Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 17, Why Was Adam's Sin So Grievous?

The human race fell from grace because of one unrighteous act. We will take a look at just why Adam's sin was so awful, and we will look at how much greater the actions of Christ are than the actions of Adam.

Paul has been telling us that the gift of God is greater than the wages of sin. We earned condemnation because we trespassed against the Lord, but God freely pours out His grace on all who believe in the One who gave His life to make peace between man and God. "But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (Romans 5:15)

In order to break sin's hold over us, something more powerful than sin had to come into the world. In order to save us from wrath, a grace too great to describe had to be poured out on us. As Bible scholar William Barclay says in his commentary on Romans 5: "Mankind was involved in a situation from which there was no escape; sin had man in its power and there was no hope. Into this situation came Jesus Christ, and He brought with Him something that broke the old deadlock. By what He did, by what He is, by what He gives, He enabled man to escape from a situation in which he was hopelessly dominated by sin."

Paul continues, "Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!" (Romans 5:16-17) Scholars and theologians have attempted to explain and understand the deep mystery of just how the entire human race fell through one man, our forefather Adam. One man's sin infected every man to come, and one man's sin brought a curse on the perfect paradise this world once was.

We cannot fully understand the deep mystery of how Adam's sin brought about the fall of all humanity, but I think maybe the reason Adam's one sin was so awful is because he had the least excuse, of all human beings who have ever existed, for his sin. He lived in a perfect environment, he lived in constant communication with the Lord who would come down and walk in the garden and talk with him, he lived in unbroken peace with God, and he lived in circumstances where his every need was met and he had no worries or cares. Yet he deliberately disobeyed God's command. We sometimes hear the argument made that man could live a perfect life if he lived in a perfect world, but Adam's sin proves that this isn't so. There was no valid reason for him to make a choice that would lead to a fracture in his relationship with the Lord, but he made the choice anyway, and we've been making those same type of choices ever since. Adam committed the first sin, and somehow that makes it the worst sin, and ever since he sinned we've been following in his footsteps.

Because Adam's sin was so great and had such far-reaching consequences, a righteous act had to be performed that was greater than sin. A means of redemption had to be given that was capable of rescuing us from the clutches of the death that results from sin. The only way to accomplish this was for the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of the living God, to give Himself as an atonement sacrifice. Because Jesus is who He is, anything He does is greater than anything man can do. Therefore the gift of grace through Him is greater than the wages of sin through Adam. "Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:18-19)

Adam's disobedience caused a distance to emerge between man and God, and his disobedience brought death to man. But Christ's obedience brings man and God together, and His obedience brings us life. We can never thank the Lord enough for such a gift, but we say along with the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" Thank You, Lord!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 16, Death Through Adam And Life Through Christ

The apostle tells us that death came to the human race when Adam sinned and fell from grace. Since that time we have all sinned and fallen short. But redemption also came through a man: the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned---To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone's account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come." (Romans 5:12-14) Harry Ironside, the late theologian and author, explains verses 12 through 14 like this, "Adam was the first federal head of the old race. Christ risen, the second man, and the last Adam, is head of the new race. The old creation fell in Adam, and all his descendants were involved in his ruin. The new creation stands eternally secure in Christ, and all who have received life from Him are sharers in the blessings procured by His cross and secured by His life at God's right hand."

Paul says that men and women were sinners even before the law was given. Adam disobeyed a direct command from God when he ate the fruit of the tree. Ever since Adam disobeyed God, every man and woman has disobeyed God in some fashion. Some of us have broken part of the ten commandments. Some of us have broken the Mosaic law. Some of us have broken the spirit of these commandments and laws by failing to love our fellow man as we should, by failing to love God as we should, or by living in an attitude of stubbornness and rebellion. Before the law was given there were no specific penalties for the breaking of the law, but since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), Adam died. Because the wages of sin is death, and because we are all sinners, we have kept on dying. When Adam fell from grace the entire human race fell from grace. In Adam we all lost our right standing with God. But in this same way the Lord provided a Man through whom we could all obtain grace and regain our right standing with God.

"But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (Romans 5:15) Adam's actions affected us all. His sin had consequences in his own life and in the lives of every man and woman who has ever lived. (Genesis 3:17-19) God created Adam in His own image and He wanted better things for Adam than Adam wanted for himself. When Adam sinned he became something less than he was created to be. But the actions of Christ are far more powerful than the actions of Adam. Christ allowed Himself to be lifted up on the cross so He could lift us up out of the gutter and make us the sons and daughters of the living God. (Galatians 4:4-7) 

Christ's work actually makes us more than Adam could ever have been, even if Adam had not sinned, because if we had never needed redemption I don't believe we could love the Lord the way we do. If we had not needed redemption I don't think we could have ever experienced the type of fellowship with the Lord that we are able to experience by worshiping Him as our Redeemer. If Adam had remained sinless, and if the human race had remained sinless, I wonder how often we would even think about or talk to the Lord. How much would He mean to us if we didn't have to depend on Him for salvation and for help in the hardships of this fallen world?

It has always been a great mystery to us just why God created man with free will. Creating us with free will made us capable of sinning, and then our sin brought a curse on the whole earth. We became something less than we should be, and the world became something far less than the paradise it was created to be. So why did God create us with the ability to fall? I think if we had not fallen we could not know the Lord the way we know Him, and we could not love Him the way we love Him, and we could not be His children, and we could not be joint heirs with Christ, and we could not be anything more than robotic beings who are perfect simply because we are incapable of being anything else. Would we ever have loved the Lord if we didn't need Him? The highest calling of man is to enjoy fellowship with his Creator, but how often would we have sought His company if we didn't need Him? It's my opinion that if God had not created us with free will, and if we had not used our free will to disobey Him, and if we had not needed redemption because of our sins, our souls would never have known the deep satisfaction that only comes from a relationship with the Lord. We could never have fulfilled the highest calling. We could never have been what God truly intended us to be. Our Creator wants the best for us, and the best for us is Christ, and we would not have needed Christ if we had never been given the ability to choose Him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 15, Peace With God

Paul has been explaining that righteousness comes by faith and not by works. In our last session he used the example of Abraham who lived before the law was given but who had righteousness credited to his account because he believed God. Paul said, "The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness---for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." (Romans 4:23-24)

The apostle continues on, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." (Romans 4:25) Jesus died in our place like a sacrificial lamb and, to prove that God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf, He rose from the dead. Now we can have righteousness credited to our accounts---if we believe. The fact that Christ died and rose again does not impute righteousness to all human beings; it is faith in who Christ is and in what Christ did that imputes righteousness. This is the same principle Paul has been explaining to us through the example of Abraham. Abraham had faith in who God is and in what God can do, and that faith is what made him right in the sight of God.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God." (Romans 5:1-2) Paul previously warned us we can't boast about ourselves. (Romans 3:27) There is nothing we can boast about but what our Lord has done for us. When I meet my Maker I'm not going to stand before Him and brag about how I've tried to keep His commandments or about any good works I might have done. No, if I say anything at all I will be shouting the praises of Christ who paid my way into heaven with His own blood. If I say anything I will bless the name of the One who made peace between me and God.

Paul says that we should rejoice not only about the glory to come but we should boast about whatever is going on in the here and now. In his case, and in the case of many other Christians of his day, what was going on in the here and now was persecution. "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5) Paul considers trials in the life of the believer to be gifts of God's grace, just as much as he considers justification by faith to be the gift of God's grace. Paul is willing to accept whatever comes to him from the hands of a loving God. He has the same attitude as Job who said, "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him." (Job 13:15a)

Why does Paul love the Lord so much that he is willing to suffer for Him? Because Christ suffered for Paul. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8) Paul proclaims, "Christ died for me, not because I was a good man, but because I wasn't! It's hard to find someone who will die for a good person, much less find someone who will die for a bad person. But that's how much the Lord loved me. And because he loved me that much, I'm willing to do anything for Him!"

"Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him! For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!" (Romans 5:9-10) If God showed such grace to us while we were still sinners, how much more will He pour out His grace on us now that righteousness has been credited to us through our faith in Christ? Christ died to save us, and Christ lives to keep us saved. Our faith does not rest only on the death of our Lord. Our faith rests in the fact that our Lord rose from the dead and is seated in the place of honor at the Father's right hand where He makes intercession for those who belong to Him. We don't believe in a dead God. We believe in a risen Savior.

"Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5:11) The only thing we will ever boast about in the presence of a holy God is what Jesus Christ did for us. We will boast that He gave Himself for us. We will boast that He rose from the dead for us. We will boast that He daily makes intercession for us and makes peace between us and God. When we step through the gates of heaven we will owe all our thanks to Christ alone.

Below is the link to a worship song that goes beautifully with our text today.
In Christ Alone

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


I will be going out of town on Thursday, May 24th and returning on Monday,  May 28th. We will need to temporarily suspend blog posts until Tuesday the 29th.

Have a safe and blessed Memorial Day weekend!

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 14, The Promise

The Apostle Paul continues with the theme that it is not work that justifies us, but faith. He points out that God made His great promises to Abraham in a time before the law was given, proving that God blessed Abraham not for his works but for his faith.

There was nothing wrong with the law, but there was something wrong with man. As Paul informed us earlier in the book of Romans, the purpose of the law was to reveal to man his sinfulness. This was intended to lead man to God by faith for the justification that man could not earn for himself. Though man could not keep the law, many in Paul's day elevated the importance of the law over the importance of faith. Paul is not speaking against the law; he has a great deal of respect for the law and will say to his friend Timothy, "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly." (1 Timothy 1:8)

But as we saw in our recent study of the gospel according to Luke, Jesus concluded that the religious leaders were not using the law properly. They upheld laws that permitted a person to withhold mercy, such as the practice of allowing a son to devote funds to the temple that he should have used to support his destitute parents, thus allowing a son to break the commandment that says he must honor his father and mother. Another example of their hypocrisy is that they placed a greater value on keeping the Sabbath than on keeping God's command to love their neighbor, for they hotly criticized Jesus for healing those in need on the Sabbath. The religious leaders of Jesus' day and of Paul's day were trying desperately to uphold the letter of the law but they had lost the spirit of the law. Their intense focus on a law they could not perfectly keep had caused them to take their focus off the Lord. Their obsession with studying and interpreting and arguing matters of law had caused them to put their trust in themselves rather than in the Lord.

Paul reminds his readers that God made great promises to Abraham before the law was given. If justification is obtained through the law, then why did God bless Abraham so much? If justification must be earned, then why did God credit Abraham with righteousness because of his faith? "It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression." (Romans 4:13-15) Abraham was heir to the world because God told him that all nations would be blessed by his offspring (his offspring being his descendant Jesus Christ). If the faithful of each nation can be called a child of Abraham, then the promise is based on faith, not on law, for the law was not given to the Gentiles. Paul is asking, "Why trust in a law no one can keep? We would almost be better off if we had no law, for then we couldn't be guilty of breaking it. But we are lawbreakers, and because we are lawbreakers we need a means of being found righteous in the eyes of God. And that means is faith, the kind of faith Abraham had."

"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring---not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: 'I have made you a father of many nations.' He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed---the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not." (Romans 4:16-17) Abraham didn't even have a child of his own when God promised him he would become the father of many nations. Abraham and his wife were both past the age of conceiving a child. It would have been easy for this man to scoff at the idea of becoming a father to a child of his own, much less becoming the father to many nations. But he believed God! He didn't know when or how or why God was going to do these awesome things for him, but he believed!

"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead---since he was about a hundred years old---and that Sarah's womb was also dead." (Romans 4:18-19) Abraham wasn't living in denial about his childless state. He and Sarah had given up long ago on conceiving a child, seeing that Sarah was about forty years past the age of childbearing. They had come to the conclusion many years earlier that one or both of them was infertile, so Abraham isn't fooling himself by still clinging to the hope that he and his wife might someday produce a child. Abraham looks the truth in the eye and sees his situation for what it is, but he believes God can do what He says He can do. The God who created man from the dust of the ground and who created woman from the rib of the man can surely renew some cells within the bodies of a man and a woman. The God who spoke into the darkness and created all things can certainly create a child for a couple who is too old to conceive a child on their own.

Abraham looked the truth in the eye, but at the same time he had faith in God. Our situations sometimes look impossible. And maybe they are impossible if they depend on the strength of man, but they depend on the strength of God. Abraham sets a beautiful example for us by looking honestly on what he can see while trusting in the One he can't see. "Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised." (Romans 4:20-21)

This is what faith is: being fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised. We can't keep the law perfectly. We can't even keep the ten commandments perfectly, much less all the points of the law. We can only be justified by faith in the One who is able to grant us absolution. We can only be credited with righteousness by trusting in the One who provides for us a means of atonement. "This is why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.' The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness---for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." (Romans 4:22-24)

How is righteousness credited to our account? In the same way it was credited to Abraham's account---through faith. Abraham believed God would do what He promised. Let's follow the example of our father Abraham and believe God will keep all His promises to us.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 13, The Same Faith Saves Jews And Gentiles

Paul has been explaining to us that it is our faith that saves us. Merely keeping the law (as if we could) without faith is meaningless. But faith naturally leads us to do what is pleasing in God's sight and, even when we fall short, faith leads us to God in sincere repentance so we can receive absolution.

Yesterday Paul told us that it was Abraham's faith, not his works, that was credited to him as righteousness. Lest anyone believe that only the biological descendants of Abraham can receive the righteousness that comes by faith, Paul is quick to point out to us today that everyone who believes is a descendant of Abraham. It is through Abraham that God said all nations would be blessed (Genesis 18:18, 22:18), and in this way God made it clear that He intended to include Gentiles in the family of faith.

First Paul explains to us the difference between wages and gifts so that we might understand that righteousness is not earned but is the gift of God. "Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness." (Romans 4:4-5) Even though Abraham had faith, his righteousness was a gift to him from God. He didn't earn righteousness by his faith; God graciously chose to credit him with righteousness because of his faith. God could have said, "Unless you can live a perfect life you cannot be righteous." But instead He said, "You can't live a perfect life, but because of your faith I will add righteousness to your account anyway." The Apostle Paul explains the difference between wages and gifts very succinctly in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Our faith is so small and weak sometimes, yet the Lord has chosen to look favorably on what faith we wretched beings are able to summon forth out of our frail hearts.

"David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.'" (Romans 4:6-8) David wrote these beautiful words in Psalm 32 when he speaks of harboring unconfessed sin in his heart, saying that for a time he kept silent while he became more and more troubled. Finally he could stand it no longer, and that is when he says, "Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.' And You forgave the guilt of my sin." (Psalm 32:5) We don't know what particular sins were troubling David at the time, but we've all tried to sweep sins under the rug and we've all tried to go about our business as if things aren't standing between us and the Lord. Even though David repented in faith, the forgiveness was the gift of God. The righteousness that was credited to him because of his faith was a gift. David didn't earn his forgiveness any more than you or I earn our forgiveness. It is the gift of God by the grace of God because of the love of God.

Now Paul makes it clear to his readers that the righteousness that comes by faith is not intended only for people of the same nation as Abraham and David. It is offered to all people. "Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!" (Romans 4:9-10) Abraham had not yet been given the sign of circumcision when God credited him with righteousness. Abraham lived in a time before the law was given, so he couldn't follow the law either, yet God credited him with righteousness. Paul makes it plain that God will also credit with righteousness those who have faith among the Gentile nations. The Gentiles weren't given the sign of circumcision and they weren't given the law, but the same righteousness that was credited to Abraham can be credited to them too.

"And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe and have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised." (Romans 4:11-12) The true children of Abraham are those who possess the same faith as Abraham. I am of Gentile heritage, but according to the Apostle Paul, I too can call Abraham my father. I know this because when Paul speaks to the Gentile believers in this letter, he refers to Abraham as "our father Abraham". Abraham might not claim as his descendants those who are only circumcised in the flesh but who have no faith in their hearts, but he will claim as his descendants (both Jew and Gentile) who possess the same type of faith in God that he had.

Bible scholar William Barclay explains this principle simply and beautifully, "Abraham is the father of every man in every age who takes God at His word as he did." And isn't this what faith really is: taking God at His word? Abraham believed what God told him. He didn't understand how God was going to bring all these things to pass, but he believed that He would. He wasn't able to envision the enormous scope of God's plan for humanity, but he believed God's plan was right. This is what faith is! It isn't merely believing God exists; it's believing what God says. It's trusting that God's plans are right, and being assured that He is good, and feeling confident that everything He says about Himself is true, and believing that everything He says about us is true, and resting in His promise that righteousness will be accredited to us for our faith.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 12, Justification By Faith

Paul explained to us in yesterday's passage that it is faith that makes us right with God. Some of his enemies apparently took this to mean he was speaking against the law, because he asks, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." (Romans 3:31) Paul's detractors are accusing him of saying that the law has no purpose and that men and women shouldn't be concerned with it since they can't perfectly keep it. But what Paul is saying is that faith fulfills the spirit of the law.

We could look at it like this. Suppose a person doesn't really have a heart for the Lord but wants to obtain salvation through keeping the law and through performing good works. This person spends every waking hour working toward these goals. Yet, because he is human, he falls short, and he has no faith to make up for what he lacks. Will he be justified in the sight of God without faith? Paul is saying no. But suppose a person loves the Lord and, because of that love, tries his best to honor the Lord by obeying His laws and commands. Yet, because he is human, he falls short. Unlike the first man, he has faith. He has the kind of faith King David had when he repented of his sins and realized nothing he could do could make up for them, the kind of faith David had when he prayed to the Lord, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin...Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity...Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:1-2, 7,9-10) The heart that has faith says, "Lord, do for me what I can't do for myself! Only You can make me clean!" The person who has faith is justified in the eyes of God.

We can perform all the works that are humanly possible, but without faith they are meaningless. There are many unbelievers who perform good works in this world. They do it for various reasons. Some do it because, even though they don't believe in God, they believe in showing mercy to their fellow man. Some do it for recognition. Some do it because it makes them feel better about themselves. But these good works can't justify them in the eyes of a God they refuse to acknowledge and serve. On the other hand, the person who has faith in God will naturally perform good works because of love for his fellow man. The person who has faith has been transformed on the inside and therefore looks more and more like Christ on the outside. The person who has faith isn't trusting in his works to save him but is trusting in the work of Christ to save him and, because he loves Christ, he wants to treat his fellow human beings the way Christ would treat them.

Paul is about to tell us that Abraham is an example of a person who was saved by faith. Abraham lived in a time before the law was given. He could not follow the law because he did not have the law. But he had faith, and his faith justified him in the eyes of God. He had faith, and that faith caused him to believe in and obey the Lord. So even though Abraham did not have the law, he obeyed the law in spirit, for the spirit of the law can be summed up like this, "Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

So now Paul asks, "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about---but not before God. What does Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" (Romans 4:1-3) He's quoting Genesis 15:6, the passage where God makes His covenant with Abraham. Paul asks his readers, "What does God's holy word say about Abraham's righteousness? Did he obtain it by works or by faith? If Abraham were a perfect man then maybe he could have bragged about his works, but he wasn't a perfect man. He didn't have perfection, but he had faith, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness."

Why does faith give us right standing in the eyes of God? The apostle Paul will later say in his letter to the Hebrews, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) It is impossible to please God without faith. Even if we perfectly performed everything required of us, without faith we would not be pleasing to God. The Lord Jesus agrees, saying that if we did all that we were required to do and nothing else we would be "unprofitable servants". (Luke 17:10) What type of servant is the master of the household most pleased with? Is it the one who performs his duties simply because it's his job? Or is it the one who performs all his duties and more because he loves and honors his master? The Lord is like the master of a household who looks on those who have faith in Him and says, "These are profitable servants! I am pleased with them! I will honor them because they have honored Me!"

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 11, Righteousness By Faith

The letter to the Romans leads its readers step by step to the gospel. It begins by presenting the existence of the one true God, then it declares that man has a tendency to turn away from God, then it convicts everyone of sin, then it explains that humans can't make themselves righteous through obeying rules or performing good works. At this point Paul's readers who have not yet converted to Christianity may well be in a panic. What can be done? Is there any way to be made right with a holy God? Is their case hopeless? Today Paul assures them it is not hopeless. The righteous God provided a way for mankind to have good standing with Him, and that way is through His Son: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Isn't this the same step by step method that leads everyone to Christ? First we must realize that there is a God. When we acknowledge His existence, we become aware of how holy He is and how different we are from Him. Then we come to the conclusion that we have sinned against Him. Our first thought is to try and offset our wicked deeds with good deeds, but then we have to admit that no matter how hard we try we are still going to mess up sometimes. How will we ever know if we've performed enough good works to outweigh the bad? We study the Scriptures for the answer only to learn that God doesn't weigh our deeds on a scale. This is not the path to righteousness. Righteousness depends not on works, but on faith. Good works will flow from a heart that is devoted to the Lord, but it is faith that saves.

Paul now provides the solution to his readers' dilemma. There is a way to be made right with God even though they fail to live up to His standards from time to time. "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24) When we concluded yesterday's study we found Paul saying that the law's job was to show us our sinfulness. How were the Old Testament saints made right with God, seeing they couldn't keep the law? Through faith. When a person realized he could never perfectly keep the law without sinning, he had to trust God to do the rest. He had to bring the proper atonement offerings in a spirit of repentance, and God accepted the blood of those offerings on behalf of the person who brought them. Now at last God has provided an atonement offering that is effective for all time. The blood of Christ is acceptable to God, and it is by our faith in Christ and in what He did that we obtain righteousness in the sight of God.

"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood---to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished---He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:25-26) God would have been just if He had destroyed us all, yet at the same time Paul tells us God would not be just if He had not provided for us a means of redemption. This is such a deep statement that we could spend an eternity studying it and never get to the bottom of its mystery, for I think it has to do with the unfathomable wisdom and mercy of God. God had the right to find us guilty (because we are guilty) and to sentence us to an eternity far from His loving presence. But since He is the lawgiver and it is His laws we have broken, this gives Him the sovereign authority to choose the method by which our debt to Him can be paid.

Since righteousness can never originate with us, we won't enter the gates of heaven proclaiming, "I got myself here! I worked hard and I made up for all my sins." I think when we enter the gates of heaven we will immediately fall to our knees and give all the glory and honor to the Lord who accomplished our salvation for us. Paul believes the same thing. "Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." (Romans 3:27-28)

Since no one can rightly claim he has made himself holy in the sight of God, this puts Jews and Gentiles on equal footing. None of us has the right to look down on someone else. If Jews were perfect, then maybe they'd have the right to look down on Gentiles. If Gentiles were perfect, then maybe they'd have the right to look down on Jews. If I had lived a perfect life, and my neighbor across the street had not, maybe I'd be justified in shaking my head in scorn over his shameful sinful state. But we are all sinners. Thankfully, though, the same God created us all and the same God offers redemption to us all. "Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith." (Romans 3:29-30)

Salvation is offered to every human being on the face of the earth. Our nationality doesn't matter. Our genealogy doesn't matter. Our past doesn't matter. The Lord doesn't harbor prejudice against anyone and He doesn't play favorites. Christ gave His life for all and, through Him, salvation is freely offered to all.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 10, No One Is Righteous

We've been studying the Apostle Paul's logical argument that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, have sinned and need a way to be made right with God. While the Jews have the advantage of possessing the law and the prophets and the promises, at the same time this is a disadvantage because, as Jesus said, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded." (Luke 12:48) While this may appear to give the Gentiles, who don't have the law, the advantage of claiming ignorance of God's requirements, this is actually a disadvantage because instead of communing with the one true God they have been bowing down to useless idols for thousands of years. So the conclusion Paul leads us to today is that one group really has no clear advantage over the other.

Every human being has made mistakes and has broken the laws of God. So what is the remedy for our failures? We must believe in and follow the One who is perfect. Paul is going to demonstrate for us today that works don't save our souls. Then in tomorrow's study he will naturally lead us to what does  save our souls: faith.

"What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin." (Romans 3:9) He cautions his readers, "If you are a Jew, don't look down on the Gentiles. And if you are a Gentile, don't look down on the Jews. We are all lawbreakers. That puts us on even footing."

Now he quotes the words of King David to back up his argument, "As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12) These quotes are from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. David was grieved by the corrupt spiritual state of mankind. He recognized that there was nothing in man capable of saving himself, so in both of these psalms he cried with a broken heart, "Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!" (Psalm 14:7a, Psalm 53:6a) David knew that only a holy God was capable of making human beings holy, so he longed for the day when the Lord Himself would fulfill the plan of salvation. In Paul's day the thing David longed for has been fulfilled: salvation has come out of Zion. The Lord Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, of the tribe of Judah, of the line of King David, has come and He has performed a work for man that man could never have performed for himself.

Paul goes on to quote several other passages of Scripture to prove his point that every human being has sinned. "'Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.' 'The poison of vipers is on their lips.' 'Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.' 'Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.' 'There is no fear of God before their eyes.'" (Romans 3:13-18) These quotes are from Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Isaiah 59:7-8, and Psalm 36:1.

The apostle sums up our passage of Scripture today by saying, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (Romans 3:19-20) If the law is unable to save then why was it given? If man is incapable of perfectly keeping the law then what use is it? The answer is that the law was given so man could realize his utter inability to live by it and so man would recognize his need for something more than the law to save his soul. The law's purpose was to lead unrighteous man to a righteous Redeemer.

The law, basically, condemns us. If salvation depends on perfectly keeping every point of the law, we are without hope. We can't do it. We can't keep our side of the bargain. If the law is a contract between God and man, then we have failed miserably in fulfilling the terms of the contract and God owes us nothing. We might as well throw our hands in the air and give up and say as Isaiah did when he saw the Lord, "Woe to me! I am undone!" (Isaiah 6:5) If the Lord had left us in that state we would all have been undone, but He says to us the same thing He said to Isaiah, "Your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for." (Isaiah 6:7b) How is our guilt taken away and our sin atoned for? By faith! By faith in the only One who ever kept the law, by faith in the One whose perfect works we trust, by God Himself who---in the person of Jesus Christ---obtained salvation for us!

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 9, The Special Blessing Of Being A Jew

The apostle has been saying that all human beings, both Jews and Gentiles, are sinners who need a Savior. He's been warning both groups that in the judgment God will make His rulings according to what is in a person's heart, not according to the person's nationality. So the question would naturally arise: What advantage is there in being a Jew? If all people are sinners, why is one nation any better off than another?

"What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God." (Romans 3:1-2) God chose the nation of Israel when He called Abraham out of Ur, "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'" (Genesis 12:1-3) In speaking to Abraham, God was speaking to a nation not yet born. In promising a territory to Abraham, God was promising it to Israel. In guaranteeing a blessing upon Abraham, God was making clear His intention to cause the nation of Israel to know Him in ways no people on earth had ever known Him. It is to these people God sent His word, His law, and His prophets. So Paul says, "Of course there is an advantage in being a Jew! The Jews have been given the opportunity to know the living God. They have been provided with His promises and His laws for living. This gives them a great advantage over the pagan Gentiles who for thousands of years have been serving false gods."

Abraham, though he lived in an idolatrous city, knew in his heart there was only one God. He longed to know and serve that God, so when God called, Abraham answered. "So Abram went, as the Lord told him." (Genesis 12:4a) This man was willing to leave behind everything he knew in order to know the God who created him. Yet not all his descendants had such faith, so Paul moves on to his next question. "What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness?" (Romans 3:3) Earlier in the week we discussed the fact that many of Paul's countrymen are trusting in their status as God's chosen people rather than trusting in God Himself. Because they have the precious promises of God, some have taken a lax attitude toward sin because they believe God would be breaking His word if He withdrew His blessing from them. But as we stated yesterday, they are not all Israel who are of Israel or, in other words, not everyone in the nation is faithful to God. Throughout the Old Testament we find that there is always a faithful segment of the nation and there is an unfaithful segment of the nation. Paul knows there are going to be people who will make the argument that God isn't keeping His word if He passes judgment on those of Israel who have not been faithful to Him, but this is not the case. The true Israel is made up of those in Israel who love the Lord. The real Jew is the man or woman who honors the Lord. It is to this faithful remnant that God's promises stand.

"Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: 'So that You may be proved right when You speak and prevail when You judge.'" (Romans 3:4) Paul quotes the words of King David from Psalm 51, the psalm David composed when he repented of his adultery with Bathsheba and when he mourned over having caused the death of Bathsheba's husband. King David was a descendant of Abraham, a Jew, a citizen of Israel, a member of the nation to whom God had made great promises. But did this exempt him from discipline? No, and David himself recognized this fact and said to the Lord, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are right in Your verdict and justified when You judge." (Psalm 51:3-4) God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with the sin he was trying so desperately to sweep under the rug. God presented His ruling in the case by sending Nathan to show David that he had despised the Lord's words and had done evil. Therefore, God also passed sentence, warning David that the sword would never depart from his house, and that from his own family trouble would come against him. (2 Samuel 12:7-12)

David wasn't exempt from God's judgment and discipline simply because he was a Jew. This didn't absolve him of personal responsibility. Paul's readers can easily understand that God had to discipline King David, not only for David's own sake, but for the sake of the nation. If God had not disciplined David, this would have given David's subjects an excuse for falling into sin. They could have said, "God turned a blind eye to David's adultery and murder. This is probably because David is of God's chosen nation and David is God's chosen leader of the nation. This means we too, who are of God's chosen nation, can sin with impunity. If David can sleep with another man's wife without consequences, then surely God won't mind if I look lustfully on my neighbor's wife. If David can take what isn't his, God will look the other way when I skim funds from my employer. If David can cause the death of an innocent man, surely God won't be concerned that I harbor hatred in my heart for my co-workers." David's actions could have resulted in both Jews and Gentiles feeling contempt for the Lord and for His laws. In judging David's sin and in sending discipline into his life, God showed the world that He will not tolerate the breaking of His laws by the ones who know His laws. Therefore, since it was to the Jews that God gave His laws, Paul wants his readers to understand that they bear a greater responsibility than the pagan Gentiles to do what is right.

The apostle must have known or sensed that some would put forth the argument that sin shines a spotlight on God's grace and mercy. "But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing His wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not!" (Romans 3:5-6a) Man fell from grace through sin, but God provided a way of atonement for sin. On that basis, some would ask, doesn't man's sin glorify God? Doesn't man's sin showcase the love and mercy of a God who is willing to accept repentance? This is a foolish argument, but we are never more aware of the mercy of God than when we have just confessed to Him a sin that has been troubling our souls.

Paul wants to know how anyone can justify sin based on the fact that God is merciful. He wants to know how God is supposed to judge the world (meaning the world outside of Israel) if He does not punish sin. Paul's countrymen expect God's wrath to fall on Gentiles who don't convert, yet some of them think God's wrath won't fall on a Jew who drifts away from the Lord. "If that were so, how could God judge the world?" (Romans 3:6b) He's saying something like, "If sin glorifies God, then the Gentiles have been glorifying Him for a long time. How would He be justified in judging them if their sin brings Him glory? Can't you see that your thinking on this subject is twisted? As I said earlier in my letter, God is going to judge each man and woman according to what they know about Him. So doesn't this put you in a position of greater responsibility than the Gentiles? God gave His laws to Israel, not to the Gentiles. Seeing that you are the receivers of His law and His promises, you are held to a higher standard. You bear more responsibility. You can't make the excuse that you didn't know what is expected of you. No, sin does not glorify God, and He is not pleased with it."

The apostle concludes with these ominous words, "Some might argue, 'If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases His glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?' Why not say---as some slanderously claim that we say---'Let us do evil that good may result'? Their condemnation is just." (Romans 3:7-8) It would appear that some of the enemies of the gospel have been slandering the apostles by claiming they are preaching a perpetual state of grace for the believer. While I do not believe a person can lose his salvation, the Bible clearly tells us that God disciplines His children. (Hebrews 12 contains a discussion on this matter.) King David belonged to the Lord but the Lord disciplined him for his sins. David didn't escape the consequences of his actions. Though he repented, his casual attitude toward sin and his prideful arrogance over being God's chosen king of Israel had already done damage to his family. David had set a bad example for his children, so the troubles that were about to come into his life were going to come from his own household.

Sin hurts us and it hurts those around us. God does not turn a blind eye to it---He can't because He is righteous. He wouldn't be a God worthy of our worship if He shrugged His shoulders at all the harm people cause each other and said, "Oh well, what can you do? People will be people." It is blasphemy to say that God won't judge sin and, because it is such horrible blasphemy against the name of a holy God, Paul warns that those who say such things deserve any condemnation that comes their way.

If you are a Jew, you have been richly blessed by being the recipients of God's word and His laws and His prophets and His promises. But this places a great deal of responsibility on you for the way you live. Likewise, if you are a Christian, you have a great deal of responsibility for living in a way that honors the name of Christ. All of us who know and cherish the word of God are blessed abundantly by it, but at the same time we are accountable for following what the word of God says.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 8, The State Of The Heart

In yesterday's study the apostle warned his readers that God judges by what is in the heart. Being a Jew, Paul knows that many of his own countrymen are trusting in their status as God's chosen people. Because the law and the prophets were given to them, some of them have developed the mindset that their place in heaven is guaranteed. But Paul points out today that the true Jew is the one who honors God in his heart and who tries to live by God's precepts. This is why he will make the statement in Chapter 9, "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel."

The same can be said today of the church. Not everyone who sits in church is a Christian. It's possible to show up for every service, to carry a Bible, to look the right way, to talk the right way, even to sing in the choir---and not be right with the Lord at heart. I ought to know. I grew up in the church, I heard the gospel every Sunday, I participated in Sunday school classes, I participated in Christmas programs, I knew how to talk the talk, I knew how to behave, I knew how to dress for the part---but I wasn't right with the Lord. I don't think anyone ever suspected, but God knew. It wasn't until I was twenty-two years old that I gave my heart to the Lord.

Paul issues a stern warning to anyone who is trusting in his status as a member of the nation of Israel rather than in the Lord to make him righteous. "Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth---you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" (Romans 2:17-24)

He says to the Jews, "It is not enough to have the law; you must obey the law." He could say the same to those who sit in church, "It is not enough to have a Bible; you must believe the gospel message contained within it, and you must belong to Jesus Christ." When a person claims to belong to the Lord, yet lives in a way that proves he does not, it gives unbelievers an opportunity to mock God. I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard unbelievers that they aren't about to set foot in church because there are so many hypocrites there. They know people who behave one way in church and another way in the community. It causes them to have a distaste for the church and, sadly, for Christ. When a non-Christian is aware that someone who professes to be a Christian is caught up in an adulterous relationship, or has been embezzling funds from his workplace, or has been swindling people in business deals, or has fallen prey to various addictions, it causes the unbeliever to scornfully say, "Why do these Christians think they are any better than I am? I've never cheated on my wife or stolen from my work or done drugs or cheated people out of their hard-earned money. I'm living a more moral life than some of these Christians. Why do I need to be in church? Why do I need Christ?" Just as not everyone who is of Israel is Israel, not everyone who attends Christian services is really a Christian.

Some of Paul's countrymen believe being of "the circumcision" protects them from the wrath of God, but he warns them this isn't the case. "Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you have not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they are circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker." (Romans 2:25-27)

He says, "Some of the Gentiles have succeeded where some of you have failed. Though they are not of 'the circumcision', though the law and the prophets weren't given to them, though they are not the children of Abraham and heirs to the promises God made to Abraham, they have obtained these things by being circumcised in their hearts. Their hearts are right with God and, just as Abraham's faith made him right with God, the faith of the Gentiles has made them right with God." Paul doesn't want either group looking down on the other. Both Jews and Gentiles have to be right with God in their hearts. If a Jew lives contrary to the Lord then he might as well not be a member of God's chosen nation. If a Gentile lives in obedience to the Lord it is as if he is one of God's chosen people.

"A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God." (Romans 2:28-29) The Lord's brother James, who became a leader of the church at Jerusalem, said something similar, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)

In Paul's day some of the teachers of the law knew the law inside and out and yet did a poor job of keeping it. There are those who can quote passages from all over the Bible and yet don't belong to Christ. We can put on a front and fool our fellow man into thinking we are someone we are not, but if we want the approval of a holy God we can't "play church". We have to really be the church. God doesn't care whether we carry a big Bible and attend services and wear nice dresses or fancy suits and quote Scripture from morning til night. God cares about the state of our hearts. If our hearts aren't right with Him, everything else is meaningless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 7, Storing Up Wrath

Paul is speaking about the refusal of some to repent and turn to God. He warns anyone who lives like this that they are storing up wrath for themselves. The beginning of the book of Romans is quite stern and it takes a harsh line against a lot of worldly things, but we have to keep in mind that Paul is not speaking to Jews who know the one true God and who have the law and the commandments. He is speaking to Gentiles who have made their own gods and their own rules. Up til now they have been serving false gods who require little of them and they have been living by rules made by man and not by God; in other words, rules that benefit man's carnal nature rather than rules that help the creature be more like his Creator. As we get deeper into the letter to the Romans we will find some of the most familiar and most beautiful verses of the New Testament, but here at the beginning the Apostle Paul intends to strike fear in the hearts of Gentiles who have so recently been serving nonexistent gods or who are still caught up in false religions.

He says to the ones who have been unwilling to receive the truth, "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed." (Romans 2:5) Some modern-day preachers and teachers have strayed from the truth, telling their listeners that a loving God will not judge sin, assuring them they don't have to worry about a day of wrath. But that is not Biblical. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament warn us of the judgment to come. Jesus Christ spoke of the judgment to come. It's true that God loves every human being who has ever existed or ever will exist, but it's also true that He is holy and must judge sin. On the radio the other morning I heard Dr. Adrian Rogers sum it up like this, (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't recall his exact words): "Some say a loving God can't judge sin. But a God who doesn't judge sin isn't a loving God."

Shouldn't God judge unrepentant murderers, thieves, swindlers, child molesters, rapists, and those who perpetrate other acts of cruelty and neglect and prejudice against their fellow man? Could we really say a God who shrugs His shoulders and ignores such things actually loves us? No, I don't believe we could. So we find that God's wrath against sin is a demonstration of His love, and we find that He has made a way for us to escape His wrath if we will have faith in His Son who made the only acceptable offering for our sin debt.

"God 'will repay each person according to what they have done'. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:6-11) Everything to do with God is "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile". Israel is the nation God chose to be His special people. Israel is the nation to whom He sent the law and the prophets. Israel is the nation to whom God made the promise of a Messiah and King. So naturally it is to the Jew first that the gospel was preached, and then to the Gentiles. But being a Jew does not exempt a person from wrath if he has rejected the Lord. God isn't concerned with a person's nationality or his status in this world: He's concerned with the state of a person's soul. Sin will be judged without partiality.

"All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law." (Romans 2:12) God is not going to judge anyone by what he does not know, but by what he does know. Those who know the law will be judged by whether they have kept the law. Now no one is perfect, and no one has ever kept every single point of the law except Jesus Christ, but a person can live in the spirit of keeping the law. A person can live with a constant awareness of God and His holiness, seeking to honor Him in all things and being willing to repent whenever he messes up. Those who do not know the law will be judged by the knowledge about God that has been made available to them. Remember in Chapter One when Paul said no one has an excuse for not believing in the existence of God, because the very creation testifies to the existence of a powerful and holy Creator? On that very basis alone the Gentiles are judged for not worshiping the Creator and for bowing down to images that look like created things. And now, as Paul is writing his letter, the gospel message is beginning to spread throughout the Gentile world, so that no one who hears it is without excuse for not believing it. An island native in some remote corner of the world who has never heard the name of the God of Israel, and who has never heard of Jesus Christ, and who has never heard of the Holy Spirit, will not be judged by what he does not know. But he will be judged for not recognizing and acknowledging that a God created everything, and that this God is much greater than everything He created, and that He alone is to be worshiped.

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares." (Romans 2:13-16) Hearing the law doesn't make a person righteous. Obeying the law does. Hearing the gospel doesn't make a person righteous. Believing the gospel does. I grew up in the church and I can't remember a time when I didn't know the gospel, but this didn't make me righteous. It was the giving of my heart and life to Jesus Christ at the age of twenty-two that is going to make me able to stand before a holy God someday and be told that my sins are forgiven.

Paul is telling his readers that some who know the law have failed to honor the law, but that some who don't know the law have succeeded in honoring it. This is why God's judgment is going to be fair. He is not going to judge you or me by whether or not we are of Jewish or Gentile heritage. He's going to judge us by our hearts. Do we love Him or not? Do we seek to honor Him or not? Does our conscience bother us when we sin or are we able to live however we please without a care in the world? Do we want to be made right with our Creator or are we satisfied by living at a much lower level than we were created to live?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 6, The Kindness Of God Leads Us To Repent

For the past several days the Apostle Paul has been talking about man's tendency to create his own rules instead of following God's rules. With numerous examples he has demonstrated that rebellion against God does not set a person free, but actually entraps a person in his own sins. Things keep going from bad to worse when a human being drifts farther and farther away from a loving God.

Paul has made the statement that when rebellion persists long enough, God takes a "hands off" approach with that person and allows him to do whatever he pleases without hindrance. We discussed that this is both the wrath of God and the mercy of God. Wrath, because the one who does not repent and turn around even as his circumstances grow continually more dire will eventually receive the due penalty for his sins. Mercy, because in many cases the person comes to recognize that being the god of his own life has caused him nothing but catastrophe, so he repents and turns to the Lord.

In today's passage the apostle will explain to us that we must never take the kindness or patience of God as proof that He does not care what we do and that there will be no penalty for rebellion. It's vital that we do not come to think of His patience as inexhaustible, or that there will not come a day when He will stop dealing with our hearts, or that we can have the casual attitude of, "God loves me and will always be there waiting for me when I decide to stop sowing my wild oats. There will always be a day in the future when I can decide to live for the Lord." We aren't promised another breath, much less another day, which is why the day of salvation is always today. (Isaiah 49:8, 2 Corinthians 6:2)

When we concluded yesterday Paul was chastising his listeners for being hypocritical in their judgment. They have pointed the finger at others for committing the same sins they themselves are committing. They've looked down on others and thought in their hearts, "This person is a sinner. God has said not to do the things he's doing, so God is going to judge him." Yet at the same time in their hearts they think they themselves will escape the same judgment. Paul wants them to understand that their thinking is skewed. "Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the richness of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" (Romans 2:2-4)

God's patience with us in our sin isn't a sign that He takes a lax attitude toward sin. Like any good parent, God would rather teach us to live the right way by kindness rather than by discipline. When you see your child doing something that is destructive or dangerous, you tell them to stop, don't you? And when you tell them to stop, you want them to immediately obey your voice. You don't want to have to deliver a spanking or place them in a chair for timeout. Sometimes you even tell them more than once to stop, because you really don't want to have to cause them the distress of discipline. God is the same way. He wants us to hear His voice and immediately obey it. He will often warn us several times before taking any disciplinary action. He doesn't want to cause us distress or grief, but He will if He has to. Paul is cautioning the Romans---and all of us as well---not to let it get to that point. God's patience doesn't mean we can disrespect Him, just as a parent's patience doesn't mean his child can disrespect him. God's patience is a display of kindness toward us, giving us an opportunity to repent before our situation goes from bad to worse.

The prophet Jeremiah once said that it is only because of God's great mercy that we are not consumed. (Lamentations 3:22) We don't deserve a thing from God. We have broken His laws and commandments. We have felt free to ignore Him and go our own way. We have spurned His love and followed our worldly desires. God would be well within His rights to destroy us all, but He does not because He is merciful. Yet this doesn't mean we can take His mercy for granted. In refusing Him time and time again our hearts grow hard and calloused. Our consciences stop bothering us very much. Our hearing grows so dull that we no longer notice the Holy Spirit's voice pleading with us to repent. We don't ever want to reach the place where God says to us, "Have it your way then." We might not ever come back from such a place because we will be too used to sin and too used to turning God away.

Today is the day of salvation. We don't know what will happen tomorrow or even if there will be a tomorrow for us on this earth. This is why the Bible cautions us, "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." (Psalm 95:7-8, Hebrews 3:7, Hebrews 3:15) Today is all we have. When the Lord speaks, we must respond. There is no better time than today. If we keep putting it off, the "someday" when we intend to make things right with a holy God may never come.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 5, Recognizing Sin

Paul has been talking to the Romans about some of the things men and women do when they decide they won't submit themselves to the authority of God. It is the nature of human beings to worship something, so when they refuse to worship God they end up worshiping themselves. This leads to the breakdown of the character and even the breakdown of society. Below Paul provides a list of things that human beings begin to do when they push God out of their lives.

"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:28-32) We could pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV and see plenty of examples of the type of behavior Paul mentions.

But he's telling us something even more frightening than that evil deeds abound in the world: there comes a point when a person has said "no" to God so many times that God stops pleading with him to repent. In the days before God sent the flood to a world gone mad, He cautioned that His spirit would not always strive (keep struggling, keep dealing) with man. (Genesis 6:3) There came a point in human history when God stopped pleading with mankind to repent and sent catastrophe instead. There can come a point in a person's life when God stops pleading with him to repent and allows him to turn his life into a catastrophe. We don't want to reach that point! We have no assurance that the God who is calling us to come to Him today will keep on giving us opportunity after opportunity. We don't even know if we will still be alive tomorrow. Why risk putting off making things right between our immortal souls and a holy God?

The apostle now moves on to criticize people who are hypocritical enough to judge others for committing the same sins they themselves commit. This brings us to a short discussion of some of the most misused passages of the Bible: passages that have to do with not judging others. These passages are often the only verses that are known by those who have rejected God. They say things like, "You can't judge me! You can't be a Christian if you judge the way I'm living my life. Nobody but God can say that what I'm doing is a sin." When the Lord Jesus spoke in Matthew 7 about not judging others, He was speaking to those who were judging others in a spirit of hypocrisy. When taken properly in context, right after commanding his listeners not to be judgmental, Jesus criticizes them for calling out their fellow man for the "speck" in his eye while having a "plank" in their own eyes. He was calling them hypocrites for condemning other people for committing what could be termed less serious sins while committing fairly severe sins themselves.

Jesus never said we weren't to recognize sin for what it is. We'd have to be complete fools and entirely ignorant of the word of God if we could not recognize sin. What He did say was that we are to be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16) We can recognize the fact that a person is living far from God in a deep pit of sin without doing harm to them. We can compassionately tell them the gospel of a Savior who loves them without attacking them and pointing our fingers at them and screaming to them that they are on their way to hell. That type of attitude is unlikely to bear fruit, and it is especially unlikely to bear fruit when we ourselves are caught up in a sinful lifestyle. Everyone sins, but when we preach to someone who knows we are caught up in sins which have greater consequences than the sins they are caught up in, our testimony is useless.

Paul tells the believers at Rome that some of them are hypocrites. "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." (Romans 2:1) He's saying the same thing Jesus Christ said to His listeners: "Examine your own life before examining the lives of others. Don't criticize your fellow man for doing the same things you do, and don't condemn your fellow man for committing sins that are presently causing less harm than the sins you are committing. Don't point the finger at your neighbor and call him a liar when you are involved in an adulterous relationship. Don't call your co-worker a backstabber while you are embezzling funds. Don't complain that so-and-so is always rude to you while in your heart you harbor a murderous rage toward someone who has done you wrong."

The word of God tells us what sin is. If we know the word of God we are naturally going to be able to recognize sin. We are going to be able to tell whether those around us are living for the Lord or living for themselves. If we couldn't tell whether our fellow man is living in a way that's causing harm to himself and others, how would we be able to tell who already belongs to Christ and who is still far from Him? But in ministering to those who don't know the Lord, we are to do it in love, always keeping in mind that we too are frail and sinful creatures who need a righteous Savior to give us good standing in the sight of God. We are to examine our own lives to see whether we are behaving in ways that honor the name of Christ. If we are not, who is going to want to hear our testimony? Who wants to hear the word of God coming from hypocritical lips?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 4, Worshiping The Creature Rather Than The Creator

Paul has been getting right to the heart of man's basic problem: man has decided to worship himself in place of God. Out of all the living creatures that God made, only human beings are able to form a deep and satisfying relationship with Him. But because that relationship calls us to rise above animal instincts and live by moral laws, we have at many times and in various ways refused to step up our game. We found it easier to worship anything and everything other than a God who calls us to be holy. Idolatry is, at its core, self worship. Whether we bow our knees to graven images, or to the decadence of this world, or to the lusts of the flesh, in essence we are worshiping ourselves---we are worshiping ourselves. Our Creator says to us, "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:16) But when we go our own way we say to Him, "I like myself the way I am. Because You want to make something more of me, and because You want to make something better of me, I will seek gods who are content to leave me where I am. I will go where I want to go and I will do what I want to do. No one has the right to tell me I'm in the wrong. If I end up wallowing in the mud of sins and failures, so be it."

Paul points out that when we rebel against God and put our wants and needs above His commandments, we begin to give in to whatever our carnal flesh wants. "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen." (Romans 1:24-25)

The apostle tells his readers, "God says to those who repeatedly refuse to obey Him, 'Fine! Have it your way! Do what you want to do!'" Paul views this as a form of punishment, because naturally when we go our own way we tend to get deeper and deeper into trouble. Often when we get ourselves deep into trouble we realize the error of our ways and decide to follow our Creator, so this well may be the Lord's intent when allowing us to go our own way. Even if we do not repent, we can never say God didn't give us a choice.

We are about to get into a very controversial subject this morning. I've struggled with the best way to approach it. I woke up several times in the night thinking about it. I don't know how this is going to go or how my readers are going to feel about it, but one thing I do know is this: God has not called me to defend His holy word. He has not asked me to apologize for anything the Bible says. So we are going to go straight through our verses today just as we always do and we are going to approach them with as much love and compassion and understanding as possible.

We of the modern era did not invent sex and we didn't invent the many forms sex takes. Ever since the first human beings began to walk the earth, men and women have been seeking fulfillment of their sexual desires. God created a framework within which sexual desires can safely be fulfilled, and that framework is marriage. In deciding what marriage would consist of, God chose the way that would be most beneficial to the continuance of the human race. He chose a combination that would be most easily accepted by society. He chose a merger of two beings of vastly different physical and mental and emotional attributes so that where one of them is weak the other is strong, and so that when put together these two incomplete creatures make one solid whole. This is why, in the garden of Eden, God placed a man and a woman. A man and a woman are capable of producing children, so this is the most practical form marriage can possibly take, for it keeps the human race alive. On another practical note, marriage between one man and one woman is accepted by every society on earth and it always has been, so the couple will not have to face opposition from the outside. When my husband and I went down to the chapel to get married, no one protested because no one cared about a man and a woman getting married. We faced no opposition from the outside when we took our marriage vows. It's difficult enough to deal with the conflicts and daily struggles that go on inside a home; God wants to spare us from having to deal with attacks on our marriages from outside the home. And on a note that is practical, emotional, mental, and spiritual, it makes the most sense to combine beings who don't have the same strengths and weaknesses. Where one is weak the other can be strong and vice versa. This makes the entire family unit more solid and better able to defend itself against the trials of the world.

Paul says many men and women chose to reject God and that God began taking a "hands off" approach with them. He is writing his letter from the city of Corinth where prostitution is legal and divorce is rampant. He is writing his letter to the people of Rome, a city where literally anything goes. Nothing is forbidden. Marriage vows can be broken without penalty. Declarations of love are meaningless. A Roman soldier was free to have a wife and children at home and to legally visit houses of either female or male prostitution and/or to openly maintain a female or male mistress on the side. Both men and women were free to initiate divorce on a whim. They could even marry and divorce multiple times a year. Imagine how traumatic this must have been for the children involved! Paul's assertion in today's passage is that when men and women rejected God, they also rejected His plan for marriage and family. God provided the example that is best for the family and for society when He joined Adam and Eve together as husband and wife, and now Paul finds men and women and children being hurt by the failure of the human race to follow God's plan. "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:26-27)

Are we saying that you can't be a Christian if you still struggle with same-sex desires or with desires outside of your marriage? If we said that we'd have to also say you can't be a Christian if you still struggle with avoiding other things the word of God says to avoid. Are we saying you are going to hell if you feel physical desires that fall outside of God's "one man and one woman" plan for marriage? Well, the Bible also says we're in danger of hell if we've ever told a lie, or if we've ever been drunk, or if we've ever stolen anything, or if we've ever broken any laws, or if we've ever felt jealous, or if we've ever had sexual relations outside of marriage, or if we've ever envied anyone, or if we've ever cared more about anything else than we care about God. Who hasn't done at least one of these things? I've committed every sin on that list---every single one of them!

So what are we to take away from this? We are all lawbreakers. We are all sinners. We all need a Savior. My understanding of the Bible is that rejecting the holy and sinless Son of God is the only thing that can send our souls to hell. This doesn't mean we can accept Christ as our Savior and go on living in any way we choose; it means allowing the Savior to make us into new creatures. (2 Corinthians 5:17) He will show each person what needs changing in their life. This is why I don't feel called to point the finger at anyone and denounce them for their way of living. Does anyone ever respond favorably to that? Before I became a Christian I would have immediately closed my mind off to anyone who approached me in that manner. It would have had little to no impact on me. But when people loved me and told me about the love of Christ, and when they demonstrated by how they lived that they were walking the walk as well as talking the talk, that had a very big impact on me. So that's why I only feel called to tell others about the Savior who loves them and thought they were worth dying for. Jesus will do whatever needs doing in each person's life; therefore I feel safe leaving these things in His capable hands.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 3, No Excuse For Denying God

In our portion of Scripture today the Apostle Paul concludes we are without excuse when we refuse to acknowledge and glorify the living God. His argument is that, even if we had never heard of God, we should naturally come to the realization that He exists simply by viewing the creation. Paul feels that man's denial of God and man's refusal to worship God has led him into many hurtful practices which fall outside of God's will for the human race.

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known of God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities---His eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20) We can't see the Creator, but we can learn things about Him through the creation. We can logically conclude that the God who made all things possesses unimaginable and unlimited power. We are able to conclude that a God who made this world so lovely enjoys beautiful things. We can know that the God who created the wonderful animal kingdom enjoys living creatures. We can also be certain that the God who created mankind in His image did it because He desires a relationship with beings who are intelligent enough to communicate with Him and to form a relationship with Him.

Paul is saying, in essence, "Even if you had never been taught that there is a God in heaven, you have no excuse for denying His existence. All you have to do is look on the creation in all its beauty and glory. The creation itself testifies to the existence of a Creator. The creation itself declares that the Creator is holy, for an unholy God could not have formed objects of such stunning beauty. An unrighteous God could not have made beings like you and me who have hearts that are able to feel love."

The letter to the Romans is written to Gentiles who acknowledge that life didn't occur spontaneously on its own, but they believe in a pantheon of gods who all had a hand in various parts of the creation. They have been willing to admit that the universe didn't spring out of nothing, and that the earth's atmosphere is perfectly designed to support life, and that men and women possess an eternal soul, but they have failed to credit the one true God with all of these things. Somewhere way back in the mists of time these people strayed from the knowledge of the one true God. Adam knew the one true God. Eve knew the one true God. Their son Abel knew the one true God. But as the earth began being populated with more and more human beings, many of these human beings forsook the God who made them in His image. They began to worship gods they created in their own image. They refused to bow their knees to a God who demands holiness and instead bowed their knees to gods whose natures are much like their own. False gods don't demand holiness. They demand sacrifices and offerings and rituals, but they don't expect man to be anything more than he already is. They don't ask him to rise to a higher level. They don't challenge him to be all that he was created to be.

The pagan world believed their gods had the same personalities as human beings. They had the same faults while at the same time possessing supernatural powers. If these false gods could speak, their followers believed they would say something like this: "You're basically okay. You sometimes experience rage and jealousy and greed and lust, but so do we! Some of you have fought with and even killed your fellow man; we too have killed our rivals from time to time. Some of you have taken another man's wife as his own; we too have fathered children by women who don't belong to us. Some of you indulge in riotous living; which of us hasn't enjoyed a little of that? All you have to do is bring offerings to us that we are pleased with, and all is good! You can go right back out and keep on keeping on with whatever makes you happy."

Paul sees straight to the heart of the matter. Men and women have created gods for themselves because their pride and their lust and their dishonesty keeps them from submitting to a holy God who expects them to live by standards befitting beings who are created in His image. God gave us intelligent minds capable of understanding right from wrong. He gave us souls that long for communion with Him. He doesn't want the crowning glory of creation wallowing in sin as if we are senseless. We were created for so much better than this!

God didn't need to create us and He doesn't need our worship. He created us because He wanted to give us His love and to have fellowship with us and to take care of us. These are the same reasons that compel a husband and wife to decide to make a child together. God created us in order to give to us, but when we refuse to acknowledge His holiness and when we decide we aren't going to submit to His laws, we are like a rebellious child who decides he is going to touch the hot stove even though his mom and dad have told him not to touch it. We are only hurting ourselves when we decide to go our own way. We can never be who we were created to be if we persist in living in rebellion to our Creator.

Paul says man has turned himself into a fool---the complete opposite of what he was intended to be---by rebelling against God. "For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles." (Romans 1:21-23)

God intended for man to be the best he could be, and to enjoy the very best a loving Father has to offer, but man was content with remaining on the bottom step. God called to him, "Come up higher! Get closer to me! Enjoy the things I have in store for My children!" But man said, "No thanks. I'm happy right where I am. I'm living barely one step above creatures that are able to perform only the most basic tasks of reasoning, and I'm okay with that. Staying where I am allows me to be who I want to be. Staying where I am lets me do what I want to do. In fact, because You ask more of me than I want to give, I'm going to create gods for myself who expect a whole lot less. I'm going to make gods who look just like me, or gods that look like birds or snakes or fish. They think I'm okay just the way I am. They don't want to make anything glorious out of me. They don't want to have a relationship with me. All they ask is that, if I happen to offend them in some way, I bring an offering nice enough to make things good between us. My gods don't expect much of me, and when I mess up it's easy to make things right again. But You say I have to live by faith, and I know that faith is going to make me want to be obedient to You, and I'm not interested in that."

I've been writing this morning's blog post from my front porch. My God created the sun I watched come up over the mountain, and the birds that are singing, and the squirrel looking for nuts on my front lawn, and the little dog sitting at my feet, and the neighbor who just came outside to get his morning paper. Did this universe with all its diversity of life come into being without a Creator? My conclusion is that it did not. This was Paul's conclusion. This was King David's conclusion. This should be the conclusion of every human being on the face of the earth. There is a God. There is a God who is so much higher than us we can't even comprehend it, and yet He wants to know us and be known of us. That, my friends, is too good of a deal to pass up. And if we do pass it up, we are without excuse.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 2, Not Ashamed Of The Gospel

As we learned yesterday, the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Rome several years before he ever met any of them face to face. He likely wrote the letter from Corinth, and when he wrote it he spoke of his longing to visit the believers at Rome, but he had no idea that when he traveled to Rome he would go as a prisoner and not as a free man.

In our passage today he tells the believers at Rome how thankful he is for them and how much he wants to see them. He is happy they have accepted the gospel message, the message he wants to declare to the whole world.

"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world." (Romans 1:8) It would have been widely known that a Christian church is growing by leaps and bounds at Rome. The transformation of these Gentiles would have been talked about far and wide. They are bold in their faith, unashamed of the gospel just as Paul is unashamed of the gospel. It is a good thing their love for Christ is so strong, for within a decade they will be viciously persecuted by the emperor. They would not have been able to persevere under trial unless their faith had been strong.

It's easy to see why the apostle is so dearly loved in the church. Yesterday we found him reminding the Romans how much the Lord loves them. Today he tells them how much he loves them, how thankful he is for them, and that he prays for them constantly. Doesn't it warm our hearts when someone tells us things like this? "God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of His Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you." (Romans 1:9-10)

Because the faith of these believers has been such an encouragement to him, Paul wants to be an encouragement to them. "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong---that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." (Romans 1:11-12) It's probable that Paul is speaking of the type of spiritual gifts that were displayed at Pentecost and at other times in the book of Acts. Whoever took the gospel to Rome must not have been an apostle, because it would appear from the book of Acts that an apostle is needed to impart spiritual gifts such as these. Paul wants to meet the believers face to face, to place his hands on them, and to pray over them so that they may be able to perform signs and miracles.

"I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles." (Romans 1:13) Paul says, "I wouldn't want you to think I haven't visited you yet because I don't want to. I've made plans for the journey several times only to have things come up that caused me to have to postpone the trip. I want to minister to those of you at Rome just as much as I want to minister to people anywhere else."

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. This is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome." (Romans 1:14-15) Paul feels an intense longing to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, to those who know the Scriptures and to those who do not, to those who recognize the one true God and to those who are bowing their knees to idols. The apostle, who once was obsessed with persecuting Christians, can now think of nothing else but telling as many people as possible about Christ. Twenty-four hours a day this is all that's on his mind. He wants everyone in the world to experience the life-changing power of Christ, just as he has.

Next Paul makes one of the most well known declarations of the New Testament: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16) Rome was the cultural center of the world in Paul's day. Some of his detractors may have accused him of failing to visit Rome because he doesn't feel comfortable about preaching the gospel of a crucified carpenter from Nazareth in a place where many of the most educated men of the ancient world will try to debate with him. Paul is quick to assure the believers at Rome that this is not true. It's as if he is saying, "I am not ashamed of the gospel anywhere! I will preach Christ to the uneducated peasants. I will preach Christ to the learned philosophers. I will preach Christ in the country. I will preach Christ in the city. I will preach Christ to the Jews. I will preach Christ to the Gentiles. Wherever I go I will preach Christ!"

"For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed---a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (Romans 1:17) Paul is compelled to preach the gospel, for by faith in it the believer is justified in the sight of a righteous God. Without faith we could never stand in His court and be declared not guilty, because we are guilty. But when we place our faith in Christ, who was never guilty of any sin, He imparts His righteousness to us. Then, as we stand before a holy God, God sees not our guilt but Christ's holiness. Paul wants every person on the face of the earth to obtain this good standing before God, so day and night the only thought in his mind is sharing the gospel.

May we all have more of the attitude Paul had. More than anything in this world, we ought to want to see souls saved by the power of Christ. Lord, help us to have hearts like Yours! Help us to love others the way You love them!