Romans 16: “Don’t Believe the Chaff”

Here we have Paul’s final thoughts and greetings in his letter to the church in Rome. It may seem strange to us, but it was quite normal for letters written during this time to include the “greeting” at the end. This is one of Paul’s most extensive greetings as he thanks a plethora of people, many, if you’re paying attention, are women workers and Deacons in the church. Wedged in this final section between the greetings and the benediction, Paul gives his final instructions to the Roman Christians. Scholars agree that this is not one of Paul’s smoothest transitions from his letters.

Romans 16:17-19 (ESV) 

Watch Out For Those Who…

There’s two main things that Paul appeals to the primarily Gentile congregation in Rome:

  1. Those who cause division
  2. Those who create obstacles contrary to the doctrine they’ve been taught

This isn’t a new problem for believers, in fact, Jesus warned that there would be false teachers who would come. Mark 13:22-23 (NLT) 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!

If we rewind even farther we can find the same issue brewing in the Old Testament between the false prophets and the prophets of God. 

Jeremiah 23:25-29 (NLT) 25 “I have heard these prophets say, ‘Listen to the dream I had from God last night.’ And then they proceed to tell lies in my name. 26 How long will this go on? If they are prophets, they are prophets of deceit, inventing everything they say. 27 By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me, just as their ancestors did by worshiping the idols of Baal.

28 “Let these false prophets tell their dreams,
    but let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every word.
    There is a difference between straw (teh’·ven, “chaff”) and grain (bär, “wheat”)!
29 Does not my word burn like fire?”
    says the Lord.
“Is it not like a mighty hammer
    that smashes a rock to pieces?

Difference Between Chaff and Wheat

I intentionally chose Jeremiah 23:25-29 in order to help explain not only what it meant then, or what it meant for the church in Rome, but also what it means to us in the here-and-now. In verse 28,  Jeremiah, the true prophet, is speaking the words of God not just to his people, but also his messengers. God is basically saying, I expect those of you who know the truth to speak the truth. He then makes this interesting statement: There is a difference between straw (teh’·ven, “chaff”) and grain (bär, “wheat”)!

Here’s the Difference: There is a husk that protects the wheat called chaff, but once the wheat is harvested, the chaff becomes useless and thrown away. The harvesters would separate the chaff from the wheat by throwing it in the air allowing the wind to carry it away. What we learn is, the chaff is dead, useless, and not valuable at all.

If we were to connect these passages together, we would see that Paul is warning the Roman Christians to beware of the chaff of the false teachers. Typically Paul would write specifically which group he was referencing, like he’s done in the past with the Judaizers, but many scholars agree that Paul’s lack of specificity is to make a greater point. Basically, beware in general of any false teachings. 

Later in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul will encourage the new believers to continue to grow in maturity as believers. He too will allude to the same principle of harvesting chaff.

Ephesians 4:14 (NLT) 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.

 

Romans 15: “Band of Brothers”

If I had a favorite time in history to study it would probably have to be the time of WWII. I’m constantly amazed at what took place in our world between September 1, 1939 and September 2, 1945. As you study the tactics of the war you begin to see a pattern emerge. The pattern that many historians see is sometimes less about the movement of troops, and more about the resolve and the character of the troops in those areas. For example, if you didn’t know much about the Russians before the war, you learned that these are a resilient and relentless people who literally won a battle based on their ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures. If there was every a question of patriotism among the American ranks, they were quickly squelched by the stories of soldiers in arms who banded together arm-in-arm to hold the line and become “A Band of Brothers.”

The Allied forces knew that in order to “hold the line” they had to unite together and even at times set aside their differences for the sake of the cause. Known as “The Blitzkrieg,” The Axis forces knew they had a chance to win the war if they were abel to break the line and isolate groups of troops from each other.

This is exactly the same tactic the enemy uses to destroy the church! You gotta know that the ole Devil doesn’t appreciate it when churches join arm-in-arm and hold the line for the cause of Christ in world around us. We have to recognize that we are fighting a very serious battle in the spiritual world for the souls of those around us.

Here’s something I’ve learned in my time as a Senior Pastor. If Satan can keep us divided among each other, he doesn’t have to worry about us being effective for the cause of Christ.

Romans 15:5-7 (NLT) May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.

Couple of points to consider here in these two verses:

  1. God will give you patience for yourself and encouragement to be used on others
  2. There’s a call to live in complete harmony WITH EACH OTHER. Paul indicates this is fitting as a follower of Christ.
  3. There’s power in joining together with one voice
  4. Accept each other… Oh yeah, AS CHRIST HAS ACCEPTED YOU! If he can accept you with all your spiritual warts, blemishes, and wrinkles; you surely can accept others.
  5. SO THAT… Meaning, when all these things come together, God will be given the glory!

I can’t help but think about the point Jesus made after he revealed that one of the disciples would betray him in John 13.

John 13:34-35 (NLT) 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

The power of this scripture isn’t the point Jesus is making, it’s to who Jesus is making the point. Jesus announces that one of his own will betray him, Judas leaves the room, and Jesus declares that the disciples love FOR ONE ANOTHER will prove they are his disciples. Coincidence? I think not!

Jesus was looking at a ragtag mess of men accepting them for who they are, and calls us to do the same with each other. God will receive the glory when a church shows what it looks like to love each other.

 

Romans 14: “Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1855”

The Bridge

Once upon a time a man took a walk and came to a bridge. When he got to the middle of the bridge, he saw a man standing on the rail, obviously about to jump. The man was distraught so he said, “Don’t jump. I can help you.” “How can you help me?” asked the man on the rail. The first man replied with a question of his own: “Are you a Christian?” “Yes, I am.” “That’s wonderful. So am I. Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “I’m Protestant.” “That’s great. So am I. What sort of Protestant are you? Are you Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or something else?” “I’m a lifetime Baptist,” said the man on the rail. “Praise the Lord,” came the reply. “So am I. Let me ask you this. Are you Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” “I’m Northern Baptist.” “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” “I’m Northern Conservative Baptist.” “Well, call Ripley’s Believe it or Not! This is amazing. So am I. Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Fundamental or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed?” The man on the rail thought for a moment and then declared, “My father raised me as a Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed.” “It’s a miracle,” said the first man. “Put ’er there, pal. So am I.” Then he asked, “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Plains Region?” The man on the rail said, “That’s easy. My family has always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region.” “This is a miracle of miracles. I don’t often meet a brother who shares my own heritage. One final question: Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1855 or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872?” The man on the rail replied instantly, “Since the days of my great-grandfather, we have always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872.” This statement was followed by an awkward pause. Looking up, the first man cried out, “Die, heretic!” And he pushed him off the bridge.

We laugh at that story, but in many ways we’ve experienced a form of this story in our own lives. It’s amazing to consider that if two Christians were to agree on 94 of 95 points, we would end up focusing on the one point where we disagree. This is exactly what Paul was experiencing in Corinth, where he wrote the letter, and it was exactly what the church was experiencing in Rome at this time.

Paul’s “How To” Guide to Surviving the Differences in Church

As much as Paul has shared the differences between Jews and Gentiles, Chapter 14 is more like the “How To” section of what this could look like on a daily basis. There’s two main things that Paul gives his attention to: dietary restrictions and observance of special days. Next to circumcision, diet and calendar were the most sensitive issues that separated Jews from all Gentiles. Now that Paul is trying to unite them as Christians, these conflicts needed to be resolved.

Because of the sensitive nature of these issues, Paul had to offer relevant and specific council. Paul’s goal is to create and maintain harmony among the churches diverse believers. The important thing to consider while reading this chapter is to not keep this passage stuck in the 1st Century. The diversity Paul experienced was one thing, but remember the diversity we still experience in the church today. Again, the perspective of this conversation is between believers within the church trying to survive their different upbringings.

Conclusion and Takeaways

When you break down Romans 14:1-12 there’s really three key takeaways:

  1. Accept one another as God has accepted you (v. 1-4)
  2. Have your own Conviction-Jesus is your Lord (v. 5-9)
  3. Don’t judge Others-We will each answer to God (v. 10-12)

I want you to remember that there will always be people who see things differently than you. Instead of quarreling and grumbling over the petty differences, embrace the phrase, “That which unites us is greater than that which divides us.”

Ephesians 4 is a great place to remember the things that unite us.


Ephesians 4:4-6 (NLT)  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.

 

Romans 13: “God’s Alarm Clock”

What’s your number? No, not your phone number, your snooze number? You know, the amount of times you hit snooze on your alarm clock before you wake up! I LOVE the snooze button! In fact, I typically set my alarm about 30 minutes before I have to get up, just so I have a couple of whacks at the snooze button… Until I learned that this is a really bad practice. I encourage you to watch this two minute video about the Snooze Button.

Sleep Inertia

This groggy and tired state is due the amount of times we break our natural body rhythm of waking up, due to our choosing to go back to sleep for nine (in my opinion, beautiful) minutes.

Did you know that God has an alarm clock? I know what you’re thinking, why does God, who never sleeps, have an alarm clock? Well, you need to know, the alarm clock isn’t for him, it’s for you and me. When you look through the pages of scripture you’ll find multiple times when God’s alarm clock is going off in our ears; but unfortunately as Christians, we tend to hit the snooze button and choose to catch nine more minutes of harmful sleep. Take a look around folks, it doesn’t even take a Christian to help determine that God’s alarm clock is going off.

Here’s the problem: Have you ever had an alarm you got so used to that it failed to wake you up? I had an alarm clock in college that weaved itself into my dreams every time it went off. Either the microwave wouldn’t shut off, or the nuclear reactor was about to go into meltdown. Either way, it’s going off, but I can’t hear it. Sound familiar? I’m afraid we’re living in a day when God’s alarm has simply lost it’s power in our lives. We see the devastation, we even hear the cries for help, but because we’re so used it, the alarm is now just a part of the dream.

Wake Up

Romans 13:11-14 (NLT)

In Romans 13, Paul offers for us a reality check to WAKE UP! Not only that, but he warns that hitting the spiritual “snooze button” only allows sin to linger and be even more tolerated by Christians. The apostles lived and taught as if Jesus was returning that very day. I believe we’ve lost that sense of urgency today and don’t really believe Jesus is returning anytime soon.

Clean Up

Paul not only talks about waking up, but the need to clean up in preparation for Christ’s return. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is getting out of bed when you’re excited about something or somewhere you’re going? There’s a major difference between my children’s ability to get out of bed on a school day in the middle of winter, verses when we’re on vacation at Disney World.

Paul says a part of the waking up process is taking off the clothes we were sleeping in. Before we dress up we are to clean up because dressing up without cleaning up just covers up the dirtiness. Jesus on a number of occasion advocated that we don’t put clean clothes on over dirty clothes.

Dress Up

Speaking of dressing up, Paul again gives us an imagery of armor, but this time the image is an armor of light or right living (v. 12). He continues in the analogy of recognizing we again need to take off the clothes of sin, and put on the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 14).

To put on the Lord Jesus Christ means to become more like Him. To put on the Lord Jesus Christ means that we walk in truth and love and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust. To put on the Lord Jesus Christ is stop hitting the snooze button and wake up. We’re called to not only wake up, but wake up those around us who are spiritually asleep as well.

Romans 12: “Jesus, Help Me!”

Corrie Ten Boom: Germany, 1947

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.

It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.

“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”

And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.

Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.


Romans 12:9 (NLT) Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

Romans 12:14 (NLT) 14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.

Romans 12:17-19 (NLT) 17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God.

Romans 12:20-21 (NLT) 20 Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Romans 11: “Grafted In, By Choice”

An Orange Tree in Orlando

When I was little my grandfather planted an Orange Tree in the back yard of his house. He actually planted it around the year I was born so my grandfather always told me the tree was as old as me. My grandfather was very particular about a number of things, and the growing of his fruit trees was one of them.

I can remember visiting my grandparents once and noticing my grandfather standing in the back yard staring at the tree. If you know my grandfather you can picture him standing there with his hands behind his back, moving his head a little to catch a better look.

Because I had to see what he was looking at, I went out and joined him. As we stared at the tree together I asked the obvious question, “What are we looking at Pop-Pop?” He went on to tell me how the tree was damaged by a strong storm and that he had used a special tape to hold the split limb together. He said, “when the tree is strong enough I’ll remove the tape and it will look like nothing ever happened.” I saw that crack and remember thinking to myself, that seems far fetched. I also remembered that it showed how much my grandfather cared for the limb. I would have thought he cared for the tree, but really the tree would have survived without his intervention. It was the limb he was looking out for.

Fast forward to the next time I visited, Pop was out again working in the yard and I had to go over and inspect the broken limb. Much to my surprise I was shocked that the tape was removed and the limb didn’t look like it had any damage at all. The phenomenon of grafting isn’t a new concept to trees, in fact, it’s not even a new concept to scripture, but when you really think about it, it’s truly remarkable.

Grafted In, By Choice

Like I mentioned in my reflection in Romans 9, in order to fully grasp the whole context of Paul’s point, you have to read Chapters 9, 10, and 11 all together. Paul hasn’t and won’t deviate from the theme of faith and law; He also hasn’t deviated from the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. In Chapter 11 Paul makes this point by using the analogy of an Olive Tree.

He points out that there are these native olive branches (Jews) who have been temporarily broken off from the tree of the people of God. He then talks to the Gentiles (the wild olive branches) and tells them that they have been grafted in. Paul is communicating some profound truths, one of the truths can be determined by asking a simple question. How many trees are there? Answer, one. This helps us to understand that there has been, is, and will be only one people of God… His people. Paul argues that both Jew and Gentile are united as one “in” and “as” the body of Christ. Now, there are branches that haven’t been broken off, Paul calls them the “righteous remnant.” These are, like Paul, Jewish Christians. Those who have come to confess and believe that Jesus died and was raised for them (Chapter 10). But Paul has a lesson both for these Jewish believers and especially the Gentile believers.

Paul’s lesson to the Gentiles is for them not to think themselves too righteous to experience the same fate as their Jewish counterparts (11:19-21). He basically tells them, watch yourself, the Israelites were disobedient and behaved badly, if you behave badly, you too will be broken off.

Behavior Communicates Choice

Notice the emphasis that Paul places on behavior. Now, if the people of Israel were “elected” than why does their behavior matter? Think about that for a minute. Well, what is it that makes the lost, lost? It’s not God’s preordained plan, it’s the behavior of God’s people. As Ben Witherington likes to say, “You’re not eternally secure until your securely in eternity.”

If I tell my son to stop bouncing the ball in the house, he has a choice. Even though he doesn’t say to me, “Dad, I choose to disobey your order;” I know how he feels when he starts dribbling the ball after I asked him to stop. We don’t need to tell God we don’t want to live for him, our behavior communicates it quite well on its own.

And you don’t think God can see your heart… I stare at my son’s heart all the time, and I’m not even close to being God.

 

Romans 10: “It’s Worth Sharing”

I LOVE sharing good news, don’t you? Think about a time most recently when you were able to proclaim good news to a group of people or a person.

“He went to Jarod’s,” “She said, ‘yes,'” “It’s a boy!,”are just a couple examples of the really good news we get to share with people. For me, I can remember the moment with both of my children when I got to declare to everyone that they were born. It’s funny, I can remember working at a hospital and being able to spot the new dads out of crowd. They were the ones with grins from ear-to-ear and would stop a total stranger in their tracks to share their good news. Shoot, I didn’t have any trouble walking up to a total stranger in the hospital and declaring, “It’s a girl!,” or “It’s a boy!” Most people would receive your news with almost equal joy just because they were excited for you.

Beautiful Feet

Have you ever met someone who recently became a Christian and just couldn’t contain themselves? They were so excited for this new found freedom that they had to share with everyone around them. I love that, but I have a feeling secretly that grizzled  veterans in the church world think to themselves, “their excitement won’t last.” Isn’t this a shame? Who ever said that the “honeymoon” had to end? Truth be told, here in Chapter 10 Paul is proclaiming that we need to do something with the good news. He even goes back and quotes from Isaiah 52:7 (NLT)

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns! 

This passage may seem like a nice passage to support the value of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, but it’s actually far more than that. When you understand the context behind Paul’s usage, this passage takes on a whole new meaning. Isaiah 52:7 is the point where the herald (messenger) is delivering good news to Judah about the end of their exile in Babylon and return to their home land. Don’t forget that the Israelites were in captivity for 70 years! Can you imagine getting to be the one who would share this message with the Jewish remnant in Babylon? No wonder the feet of the messenger was beautiful. Fast forward to Rome.

Confess and Believe

Although the Jews were not in physical captivity, Paul would argue that they were experiencing a form of spiritual captivity due to their reliance on the law. Again, as we seen now in many parts of his letter, Paul is striving to show the difference between faith and the law. Paul argues that it’s faith that he’s been preaching the whole time. His heart, and it should be our heart as well, is that people will “hear” (v. 17) the good news and do two things: confess and believe.

Confession has played a major role since the beginning of Jesus’ gospel. Here Paul makes it plane to understand. Romans 10:9-10 (NLT) If you openly declare (confess) that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

The NIV reads, “If you confess with you mouth, Jesus is Lord.” The word “confess” (homologeo) means to “give verbal affirmation.” It’s one thing for people to believe in the secret place of their heart, it’s another when you say it out loud. But as we will see, the heart is still involved here.

(v. 9) “…and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT) 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. So it’s here that Paul connects the importance between our salvation and Christ’s Resurrection. 

Conclussion

(v. 13) “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This isn’t just worth noting, this is worth sharing. So not it’s time to stop reading and start sharing! Because just like we’ve already read, (v. 14) “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

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.

Foreknowledge

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.

 

Election

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).

Conclusion

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.

NOT ONLY CAN JESUS DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE SIN IN OUR LIVES… HE DOES DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE SIN IN OUR LIVES!!

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).