Advent Season Is Here

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the holy child Jesus. Advent, meaning “coming,” or “arrival,” invites us to think deeply about the significance of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. It also reminds us to live in anticipation of his second coming.

Some families observe this season with Advent wreathes and candles. Traditionally these represent the four themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Scripture readings usually emphasize the prophecies of Christ’s coming, as well as the story of the town of Bethlehem, the shepherds, and the angels.

In churches all over the world the next four weeks will be marked by scriptures, songs and liturgies that recall other themes, events, or personalities surrounding the coming of Jesus. This year on this site I wish to honor some of the women who are associated with our Lord’s birth narratives.

Four of these women appear in Jesus’ family history (Matthew chapter 1). This is surprising since Old Testament genealogies did not usually include women. The fact that the apostle Matthew did so, is a reminder of their significance in the plan of God. The genealogy of Jesus also shows us that the entire Old Testament pointed forward to the coming of Messiah the King of the Jews, a theme of Matthew’s gospel.

There is something unusual, unsavory, or scandalous associated with these four women. The same is true, of course, of some of the famous men of the Bible. Abraham lied on more then one occasion. David’s great sins were adultery and murder. Solomon became an idolater, as did many of his kingly descendants. All of them were sinners in need of God’s grace.

The Holy Spirit wants us to remember these four women, not for their failures, scandals, or exclusion, but for what God’s grace did for them. Their lives are evidence of what grace can do for us as well. Grace transforms sinners and outcasts. It operates in all kinds of difficult situations. It reverses tragic outcomes.

Tamar (Matthew 1:1-3)

Tamar’s story is found in one of the strangest chapters in the Bible (Genesis 38). Her story is simply awful, embarrassing to read. She was a victim of treachery who turned around and committed treachery. (How many victims of abuse become abusers? How many children of addicts become addicts themselves?) It is surprising to read such a story in the Bible.

Tamar’s story is a messy tale of hypocrisy, deception, revenge, and sexual sin. Matthew’s brief account says that she became the mother of the twin sons of Judah, who were ancestors of King David and of our Lord Jesus. What he doesn’t say is that they were sons of an incestuous relationship.

We learn from this that God is merciful and he is able to turn human sin into an opportunity for his grace. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).

Rahab (Matthew 1:3-5)

Rahab was an outsider, a Canaanite woman, who was a prostitute. Her civilization was under God’s judgment (Joshua 2 and 6). The scriptures tell us that despite her unsavory reputation, she chose to be identified with the covenant people of God. When the Hebrew spies made their way into her city of Jericho, she protected them. As a result, she and her family were spared when Jericho was conquered.

She is identified in the New Testament as an example of saving faith in the living God (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25-26, Joshua 2:8-11). So here she is, a converted prostitute, in the Christmas story, a part of the ancestral heritage of Jesus, the king of the Jews!

Ruth (Matthew 1:5-6)

Ruth’s story is found in the Old Testament book that bears her name. It occurred in the days of the Judges in Israel. She was a Gentile, like Tamar and Rahab before her. This fact reminds us that God’s grace was not limited to the people of Israel, but that he intended to save Gentiles too.

Ruth’s husband was a Hebrew from Bethlehem, living in Moab. When he died, she and her mother-in-law Naomi were destitute. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Ruth was determined to leave Moab and go with her, surrendering her life to the God of the Hebrews. She thus wanted to be identified with the people of God in the land of Israel.

Through the providence of God, she was maneuvered into the recognition of a wealthy landowner named Boaz. What followed was a beautiful love story. Her story is also an example of how God’s laws provided for economic justice for the poor.

Boaz married Ruth and they became great-grandparents of king David and members of the genealogy of king Jesus, who would be born in Bethlehem, the hometown of Boaz and Naomi. Ruth’s story is another example of God’s grace in operation. It was activated by her obedient surrender to the Lord.

Bathsheba (Matthew 1:6)

The fourth woman’s behavior was so shameful that Matthew does not name her. She is the woman who committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11-12). It is the tragic story of how David abused his power as king to steal Uriah’s wife, devalue Uriah’s loyalty, and authorize his murder. She cooperated with David in this sin.

The prophet Nathan confronted the king with these words: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil?” When David repented, apparently Bathsheba did too because, in his grace, God blessed them with a son, Solomon. Solomon was given the name “Jedediah” by God’s prophet, which means “loved by the Lord.” Surely this was an indication that God had forgiven them and was promising a new beginning.

Applying this Advent Lesson

Three of these women were Gentiles. Their stories are not interruptions in the outworking of God’s plan. God would have his gospel to go to people of all nations. Matthew, writing as a Jew for Jewish readers, about the coming of the king of the Jews presents Jesus as savior of Gentiles too.

Our Lord’s genealogy is more than a list of names. It is a testimony to God’s grace in redeeming sinners. Elsewhere Matthew reminds us that Jesus did not come for the righteous, but “to call sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).

There is hope for all of us, no matter what we may have done. We all have things in our lives we would be ashamed to have displayed for all the world to see. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Jesus invites us to come to him for forgiveness and mercy.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

Read and Study Romans

Over the past three months I have been recommending the exploration of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Each of the epistle’s sixteen chapters has important features which are compelling reasons to read the book. I invite you to scroll down and review my recent blog posts to read introductions to each chapter. The last chapter of Romans has it’s own instructive features which deserve our attention.

it has been said that Paul had “a genius for friendship.” Over his previous ten years of missionary activity in Syria, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia Minor, he had accumulated many companions, disciples and fellow-missionaries for whom he felt sincere affection in the Lord. In Romans 16 he sent greetings to 26 of them, adding words of appreciation. It is interesting to me how he valued and maintained these relationships.

The chapter opens with a commendation for one of them, Phoebe, a prominent woman whom he calls his “sister” in the faith. She was likely the courier who carried the letter to Rome as she traveled there from Corinth, presumably on personal business. She is further identified as a “minister,” or deaconess of the Christian assembly in Cenchreae, a suburb of Corinth. Paul goes on to say how she had helped him as a supporter of his ministry.

This lets us know where Paul was when he wrote the letter to the Romans. In vv. 21-24 he names eight companions who were with him in Corinth. They added their greetings to the Roman Christians. One of them was Erastus, a local government official. I have seen a first century paving stone in the ruins of old Corinth with his name clearly inscribed in Latin. If that Erastus is the Erastus of Romans 16:23, then the inscription is the earliest reference to a Christian by name outside the New Testament.

This closing chapter in the letter contains important words of caution which are relevant to believers and churches today. In vv.17-20, Paul warns Christians to watch out for and avoid any who would obstruct the teaching which they had learned. This includes the teaching of the gospel in the book of Romans. Paul’s emphasis on the sinfulness of all humanity, the need for righteousness as a gift of God’s grace, and justification only by faith in Jesus Christ constitute his gospel message.

There is in Romans an entire vocabulary of key words to describe the different aspects of the salvation offered in the Christian gospel. Rich words such as redemption, forgiveness, sanctification, reconciliation, resurrection, and glorification accompany Paul’s emphasis on justification. These varied themes display God’s goodness and grace in saving people as the colors of the rainbow appear when light is refracted through a glass prism.

This assumes Paul’s authority as a spokesman for God. He was commissioned by Jesus himself to speak and to write the Word of God. Signs and miracles validated his ministry as a true apostle (Romans 1;1, 15:15-19). Thus, in his concluding benediction he could write that God is able to establish believers in accordance with the unchanging gospel that he (Paul) preached (Romans 16:25). This gospel is universally and eternally relevant. It is summarized and explained in the book of Romans.

That is why we should read it and welcome its message.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

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Motives for Evangelism

“It has been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20).

There can be no doubt that Paul believed in evangelism. Like the other apostles, he took seriously our Lord’s command that the gospel of salvation should be “preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). So Paul began his letter to the Romans by declaring, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

In the concluding section of his letter to the Romans, he wrote about plans for his further missionary work. He intended to press onward to Spain, a part of the western frontier of the Roman empire, where, apparently, the gospel message of Jesus Christ had not yet penetrated (Romans 15:24, 28). On his way westward, he planned to visit the believers in Rome. This was so that he could ask for their partnership in prayer (v.30)  and financial support (v. 24), as well as the encouragement of their fellowship in the Lord (v. 32).

This was because of the specific call of Christ to Paul (Romans 15:15-17). But in addition, Paul was motivated by the scriptures. He understood that the whole Bible shows that evangelism and world missions have always been on God’s heart. The sweep of biblical history, from the call of Abraham to the second coming of Christ, is the story of God’s calling out from the nations a people for himself.

Paul knew, and he wants us to know that the spread of the Christian gospel was in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The inclusion of the nations was not an afterthought. It was always the plan of God “that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9).

In Romans 15:9-12 Paul cites verses from each of the main sections of the Hebrew scriptures to prove his point: world missions has always been a priority with God. The message of salvation should and would go to the nations.

In v. 9 he quotes from the psalms: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name” (Psalm 18:49). In v. 10 he quotes from the law: “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). In v.11 he returns to the psalms: “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him” (Psalm 117:10).

Then in v. 12 he quotes from the prophetic scriptures to show that all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope” (Isaiah 11:10).

Paul is quoting these scriptures to show the biblical authority for his missionary outreach to the Gentiles. It is integral to the plan of God. The Old Testament is filled with references to God’s compassion for the nations and his intention that they worship him. Paul quotes just a few of them in Romans 15.

This illustrates the continuing relevance of the Old Testament scriptures (Romans 15:4). This also reminds today’s believers of the continuing desire of our Lord that we be faithful to spread his gospel of salvation to others where we live, work, and play.

Everyone needs to hear the gospel. The message of the book of Romans is that all people without Christ are lost, guilty and without excuse (Romans chapters 1-3). If they are to be saved, they must call on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). In order for them to do this, somebody must tell them the good news (Romans 10:14). That’s evangelism, sharing the message of the crucified and risen Savior.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

The Strong and the Weak

I’ve been writing about the importance of the book of Romans. We should read it, study it, and meditate on it. I have suggested several reasons why Romans is vital to our understanding of how to be rightly related to God and how to live in his will. You may want to scroll back through some of my previous posts on this subject to review my introductions to the earlier chapters in Romans.

Chapter 14  gives us another reason Romans is helpful: Christians do not think alike on many issues. So how are we to behave toward each other when there are honest differences of opinion about debatable matters? Paul lays out some guiding principles. He knew there would be disagreements on some issues and he did not want them to devolve into open conflict that would threaten the witness of the churches.

In the Christian assemblies in Rome there were believers in Jesus who came from strict Jewish backgrounds. They were used to observing holy days and religious festivals related to the Old Testament ceremonial law (v.5). They also followed an eating plan that was regulated by the Jewish dietary rules. Since they could not be sure that meat sold in the public markets had been prepared according to their Kosher laws, they chose to avoid it altogether and eat only vegetables (v.2).

The danger for these Christians would be to judge those who did not observe their religious practices as unspiritual or even unchristian.

The Gentile Christians, on the other hand, were not bound by Jewish dietary scruples. They had not been conditioned by custom or culture to observe Jewish holy days, either. Their consciences were free, unbound by religious tradition. They were confident of their standing with God based upon their relationship to Christ, not upon religious rules.

The danger for these Christians would be to disregard or exclude the others who had sensitive consciences.

It might be surprising to some readers that Paul regarded those whose lives were regulated by religious rules as “weak.” He labeled as “strong” the ones who understood and practiced their Christian liberty in these matters. These differences in outlook could have caused division in the churches. Paul wrote this part of the letter to the Romans to say that Christian fellowship is not based upon agreement on disputable questions.

“Disputable matters” (v.1), are matters of personal judgment, which are neither absolutely right or wrong. The scriptures are silent about them. The New Testament neither condemns nor commands them. In the case of the Romans, there were disagreements about food and holy days. In our day there may be differences of opinion about personalities, leadership styles, music, versions of the Bible, legal matters, politics, cultural backgrounds, and any number of other things, sometimes trivial things. How we treat those who differ reveals our level of spiritual maturity.

Paul wrote to guide the believers in Rome in how to manage differences with kindness and love, and the relentless pursuit of unity. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

As you read Romans 14, you can see how Paul says for us to do it.

Welcome each other (Romans 14:1-12). Since God has accepted us in Christ, how can we refuse to accept each other? We are brothers and sisters in the same family. As Christians, we are all under the lordship of Jesus Christ and equally accountable to him.

Build up each other (Romans 14:13-23). In order to do this those who are stronger in faith may need to limit their exercise of liberty for the sake of others’ consciences. We are in this this together, Paul says, and the spiritual growth of the weak is more important than the strong getting their own way. Is eating whatever one wants more important than the interests of God’s kingdom? The strong, because they are strong, must do all they can to avoid damaging the faith of those who are weak. “Mutual edification” (v.19) refers to our responsibility to build up each other, not tear down each other.

Bear with each other (Romans 15:1-7). The artificial chapter division gets in the way. Paul’s teaching continues in the next paragraph. More than mere tolerance, Paul is calling on the strong believers to uphold those who are less mature with patience and encouragement (v.5). Paul’s appeal is rooted in the theology of the gospel. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”(v.7).

In my more than half-century of Christian ministry, I have observed how this has happened in the churches I have served. Despite differences, I have seen those strong in faith bearing with and encouraging those weak in faith. I have seen the mature building up the faith of the less mature. I have witnessed what happens when a congregation is a welcoming and accepting gospel community. It has brought praise to God!

Pastor Randy Faulkner

What to Read Before You Vote

This week Connie and I went to the local board of elections office and voted. We were among the over one million Georgians who have so far participated in early voting. I believe that voting is a privilege and a cornerstone of a free society. It is one of our duties as Christian citizens.

The mid-term elections remind me of the importance of the book of Romans, especially chapter 13. This is part of Paul’s practical application of the doctrinal teaching in the earlier chapters. Romans 13 gives us relevant instruction about a Christian’s duty to the government. Here is another good reason to read the book of Romans, especially in an election year.

Romans 13 teaches us that civil  government is established by God. Elected public servants are said to be servants of God. Human government, as an institution, was ordained by God, just as he created the human family and the church.

Of course, this does not mean that tyrants and evil dictators are personally doing God’s bidding. Vladimir Putin is not carrying out God’s will when he authorizes the bombing of civilians in Ukraine. Jesus said to Pontius Pilate that his authority to rule came from God (John 19:11). But Pilate obviously misused that authority when he handed Jesus over to be crucified. Ancient rulers Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were called God’s servants in the sense that they were carrying out his will on the stage of human history, even when they were not aware of it.

Paul knew very well that there would be rulers who abuse their power. He himself was treated unjustly by some authorities. He was stating the divine ideal, knowing that there were rulers who did not live up to what God expected of them, to suppress evil and reward good behavior (Romans 13:3-4). That is what good government is supposed to do, to punish wrong and promote what is right.

When the authorities get it backward and promote laws that contradict God’s law, civil disobedience may be called for. When the apostles Peter and John were forbidden to proclaim the gospel in Jerusalem their response was clear: “We must obey God rather then human beings!” (Acts 5:29). This helps us explain how to carefully apply Paul’s words in Romans 13:2 about not rebelling against the authority of government.

Paul may have written this because some early Christians may have been tempted to rebel against state authorities out of their loyalty to Christ as their King. Paul wanted them to know that church and state have complementary roles and Christians owe a duty to both of them. He probably had in mind what Jesus had said: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:17).

The duties of citizenship also include paying taxes  for the benefit of society and showing respect to those in authority (Romans 13:7). Paul goes further and writes about loving our neighbors, even those with whom we may have disagreements, political, or otherwise. His words are strikingly relevant in 21st century America: “The commandments . . . are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).

It helps us to maintain a proper perspective on governments and world events when we remember that the Lord of history is coming again. His return will usher in the visible kingdom of God. It is the expectation of the return of the Lord Jesus that is a mighty incentive for Christians to live the way we are supposed to live in this world (Romans 13:11-14).

All this reminds me to pray for my country, to support good government, and to vote for wise and truthful leaders. Read Romans 13 and then vote.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

What Now?

Romans 12 is Paul’s answer to the question, “What now? Now that I have believed in Jesus, how does God expect me to live?” This chapter answers that question with an appeal to readers to live lives worthy of the mercy God has shown them in Christ.

Some readers of Paul’s letter to the Romans might be tempted to argue with his teaching on justification by faith alone. “If a right relationship with God is a matter of his grace and our faith, then does that not permit immoral living?” People were already asking that question of Paul himself (Romans 3:8, 6:1). Romans 12 is his answer.

I have recently been trying to stimulate interest in the book of Romans. I have prepared brief introductions to each chapter on this blog site. Chapters 1-8 are about justification by faith. Paul uses legal terminology to describe the way of salvation to people living under the laws of Rome. “Law” is not the means by which we gain acceptance and right standing with God.

Chapters 9-11 remind us that the gospel is for Jews as well as Gentiles. Israel is not permanently set aside in the plan of God. There were Jews and Gentiles worshipping together in the Christian assemblies in Rome. Paul reminds them that the Jews are still beloved for the sake of God’s promises to the ancient patriarchs. His calling and gifts are irrevocable. God has planned a glorious future for restored and redeemed Israel.

Now we have arrived at a turning point in the letter. Paul knows that his discussion about justification by faith demands an answer to the question about right living. Right living begins with surrender to the will of God (Romans 12:2). The name of this site is “His Will Blog.” It is based upon the assumption that it is possible for Christians to know and to do the will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 describe the Christian’s approach to God in worship. Romans 12:3 is about living with oneself. The rest of the chapter is about living in community with others (Romans 12:4-5). All Christians have gifts (abilities) to use to contribute to the life of the church. Paul lists some of them: prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and mercy (Romans 12:6-8). By his grace, God gives these special abilities to his people to meet the needs of others.

As we serve one another in this way, we must be motivated by love. It must be sincere.  We can’t fake it. If we are to “honor one another above ourselves” it will only be because our minds have been renewed by surrendering to the Holy Spirit of God (Romans 12:2).

Furthermore, this loving service should be enthusiastic (with “zeal,” v.11). An apathetic and bored church member is a poor advertisement for the gospel. With fervent and hopeful spirits we are to give ourselves to prayer, hospitality, blessing, forgiveness, peace, and empathetic acceptance of all kinds of people (Romans 12:12-20).

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12;21). This is a word for us today. We live in a society torn apart by selfishness, violence, immorality, idolatry, lies, racial hatred, and slander. People all around us are distressed about the direction our nation is going. Romans 12 is a compelling picture of what a Christian’s life should look like before a watching world. If the people around us saw these attractive qualities in us, perhaps more of them would be drawn to Christ.

Francis Schaeffer famously said that the world has every right to reject our message if they do not see us Christians living lives of love.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

God’s Plan for Israel

The Bible tells us that the Jewish people have a great future. Romans chapter eleven is one of the most important biblical texts in this regard. The apostle Paul teaches us that although ethnic Israel has been temporarily set aside as the main vehicle of spiritual blessing to the world, God has not ultimately rejected the Jews. Israel will be restored and revived! Read about it in Romans 11.

God has a plan for the nations.

In Romans 11 Paul emphasizes his special calling to be an apostle to the Gentile nations of the Roman world (v. 13, 15:16). This same chapter tells how through the Christian gospel, the Gentiles are the beneficiaries of God’s covenant promises to Israel. The unbelief of the Jews made a way for Gentiles to be saved (vv.11-12). The advance of the gospel to the Gentile nations is called “riches for the world” (v.12) and “reconciliation to the world” (v. 14).

This reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). Paul applied this to the Gentiles in his letter to the Galatians: “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9).

It has always been God’s plan for his good news to be spread throughout the nations of the world. Romans 11:25 speaks of “the full number of the Gentiles” who will eventually be saved.

God has a plan for Israel.

The fact that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles does not mean that he disregarded his own people, the Jews. In Romans 11 he says that his personal conversion to faith in Jesus Christ is one evidence that God is not finished with Israel (v. 1). He states emphatically, “God did not reject his people whom he foreknew” (v.2). He sees in his own ministry a steady stream of Jews coming to faith in Jesus, recipients of God’s grace (v.5). They are still the Lord’s people.

While some are hardened in their antipathy for Jesus (vv.7-8), there remains a believing remnant who are drawn to the joy, freedom, forgiveness, fellowship, and peace enjoyed by Gentile believers. They are made envious in a good way to desire what the Gentiles have experienced in Christ (v.11).

Paul goes on to outline a glorious future for Israel which will result in blessing for the whole world. This is described as “life from the dead” (v.15). This makes me think of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones which are resurrected and given new vitality (Ezekiel 37:3). This is a prophecy of the restoration of the nation Israel in the plan and purpose of God.

God’s plan is the church.

Paul introduces the word “mystery” in verse 25. In his letters this word was used for the revelation in the present of a truth that has been concealed from believers in Old Testament times. Ephesians 3:3-6 explains the unfolding of this “mystery” as the New Testament revelation that believing Jews and believing Gentiles are now members together of one spiritual organism, the true church, the body of Christ.

In Romans 11 Paul illustrated this truth with the metaphor of an olive tree. A symbol of Israel, the olive tree pictured the nation’s place in the plan of God (Romans 11:16-24). In Paul’s example, the Jews are like a cultivated olive tree and the Gentiles are like branches of wild olive trees that have been grafted into the tree to share in Israel’s spiritual advantages.

With this example, Paul was teaching the Gentiles in the church in Rome not to think of the Jews as being somehow displaced or replaced in the plan of God. There was to be no anti-Semitic prejudice in God’s church. Jewish and Gentile believers are one in Christ. God’s promises and relationship to Israel will never be cancelled (v.29).

The church is looking forward to the coming of “the Deliverer,” the Lord Jesus. His advent will usher in his kingdom and will save Israel and the nations from their sins (Romans 11:26-32). According to Paul, this will put God’s mercy and wisdom on display.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Good News for Everyone

There are good reasons to read Romans chapter ten. For one thing it conveys the world’s most important message in terms so clear that any person can understand. The chapter also magnifies God’s grace, demonstrating that salvation  is not a matter of doing, but believing. It shows God’s loving concern for all people everywhere. Romans ten is saturated with quotations from the Old Testament, emphasizing its continuing relevance and authority.

What is the world’s most important message? It is the good news that through faith in Jesus Christ, people everywhere may be given the gift of righteousness (v.4). It is the good news that Christ and his righteousness are accessible, not remote and distant. In verses 7-8 Paul quotes Deuteronomy 30 to show that what Moses said about his teaching and the law, is now true of Christ and his gospel.

Romans ten shows us that it is possible to have misdirected zeal. The people of Israel in Paul’s day were pursuing righteousness the wrong way. They were trying to produce righteousness by religious works instead of by faith. In Verses 4-5 Paul contrasts works righteousness and faith righteousness to explain that it is not a matter of doing, but believing.

What is it that is to be believed? It is the truth that “Jesus is Lord” (v.9). This profound declaration was perhaps the earliest Christian creed. It was the confession that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was the “Lord,” or Yahweh revealed in the Old Testament. This is the Christian belief that God is revealing himself in Jesus Christ.

It is also necessary to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Christ came to earth, died on the cross, was raised from the dead by the power of God, and is now accessible to all who will have faith in him. Paul writes, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:10). To be “justified” is to be declared righteous before God.

This righteous standing is given as a gift of grace to those who trust in Christ and call on him for salvation. Paul quotes the Old Testament again (Joel 2:32) when he writes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). To “call” is to appeal, or to ask. It honors God when we ask for what he has promised to give. It dishonors him when we doubt his promise or try do do for ourselves what only he can do (Romans 10:3).

Romans ten shows God’s loving concern for all people everywhere. “There is no difference” Paul says (v.12). There is no favoritism with God. Racial and cultural distinctions are real, but when it comes to salvation, they do not matter. God wants his gospel to spread all over the world and Paul quotes Psalm 19 to illustrate this fact (v.18).

God has raised up messengers who will spread the good news to the nations of the world. Evangelists, missionaries, witnesses, ambassadors are commissioned to proclaim the gospel as heralds of salvation. Christ sends them, they preach, people hear and believe the message, and they call on the Lord for salvation. According to the Bible, those who call are saved.

This missionary impulse is what is behind Paul’s impassioned prayer for his own people in verse 1: “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Paul quotes the prophetic vision (Isaiah 65:1-2) that underlies the desire to spread the message. Referring to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus, Paul describes the compassionate God as a rejected parent holding out his hands to rebellious children, inviting them to come home (vv. 20-21).

Here, then, are some good reasons to read and meditate on Romans ten: the clarity of the gospel, the beauty of grace, the accessibility of Christ, God’s loving concern for all people, and the continuing authority of both the Old and New Testament scriptures.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

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