Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Seven Churches in Asia...Pergamos

We find Christ's letter to the church in Pergamos in Revelation 2:12-17. Unlike Ephesus, this congregation tolerated doctrinal error, but like Smyrna, Pergamos was a very wicked city, and the saints there also held fast to the name of Christ. This is a summary of the church's condition. Now let us take a closer look at Christ's address to the Pergamos congregation.

He describes Himself in verse 12 as "He who has the sharp two-edged sword." Back in Revelation 1:16, John we that, "He had in His right hand seven stars" and "out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength." What is this two-edged sword? I mean, is there a literal sword coming out of the mouth of the Lord? Of course not. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The sword is the word of God (also see Eph. 6:17). In Revelation, a picture is painted of the glorified Christ whose primary weapon is the word of God. Think about it. Christ was not physically attacking these congregations, but He was attacking their sin with the word!

Back in Revelation 2:13, Jesus again says, "I know your works," and He goes on to say, "and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is." Some might take this to mean that Pergamos was more wicked than the other cities in Asia, but that is not necessarily the case. Apparently, some of the Jews had a maxim that where the law of God was not studied (where there was no religious academy or synagogue), there Satan reigned. In any event, the point is that the saints in Pergamos were surrounded by wickedness and moral corruption. The saints in Smyrna had to deal with the blaspheming Jews who were "a synagogue of Satan" (2:9). Satan had a lot of influence in Asia.

What is encouraging to me is that the saints in Pergamos, despite their living conditions, faithfully held fast to the name of Christ. "And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells." If Christians can hold fast to Christ even in the place where Satan is said to reign, then certainly we can remain faithful today.

Who was Antipas? Christ indicates here that he was a martyr, but do we know anything else about him? No. All we know is that he was a Christian who died for the cause of Christ.

So the saints in Pergamos were commended for their endurance and faithfulness in these aspects of their service to God...but they had faults as well. In verses 14-15, Jesus said, "But I have a things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you ALSO have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." I'll try to describe these two doctrines in just a moment, but first I want to make a critical point...

Notice that the Pergamos church was not rebuked for actively teaching these doctrines, but for tolerating these doctrines among its members. "You have there those who hold..." Here's the lesson: we must oppose doctrinal error, whether it is taught from the pulpit or taught among the members of the church. Any and all error must be opposed!

Now, what are the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans?

The doctrine of Balaam is named after Balaam, the prophet of the Old Testament. Balaam was called by Balak to curse the Israelites. Balaam refused to curse the Israelites and in fact, he said, "How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?" (Num. 23:8). Again, in Numbers 23:20: "Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it." But despite Balaam's refusal to curse Israel, he later advised Balak on how to bring God's curse upon Israel. Numbers 31:16 says, "Look, these woman caused the children of Israel through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor..." As a result of Balaam's counsel, Balak sent down the idolatrous women of Moab to entice the Israelites. The Israelites succumbed to the temptation and as a result God's wrath reigned down on the congregation.

That's the story of Balaam. While he professed the name of God, he subtly promoted idolatry and sexual immorality. Among the saints at Pergamos, there were some who promoted these same sins. And the church did nothing about it!

Regarding the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, Adam Clarke says, "These were, as is commonly supposed, a sect of the Gnostics, who taught the most impure doctrines, and followed the most impure practices. They are also supposed to have derived their origin from Nicolas, one of the seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6:5. The Nicolaitans taught the community of wives, that adultery and fornication were things indifferent, that eating meats sacrificed to idols was quite lawful; and mixed several pagan rites with the Christian ceremonies. Augustine, Irenaeus, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Tertullian, have spoken largely concerning them."

As a result of their tolerance of sin and error, the saints in Pergamos were told to "Repent..." (vv. 16). They had to change their ways by putting an end to these false doctrines! In another place, Paul told Timothy to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:3). This needs to be our practice today. Is this the practice in your church? Does your church refute error or does it tolerate all the different beliefs and practices of its members?

As Christ concludes His address in Revelation 2:17, He says, "To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." The reference to hidden manna is comparable to the references to the tree of life (2:7). Jesus is saying that in heaven, our needs will be met; we will be surrounded by God's blessings.

The reference to white stones is a little more difficult, and there are different opinions.
  1. Some say that these white stones represented pardon. It is said that the judges of ancient times gave white stones to those whose tresspasses were absolved, or forgiven.
  2. Others contend that Christ is speaking of the victors in the public games. It is said that they were given a stone with their name written on it and that, because of their triumph in the games, they were maintained at the public's expense.

This is one of those things that I have trouble pinning down, and either conclusion seems to be reasonable. Something is certain, however, and that is the reality of newness in heaven. Despite our difficulties here, all the atrocities and difficulties of this life will be left behind when we enter that prepared place.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Seven Churches in Asia...Smyrna

Of the seven churches in Asia, five were unfaithful and two were faithful. The church in Smyrna, which we'll be considering in this article, was one of those faithful congregations. The basic message here in Revelation 2:8-11 is that despite the obstacles a congregation may face, it can and must endure those obstacles...and when it does, it garners the praise and commendation of God.

In verse eight, Christ describes Himself as "the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life." This description is fairly straightforward. Jesus is often described as the First and the Last. In Revelation 1:17, He said to the apostle John, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last." As the book comes to a close in chapter 22, Jesus once again says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last." The terms Alpha and Omega are the beginning and ending letters of the Greek alphabet. So basically, this is the same as saying that Christ is the Beginning and the End, and all of this emphasizes the power and divinity of Christ. After all, it is "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Ac. 17:28).

The latter part of verse two says that Jesus "was dead, and came to life." No explanation is necessary here. Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead.

In verse nine, the Lord begins His personal address to the Smyrna congregation, and as He did with Ephesus, He again says, "I know your works." Nothing escapes the oversight of the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). All things are "naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). For the faithful child of God, this is uplifting, but for the unfaithful child of God or the alien sinner, this is frightening. Does it encourage or frighten you that Christ knows all your works?

Not only did Christ know their works, but He also knew their "tribulation, and poverty...and...the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews but are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (vv. 3). One cannot miss the fact that the brethren in Smyrna suffered much for the cause of Christ. They were surrounded by ungodly people who mistreated and persecuted them. Like poor Lot who endured the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Pet. 2:7-8), these saints also had to endure the wickedness and filthiness of Smyrna. Yet they stuck together and maintained their resolve; they kept their focus on heaven, and as a result, they had remained faithful.

Notice in verse nine, that these saints were impoverished, yet in God's eyes, they were rich. What does this mean? Well, let's turn for a moment to Revelation 3:17. Here, as Christ addresses the sinful Laodicean church, He says to them, "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked--" and then in verse 18, "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fre, that you may be rich..." Do you see the contrast? The brethren in Smyrna may not have been physically rich, but they were spiritually rich. The Laodicean congregation, on the other hand, may have been wealthy in the world's eye, but they were impoverished spiritually. What is the point? The point is simply that we need to emphasize spiritual riches over material prosperity.

In Revelation 2:10, the Lord says to the church in Smyrna, "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful even until death, and I will give you the crown of life." It is interesting to me that God not only told them that they were going to suffer, but did not promise to deliver them from this persecution. Basically, He told them that they would have to endure it. This same point is seen later, in Revelation 6. The saints cried out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" In verse 11, the message from God was that a "number of their fellow servants and their brethren...would be killed as they were..."

You see, God does not promise us that our lives will be free from difficulty and persecution. In fact, He allows us and wills that we endure such trials in this life. Not only do these trials strengthen us (Jas. 1:2-3), but the positive reaction of Christians to persecution is a powerful testimony to those in the world.

The Smyrna saints would be thrown in prison; that is, they would be persecuted. This persecution would last for ten days. Some argue that the ten days symbolized ten years (days can be symbolic for years in scripture). Others believe that the shortness of the trial is here implied. I can see either interpretation.

In the latter part of verse ten, we find the following conditional statement: "be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life." The crown of life is only obtained when we are faithful. What does this say about those saints who are unfaithful? The conclusion is clear: they will not receive the crown of life! Yes, salvation is conditioned upon our faithfulness (Col. 1:21-23; 1 Pet. 1:4-5).

Finally, in verse 11, Jesus tells the saints, "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." The second death is explained in Revelation 21:8: "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolators, and all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the second death." The second death is Hell! So those who are in sin will face eternal torment in Hell, but those who faithfully serve God, whose names are in the "Lamb's Book of Life" shall experience the bliss of heaven (Rev. 21:4, 22-24).

Will you experience heaven?

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Seven Churches in Asia..Ephesus

In Revelation 2:1-7, we find Jesus' remarks to the church in Ephesus. The Lord had many positive things to say about this church, but in the end, this was a church that needed to repent. There are many valuable lessons for us in this passage.

First of all, it is important to note that, in Revelation 2-3, each time that Christ introduces Himself to the respective churches, He describes Himself in a different way. Here in His address to the Ephesian church, He says, "These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands." The He here is Christ. The seven stars and the seven lampstands were defined in Revelation 1:20. The seven stars are the "angels of the seven churches" and the seven lampstands are the "seven churches."

Who are the angels of the churches? Some contend that each church had its own angel, while others contend that the word angel in the Greek simply means messenger and that Christ is actually writing these things to the pastors of the churches. I emphatically deny this second theory, for there is no biblical evidence that one man ever governed any church. The belief that each church had its own angel seems to be the most likely, even though it is hard for us to imagine. Or it could be that Christ was sending these letters to individuals in each of these seven churches that perhaps didn't possess any governing authority. Timothy wasn't a pastor in Ephesus, but he would have been a prominent individual in the Ephesian church that worked with that particular church (not that Timothy was in Ephesus when this letter was written; this is just to illustrate the point).

I don't exactly know, but what I do know is this...according to verse one, Christ is not only familiar with what is going on within each congregation, but He is intimate with and has fellowship with those churches that are faithful. He walks among the churches, so to speak.

In verse two, Jesus says, "I know your works." Again, this is something that is specifically written to all seven congregations, and again, this point only highlights the reality that Christ knows what is happening. He is not oblivious. He pays close attention to what is going on, and He cares about what is going on.

Beginning in verse two, He begins to emphasize the positive characteristics of the Ephesian church. They...
  1. Didn't bear with those who were evil (vv. 2). In other words, they didn't put up with any nonsense. If someone was committing evil within the congregation, that evil was swiftly dealt with. Sin was not tolerated in any way! Back in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebuked the church in Corinth because it did tolerate evil. So we see here the importance of drawing the distinction, within the church, between evil and good.
  2. They also "tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars" (vv. 2). This lines up with what John wrote back in 1 John 4:1: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." In other words, the brethren in Ephesus did not blindly follow those who claimed to have authority from God. They put all teachers and preachers to the test. They compared and contrasted what they said and what they did with the revealed will of God. If it didn't line up, these so-called apostles were utterly rejected. This needs to be our mindset as well.
  3. In the third verse, Jesus says of the Ephesians that they had persevered and had patience and had labored for Christ. This is a wonderful compliment! To endure trials with patience and to NOT be weary reveals a level of determination for which we should all strive.
  4. Later, in verse six, Jesus again commends the Ephesian church for having hated "the deeds of the Nicolaitans." Once again, the Ephesians' staunch opposition to error is praised by the Lord. It is clear that they worshipped in truth, according to God's word (Jn. 4:24). They did not have this ecumenical mindset; they didn't tolerate error at all! Sadly, most churches today in the 21st century are completely negligent in this area. They have this "unity in diversity" approach to all differences and disagreement.

As you can see, the brethren in Ephesus were doing a lot of things right! But as we see in verses 4-5 they were far from perfect. In fact, Christ told them that if they didn't repent, they would no longer belong to Him!

The Lord says in verses 4-5, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent."

What was their one problem? They had left their first love! Despite their opposition to error, their bold stand for the truth, and their patience endurance of tribulation, their love for God had waned. Outside, they were doing great, but inside...not so great.

And here's the lesson for us: it is commendable when we oppose doctrinal error and demand truth, but let's not get so caught up in our refutation of error that we forget to strengthen the inner man and reaffirm our love for God. On a daily basis, we need to study God's word...not only for the purpose of developing deeper and stronger understandings of all the big issues, but to learn about God, His love, His mercy, and His plan of redemption. We need to focus not only on the different angles of the current hot topics, but on the different angles of Christian character: love, gentleness, self-control, etc.

Please understand this point because your soul is at stake. Christ told the Ephesians that they had to repent. Was it that they had done something wrong? No. It's what they failed to do that hurt their standing with Christ. And if they didn't straighten up and rediscover their love for God, their "churchhood" would be removed. The text says that Christ would remove their lampstand if they didn't repent. If a lamptand represents the church, then we MUST conclude that Christ was threatening to remove their churchhood. They would cease being a church OF Christ. No longer would they be Christ's. And that's not good, is it?

Yes, it is possible for a church to be rejected by God.

If the Ephesians overcame, they would "eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." In other words, they would experience the bliss of heaven! But they HAD to repent and remain faithful to obtain this eternal reward!

Let us learn from Christ's letter to the church in Ephesus.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Religious Celebration of Christmas

Most religious people celebrate Christmas as a religious observance of the birth of Christ. Churches have Christmas plays. Nativity scenes are set up everywhere. Religious folks are often heard saying, "Keep Christ in Christmas," and, "Jesus is the reason for the season." People talk about the Christmas story in terms of the biblical account of Jesus' birth. Stars and angels sit atop Christmas trees, reminding us of the religious implications of Christmas.

But here's the question: should Christmas be celebrated as a religious holiday? Is it proper to view December 25th as a holy day? Do Christians have biblical authority to celebrate the birth of Christ as an annual holiday? The short answer--and I'll go into greater detail in this article--is no.

Before I begin, I want to clarify something. I'm not condemning Christmas trees nor am I saying that it's wrong to exchange gifts on December 25th. For many, Christmas is simply an opportunity to get together with family, and that's fine. Songs like Frosty the Snowman and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas are cherished by many, and again, there's not a thing wrong with that. If a person wants to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, I'm certainly not going to object, just as I'm not going to object to celebrating the fourth of July or Labor Day. It is the religious observance of Christmas that I oppose, and here's why...

The issue is authority. As Christians, we are obligated to seek New Testament authority for all that we do. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." In other words, we're to do ALL THINGS according to the authority of Christ. I like the way Peter puts it in 1 Peter 4:11: "speak as the oracles of God." Speak where God speaks, and be silent where He is silent. The scriptures (written word) are able to make us "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If the scriptures equipp us for EVERY good work, then we must conclude that if something is not scriptural, it is NOT a good work. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. Before I engage in some spiritual or religious work, I must first make sure that I have biblical authority for that work. And this is true regarding worship as well. We're to worship God in truth, or according to His revealed word (Jn. 4:24; 17:17).

Where is the authority for the religious observance of Christmas. Sure, we read about the birth of Christ in God's word. We learn that He was born in Bethlehem of the virgin Mary. He was laid in a manger, and He was visited by the shepherds and wise men. These are all biblical facts. But where did God ever command His people to celebrate these events in the form of a holiday? Furthermore, where is the biblical account of the early Christians celebrating the birth of Christ as an annual holiday? Is there ANY verse that commands, exemplifies or infers that we're to observe the Christmas holiday?

You can read the New Testament from beginning to end, and you're not going to find it. It's not there. There aren't any commands to celebrate Christmas, any examples of the early Christians celebrating it, or any inferences that it was celebrated.

You might say, "But why do we have to have specific authority? Certainly God wants us to remember His Son and that's what Christmas does! How can you condemn such a wonderful holiday?"

Yes, God wants us to remember His Son, and there is nothing wrong with studying about the birth of Christ...but when we make December 25th into a holy day, and when we turn it into a religious holiday...when the Bible has not authorized it...then we have transgressed scripture.

Do you realize that in the Old Testament, God specifically commanded holy days that the Jewish people were to observe? Read Exodus 23:10-17 and Leviticus 23. God told them what holidays to observe and He told them exactly how to observe them. But God hasn't done that in the New Testament. We do know that the early Christians met on the first day of the week to remember the death of Christ and to lay by in store (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2), but no where does God command the observance of any other day.

So if Christmas did not begin in God's word, where did it begin? Where did it come from?

Christmas is not a biblical holiday, but rather a Catholic holiday. Basically, the Catholics, in an effort to convert some of the pagans, decided to mix some of the pagan and Catholic traditions.
  1. Regarding the day, December 25th, the pagans celebrated this day as the birthday of Mithra, the goddess of light. Because Jesus was viewed as the light of the world, they adopted this day as the new birthday of Christ. Liberius, the bishop of Rome, adopted December 25th in 354 A.D.
  2. The name Christmas is derived from two words, Christ and Mass from the Catholic mass.
  3. Santa Claus was originally St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra and Lycia. The belief that he enters the house through the roof originated with a Norse legend that the goddess Hertha appeared in the fireplace.
  4. The first nativity scene was set up in 1223 A.D. by St. Frances of Assisi.
It is an irrefutable fact that Christmas is a Catholic holiday, not a biblical holiday. It is ironic that the Protestant world (which historically protested the Catholic church), has embraced this Catholic holiday.
Christians should forsake the religious observance of Christmas lest they be guilty of vain worship (Mk. 7:7-9) and acting outside of the authority of Christ (Col. 3:17). Paul said something to the Galatians that is very relevant here: "You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain" (Gal. 4:10-11).

Some may object by citing Romans 14 where Paul places the observance of special days into the category of personal choice and liberty. Without getting too deeply into this, I'll point out one simple fact: Paul is not speaking about our right to arbitrarily invent and celebrate our own religious holy days, but rather is speaking about WEAK Christians who's conscience demanded that they observe certain days (because of their upbringing and lifestyle prior to conversion). So unless you were raised celebrating Christmas religiously and it now violates your conscience NOT to do so, this passage doesn't apply to you. Beyond that, I'm not sure that this text applies to the religious observance of days as much as it does to the physical observance of certain days (i.e. not working on the Sabbath) to appease one's conscience.

Again, I'm not telling you that you have to tear down your Christmas tree, or that you have to rip the shiny lights of your house (you probably won't do that anyways till at least April). I'm not condemning Christmas gifts or Christmas songs. Neither am I condemning the remembrance of the birth of Christ; we ought to study and meditate upon His birth, His life, and His death regularly! But I do hope that you'll consider the things I've written about the religious aspect of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Romans 16

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I hope to write a lengthy article about each chapter of this sixteen chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful. This is the last article in the series.

Here we are, at last, in the sixteenth and final chapter of the book of Romans. This has been an exciting series of articles, and I have thoroughly enjoyed restudying the book.

The final chapter consists mostly of greetings and salutations. Paul tells the brethren in Rome to "Greet..." a number of individuals. Several of these names are familiar to us...Aquila and Priscilla, for example (vv. 3), but most of them are not. Many of these individuals apparently had worked with Paul in the past. Mary "labored much for" Paul while Urbanus was a "fellow worker in Christ" (vv. 9). On one occasion in this chapter, the apostle makes reference to a church that met in Aquila and Priscila's house (vv. 3-4). Needless to say, there were many active Christians in the area of Rome. These Christians were devoted to Christ. They didn't hesitate to help one another, and they worked together to further the cause of Christ in Rome!

There is one salutation in particular that I'd like to focus on at this time. In verses 1-2, Paul wrote, "I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also." This is not so much a salutation as it is a commendation. Pheobe was not a resident of Rome, but of Cenchrea. It appears that she was traveling to Rome perhaps to help the churches there, or perhaps for personal reasons. In any case, she was going to be there and she was going to help the churches while she was there. She is called a servant of the church. The Greek word for servant is diakonos which, in other places, is translated deacon. Here's the question: is Paul saying that Pheobe was an official deacon of the church? No. Only men could serve as deacons of the church (see Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8-12). But certainly, Pheobe was a servant of the church. That is, she served the needs of her brethren and was active in many ways. This is a powerful lesson for women. Even though women cannot serve as elders, deacons or assembly preachers, they do have a very important role to fulfill.

As we move past the salutations and commendations, let's notice Romans 16:16-18: "Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you. Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple." There are several points to make here:
  1. First of all, they were told to greet one another with a "holy kiss." Many have wondered what Paul meant here. Actually, the holy kiss is mentioned in three other places (1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26). So what is it? And why don't we do it today? I don't know that I can give a definitive answer here, but I can give you my personal opinion as to what the holy kiss might have been: it was customary then, as it is today in many places in the world, to greet others with a kiss on the cheek. It might be tempting for some to use this as an opportunity to be inappropriate. Paul is simply reminding them to greet one another with an appropriate kiss...a holy kiss, if you will. We don't do this today because, in America, we don't greet one another with a kiss. This is a cultural thing.
  2. Second, Paul makes reference to churches of Christ. This is why many churches today identify themselves as churches of Christ. Not only is it a scriptural designation, but it rightly honors Christ, the founder, owner and possessor of the church. In other places, Paul mentions the "church of God" (1 Cor. 1:2) and the "church of the Living God" (1 Tim. 3:15). All of these designations are scriptural.
  3. Third, Paul urges the Roman brethren to note those who divide from the doctrine of Christ (Rom. 16:17). In other words, if someone came to them advocating anything foreign to the gospel of Christ, they were to note them and "avoid them."
In verse 19, Paul prays that the Christians in Rome will be "wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil." This is something that we all need to take to heart. I'm afraid that too often, we overcomplicate matters of morality. We debate where the line is and at what point something becomes sinful...and these debates are not wrong in and of themselves, but let's not make it more difficult than it needs to be. We should not be trying to justify carnality. Let's stay far away from sin and have a simple view of evil.

In the final verses of the book, Paul says, "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith--to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen." Paul here ties their salvation and faithfulness to the plan of redemption set in motion before the world began. In other words, God will guide us, through the holy scriptures, to be HIS people. Let us render obedience to this all-wise, all-powerful God!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Romans 15

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I hope to write a lengthy article about each chapter of this sixteen chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

Here in chapter fifteen, Paul begins to wrap up this amazing epistle. He summarizes the main point that he has been writing about all along: as Christians, we're to love and serve one another. He then makes some personal remarks to the brethren in Rome and states his intentions to visit them in the future. These are the basic points of the chapter.

In verse one, Paul continues the point made in the previous chapter: "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves." In other words, there needs to be patience and compromise when it comes to these matters of opinion. After all, we're not here to please ourselves, but rather to SERVE! Not even Christ pleased Himself (vv. 3). Instead, He bore our burdens and suffered for us. Likewise, we ought to serve others and put their needs first! In another place, the apostle said, "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:4).

And this ought to be our mindset because it is the very essence of the kingdom. The kingdom of Christ is about Jews and Gentiles coming together to worship God as one body (Eph. 2:13-22). This is a lesson that we can see in the Old Testament scriptures which "were written before...for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). Paul goes on in the following passage to cite many Old Testament prophecies of the united nature of Christ's kingdom. The promises were made to the Jewish fathers of old (vv. 8), but it was also prophesied that the Gentiles would praise God and have access to salvation (vv. 9-12). Again, this is a summary of what Paul has been writing about throughout the Roman letter: stop looking down on one another because you're all the people of God...therefore, love and serve each other!

In verse 13, the apostle begins to address the Roman brethren specifically. He says in verses 13-14 that, "I myself am confident concerning you...that you also are full of goodness..." Despite this confidence, he had "written more boldly" to them (vv. 15). In other words, Paul didn't want to leave the impression that the brethren in Rome were all wicked. Even though he had rebuked them on several points, they were still the people of God. They had corrections to make, and they needed to mature, but they were still brethren. This is a powerful point! Think about it. We all have struggles, and we all need to grow spiritually. But God is willing to bear with us! Likewise, we should not be hasty to condemn weak brethren. Instead of pointing fingers, we need to do all that we can to help one another!

In the remaining part of the chapter, Paul repeatedly declares his desire to visit the saints in Rome. He had been hindered from coming to them (vv. 22), but planned on coming to them when he journeyed to Spain (vv. 24). He wanted to come to them "with joy by the will of God" that they might "be refreshed together" (vv. 32). Keep in mind, they didn't have email or Facebook back in the first century. They didn't have phones or UPS to keep in touch. You can imagine how much more special and meaningful it would have been to visit with other Christians on a rare long-distance trip. This passage only highlights the importance of relationships among God's people. Let us not get so wrapped up in our individual lives that we fail to utilize one of the greatest blessings that God has given us: the church!

Many other things are said in this chapter, and I encourage you to read it and study it yourself.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Romans 14

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I hope to write a lengthy article about each chapter of this sixteen chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

If you were to ask the average Christian, "What is the most controversial chapter in the book of Romans?" they would probably answer, "Romans 14!" For many in the religious world, there is no difficulty here: it is understood to be saying that we shouldn't make a fuss over doctrinal differences...just get along. But for the members of churches of Christ, this is a very controversial chapter indeed.

Here is the issue: is Romans 14 addressing matters of law and doctrine, or is Paul here addressing issues of liberty? In other words, if someone teaches or practices error, should we overlook that and maintain fellowship per Romans 14? I would answer, NO! The New Testament repeatedly affirms that we should not tolerate doctrinal error...
  1. In Matthew 16:6, 12, Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  2. In John 4, when Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at the well, she asked him who was right, the Jews or the Samaritans, when it came to the place of worship. Jesus told her plainly that the Samaritans were wrong and the Jews, right, for salvation was of the Jews (vv. 22). Jesus didn't say, "it doesn't matter, because we're all going to heaven anyways!"
  3. Acts 15:1-2 says, "And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissention and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question." Did Paul tolerate this false teaching, or did he boldly conront it? With boldness and zeal, he debated these Judaizing teachers!
  4. We're told to "note those who cause divisions...contrary to the doctrine" (Rom. 16:17).
  5. Sin was not to be tolerated in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5). There are many commands in the New Testament to withdraw from those who are walking disorderly (2 Thess. 3:6).
  6. Those who preach a different gospel are accursed (Gal. 1:6-10).
  7. Paul doesn't say that there are many faiths, but "one faith" (Eph. 4:5).
  8. Timothy was told to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:3-4).
  9. We are to withdraw from those who teach things contrary to Christ's gospel (1 Tim. 6:3-6).
  10. "And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim. 2:17-18).
  11. While we are to "avoid foolish and ignorant disputes" we are to correct "those who are in opposition" (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
  12. "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn. 9).

Many other verses could be considered, but I'm sure you get the point. We are to stand up for what is right. We are to defend the faith. We are not to tolerate doctrinal error. When someone teaches falsehood, we need to confront them.

Now, I'm not saying that we should emotionally abuse those people who teach error, nor am I saying that we should be rude and sarcastic. Our ultimate motive should be love, and our first approach should be one of gentleness and humility (1 Pet. 3:15). But one cannot read these verses and miss the point: we are to demand truth...nothing more and nothing less.

How does all of this relate to Romans 14? The point here is that we need to harmonize Romans 14 with the rest of scripture. In other words, Romans 14 is not going to urge us to tolerate doctrinal error while the rest of scripture urges us to refute it. Romans 14 is addressing matters of liberty and conscience, not matters of faith and doctrine!

But really, the wording of the chapter is fairly straightforward if you ask me. Sure, it helps to notice all of these other verses in an effort to set forth what the passage isn't saying, but the passage itself is not unclear. Let's examine it...

Romans 14:1 says, "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things." There are three points here that we need to consider. First of all, Paul is talking about weak and strong brethren. Second, the stronger brethren are encouraged to accept the weaker ones, and third, the dividing issues concern "doubtful things." The word doubtful is from the Greek word diakrisis which basically means judgment. These are matters of personal judgment or opinion...that divide weak and strong brethren.

In verses 2-6, Paul uses two examples to illustrate the point: the eating of meat and the observance of certain days. Verse two says, "For one believeshe may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables." Both are not weak; just one is weak. The brother who eats only vegetables (because the eating of meat violates his conscience) is weak. He is unlearned and immature in the faith. In 1 Corinthians 8:4, the apostle says, "Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one," but then in verse seven he says, "However, there is not in everyone that knowledge." Again, we are talking about weak and strong brethren.

In Romans 14:5-6, Paul talks about the observance of days. Some observe a certain day while others do not. Now, the apostle is not talking about the religious observance of religious days, but rather the physical observance of days. In other words, if a person converts from Judaism and they cannot in good conscience work on the Sabbaath...that's fine. Don't make a big fuss over it. There's nothing sinful about not working on a particular day.

In both cases, Paul is, without a doubt, addressing matters of liberty and opinion. There is nothing in the New Testament that mandates the eating of meat, nor is there any command that one MUST work on the Sabbath day (even though the Sabbath day is no longer mandatory). These are personal issues, and we as Christians need to exercise love and tolerance in these areas. Do not be judgmental (vv. 4).

Romans 14:19 says, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another," and in verse 20, "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense." Must we stand up for the truth and oppose false doctrine? Yes! But must we be as adament when it comes to matters of personal opinion and judgment? No. Instead, we must be patient and tolerant.

Much more could be said about this chapter, but I've covered the main points and I've established the meaning of the text. Paul is not preaching ecumenicalism here. He is not saying that we should tolerate doctrinal differences and "agree to disagree" when it comes to matters of faith and doctrine. This whole, "believe what you want to believe" mentality is completely contrary to scripture. But when it comes to issues of personal opinion, don't be so pushy.

That wasn't too hard, was it?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Romans 13

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I hope to write a lengthy article about each chapter of this sixteen chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

Romans 13 is fairly straightforward. In verses 1-7, Paul discusses the Christian's obligation to the government, and then inverses 8-14, he once again addresses the importance of devoting oneself wholly to God. While the chapter as a whole is not that controversial, there is a little bit of difficulty in the beginning.

Paul begins by saying, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." The command is simple: we are to obey the laws of the land which are set forth by the government. Of course, there is an exception to this rule. In Acts 5:29, Peter said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." When the laws of the land run contrary to the laws of God, then we must choose to obey the laws of God. In every other case, though, we must submit to the government. To illustrate the point, what if the government said that we could no longer preach against homosexuality? This would contradict our biblical obligation to "preach the season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2). In this case, we would have to disobey the government. But if the government mandates that we drive on the right side of the road, we must do it, for there is no contradiction here between the law of God and the law of man. I'm sure we all understand this.

The latter part of verse one is understood in different ways. What does Paul mean when he says that "the authorities that exist are appointed by God?" Some argue, based on this statement, that every civil ruler is literally chosen and appointed by God. Others contend that while God doesn't specifically select every leader, He guides the process and oversees all that occurs in the affairs of men. It is true that men have free-will, and that God can use every scenario to bring about His providential plan. Whether God specifically chooses each leader, or whether He uses the leaders that are appointed by men to serve His purpose, the point is still the same: we must submit to the governing authorities. Which is why Paul goes on to say in Romans 13:2, "Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves." This is a very serious matter!

I want to take just a moment to strengthen this point. In Daniel 4:17, the prophet reminded Nebuchadnezzar that, "This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will and sets over it the lowest of men." We may sometimes think that things are spinning out of control in this world, but we can take comfort in knowing that, despite the wickedness of men, God is in control!

In Romans 13:3-4, the apostle Paul goes on to say that God uses the civil authorities to punish evildoers. They are not "a terror to good works, but to evil," and in verse four, "For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil."

It is clearly stated here that the governments exist to maintain justice. But I want to balance this point by emphasizing certain other teachings of scripture. There may be occasions where governments shirk their duties and as a result, injustice dominates the land. In Amos 2:6-7, God prophesied against Israel because they promoted injustice. They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals (vv. 6). They perverted the way of the humble (vv. 7). Samaria oppressed the poor, according to Amos 4:1. In Isaiah 5:20, the prophet said, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil..."

Even though the government's job is to maintain justice and serve God's purpose, it is possible for governments to rebel against God's purpose. There are many places in the world where injustice reigns and evil dominates. Regarding these wicked and rebellious countries, we know that God will ultimately bring them down. In Isaiah 10:5, we find the following warning: "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger." God used Assyria to serve His divine will, but as you read on in the text, you discover that Assyria had become arrogant. Verse 15 says, "Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? As a result, God would judge Assyria (vv. 16).

The same is true of Rome. After all, when Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, commanding them to be subject to the governing authorities...the governing authority was Rome! Of course, Rome was a very wicked empire, and eventually, because of its treatment of Christians and its overflow of corruption, God would bring Rome to its knees (Rev. 6:17).

As Christians, we must view the governing authorities as ordained of God. We must submit to the various laws and regulations set forth by the government. But can a government incur the wrath of God? Most certainly! But let us never forget that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov. 14:34; also see 29:2). Let us exalt our nation by promoting the gospel of Christ, and let us always pray for our leaders that they may make the right decisions (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Back to Romans 13. There are a few more points I want to make very quickly as as try to understand our relationship to the government.
  1. First of all, these governments are given the right to "bear the sword" (vv. 4). This one statement gives the government the right to execute capital punishment. The death penalty is a valid means of promoting justice, according to God's word. Oddly enough, there are Christians today who oppose the death penalty.
  2. Second, we must understand that we are obligated to pay taxes (Rom. 13:6-7). No one likes to pay taxes, but it is our obligation as God's people. Jesus even told us to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's..." (Mk. 12:17).
  3. We must also respect those who are in authority (Rom. 13:7). This does not mean that we must approve of everything the government does, or that we must support everything the government does, but it means that we must have a respectful attitude towards those in authority. Can I voice my disagreement with the current administration, or any administration for that matter? Yes! But I must not do it in a disrespectful and irreverent way.

In the latter part of Romans 13, Paul stresses the importance of being spiritually active. He says in verses 11-12, "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light." What does it mean to be spiritually awake? It meant that...

  1. We must "love one another" (vv. 8).
  2. We must "walk properly" (vv. 13).
  3. We must guard our hearts (vv. 14).

In conclusion, Paul's point is this: live for heaven. Don't be like everyone else. Don't be apathetic. Be a person of conviction and zeal! Serve God with your whole heart.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Romans 12

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I hope to write a lengthy article about each chapter of this sixteen chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

In chapter twelve, Paul finally changes the course of the discussion. In the previous eleven chapters, the apostle analyzed the many different angles of the Jewish/Gentile controversy. He reiterated the point time and time again that the Jews were no longer God's chosen people, and that the Gentiles had been granted repentance unto life. Here in the twelfth chapter, Paul turns his attention to other issues regarding the church.

Humility and service are two concepts that we find in chapter twelve.

Paul begins the chapter by saying, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of GOd, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (vv. 1-2). In the Old Testament, the Jews made physical sacrifices, but in this New Testament dispensation, we are to be living sacrifices; that is, our whole lives are to be sacrificed for the cause of Christ. This is spiritual language, of course. To put it another way, "I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Is Christ living in you? Are you living for yourself or for Christ?

I love the way Paul says that this is our "reasonable service" in Romans 12:1. God is not asking too much of us. In light of all that God has done for us, it is reasonable for us to give our lives to Him! But really, when you think about it, what God has asked of us is NOT hard. After all, "His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

In verse two, the apostle urges us to NOT be conformed to this world. Christians today try too hard to fit in with the world, when we ought to be doing the very opposite. Are you willing to stand out, to be different? Are you willing to rebel against worldly fads if those fads contradict righteous and holy living?

Beginning in the third verse, Paul begins to discuss the body of Christ, and he focuses primarily on the different functions that we all have as members of the body, or church. God has dealt to each Christian a "measure of faith" in the sense that we all have different gifts or abilities that are to be used within the church (vv. 3 --> vv.6). Different gifts are listed here: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and showing mercy. While miraculous gifts have ceased and vanished away (see 1 Cor. 13:8-11), the fact remains that we all have different abilities and talents. Some are natural leaders. Others are gifted teachers. Some excel in the area of service. Some are older while others are younger, and there are benefits to both. Some have more money than others and can contribute in that way. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. Each one of us is to actively use our gift(s) to promote edification within the body of Christ.

Having said that, I'm afraid that too many Christians are apathetic in this area. They are pew-warmers, but they contribute very little to the growth of the church. We see our brethren on Sundays and Wednesdays, but we have no desire to spend time with our brethren outside of services. God designed the church to aid us in our spiritual growth, not just to be something we mark off of our to-do list each week.

In the remaining part of the chapter, we find a series of random admonitions regarding the spirit and attitude of Christians. Let's summarize these:
  • Let love be without hypocrisy (vv. 9).
  • Be kind towards one another (vv. 10).
  • Serve the Lord with zeal and sincerity (vv. 11-12).
  • Do all that you can to help others; open your home to others (vv. 13).
  • Love and bless your enemies; leave vengeance to God (vv. 14, 17-21).
  • Be humble in your view of one another (vv. 16).

You'll notice here that God demands more of us that faithful church attendance and morality. He demands our hearts. He wants us to love Him and to love others. Attitude is a critical element to faith. How are you doing in this regard?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Romans 11

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

The eleventh chapter of Romans is often perceived as being one of the more difficult chapter of the book, but really, it is not that difficult. The theme of this chapter is nothing new: the Jews who were once God's chosen people were no longer God's chosen people for now salvation was through the Messiah, Jesus Christ and not the old law.

Oddly enough, many religious people interpret this chapter to mean that the Jews are still God's chosen people and that they have a special role in God's future plan. There are those, of course, who view all Jews at all times as automatically saved. In the political realm, these individuals are called Zionists because of their desire to preserve Jerusalem and the nation of Israel. Then there are others who acknowledge the apostasy of Israel but contend that there will one day be a great revival during which the Jewish people will finally embrace the Messiah. Both theories assign a special role to physical Israel in the current and/or future plan of God. I contend that both positions are false, and I hope to explain my reasoning as I commentate on Romans 11.

Romans 11:1 says, "I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not!" Let's stop here for a moment. His people are the Israelites, and at first glance, it may appear that Paul is affirming the ongoing election of the Jews, but he is not. Notice what he says in the latter part of verse one. How was it that God hadn't cast away the Jews? "For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." Had God utterly forsaken the Jews and flippantly cast them off? No! They still had access to salvation, and Paul was a perfect example of this fact. Paul was saved in that he, as a Jewish man, converted to Christ. So Paul is not saying that the Jews were all still saved because, after all, they're Jews and God would never forsake His precious Jews. The apostle is very clearly saying that God had not abandoned the Jewish people to hopelessness...they COULD be saved...through Christ, just as Paul had been saved through Christ. This is the point of the entire chapter.

"God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew" (vv. 2). After all, "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal" (vv. 4). In other words, despite the faithlessness of Israel, there were some Israelites, like Paul, who were still faithful. They were faithful in that they had converted to Christianity. This "remnant" (vv. 5) was saved according to the "election of grace." The rest of Israel had been "blinded" according to verse seven (also see 2 Cor. 3:14-18).

Paul goes on in Romans 11:11-12 to emphasize one of the benefits of Israel's blindness and apostasy. The fall of Israel led to the salvation of the Gentiles. The salvation of the Gentiles was then intended to provoke the people of Israel to jealousy, that they might seek the Lord.

Notice verses 13-14: "For I speak to you Gentiles: inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them." Who can argue the fact that the Jews were and are lost? Paul implies as much when he says "...and save some of them." And this is consistent with such passages as Romans 10:1 which says, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved."

The entire middle section of Romans 11 contains a kind of metaphor. The image of a natural olive tree is contrasted with that of a wild olive tree. The natural tree represented salvation and the natural branches were the people of Israel while the wild olive tree represented the Gentiles. Wild olive branches were being grafted into the natural olive tree. In other words, the Gentiles were now partaking of the benefits of salvation which the Jews had long enjoyed. Even though this is great news for the Gentiles, Paul tries to humble and caution them. In verses 20-22, the apostle warned them, "Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." This passage simultaneously denies the once saved, always saved theory.

For the sake of time, let's skip ahead to verse 26, another commonly misunderstood text. Paul says here, "And so all Israel will be saved..." As you might imagine, there are many, many people who love this verse simply because, in their mind, it reinforces the concept that physical Israel maintains its lofty place in the plan of God.

Based on this verse, it is argued that all Jews are saved, despite their rejection of Christ. But that is the very opposite of what Paul is saying. The word "so" means in this manner. In this manner, all Israel will be saved. In what manner? Paul answers that question by quoting a prophecy from Isaiah. "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins." It is through the Deliverer, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, that the Jews could be saved. Isn't this wht Paul has been saying all along? It's not that all Jews are literally saved simply because they are Jews. ALL Jews can be saved through Christ. Romans 10 articulates the conditions of salvation in Christ. Belief, confession and obedience through repentance and baptism!

"For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable," Paul adds in verse 29. That's right! After embracing the Jews as His people for thousands of years, God did not suddenly abandon them to hopelessness; He didn't turn His back on them. They still had access to salvation, but it was now through Christ.

It is a simple point and one that we should never forget: whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, black or white, male or female, salvation is ONLY in Christ (Jn. 14:6; Ac. 4:12).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Romans 10

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

In Romans the tenth chapter, Paul gets right to the point. The way to salvation is clearly articulated in the word of God and even though this gospel had been extended to the Jews, they had rejected it. Did Paul rejoice in this fact? Not at all! In fact, it caused him a tremendous amount of grief. "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." In other words, the Jews were religious people, but they were unsaved religious people. Likewise, it is possible today for a person to be religious yet unsaved. When our "religious zeal" is not according to knowledge--when it is not in harmony with the word of God--it does absolutely no good.

But the Jews were not only lagging way behind in the area of obedience, they also were self-righteous and self-reliant. That is the point of verses 4-5. They ignored the righteousness of God while simultaneously establishing their own righteousness. Their zeal wasn't directed towards God; it was directed towards their own system of meritorious works. Like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, they were outwardly pious, but inwardly they were full of dead men's bones.

And the thing is, God had made it easy for them to be saved. The truth of the gospel was not was not in some far off place (vv. 6-7), but rather was near to them--to every man for that matter (vv. 8). The Jews had access to the gospel; it had been openly offered to them time and time again.

Not only was the gospel easily accessible, but the conditions of salvation found therein were not overly-demanding. Paul tells us in the following segment of the chapter what a man must do to be saved: "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (vv. 9-10), and then in verse 13, "For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Many religious people today like to quote this passage in their attempt to justify the "faith-only" doctrine. Others like to turn here for authority for what is called the "sinner's prayer." Just believe. Just call on the Lord in prayer, and He will save you. But that is not Paul's point. First of all, He does not say that we are saved by faith only. Confession is also listed as a condition of salvation. This is not a confession of our sins, but a confession of the Lord Jesus (see Ac. 8:37). So it is faith AND confession. Let me ask you this: if a person does not confess Christ openly, can they be saved...even though they believe in Him? The answer is NO! Both faith and confession are necessary, according to the apostle Paul.

But let's not forget verse 13. We must CALL on the name of the Lord to be saved. To many, this is a prayer that the sinner recites in order to be saved. "God, save me from my sins." That kind of thing. But once again, the average denominational person is wrong in this position. Paul is not advocating the sinner's prayer here. According to God's word, "calling on the name of the Lord" is a metaphorical expression that is tied to obedience, namely water baptism. Let me explain...

In Acts 2, Peter quoted this same passage in verse 21 as he spoke to the Jews on the day of Pentecost. "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Later, as he concluded his sermon, the Jews asked Peter, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Did Peter tell them to pray or to believe only? No! He told them in verse 38 to "Repent, and be baptized...for the remission of sins" In Acts 22:16, Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, "And now why are you waiting? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." You see, we call on the Lord when we submit to His command to be baptized. When we humbly obey the Lord, we are, in essence, calling on Him to save us as He told us He would. That is the point in Romans 10:13.

I might also point out that while Romans 10 says much about the conditions of salvation, we cannot look to Romans 10 as the ONLY "salvation passage." After all, Romans 10 says nothing of repentance, yet the Bible repeatedly affirms that repentance is necessary for salvation (Lk. 13:3; Ac. 2:38; 3:19). Romans 10 is just one passage that addresses the topic of salvation, and all of these passages must be considered together in order for us to have a firm grasp of the conditions of salvation.

Okay, back to our examination of Romans 10.

In verses 14-17, Paul basically says that if we must call on the name of the Lord, then it is obvious that we must first HEAR about the Lord. In order for one to hear, someone must teach them about the Lord...and that's where preachers and evangelists come into play...and all Christians for that matter. We are to share the gospel with others that they may hear about the Lord and call upon Him. This is why Paul affirms in verse 17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Faith is not derived from some special feeling, but from the tangible word of God!

In the last segment of the chapter (vv. 18-21), Paul cites several Old Testament passages in an effort to highlight the Jews' foretold stubborness. The Jews HAD heard (vv. 18). They DID known (vv. 19). But they were not interested in the truth (vv. 20). Israel could not blame God, however, for He had reached out to them despite their disobedience (vv. 21).

Questions? Thoughts? Disagreements? Please comment below.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Romans 9

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

After devoting several articles to Romans 8, here we chapter nine. This is another difficult chapter in the sense that it is often misunderstood and twisted to support certain Calvinist teachings, but really, when we read it carefully, it is not that difficult.

As we begin our study of Romans 9, let us first of all identify the primary source of contention in this chapter. There is a section in the middle of the chapter that seems to support Calvinism. Let's consider a few of these confusing statements:

"Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated" (vv. 13).

"I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion" (vv. 15).

"Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens" (vv. 18).

These above statements may appear to some to be saying that God chooses certain individuals to be saved while choosing to reject others. I agree that God chooses to save certain individuals, but I believe that God chooses those who of their own free-will meet the conditions stipulated in His word. And yes, God rejects others...He rejects those who, of their own free-will, reject His word. But Calvinism says that we humans have no free-will; that we're all robots predetermined to be either saved or lost. But that is not what Paul is discussing in Romans 9. To understand what he is saying, let's begin in verse one and move through the chapter.

In the first several verses, Paul declares his sorrow and regret that the people of Israel were not in a right relationship with God. Because they had rejected the Messiah God sent them, they were lost. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh" (vv. 3). Physically speaking, Paul was of Jewish lineage. His "countrymen according to the flesh" were the Jewish people. The apostle here indicates that they were NOT saved. Why? Because they were not in Christ.

Paul goes on in the following passage to make the point that the Israelites had every opportunity to be saved. They had received the covenants and the law (vv. 4). The promised Messiah had risen among them (vv. 5). Yet they had turned against Him!

And this is why the apostle says, "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel." In other words, the Jews may have been physical Israel, but because of their rebellion and lack of faith, they were not God's chosen people. Galatians 3:9 says, "SO then those who are of fa ith are blessed with believing Abraham," and in verse 29, "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 6:16 refers to all faithful Christians as the "Israel of God." Who is true Israel today? It is not the Jewish nation, but the kingdom of Christ which is comprised of Christians!

Beginning in Romans 9:8, Paul begins to show that the chosen nation of Israel came through certain men who were chosen by God. These men represented Israel. Isaac, for example, was the chosen son while Ishmael was not (vv. 8-10). Isaac hadn't done anything to merit such an honor, but "that the purpose of God according to election might stand" (vv. 11). Likewise, the lineage went through Jacob, and not Esau. In fact, in verse 13 Paul quotes a verse from Malachi 1 which says, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated." Let's pause here for just a moment. What does it mean that God hated Esau? The contrast here of love and hate is intended to emphasize preference and choice. God chose Jacob instead of Esau. In this sense, he preferred to carry on the lineage through Jacob. It is also important to note, once again, that Paul is not talking about Jacob and Esau as individuals. In Genesis 25:23, the Lord told Rebekah, "Two NATIONS are in your womb..." Jacob represented what would be the chosen nation of Israel (which is why his name was later changed to Israel), while Esau represented what would be the nation of Edom.

I am saying all of this simply to remind you that in Romans 9, Paul is not emphasizing individual election (Joe is chosen to be saved while Sally is chosen to be lost), but rather national election. God had chosen the NATION of Israel over all other earthly nations. But now, they had rejected Jesus the Messiah, and so God extended the benefits of election to the Gentiles. The Jews had no right to question God. He was/is the potter and it is up to the potter what he does with the clay.

I can imagine that the Jews thought it unfair that the Gentiles had been granted repentance unto life. They had always been the chosen ones and the Gentiles had always been the heathen. The Jews came to view the Gentiles with disdain and animosity, but now they were equal before God. This didn't please the first century Jews and there are countless examples to illustrate this fact...hence Paul's admonition in Romans 9.

To further cement this point, consider Romans 9:24..."even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles," and again in verse 30, "What shall we say then That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith..."

You see? Paul is not talking about individual salvation. He is discussing the election of nations, and the manner in which God dealt with the Jews and Gentiles now that the old covenant had been nailed to the cross! It's as simple as that!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Romans 8.4 (vv. 28-30)

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

I'm going to spend a little more time on chapter eight, being that it is the most challenging of all sixteen chapters, in my opinion...

This passage (vv. 28-30) is one of the Calvinist's favorites. It is often manipulated to teach Calvinistic Predestination as well as Perseverance of the Saints (Once Saved, Always Saved). While I can understand why the Calvinist's love this text (it is difficult, and at first glance, it may seem to support T.U.L.I.P.), the fact is, it does not support Calvinistic theology!

Let's begin by reading the text. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."

The Calvinists will argue here that certain ones are predestined by God to be saved while others are predestined to be eternally lost. Those who are predestined to be saved will be saved no matter what, and it is impossible for them, once saved, to be lost, for, according to this passage, they have already been justified and glorified.

First of all, we need to distinguish between biblical predestination and Calvinistic predestination. Ephesians 1:5 says that we have been "predestined," but in the context of that verse, it is clear that Paul is talking about the plan of redemption, not each individual's eternal destiny. In other words, when we, of our own free-will, embrace Christ, we are partaking of the redemptive plan which was set in motion before the world began (Ac. 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:18-20). Because God foreordained that salvation would come through the blood of Christ, we become the elect when we are washed by the blood of Christ. In this way we are predestined...not because God chose us before the foundation of the world to be saved while CHOOSING to condemn others.

So in Romans 8:29-30, the notion of Calvinistic Predestination is NOT under consideration.

Now that I've clarified that oft misunderstood point, let's return to the text under consideration. What does it mean that we are foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified?

Adam Clarke, the famous commentator, is persuaded that Paul here is not talking about individual salvation, but rather the collective salvation of the Gentiles. According to Mr. Clarke, Paul is making yet another argument in favor of the equality of the Jews and Gentiles. Even though the Jews were God's chosen people for so long, God all along knew that He would one day extend salvation to the Gentiles. Thus, they were foreknown and predestined. It was God's predetermined plan that the Gentiles would be saved. Likewise, the Gentiles were called (by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14), justified by the blood of Christ, and glorified along with the believing Jews (raised up to sit in heavenly places in Christ, Eph. 2:6). Clarke says, "And as he knew the Gentiles then, when the scheme was laid, and before any part of it was executed, consequently, in reference to the execution of this scheme, he foreknew us. This is the first step of our salvation, and the end or finishing of it is our conformity to the Son of God in eternal glory"

While I have never really accepted this position, I must admit that it fits the text quite well. Even if it is not what Paul intended when He, by divine inspiration, wrote this great text, the points made by Clarke regarding the Gentiles are correct. Interestingly enough, the only other place the word foreknew is found in the New Testament is in Romans 11:2 where the apostle says of the nation of Israel, "God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew." If the term is used in relation to the Jewish nation in chapter eleven, then perhaps it is being used in reference to the Gentile nations in chapter eight.

But even if Paul is NOT talking about the Gentiles specifically in Romans 8:28-30, he is talking about collective salvation (i.e. the church) and not individual salvation. In other words, the church as a whole has been predestined, called, justified and glorified. God foreknew the church as a whole according to Ephesians 3:11 (it was a part of God's eternal purpose). The church is made up of the called, or the elect. We as Christians are justified by Christ's blood, and we have also been glorified.

What are your thoughts on this controversial text?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Romans 8.3 (vv. 26-27)

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

I'm going to spend a little more time on chapter eight, being that it is the most challenging of all sixteen chapters, in my opinion...

The most difficult part of Romans 8 is this passage concerning the intercession of the spirit. Let's read the passage together first and then discuss the different interpretations afterwards. Paul says in verses 26-27, "Likewise the spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts know what the mind of the spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God."

As with yesterday's article, I'd like to first of all establish what is clear in this text. It is clear that, as Christians, we often struggle in prayer. That is, we have trouble articulating to God what it is that we're trying to say. "We do not know what we should pray for as we ought" (vv. 26). It is also clear that, despite our imperfections, intercession is somehow made so that in the end, God knows our needs and He attends to our needs.

These things are clear.

The difficulty comes in trying to determine the meaning of the word spirit.

It is commonly understood that Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit intercedes between us and Christ, and Christ intercedes between us and the Father. In other words, the Holy Spirit, in some mysterious way, intercedes by groaning.

Another interpretation is that Paul is speaking of our spirit, not the Holy Spirit. Even though we don't know what to pray for and how to articulate our needs to God, Christ, our intercessor knows our needs and what we're trying to say and He conveys that to the Father.

These are the two primary interpretations of Romans 8:26-27, but which one is accurate? I'll admit to you that I've gone back and forth between these two positions in the last several years, but the position that has most occupied my mind, and which currently occupies my mind, is the latter position. Yes, I believe that the spirit here is our own spirit, not the Holy Spirit.

It is often assumed that the word spirit here MUST be the Holy Spirit. After all, the word is capitalized in most translations (e.g. Spirit), and furthermore, it does say that the "Spirit HIMSELF," and so therefore this must be an individual being. Others simply run with the traditional position of the text, while others, desperate to assign some work to the Holy Spirit, take this position.

First of all, the word spirit is not capitalized in the Greek. It was capitalized by translators who perceive it as the Holy Spirit. Second, the word Himself in verse 26 is a poor translation of the text, as I understand it. The Greek actually says, "the same spirit." So really, Paul is pointing back to the same spirit he mentioned earlier in the verse. This doesn't rule out the Holy Spirit, but at the same time, the "Himself argument" is weak. Third, we cannot hold to the traditional interpretation of a text if the traditional interpretation is wrong, and finally, we cannot declare that the spirit here is the Holy Spirit simply because we are desperate to assign to Him some work. That is not a good reason at all!

So far, we haven't settled anything, but we have at least addressed some of the arguments used to justify the "Holy Spirit interpretation" of Romans 8:26-27. Having said these things, I want to now set forth my reasoning as to why the spirit here is OUR own spirit, not the Holy Spirit.

First of all, context is key. Let's connect what is said in verse 26 to what is said earlier in verse 23. In verse 26, Paul says that "the [same spirit] makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." Back in verse 23, the inspired apostle said, "Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves..." While many assume that the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf, the context of Romans 8:26 indicates that we groan within ourselves. This is not a literal, outward groaning, but a groaning that occurs in our spirit. One might say that our spirit is groaning. Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 5:2, "For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven."

Also, consider with me 1 Corinthians 2:11: "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God." The language here is similar to that of Romans 8:26-27. The spirit of man is, in a way, distinguished from the man himself, and the point is made that our spirit knows our thoughts and what is in our mind. Does this not fit the wording of Romans 8:26-27 very well? Even though we sometimes cannot express to God what it is that is in our mind, our spirit knows and Christ, who knows our spirit and deals with us on a spiritual level understands the groanings of our spirit and intercedes for us!

Doesn't this make more sense than saying that the Holy Spirit groans to Christ who then interprets the groanings of the if Christ couldn't understand our thoughts and our intentions to begin with? It just seems superfluous, doesn't it?

Maybe I'm wrong. If you disagree, I'd love to hear from you. Comment below or email me at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Romans 8.2 (vv. 18-23)

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful.

I'm going to spend a little more time on chapter eight, being that it is the most challenging of all sixteen chapters, in my opinion...

In today's article, let's focus on Romans 8:18-23. First, let's read the passage together: "For I consider the suffering of this present tme are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the cration was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption in to the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan, within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body."

Some things in this passage are clear. For example, it is clear that Paul is talking about the last day upon which Christ will return with all the angels (the sons of God, vv. 19). That day will be one of redemption and glory (vv. 18, 21, 23). It is also clear that there is a certain sense of anxiety regarding the final day of redemption, for the bondage that we all endure because of sin will come to an end; freedom from this bondage will be achieved on that day.

The main question here in this passsage is, what or who is the creation?

Some have conjectured that the creation here is the earth, and that when Jesus returns, the earth will be transformed into its initial state of paradise and glory. Because of sin, the paradise of Eden and the perfection of that world came to an end, but finally, its former glory will be restored. This theory fits will with Premillennial theology, the theology of Jehovah's Witnesses, and with the general belief of "paradise earth," but it runs into problems when you try to harmonize it with such passages as 2 Peter 3 which plainly teaches that the earth will be destroyed.

Another idea, and this is the position of Adam Clarke, is that the creation here is the Gentile world. This theory fits the context of Romans which pertains to the Jewish and Gentile controversy. Adam Clark points out in his commentary that the Gentile world was subjected to futility (vv. 20) when they erected the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, a sign of their wickedness and idolatry. Those Gentiles who embraced Christ, along with the believing Jews, would experience the glory of redemption. The Jews have no special right to redemption. It is for the Gentiles as well. That is the theory set forth by Adam Clarke.

And Adam Clarke's theory seems to be right. It DOES fit the context of Romans, and it makes the most sense. I admit, though, that this is a difficult text.

What are your thoughts on this passage? What is the creation?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Romans 8

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful...

I'll be honest with you...I've been dreading this article for a while now. It's not that I don't like the eighth chapter of Romans, but for me personally, it is the most difficult chapter in the whole book. The beginning of the chapter isn't so bad, but the transition from relatively simple to complex occurs at verse 19. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to write an article on the relatively easy part of the chapter (vv. 1-18), and then I'll write a separate article for the remaining part of the chapter. (By the way, if you have any insight on the latter half of the chapter, shoot me an email, or leave a comment below.)

In verse one, the apostle says that "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." Many use this verse to teach the Once Saved, Always Saved position; that once we are in Christ, there is no way for us to ever be condemned, even though we may rebel againt Him. But that's not what the verse says. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. So long as we remain in Christ, we cannot be condemned, but when we step out of the light and away from Christ's fellowship, we DO stand condemned. The apostle clarifies in the second part of the verse. In order to be free from condemnation, we must walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh.

In verses 2-4, Paul says that we as Christians have been freed from the imperfect Mosaical law. It is described here as "the law of sin and death." Jesus lived as a man and nailed the Mosaical law (as well as spiritual death) to the cross. What a wonderful and blessed thought!

Now, some might argue that Paul is not talking about the Mosaical law but rather a general devotion to sin (fleshly living). I don't necessarily disagree, for at some point there appears to be a transition from the Mosaical law to general sinfulness. Perhaps the apostle is speaking generally of life prior to conversion. The Jews who lives according to an imperfect, physical law were fleshly, but so were the Gentiles who lived according to the sinful yearnings of the flesh. Or perhaps there is a transition in verse three, where it is said that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh to condemn sin in the flesh. Or perhaps EVERYTHING other than Christianity is declared to be fleshly. Either way, there does appear to be a transition at some point here, for in the following passage, Paul addresses carnal living in contrast to spiritual living.

Before we move on, what does the phrase sinful flesh mean? Are the Calvinists right in saying that all humans are inherently sinful, and that we are totally depraved from the womb due to Adam's original sin in the Garden of Eden? No, and here's why: in the context of this statement, Paul is contrasting the Spirit and the flesh. In that sense, the flesh is sinful, for it is contrary to the Spirit. Walking according to the flesh is the same as being unholy and unrighteous. It's not that our literal flesh is inherently sinful, but in contrast to the Spirit, it represents sin.

Having clarified that, let's move on toverse six. Paul says, "For the be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." When we live according to the flesh, there are both physical and spiritual consequences, but when we do things God's way, we have life and peace. Obviously, spiritual living is much better than carnal living! But Paul goes on to say in the next verse, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." A person who is carnally minded is not in fellowship with God and cannot possibly be in fellowship with God. Of course, a carnal person can be influenced by the power of the gospel to become spiritual and thus be in fellowship with God, but that transformation must occur for the desireable result to be achieved.

Paul then turns his attention back to the Roman brethren. "But YOU are not in the flesh but in the Spirit" (vv. 9). As Christians, we are IN the Spirit. As a result, we are in fellowship with God and we are pleasing to Him. We have life and peace.

In the following few verses, the apostle tells us that the Spirit, Christ and the Father ALL dwell in us. This, in my opinion, is a crushing blow to the concept that the Holy Spirit alone dwells in us bodily, as if He literally lies within our physical, mortal bodies. The fact is, the Bible teaches that Christ dwells in us as well (vv. 9-10), as does the Father (vv. 11). What is the point? It is not that all three members of the Godhead literally inhabit us as we literally inhabit homes of brick and mortar, but that we have a relationship with each of them. Christ is in us in the sense that we live according to His commandments and not our fleshly desires. The same is true of the Holy Spirit and the Father.

Notice in verse 10 that our bodies are DEAD if Christ is in us. Then, in vnerse 11, the point is made that the same God who raised up Christ from the dead will also raise up our bodies (an obvious reference to the final resurrection). So what is the point? That spiritually speaking, we are being renewed (2 Cor. 4:16), but outwardly, our flesh is perishing. There will come a day, however, when this physical body will be raised up and changed (see 1 Corinthians 15).

It is this concept of resurrection, newness and glory that Paul continues to articulate in the middle-section of the chapter. We'll return to that concept tomorrow or Friday, Lord willing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Romans 7

I'm writing a series of articles on the book of Romans, which, as you know, is one of the more difficult and controversial books of the New Testament. This is not going to be a verse-by-verse analysis by any means, but I will write a lengthy article on each chapter of this sixteen-chapter book. I hope that you find this helpful...

Romans 7 can be broken down into two sections. In the first section (vv. 1-12), Paul once again makes the point that the Law of Moses is no longer in effect and that we are ultimately bound to the law of Christ. The second section (vv. 13-25) addresses the inner struggle that men have when it comes to two laws. Let's begin in verse one and analyze the chapter...

In verse one, the apostle makes a basic point about law: "the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives." While he is ultimately talking about religious law, he uses the example of marital law to illustrate the point. A womanis bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives, but when he dies, she is free to remarry because she has been released from the law of her husband (vv. 2). In other words, the bond of marriage is severed at the point of death. The point applies to religious law as well. When a certain religious law dies, you are no longer bound to it.

In verse 3, Paul takes this a step further. If a married woman leaves her husband and marries another man (while her first husband is still living), she is an adulteress. Why? Because she is still bound by the law to her first husband and has no right to this second man. But if her first husband dies and then she marries another man, she is NOT an adulteress for the original bond of marriage was severed when her husband died. And here's where Paul draws his conclusion...

If a person is submits to TWO religious laws (i.e. the law of Moses and the law of Christ), they are guilty of spiritual adultery. But if the first religious law is abolished (as a source of justification), then we are free to be spiritually joined to this newer law, the law of Christ. You see, there were many first-century Christians who were trying to follow both the Law of Moses and the law of Christ, but Paul's point is this: either the Mosaical law is dead and you should stop following it, or the Mosaical law is alive (i.e. still in effect) and you have no business following the law of Christ! Notice how Paul words it in verse four: "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God."

The latter part of verse four is interesting...that we should bear fruit to God. Paul is saying here that the sooner Christians stop wavering between the two religious laws, the sooner they will be able to bear fruit. Without this distraction, the early Christians would be in a position to do much more for the kingdom of God! It is this point that Paul builds upon in the following passage.

"When we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death" (vv. 5). Paul ties being in the flesh to their former lives under the Mosaical law. He's not talking here about sinful living apart from ALL religious law. He's talking about the nature of the Old Testament law and what it so often produced in its adherents. Paul goes in in verse six to say, "But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." The former statement is meant to be applied to the law of Christ, while the latter statement to the Law of Moses. One law is based in the Spirit while the other law in the letter. One law is new and the other old. For more on this contrast, read 2 Corinthians 3:5-8.

In verse seven, Paul seeks to clarify something. The Jewish-Christians reading this epistle might have gotten the impression that Paul was condeming the Mosaical law as something carnal and terrible, but that's not what the apostle mean. "Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'" While the Law of Moses, due to its vast complexity and physical focus, aroused sinful passions within its adherents, the law in truth told them what was sinful. This may seem to be contradictory but it is not.

Where there is no law there is no sin (Rom. 4:15). Law, in a sense, creates sin. The Mosaical law was very detailed and complex, and so one might argue that it "created sin" to a greater degree. The Jews who were subject to the Mosaical law understood that there was an unbearable load on their shoulders (Ac. 15:10).

Let's look at this another way: a child who is overburdened with rules and parental expectations may do the best that he can to submit to his parents' system, but he will inevitably fail time and time again because the fact is, his parents have unreasonable expectations. The child will yearn for freedom and may even rebel against his parents, although certainly he will still make the effort to please his parents. Was God unreasonable in His issuing of the Law of Moses? No. Even God acknowledged that the old law was one of bondage (Gal. 5:1-2). But certainly this helps us to understand the inner struggle that these early Jews experienced daily.

And that is exactly what Paul says in the remainder of the chapter. Beginning in verse 10, the apostle details this inner struggle. It is important to understand that even though Paul speaks in the present tense, he is speaking generally of the Jews' former subjection to the Mosaical law. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate I do" (vv. 15). This was the Jews' struggle under the law! Again, it was an unbearable load on their shoulders!

But the Jews could rest assured that there was hope! "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." The Jews could be delivered from this unbearable yoke through Jesus Christ!

Why would anyone want to return to the Law of Moses with these things in mind? Yet religious people do it all the time when they want to bind certain aspects of it: instrumental music, tithing, Sabbath observance, etc. Let us rejoice in the freedom that we have in Christ!