Hard to Understand

The apostle Peter admitted that Paul’s letters “contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Readers of Paul’s letter to the Romans are not surprised by that. Trying to understand Romans chapter nine is like probing the deepest mysteries of God’s revelation. Because of that, some people prefer to avoid it altogether.

Romans 9-11 deal with God’s purposes for the Jews. Paul has been writing about the the gospel’s impact upon the Gentiles. Now he feels it necessary to address questions about God’s plan for Israel in light of her opposition to the message of Jesus. Has God forgotten his promises to Israel? Has he canceled his covenant with his chosen people?

While Romans nine contains some “hard to understand” truths, there are good reasons for us to read them. First, it is clear that Paul takes the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) seriously. He quotes from them to support his argument. We can learn much from Paul’s use of the Old Testament (Romans 15:4).

Second, What Paul says about nations and people groups, applies to individuals too. The theology of the chosen people carries forward into New Testament theology as a description of the people of God who are in Christ (Romans 8:29-30).

Third, the gospel is the same for Jews and for Gentiles (Romans 1:16, 9:24). Paul expresses a passionate concern for his own people, ethnic Israel. He desires and prays that they too will believe in Jesus as Savior and Messiah (Romans 9:1-3, 10:1). God has a plan to restore a remnant of Israel (Romans 9:27).

Fourth, we ought to read Romans nine because it emphasizes God’s attributes: his sovereignty, his faithfulness, his righteousness, his justice, and his grace. Among other things, these aspects of God’s character mean that he is good in all that he does. He is true to his promises to his people, Jews, as well as Gentiles.

Fifth, as we read Romans nine, we are led to the conclusion that there are some purposes of God that are mysterious and inexplicable. If this is humbling to our proud spirits, that’s a good thing. In fact, God is God and we are not. He does not owe us an explanation for why he does what he does (Romans 9:20-21).

This applies to the doctrine of election. Its is beyond my feeble capacity to understand or explain how we are commanded to believe the gospel, then, having believed, to learn that it was because we were chosen. But that is exactly what the book of Romans teaches (Romans 8:29-30). Believers discover that God had a plan all along which included them!

Romans 9:30-32 illustrate this. A right relationship with God (described as righteousness) comes only through faith in Christ, not by trying to keep the law. In Paul’s example, the pagans, who were not seeking righteousness, found it when they heard the gospel and believed in Jesus Christ. The Jews, who were seeking righteousness through pursuing the law, “have not attained their goal.” This was because they did not pursue it by faith.

This means that Romans nine also teaches human responsibility as well as sovereign election. Jesus taught both as well (John 13:18, 15:16, 3:16-18). These two doctrines are not contradictory, as some suppose. They are complementary like two oars on the same rowboat, two wings on the same bird, two flywheels on a machine, turning in opposite directions but working together with intersecting cogs.

How both can be true may indeed be hard to understand. But perhaps there are things we were not meant to understand, but simply to bow in reverent submission before an all-wise God who always does what is right.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Certainty

In my fifty year pastoral ministry I have had occasion to be with folks who lacked certainty about their relationship to God. Some of them were troubled emotionally about this and yearned for inner peace and assurance. Others lived in blithe indifference, happily unconcerned about their need for Christ, and unaware of their spiritual peril. They seemed to believe that certainty of eternal life was not even possible.

For those who really care to know, the book of Romans, chapter eight promises eternal security. It affirms the unshakable promise of God that those who belong to him through faith in Christ are given the hope (assurance) of glory. In this chapter, Paul, “the apostle soars to sublime heights unequalled elsewhere in the New Testament,” wrote John Stott. He said, “Romans 8 is without doubt one of the best-known, best-loved chapters of the Bible.”

It is not hard to understand why this is true. The inspired words of Romans eight promise the certainty of deliverance from eternal condemnation, the certainty of the resurrection of the dead, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, and the Spirit’s witness that they are God’s children.

Further, the eighth chapter of Romans describes how God works to achieve his good purposes in the lives of his children, even (especially) when they encounter hardship and suffering. It declares the certainty of God’s love and his eternal purpose in calling his own people to himself.

This chapter stands in shining contrast to the doubts, introspection, and discouragement that colored Paul’s mood in chapter seven. It provides a ringing answer to the plaintive, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24). Romans seven is about the work of the law in imposing death. Romans eight is about the power of the Holy Spirit in giving life through the gospel.

The chapter opens with the declaration that there is “no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The word “condemnation” is derived from the courts of law. It is a metaphor Paul uses to teach about the believer’s judicial (legal) acceptance before a holy God. It is different from the tone of self-condemnation in chapter seven. The words “no condemnation” reiterate the doctrine of justification which has been Paul’s theme in the opening chapters of Romans. It means the believer is declared “not guilty” on the basis of faith in Christ.

Romans eight also tells about the Spirit’s role in helping believers live life as God intended. The Old Testament law was powerless to make us right with God or to give us the ability to live righteous lives. God did what the law could not do through his Son’s sacrifice on the cross and through the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Right living is now possible through Spirit-enabled obedience to God’s will. The requirements of the moral law are thus fulfilled as we live under the guidance of the Spirit (Romans 8:4).

In this chapter the Holy Spirit is mentioned nineteen times. The Spirit supports the testimony of our human spirit that we believers are indeed God’s children (Romans 8:14-16). The Spirit helps us to pray as we ought to pray, even when we do not know how to frame our prayers (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit enables us to call on God as a loving and compassionate Father (“Abba,” v. 15). The Holy Spirit is said to be the firstfruits of our future inheritance (Romans 8:23).

Paul does not sidestep the reality of suffering in this present life. There is no escapism in his description of living on earth. Yes, believers are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, but that does not mean that life will be free of trouble. In fact, Paul says that it is precisely because we are in Christ that we “share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). 

Suffering is common to all humanity. All of creation groans in anticipation of its renewal. Like Jesus (Matthew 19:28), Peter (Acts 3:19,21), and John (Revelation 21, 22), the apostle Paul foresaw the liberation and restoration of the whole of creation. This, he says, will happen in conjunction with the future glorification of all of God’s children. For now, we who believe are to live in anticipation of the resurrection and the completion of our redemption (Romans 8:18-25).

As we live in this in-between time, we are given the rich assurance that God is for us and no power in the universe can stand against us. In a beautiful and powerful series of rhetorical questions Paul answers uncertainty with certainty, doubt with assurance, and fear, with a bold statement of the believer’s eternal security in Christ (Romans 8:28-39). In the words of Zane Hodges, we are given here “a superbly elegant paean of praise to the permanence of God’s love in Christ.”

Read these verses aloud to yourself and let them feed your certainty of God’s good purpose for you.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

The Struggle to Live as a Christian

The book of Romans is important for the guidance it gives for every day living. In the sixth chapter we read about the exalted  new privileges Christians are given. According to Paul, believers are enabled to live righteous lives because of their spiritual union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. A desirable new life is possible. But according to Romans seven, the Christian life is not always easy. To be frank, sometimes living for Christ feels like a struggle.

Romans seven contradicts the idea that a righteous life is achieved by rules, regulations, and resolutions (Romans 7:4). It further refutes the notion that human nature is essentially good. It exposes human weakness and the limits of our knowledge and ability. It reveals the fact that the Christian life sometimes feels like an internal battle.

Paul may not have been awash in the temptations of today’s social media culture (lies, hatred, violence, pornography) but he faced enough of the pressures of the world to admit, “For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19).

Who is the “I” in Paul’s statement? Is he writing about himself or someone else? If Paul is describing his own experience, is it his experience before he became a Christian or his experience as a Christian, struggling against sin? Does it matter? I believe it does. This gives us more reasons why it is helpful to read Romans. This is practical guidance on living as a Christian should live.

Christians are not under law (Romans 6:14) in the sense that they are not justified by keeping the law. It is not possible to keep the law. The purpose of the law is to reveal the will of God for his people and to make clear what sin really is in the sight of God (Romans 7:7, 13).

So who is the “I” in Paul’s discourse? He must be a real Christian because he says he delights in God’s law (Romans 7:22), which he says is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). He is a humble Christian, unlike the proud Pharisee Paul was in his pre-Christian days (Philippians 3:4-6). He is an honest Christian, bluntly admitting to the inner conflict going on inside himself between his old sinful nature and the new nature, who he really is in Christ (Galatians 5:16-17; 1 Timothy 1:15).

I believe Paul is telling his own story and making a universal application for every reader of his letter. In the seventh chapter he contrasts the old way of life with new life in Christ (Romans 7:4-7). The “old” Paul was married to law and controlled by the sinful nature. The “new” Paul is united to Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He still has the ability to sin, but now he has an appetite for a life lived to please and glorify God.

Romans seven is complex and not easy to understand. I believe Paul’s experience is mirrored in the experiences of many Christians who sometimes feel exhausted by the struggle against sin. Victory is possible through the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:6).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

If You Had One Book to Read…

For years I owned the complete 54-volume set of the Great Books of the Western World published by the Encyclopedia Britannica. On occasion I would read samplings from  some of the renowned poets or philosophers whose works are preserved in the collection. But not like I wanted to. And not like I intended to.

I am embarrassed to admit I neglected to discipline myself to undertake a systematic exploration of these volumes. One of the thoughts I had held in the back of my mind was that in retirement I would finally have time to use “The Syntopicon,” the topical index to the Great Books edited by Mortimer J. Adler. It is a guide and introduction to the entire collection, making the great ideas of Western thought accessible to people like me.

Alas, I gave the set away when we moved to Georgia. There simply is not room in our apartment for all the books I wish I could have kept. Before we moved I gave away over 15 boxes of treasures, books that have shaped and enriched my life. I also gave away my set of the Harvard Classics and the multi-volume set of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization. I miss them every day.

Sometimes as I scan the remnants of my library, looking for a particular volume, I remember that I had had to let it go. “Why didn’t I keep that one?” I ask myself. I am consoled by the knowledge that many of the books ended up in the libraries of churches, younger pastors, missionaries, and my adult children.

If I were going to keep only one book, which one would it be? I could enumerate here some of my favorite authors and their works, but let me cut to the chase. If I were marooned on a desert island, and could have only one book with me, I would want it to be the letter of Paul the apostle to the Romans.

The reason for this choice is the book’s supremely important subject. It is about the righteousness of God and how human beings may be given a right relationship to him. It is an exposition of the gospel of grace for all people, Jews as well as Gentiles. Its themes include guilt and forgiveness, justification by faith, living as a Christian, Israel’s ultimate restoration, the security of believers in Christ, and the priorities of missions and evangelism.

If it has been a while since you read Romans, I urge you to take it up again and read it thoughtfully. Please do not neglect it as I neglected the Great Books. Its subject is too important to ignore. It is (I say this seriously) a matter of life and death.

If you read Romans, you will see that the themes of death and life appear in Romans 6. Paul answers questions from an imaginary critic who misunderstands and distorts his teaching. Doesn’t Paul’s teaching on salvation by free grace promote sinful behavior? “Emphatically not!” the apostle answers.

A believer’s experience in Christ is a spiritual resurrection from death. Paul says we should conclude that in Christ we have died to the life we lived before conversion. And we are raised with Christ to a new life (Romans 6:1-14). Christ died to sin (Romans 6:10) in the sense that he bore sin’s penalty and condemnation on our behalf. God’s moral law is satisfied and we believers are the beneficiaries.

This truth obligates us to think of ourselves as servants (slaves) of God, not of sin. Grace liberates the believer from slavery to sin. That same grace prompts voluntary servitude to God (Romans 6:15-23). All humans are either slaves to sin, Paul says, or slaves to God. The service of God is the true freedom for which Paul erupts in praise and thanks to God (Romans 6:17).

This is practical. What Paul is talking about is how a believer is set apart for God. In theological language we call this sanctification, living to please God as we grow in grace and knowledge. Romans 6 has to do with how we may avoid doing wrong, especially since we live in bodies that are prone to sin, in a world that promotes sin, and against a spiritual enemy called the devil, the tempter, who pressures us to sin.

The answer in Romans 6 is the believer’s identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. For success in the Christian life we must “lean into” that truth every day. We may benefit from this daily attitude toward life: Recognizing that we died with Christ to the old way of life and we are raised with him to a new way of life; Relying or trusting in that truth; Releasing ourselves into the service of God, surrendering ourselves, not to law, not to rules, not to resolutions, but to his Holy Spirit.

Can you see why I say that Romans is an essential book? I think it is greater than all the Great Books put together. Read it again as if for the first time.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

In Adam or In Christ

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a theological masterpiece. It declares the good news that people who are separated from God by sin may be considered righteous in God’s sight and reconciled to him in peace.

A key word in the book of Romans is “justified.” It means to be legally cleared and declared “not guilty,” because of God’s grace. This grace is completely undeserved. It is based, not on anything we might do, but entirely upon what Christ Jesus has done on our behalf.

In the opening chapters of the book, Paul demonstrated that all people everywhere are guilty of sin and subject to sin’s penalty, death. In chapter five, Paul delves deeper into his theme and proves that the death penalty was because of the sin of the first man, Adam. Death was in the world ever after the sin of Adam and its presence is proof that it originated with him. As the head of the human race he transmitted the tendency to sin to all of his descendants. Death is the result.

“Therefore, just as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). If you read Romans 5:12-21 you will see that all people are either “in” Adam, who disobeyed God and brought death into the world, or they are “in” Christ, who obeyed God and brought eternal life. Those who are in Adam are constituted as sinners. Those who are in Christ are declared righteous and given legal standing before God.

Zane Hodges explained it this way: (Jesus) is “the supreme model of obedience to God in a world where the disobedience of the first man wrought the calamitous tragedies of sin and death.” The fact is, because God judged all of the human race because of one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience, he is able to save the human race because of the righteous obedience of one Man (Jesus Christ).

Romans 5:12-21 compare and contrast Jesus and Adam. They represent two humanities, two communities. Those who by natural birth, are in Adam, are justly declared to be sinners by nature. Those who are in Christ by faith are graciously declared to be right with God and accepted. Human solidarity with Adam leads to death. Human solidarity with Christ leads to life, according to Paul.

But read on. To be in Christ is to be justified before God. The first half of Romans five gives us seven extravagant benefits of justification. The first is peace with God. “Therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). Peace is the absence of conflict, friendship, acceptance.

The second blessing in Paul’s list is access, or a place to stand before God’s throne of grace. “We have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (v.2). The third is hope. This is the confident expectation that God’s glory will be revealed to us and in us (v.2). The ability to rejoice in spite of hardship is another fruit of justification. This is the development of Christian character through a mature response to trials (vv. 3-4).

The fifth benefit of justification is the love of God poured into our hearts by his Holy Spirit. The present inward ministry of the Spirit is one proof of God’s love (v. 5) Another is the death of Christ for our sins (vv.6-8). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v.8).

A sixth benefit of justification is salvation from the future judgment of God. The book of Revelation describes how the wrath of God will come upon the world because of its rebellion against God and rejection of his Son.  No true believer will have to suffer the ultimate judgment of God. Our sins were judged and paid for on the cross! “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath though him” (v. 9).

The seventh blessing of justification is reconciliation with God. We who once were far from God, separated from him by our sin, are now able to be brought into close fellowship with him through Christ. “For if, when 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! Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation” (vv. 10-11).

Are you in Christ or in Adam? To be in Christ is to be justified by faith in him. The benefits of justification enumerated here are offered as a free gift. Open your heart in faith to believe the good news that you too may be “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Abraham’s Faith, and Ours

The preacher was sincere and well-intentioned. He was passionate in his presentation. He fervently appealed to his congregation to fully surrender themselves to God, to renounce the world and its attractions, and to be willing to pay the price and count the cost of what it means to follow Jesus.

As I listened, I could not help but wonder whether he was calling the congregation to salvation or to discipleship. He seemed to blend the two themes together in a mishmash of duty, good works, obedience and faithfulness to Christ. It almost seemed he believed in salvation by works.

I sat there wondering: “If my obedience to Christ and good works are essential to salvation, how could I ever be sure that I am saved? How could I know if I had done enough? What good works could ever help me achieve eternal life? How could I know if I am as fully surrendered to the Lord as the preacher wants me to be?”

Then I remembered Abraham. He was the great patriarch of the Hebrew nation, He was, by any standard, an example of good works and faithfulness to God. He left his home in Chaldea in response to God’s call.  He worshipped God among the idol-worshipping Canaanites. He submitted to the rite of circumcision as a sign of his covenant faithfulness to God. He was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command.

But Abraham was not justified by his good works. In his letter to the Romans, Paul used the ancient story of Abraham as an illustration of the fact that people are justified by faith alone. He quoted Genesis 15:6 to emphasize that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

“Credited” is a word taken from the business world. It is a financial term which could be used to refer to wages that are earned, or to a gift that is applied to an account freely, without a cost. Paul used the word to teach that justification before God is a gift of grace, not an earned wage. This leaves no room for boasting (v. 2).

Thus, Abraham is a pattern of faith for all of us. He believed God. That is what faith is. In the Greek language of the New Testament, the words translated “faith” and “belief” are the same word. They both mean the same thing: to take people at their word, to have confidence in the reliability of a person, an idea or a thing, to trust, to accept as true. Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith in God and his trustworthy word.

This means that everyone who, like Abraham, believes the promise of the gospel, is pronounced righteous because of the death of Christ and his resurrection. We are told in some of Paul’s other writings that Jesus was made sin for us “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus has “become for us . . . our righteousness” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Those who believe the gospel are said to be given “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Abraham was declared righteous by faith alone. His faith was in the power and character of God, not in his own works. In the same way,  we who trust in Jesus for salvation are saved by faith, not our attempts at doing good. I am aware every day that my assurance of salvation cannot be based upon the fervency of my faith, or on the depth of my surrender, or on the extent of my obedience. All of these are faulty, and weak.

I am encouraged by what I read in Romans 4. “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Salvation is either a reward for works or a gift through grace; it cannot be both. Abraham’s life is a testimony to us that people are justified by faith, not by works.

Good works and faithfulness to God are evidence of our faith to other people (James 2:14-26). The preacher’s exhortations to self-denial and faithfulness were appropriate if they were a call to obedient discipleship. The Bible teaches that there will be rewards for believers who serve Christ in this life. But if the call to obedient service is mistaken as a condition for receiving salvation, the result is confusion.

Romans 4 and the story of Abraham are in the Bible for me, and for you. We are to trust the same God who was faithful to keep his promise to Abraham. “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. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:23-25).

Warren Wiersbe summarized the message of Romans 4 very well. Justification is by faith, not works. It is by grace, not law. And justification is by resurrection power, not human effort.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

The Most Important Paragraph

You may have noticed that when you are reading the Bible, sometimes a chapter division seems arbitrary or out of place. Perhaps you have felt that it interrupts the flow of the discussion. Well, you may be right. It is good to remember that the chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original inspired text of scripture. They were added in the 13th-16th centuries by editors for the convenience of Bible readers.

Most of the time chapter and verse divisions are helpful to us in locating and remembering Bible passages. We rely upon them to help us find our way around in the Bible. Sometimes, however, we wonder why an editor put the chapter division where he put it. It feels awkward in relation to the context.

Romans chapters two and three are such a context. In chapter two, Paul has been arguing forcefully that the religious person, no matter how pious, is no better off than the untaught pagan. In chapter three the discussion continues: in the eyes of God all people are morally guilty and in need of God’s gift of righteousness. The chapter division might lead someone to think that Paul is changing the subject. He is not. The argument flows from chapter two right on into chapter three.

In Romans 3:1-8, Paul imagines a verbal opponent who wants to claim that his teaching on universal human guilt undermines God’s justice. “If we are all guilty and our sin magnifies God’s righteousness, wouldn’t he be unjust to punish us?” His imaginary debate partner might go on to say something like, “We might as well go on sinning because God looks good when he forgives us!” “No way!” Paul answers. Human sin never brings glory to God.

Paul rejects these distortions of his teaching. He calls them slanderous. He wants his readers to understand that God is both just (in judging sin) and merciful (in providing a remedy). His doctrine of universal human guilt is reasonable and consistent with scripture (Romans 3:9-20). Paul here quotes seven Old Testament scriptures to support this point. We are all sinners and guilty before a holy God.

To be sure, the apostle is not teaching that every person is a bad as he or she could possibly be. What he is saying is that sin affects us all, in every part of our being. There are no exceptions. God’s law pronounces us guilty. The law cannot deliver us. It cannot forgive us. It cannot redeem us. That is not the law’s purpose. The law upholds God’s standard of righteousness and shows us how far short if it we have fallen. “Through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20).

What Paul says next is the best news the world has ever heard. It has been suggested that Romans 3:21-26 may be the single most important paragraph ever written! It states the central theme of the book of Romans: that although we are all sinners and deserving of God’s judgment, it is possible to be declared righteous though faith in Jesus Christ.

I invite you to read these verses, to believe their truth, and to receive the free gift they offer. The gift is justification. What is that? It means to be declared righteous by the grace of God. It is more than forgiveness. It is positive acceptance, freedom from guilt, a new status credited to you freely, at no cost to you (Romans 3:24).

How is that possible? It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood”(Romans 3:25). Paul refers to this as “redemption,” a term taken from the Roman slave market. It is obtaining a release by the payment of a ransom. By his death, Jesus paid the ransom to set us free from sin’s ultimate penalty. His death satisfied the demands of God’s justice on our behalf.

The only way to receive the gift of justification is through faith in what Christ has done. Paul repeats this several times (verses 22, 25, 26 and 28). “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). Someone has said that faith is simply the hand of a beggar reaching out to accept a gift from a king.

The awkward chapter division between Romans two and three was not in Paul’s original letter. It is important to understand the entire scope and range of his argument taken together. In Romans one the Gentile pagan world is guilty before God. In chapters two and three the religious Jews are also said to be guilty before God. The only solution to this universal human predicament is the good news found in Romans 3:21-31.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Hypocrisy Exposed

One of the reasons it is such a bracing experience to read the book of Romans is that Paul the apostle had no patience with hypocrisy. He exposed it with clear-eyed precision right at the beginning of his letter. Right after dealing with the moral degeneracy of Roman society in chapter one, he launched into an imaginary dialogue with people who are quick to judge the faults in others without examining their own actions and motives.

The morality police in Romans chapter two may have been arrogant philosophers who considered themselves to be morally superior to the masses. They may have been religious legalists who attempted to make themselves righteous by trying to please God, not by faith, but by religious works. They were the ones who scorned bad behavior in others but but failed to recognize it in themselves.

Just as the pagans (1:20) are without excuse, Paul says to them, “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 are doing the same things” (Romans 2:1).

Paul is not speaking against judging as such, but against hypocritical judging. It is truly hypocritical to pretend to be virtuous when you do the same things you condemn in others. The fact is, when people (no matter how apparently virtuous) condemn others, they at the same time condemn themselves.

God’s standard applies to all and he knows the truth about every one of us (Romans 2:2-3). What Paul is saying is that the morally degenerate reprobate, the morally superior philosopher, and the morally righteous Jew are equally susceptible to God’s judgment which is based upon truth. The day is coming when “God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”(Romans 2:5). It will apply equally to all.

Therefore, Paul is insistent that a double standard of judgment, a high bar for others and a low bar for oneself, is out of the question. God sees us as we really are and he will judge us all according to our deeds. “God will repay each person according to what they have done” (Romans 2:6). This principle is repeated throughout scripture and is a basis of God’s justice. This means that hypocrites will have no place to stand in the day of God’s righteous wrath.

In all of his writings Paul emphasizes that people are saved not by what they do but by faith in what Christ has done on the cross. He is teaching here, however, that “persistence in doing good” (2:7) is the evidence, or fruit, of sincere, genuine faith (Galatians 5:6; James 2:14-16). “Each person” (2:6), “every human being” (2:9), “everyone” (2:10) will be judged according to their deeds. God’s judgments will be perfectly fair and impartial.

The religious person who knows what the scriptures teach but does not obey them has no advantage over the person who has no knowledge of scripture. In fact the irreligious person who follows the light of conscience to do what is morally or ethically right has just as much moral awareness as the religious hypocrite (Romans 2:12-15).

In the second half of the chapter, Paul goes deeper. He has an imaginary debate with a pious person who regards himself as privileged, and is proud of it. He trusts in ancestral traditions, ceremonies, rituals and external signs of religious identification. Was Paul remembering his own past attitudes as a devout Jew before he believed in Jesus? He recognizes all these religious advantages, but then shows how if a person does not practice what he preaches, he is a hypocrite.  He is no better off than the Gentile who was not brought up with the word of God.

Someday God will judge the secrets of the hearts of all people. This will be in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16). The gospel message is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. 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 1:16-17).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

A God-centered Worldview

Everyone has a worldview. It is a way of thinking and acting based upon one’s assumptions about life. Worldview is the architecture of ideas that influence our behavior and decisions, our relationships and values.

Our worldview involves our attitudes toward other people, it shapes our  ethical standards, and it guides the pursuit of our goals in life. Worldview influences how we think about everything from human nature, to the environment, politics, economics, and religion. One’s worldview may be formed by parents, teachers, spiritual leaders, friends, books, or the media. Worldview is our way of making sense of life.

I want to recommend a God-centered worldview. I believe it is a reasonable and coherent way of making sense of life. As a guide to forming a God-centered worldview, I recommend the book of Romans, the epistle that Martin Luther called, “the chief part of the New Testament, and . . . truly the purest gospel.” Luther went on to recommend that Christians should be intimately familiar with Romans and read it every day.

This is because the book is about God, what to know about him, how to be in a right relationship to him, and how to live for him. It has been said that “God” is the most important word in the epistle. Every teaching and topic in the book of Romans is related in some way to God. The book is showing us the way to a life centered in God and his will for us.

The writer of Romans, Paul, was “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, and set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). His worldview and life’s calling were centered in God. He was saying that his message, the gospel, came directly from God himself. This gospel (good news) concerned the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and his death and resurrection.

Furthermore, the gospel of God is for people of all nations. Paul’s worldview included the whole world! He wrote that he had “received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (1:5). The Gentiles in this passage were the multi-ethnic populations of the Roman empire. The gospel was for them. Paul said he felt an obligation to bring the gospel to all kinds of people, Gentiles, as well as Jews (1 :15-16).

The ones who believe this good news message are “loved by God and called to be saints” (1:7). The word “saints” refers, not to an exalted class of spiritual heroes, but to all Christians, through faith in Jesus. They are called the holy people of God. This privileged identity surely helps them form a God-centered worldview.

What of those who do not believe? They cannot claim ignorance of God’s existence, Paul says. God reveals himself in all his glory and power in the beauty, immensity, and complexity of creation. “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” (1:18-20).

Obviously, a God-centered worldview begins with an acknowledgement of God’s existence. Those who reject that are left to explore atheism, naturalism,, nihilism, or hedonism, as alternatives. In the last half of Romans chapter one, Paul discusses the tragic consequences of rejecting a  God-centered worldview. Sadly, those who reject God exchange the truth for a lie (1:25).

He describes the Roman world of the first century. In speaking about Roman society, Paul describes our own. In the clearest language, he leaves no doubt about God’s righteous antagonism to evil in all its forms: ingratitude, sexual perversion, idolatry, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, slander, arrogance, boastfulness, to select a few items from Paul’s long list. “They invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (1:28-31).

For these reasons “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”(1:18). A permissive society such as ours, which not only condones perversion, but promotes and encourages it, sows the seeds of its own destruction. This is one of the indications of God’s “wrath,” his holy revulsion against what is contrary to his revealed will.

This picture of a guilty humanity is a dark background against which the light of the gospel shines brightly. The good news is good because the bad news is bad. The message of Romans shows us the attraction of Gods’ good news as the foundation for a worldview with him at the center.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Four Reasons to Read Romans

I enjoy my early morning quiet time with the Lord with my first cup of coffee. Lately my Bible readings have been from the book of Romans. This has reminded me of the book’s importance. Here are four reasons why it is good to read Romans.

1. It is a comprehensive summary of the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers to help them become grounded in their faith in the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. Paul said that his entire life was dedicated to the ministry of the gospel, which, he said, originated with God himself. It was centered in Jesus Christ, who died for sinners and was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through belief in the gospel that people are delivered from the power of sin and made right with God, according to Romans. That is very good news.

2. The gospel saves. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The book of Romans develops this theme in the magnificent doctrine of justification. This tells us how sinners can have their guilt removed and be declared righteous before a holy God entirely by grace. No wonder John Newton called it amazing grace!

To illustrate, the gospel message in Romans changed the lives of some well-known people. Augustine famously told the story of his conversion to Christian faith in his Confessions. Influenced by the teaching of Ambrose, the prayers of his mother Monica, and a child’s voice saying, “pick up and read,” he was convicted by a reading of Romans 13:13-14, which led him to Christ.

Martin Luther was studying the Greek text of Romans 1:17 which gave him the understanding that he could be justified before God by faith alone, apart from good works. Over 200 years later, John Wesley was given assurance of his own salvation in a Christian meeting in which someone was reading aloud from Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans. Wesley later wrote in his journal, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins.”

3. The gospel is for everyone. It is equally applicable and effective in all nations, languages and cultures. It is not exclusively for one race over another. “There is no difference,” Paul wrote. All are sinners, and all need Christ to save them, whatever their cultural background. When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, he knew it would be read by Jews as well as Gentiles, by cultured Greeks as well as by those who were considered barbarians, by free people and by slaves. The gospel is for all people.

4. The gospel is relevant to contemporary life. In the preface to his commentary on Romans, John Stott observed, “how many contemporary issues are touched on by Paul in Romans: enthusiasm for evangelism in general and the propriety of Jewish evangelism in particular; whether homosexual relationships are ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’; whether we can still believe in such unfashionable concepts as God’s ‘wrath’ and ‘propitiation’; the historicity of Adam’s fall and the origin of human death; what are the fundamental means of living a holy life; the place of law and of the Spirit in Christian discipleship; the distinction between assurance and presumption; the relation between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation; the tension between ethnic identity and the solidarity of the body of Christ; relations between church and state; the respective duties of the individual citizen and the body politic; and how to handle differences of opinion within the Christian community. And this list is only a sample of the modern questions which, directly or indirectly, Romans raises and addresses.”

So, for these reasons, it is good for us to do what Augustine did back in the fourth century: to pick up the book of Romans and read it. It could change our lives!

Pastor Randy Faulkner