I 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. Romans 12:1
Do not be conformed to this world, [insert your name]; to what culture says is pleasing and praise-worthy and desirable and acceptable. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Soak in God’s word and let it transform you. Steep in it until it changes your composition to be more like Him. In doing so, you will be able to discern His will, what is good and acceptable and PERFECT. Able to be in sync with God.
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to. Remember, [name], you are but one body among many members. Created to work together; to complement one another. You are unique, with unique gifts for a distinct purpose. Don’t covet, despise, or envy the gifts of others. Use your gifts powerfully for the glory of God. The individual gifts of each of us combined poured out on the world can be a mighty & unstoppable force. Use them well. Practice them. Give them away freely, [name].
Let your love be genuine and sincere. Use sober judgment. Hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good. Love one another in abundance. When others have success, celebrate with them. There is too much kingdom work to do and too many victories ahead to take any other posture than rejoicing with them. And when others are suffering and in pain, weep with them. Help share and carry their burdens.
You know those who persecute you, [name]? Bless them. Never repay evil for evil. Always do the honorable thing. Strive to live peaceably and in harmony with all. Let God avenge wrongs. He’s got this.
[name], you have so much to offer. You are valuable and needed in the Kingdom. Do not be lazy in your zeal and passion. Be fervent in spirit. Serve the Lord. Be generous in contributing to the needs of others and showing hospitality. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer.
Challenge: Read these words from Romans 12 inserting your name. Journal your thoughts and takeaways.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Romans 11:17-18
Grafting involves placing one branch onto a stem, root or branch of another in such a way that a union is formed and the two grow together as one. Branches that have dried up, died, or stopped producing fruit are cut off the tree. A part of the remaining tree is cut, exposing its interior and combined with a cut and exposed part of another branch. The two are joined where both have been exposed and fastened together tightly. Over time, they fuse together, grow together and become healthy and fruit-producing again.
We are the “wild olive branches” that have been grafted into God’s family. We open our hearts and tightly fasten ourselves to God’s heart. And over time, in closeness and in soaking up the nutrients of His goodness and character, we become connected…so connected, you can’t see where one ends, and the other begins. Our source for living and producing fruit comes from the deeply planted roots.
John Bunyan says, “Where there is grafting there will always be a cutting, the graft must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back or there will be no sap from root to branch. And this, I say, must be done by a wound, by a cut.”
God inspects hearts. Branches of unbelief producing no fruit are rejected. But re-connection is always possible. God made way for grafting. A way to reconnect to life through the open wounds of Jesus’s sacrifice. We have to cut into our pride, control, stubborn and unbelieving hearts…to expose an opening and allow that connection, through faith, back to the open heart of God. To press in. To become so close. To become one.
Question: How does the analogy of grafting help you see the Gentiles (us!) coming into the promise, as well as sinners reconciling to God?
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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10
Salvation is given to us by grace through faith in Jesus alone. There is NOTHING we can do to EARN our salvation. But we must accept it. We must believe.
There is no distinction. The same Lord is Lord of all. Bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
So, Paul poses a series of “how” questions along with a statement…
HOW then will they 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?
And HOW are they to preach unless they are sent?
HOW beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
I love this visual of beautiful feet. Beautiful feet carrying the Gospel. Beautiful feet loving their neighbor. Beautiful feet of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; who mourn for the lost. Beautiful feet worn out from making sure all hear of the beautiful feet of Jesus willingly walking to the cross in fulfillment of prophecy. And now we -- as believers; as the Church -- are the hands and feet of Jesus. Hands and feet to tell the story of the scars on His hands and feet; the blood that was shed; the sacrifice for our salvation; the GOOD NEWS.
How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
Questions: How are your feet looking? What are they walking to and walking out?
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. Romans 9:2
Paul is filled with great sorrow and anguish that his Jewish family, given all their history with God, can’t see be past their religiosity and plant their eyes on the Messiah. He agonizes over what they are missing and the devastating results that will follow.
Paul asks why Israel, who was pursuing a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching it, but the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness attain it. He answers, “Because they [the Israelites] did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.” In other words, you will never attain it if you are counting on human works…only by grace, through faith in the work of Jesus. Instead of seeing Jesus as the answer to all they had been searching for, they stumbled over Him.
Jesus fulfilled what we could not, and this is where we put our faith. I visualize Paul desperately yelling, “WHY CAN’T YOU SEE? YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN EVERY BENEFIT OF BEING ABLE TO SEE! THE SCRIPTURE YOU HAVE MEMORIZED SINCE CHILDHOOD POINTS TO IT. THIS IS IT. THIS WAS ALWAYS IT. JESUS IS IT. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BELIEVE.”
This is a message for any of us who have had all the benefits of a Christian upbringing. We know the stories. We go to church. We volunteer to serve. We even generously give. But do we have faith, or do we rely on our actions and religious routine? It’s all good, but one will save us and the other will not. Do we know and believe in Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord? Do we stumble over the stumbling stone – our activities getting in the way of relationship and submission? Is our heart hardened by the culture around us full of posturing, striving, being independent, focusing inward, feeling entitled because of our good works…or is our heart positioned to believe that it isn’t us who saves us? You alone, Jesus.
Questions: Do you think it is sometimes harder for those who grew up around religion to have faith (instead of relying on works)? What are potential stumbling stones?
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:16
Sovereign. Possessing supreme or ultimate power. Absolute in authority and unrestricted in supremacy. Omniscient (knows all), omnipotent (can do all; all-powerful), and omnipresent (everywhere at all times).
In God’s sovereignty, we see His goodness, mercy, grace, pursuit, and patience. God raised up a people – the Israelites – to unveil His plan. Piece by piece. Story by story. Hint by hint. Their adoption, their history, the covenants, the Law, the sacrifices, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, the lineage of Jesus – the Christ; the Messiah.
In God’s sovereignty, He chooses the line from which the Messiah would come. But in His love and grace, it isn’t lineage of the flesh that saves us; it is a lineage of the promise available to all who believe.
In God’s sovereignty, He shows mercy, compassion, and even allows hardening. Paul references Moses and Pharaoh. And while the end result was the destruction of so much of Egypt, God was patient and pursuing. Ten times Pharaoh and the Egyptians saw God’s power and authority on display with an opportunity to submit to Him. And ten times Pharaoh rebelled, choosing to cling to his personal power and position while watching those under his control suffer horrifically. We have a choice to say no to God, and God has a choice to say, “okay…have it your way…if this is what you want, let’s see how it works out for you.”
The prophets consistently preached both invitation to choose God, and consequences for saying, “not now” one too many times.
God chose the exact perfect time the Messiah would enter earth in the flesh and shed blood for our sins. God has chosen the exact perfect time for the Messiah to return one day and complete the restoration for those who put their faith in Him and to unleash His wrath on those who continued to say, “not now, I’ve got this. I’ll do this myself.”
Challenge: Pray for those in your life still trying to do it all on their own and rejecting Jesus as Savior.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
Paul has eloquently pointed out our sinful nature and need for a Savior. A Savior that could only be the Son of God in the flesh nailing our sins between His bloody hands and the cross; a cross meant for condemnation and humiliation and a statement. And then Paul opens Romans 8 with this powerful truth, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No. Condemnation. Forgiveness. Freedom.
Where we set our minds and actions matters a lot. In the world, there is only death and an inability to please God. But in the Spirit, there is LIFE and PEACE. We are CHILDREN of God. We are ADOPTED as FAMILY. We are HEIRS. We have HELP when we are weak and INTERCESSION when we are at a loss for words. All things are worked together for GOOD; for God’s perfect will. God is for us…who can be against us? NOTHING can separate us from His LOVE. Nothing. We are more than CONQUERORS.
Yes, and Amen! Until… you still don’t feel at peace. You still feel conquered more often than a conqueror. You sometimes don’t feel close to God. You still feel weak. You still fight temptation. You still cry your eyes out at all the suffering.
Because it is finished, but not yet final. The work of Jesus to fully satisfy the debt of sin is FINISHED. But the final battle has yet to be waged. For a time, sin and suffering still exist. Victory has been declared, but we don’t yet fully see it. We groan. The creation groans. Because things are not the way they should be. We are not yet home, and things are not yet fully restored. But even in the suffering, God is there and working all things for good. Nothing can separate us from His love. And there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Not on our best days and not on our very worst days. While we are still here, there is still work to do. He’s a good Father, that’s who He is. And we are loved by Him, that’s who we are.
Challenge: Google “Romans 8 the most epic reading” to listen to a dramatized reading of Romans 8 by John Piper. Write out all of Romans 8 in your journal and consider memorizing it.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Romans 7:18-19
Has someone ever told you not to do something and although it had never crossed your mind before, you now want to do it? Or, has there ever been something you promised yourself – promised God – you would never do again, and you find yourself doing it over and over and over again?
If so, you might have a lot more in common with Paul than you thought!
Ever since Adam and Eve took that bite of the fruit way back in Genesis 3, the temptation of sin has slithered around making its way into all parts of our lives. Then comes the law which shows us how we should live, but also how horribly short we fall in living it.
Sin is something we don’t like to talk about or think about. Andy Stanley talks about how we all prefer to call our sin "mistakes"…an error, accident, poor judgment, carelessness, ignorance…we have no shortage of explanations we have become adept at telling ourselves and others. But deep down, we know sin when we see it. We know when something is purposeful, willful, intentional. Sin is no mistake.
The problem is mistakes can be fixed by trying harder, being a bit more diligent and disciplined. But sin can’t be remedied by us. It requires a Savior. Trying harder never cuts it. C.S. Lewis says, “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to do good.”
Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Ever feel like that? Paul answers his question, “Thanks be to God through JESUS CHRIST our Lord!” PRAISE GOD!
Questions: Do you find yourself in the position of Paul…wanting to do what is right, but finding yourself sinning instead? Thank God for providing a way out and a way of redemption through Jesus.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Romans 6:1
Paul asks another set of hypothetical questions he anticipates his readers may be thinking… Are we to continue in sin so grace may show itself even more? Or keep sinning because we are not under a law but under grace? If we are forgiven over and over again by no act of our own, can we not just keep sinning…after all, God will continue to keep forgiving us?
Paul answers his hypothetical question… By no means! Once you have tasted freedom, why would you ever go back to slavery? God has so much more for you.
We who are baptized in Christ were buried with Him in death…but also raised with Him in new life. Our old self, ruled by sin, was crucified with Him, so sin would no longer have control over us. We aren’t the same. We don’t have to do the things we used to do. We don’t have to say the things we used to say. We don’t have to think the way we used to think. We are free. Timothy Keller says, “God invites us to come as we are, not stay as we are.”
But sometimes we don’t feel free, do we? Sometimes -- even in our belief -- sin still seems to have a strong grip on us. Temptation is still rearing its ugly head for now, but we are equipped to conquer it. Paul says, “let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness…”
Instead of submitting our “members” as instruments for unrighteousness, we can strive to always present them in a way to draw closer to God. Think about how you spend your time. Think about what you scroll through. Think about what you read. Think about what you listen to in the car. Think about what you click on Netflix. Think about what you whisper to your friends. Are they things that feed that pull of temptation, or are they things that feed your soul, your faith, your love for the Lord?
Questions: How are you using your “members”, or the parts of you that you control…what you do, see, read, watch, listen to, etc.? Are there things you may need to change to feed your soul?
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1
Paul says since we have been justified by faith…we get some pretty cool benefits: peace with God through Jesus, access into grace on which we can stand, and hope in the glory of God. And among these benefits, Paul adds, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our suffering.” Wait! What?
Paul explains, “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” (Romans 5:3-5)
There are things God does for us because we can’t do them ourselves. We can’t save ourselves. So God did this for us. But there are some things we can do and need to do ourselves. And often suffering is our training ground. Endurance, character, hope…these are things we want; things we want those we love to grow in too. Not one ounce of suffering is wasted.
I think much of the anxiety we feel about suffering has to do with the anticipation of what it will be like and how we will possibly survive it. God doesn’t give us a sneak peek into that piece, only that He will be with us; He will never leave us in it. Remember when the Israelites were leaving Egypt on their way to the promised land in the desert, and God provided daily manna from heaven? They each took different portions of it, depending on what they needed…and only enough for the day. If people took more to stash some away for later, it would rot. God only provided what they needed at the time. Their daily bread. I think that is how it is with suffering. God is there to provide the sustenance we need to get through it, but only what we need when we need it. The exact amount at the exact time. We can’t predict or plan how we will manage because we haven’t been given that portion of the manna yet…we haven’t needed it yet.
God’s timing is always precisely the right time. God’s portion is always precisely the right portion. This can give us peace and hope, even when we are scared and in the middle of the fire.
Question: Have you experienced a time of suffering with great benefits?
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21
What does it mean to believe God in the way of Abraham that was counted to him as righteousness? After all, James tells us that even the Devil believes God. And in the Gospels, we saw the demons recognizing Jesus and fully believing He could destroy them. But this isn’t the belief of Abraham or the belief that will save us. True belief is faith, trust, submission, obedience, reliance on God above all. Abraham didn’t always know why or how what God said would happen, but he believed that it would happen just as God said. He believed God’s promises and was fully convinced God was willing and able to keep them. Despite a long time-lapse from the promise, despite his circumstances that seemed impossible, despite any clear direction or plan…Abraham believed. In fact, his faith grew stronger.
This. This, Paul is saying is what we should model. This is the legacy. This is the torch we should carry.
Faith is both backward and forward-looking. It is believing that Jesus died on the cross, took our sins upon Himself, and gave us His righteousness. But it is also believing God’s promises for the present and future. Faith makes Jesus our Lord and Savior, rather than ourselves.
Most of us will say we believe God. We trust God. We submit to God. Do we have the faith of Abraham? Jesus tells us we can’t serve two masters. We will only truly put our faith and belief in ONE when push comes to shove. Fighting unbelief is a constant battle. Our sinful nature defaults to ourselves in the role of lord and savior. This is why we need to stay in God’s Word and soak in His truth. Jen Wilkin says, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” We have to know Him to believe Him. We have to know His promises to believe His promises.
Questions: Do you truly believe? Is your faith and trust truly in God alone?
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? Romans 4:1
It’s harder to unlearn something than to learn it. Paul’s consistent drumbeat to the Jews in Rome is belief; faith in God and justification through Jesus. It is the Gospel…salvation via grace through faith, not works. When you have spent your entire life (and the lives of many generations before you) believing something, it is not easy to change. The Jewish people have spent their lives enslaved to a law they couldn’t keep but were convinced would save them and putting their hope in their heritage as God’s chosen people.
Paul continues his case for the Gospel to the Romans coming at it from many different angles. He is trying to convince them it not only doesn’t go against what God has spoken, but it is actually the true essence of what God has spoken.
Paul brings it way back…all the way to Genesis 15:6 and reminds them of this truth they had been given long ago, “Abraham BELIEVED God, and it was COUNTED to him as righteousness.” Long before the law was even given to the Jewish people, Abraham was COUNTED – CREDITED – as righteous. Through FAITH, God put Abraham in the righteous column of His great ledger. Abraham wasn’t justified by his good works for God. Abraham wasn’t justified by his incredible acts of love. Abraham wasn’t justified by his maturing character. Abraham wasn’t justified by keeping the law that had not even yet been given.
Abraham believed God. Period. And this – his faith – was counted to him as righteousness.
Questions: Before we go further into Paul’s example of Abraham, what do you think it looks like to believe as Abraham did? What does it look like to have faith in God and His plans? Why do you think it was so hard for the Jewish faithful to look to faith over works for salvation?
But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? Romans 3:7
Paul continues his hypothetical Q&A…
Q: So if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, is God then unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? If through my lie God’s truth abounds to His glory, why am I still being condemned? After all, my unrighteousness is serving to display God’s glory, right? Why not just do evil so that more glory may come? And what is even the point of the law or the prophets?
A: Though the law and the prophets – God’s commands – bear witness to the righteousness of God, His righteousness is manifested apart from the law. His righteousness is attained through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. We are made right as a gift by His grace through Jesus.
Q: So do we throw out the law for this faith?
A: By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. But it is not to earn favor or our salvation; it is in response to our salvation. We can uphold the law BECAUSE we are saved, not to become saved. God’s grace is not a license to sin at will, but instead an invitation to obey and serve the One who saves us.
Q: Then what can we boast about? What can we attribute to ourselves for this salvation? What can we say we have done?
A: There is no boasting in self. We are justified by faith apart from any of our works of the law.
This is the Gospel. This is freedom. We can’t accomplish it on our own, and we don’t have to. His steadfast faithfulness should draw us to Him even more deeply with gratitude and a heart that desires obedience.
Questions: What questions do you have for God? Ask Him today! He loves for you to come to Him. He can’t wait to reveal truth to you.
What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? Romans 3:3
Paul begins a debate with himself, anticipating the questions that might come from the things he is telling the Romans…and then answering his own questions. It is an incredible theological ping-pong game from the great mind of Paul. Things like…
Q: If all that you said about God showing no favoritism between Jews and Greeks is true, then what is the point of being a Jew…God’s chosen people? Does it even matter at all?
A: It matters very much. You were entrusted with the spoken Word of God. The law was given to your people. Jesus came from your lineage. Though it doesn’t lead to your salvation, it is a special heritage where God showed Himself and gave hints of Jesus as His plan for salvation along the way.
Q: But not all Jews were faithful. Does their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?
A: By no means! God is faithful even when we are not. His faithfulness does not rest on our actions. Let this truth sink in.
When we keep all our promises and are loving others well…God is faithful.
When we slip back into that sin we thought we beat…God is faithful.
When everything is falling into place…God is faithful.
When everything is falling apart…God is faithful.
When we are on our knees in prayer…God is faithful.
When we are too angry to pray…God is faithful.
When we never miss a Sunday at church…God is faithful.
When it hurts too much to go to church…God is faithful.
When our prayers are miraculously answered…God is faithful.
When our prayers seem to go unanswered…God is faithful.
Questions: Is it hard to believe God is faithful when things don’t seem to be going the way you hoped? What about when you are intentionally being unfaithful? Why is this truth so hard to believe?
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. Romans 2:1
Paul is challenging the Jews – and us – to check our judgment of others. You see the Jews have carried on the idea from generation to generation that they were God’s chosen people with an underlying assumption that they were morally superior and God would judge them differently than the rest of the world. In turn, they harshly judged non-Jews. Though most of us are not of Jewish origin, as Christians, we too can sometimes assume we have a moral authority to judge others. But Paul is saying this isn’t the case…that God shows no favoritism and all will be judged according to their works. Which in effect means that we are all equally doomed. No matter how “good” we think our lives and works are, they will never meet God’s standard of perfection.
We can agonize over the fact that we will never meet the perfect standards of a holy God and feel hopeless because it is impossible. Or, we can look at is as being the most freeing fact in the world. Because God made a way for us. The pressure is off of us. It is all on Jesus. And He did it for us perfectly.
If we could even almost do it ourselves, we would never fully surrender. We would keep trying and trying…one step forward, two steps back, but never getting anywhere substantial when it comes to our own salvation. Like the addict who keeps trying to save themselves but keeps falling back into the pit. We are all in this pit of a sinful world and sinful lives…just trying and trying to claw our way out; trying to cover it all up with good deeds and religious activity. But only Jesus can pull us out of the pit, clean off all the dirt we accumulated in it, and give us a new life with new hope and new power. Only Jesus. So, who in the world are we to judge?
Challenge: Ask God to forgive you for the times when you have had a judgmental heart (and mouth). When judgment begins to boil up, ask Him to help you immediately look internally instead, grateful for what HIs blood on the cross did for those things we should be rightfully judged for.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Romans 1:18
Where the Acts of the Apostles is an account by Luke of the Holy Spirit partnering with the first Christians for the initial spread of Christianity, the books that follow in the Bible are letters to people and churches, many that were part of that account in Acts. First up, Paul’s letter to Rome.
Paul begins with a bold thesis to the Gospel message which he lays out so beautifully in his letter to the Romans: “For I am NOT ASHAMED of the GOSPEL, for it is the POWER of God for SALVATION to EVERYONE who BELIEVES, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
The righteousness of God is given to the sinner – to us – who put our FAITH in Jesus. The wrath of God we deserved was taken by Jesus on the cross. It’s a hard and humbling thing to admit we need a savior. However, as Bible commentator Leon Morris says, “Unless there is something to be saved from, there is no point in talking about salvation.”
If we don’t think we are sinners in need of a Savior – if we think we can fix ourselves or we are “good enough” – we will never fully embrace or appreciate what Jesus did for us. We can love Bible study and Jesus, but often not quite grasp our desperate NEED for Him outside of making our daily trials a little easier to endure and hopefully getting a golden ticket into heaven. But it is so much more than that. We need His cleansing. We need His righteousness.
Jesus came to die for our sins. He came to take a wrath we deserved and could not bear. And not only that, He gave us His righteousness, making us pure and able to approach God. As believers who put our faith in Jesus, when God looks at us, He sees Jesus.
This is the Gospel.
Questions: Do you believe you are a sinner in need of a Savior? Are you ever ashamed of the Gospel? In unfavorable circles, have you ever shied away from it?
He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Acts 28:30-31
In this last portion of Luke’s letter we call Acts, Paul and his 276 traveling companions arrive safely on an island called Malta, and after three months of waiting out the winter weather and witnessing miraculous healings, they continue their journey.
At last, Paul arrives in Rome! Many Christians warmly greet him, some even traveling great distances to do so – Christians who Paul wrote a letter to a few years earlier. Paul is permitted to live by himself chained to the soldier guarding him while he awaits his trial before Caesar.
Great numbers come to his place of house arrest to hear his message. From morning till evening, he speaks to the Jews first about the Kingdom of God and persuading them concerning Jesus from Moses and the prophets. Some were convinced, but others disbelieved. A recurring theme.
We are left wanting more. Paul is finally in Rome…what happens? How did his trial before Caesar go? Why the abrupt ending?
The truth is, Acts wasn’t about Peter or Paul. Acts is about the charge of Jesus to, ”be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) It is about the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of believers to spread the Gospel. And this ending was just the beginning of those to follow. This ending is OUR beginning. The Gospel has yet to reach the ends of the earth…we still have work to do. We are part of God’s story, and our charge is every bit as important as Paul’s.
Challenge: What if instead of simply reading the Bible as an account of church history or instructions on how to live, we stepped into the story and became part of it? In our big or small spheres of influence, we too have a role and a Gospel to spread. Let us do so without hindrance and with the same faith, boldness, and determination of Paul. What would this look like in your life?
So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. Acts 27:25
How does Paul have such strong faith after being rejected countless times, stoned nearly to death, beaten, in prison unjustly for over two years, and now stuck at sea in a storm without food for two weeks?
How can we keep going during our storms? When our minds are messing with us. When the depression is unbearable. When that prodigal child slips deeper and deeper into destruction. When the healing doesn’t come. When our circumstances never seem to change.
How can we, like Paul, have the peace of God and the assurance of His love, protection, provision when outwardly everything is a mess?
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8
The only thing I know is to get as near to God as we can. To position ourselves to feel His presence. To crawl under His wings. And though things don’t necessarily get better or go away, we know we aren’t alone. We let Him carry our burdens and lighten our load. We just know He is near. And we beg Him to open our eyes to the doors He is opening for us to walk through in this season of our life and trials. We trust His direction and leading. And we obey. We do what He says. Because He alone is the source of all things good and whole. And with Him beside us, we will get through the fires of life.
This is Paul’s journey. His life was far from easy. His circumstances were more often unfavorable. He suffered immensely. But he always drew near to God, and he always knew God was near. He positioned himself to hear and feel and see God. And though sometimes afraid, knowing God was right beside him gave Paul what he needed for each next step.
Challenge: If you or someone you love is suffering today, pray that God feels so intimately close today. That you so powerfully feel His love and protection over you, even in the eye of the storm; that you experience peace – even in the trial. Write in your journal, “Take heart, soul, for I have faith in God…I know He is with me and He keeps His promises.”
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Acts 26:28 (KJV)
Almost has to be one of the saddest words. Almost getting the promotion, the cure, the ring, the win, the prayed-for child, the thing.
Almost. A little less than. Nearly. Short of the mark. Almost.
Paul makes his case to King Agrippa. And though Agrippa is intrigued and likely even believes, he doesn’t go all the way. Instead, he walks away. The saddest almost of them all.
He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost. Time and again we are told there are two sides, two paths, two gates and you can’t almost be on one. There is no third middle group. It is eternal life or eternal suffering. A sheep or a goat.
Agrippa was almost persuaded, but he wanted to keep living his sinful life. Agrippa was almost persuaded, but he didn’t want to look the fool like Festus thought of Paul. Agrippa was almost persuaded, but he was too proud to submit. Agrippa was almost persuaded, but he saw his life in pomp and Paul’s in chains. Who knows what was keeping Agrippa from going from almost to heck yes. Life after death for Agrippa will lack pomp, freedom, joy, goodness, peace, love…because of almost.
How often does “almost” keep us striving to do things on our own without God. We almost find that joy. We almost find that peace. We almost are content. We feel like we are getting so close; we can see it and taste it. But the line keeps moving. There is always that one more thing that keeps joy, peace, contentment at bay. The only way is wholehearted full surrender. Are you almost or all in?
Questions: Ask yourself these questions today… Am I almost in or am I all in? Is Jesus almost the Lord of my life? Am I almost surrendered? Am I almost submitting? Am I almost witnessing to those God has consistently nudged me to witness to? Pray for God to turn your almost into a yes.
So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Acts 25:23
From a Roman prison, Paul is given the opportunity to make his case – make the Gospel case – to King Herod Agrippa II and Bernice (his sister and also his lover according to most historians). Herod Agrippa II, whose father Herod Agrippa I had the apostle James murdered. Herod Agrippa II, whose grandfather, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist beheaded. Herod Agrippa II, whose great-grandfather, Herod the Great, had all the baby boys in and around Jerusalem killed in an attempt to kill Jesus.
Agrippa and Bernice arrive with “great pomp” to question the prisoner Paul. Isn’t it interesting how from our vantage point we can clearly see the insignificance of the “great pomp” Agrippa was so proud to walk in? Earthy power is fleeting. The great-grandson of the one who tried to kill the infant Jesus is hearing of Jesus the Messiah, and Paul GETS to be the one to deliver it.
Though circumstances look bleak, God is sovereignly working to grant Paul an audience with the most influential Roman and Israelite leaders of the day to share the Gospel.
Steven Cole says, “Often the greatest opportunities for ministry that God gives us come disguised as frustrating or confusing circumstances where we seem to be restricted from reaching our goals. If we view those circumstances from the human perspective, as just so much ‘bad luck,’ we will grumble in discouragement and miss the opportunity for ministry. But if we submit to God’s mighty hand, He can use us in such a way that He alone gets the glory.”
What a reminder to me that I can grumble and pout about my circumstances and not being where I want or think I should be…or I can press into it, put my head down in prayer and my eyes up to the Master Orchestrator, and with expectation, be used where He has me.
Challenge: If you are wrestling with some unfulfilled desires and closed doors, ask God for eyes to see His hand at work. Journal your prayer.
And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. Acts 24:27b
The heartbeat of obedience over worldly tactics and success metrics continues. It was so important for God to preserve these stories for us, and it is so essential for us to pause and let them soak in. We tend to look at leaders of the faith as major success stories who just had things go right; go their way. That they had a clear mission and plan and executed it flawlessly. That they were extraordinarily gifted in all manner of leadership and communication. That they were given red carpet welcomes and sparkly open doors. But that is simply not the case. The heroes of the faith were obedient. Period. They trusted God; they had faith; they did what He said. They were often in unfavorable circumstances. They usually waited a loooooooong time for things to develop…often not even seeing the end result. Whatever we see on the surface is a breaking through of the steady root-building underground. If we want to be a disciple, THIS is what it really looks like.
For over two years Paul sits in prison because the one who knew he was innocent and had the power to set him free was a power-hungry, money-hungry coward. He afforded Paul liberties and summoned him often to hear what he had to say, but for two years he deflected and delayed any action. Not only did he delay and reject the opportunity to free the one he knew had truth on his side, but he also delayed and rejected accepting the ultimate truth for himself.
How many people like Felix do we know? He knew the truth. In fact, we are told he, “had an accurate knowledge of the Way.” But it didn’t change him. He was even afraid. But fear doesn’t change us either. We can be scared of condemnation with no conviction toward repentance. Felix sends for Paul often and converses with him. Frequent exposure doesn’t change his heart. Instead, Felix tells Paul to go away. We are good at brushing off confronting truth. Felix secretly hopes for bribes to release Paul. Love of stuff, fear of man, and preservation of status and power keep Felix blind to the Gospel. And as Felix is outed from power and his esteemed position, he leaves unchanged and he leaves Paul in prison…his one last attempt to appease the Jews and gain some favor.
Questions: Who in your life is like Felix? They know about Jesus, but they don’t submit to Jesus? Pray that God will soften their heart TODAY.
And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. Acts 23:10
Alone Paul sits in the dusty dark prison barracks. “Is that how it is going to end?” he is likely wondering. In physical pain, doubting, afraid, disappointed, Paul sits alone. But not for long. Jesus comes and stands by him and says, “Take courage…” Not only does Jesus know precisely where Paul is physically, but He also knows where he is emotionally. He knows Paul is afraid and alone, and He comes to stand by him and provide encouragement.
Jesus continues, “…for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” If Paul thought this was the end, it is only the beginning of something new…new people, new territory, a new mission field to testify about Jesus, the Messiah.
No longer alone. No longer feeling unsuccessful or unusable. Paul has renewed power and renewed hope. Somehow from the barracks in Caesarea – a place he didn’t think he would get out of alive -- he knows he will be going to Rome, a place he deeply desired to go. He doesn’t know how or under what circumstances, but the Lord told him he would testify there and he knows it to be so.
Sometimes Jesus helps us escape from where we are, and sometimes He comes and joins us where we are. Either way, He promises to always be with us.
If you are frustrated with your current situation, feeling regret over past failures, or fearful about the future…Take courage. Jesus is with you. There is still work to do, no matter where you find yourself today. He can find you anywhere, and He has extraordinary ways of getting you exactly where you need to be when you need to be there. Take courage.
Question: Do you feel like you are stuck in an impossible place or situation? Be alert and on the lookout for Jesus. He will come to you and show you the way.
And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. Acts 22:2
Though a prisoner, Paul is granted permission to speak to the Jewish people by his Roman captors. In Aramaic – their language – he begins to speak. Jew to Jew. He is basically saying, “I was just like you. I was once where you are right this very minute. I was attacking those against us. I know where you are coming from!” I imagine Paul silently continuing in his head, “…but I was wrong. We were wrong. Jesus is the Messiah we have been waiting on for so long. If you meet Him like I met Him, you would see.”
Paul is telling a beautiful story of God’s pursuit of him, even while he was actively and viciously rejecting Him. God continues to pursue the Jews that persecute His followers. He continues to pursue us even when we reject Him.
In Paul’s account of his transformation, we uncover another truth about how God often works: one step at a time. We like everything spelled out in detail and to completion. We want to know exactly what we will be doing and what the price will be. But God usually leads us one step at a time, not telling us what step two is until we take step one. A great light appeared to Paul and he heard Jesus speak. His only instructions: “Rise, and go into Damascus.” He could have thrown himself on the ground and wailed about his blindness, or continued in his rejection of Jesus, but instead, he went. He was obedient in step one, which opened the door to step two.
While we pray for God to show us His will, God says, “take step one.” I’m betting we all have some idea what our step one is. We’ve known it and heard it for some time now, but we are waiting for more. We want more details and what the result will look like. But God continues to whisper, “step one is all you need for now.” Step one equips us for step two, which equips us for subsequent steps. If we saw the entire path without knowing the equipping along the way, we would likely reject it.
Challenge: Think about that step God is telling you to take. What can you do today to take that first step?
Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Acts 19:32
A common theme in the Bible – and still in our lives today – involves a group of people getting upset because their power base is being disrupted. They aren’t interested in truth, but only what will keep the power, esteem, and money rolling in. And since truth isn’t on their side, they resort to other efforts, finding new ways to generate buzz and stir up the crowds. If they can’t win with truth, they will win with the mobs. The crazy thing is, it is sooo easy to do. People love to follow. People blindly follow. People go to the loud voices craftily manipulating them.
In Acts 19 we meet a silversmith, Demetrius, whose way of life is being messed with and who has something to say about it. The gold, silver, and bronze idols they create are rolling in the dough. The worship of all these false gods must go on. But this Paul character and his friends are converting people to Christianity and persuading many that gods made with hands are not gods at all. Demetrius incites his counterparts to begin crying out. Others hear the chants and begin to whisper and wonder what is going on. They lean into the chaos and confusion. They gather friends and rush to join the mob. As bystanders see the people run by, they too join in. They don’t want to miss something good, after all. Masses rushing in and shouting, and most don’t even know why they are there.
We live in a time where messages can flow and spread so far so fast. There are more tools to manipulate and stir up a mob mentality. People are so quick to rush into the metaphorical theater running high on emotion and low on facts and to begin shouting, even if they don’t even really know why they are there. It is such a wake-up call to understand what we are hearing, reading, seeing, following and to know how to bump it up against truth. The authority of truth is God’s word, and we need to know it ourselves. We should seek to follow Jesus, not just His followers and certainly not the misguided crowd.
Questions: Where have you seen mob mentality at work? Have you experienced people blindly and naively following the crowds?
And he [Paul] stayed [in Corinth] a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:11
From Athens, Paul travels to Corinth. A city also full of idols, but on a different level. Corinth is a relatively new and bustling city. It is a military base and trading port. Alcohol and prostitutes flow freely. Where the Athenians idolized intelligence, the Corinthians idolize wealth and pleasure.
It is tempting to think that Paul has this supernatural bravery. He is diligently and passionately pursuing that which God has called him to despite consistent persecution and rejection. But in his letter to the Corinthians, he writes of this visit, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
The opposite of fear is not bravery, it is faith. It is stepping into God’s plan and God’s territory and trusting the process. Despite Paul’s fears, he pushes through, and God is with him. While in Corinth the Lord spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you...”
Just when Paul needed it most, God shows up and provides the comfort and encouragement he needs to persevere. And He also provides friends and fellow workers, Priscilla and Aquila, who were tentmakers like himself. God never intended for us to do this thing on our own or in our own measly abilities.
We can be tempted to read the incredible accounts in the Bible and believe everything happens so easily and quickly with people much stronger and smarter and braver than we are. But it is more often than not a slow and steady process, by flawed people, riddled with rejection and trials along the way. It is often laced with uncertainty, failures, and fears. And this is when God shows up to give just what is needed to keep going. When we are weak, God’s strength is magnified.
Question: When have you experienced God providing the encouragement or support you need right when you need it?
All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. Acts 17:21
Paul walks the impressive city streets of Athens. He examines the countless structures to all manner of gods. Athens prides itself on its intellectual prowess. The city is full of brilliant men and scholars. And yet they keep constructing more temples, looking to more gods than they can count, and even establishing a place of worship for “the unknown god.” They know there is something there, but they just don’t know what it is. All their knowledge still leaves them unsatisfied.
Today we have even more access to information. Knowledge abounds. But wisdom is scarce. Like the Athenians, we too seek to fill that hole. We gain knowledge. We acquire more stuff. We try the next new thing. We follow the latest formula. But we remain unsatisfied. These aren’t the things that will fill that place within us.
Paul addresses the Athenian seekers. He basically says, “Hey, you know that unknown god over there…you worship him, but you don’t know him. I KNOW HIM. Let me tell you about Him.”
God created us to know Him and to give Him glory. This desire is planted within each of us. It cries out within us regardless of our current beliefs. It pursues us. There is contentment, peace, and joy -- even in the hard -- that is found in knowing Him. But instead, we search everywhere else to fill that God-sized place within us.
Sin separates us from the one who created us and the only fit for that place within us. We search and search for ways to fill it. Some temporarily do an average job at it, but the gaps of not being a perfect fit grow wider and wider with time, leaving us just as unfulfilled and often in a worse state. Jesus came to remove that separation. Through Jesus, we can KNOW God. The perfect and only fit for that seeking hole within us.
Questions: What things have you, or do you currently, try to fill that void you feel in your life with instead of God? How is it that we have access to so much knowledge, but still lack wisdom as to what truly satisfies us?
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