Romans

The Community of the Righteous: Refreshing Rest

The book of Romans was meant to establish peace between the believing Jews and Gentiles in two ways: By highlighting the mercy of God to both (salvation, justification, sanctification and righteousness), and by showing them their mutual obligations of service. Before Romans 12, Paul wrote about the importance of holy living. 

Next, Paul shifted his focus to getting along in religious matters not essential to salvation (such as eating habits and the observation of holy days).

“None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone... don’t put a stumbling block or obstacle in anyone’s way… Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (building up; growth don’t cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:5-20)

This call to service was not a passive call. No, this was a call to actively create a community characterized by people committed to peace as well as helping each other grow, build and encourage each other. What has to happen for a community like this to grow?

1. We must embrace essential Christian beliefs (14:22) 

“How blessed is the person who has no reason to condemn himself because of what he approves!” Think of the core claims in the historic creeds in the church: Jesus is God incarnate; because of His life, death and resurrection our sins can be forgiven and we can be redeemed. Paul wrote that Jesus “is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14) and has broken down the walls between Jews and Gentiles, between those near and far from Christ. If that's true, it’s important that our beliefs about Jesus – and salvation, righteousness, and justification - are in agreement with Scripture. Otherwise, peace will always feel elusive.

2. We must keep non-essential beliefs between ourselves and God (14:22), but live them  in faith (14:23) 

 “If you have a conviction, keep it to yourself before God... whoever compromises their convictions is condemned… but everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Have you ever said or thought and of the following:

  • “You know, I really need to correct Bob’s view of end times. All true Christians are pre-trib (or post-trib.)”
  • “Sally should know that she is wrong about the days in Genesis. I think I’ll argue and hurt our friendship.”
  • “I think all secular entertainment is wrong (or all Christian entertainment should be whole-heartedly supported)!”
  • “Christians should never drink alcohol.”
  • “You should boycott (or support) company X or you are out of God’s will.”

 If you have ever said or thought something along those lines, Paul is talking to you. If God has convicted you on one or more of these matters, you must be faithful to this conviction. But others are not necessarily required to agree with you. Own them boldly – but not coercively. They are not essential doctrines of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

3. We must accomodate the failings of those who are “weak” - for their growth (15:1-2) 

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should all be concerned about our neighbors and the good things that will build their faith.” Let’s say you are spiritually strong. What follows from that? Sacrificial service. This is actually the attitude Christ had toward us (15:3-5). The more we live in sacrificial service, the more we embody the heart of Christ for the world. What will happen if we do this?

"So accept one another in the same way the Anointed has accepted you so that God will get the praise He is due. For, as I am fond of saying, the Anointed One has become a servant of the Jews in order to demonstrate God’s truth. Effectively this confirms the promises He made to our ancestors and causes the non-Jewish nations to glorify God for His mercy… I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:7-13, excerpted) 

And then, just before Paul wraps up Romans, we see why Paul longed to see this:

"My brothers and sisters, I urgently plead with you by the name of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, and by the love of the Spirit to join together with me in your prayers to God for my success in these next endeavors. Pray that I will be rescued from those who deny and persecute the faith in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem will meet the approval of all the saints there. If that happens, then my journey to you will be filled with joy; and, if God wills, I can find refreshing rest in your presence. I pray the God of all peace will be with you all. Amen." (Romans 15:30-32)

 Romans 15:32 uses a word for “rest” that in the original writing is unique in the entire New Testament. It's synanapaúomai, a mix of sýn (“identify with”) and anapaúō, ("pause completely"). To rephrase it,

“If that happens, then my journey to you will be filled with joy; and, if God wills, I can pause completely with those who identify with my struggles. I pray the God of all peace will be with you all. Amen.”

We talk a lot about the role of the church in our culture as one of taking a stand and being a moral voice for God, of raising the bar in personal integrity and morality, and/or being evangelistic. In plenty of other places Paul challenges the church in these areas. But we see here two crucial roles that often get overlooked.

We need to struggle together so we understand each other. 

  • This means honesty about ourselves. If we have never been stunned by seeing our sinful self clearly, we will never understand the anguish others feel when God’s Spirit enlightens and convicts them.
  • This means accountability. If we have never experienced how humbling it is to confess our sins to human ears, we will never understand what it costs someone to confess to us.
  • This means acknowledging our pain, grief, shame and disillusionment. If we have never wept over the hardness of this world, how will we weep with those who weep? If we have never taken the measure of our own burdens, we will never ask others to help us, and we will never understand when someone else asks us to help them.
  • This means boldly living our faith. If we have never suffered fro the sake of our commitment to Christ, we won’t be able to identify with those who have. Maybe it’s Lent…tithing our time and money…being bold with friends about our faith…taking a stand in college or at work… 

We need to “pause completely” (rest together) so we can refresh each other at certain moments in our lives. 

  • Comforting instead of confronting.
  • Listening to a problem instead of fixing it.
  • Letting a conversation wander instead of making it pointed and purposeful.
  • Putting aside our differences about non-essentials and simply resting in the peace that comes from a unity about Jesus.
  • Entering into someone else’s world by asking about their stories, their hobbies, their family, their lives, their hopes and dreams – simply because they are people of worth, who bear God’s image, who are flawed and imperfect but loved by God anyway.

The Evidence of Righteousness: Service (Romans 12-15)

How do we know beyond doubt that we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?”  In the face of all kinds of opinions about what constitutes true Christianity, how do we know if we truly are “in Christ”… and how do we evaluate our own walk? If we listen to the patter on the street (internet posts, magazine articles, FaceBook debates, etc.) the test is sincerity. As long as you’re sincere…you’re good to go!  And it isn’t merely the test for Christianity. It seems to be the test for all spirituality.

 Now, I’ll admit that sincerity is a good and noble thing, but if the basis upon which our sincerity rests is wrong, profound sincerity does not make it right!  If I sincerely believe that a homemade bridge over a raging  river is safe for my vehicle to cross --- yet the engineering study says that the materials used in the bridge’s construction are only sufficient for foot traffic --- which premise will ultimately win, sincerity or facts?

 So, how do we know if we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?”  Paul and James, in particular, offer wisdom on this subject.  The text for today is actually all of chapters 12 through14, and part of chapter 15.  I’ll only be reading selected verses.  Here’s the starting point….

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1,2)

 While it’s absolutely true that God declares us totally righteous when we surrender our lives to Him, that is only the first part of the salvation journey.  God also initiates an on-going process in our lives; a process that Anthony talked about two weeks ago in the message on sanctification. In this part of the journey we participate….and, as we’ll see today, it really isn’t optional. 

At salvation, God sends His Holy Spirit to live in us, and it is the Holy Spirit’s internal influence that begins the transformation process in us. But it’s just the beginning, and Paul continually reminds us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, moving along a continuum from “indwelt by the Spirit” to “being continually filled by the Spirit.”  

 The goal of this internal action of the Holy Spirit is to radically change our lives! God doesn’t leave us in the state He finds us. The love of God is pure, and the power of His Holy Spirit is pervasive, so much so that He draws us out of our place of woundedness and brokenness, and gradually brings us into a place of health and usefulness. And this process was never intended to be optional.

 This surrender to Christ must, in time, show itself in service for God, not to secure His salvation but to display His presence. Both Old and New Testaments (including the teachings of Jesus) underscore the principle that “obeying His commands and decrees” is the evidence of His Spirit within us, thereby proving that we have been saved and reconciled to God. Let’s look at a couple times where God laid out the basic definition of who a disciple is. 

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26  (NIV)

Jesus begins by saying, “If anyone would come after Me,” he will:

  • deny himself—put aside selfish ambition; no longer live to please self
  • take up his cross—endure personal loss, whether through opposition or disappointment or pain
  • follow Me—continually be transformed into the likeness of Jesus’ life and teachings in all aspects of practical daily living. 

All disciples put Jesus ahead of the desires/demands of family and of self. All disciples choose to die to their own rights. All disciples hand over all that they have….every resource (whether time, relationships, preferences, money, possessions, or goals) to Jesus.

 Anyone who tries to add Jesus to the life they already have, while maintaining control of their life, is not a disciple and, therefore, not a Christian. Genuine Christians, realize they are “not their own, but bought at a high price,” and they order their lives accordingly. If we were to continue reading on through the next several chapters of Romans, we would find Paul giving specifics, as to what the evidence of service looks like (Rom 12:1 thru 15:13).  Let me summarize what Paul describes!

 1) Righteous believers commit themselves to God.  That is what the first two verses in chapter 12 talked about (“offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God).

2) Righteous believers serve one another. “So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17)

3) Righteous believers obey authority.Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.” (Romans 13:1-2)

4) Righteous believers love their neighbor. It’s easy to become completely immersed within a “Christian Bubble” and alienate ourselves from the rest of our city— judging, and shaming and avoiding the world around us. Our lives as Christians should not be characterized as us versus them. It does not help us to love well. Let’s not be shocked when people who are not following Christ act like people who are not following Christ. God loves everyone. It’s a message that is radical, controversial, and, some would even say, absurd. But according to the Bible, it’s true, and as followers of Christ we should boldly say the same thing.

 5) Righteous believers depend upon Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

 Grace in Graceless Places, a book currently being used in our men’s Wednesday night study group, offers the following observation: “The essence of a true and sincere relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is that we are transformed into the image of Christ and we begin to think as He thinks and do as He did.  When we do this, our defining life-narrative moves from ‘me and my wants’ to ‘Him and His Glory and mission.’   

This is the path to living a fulfilling life; one that is rich in spiritual blessing.

The Source of Righteousness—Sovereignty (Romans 9:1-11:36)

I suspect that all of us, at some point in our life, have asked or heard one of the following questions:

  • Why did God let a person I love die?
  • Why didn’t God save my job (or health)? 
  • Why did God cause the hurricane in the Philippines? 
  • Why didn’t God heal my marriage? 

All of them are some version of, “Why did this happen on God’s watch? What does this say about God’s character and nature?” As we are reading through Romans, we get to this statement in Romans 8:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)*

Paul goes on in the following chapters to note that God is the potter and we are the clay; He can do what he wants with us. This part of Romans has raised quite a few question over the years. What does foreknow and predestine mean? How much does God control or manipulate the circumstances in our life – including our salvation? And what does this say about God’s character and nature?

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To answer this, we have to take a look at sovereignty. Sovereignty is simply “supreme power or authority.” A sovereign is a king. It’s not a word that resonates with us. After all, our nation fought to be rid of a king.  Thomas Jefferson wrote to Washington in 1788:

“ I was much an enemy to monarchies before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so, since I have seen what they are. There is scarcely an evil known in these countries, which may not be traced to their king, as its source, nor a good, which is not derived from the small fibers of republicanism existing among them.”

This dislike of a ruling nobility and a longing for self-rule has probably built momentum since then.  We still see it in pop culture (think of the recent hit “Royals”), and we increasingly hear that “nobody can tell me what to do.” When I googled “sovereignty,” these were the top three news stories:

  • “Will U.S. Sovereignty Be Lost at Sea?”
  • “Ukraine Defends Its Sovereignty.”
  • “CIA Drone Violates Pakistan’s Sovereignty.”

They all have to do with self-rule.  Our history, culture and even our definition of words clash with the claim of the Bible: God is the sovereign, the King, the one who created and now rules over everything, including us. He sees all things that can be seen, knows all things that can be known, can do all things that can be done. Nothing in creation escapes is out from under his “supreme power and authority.”

The question is, “What does that mean?”

Every Christian perspective on God’s sovereignty agrees that God is the Primary Cause of all that exists because He created it. 

We understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (Hebrews 11:3) 

Things happen because God, the Creator and Ruler, makes them happen as an ongoing active cause, or because things and people respond to the rules and order God put in place in the beginning.So here’s the question: if God is sovereign – He is the ultimate creative power; he made it, He owns it, He rules over it – what role do we play? There are at least three different ways of understanding how God’s sovereignty effects our lives.(These categories provide very broad overviews; I recommend you follow up with the resources at the end of this post). **

1. God’s sovereignty compels (or coerces) us

The most extreme form would say that everything happens because God makes it happen. Every time something happens, God made it happen. It couldn’t be otherwise.

‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’ (Isaiah 46:10)

"Surely as I have thought, so it will come to pass; and as I have purposed, so it will stand." (Isaiah 14:24)

 "For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who shall disannul it? His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (Isaiah 14:27)

And the end of the day, sovereignty means that anything God wills, will happen – and He wills everything that happens.

2. God’s sovereignty allows us

God has settled in his mind that there are certain things he’s going to do. However, God in his sovereignty allows for human freedom and natural law to impact the world. In this perspective, a sovereign God has limited Himself in order to accomplish good things: a cause and effect world, and people whose lives have moral significance.  God is permissive, not coercive.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34)

 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not willing anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”  (2 Peter 3:9-10)

“[Jesus] almost always waits for some input or participation from those He came to serve. He waits for those who need to be cured to ask for His help, or for their friends and relations to do so… Often the healing process is initiated when someone in need of a cure touches Him. He does not tell the hungry crowds to just “feel full”; He waits until the disciples bring him loaves and fishes, which He then distributes. His mother has to pester Him and the water has to be brought to Him before He changes it into wine. And his disciples have to wake Him up before He quells the raging wind and quiets the seas.”  (Katherin A. Rogers)

At the end of the day, sovereignty means that God has willed to permit us some freedom to accept or reject His will.

3. God's sovereignty directs and redeems us (providence). 

  • History. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:20 ).
  • Nations. I know the plans I have for you…” (to the Israelites in captivity, Jeremiah 29:11-13)
  • People. “You intended to harm me, God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). 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” (Romans 8:28).

At the end of the day, sovereignty means that God has willed to providentially direct and redeem whatever happens.

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Christians have spent a lot of time over the centuries wrestling with which one of these best captures the idea of God’s sovereignty.  Ultimately, I think they all boil down to this question: What is this sovereign like? Can God be trusted? The Bible uses many adjectives to describe God’s nature, but I think they all hinge on one thing: Is God good?

“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is deeply, thoroughly good; His beautiful, loving kindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 106:1)

 That phrase is repeated constantly in the Old Testament: goodness, connected with beautiful, loving kindness. That’s the million dollar question. Do I believe God is good? Do I trust the character and nature of God? If I don’t, no explanation will be good enough. I will always second-guess why God allows the world He does. But if I do, any explanation may be helpful, but it will be unnecessary. 

  • Why did God take my Dad?
  • Why doesn’t God save your job (or health)? 
  • Why did God cause the tsunami in the Philippines? 
  • Why didn’t God heal your marriage? 

We might be able to find some reasons, but ultimately, in the deep way that keeps us awake at night, we don’t know.*** But is God good? That’s the question. Do I trust Him???

“[Jesus is] not under my control. He lets things happen that I don't understand.  He doesn't do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he's got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you don't understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to stop your suffering, you also have a God who's great enough and powerful enough to have reasons you don't understand."  (Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus)

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ENDNOTES

*“Did foreknow” is used five times in the New Testament. In all cases it means God knows all things ahead of time (Acts 26:5; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17; Romans 11:2) not that he orders all things ahead of time. In Chapter 10 Paul prays that Israel will be saved even though they are the foreknown and predestined.  He then tells the Gentiles there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – “the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses those who call on him.” In Chapter 11, Paul says that God did not reject Israel “whom he foreknew,” then says “what they sought they did not obtain.” In other words, the section in its entirety seems to use “predestine” as a way to convey foreknowledge of what will be freely chosen (or rejected).

Romans 11 wraps up this discussion in verse 32: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, notes, “Certainly it is not "all mankind individually, for the apostle is not here dealing with individuals, but with those great divisions of mankind, Jew and Gentile. And what he here says is that God's purpose was to shut each of these divisions of men to the experience first of an humbled, condemned state, without Christ, and then to the experience of His mercy in Christ.”

**For a more detailed discussion of three ways in which Christians have tried to understand God’s sovereignty and man’s free will/responsibility, check out these articles at Theopedia: “Calvinism” (http://www.theopedia.com/Calvinism); Arminianism (http://www.theopedia.com/Arminianism); and Molinism (http://www.theopedia.com/Molinism)/

***Christian philosopher and theologian Alvin Plantinga has this to say about the “why” question as it relates to free will: “A world containing creatures who are significantly free… is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil.”

Sanctification: A Parable (Romans 6-8)

 CHAPTER ONE: The Ruins*

You live in a broken, run-down house. You’ve been here as long as you can remember. You know nothing else. For a while you were able to at least keep it looking nice on the outside, but it’s always been falling apart.

The landlord seemed like a great guy at first. (2 Corinthians 11:24)  He allowed you to skip rent. He let you host all the parties you wanted – he even helped fund more than one. Sure, your friends trashed the place, but you trashed theirs, so it all seemed fair in a messed up kind of way.

But you slowly realize that the landlord is a hard owner. You thought he was your friend. He isn’t. The landlord keeps promising that you will have a better house and a better life if you will just do one more thing: fix the roof, mend some pipes, hang new drywall, repaint, rebuild the foundation that keeps sinking further into the sandy soil. But all those things cost money that you don’t have, so you borrow money from the landlord. Nothing ever pans out. You end up spackling over holes in the wall and wrapping duct tape around leaking pipes, but you know your house is going down. (Jeremiah 19:13)

It doesn’t help that you are really sick. You feel as run down as your house looks. Maybe it’s the asbestos in the walls, or the lead in the paint, or the leaky pipes in the stove. There’s something toxic about this house. It’s killing you. But as far as you know, this is all you have. This is the only place to live. You hate the person you have become in the house you’ve allowed to fall apart.

Your house is in ruin. Your life is in shambles. And to make things worse, you realize one day that somebody is following you. Literally. He’s one step behind you everywhere you go. When you are finally able to catch a glimpse in a mirror, you realize… it’s you.

Not just like you, but a zombie version. You look like one of the Walking Dead. By the end of the day, he’s got a hand on your shoulder. The next morning, he drapes his arms around you and makes you carry him everywhere you go. He stinks. He’s dead weight. (Romans 7:24)

You call your landlord hoping he can do something, but he already knew. “Yeah, they always show up in my houses.”

“Who is it?”

“It’s you. It’s just the real you. The dead you.”

“Why did it show up just now?”

“Oh, it’s always been there. You’ve been dead for years. You just couldn’t see it. ”

There’s nothing you can do. The landlord doesn’t care. Most of your friends hang out somewhere else, and the ones that show up don’t know what you are talking about. They don’t see the dead you. They try to help do things like paint the siding that is falling off the side of the house. (Jeremiah 8:11)  It’s tough for them to paint. They carry the dead with them too, and they don’t even know it.

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CHAPTER TWO: Bring Out Your Dead!**

The next day a man, a stranger, walks onto the porch. “Bring out your dead!” he calls cheerily. (John 11:25)

You don’t watch Monty Python, so you don’t get the joke. “What makes you think there are dead here?”

“I can smell it on your breath; I hear it in your words (Romans 3:13); I see it in your eyes. Oh – and it clings to you like a monstrous burden. This house has killed you. Your landlord cracked the gas lines and installed the asbestos. Your landlord made sure there are no detectors for smoke or gas. Your landlord likes his tenants dead. But you were meant to be alive. (John 5:21) And I can get rid of that body of death and make this house livable.”

“How can I trust you?”

“Why do you think you even know that you are dead? You thought you were tired and sick. I showed you what was real. I opened your eyes. You needed to know. (2 Timothy 2:26) You can trust me because I bring you truth that will set you free.”

 “Why me?”

“Why not you? I care about you. I seek and save people and situations that seem hopeless (Luke 19:10). Plus, I would like to move into this house (1 Corinthians 6:19), and where I am, there is no room for death and ruin,” the Man said with a twinkle in his eye (1 Corinthians 15:55).

“Where would I go?”

“Why would you want to go?”

You sit quietly for a long time. Your father always said you got what you deserved and never helped with your house or your health. Your landlord pretended to be your friend while guiding you down a road to death. Your friends had taken their dead selves to their dead parties on dead city streets.

You look around at the shambles all around you. You remember the landlord’s harsh, condemning voice (Revelation 12:10). You feel the dead weight of your sins, failures and inadequacies on your back (Isaiah 43:24). You’ve never known anyone who seemed to care about you and your life. He offers a new start. He offers a new identity. He offers to make all things new (Revelations 21:5).

Finally you whisper, “I have no future. I have no hope. Everyone offers me death. There is nowhere else to go. You are the only one who has ever offered me life (John 6:68). So…yes. Let’s do this. I and my house are yours.”

The Man stands up and lifts my dead self off my back and onto his. “Well done. You have asked for resurrection, and I will give it. I’ll pay what you owe and get the deed to the house. I’ll be back in three days, because resurrection is neither cheap nor easy. But when I return, I will show you what life is supposed to look like.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

You watch him until he is out of sight. You wonder what he is going to do with all the dead he takes upon himself as he walks through the town. Then you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

When you awake at dawn three days later, you know everything has changed.

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CHAPTER THREE: ReBuilding***

You have a hard time believing the changes. No more debt. No more creditors knocking at your door. Now the rain stays outdoors and the plumbing stays in the pipes. Your front door actually latches now. It’s…amazing. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

But the Man – you’ve started calling him the ReBuilder - has a bigger plan than you realized. He wasn’t going to just uncondemn the house and sweep up the garbage. He is planning to turn your shack into a mansion. When he first told you, you said, “Awesome! Go right ahead!” But the ReBuilder smiled and said, “Not without you. It’s our house. We work together. You need to give yourself to this project” (Romans 12:1)

You’ve got nothing to offer once again, but the man is ready for that too. He gives you a blueprint and all the tools you need. He gives you a fund to draw from for building materials, expert advice and help, etc. Since he’s the architect, designer, builder and inspector, He will be available every day – leading, guiding, protecting, correcting.

But you have to set your alarm, get out of bed, put on the tools, pick up the lumber, swing a hammer, get splinters, and break and rebuild a few things. You are going to invest some sweat equity into this house (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Some days are better than others. You notice other houses in the neighborhood that are also being transformed by this… ReBuilder… and it’s easy to be jealous of other houses that look nicer– or proud of the ones the look less advanced. The ReBuilder just shakes his head. “Build your own house with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). I’ll worry about the others.”

You get hurt; you get tired; you put walls at the wrong place and shoot yourself with the nail gun. You question the ReBuilder’s blueprint. You argue when He shows you something that is not up to code.

You sometimes think it was easier just to have the old house. You occasionally find your old landlord crouching outside your door (Genesis 4:7), wondering if he can hang out for a while. “Take a break,” he says. “Don’t take life so seriously.” Some days you actually invite him in and you hang out. It sometimes fun for a while, but it never ends well. You feel worn down again, almost as if your dead self was back, hand on your shoulder, whispering emptiness and loneliness into your ear. Your landlord always ends up roaring through your house, demolishing everything. (1 Peter 5:8)

But the Rebuilder helps you resist, and the old landlord has to leave. (James 4:7) More than once he has picked your sneaky Dead Self up by the collar and thrown him out on the street. You apologize to the ReBuilder when this happens. He hugs you. He doesn't yell (1 John 1:9). His forgiveness is a gift too (Ephesians 1:7).

But you have to spend days –even weeks - cleaning up the mess. You pick up all the stuff you can, and the Rebuilder gets the places you can’t reach and corrects the damage beyond your ability. He helps you make a plan to resist and avoid this situation the next time (Ephesians 4:27; 2 Corinthians 2:11).

There are some days you wonder why the ReBuilder even puts up with you. But he never leaves you on your own. He remains true to his word. He holds you to the code but patiently helps you when you miss the mark. He teaches you how not to shoot anyone with the nail gun. You know you are in this together, that he is for you, that he will restore you and help you even when you are at your weakest (Psalm 51:10-12).

So every day you arise and build, and you find increasing satisfaction in the affirmation of the ReBuilder and the pleasure of a job well done (Nehemiah 2:17-18; Matthew 25:23).

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CHAPTER FOUR: ReBuilt and Alive**** 

It’s not all work. He fishes with you on still waters. You both shoot hoops at the YMCA and join friends at Buffalo Wild Wings for March Madness. Being around him restores your soul (Psalm 23) even while your callouses thicken. You realize that you are absorbing his ideas, his language, his priorities, his way of living life abundantly (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Others join you. Some bring their dead; some have been set free. Some still live in shacks; others are working with the ReBuilder on mansions. The Rebuilder welcomes them all. He didn’t come to condemn the dead to their bare cold shacks. He came to save them and rebuild their lives (John 3:17). You invite even more to hang out with you. (1 John 3:10)

And slowly but surely, your house is becoming a mansion (Philippians 1:6). You find that you easily congratulate others whose houses are flourishing, and you compassionately help neighbors who are struggling. The blueprint makes more sense than it used to. You look forward to your alarm clock. The old landlord still comes around, but more than ever you see through his lies (John 8:44). He rarely makes it past the bottom step of the porch. Your Dead self stays on the sidewalk.

You notice a neighbor starting to work on his house. He looks miserable. You take him some water one hot, miserable day (Mark 9:41) and find out he found a blueprint. “Oh,” you say, “Did you meet the ReBuilder?”

“No,” says your neighbor. “Why would he want to help with my house? It’s horrible. I am going to fix it up enough so the ReBuilder will notice. I think I can make mine nicer than yours. Once I make it good enough, I’ll be ready for the ReBuilder.”

You say, “This isn’t Field of Dreams. This isn’t, ‘If you build it, he will come.’ It doesn't work that way. Put your tools away. Stop trying to do it yourself (Isaiah 64:6). Unless the Rebuilder builds it, your labor is useless (Psalm 127:1). It’s making you angry and annoying your neighbors, and the next big storm is going to put you back at square one.” (Matthew 7:24-27) He returns to his works. His Dead Self turns and smirks at you as you walk away.

You find that, the longer you work with the ReBuilder, more than a few note that you are starting to look more and more like Him (Ephesians 5:1). You are humbled and encouraged; your friends used to comment on the eerie similarity between you and your former landlord (John 8:44; 1 John 3;10). This is much better.

“But,” they say, “what’s with the ongoing work? You told us this was a gift.”

“Working side by side with the ReBuilder is also a gift,” you say (1 Corinthians 1:9). “I don't deserve to be his apprentice. Who am I to swing a hammer on this house? Who am I to cut expensive trim, and build a strong chimney? I brought nothing to this project, but he gives me everything I need to build great things (Colossians 3:1-12).

“ He has given me far above what I could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). I just wanted to know Him and understand what kind of person gives grace to the failures and life to the dead (Philippians 3:10).  I just wanted to be near him and be like him. And then all these things,” (here he waved his hand to show his house, his tools, the work of his hands, the campfire where he sat with his friends) were added unto me (Matthew 6:33). This, my friends, is what happens when obedience responds to grace. This is life” (John 10:10; Romans 8:12-14).

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ENDNOTES

*CHAPTER ONE 

Among other horrible things that happened during Bible times, captive soldiers were sometimes forced to carry a dead body until the rot of the corpse killed them. The Roman poet Virgil wrote: “What tongue can such barbarities record,
 Or count the slaughters of his ruthless sword? 
Twas not enough the good, the guiltless bled.  Still worse, he bound the living to the dead:
 These, limb to limb, and face to face, he joined; 
O! monstrous crime, of unexampled kind!
 Till choked with stench, the lingering wretches lay, 
And, in the loathed embraces, died away!”  Commentators note that,  when Paul was looking for an analogy about how much he hated the part of him prone to sin, he most likely built from this image when he wrote:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24)

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**CHAPTER TWO

Christ sets us free from that dead weight that’s been killing us. Why? Because He can, and he loves us.  We just need to ask. Then we are set free from that body of death. Here’s how Paul explains it in Chapter 6 (beginning in verse 2).

"We died to our old sinful lives, so how can we continue living with sin? Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ when we were baptized? We shared his death in our baptism. When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life… We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin… "

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***CHAPTER THREE

Sanctification is Spirit-driven obedience as an act of worship.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

But a living sacrifice wants to get off the altar sometimes. That old body of death is hanging around.

“On the one hand, I serve the law of God in my mind; but on the other hand, the carnal side of me follows the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)

This is an image for the process of sanctification. Initially, we are set apart (sanctified) when we are justified by Christ. It changes our identity. We are no longer spiritually dead, enslaved to sin. Now we are alive and renewed. In an ongoing manner, the justified person who submits to God's will is becoming conformed to the image of Christ. Colossians 3:1-12 gives a great description of how the process takes place:

Since you were raised from the dead with Christ, aim at what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Think about the things in heaven, not the things on earth. Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God.  Christ is your life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. 

So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. These things make God angry. In your past, evil life you also did these things. But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. Do not lie to each other. You have left your old sinful life and the things you did before. You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you.

This new life brings you the true knowledge of God.  In the new life there is no difference between Greeks and Jews, those who are circumcised and those who are not circumcised, or people who are foreigners, or Scythians. There is no difference between slaves and free people. But Christ is in all believers, and Christ is all that is important.

God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

See this tension? Though we are freely justified, we still have some work to do. Fitting the mold of goodness doesn’t come naturally. God will continue to do a work in us through the Holy Spirit, but there are some things we do as well. We see this tension other places in the Bible as well.

  • God works in us for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
  • God helps us bear good fruit (John 15:4).
  • God equips Christians to do his will (Hebrews13:21).

At the same time the Bible also states:

  • We must work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12).
  • We work to supplement our faith with virtue and good works (2Peter 1:5-7).
  • We commit to abounding in the work of the Lord (1Corinthians 15:58).

Justification is a declaration, but sanctification is a process.

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****CHAPTER FOUR

"We died to our old sinful lives, so how can we continue living with sin? Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ when we were baptized? We shared his death in our baptism. When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life… We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin... “ (Romans 6:2 and following)

Baptize meant to "put into" or "immerse" so that the thing baptized takes on the properties of the thing into which it was baptized. Garments were "baptized" in dye so that the garments took on the color of the dye. Cucumbers were “baptized” so that they became pickles. Christians absorb the righteousness that comes from Jesus’ death and resurrection. But part of devotion is making a choice about to whom you will offer yourself.

Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone, then you are really slaves of that person. The person you obey is your master. You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him. In the past you were slaves to sin—sin controlled you. But thank God, you fully imitated the pattern of our teaching. You were made free from sin, and now you are slaves to goodness.” (Romans 6:16-18)

This pattern of our teaching” refers to melted metal cast into a mold and conforming to the impression that is sunk or cut in the mold. They used to pour themselves into sin, and they conformed to its pattern. Now they are choosing to pour themselves into the truth about Christ, and they conformed to it. They looked like goodness.

"If we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him…You should see yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive with God through Christ Jesus. So, do not let sin control your life here on earth so that you do what your sinful self wants to do. Do not offer the parts of your body to serve sin, as things to be used in doing evil. Instead, offer yourselves to God as people who have died and now live. Offer the parts of your body to God to be used in doing good. Sin will not be your master, because you are not under law but under God’s grace."  (Romans 6:1-8; 11-14)

 “To live” in something was to be wholly given to it. An ancient writer, Aelian, wrote: “The Tapyrians are such lovers of wine, that they live in wine; and the principal part of their life is devoted to it.”  Not only do we soak up righteousness (which is a passive word of transformation)  We can be wholeheartedly devoted (an active verb).

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CONCLUSION

Building on a previous definition, Sanctification is Spirit-empowered obedience as an act of worship in response to grace. When we see our righteous works as responsive worship to a God who so deeply loves us, our obedience, our righteous acts, become a profoundly personal expression of trust in God. Conformity to the image of Christ follows commitment and obedience. We aren’t obedient in order to be justified; we are obedient so we can increasingly enjoy the life we have been given in and through Christ. Sanctification reminds us:

  • We need renewal and transformation all the time. Be humble.
  • What we choose to do matters. Be purposeful.
  • God does not coerce; God invites. Invite others.
  • God’s Spirit and ongoing grace are vital. Be dependent on Him.
  • A sanctifying God loves unsanctified people. Extend this grace to others.

Justified (Romans 2-5)

Have you ever tried to justify yourself?

  • “The sun was in my eyes.”
  • "My alarm didn't go off!"
  • “I had questions about my homework assignment but it was late and I didn’t want to bug you or my classmates…”

 Justification is what happens when we give a reason for something we did. In a deeper sense, we justify because we want to remind ourselves and others that we are good. Justification is our way of proving that what we do is okay – so we must be okay too. In a more formal sense, justification is a legal term. Something that is justifiable is shown to be “just, right, or reasonable.” (Merriam-Webster). It’s that which absolves us of guilt. If the scales of justice were truly balance, our reasons/excuses would counterbalance the bad things we’ve done.

Justified.

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When Paul wrote in Romans 1 that Gods’ wrath is being revealed against godlessness (our broken relationship with God) and wickedness (our broken relationships with others), he gave quite a list of things:

  • sexual activity outside of God’s design
  • injustice
  • criminal activity
  • lusting for more
  • mean, aggressive attitudes
  • gladness when others suffer
  • intentional homicide
  • the love of quarrelling
  • Deceit
  • Exploitation
  • Craftiness
  • Destruction of reputations and character
  • Fighting God’s will
  • Enjoying doing wrong and hurting others
  • Ego and Arrogance
  • Creatively devious
  • Rebellion against authority
  • Unwilling to think and act rationally
  • Untrustworthiness
  • Heartlessness/mercilessness
  • Enablement of all the above

In all these cases, the people were worshipping “the creature more than the creator.” It’s idolatry. An idol is something other than God that you think justifies your life choices – or even your life. By the end of Romans 1, Paul’s Jewish readers were probably nodding their heads and thinking, “Oh, yeah. Let the judgment roll! Godless, idolatrous heathens…” Then Paul starts Chapter Two this way (and I paraphrase Romans 2: 1-8):

“All of you Jewish people who are reading this and judging? You do the same things as part of the habit and routine of your life. Why do you think you should avoid being judged? It appears that you think God’s kindness, mercy and patience are insignificant and contemptible. If you thought they mattered – if  you understood the depth of your depravity and the cost of Christ’s love – you would have repented from your sins. You would be changed. Instead, you’re stubborn, unrepentant, people who choose idols. You are going to face the same wrath of God as the people you so smugly judge.”

What were these idols, these justifications? We see the list beginning in Romans 2:17:

  • “But I’m a Jew”
  • “But I trust/rely on the Law”
  • “But I am close to God”
  • “But I have lived in God’s will and I approve of it fully”
  • “ But I knew every detail of the law”
  • “But I am a guide to the morally blind”
  • “But I am a source of radiance to sinners in darkness”
  • “But I am a wise instructor of the foolish”

This is not a bad list in and of itself.  But it had turned into idolatry of a different kind. These were things the Jewish readers thought were “just, right, and reasonable” and would make them okay:

  • “You call yourself a Jew” – the Idol of Nationality
  • “You trust/rely on the law” – the Idol of Moralism (Moses)
  • “You brag about being close to God” – the Idol of Identity (Abraham and the covenant)
  • “You know his will and approve of it” – the Idol of Self-Righteousness
  • “You know ever detail of the law” – the Idol of Knowledge
  • “You are a guide to the morally blind; a source of radiance to sinners in darkness; a wise instructor of the foolish” – the Idol of My Amazing Self

All the things that they thought made them “just, right and reasonable” - their opinions of themselves, their reputation, their place in their community and in the eyes of God – had all become idols that were showing them to be unjust, wrong, unreasonable, and frankly unlikable. No wonder Paul says: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24). The fact that God’s name was blasphemed would hardly have surprised them. But the fact that God’s name was blasphemed because of them? That’s…intimidating. Depressing. Deflating. That will knock your spiritual legs out from under you.

Paul did not sign off his letter at that point. He’s working his way toward a gospel message of hope and restoration. But they wouldn’t understand the beauty of God’s justification until they saw the worthlessness of their own attempts at justification.

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We can be like the Roman Christians. We can hear about the Romans 1 sins and be in complete agreement: “That is so wrong.”  We want the picket lines and sermons and blogs and news stories and campaigns and conferences about abortion, and sexual sin, the breakdown of the family, unjust taxation and the murder rate in Detroit and exploitation. Of course God’s wrath is for that. Thank God I’m not in their position. But you are. We all are.

  • We have harmed children (with our words and attitude)
  • We have given in to sexual sin
  • We have contributed to the brokenness of our own family
  • We have used other people
  • We have been dishonest with our money
  • We have gossiped
  • We have chosen to be blind and irrational about our choices
  • We have been untrustworthy
  • We have secretly taken pleasure in the embarrassment or failure of others.

Paul says God could use our own deeds will judge us (Romans 2). All God would have to do at Judgment Day is play back a record of the moral standard to which we held others and judge us by it. 

  • All the times we said, “That’s wrong. That’s gross. That’s out of God’s will or design. That’s against nature. That’s ignorant. That’s mean. That’s self-centered and cruel. That’s using people.”
  • All times I said to my wife, “Be more patient with the kids.”
  • All the times I told my kids, “You are not using your time wisely!”
  • All the times I have thought, “He needs more self-control.”
  • All the times I thought, “Wow, she was really inconsiderate.”

God could just take my quotes and match it to my life. Guilty. Sometimes, God name is blasphemed because of us. Our justifications won’t matter.But look at my theology and doctrine. My great emotional experiences! My spiritual disciplines! My good moral decisions! My godly kids!  My reputation! Those make me okay! I am surely justified.” If you think that, you are an idolater. You are worshipping what you have done and what you have to offer; you are trying to justify yourself and make yourself righteous and acceptable to God and others by your own merit. But Paul says (Romans 3:10 and following):

  • “No one is righteous” – legal condemnation of guilt
  • “No one understands” –blind to truth
  • “No one seeks God” – bad motives
  • “All have turned away” – broken wills
  • “Our throats are open graves” – words betray inner decay
  • “We are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery mark our way, and we don’t know peace.”  - we leave a trail of destruction
  • “We have no fear of God.” – if we did, we would take life more seriously

We have to understand how unjustifiable we are before we can understand the beauty of what Christ offers to us. We must fully acknowledge that we are the worst sinner we know (that’s how Paul saw himself in 1 Timothy 1:15). Charles Simeon, a preacher from the 18th and 19th century, wrote, “There are but two objects that I have ever desired…to behold; the one is my own vileness; and the other is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And I have always thought that they should be viewed together.”

This bring us to the good news of genuine justification.

But God has a way to make people right with him without the law, and he has now shown us that way which the law and the prophets told us about. God makes people righteous through their faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for all who believe in Christ, because all people are the same: Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard, and all need to be justified by his grace, which is a free gift.

 They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ. God sent him to die in our place to take away our sins. We receive forgiveness through faith in the blood of Jesus’ death. This showed that God always does what is right and fair, as in the past when he was patient and did not punish people for their sins.  And God gave Jesus to show today that he does what is right. God did this so he could judge rightly and so he could make right any person who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26)

This is the “gospel, or “good news.”  It literally means “good herald.” It’s from the word angeloi, which referred to a man whom the emperor would send from a battlefield to declare victory.The gospel is not advice to show us what we are supposed to do to be righteous and justified; it's the good news of what Christ has done so we can be righteous and justified.

On our own, we are dead in our sins; we owe a debt that we cannot pay; we can never do enough to justify our life.  But Christ paid the debt. This good news is for us, but it’s not about us. It’s about Christ. Because of the sacrifice of a Christ who loves us, all our sins, flaws, failures, inabilities, and weaknesses are not only balanced, they are swept off the scales.

In Romans 4:7-8, Paul quotes David from Psalm 32. “Blessed are those whose wrongs have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the person whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Paul and David did not say, “Blessed are those who do not sin, and who through obedience avoid sin.” They said people were blessed when their sins were covered, and God did not charge to their account what they deserved.

Christ has made it possible for every terrible thing we do in life to be made right. He will balance the legal scale of justice. Because of Christ, we are made right (“righteousness”) and good. That is our only justification.

Since we have been justified through faith in Christ, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.  Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.

 But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us.  As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life? In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.” (Romans 5:1-2; 8-11 - The Voice)

Righteousness (Romans 1-2)

I suspect you’d agree with me that a life of ease is what most of us want. If given a choice, I’d take a life of abundance: good health, adequate finances, trouble-free relationships, and cars that never rust! But despite our wants, the reality is that life has a fair amount of trials and difficulties that often result in great emotional pain and even physical pain.  In the process, we begin to live guarded lives. We shut down in one or more areas. We certainly don’t automatically experience the rich and full life that we so desire. 

This pain in our lives that we’ve been examining in our recent series on emotional health not an accidental blip on the radar screens of our lives.  It’s not an inexplicable interruption in an otherwise smooth and productive life.  Struggle is actually a very normal part of this thing we call life.

We live in a fallen and broken world  that our sinfulness has created (read Genesis, chapter 3).  And ever since the fall of man we have experienced this struggle in our human existence. If you’re tempted to think it’s an isolated thing, listen carefully to the people around you this coming week.  Listen to their stories.  You’ll hear a common tread running through them.  Life is beautiful…but it’s also hard. This struggle that is so much a part of our human existence is necessary and purposeful. 

Our inability to do the very thing that we so desperately desire; to live happily and successfully on our own, free of all outside intrusion (emphasis: our inability to do this) is the very thing that ultimately makes us attentive to God, and to His offer of relationship. When life no longer works for us, when the pain or struggle or loneliness is too great; when questions are too many and answers, too few --- we look up in search of God.

 And all of this seeming tension is by God’s design! He created us, and our existence, with the full knowledge that we would struggle and that the pain would often be hard to bear. He knew that when we could no longer make sense of our lives we would begin to search for Him. 

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The Book of Romans presents the most complete explanation of the Christian faith found anywhere in the Bible.  Romans supplies the “who, what, where and why” of Christianity. Romans explains things like:

• Who is God?

  • What does He think about me?

    • What does God require of all of us?

      • Why is Jesus Christ so important?

        • What does the Holy Spirit do?

          • What happens to people after they die?

            • What does it mean to be saved?

              • How can I know for sure that I am saved?

                • Does God care about how I live my life?

In the coming weeks we will deal extensively with the the primary them of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome: the idea of RIGHTEOUSNESS.  To begin, it would be helpful to define the term.

Righteousness is not the following: atrocious, awful, bad, base, black, blamable, censurable, corrupt, criminal, crooked, culpable, debased, debauched, decadent, degenerate, degraded, demoralized, depraved, disgraceful, dishonest, dishonorable, disreputable, dissipated, dissolute, errant, erring, evil, evil minded, execrable, fallen, ignoble, immoral, improper, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, infamous, inferior, iniquitous, knavish, libertine, loose, low, low grade, mean, mediocre, middling, naughty, nefarious, objectionable, offensive, pathetic, perverse, perverted, poor, profligate, rascally, reprehensible, reprobate, roguish, rotten, scoundrely, second class, shameful, sinful, substandard, terrible, unbecoming, unethical, unfair, unholy, unjust, unprincipled, unscrupulous, unseemly, unworthy, venal, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wretched, or wrong.

RIGHTEOUSNESS, or right standing with God, is not having ANY of that stuff.  I’ve already noted our inability to DO RIGHT (to be righteous) on our own, and about the value of the “struggle” as that process that shows us we need an answer outside ourselves.  So, now we come to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter one. Paul begins a step-by-step explanation of how we who are sinful can become righteous.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scripture 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord… I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:1-4;16)

So God desires relationship with us, but because He is Holy and we are sinful, it is impossible without something occurring outside of us; something beyond our control, and    certainly beyond our capability. That “outside thing” is the gospel. The most compact and clear explanation of the gospel message occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that (A) Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that  (B) he was buried, that (C) he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that (D) he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…"

 God could have chosen any method He wanted to provide our salvation. He could have chosen to package it in a pill that we swallow. But He didn't. He chose to bring about salvation through the gospel message. It is the power of God that does the saving, and the message of the gospel is simply the method that God chooses to make it happen.

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NOTE: The idea expressed by Paul throughout the book of Romans regarding salvation is one of a journey that begins when we first put our faith in Christ but continues, day-by-day in faith, as well.  The phrase,” The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17) is found several times in the New Testament, but it begins in the Old Testament.  Almost three thousand years ago the prophet Habakkuk wrote, “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked; but the righteous will live by their faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)  The righteous (those who put their faith in God) will live  --- (be productive and sustained) by their faith (demonstrating a faithful trust in God and His promises)