We’ve come to the end of Romans. Paul closes with personal greetings and a doxology. Over 30 people mentioned. People doing Church together; life together. Male and female, Gentile and Jew. Some wealthy, some slaves. Different occupations and roles in the Church. Beloved brothers and sisters.
“A servant of the church... A fellow worker... One who risked their necks for my life... The first convert in Asia... One who worked hard... My kinsmen... My fellow prisoners... My beloved in the Lord... Workers in the Lord... A mother to me... A host... The city treasurer.”
Paul has poured out his heart to ensure the Gospel is known. Fully known. He meticulously described the sin problem we all have and our lack of solving it on our own, despite our best efforts and religious activity. He shared the Gospel story; the story of Jesus. And he taught how to do life, ministry, relationship with one another. His final instructions, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught avoid them.” Remember truth. Remain obedient. Be wise. Know good from evil. Many have come and will come seeking to divide or deceive. They will use smooth words and flattering speech. Remain solid and united in truth. In the Gospel.
David Guzik summarizes the warning, “Truth without unity leads to pride; unity without truth leads to a Gospel departure. Each must be guarded against.”
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you…”
God is able. And God is willing. Where other empires seek glory and power lifting themselves up on the backs of crushed and broken people, God strengthens us. Settles us. Plants us. Gives us firm footing. Foundation is everything.
“…according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…”
The Gospel is our power. God strengthens us through the gospel. Whether a new Christian or a seasoned elder, the Gospel gives us power. Whether praising an abundance of blessing or flat out in the weight of suffering, the Gospel gives us power. There is no season or situation where we move on from it.
“…according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed…”
It was always God’s plan, but it was revealed in layers from the beginning of time. Through lives of people and nations and prophets and priests and kings and slain lambs, the mystery was unfolding. But it was not fully developed or known until Jesus came. Now we know. The gospel has been revealed.
“…to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!”
Only God. His wisdom surpasses all understanding. Who else could devise and execute such a plan to bring us back to Him? Amen.
United in the image and likeness of God + the blood of Christ but divided by nearly everything else. Different races, cultures, languages, worship styles, political views, socioeconomic status, tastes & styles, food choices, customs, and practices. Add to that differences in personal preferences and convictions. So much division. So many areas for judgment and gossip and ridicule and distancing. The tension is inevitable when we forget the power of that which binds us together.
Fast forward a couple of thousand years, and things aren’t much different. Our attacks on one another within the church must crush Jesus as He looks on. I think he sees all the untapped potential unity would bring and He cries out for us to remember His teaching.
Satan’s strategy: focus in and side to side on what divides you and look out for your own interests.
God’s strategy: focus UP on what unites you and look out for others.
How can the Church, with all of our deep differences, remain united and be the powerful force in our world for change and wholeness and peace and restoration and love? Jesus. Only Jesus. What Jesus did for us and who He is to us has to be bigger than anything that divides us. And it is. But do we live like it?
God in the flesh came and fulfilled His purpose of paying our sin debt, but along the way, He also gave us a glimpse of what it looks like to live in His presence. The one who created all teaches it and lives it…now it’s our turn.
We love deeply...even our enemies. We serve others. We focus on what unites us…the mercy and grace of our God and the reconciling blood of Jesus. When others are weaker, we don’t look down, prey on, victimize or criticize. We reach out, lift up, and love them. We seek to please others in a Godly way over ourselves. We sacrifice. We strive to live in harmony. The watching world will be healed by this. The watching world will want this.
Imagine the impact of a life lived like Jesus! What if we were more pro-Jesus than anti-each other? What if we joined together to point to Jesus instead of pointing out each others’ flaws? What if we loved Jesus more than we loved harsh pithy words? What if we read God’s Word more than trending social media posts? “For whatever was written in the former days was written for our instruction, that through the endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
And I know talk is easy, but unity is not. It has never been. It’s the devil’s wedge. Our differences are real; our pain is real; we are passionate people; we are committed to our causes and convictions. Conor Cruise O’Brien says, “Nothing does more to activate Christian divisions than talk about Christian unity.” The devil even uses talk of unity to divide us. The only thing that can unify us is Jesus. With all of our diversity in thought, culture, backgrounds, there is no other thread that can unite us. Only the blood of Jesus. Seek FIRST the kingdom, and all else will follow. God, may we keep our eyes on You. Guide us. Give us wisdom and discernment. Stir us to live in harmony and love.
As Christians, we have incredible freedom. This is a big deal to Paul who lived most of his life under the yoke of the Law, striving toward perfection to earn status and salvation. The freedom his encounter with Christ ushered into his life is something he was passionate about proclaiming to all. Our freedom, paid for by the blood of Jesus, is a big deal. It makes Christianity different from any other religion. But our natural inclination is to slip back into slavery and drag others down with us. We stumble and cause others to stumble from two extremes: discouraging or beating others down with legalism, or on the other extreme, enticing others to sin through unwise use of liberty.
Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Romans 14 is an instruction guide on living in freedom. Freedom isn’t a long list of dos and don’ts. Freedom is knowing God and letting the Spirit give us our own personal lists. Lists that may look different in different seasons and that are different than other Christians because we have unique weaknesses, varied character work needed, and diverse assignments planned for our lives. Chuck Swindoll sums it up, “live free in Christ and allow others to do the same.”
Swindoll sums up four principles of freedom Paul outlines in Romans 14…
First (from Romans 14:1-4), accepting others is basic to cultivating freedom. Welcome those who are weak in faith, rather than quarrel with them or try to pull them into following your lists. Allow space and grace for the Holy Spirit to work and convict. Unwarranted attacks and judgment only hamper the growth of a new believer or one who is struggling in areas we may not be. Start with love; with acceptance. Allow freedom for others to hold convictions different than ours.
Second (from Romans 14:5-8), refusing to dictate to others allows the Lord freedom to direct their lives. Some people need time to grow, develop and mature…let them have it. Paul says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Let people learn at their own pace. Give them space.
Third (from Romans 14:9-12), freeing others means we never assume a position we’re not qualified to fill. We never have full knowledge. We don’t know everything. We are utterly unqualified to judge anyone. Paul says, “why do you pass judgment on your brother...each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Judgment is not our lane. We have enough of our own stuff to bring before Jesus.
Fourth (from Romans 14:13-18), loving others requires us to express our liberty wisely. Use your freedom and liberty to build up, not tear down. Be aware. Don’t engage in activity that will cause another to stumble, even if God has not personally convicted you in that area. Let love rule.
Paul closes with, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Jesus saves us. The Word teaches us. The Spirit convicts us.
Christians in Paul’s time and today can be brutal to one another and grossly mistreat each other. From the outside looking in, who wants to be part of that family? Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus’s work on the cross and saving power is non-negotiable. Loving God and our neighbors is non-negotiable. But God is not a God of lists as a way of living. He is a God of relationship. This is why it is so imperative that each of us on our own nurture this relationship, get to know God, learn to hear from Him and pray for discernment in our own lives. And allow others space and grace to do the same. Trust that God is good and the Holy Spirit is powerful. It’s not on our shoulders. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Do you know what time it is? There is no time for sleeping in; no time to sleepwalk through life. Not now. The return of Jesus is nearer today than any other day. There’s a battle waging for souls, and Jesus is coming soon!
It’s time to get our priorities in order. Time for spiritual alertness and vigilance. It’s time to wake up and get ready!
We are one day closer to Jesus coming back. No time to lay back down; no time to slumber!
Time to get ready. Sleeping clothes won’t work. Throw them off. Cast off darkness and put on the armor of light. Put on Jesus!
Covering won’t do. You’ll be able to see through. Remove the things of the world lurking in the dark and put on light; the righteousness of Jesus.
But you can’t do it half awake. He must be IN us before He can be ON us. Lean into Him. Know Him. Befriend Him. Abide in Him. Be fully awake and aware. Eyes wide open!
Put on your work clothes. There are so many who still don’t know Him. Fully awake, dress yourself in Jesus. His holiness, beauty, humility, purity, compassion, wisdom, forgiveness, righteousness, zeal, patience, and most of all LOVE.
God, as I get out of bed today and every day, AWAKE MY SOUL! Empty me of me. Remove all the worldly things that creep in…selfishness, envy, pride, anger, entitlement, bitterness, complaining, self-pity, deceit. And FILL me with You. Your goodness and love and grace and mercy. Fill every space, making no room for me. Each day is one day closer to the return of Your Son, and there is much yet to do. Help me to be fully AWAKE, dressed in Jesus for the work you have called me to today.
[name], present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. It is a treasure; a gift.
Do not be conformed to this world, [name]…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. Don’t think you are ever too good for anyone or that anyone is below you. Never be wise in your own sight.
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. Hone them. 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. Be a living witness of another way. Overcome evil with good.
[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.
[name], image the impact we could make if we all lived in this manner. Let’s do this!
Paul asks and answers the question he knows is on the mind of the Gentile believers: Has God rejected His people, the Israelites? “By no means!” Paul exclaims. And then he explains it in terms of pruning and grafting.
Though I have heard the analogy of grafting in the Bible, I hadn’t previously given it much thought. Perhaps because I don't have a green thumb and am not agriculturally knowledgeable. But the more I have studied it, the more I am in awe overr how God’s creation proclaims His glory. How God tells us His story using people, circumstances, and creation.
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 tree is cut, exposing its interior and combined with a cut and exposed part of a healthy branch. The two are joined where they have been exposed and fastened together tightly. Over time, they fuse together, grow together and become healthy and fruit-producing again.
Us Gentile believers, the “wild olive branches,” 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, “Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think... It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving... 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’ 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.
And to those of us grafted in, Paul reminds us to remain humble. To not look down on those branches cut off and put aside. Three is no room for arrogance when we too need the root. We were also once dead and produced nothing of value without our connection to the root, and God wants all to be a part of the family. For a time, there is a pause on the Israelites – a time for the Gentiles to be grafted in – but God has not forgotten them, and a time will come when the natural branches will be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Paul is so overwhelmed by the depth of God’s riches, wisdom, knowledge, and ways; he breaks out into praise. Let us never take for granted the love and majesty of God. The way even creation displays His power and pursuit of us. The way creation plays a part in telling His story. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 9 is steeped in the sovereignty of God and Romans 10 speaks to our responsibility. 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. Paul says, “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.”
Paul declares 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 and 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?
As it is written, “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 the good news.
Paul is quoting from Isaiah 52. Scriptures so beloved and familiar to the Jewish audience. Scriptures studied and taught and discussed for hundreds of years in the places of worship. And following this passage are the most descriptive passages of Jesus as the Messiah in Isaiah 52 and 53. Here’s a glimpse…
He had no form or majesty that we should look at him. Despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We esteemed him not. He has borne our griefs, carried our sorrows. He was pierced for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds, we are healed. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away. Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of God to crush him. Making many to be accounted righteous, bearing their iniquities. He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.
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 shed; the sacrifice for our salvation; the GOOD NEWS.
How are my feet looking? How are your feet looking? How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
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).
God is sovereign, and I am not. And that is part of His mercy as well. Romans 9 is a tough chapter for many people, but 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 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 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.”
But God continues to wait for us and pursue us. 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. God chose the exact perfect time the Messiah would shed blood for our sins. And 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.”
Paul begins Romans 9 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 that law, but the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness attain it. He answers, “Because they 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 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 generously give. But do we have faith, or do we rely on our actions and religious routine? 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.
Y’all! All. Of. Romans. Eight. Read it. Listen to it. Memorize it. I’ve included a link to a reading of Romans 8 at the end of this post.
Up to this point in the letter, Paul has exposed 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.” (Romans 8:1)
Paul goes on to contrast life in the flesh/world versus life in the Spirit/God and the importance of where we set our minds and actions. 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! If you are like me, you get so fired up by all of this…but then you just aren’t feeling it. 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. Paul says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24b-25)
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. “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.” (Romans 8:23-24a)
CS Lewis says, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Indeed.
Things will one day be beautiful and perfect and free of pain and tears. But for now, we not only endure but live out loud. This time of waiting is a time of demonstrating to others what they too can experience. It is a time to bring others in on this journey with us. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:19) Because even in the suffering, God is there. God is 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. Our soul may be groaning for the day of full and final restoration, but while we are still here, there is still work to do. We live in freedom, full of hope, and with full assurance that He is a good good Father. That’s who He is. And we are loved by Him. That who we are.
Click below to listen to a powerful reading of Romans 8...
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, and as the pastors at @coe22 say, “the law is both a map and a mirror.” The law shows us how we should live, but also shows us how horribly short we fall in living it.
Sin is something we don’t like to talk about or think about. Andy Stanley has an excellent sermon on sin versus mistakes (link here). He talks about how we all prefer to call our sin "mistakes"…an error, accident, poor judgment, carelessness, ignorance…we have no shortage 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. Paul comes to this realization and says, “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.” Do you ever feel like that? I can certainly relate. C.S. Lewis says, “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to do good.” #truth
Paul says he delights in the law; in God’s Word – me too! He knows right from wrong – me too! He wants to do what is right – ME TOO! But he lacks the power in his own strength – me too! We can call it what we want, but the truth is, it is sin. We are all sinners. Stanley says, “Until you embrace the fact that you’re a sinner, you’re not open to embracing the fact that God sent you a savior… Mistakers are all about trusting in self to get it right. Sinners realize: ‘I can't. I don't need to do better. I don't need a motivational speaker or a cheerleader. I need a Savior.’”
Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Ever feel like that?
He answers his question, “Thanks be to God through JESUS CHRIST our Lord!” PRAISE GOD! You won’t want to miss Romans 8 tomorrow!
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