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