Lesson One: Who was Paul?
Romans is an extraordinary book. Its rich theology challenges both mind and heart. Yet its premise is basic: salvation through grace alone. It is written with authority and an intimate understanding of Christ and his redemptive work through grace. John Piper, highly respected current day pastor and teacher said, if he were allowed only one book to share with people that summed up God’s gospel message of redemption and grace, it would be Romans.
Before we begin our study of this remarkable book, let’s take the time to examine the qualifications of its author. Paul was arguably the greatest apostle in the Kingdom of God. What was it that gave him this credible reputation? How could he speak with such authority and boldness? Why was his ministry so effective? How could one man, self-described as “the worst of sinners,” be principally responsible for the early spread of the gospel throughout the known world? We begin in the book of Acts.
Stephen was a bold apostle, famous for his articulate, God inspired speech before the governing body of the Jews, the Sanhedrin (Acts 7). Stephen was the first Christian martyr, killed for his righteously steadfast belief in Christ. This was a threat to the authorities, so they stoned him viciously.
1. Read Acts 7:53-8:1. (I would encourage you to read all of Acts 7 on your own-Stephen’s speech is powerful, and it gives an account of God’s loving kindness toward Stephen as he was being killed.) Pay close attention to verses 7:58 and 8:1. Who does scripture say was a witness to this horrific execution and what was his role?
2. Read Philippians 3:4-6. Paul lists reasons why he could justify having “confidence in the flesh.” In other words, he was pointing out why he had been uniquely qualified to persecute Christ’s church on behalf of the Jews. Write, in your own words, the significance of these credentials, and why you think Paul found it necessary to share them with his listeners.
3. Read Acts 9:1-31. Read this carefully from Paul’s (Saul’s) point of view. Imagine the confusion and fear. Write your thoughts about how Paul might have felt about his being chosen by Christ himself, the very leader of the movement he was trying to snuff out!
Lesson Two: Game Changer
In order to understand the significance of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, it is important to understand the significance of being a Jew. We need to go all the way back to Genesis to establish the foundation.
God had created the earth, including human beings. He was pleased with his creation, until his favorite creatures, his image bearers, disobeyed him. Sin came into the world, and God, being holy and insisting on righteousness, demonstrated his wrath toward his beloved creatures by banishing them from his presence and provision. Adam and Eve fell and took everything down with them. From then on, mankind has walked in depravity and filth, and in enmity with God.
Over the course of history, God, in his long suffering, demonstrated his love again and again by reaching out to bring people to himself. But man is a stubborn, short sighted creature. So God wiped out his creation, save for a righteous remnant, Noah and company. Noah’s clan started over, and although some followed God, most went astray again.
God then chose a select group of people and made a covenant with them. The covenant was given to Abraham in Genesis 17, and remained until the coming of Christ. This select group were the Hebrews, later known as the Israelites, then the Jews. The sign of the covenant was circumcision. This was an outward sign of an inward commitment, and preceded the giving of the law to Moses.
From Genesis 17 until Christ’s resurrection, the Jews were under a covenant of works. In other words, they had to find favor from God by demonstrating that they were worthy, first through circumcision, then by a complex system of impossible rules and regulations. Since the rules revealed man’s sin, sacrifices had to be made regularly to atone for the many, many sins (intentional and unintentional) of the people.
Leviticus is a fascinating account of the complex law given to Moses and kept by the Jews for thousands of years. In fact, it is nearly impossible to understand the depth and significance of Christ’s atoning work on the cross without an understanding of Leviticus. Though this system is mysterious to us, the bottom line is that God is holy and we are not. We cannot enter the presence of such holiness. We would perish instantly on our own in the presence of such a holy God. This is why Christ came. He made a way for us, his most treasured creation, to be in his presence with him forever, thus upholding his standard without compromising any of his holiness. And we only have to accept it. “Grace, grace, God’s grace; grace that is greater than all our sin!”
All this to say that the Jews had the Law and the Prophets. They were God’s chosen, and as such, held themselves in higher regard than the rest of the world (the Gentiles). Even associating with Gentiles was forbidden in many instances, so the fact that Paul, “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5), would target the Gentiles for ministry was scandalous-and dangerous, as he and his brothers in the faith would find. Reading Romans with this perspective helps with some of the language and concepts (i.e. “first of the Jew then for the Gentile”). This new way changed the world, and rocked the worlds of many!
In Romans 1:1, Paul says that he was “set apart for the gospel…promised beforehand through (God’s) prophets.” It is important to realize that the entire Bible, from beginning to end, is about Christ. It is written by (through inspiration) Christ and points to him.
1. Read Romans 1:1-4. Let’s explore some of those prophecies, allowing the truth to sink in as we realize that everything that happened in regard to Christ was foretold thousands of years before his birth.
2. Read the following scriptures and write what the prophet said about Christ (these are just a few of the many).
2 Samuel 7:12-14
John 5:46 (note that even Jesus acknowledges the validity of the prophets!)
3. Read Romans 1:5-6, 16-17, and John 6:44 and 65. What precedes obedience to Christ, and who initiates our desire to belong to him?
4. Read Romans 1:20 and John 1:3. Why are humans who don’t believe in God “without excuse?”
5. Read Romans 2:1-4. Then read 1 Corinthians 2:9-16. What do these verses say about judging others? Is there contradiction in these verses?
Lesson Three: A Beautiful Mystery
So, why would a God, who says he is love, create creatures for himself who he knew full well would turn from-and on-him? And why, if he knew that, would he unleash his terrible wrath on those creatures, as if they were to blame? God says he is just, but this doesn’t seem just at all!
Paul, in Romans 3:5, calls this a “human argument.” He confirms in verse seven that some argued, “…why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Left to our dim-witted understanding, this plan of God’s seems cruel. It is only by the Holy Spirit, left to us by grace as counsel, that we can have light shed on this beautiful mystery of his.
When man turned from God, man became lawless. He had no mechanism to see, let alone comprehend, his filth before the Holy God who created him. There was no guilt, and no sense of “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). So God chose a specific people group (Israel), and gave them the Law.
The Law was never intended to bring salvation. It was given specifically to make us conscious of sin, so that we would see our unrighteousness in light of God’s holiness. This in preparation for the coming of Christ, because without the knowledge and awareness of our sin, we would never see a need for a Savior, thus making Christ’s sacrifice void of meaning. When this beautiful mystery unfolded, Christ became a “righteousness…apart from the law” (3:21), because the Law was fulfilled through and in him. Then we, through grace alone and by faith, became righteous and blameless, as if man had never fallen. Beautiful. Mystery.
Romans 3:25 says, “God presented (Christ) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (italics added). To atone is to agree, or be in accordance. This is the first part. Secondly, it is to “stand as an equivalent, to make reparation, amends, or satisfaction for an offense or a crime, by which reconciliation is procured between the offended and the offending parties.” And, to “expiate or appease.” To expiate is to perform some “act by which (the offended party’s) wrath is appeased, and his forgiveness is secured.”
We are guilty by virtue of being human. God, in his holiness, must unleash his righteous wrath on sinners because he cannot abide sin. The Law, given by God to elucidate sin, says that an atoning sacrifice must be made to appease God’s wrath and bring us into accord with him once more. So what does this look like? In a word, bloody. God requires blood for atonement of sins.
In Leviticus 16, God instructs Aaron on exactly how to offer sacrifices for his sin and for the sin of Israel. It involves bulls and goats and lots of blood.
1. Read Leviticus 16:6-10 and 14-34. Pay attention to the incredible and peculiar detail with which God instructs Aaron. Then read Isaiah 53:6, Revelation 5:12, and 1 Corinthians 5:7. Leviticus explains God’s requirements for the Israelites to have fellowship with him. Christ fulfills those requirements once for all through his bloody death on the cross. Is Christ the goat in Leviticus that was slain for a sin offering to the Lord, or is he the scapegoat released into the desert? Explain your answer.
2. Read John 6:53-56. Then swing back to Leviticus 17:10-12. Why would Jesus tell his followers to drink his blood if he knew that eating blood was forbidden in his own Law? Imagine what that sounded like to his Jewish hearers! What is the true meaning of “eat my flesh and drink my blood?” (Use John 6:35 as your hint.)
Here is the sticking point for many people when it comes to following Christ. If this is the only thing you take away from this study, I will feel satisfied: This atonement we are reading about is given freely and is not earned in any way. Let that sink and settle in your heart and your brain. In Romans 4:2-5, God says,
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.’ Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (italics added).
Our only role in compelling God to look on us as blameless is to accept the gift! That’s it. When Christ asks us to drink his blood and eat his flesh, he is asking us to accept his gift. He has already paid for it. We only have to believe and accept it!
On the surface, working for the Lord in order to receive obligatory payment sounds noble. But how much would we have to work to satisfy a holy, perfect God? Some of us (present company excluded) are good, but not that good! God knew this all along. So he built into his plan a way for us to be with him and not die.
3. Read each of the following scriptures, paraphrase them, and discuss how this confirms that salvation is a free gift through faith in Christ, and nothing we can earn on our own.
Lesson Four: Enmity to Amity
When Adam fell, war was waged between man and God. We were (and are) at enmity with him. Enmity is defined as “The quality of being an enemy; the opposite of friendship; ill will; hatred; unfriendly dispositions; malevolence.” Let that settle in your mind. It is more than just God’s being unhappy or disappointed with our behavior. The Bible is clear when it uses that word, enmity. In our unredeemed state, God hates us.
Colossians 1:21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Without a clear understanding of how dire our condition is outside of Christ, we cannot fully appreciate his redeeming work on the cross. C.S. Lewis said that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross makes no sense unless “you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that power.”
In our fallen state, God hates us. We are at enmity with him. But still, he loves his creation, and wants nothing more than for us to be reconciled to him. However, he is a just God, and therefore cannot allow us to slide without a penalty. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.” However, Paul, in Romans 5:1-11 takes the time to explain what justification (being found not guilty through Christ’s sacrifice) means for us. Yes, God hated us, but now, through Christ’s definitive work on the cross, we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” R.C. Sproul writes, “Christ is our peace, so for us there is no more war with God.”
This peace is not some fragile, temporary peace. The Hebrews understood it as Shalom, a complete, whole, sound, and tranquil peace. This peace with God is a settled, reconciled, and permanent state of amity (harmony) with God. It is a finished work that cannot be undone. This is why on the cross, Jesus, before giving up his life, said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus accomplished it, apart from anything we have done, because he loves us. Read John 3:16 with fresh eyes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 5:2 says, “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” How wonderful (how marvelous) that, because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, we have assurance that we will see God face to face. No enmity, no instant death; only sweet, complete, perfect, and eternal fellowship! But then Paul continues in verse 3 with an absurdity: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings….” Wait, I thought accepting Christ meant that we are friends with God. Turns out, God’s love does not equal our comfort. Not on this earth, anyway. It’s one of God’s beautiful, paradoxical mysteries again. He lavishly poured out his love on us (1 John 3:1), which results in our suffering. And not only that, we are called to rejoice in that suffering!
1. Read the following scriptures. Ponder this concept of salvation and suffering, and write down questions or thoughts. Do you see it as a beautiful paradox, or an absurdity, or both? Write down, also, what God says are the benefits of suffering.
1 Peter 4:13-19
2 Corinthians 1:5
Romans 5:12-19 is a complex teaching, and may lend itself to some dangerous interpretation. Basically, these verses explain that when Adam rebelled against God, mankind fell with him. “…just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin…death came to all men” (verse 12). And, in verse 14, “…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” (he is speaking of Christ, here). So death, as a result of sin, is universal and even so-called righteous people are not immune to it. Paul continues this line of thought in verse 15. “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!” In verse 16, he goes on to explain that our condemnation was a result of one man’s sin. The gift of salvation followed many trespasses, and resulted in the justification of many people. Here’s where it gets tricky. Verse 18 says, “…just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” Condemnation was universal. Even grace is common among humanity, which is evidenced by God’s allowance of our beholding beauty, love, provision, etc.
2. Read 1 Peter 2:9, John 6:44 and 17:6, 9, and 24. Is justification (salvation through the pardon of guilt through Christ’s sacrifice) universal? Explain your answer.
Romans 6:13 admonishes us not to offer our bodies to sin as instruments of wickedness. In verse 19, Paul goes on to point out that at one time we have offered parts of our body in “slavery and impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness.” Most of us do not offer their bodies to impurity and wickedness. Or do we?
3. Read Galatians 5:19-21 and Matthew 5:21-42. Is God’s description of impurity and wickedness the same as ours?
Lesson Five: Bad News/Good News
Romans 7 begins with very encouraging news. Using an example from the Jewish law regarding marriage, Paul reiterates our pitiful condition under the law: we were controlled by the sinful nature and so “bore the fruit for death” (v. 5). Then he goes on to say that we “died to the law through the body of Christ…in order that we might bear fruit to God.” Then, starting in verse 7, the wind leaves our sails.
Paul goes on to explain once again that the Law is good, but since we are fallen, it not only illustrates our sin, but causes it to spring to life, causing our death (v. 9). Here is Paul, who had been publicly and supernaturally chosen through a personal appearance by the risen Christ, lamenting his wretchedness because of his constant struggle with sin. This, after he was justified! So, if Paul the Super Apostle struggles in this way-
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who can rescue me from this body of death? (vs. 14-24, italics added).
-how do we, common Christ followers even stand a chance against such a power?
The bad news: we don’t. But take heart. Allow the very first line in Chapter 8 to flow over you, permeate your thinking and your comprehension: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (italics added). No condemnation! None! Is it conditional? No. Can you lose this promise? Not on your life-or his. Why? “…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Paul continues to explain that the Law was weakened by our fallen nature, and so was powerless to save us. So, God sent Christ, his only, beloved, and innocent son, “in the likeness of sinful man” (v. 3). This means Christ became us. He became a wretch. Not only did he become us, he also became the sacrifice: “…to be a sin offering” (this hearkens back to Leviticus and the requirements for atonement). He was the offense and the sacrifice! And so we are free. Not only that, starting in 8:13, Paul explains that we are not just free, but we have received the “Spirit of sonship!” This sonship is so intimate, we, like Christ, have permission to call God Abba.
1. Romans 8:28-37 is so rich with good news that it overwhelms me every time I read it. Read the following verses in Romans 8, and record each piece of good news. Then reread what you’ve written. Meditate on it. Absorb it into your soul. Amazing Grace!
Romans 8:17-18 tells us that “if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” God is the King of a literal Kingdom. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, we are heirs of that Kingdom. John Calvin writes of our inheritance,
We do not have the full enjoyment of it at present…. We walk…in hope, and we do not see the thing as if it were present, but we see it by faith…. Although, then, the world gives itself liberty to trample us under foot, as they say; although our Lord keeps us tried with many temptations; although he humbles us in such a way that it may seem we are as sheep appointed to the slaughter, so that we are continually at death’s door, yet we are not destitute of a good remedy. And seeing that the Holy Spirit reigns in our hearts, we have something for which to give praise even in the midst of all our temptations…. [Therefore], we should rejoice, mourn, grieve, give thanks, be content, wait.
John Piper writes,
The only life I have left to live is future life. The past is not in my hands to offer or alter. It is gone. Not even God will change the past. All the expectations of God are future expectations. All the possibilities of faith and love are future possibilities. And all the power that touches me with help to live in love is future power. As precious as the bygone blessings of God may be, if he leaves me only with the memory of those, and with the promise of more, I will be undone. My hope for future goodness and future glory is future grace.
2. Read the following scriptures. Build a description of what our inheritance will look like.
1 Peter 1:4
1 Peter 1:23
2 Corinthians 1:22
Lesson Six: Because He Said So
When I was a kid, I swore I would never use “Because I said so” as a reason with my own children. Turns out, it’s unavoidable. It also turns out, however, that God used it first. On the surface, and from our human perspective, God’s actions seem glaringly unfair. He elects people for salvation, and the rest he seemingly casts aside. In the case of Pharaoh, Judas, Esau, and others, he even chooses people he didn’t save to achieve his purposes. Then he blames them for rejecting him. My human reasoning sees this as rather cruel.
But consider it from God’s perspective. And remember, that can only be done through the counsel of the Holy Spirit. God created the world. He created us. We rebelled. He rebooted after the flood. He chose a people group to receive his plan for salvation. He revealed this plan to them. They rejected it. He carried it out anyway. He sent his Son and offered the plan to anyone who accepted it. He will retain a remnant of his original people group to carry on his Kingdom, along with the other folks he chose, called, justified, and glorified. Cruel? No, just!
God is sovereign. Like he told Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” That’s scary, until you consider that God is good. He is good. He wants us to be with him. The people he uses to fulfill his plan have rejected him by their will. And lest we get caught up in the whole “But he didn’t choose them, so how can he blame them” argument, remember, we are the clay. Romans 9:20-21 admonishes,
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
It is important to keep in the forefront of our understanding that we have this whole thing backwards. We all deserve what Pharaoh, Judas, and Esau got. We all deserve death. We all are the objects of God’s wrath. We all are the creation that fell. So it’s not like everyone deserves salvation, but then God held it back from some people. The fact is that God, in his mercy and sovereignty, chose to pluck a group of people from the mire and destruction to keep as his own. We shouldn’t be incredulous. The only attitude we should adopt is gut wrenching, joy-filled, unabandoned gratitude!
Before we proceed into studying the heart of Romans 9 and 10, I want to pause to consider Romans 9:1. Paul declares boldly, “I speak the truth in Christ-I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.” I feel that sometimes we focus on God the Father, God the Son, but we tend diminish the role of God the Holy Spirit. However, it is this third person of the Trinity that compels and enables us to accept God, Christ, and his Word!
1. Read the following scriptures, and record what is said about the Holy Spirit. Then let it soak in that if you are a believer, you have this Spirit in you right now!
1 Corinthians 2:13
In Romans 9:2-4 and 10:1, Paul shares his sadness over his fellow Jews’ rejection of Christ. He goes so far as to say that he wishes he could be “cursed and cut off from Christ” for the sake of his fellow Israelites. Think about what he is saying! He has such a love for his people and a deep understanding of what Christ has done that he would be willing to go to hell if it meant the Hebrews would embrace their Messiah!
2. Read the following scriptures and record where Paul’s passion for the salvation of the Jews originated.
Matthew 23:37/Luke 13:34
It behooves us to revisit this concept of God’s sovereign choices in the election of some and the rejection of others. Election and rejection are not opposite actions. Predestination for salvation, election, is an act of God, where he works in us to accept the gift. Predestination for damnation, reprobation, is simply God leaving some to their own fate, as we all deserve. He does not work in anyone to sin or reject him. That is our natural state, our default. But we still wrestle with the fact that he only saved some and left the rest to their own way. Personally, the person I wrestle over the most, and whose story clearly is an example of the sovereignty of God, is Job. Job was not predestined for damnation, but he was held out as an example to Satan by God in order to illustrate that God’s elect love him because of who he is and not because of what he does for us. That is beautiful, but the part I wrestle with is how Job was held out as an example. Any one of the disasters God brought down on Job would ruin me. But God took everything away from him just to prove to Satan that God’s people are the real deal.
3. Read Job 38-42. This is God’s answer after Job laments his circumstances. What must our response be to the mysteries of God’s sovereign choices?
Lesson Seven: Drafted and Grafted
Let’s back up a bit to Romans 10:21 in order to speak to Romans 11. “But concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” It appears as though God has permanently cut off His beloved Israelites. Wouldn’t that be dreadful if that were true? If God cuts off the Jews, breaking the Mosaic Covenant, then Christ’s covenant is not trustworthy! How wonderful to know that “God’s gifts and call are irrevocable” (v. 11:29)!
Yet, as a whole, the Jews are still living in rejection of their Messiah. This seems a contradiction, since in 11:1 Paul clearly states that God did not reject his people. He did not reject them, but he has cut them off for a time. Once again, we see God’s sovereign choice at work. In v. 5, he says that he has chosen a “remnant by grace.” In v. 6, he once again offers his familiar explanation: “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” No more striving and following the letter of the law. The Law was fulfilled in Christ, and even the Jews have only to accept the gift. There are a set number of Jews in the elect, and the world is in a holding pattern until they are all gathered. The rest have been left to their own rebellion. In 11:7, God says, “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened.”
While the world waits for the remnant to be assembled, God is doing something marvelous. Israel’s rebellion spurred him to reach out to the rest of us! We are invited to be a part of the Covenant! Paul, though, retains an obvious love and affection for his people. “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!” (v. 12). Paul is still very much a Jew, and still very much aware of how special that is. To be a Messianic Jew is to have both Covenants! Theirs is the Law, the Prophets, and Christ! Nothing had changed, except God’s offer of salvation was extended to the rest of the world.
Paul explains it so beautifully using the metaphor of the olive tree. We, as the elect, are grafted in to the olive tree in the space where the original branches (the Jews) were cut off. Once again, this can only be met with endless gratitude on our part. Verse 20 tells us, “Don’t be arrogant, but be afraid.” Marvel at the fact that any Jew who believes in Christ will be grafted back in. Verses 24-25 continue the beautiful metaphor: “after all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree!”
Notice Paul’s reminder that being in Christ is contrary to our nature. While we wait for the new Heaven and the New Earth, the Jews are blinded while God gathers the elect. So what do we do while we wait? We take Chapter 12 to heart! We offer our whole selves to the service of Christ. We set ourselves apart from the world as we serve it. We renew our minds so that we can be sensitive to what God has for us. We put ourselves last, and use our gifts “according the measure of faith God has given…” (v. 12:3). We love sincerely, hating evil, and devoting ourselves to one another. We keep our zeal and fervor alive, remaining joyful, patient, and faithful, no matter what trials we might face. We reach out to others in their joy and their sorrow, even our enemies. We allow God’s justice to reign. If we truly understand what has been done for us, and we keep it in the forefront of our understanding, our gratitude will compel us to joyfully live as Christ commands us, while we wait.
1. Read Romans 12:1-2 and 9-21. Think about your own life and on Paul’s description of how we should live. This is one of the few times that God’s word is specific and practical in applying Christ’s principles. Now read the following words of Jesus, writing down Paul’s instructions:
2. Finally, read Romans 12:3-8. What are your gifts? Remember, our gifts are given “according to God’s grace.” They are his gifts, not our talents. We are to use them with confidence and humility, for his glory alone! Write a paragraph of self-reflection. Consider your gifts, and how you could use them to their fullest potential. Remember, Christ did not hold anything back, and we are to be like him.
Lesson Eight: Don’t Miss the Point
I have a note in my Bible above Romans 13 that says, “For Jack.” Jacqueline is our adopted daughter, who at the writing of this, is a prodigal. Apparently when I had read this at some point in the past, I read it in the context of a rebellious child recognizing that authority is instituted by God, and therefore must be obeyed. And so it is. Does it follow, then, that we adults must submit to all authority no matter what? Are we denying Romans 13:1-2 if we do not obey all authorities? After all, it is absolutely true that, in his sovereignty and for his glory and our good, God installs all rulers. The first two verses in Romans 13 are very straight forward when they say that we must “submit (ourselves) to the governing authorities,” and if we don’t we are “rebelling against what God has instituted.” So what about Adolph Hitler or your unbelieving boss? We will get to that in a moment.
Reading further in Chapter 13, we see that the whole point of the entire Law is love. All of the commandments, Paul says, are summed up in one word: Love. He also reminds us that the way to fulfilling the Law is to “clothe (ourselves) with the Lord Jesus Christ” (v.14). Paul’s contemporaries, the Hebrew authorities, missed this point altogether. In Chapter 14, Paul exhorts those of us who may be down the road a bit in our walk not to put stumbling blocks in the way of new sojourners in the faith by insisting our particular road is the best or only one. I am not talking about the Road, Christ. I’m talking about our particular mode of transportation on that road. Do we baptize infants or adults? Do we sprinkle or immerse? Do we drink wine, eat meat during Lent, follow a liturgical calendar, say we’re raptured before or after the thousand-year reign, take communion every week or monthly, call communion a sacrament or an ordinance, allow women to be elders? You get the point. The Jews of Paul’s day strove to follow God’s Law to the letter, and even imposed extra laws for good measure. They followed the Law for the sake of the Law, and missed the point entirely: Love. The people were judged and oppressed because of their inability to keep up with all the regulations. Thus, they were unable to see that the Law was to be followed for the sake of Love and God’s holiness, not for the sake of the thing itself.
As Christians, we are not to be legalistic about matters that do not affect our salvation. Especially when trying to encourage “those whose faith is weak.” Why? Because we are all under God’s authority, no matter where we are in our walk. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (v. 14:4). A newly saved believer is no less saved than a veteran. We will all be made t+o stand before Christ in the end. We want to encourage our green and tender brothers and sisters, not impose rules and regulations that we opine as imperative to their walk. Paul says this will only result in placing a stumbling block in their road. Remember in Romans 11:20, when Paul urges us to “not be arrogant, be afraid?” We are all servants of the Most High, whether we sprinkle, dunk, eat steak, or stick to kale and strawberries. Why would we want to keep our brothers and sisters from Christ’s love over food or drink? Verse 20 in Chapter 14 says, “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.” Legalism leads to death, not life. In order to guide folks to “peace and mutual edification” (v. 19), we must keep what we believe about disputable matters between ourselves and God, unless we are respectfully discussing them with other seasoned Christians. Take care, however, to have a good understanding about what are not disputable matters: the holiness of God, the infallibility and absolute authority of his Word, and the Lordship and saving power and grace of Jesus Christ for those who believe and accept it. Those matters will never cause a believer to stumble, to the glory of God!
Romans 13:1-3 clearly states that we should submit to authority because God has established it. It says we are rebels against God if we fail to submit to those he has put in place to rule over us. This passage challenged me. According to these scriptures, are we obligated to submit to an Adolph Hitler or, in our current situation, government leaders who have radically differing views about abortion or marriage?
1. Read the following scriptures. What does God’s word have to say about submission to any and all authority?
2. Can you think of any other instances when God’s people dissented authority?
It is clear that Romans 13:1-2 does not call us to submit to what Doug Wilson, current day theologian, calls “pretend authorities.” Wilson also contends that when an authority usurps the law, “the responsibility of reciprocal allegiance is gone.” Our own Declaration of Independence, a document forged by the hands of men who subscribed to Judeo-Christian, if not solidly Biblical principles says,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Abraham Lincoln, in his first Inaugural Address, boldly proclaimed,
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.
3. Read Acts 5:27-29 and 32. When is refusing to submit to authority not an act of rebellion against God? In the end, to Whom are we accountable?
Lesson Nine: Tested and Approved
Close your eyes and picture this: Jesus is looking up toward Heaven. He knows his Father (our Father) is there, because he is part of him. He has seen him, and is in him. He begins to pray for himself, asking the Father to glorify him and complete the work of giving his people eternal life. Then, head still raised toward his beloved Father, he begins to pray for his disciples; these dedicated, albeit sometimes thick, fellows who stayed with him for three years, leaving everything and hanging on to every word and mile Christ led them through. He doesn’t stop there, though, because his finished work is not just for his current followers. He continues his prayer, interceding for us. He looks down the corridor of time and prays for every single believer that would pass through history. He prays,
My prayer is not for them alone (his disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23).
Joel DeVinney, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Millersville, PA, said in a sermon something I’d never considered. We believers look forward to a time when we will be assembled before Christ, as the Church is consummated. We try to picture it, barely able to imagine what it will be like to be in Christ’s presence as his Bride, along with every believer who has ever lived. We have no capacity to grasp it. But have you ever considered Christ’s perspective? What will it be like for him to stand before his consummated Bride? Here will be his finished work, the remnant of Israel and the full number of Gentiles, all complete, all praising him in perfect unity; what he had prayed, suffered, and died for. Satan will be vanquished and we will be together in the all-encompassing light of the Creator, falling at the feet of Jesus as he looks on in immeasurable, profound, unending love. Imagine what that will be like for him! It makes me want to work for him, love him, even more!
And, as always, Paul emulates Christ, working tirelessly to perpetuate the longings of our Savior. In Romans 15:5-7, he writes,
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Paul laid down his life because he wanted what Christ wants, and nothing else. Look at verse 18 in chapter 15: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done….” His only goal, his only thought, is Christ.
Romans chapter 16 suggests that the Christ followers of the early church were the same way. Paul describes them as hard workers, life riskers, prison dwellers, caretakers, house-openers, “tested and approved,” and all living in unity for one purpose: Christ! Paul tells these faithful believers in verse 20 that God will “crush Satan under (their) feet.” He is telling them that the Church will prevail! God isn’t just going to defeat Satan while we stand by and watch. He is going to destroy Satan by the power of his Church. That’s us! In verse 19, Paul admonishes the church to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Innocent, not ignorant.
In the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us how this wisdom and innocence is accomplished. He writes in verses 25-27,
Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him-to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
The only way we can live a life like Paul and the believers of the early church is to be in constant contact with the Father through prayer and the revelation of his Word! Paul had a single focus: Christ! Can we say the same? Are the longings of Paul and the prayers of Christ Himself dulled because of time? Has Jesus changed in the last two thousand plus years? Without a constant, fervent, intentional connection to the unchanging Christ and his infallible Word, we run the risk of being counted among the naïve people who were deceived by the smooth talkers and flatterers Paul mentions in 16:18. That is a terrifying thought.
In the beginning of this study, I listed five goals for our time together. They were to:
- Relate every word of Paul’s letter to the Romans to the gospel.
- Foster a deeper understanding of the supremacy of Christ.
- Foster a deeper love for Christ through the realization that our worth is found in him alone.
- Instill a more solid biblical world view
- Know nothing but Christ through his Word.
1. Keeping these goals in mind, look back over the previous installments of this study and record insights you have learned and areas where you have grown. End your reflection with how you will go forward to, as Paul says in Romans 15:17, “glory in Christ in your service to God.”