiousness I feel in my heart as a pastor. Theses verses don’t make it easier when you have to sit with your Children’s Pastor, and her family, who just suddenly lost their mother and wife. These verses don’t quite straighten out the thought for me that a dear family in our church is in the ring, yet another time, battling the formidable opponent, cancer.

Already, But Not Yet

But for me, reading Romans 8 today caused my heart to stir in a way that I didn’t quite anticipate. Instead of jumping to the huge theological boulders and debating concepts like predestination or eternal security, I found God’s Spirit reaching out to my spirit and bestowing on me a God breathed promise.

Awhile back I heard Tim Dilena read a passage from Romans 7 from the Message. Although I don’t do this as a standard of practice, I can’t help now but read Romans 7 & 8 from the Message. This is the passage of scripture that grabbed me: (read it slowly and intentionally) Romans 8:17-21 (MSG) 17 We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

18-21 That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.

What Paul is advocating here is known as the “already, but not yet.” Developed by Princeton Theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, “already, but not yet” is the tension we find ourselves in between this present age and the age to come. It’s the time of great waiting. In this present age we experience struggle, heartache, and even death; but in the age to come, there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away (Revelation 21:4).


So since we find ourselves in the “already, but not yet,” what then do we do? How then are we to act? What do we say to people who are going through such difficult situations? How do we justify that God loves us, yet we still experience such deep hurt and anguish? I leave you with these words… (again, read it slowly and intentionally)

Romans 8:26-28 (MSG) 26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.





Romans 7: “What Mistakes and Armpits Have In Common”

What Mistakes and Armpits Have In Common

One of the things I hate most about myself is when I mess up. Now that can sound incredibly confessional, which it is, but it’s also very true…unfortunately. All my life growing up I have been prone to try, try, and try again, only to fail. Have you ever been there? Although I wouldn’t go to the extent of Samuel Johnson that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I can sure tell you that there have been many times in my life that the road to failure is paved with good intentions. So you may be asking, what did you do about it? Well… I grew up. It may have started in college and actually “took” during my first pastoral assignment, but I reached the place where I stopped making excuses for my own mistakes and started accepting responsibility.

Have you heard the saying, “Excuses are like armpits, everyone has two and they stink?” Well, It’s true! I used to have an excuse for everything: my alarm was turned down, my car needed gas, you didn’t tell me what time it started, I didn’t realize the book was bound incorrectly and there was a repeat of the same chapter… wait, that really happened, that wasn’t an excuse, but I should have realized it sooner than two days before the biggest paper of my college career was due!

Paul’s Armpits

Now, we would be quick to think that Paul’s just making excuses, which in a way he is, but he’s doing more than that in this section of scripture. You see, what Paul is really doing is accepting responsibility. He’s understanding that there is something at war with his decisions, something keeps fighting against his best intentions. I love how the Message reads…

Romans 7:17-24 (MSG) 17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!

I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

He CAN and He DOES

Scholars have long debated if Paul was writing first hand or metaphorically, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter because it all sounds too true! Again, I can only speak for myself but I too at one point or another have cried out, “Is there no one who can do anything for me?”

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.


Sin has disoriented things but Jesus’ actions set things right! And because of Jesus’ actions we can be set free from the power of sin. We don’t need to make excuses anymore, instead we can accept responsibility and confess.

1 John 1:9 (NIV) But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (Salvation) and to cleanse us from all wickedness (Sanctification).



Romans 6: “Sin Has Lost It’s Power”

Up till this point in Paul’s letter his focus has been on justification (Forgiveness of our sin through Christ’s death and resurrection), but now in the next three chapters (6-8) Paul wants his readers to know that you don’t need to stop there! In fact, the next three chapters points to life after salvation, leaning towards sanctification! While justification is when we pass through Christ from death to life, sanctification is the process the Holy Spirit leads us through in restoring us to the image of God.

I tend to get frustrated with preachers who don’t preach the whole message of holiness. While most preachers stop at salvation, like Paul, I want people to know there’s more. Yes, when you experience salvation you receive the opportunity to experience the gift of heaven; but why stop at eating half the pie when God desires you to have the whole thing!

Up to this point Paul has indicated that we need to do something about the sin in our life. In chapter 6 Paul encourages us to eradicate the power of sin in our life!

Romans 6:6-8 (NLT) We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.

The Do Not’s

Continuing through the chapter, Paul includes a list of things to avoid in your new justified, regenerated, and adopted by God life.

Romans 6:12-13 (NLT) 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.

Do not… 

  • let sin control the what you live
  • give in to sinful desires
  • let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin


  • give yourselves completely to God

Free From The Power of Sin

As Paul indicates, the only thing sin pays you is death, but you have to keep reading… The free gift of God is eternal life…keep reading…through Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:22-23 (NLT) 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

You’ll notice, especially through Chapter 6, that Paul continues to go back and forth between what we do vs. what God does. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, ” May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He doesn’t want just one point along your spiritual journey, he wants the whole journey! He doesn’t want us to be satisfied with the status quo or be fulfilled with just getting by. Through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, God want’s you to truly be “more then conquerors” and break the bondage/pull of sin in your life.

Sanctification is allowing God to move in your life in such a way that you don’t have to be slave to sin anymore. Scripture is very clear that you don’t get to make yourself clean. That’s God’s job!

Romans 5: “My/Thy Will Be Done”

Romans Chapter 5,  in itself, is a fascinating portion of Scripture. It’s also often overlooked due to the complexity of concepts Paul introduces. Don’t be fearful or make it harder than it is, the truth is it’s very simple. It’s all about one man, Jesus Christ, by one act, his death and resurrection, has initiated salvation for all… IF (4:24) we believe in Him.

Paul continually communicates a consistent message throughout his entire epistle to the Romans: Forgiveness of sin and relationship with God is provided only through the person of Jesus Christ, God’s son. Always keep in mind as your read from Paul’s letter to the Romans that this concept was foreign to Jewish believers. They operated under the premises of what many call “works righteousness.” Meaning, a relationship with God is only possible because of something “we do” verse something “God does.” It was based on some level of goodness, or ritual, or achievement, even ceremony that would provide a vehicle to God.

Romans 5 thru 9 are some of the weightiest passages of scripture in the entire Bible. In order to fully grasp some of the concepts, it’s important to remember the duality in our relationship to God. We have the status of kings but the duties of slaves. We feel the presence of God in our lives, yet we still feel the pressure of sin. We enjoy the peace of God, and yet we grow through struggle, trials, and circumstances of life. This perspective will only help us to be even more reliant on the power of Christ given to us through the Holy Spirit.

My Will

Later in Chapter 5 Paul sets a contrast between the action of  Adam verses the action of Jesus. Romans 5:18-19 (NLT) 18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

The easiest way to break this down is to think of it this way: Both Adam and Jesus had a choice, if you think about it, both were even tempted; however, Adam’s choice was, “My will be done,” while Jesus prayer and decision was, “Thy will be done.”

The scripture indicates that Adam’s action was considered “disobedient,” and because of his disobedience everyone became sinners. On the other hand, Jesus’ actions were consider in “obedience” with God, and has led to the opportunity for everyone to be made right with God.

I don’t know about you, but I can look back at multiple points along the journey and recognize the difference between “My will,” verses “God’s will.” It’s like the story I heard: An old farmer the other day was bragging and showing off how straight his rows were in his corn field. Upon further inspection, his 7 year-old grandson asked,

“Paw Paw, what about those rows over there?” Referencing the “not so straight” section of the field.

“Well, that’s where I turned off the Auto-steer function on the new tractor.”

Everyone had a pretty good laugh; but that’s a great point. God doesn’t know how to plant crooked rows. It’s “My will” that decides to turn off “God’s will,” and go about this life literally blind. You can’t plant straight rows on your own! You need GPS (God’s Positioning System)!

Maybe you too can look back on the field of your life and indicate where you turned off your GPS. If that’s the case, don’t fret, because of Jesus’ obedience, you can turn it on at any time.


Romans 4: “Don’t Lose Hope”

Don’t Lose Hope

On an early morning during a torrential downpour in Tuscaloosa, AL Patrice Carter found herself driving in a raging river that had quickly covered the road ahead of her. Trying to reverse and drive the other direction, her small car was quickly picked up and pinned against the large center median of the road. The water rushed so quickly and violently all Patrice could do is climb to the top of her car and scream for help.

Luckily, off duty police officer and veteran search and rescue member Mike Stanton happen to look down from an overpass to find Patrice standing on her car screaming for help. Mike immediately rushed into action as he noticed the water level getting higher and higher. He can remember thinking to himself, “If I don’t get to her soon, the water’s going to sweep her off that roof and away!”

In the process of making his way to the river bank, Officer Stanton called for the local fire department to his location and notified them of Patrice’s situation. Patrice was frantically yelling for Officer Stanton to help her, but Mike knew the best thing at this point was to try and keep Patrice calm and tell her help is on the way.

As the firefighters and paramedics showed up, the water level was dangerously high now and about to swallow the car. Because of the noise of the rushing water, Officer Santon had to keep yelling for Patrice to hear his instructions. Just as they were making their first attempt to get a line across the street, Patrice slipped and was now lying on top of the roof of her car holding on for dear life. Officer Stanton kept yelling for Patrice to get up at least to her knees because he knew she wouldn’t be able to hold herself for long against the waves.

Reverting back to his training, Mike Stanton knew he had to give Patrice the one thing that could save her life, hope. Mike began to yell to Patrice, “Don’t lose hope!” “Don’t lose hope! He could see from Patrice’s reaction that the motivation of not loosing hope was helping Patrice, so he kept yelling it, “Don’t lose hope!” At one point, Patrice was able to get back up on her knees to give her arms a much needed break from holding on. It didn’t last long as Patrice then was quickly knocked back down by the violent waters.

The line was secured and the rescue workers, including Officer Mike Stanton, were in position, now all they needed was for Patrice to let go of the car and float into the rescue line that was meant to catch her. After much convincing, Officer Stanton convinced Patrice to let go of the only thing keeping her alive and float into the rescue line. The last thing Officer Santon said to Patrice as she let go of the car was simply, “Don’t lose hope, they got you.”

Patrice let go and was caught by the rescue line and led back to safety by a rescue swimmer. The first thing she wanted to do was thank the man who helped keep her alive. Officer Stanton rushed over to see that Patrice was okay and the two of them hugged in exhaustion. While Patrice was being checked over by the Paramedics on the scene she talked with Mike.

“You kept yelling to me, ‘Don’t lose hope!'”

To which Mike responded, “Well, hope is a powerful thing.”

Just at that point, after her mom didn’t come home from her night shift job, Patrice’s daughter ran over and gave her mom a huge hug thanking her and God that she was alright. Patrice said to her daughter, “I want you to meet someone who helped keep me alive today.”

“Officer Stanton I want you to meet my daughter, Hope.”

Hope is a Powerful Thing

Because Paul was still fighting the battle between the Way of Faith verses the Way of the Law, it was important for Paul to give an example of a Jewish believer who was saved by faith. The summary statement of Chapter 4 is found in verse 3 (NLT) For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

Then Paul goes into detail regarding the faith that Abraham showed even in the midst of desperation. There’s a line in verse 18 that I want us to conclude with today. Romans 4:18 (NLT) 18 Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping. I put a note in my bible when I read this before that puts it this way.

Even when there was no reason for hope, (insert name here) kept hoping.

I want you to finish today by reading verses 20-22 but I want you to replace Abraham’s name with yours. You can make him/her interchangeable as well.


Romans 3: “I’m Looking for Peace, Have You Seen It?”

Nestled among Paul’s argument that people are sinful, but God is faithful, sits a quote Paul used from Isaiah 59. Here it is as Paul uses it:

Romans 3:15-17 (NLT) 15 “They rush to commit murder.
16     Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”

This is taken from the section where Paul is referring to the power of sin in peoples lives.

I don’t know what it was about verse 17, but today it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve heard and even described sin in many different ways, but it hit me yet again; people walking in darkness are searching for light, just sometimes it’s the wrong light. They simply don’t know where to find peace.

Isaiah described it this way:

Isaiah 59:7-8 (NLT) Their feet run to do evil,
    and they rush to commit murder.
They think only about sinning.
    Misery and destruction always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace
    or what it means to be just and good.
They have mapped out crooked roads,
    and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace.

There have been times in my life when I have followed behind the person who was mapping out crooked roads. It’s exhausting! It seems as if there is no rest, no peace, not a moment at times to even collect your thoughts. I just can’t stop picturing a frantic friend searching their entire spiritual house looking for peace. I know it’s hear somewhere. I seriously saw it, I know it’s gotta be here. Help me. Look with me. Have you seen it? Seen what? Peace! I’m looking for peace, but I can’t seem to find it!

An unknown author tells a story of finding peace:

The Picture of Peace

There was once a king who offered a prize to the
artist who could paint the best picture of peace.

Many artists tried. The king looked at all of the
pictures. After much deliberation he was down to
the last two. He had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a
perfect mirror for the peaceful mountains that
towered around it. Overhead, fluffy white clouds
floated in a blue sky. Everyone who saw this
picture said that it was the perfect picture of

The second picture had mountains too. These
mountains were rugged and bare. Above was an angry
gray sky from which rain fell. Lightening flashed.

Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming
waterfall. This did not appear to be a peaceful
place at all.

But, when the king looked closely, he saw that
behind the waterfall was a tiny bush growing
in the rock. Inside the bush, a mother
bird had built her nest.

There, in the midst of the rush of angry water,
sat the mother bird on her nest.

She was the perfect picture of peace.

The king chose the second picture. “Because,” he
explained, “peace is not only in a place where
there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.

Peace is in the midst of things as they are,
when there is calm in your heart.

That is the real meaning of

While ideally we desire to always have the quiet moments of peace, the truth is, peace needs to be pointed out to us. When I think about the connection between the scripture and the story, this is what I think. I think we have both the opportunity to experience peace in the midst of chaos, as well as the responsibility to point others towards the same peace. While lost friends, family, and co-workers search frantically for peace, not knowing where to find it, let us point them to the peace that only God can bring.

This is exactly what Paul is saying in Romans 3: All of us at one time or another have searched for peace, but didn’t know where to find it. For some, we found it quite early in life, for others, they’re still searching, but either way, God has made a way for us all to experience true peace. Let me leave you with this challenge.


Romans 10:14 (NLT) But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

We have many “little birds” in our lives searching for peace. When you have the opportunity, point them to that spot under the waterfall. Show them how to get there. It’s there that Jesus will meet with them and show them it’s a perfectly safe place to be. It’s there they will find true peace.


Romans 2: “Attaboy”

Growing up I was never fearful of a little hard work. In fact, it was expected in my home that if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat… Okay, that might be an overstatement, but it’s not too far off. You see, growing up, my parents gave me a wonderful gift… it was called hard work. The example of my parents was a mom who woke up at 4:30am every morning to spend quiet time with God before heading into work around 6:30am… every… day. My father only missed one day of work for sickness in the 35+ years at the same company. He even tore his MCL at work one day falling off a ladder and stayed to try and finish his shift. Seriously… hard work! Do you know how hard it was to try and stay home from school because you didn’t “feel good”? My arm or leg had to be hanging on by a thread in order to stay home.

My parents also taught me that if you wanted something, you needed to earn the money to get it. At twelve-years-old I started working cleaning pots and pans at a campground earning a whopping $20 a day! My staff laughs at me when I share with them all the jobs I’ve had up till the point of becoming a Pastor.

Although I worked hard, and didn’t mind working hard, I also didn’t mind the praise that came along with it. I was an “Attaboy” junkie! There were times when I would try as hard as I could to get an “Attaboy” out of my stubborn bosses or co-workers. I can remember when one night heaven and earth met in a cosmic alignment when my boss at the Deli said to me, “Attaboy.” I couldn’t believe it! He actually said, “Attaboy.” He said not to get to used to it because one “oh crap” takes them all away.

It wasn’t until later in life that I began to realize that I was spending a lot of my time trying to receive praise from man, verses receiving praise from God. I began to understand the power of Colossians 3:23 (NLT)  23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

Let me ask you this question: From who and what are you seeking praise? 

Romans 2:29b (NLT) 29 And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.

As we’ve heard and read before, Paul is faithfully trying to communicate that circumcision will do nothing to draw you closer to God. You need to remember that Paul is talking to both Jewish and Gentile believers, but primarily Gentile believers who are trying to understand what “being a Christian” is all about. As he declares in verse 29, circumcision won’t/ can’t produce a change of heart, that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit! He goes on to conclude that when the Holy Spirit redirects our heart, He also redirects our motives. We no longer live to seek the praise of people, but rather we seek the praise from God.

Romans 1: “Introduction”

Orienting Data for Romans

Since we are at the beginning of another one of Paul’s Epistle’s (Letter), I like to start with some information. Below is the information compiled by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart from their book, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book:”

  • Content: a letter of instruction and exhortation setting forth Paul’s understanding of the gospel—that Jew and Gentile together form one people of God, based on God’s righteousness received through faith in Jesus Christ and on the gift of the Spirit
  • Author: the apostle Paul
  • Recipients: the church in Rome, which was neither founded by Paul nor under his jurisdiction—although he greets at least twenty-six people known to him (16:3–16)
  • Occasion: a combination of three factors: (1) Phoebe’s proposed visit to Rome (16:1–2; which would begin in the house church of old friends Priscilla and Aquila, 16:3–5), (2) Paul’s own anticipated visit to Rome and desire that they help him with his proposed mission to Spain (15:17–29), and (3) information (apparently brought by visitors) about tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers there
  • Emphases: Jews and Gentiles together as the one people of God; the role of the Jews in God’s salvation through Christ; salvation by grace alone, received through faith in Christ Jesus and effected by the Spirit; the failure of the law and success of the Spirit in producing true righteousness; the need to be transformed in mind (by the Spirit) so as to live in unity as God’s people in the present

Overview of Romans

This letter is arguably the most influential book in Christian history, perhaps in the history of Western civilization. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to read! While theologically minded people love it, others steer away from it (except for a few favorite passages), thinking it is too deep for them. But the overall argument and the reasons for it can be uncovered with a little work.

At issue is tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, who probably meet in separate house churches and who appear to be at odds regarding Gentile adherence to the Jewish law—especially over the three basic means of Jewish identity in the Diaspora: circumcision (2:25–3:1; 4:9–12), Sabbath observance, and food laws (14:1–23). What is at stake practically is whether Gentiles must observe the Jewish law on these points. What is at stake theologically is the gospel itself—whether “God’s righteousness” (= his righteous salvation that issues in right standing with God) comes by way of “doing” the law or by faith in Christ Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.

Advice for Reading Romans

The key to a good reading of Romans is not to get bogged down over the many bits of detail that beg for an answer. Rather, use “A Walk through Romans” to get the big picture, and then perhaps come back and try to discover answers to its many pieces.

Knowing two things may help you as you read. First, the argumentation Paul employs in this letter is patterned after a form of ancient rhetoric known as the diatribe, in which a teacher tried to persuade students of the truth of a given philosophy through imagined dialogue, usually in the form of questions and answers. Very often an imagined debate partner would raise objections or false conclusions, which, after a vigorous “By no means!” the teacher would take pains to correct. You will notice that Paul will often use the diatribe method of argumentation.

Example: (2:1–5, 17–24; 8:2; 9:19–21; 11:17–24; 14:4, 10). Paul debates first with a Jew (2:1–5, 17–24), with whom he dialogues in most of the argument that follows, as he raises and answers questions and responds to anticipated objections (2:26; 3:1–9, 27–31; 4:1–3;6:1–3, 15–16; 7:1, 7, 13; 8:31–35; 9:19; etc.).

So lets dive-in to this incredible letter to the people of Rome!

Galatians 6: “You Reap What You Sow”

Paid In Full

One day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one dime left, and he was hungry. He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a little girl opened the door.

Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water. She thought he looked hungry so brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it so slowly, and then asked, How much do I owe you?”

You don’t owe me anything,” she replied. “Mother has taught us never to accept pay for kindness.” He said … “Then I thank you from my heart.”

As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strong also. He had been ready to give up and quit.

Many year’s later that same little girl, now a young woman became ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease.

Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to her room. Dressed in his doctor’s gown he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day he gave special attention to her case.

After a long struggle, the battle was won.

Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill. She read these words …

“Paid in full with one glass of milk”

(Signed) Dr. Howard Kelly.

Tears of joy flooded her eyes as her happy heart prayed: “Thank You, God, that Your love has spread broad through human hearts and hands.”

By the way, Dr. Howard Kelly (1858-1943) was a distinguished physician who was one of the four founding doctors of Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

Galatians 6:7b-9 (NLT) You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

My District Superintendent has been teaching me the meaning of an old proverb: “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Although this is a powerful proverb to learn and understand, it’s also quite fragile in theory because it rely’s on one thing… choice. We can never forget that ultimately we have a choice to make. This is the point that leads up to the last part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The writer (Paul) has written, and now the readers have to make a choice between living to please their sinful nature or living to please the Spirit.

You will always harvest what you plant. Think about the power of that one thought. If you plant sweet-potatoes you’ll get sweet-potatoes…every time. While we’ve come accustomed to Paul using agricultural analogies, he’s actually taking this one a step further. Paul wants us to think about the repercussions of planting either sin or planting life through the Spirit.

The Challenge

The challenge today is to always be mindful that we’re always reaping. There’s no neutral in the reaping process. We’re either reaping things that will lead to a harvest of decay and death, or we’re reaping things that will lead to everlasting life from the Spirit. So do what Paul suggested today… Don’t get tired of doing good, and especially don’t give up!