Romans 13 – Government and Freedom

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It seems like a contradiction in terms to talk about submission to an entity and freedom in the same thought process.  Yet Paul navigates this ambiguity well, speaking into a context in which many people question whether or not to follow Ceasar or not.  To be fair, the Roman Empire was known for the “imperial cult,” or the worship of their current ruler.  This person was raised to “god status,” often times after they died, and were worshiped along with the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses.

In this context, it is not difficult to see why Paul would have to address the place of government in the life of new Christians.  Along with the Jewish influence of wanting to throw off Roman rule, it was a rather tenuous place to be.  Those who didn’t participate in the imperial cult worship risked arrest and possibly even death.

Paul recognizes God the Father’s ultimate authority upon the earth.  No matter who the ruler is, it seems, that person’s power and authority has been given by God and therefore we must honor that.  But when stated like this, it makes no sense to worship that ruler as their power is limited. One wouldn’t worship a governor because their seat was given to them; therefore worship would be directed to one who gave the power.

This is the manner in which Paul sets up honoring earthly authority while reserving worship for God alone.  As a matter of fact, doing this acknowledges God’s sovereignty, places us in a position of trusting His work and His will, even if we don’t understand it.  Despite the political divisions that we see in the U.S. today, Scripture still calls us to honor the authority; which ultimately means trusting God’s choice, His will, and His work.

Romans 12 – What to do now?

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The twelfth chapter in Romans marks a shift from Paul’s systematic laying out of God’s plan of salvation to discussion on how we are to respond to it.  Paul has talked extensively about guilt in the first couple chapters, followed by a much more extensive discussion on grace up to this point.  Now we come to what is known as “grattitude,” that is, again, how we are to respond to the unmeritted, undeserved, life-changing grace that we receive from God in Jesus Christ.

Right from the start, Paul draws on the imagery from the Old Testament to draw forward the meaning into a contemporary response.  Sacrifice was the way of worship, or repentance, and of relationship with God in the Old Testament.  It was an acknowledgement that something always had to die so that others could live.

Jesus, though, was the ultimate sacrifice, a final, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world that opened the way to full relationship and reconciliation with God.  No longer to other things need to die, which was never really a true way to salvation, because Jesus died in our place.

This act, then, shifts the paradigm of our response.  No longer to we need to sacrifice, but instead we are “living sacrifices” that are living lives in full response to what God has done for us.

What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?  Interestingly enough, Paul also draws this forward into a contemporary context; it looks like loving your neighbor as yourself.  It doesn’t look very different from what the people of Israel were called to except that instead of doing it out of obedience to the law we do it out of grateful obedeince to to the love of God that has been shown in Jesus Christ.

Romans 11 – What About Israel?

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So far, Paul has talked has laid out how God has worked through Israel in working out His plan of salvation for the whole world.  As has been true throughout Scripture, things like disobedience and legalism, that the enemy meant for bad, God had always meant for good, for the blessing of the whole world as His original covenant with Abraham said.

However, that lends itself to the question, “What about Israel?”  If God meant for all of this to happen, was He just using this whole nation of Millions of people over hundreds of years just to cast them aside when the goal of Salvation was accomplished?  Certainly, it could seem this way.

Paul’s words here would seem to bring a difficult conclusion.  After talking about the need for faith, in response to God’s freely given grace in Jesus Christ, as the means to salvation, he then makes some rather confusing statements about Israel’s salvation despite their disobedience.

There are two important things that we need to remember in reading Scripture like this that can seem to be confusing.  First, we don’t read this Scripture in a vacuum but have to take it within its context and also in the context of the whole of God’s Word.  God’s grace is preeminent over all of this and, as those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.

Second, Paul’s concluding statement of this section of the book of Romans speaks very clearly to how we understand (or don’t) God’s work.  Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, Paul affirms that God’s ways are much higher, deeper, and greater than we could possibly understand.  In fact, Paul praises God for that because the same grace that welcomes us into God’s salvation is available to all those who are searching.

Romans 10 – Missed It By That Much

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There is a theological line of thinking known as “dispensationalism” that suggested that they way God worked with Israel is completely different than the way He is working with the Gentiles.  Therefore, according to this theology, at some point, God will return to working specifically with Israel in order to save them.  This is the same theological thinking that gives us the idea of the Rapture and is the basis for the Left Behind book series.

Paul’s words in Romans 9 – 11 counter the ideas of dispensationalism, though, drawing on Scripture throughout the Old Testament to make his point.  The fact that Paul draws out of these texts is that God has always desired the hearts of His people, not simply following the rules.  You see, a person can follow the rules of any deity, government, or organization without giving that entity their hearts, but they certainly do not love that thing.  Think of a job that you hated; you probably still followed the rules so that you would keep getting a paycheck.

Yet this is not how God desires to be in relationship with His people.  In fact, the relationship God desires, that of love and faith in response to God’s grace, was a stark contrast to the “demands” that other deities made of their respective peoples.

Returning to the book of Deuteronomy chapter 30, Paul quotes Moses, who represents the law, as proof of God’s desire for the hearts of His people in verses 6-8.  Later, Paul draws on the words of the prophets as well culminating in the reality that salvation has been available to the Jews through faith, and is also available to everyone else through the work of Jesus Christ, the grace that God freely offers, and the response of faith that the Spirit builds within us.

Romans 9 – Election

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Today Paul tackles the theological doctrine that we call “election” head on.  The doctrine of Election is both incredibly complex and abundantly simple in attempting to describe and give us an understanding of how God acts.  Simply put, the doctrine of Election speaks to the reality that some are chosen to be God’s people while others aren’t.  Those that are chosen as so due to no special circumstances or prior knowledge of potential good, but rather because of “God’s good pleasure and will.”

While that may sound simple enough, the issue is much more complex.  The doctrine of Election, as Paul describes it here, that there are those who are ethnically Hebrew who are not God’s people and also, by extension, those that claim to be Christian that also are not God’s people.  Why?  How?  Because it isn’t about physical descent or ancestry, Paul says, but rather that God’s people are given that identity through God’s mercy and promise only, not because of anything they or any other human did or will do.

Ok, perhaps we can accept that… but it doesn’t really seem fair… and doesn’t that impinge upon the theological notion of free will?  What about the people that never hear the Gospel?

Paul points out the reality of this being at the very heart of God.  Simply put: He is God.  His ways are higher than our ways.  We may not be able to fully understand it.

Yet there is a movement from specific to universal that takes place in Christ’s work.  No longer is the promise given only to the Jews, but it extends to the Gentiles as well.  God’s grace in Jesus Christ is available to all, and as John says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Exodus 3:1-15 "Who Am I?"

Pastor Sarah Farkas

Romans 8 – Spiritual Life

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Claiming to be “spiritual” but not Christian has become a common phrase in western culture.  As social and cultural trends continue to move us away from anything that may have a “negative past,” people have desired to shed the Christian title and lingo for the sake of less “offensive” labels.  While there is something to be said for being conscious of what one is known for (or as), the title of those who are “in Christ” is not nearly as important as the reality that comes with their identity.

As Paul has been laying out the plan of salvation, he has made it abundantly clear that we are sinners who are born sinful by nature, and that God is justified in His judgment against us.  However, the reality of the grace of God in Jesus Christ leads to these words, the apex of God’s salvific work in Jesus Christ: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

With these words, Paul speaks to the truth of our identity.  When we place our faith in Jesus Christ and receive the Grace of God, we are forgiven of our sins, set free from sin’s bondage, and ushered into a new life in which the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and we find ourselves raised with Him.  Your old self is no more; we have been made new.

This new identity is permanent.  Do we continue to sin?  Yes.  The fullness of our new life in Christ will not be recognized this side of eternity.  But Scripture assures us that we no longer stand condemned because the one who can condemn us is also He who died for us, and nothing in all creation can separate us from His love.  This is true spiritual life.

Romans 7 – Why the Law?

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Looking at what Paul has laid out thus far in the book of Romans, one might be led to ask the question, “what role does the law actually play here?”  Paul spends time examining this question, seeking to clarify a right understanding of what the Law is and what it means.

To do so, Paul uses very well crafted, intentionally specific language so as not to confuse things.  “Why is this important?” you may be asking.  It is important because how we talk about God, Scripture, the Law, etc. has a bearing on how we think about and what we believe about God.  Paul is trying to make certain that we don’t speak wrongly about the Law or God’s intentions behind it.

Far too often Christians say that the Law is “all about works” and that we don’t need it anymore.  Others have said that, because the Law was before Christ, it was imperfect and steeped in sin.  Neither of these is true and both border on suggesting that God’s work is both imperfect and steeped in sin.  Simply put, that is not true.

The purpose of God’s perfect Law, as Paul points out, is to reveal sin.  As we talked about earlier in this book, sin is a necessary component of God’s redeeming work. Tossing sin aside means tossing aside the need for grace and the work of the cross as well.

Paul is quick to point out that the Law is not responsible for our guilt, but rather the sin that is within us.  We have the tendency to, once we know what we shouldn’t do, to do it anyway.  That is not the fault of the Law, but of our sinful nature.  Thanks be to God, Christ died for us “while we were still sinners.”

Romans 6 – What Then?

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As Paul continues to lay out the Truth of the Gospel, he begins to address some of the natural distortions and loopholes that people have, at times, tried to exploit in the Christianity.  He does so still explaining the deep reality of what justification by grace means for us.

Because those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are no longer under the Law but have received the grace of God, they have received profound freedom in their lives for how they live.  That being said, I think Paul still recognizes our sinful nature so takes that head on.

Naturally, one of the first thoughts would be, “well if grace abounds, then I can just do whatever I want because I’m forgiven.”  This notion is a distortion of what we know as Christian Freedom and takes advantage of God’s grace for our own gain.  By no means does Paul (or God) condone this way of thinking.  The point of grace is not for us to sin so much to make it that much greater but rather for us to recognize the enormity of grace because of the depth of our depravity.  More than that, as Paul says, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Sometimes I don’t think that we grasp well the reality of this.  Think of it this way: consider the most repulsive, vile, destructive human that ever lived.  Would you die for them?  Think of your best friend; would you die for them?  Would you do it knowing that they would likely take advantage for your sacrifice for the rest of their lives while claiming to honor it?

Jesus did… in both cases… and for all people good and bad alike.  How then should we live in response to this?

Romans 5 – Justified

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Paul repeats the phrase “since we have been justified” multiple times in this chapter.  He has set up this chapter through a systematic breakdown of both sin and the need for justification through Jesus Christ.

The word “justification” is a legal term that literally means that one is deemed or declared right or correct in the sight of the judge.  Paul has made the case that, because of sin, God is right and justified in judging us guilty.  He says this in a number of different ways.  We are guilty before God, enemies of God, and dead in sin.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul writes in Romans 3:23.

But that isn’t the end of the story!  Paul continues, “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  This is an enormous statement in and of itself, yet now Paul is beginning to lay out what that actually means for us.

Since we have been justified by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ…

  • we are no longer enemies with God but have peace with Him.  This brings clarity to one way that Jesus makes a way for us to once again be in relationship with God.
  • we once again have life where death once reigned.  Sin made us an enemy of God and brought with it death, both physical and spiritual.  But in Jesus Christ there is life, as John says at the beginning of his Gospel.
  • we have hope in this life and for the life to come as well.  The reality of trials and suffering is a given in Scripture.  Jesus Himself said so.  But the deeper reality of grace and salvation give us true hope in the midst of every trial.

Romans 4 – Law and Grace

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There is a rather prevalent notion in Christianity that the Old Testament was all about Law and that identity and salvation came through the Law.  This is contrasted by the New Testament and the coming of Christ who fulfilled the Law, giving us freedom from it.  What this implies, at least in part, is that there is an incongruence between the Old and New Testaments and that God’s first plan (or I guess His second plan) didn’t work and so He sent Jesus to clean up the mess.

While one of the main themes of the Old Testament is God’s Law, this incongruence between Old and New is a dangerous way to read Scripture implying that somehow God failed or at the least messed up with giving of the Law.  Again, this is simply not the case.

Paul addresses this here as he talks about the faith of Abraham, the father of the people of Israel.  Scripture tells us that Abraham was “justified by faith” long before the Law, or even circumcision for that matter, was given.  His point?  God’s grace and the faith response of His people have been the central theme of God’s redemptive work and His plan of salvation since the very beginning.

It isn’t about law and then grace; it has always been about grace.  From the very moment in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were hiding because of their sin and God called out to them “Where Are You,” His desire is that we would respond to that call.

Yes, God gives us the Law as a way of showing us how to best live in relationship with Him and with others.  None of that work, however, can save us.  Only through the grace of God can we be saved.

Romans 3 – Faithfulness

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Paul makes a serious contrast between humankind and God here, both in faithfulness and in righteousness.  God’s people were given the Law, a description of how they were called to live in the covenant relationship they had with God.  They, however, were unfaithful time and time again.  Yet, in spite of this, God was always faithful to them, never abandoning them to their own depravity.  Thankfully, He doesn’t leave us in ours either.

Out of Israel’s unfaithfulness, though, we see a much clearer and greater picture of God’s work, His true love and commitment to His people, and His righteousness.  Paul makes sure that we know and understand that there is nothing we can do to nullify God’s righteousness or His plan of salvation.  In fact, our sinful nature makes God’s work all the more amazing.

From a human perspective, if there was a person in our lives who continually hurt us, talked bad about us, and betrayed our relationship over and over again, we would end that relationship.  It wouldn’t be healthy for us to stay in it.  Yet this is what we do to God repeatedly, every day, and He continues to be faithful.

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul makes the case for human wickedness.  He points out that the condemnation that we deserve is completely just.  However, as he does this, Paul is also building the case for the magnitude of God’s actions in Jesus Christ culminating in 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.”

This is the good news of the Gospel friends!  Because of God’s faithfulness and Jesus’ righteousness, the way has been reopened for true relationship with God!

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 2, 5, 21, 37, 60, 62, 115, 

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 20 – 24

Romans 2 – The Law

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The prominence and important of the Law in the Old Testament cannot be understated.  It’s relevance to the New Testament and the New Covenant often is.  Paul is laying out the basics of God’s plan for salvation and we see here that the Law was a vital part of that plan.  For God’s people, however, Paul points to the true purpose of the Law and God’s true desire of His people: a “circumcised heart.”

God’s desire for His people was a renewed, reconciled relationship with humankind. Since the calling of Abram in Genesis 12, the whole arc of this relationship was that all of the nations of the world would be blessed through God’s covenant relationship with Abram.  The Law, then, became a part of how God was calling His people to live in this relationship.  It was, as Moses points out in Deuteronomy 6, always about the heart.  God’s Law showed His people the things that would damage their relationship with the goal being that they would want to avoid these things, desiring a deeper relationship with Him.

Yet Israel completely misses this point.  First, they ignore the Law and, when they are punished in exile, they eventually divulge into legalism rather than heart change.  So many laws were developed to protect people from breaking God’s Law that it was literally impossible to follow, even for the religious leaders and teachers that Paul addresses here.

Israel’s problem, in the end, was that they thought that having the Law and being in the land is what gave them their identity.  What they failed to see is that it isn’t what one does that makes them God’s people but who they are as God’s called children.  We too need to remember that our Identity is grounded in Christ, not our actions.

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 12, 13

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 17