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

Romans 1 – No Excuse

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Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is a systematic presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s over-arching plan of salvation.  There is no record, to my knowledge, of how the church in Rome was founded, and therefore it is possible that Paul is writing not simply to encourage but also to educate these brothers and sisters on the basics of Christian faith.  Throughout the letter, Paul does a great deal of work to show that both Jews and Gentiles (of which the Roman church was primarily made up) are alike, under the wrath of God and equal recipients of God’s gift of grace as well, when they put their faith in Jesus Christ.

To fully walk through God’s plan of salvation, Paul begins at the beginning, with creation and the fall of humanity into sin.  Neither the Gospel nor God’s plan of salvation makes sense (or are needed) without the reality of sin.

But there is another truth that Paul also points out here which is the fact that the general ability to know God, and therefore the ability to seek Him out, is made plain through creation.  Because of this, humankind, though sinful, is left without excuse for their sins before God.

The reality here that Paul is expressing is that humans were created by God, in the image of God, to be in relationship with God.  Yet, true relationship, true love requires a choice and so humanity was created with free will.  It is the deepest truth of love: the ability to choose means the risk of rejection.  Yet there is greater joy in the choice to love, something that God desires for us so deeply that He sent His Son to die and make a way for our relationship to be reconciled.

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 10, 14, 21, 35, 59, 96, 101, 106, 112

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 2, 12, 13, 14, 15

Introduction to Romans

We have now come to the beginning of what is known as the New Testament Epistles.  These are the letters, mostly written by Paul, to churches throughout the Roman Empire and is a snapshot of the correspondence between the authors and the churches, as well as a picture of what the early church was dealing with.  Interestingly, we continue to deal with many of these things.  The Epistles are divided into two groups, with several sub-groupings: Pauline and General Epistles.  Paul’s letters tend to be a bit more specific in their intended audience while the general epistles, so aptly named, have a more general audience.

The book of Romans, though first in canonical order, is not the first letter that Paul wrote.  It is, however, one of the most theologically significant of his writings, covering the length and breadth of the plan of salvation from creation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then on to what it means to live into our faith and our identity in Christ.  Romans is the most systematic of Paul’s writings, making it one of the most useful books in helping believers and non-believers alike understand God’s plan for Salvation.

So useful has this book been in the Christian faith that the Heidelberg Catechism was modeled after it’s organizational pattern, “Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude” as well as a number of incredibly popular salvation study tools like “Romans Road.”  Paul, here, is presenting the Gospel in both its simplicity and its complexity.

Paul wrote Romans likely in AD 57, several years before he actually made the journey to Rome.  He probably wrote the letter while he was in Corinth, recorded in Acts 20.  However, even here we see both his longing to go to Rome and also his care for the Church as it was beginning there.

Acts 28 – Journey's End

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There were so many reasons for Paul not to make it to Rome, and so many opportunities for him to escape from his captors as well.  While we don’t get much information about the other captives that were on this journey but I imagine that they have found this as quite the stroke of good luck.  Being a prisoner often meant certain death in the Roman Empire and surviving a shipwreck would have provided at least an opportunity to escape.

But for Paul, even being marooned on an island was an opportunity to minister and (though we don’t see it directly stated) an opportunity to spread the Gospel.  Paul knew where he was called and stopped at nothing to get there, and he did.  Paul made it to Rome and testified to the Gospel there, just as God had directed him.  He preached in captivity and in freedom there for two years and the Kingdom of God expanded greatly there and throughout the Roman empire.

This is a fitting ending to the book of Acts, bringing its main theme, the expansion of the Gospel from Jerusalem all the way to the ends of the earth, full circle.  However, this theme does not reside in the book of Acts alone, but throughout the whole of Scripture the people of God have always been called to be a light to the world.

Sadly, we often find reasons and ways to move away from this call.  Paul demonstrates in his actions and his life the bold and courageous preaching of the Gospel throughout the world.  His mission, however, and ours will never actually end until Christ returns.  Our mission never ends, no matter what opposition we face as the people of God, we are called to be both disciples and witnesses.

Acts 27 – The Journey to Rome

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Paul’s journey to Rome is not an easy one.  He traveled as a prisoner, which meant that little care was given to him.  Yet the centurion that was in charge of Paul seems to have some compassion for him, at least at first.

As the journey continues on, things get rougher for Paul and for all who are on board the ship.  Against Paul’s warning, they decide to leave the relative safety of one harbor for another that would be better for the ship.  This turns out to be disastrous.

Yet in the midst of all of this, the prisoner Paul becomes the voice of calm reassurance and salvation for all those on board this ill-fated voyage.   Ironically, this isn’t the first time a prisoner saved his captors.

Paul tells them the angel’s message, an encouragement if there ever was one in that moment, and then beckons them to eat, breaking bread in the same manner Jesus did at the last summer.  Though the situation seems bleak, God is abundantly present, protecting and providing for Paul and those traveling with them.

We are all called to different journeys in life as we follow God and live out our faith.  Some of these journeys are physical, some are spiritual, but all require us to listen and to obey.  Too often, when we run into difficulty, we think that we might be on the wrong track or that God has somehow abandoned us.  Yet it is clear here that Paul was right where God wanted him to be.

In our faith journey, we can take our cues from Paul here.  I’m sure he didn’t enjoy being tossed about in the boat, much less traveling as a prisoner.  However, he remained faithful through it all, trusting in God’s wisdom and providence.