Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apostle Paul’s Friends and Final Instructions

Apostle Paul:  Greet each other in Christian love. All the churches of Christ send you their greetings. And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. . . . Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed His plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey Him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Romans 16:16-20, 25-27 (NLT)

The final chapter of Romans is remarkable with a roll call of heroes – Apostle Paul’s friends. In Romans 16, the Apostle Paul greets at least twenty-six people.  The Apostle Paul does not give us the details of the stories behind each of these names listed. However, his personal greetings went to Romans, Greeks, Jews and Gentiles, men, women, prisoners and prominent citizens. These people of Romans 16 were a multicultural mixture. This list of people shows the various parts people played in Apostle Paul's efforts to spread the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. Rome was the world's political, religious, social, and economic center. From Rome, the Good News of Jesus Christ spread to the ends of the earth. Also, the Apostle Paul greeted several churches that were meeting in people’s homes (Romans 16:5, 10-11, 14-15). Apparently there was an assembly of believers meeting in various Christian homes or house synagogues (see also 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).

The Apostle Paul begins Romans 16 with Phoebe (Romans 16:1). Phoebe’s name means “radiant” or “bright.” Apostle Paul calls Phoebe “our sister” (Romans 16:1).  Phoebe was the lady who carried the Apostle Paul’s important message to the saints at Rome. Some theologians believe Phoebe was a servant (the Greek word used here is often translated “deaconess”) while other theologians consider Phoebe a helper. There were women in the early church doing the work of deacons: visiting the sick, assisting the young women, and helping the poor (see also Romans 12:7; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8. The Apostle Paul confessed that Phoebe had been a great help to the Roman church and the Apostle Paul encouraged the church to care for Phoebe. This provides evidence that women played important roles in the early church with the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 16:3, 6-7, 12-13, 15; see also John 8:1-3; John 19:25; John 20:16, 18).

Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple and the Apostle Paul's “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3). They were close friends of Apostle Paul (Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 26). Priscilla and Aquila had “risked their lives” for Apostle Paul (Romans 16:4, NLT). Just when Priscilla and Aquila risked their own lives for Apostle Paul is not known, but their friendship with Apostle Paul was so intense that he mentions them in the salutations of two other New Testament books (cf. I Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19). At the time of this writing, Priscilla and Aquila were in Rome and a church met in their home (Romans 16:5). Priscilla and Aquila were Christians before they met the Apostle Paul. Like Apostle Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were missionaries. They helped other fellow believers in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-28), in Rome, and again at Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).

Four people the Apostle Paul called “beloved” or “dear friend”: Epenetus (Romans 16:5), Ampliatus (Romans 16:8), Stachys (Romans 16:9), and Persis (Romans 16:12). In particular, Epenetus was one of the first people to accept Jesus Christ in Asia (Romans 16:5). The conversion of Epenetus led to the salvation of others in Asia. Andronicus and Junias are called “kinsmen,” which may mean blood relatives of Apostle Paul, or only that they too were Jewish, possibly of the tribe of Benjamin like Apostle Paul (Romans 16:7). At one time Andronicus and Junias had been in prison with Apostle Paul. Andronicus and Junias were called “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7) and they had distinguished themselves as apostles. Mary “bestowed much labor” (Romans 16:6). These and other devoted people listed in Romans 16 fulfilled their ministries to the glory of God.

However, not everyone was working with the Apostle Paul to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. There were some who were dividing and separating the churches by teaching false and incorrect doctrine (Romans 16:17-20). Instead of preaching the truth, these selfish and false teachers spread their own religious propaganda, using deceit and lies with smooth styles (Romans 16:18). The Apostle Paul warned the Roman Christians to mark these evil workers causing division, and avoid these false people (Romans 16:17). Anyone who divides the unity or harmony of the church does not serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says that these evil workers will be completely defeated (Romans 16:20; see also Genesis 3:15).

The Apostle Paul closed with greetings from nine believers who were with him in Corinth when he wrote the magnificent letter to the Roman church (Romans 16:20-24). People are prone to honor Apostle Paul but forget the many ordinary people who helped make his ministry possible. Lucius was a prophet and teacher of Antioch (Romans 16:21; cf. Acts 13:1). Jason was Apostle Paul’s host at Thessalonica (Romans 16:21; cf. Acts 17:5). Sosipater was from Berea (Romans 16:21; cf. Acts 20:4). Tertius was the scribe, who wrote the Apostle Paul’s letter to Rome (Romans 16:22). In other words, Apostle Paul was the human author of Romans, but Tertius actually wrote the letter as a scribe or secretary. With hospitality, Gaius gave Apostle Paul a place to live and work while writing the Romans letter (Romans 16:23). Erastus the chamberlain was probably the city treasurer (Romans 16:24; cf. 2 Timothy 4:20).

Romans 16 shows that the Apostle Paul loved people as well as a soul winning (see also Romans 16:16). The Apostle Paul did not live an isolated life. Instead, the Apostle Paul was friendly and kind to people as he spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He encouraged the Roman church to “greet one another with a holy kiss” and with Christian love as they went around doing good and not evil (Romans 16:16, 19; see also 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). Even more, Romans 16 reveals that no one in God’s family is unimportant and no ministry is insignificant.

The closing benediction of the Apostle Paul is the longest one he wrote (Romans 16:25-27). This benediction reflects the Apostle Paul’s special ministry of uniting believing Jews and Gentiles in the one body, the church (see Ephesians 3). This was the Apostle Paul's special message. And the result: “Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong. . . . All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. AMEN” (Romans 16:25, 27, NLT).

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How To Live A Happy Christian Life

Apostle Paul:  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. . . .Do not think you are better than you really are. . . . Do not just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Do not curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Do not be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And do not think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. . . . Do not let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:1-3, 9-18, 21 (NLT)

The next great section of Romans is chapters 12 through 15. In these chapters, the Apostle Paul gives practical, real-world guidelines and duties for living as blessed (happy) Christians. The Apostle Paul gives details on making Jesus Christ Lord of every area of our lives. According to the Apostle Paul, Christians are to be wholly devoted to Jesus Christ as living sacrifices, obey the government, genuinely love our neighbors, and take special care of the weak and helpless in the faith.

In a real sense, the entire book of Romans has been directed toward the goal of showing that God demands our action as well as our believing and thinking. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ always expresses itself in obedience (see also James 2:14-26; 1 John 5:1-3). As stated by Martin Luther, genuine saving faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection will produce good and righteous deeds in our everyday life. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ and goods deeds are interrelated and interwoven and not separate. Loving actions are evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (James 2:21; see also Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26; Galatians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; James 2:14-26). For the Apostle Paul, theology is worthless, unless our theology made a difference in how people lived.

Faith in Jesus Christ is not a mere intellectual assent (see James 2:18-19) but a living trust in God’s grace and mercy that expresses itself in acts of goodness and love (1 Thessalonians 1:3). A right relationship with God means right living – a truthful, moral, ethical, good and virtuous life. According to the Apostle Paul: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (see Galatians 5:6). Although we are saved by faith, not by good deeds (see Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:15-16), love for others and for God is the response of those whom God has graciously forgiven (see Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 John 3:10-11). Jesus Christ said that those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47). If we have a right relationship to God, we will also have a right relationship with people (1 John 4:20).

Once we yield our hearts, bodies and minds to the true and living God, we can live victorious (Romans 12:1-2). We are to die to proud, covetous, selfishness, stubbornness, and arrogance and wholeheartedly yield to the glory of God as this is “our reasonable service” or “our spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). God wants everyone to offer their whole hearts to Him for His honor, glory, and purpose (Romans 12:1-2; see also Philippians 1:20-21). Now that we belong to Jesus Christ through faith in Him, our bodies become God's temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and God’s Holy Spirit lives within us (Romans 8:9). Through God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ continues to live within us to continue God's good work as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

God has good, pleasing, and perfect plans for His people. As we spend time reading and meditating on His Holy Word, the Holy Spirit renews our minds and hearts for good and spiritual purposes (2 Corinthians 3:18).To have a right relationship with God, we must start EVERY DAY by yielding to Him our bodies, minds, and wills.

We Christians belong to God and each other (Romans 12:3-16). Christians are to live and work together under the command and authority of God. The Apostle Paul likens Christians to members of a human body (Romans 12:4-8). There are many members and each has a different function, but all are needed for the health and growth of the church. The Apostle Paul emphasizes unity within the diversity of the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).

Moreover, our gifts, talents and skills are from God. We are to use our gifts, talents and skills for the good of the whole body of Christ (the church) and for the common good of others (1Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:1-16). Our gifts, talents and skills come from God because of GOD'S GRACE and must ALWAYS be accepted and exercised by faith and humility (1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 2:1-4). There can be no basis for a superior attitude or self-righteousness. All we can do is accept our gifts and talents and use them to honor and glorify God and help others (1 Corinthians 15:10). As faithful Christians, our role is to seek ways to help others for good with God’s gifts. God calls His people to real love and goodness. This means helping and caring for others good and not evil (Romans 12:9-10). “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9, NIV). The love the Apostle Paul speaks of is not mere emotions but love in action (see James 2:1-4, 14-17; 1 John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:19-21). Christians have a social responsibility to all people, but especially to other fellow believers in Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus Christ’s teaching (see Matthew 5:39-42, 44-45; Luke 6:27-28) as he urged Christians to return good for evil in the Name of the Lord. The only way to overcome evil is with good.

Apostle Paul:  Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Do not participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And do not yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.
Romans 13:1-14 (NLT)

The issue of politics surfaces in Romans 13. As in the Apostle Paul’s day, the issues of politics are hotly debated. During the later parts of the Apostle Paul’s ministry, such emperors as Nero vengefully turned on Christians, torturing and murdering thousands of them, probably including the Apostle Paul himself.

History shows that most Christians followed the Apostle Paul’s difficult advice in Romans 13 by refusing to revolt against the government but submitting to the government no matter how hostile the government became. To resist the government and their laws is to resist the God because God established and ordained the system of human government (Romans 13:1-2; see also 1 Peter 2:13-17). Of course, if government authorities or laws conflicts with God’s guidelines and rules, then Christians MUST OBEY GOD rather than human authorities (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). There will be situations where you cannot obey both God and people. In those conflicting situations, Christians must obey God and trust God’s Holy Word. Our highest loyalty and devotion belong to God! But when the law is right, the Christian must obey the law, including paying our taxes (Romans 13:7). Christians ought to be the best citizen.

The issue of love also surfaces with the Apostle Paul. “Love one another” is the most basic and essential rule of the Christian life. Love is the “new commandment” given by our Lord Jesus Christ (John 13:34). Jesus Christ was a living example of love and He teaches that our love will confirm we are His disciples (followers) (John 13:34-35). Love is more than simply warm feelings; it is an attitude that reveals itself in action (see 1 Corinthians 13). Essentially, when we practice love, there is no need for any other law. “For he who loves another has fulfilled the law. . . . Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8, 10, NKJV). In these verses, the Apostle Paul is quoting Leviticus 19:18. If we genuinely love others, we will not sin, harm and hurt others (Matthew 22:34-40; John 14:15; Colossians 3:14; James 2:8-9; and 1 Peter 2:16-17). As Christians, we are to wear God’s armor of light and goodness, not deeds of darkness and evil (see Matthew 5:13-16; Ephesians 6:10-19). Christians are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14 (RSV). To “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ means to become more like Him by walking in His ways of love, humility, justice, mercy, truth, forgiveness, and service (see also Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23; Galatians 3:27). Walking like Jesus Christ shows our unity with other Christians and with Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 13:14; see also Ephesians 4:24-32; Colossians 3:10-17). We may not always agree on politics or parties, but we can agree to genuinely LOVE ONE ANOTHER!

Apostle Paul:  Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and do not argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. . . . Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let Him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive His approval. . . .  In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor Him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we do not live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it is to honor the Lord. And if we die, it is to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to Me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’” Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let us stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. . . . For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Do not tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. Romans 14:1, 4-13, 17-23 (NLT)

During the Apostle Paul’s day, Christians in Rome were disagreeing on what was proper behavior for a Christian (Romans 14:1-15:4). Christians were hotly debating such issues as eating meat, celebrating holidays, and drinking wine. One person was sure another was sinning; but that “offender” was convinced the accuser was hopelessly narrow-minded and intolerant. Some of these problems stemmed from the backgrounds of the believers in the churches. Probably, some Jewish Christians at Rome were unwilling to give up the dietary laws, keeping of the Sabbath, and other special days. Other Christians were not yet clear as to the status of the Old Testament regulations under the new covenant inaugurated by the coming of Jesus Christ. Who was right? In this chapter, the Apostle Paul gave practical guidelines to the church on how believers could disagree on nonessentials and still maintain unity and harmony within the church. God wants unity, harmony and peace among His people (see Psalm 133:1) and not conflict and disharmony (e.g., see Psalm 15:3; Proverbs 6:19; Matthew 5:9). According to the Apostle Paul:  “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . . . So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:17, 19, NASB).

The Apostle Paul’s advice to the Roman Christians applies to people today who debate questionable issues or “gray areas” that are not clearly right or wrong to every believer. The specific issues change with each culture, but the Apostle Paul’s guidelines on the proper attitude apply to all people today. Some activities are clearly wrong, because the Holy Bible clearly denounces and condemns such actions. Other activities are right, because the Holy Bible clearly commands such actions. But when it comes to areas that are not clearly defined in the Holy Bible, we find ourselves in the “gray areas”. Fellowship among Christians is not based on everyone’s agreement on disputable questions. Christians do not agree on all matters and they do not need to agree.

According to the Apostle Paul, we are to welcome and accept one another (Romans 14:1-2). It is NOT our responsibility to judge others; only God can judge. As stated by Saint Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In every church, there will be different kinds of people from different backgrounds. Yet, God graciously receives all people; therefore, we should also receive and accept one another. God is the Master and the Judge (Romans 14:10-12). Nobody has the right to “play God” in a person’s life as God alone has the final authority. We can pray, discuss, and even warn, but we cannot judge (see also Matthew 7:1-6). If Christians would go to God in prayer FIRST instead of criticizing and judging others, there would be stronger fellowship and unity within our churches. Our first responsibility is to God and everyone must stand before Him in judgment (Romans 14:10; see also 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Instead of judging, criticizing, and belittling, the Apostle Paul encouraged love and unity among believers (Romans 14:13-23). The key to proper settlement of disputes is love (Romans 14:15). We do not live to please ourselves but God (Romans 14:7-8). If we genuinely love each other as Christ commanded, we will seek to edify each other and build each other up in the faith. Love, holy living and godly service are important to God. We are to serve and love God and love one another with a heart of thanksgiving (Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Matthew 22:34-40). “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1, NIV). As stated by Jesus Christ, let us not ignore “justice, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). God wants everyone to exercise love and patience with one another. The result will be peace and unity within the church to the glory of God. Disunity and disagreement do not glorify God but rob God of His glory (see Genesis 13:8). Christians may hold different convictions and opinions about many matters, but they must hold them in love! In His prayer in John 17, Jesus Christ prayed for the unity of the church to the glory of God (John 17:20-26). Genuine Christians must seek peace!

Apostle Paul:  We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ did not live to please Himself. . . . May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Remember that Christ came as a Servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises He made to their ancestors. He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for His mercies to them. . . . I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:1-3, 5-9, 13 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

God’s Redemptive Plan

The next great section of the book of Romans is chapters 9 through 11. In these great chapters, the Apostle Paul reveals how both Jews and Gentiles fit into God’s redemptive plan to save humanity of sin. God’s faithfulness to the Jews is also central in these chapters. God gave His promises to the Jews, the first to Abraham, then additional promises to Moses, David and the prophets. If God was not faithful to the Jewish promises, how do we know if He will be faithful to the Gentiles? The Apostle Paul admits that, on the whole, the Jewish people rejected Jesus Christ and the Good News proclaimed by His apostles. Despite all the advantages of Old Testament history, the Jewish people stumbled over the “stumbling stone,” Jesus Christ (Romans 9:32-33). Yet the Apostle Paul reveals in chapters 9 through 11 that God’s promises to the Jewish people are still valid and binding (Romans 9:4-5). In the end, the Jews will be saved (Romans 11:26).

Romans chapters 9 through 11 is probably the strongest and the most extended teaching of the Apostle Paul on election. The Apostle Paul discusses election but NOT personal election. He asserts that no one can claim to be chosen by God because heritage or good deeds. God freely and mercifully chooses to save whomever He wills. God's sovereignly selects to save people according to His goodness and mercy (Romans 9:14-16, 18). God is not arbitrary. The Apostle Paul affirms God’s faithfulness (Romans 9:1-13), righteousness (Romans 9:14-18), justice (Romans 9:19-29), and grace (Romans 9:30-33). Like the Apostle Paul, the Prophet Jeremiah also confessed the faithfulness of God:  “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning . . . . The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him” (Lamentations 3:22-23, 25 (NLT). The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of the potter and the clay to teach God’s sovereignty and power over all humanity (Romans 9:19-21). The main point of this analogy is the sovereign freedom of God in dealing with people (see also Jeremiah 18:1-10). God knows what He is doing even if humans do not understand God’s plans and purposes.

In chapters 9 through 11, the Apostle Paul shows his great love for the Jews and the Jews’ salvation (Romans 9:4-5; Romans 10:1; Romans 11:1). The Apostle Paul was “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1, NLT). He expressed genuine concern for his Jewish “brothers and sister” by saying that he would be willingly to take God’s wrath and become cursed (“anathema”) if that could save the Jewish people (Romans 9:2-3). Like Moses, the Apostle Paul was willing to be cursed and separated from Jesus Christ if it meant the salvation of the Jews (Exodus 32:30-35). Sadly, members of the Apostle Paul’s own race, the Jews, were rejecting the Good News of God’s free salvation and righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Rejection of the Good News by the Jews was a crushing blow to the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul was willing to forfeit his own relationship with Jesus Christ for the sake of his Jewish people (Romans 9:3). The Apostle Paul was STILL a Jew and apart of Israel. However, the Apostle Paul was a part of Israel that believed in Jesus as God’s Messiah to the world.

Jesus came into the world as a Jew in fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises. Even more, Jesus was a descendent of Abraham, grew up in Palestine as a Jew and He was viewed as a Jewish Rabbi in public ministry. Also, Jesus centered His preaching and teaching in the Jewish synagogues and the Temple. Jesus’ teaching and preaching in His public ministry repeatedly stated to the Jews He was the Messiah (the Christ). Therefore, the Jews were the most prepared to accept Jesus as their Messiah. However, the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah. When Jesus died and was resurrected, the Jews also rejected the preaching of the Good News message by His apostles. However, the Gentiles accepted the Good News of salvation and righteous by faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul reveals that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus Christ does not deny the faithfulness of God. God is still faithful, righteous, just, and gracious, and He can be depended on to accomplish His purposes and keep His promises.

In Romans 9:6-9, the Apostle Paul redefines Israel (also called Jewish or a Hebrew). Not everyone with Israelite blood in their veins is really Israelites. Physical descent is no guarantee of a place in God’s spiritual family. The Apostle Paul clarifies in Romans 9:8 that the true Israelites are not because of the flesh but according to the promise. The true Israel (true Jews) are those people that have accepted Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ) by faith. Only those faithful to God according to the promise (the remnant) were considered true Jews (Romans 11:5). Some Jews like the Apostle Paul, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, the Twelve disciples, Crispus, and many other Jews accepted Jesus as the Christ by faith and became His devoted followers. So, the Apostle Paul is reminding his readers that although many Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah there were some Jews that accepted Jesus as their Messiah and these people were the real Jews (see also Rom 2:29; Galatians 3:7). Even though the Apostle Paul went to the Jews first, relatively few Jews ever accepted by faith the Good News (Romans 9:27-29, referencing Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:22-23). Therefore, the real Jew is the one that accepts and believe in Jesus as their Messiah and the Good News (Gospel).

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on Him. For “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:5-13 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul proclaims in Romans 10 by citing Old Testament passages that Jesus Christ has provided salvation and righteousness (a right relationship with God) through wholehearted faith in His incarnation (coming to earth) and resurrection (coming back from the dead) (Romans 10:5-13; see also Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 30:12-14; Isaiah 28:16; Joel 2:32). The Apostle Paul takes these Old Testament passages that was given as the way to life and applies these passages to the Good News of Jesus Christ as the way to life. According to the Apostle Paul, the Jews’ enthusiasm and zeal for God was misdirected (Romans 10:2). Sadly, the Jewish people did not understand God’s way of making people right with Himself was not by keeping the law (Romans 10:3). Jesus Christ had already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. During His public ministry on earth, Jesus Christ revealed and lived the true intent of the Old Testament law (e.g., love, mercy, humility, faith, peace, forgiveness, and thanksgiving) (see Matthew 5:3-20; see also Matthew 23:23). As a result, all who believe in Jesus Christ and follow His example are made right (declared righteous) with God (Romans 10:4; see also e.g., Deuteronomy 10:12; Proverbs 22:4; Romans 1:17; 1 Peter 5:14). Righteousness (a right relationship with God) is gained by faith in Jesus Christ, and is readily available to anyone who will receive the gift of righteousness freely from God through Jesus Christ (Romans 10:8).

Essentially, the Apostle Paul was teaching what the Old Testament prophets had repeatedly taught on the importance of seeking God with all our whole hearts and confessing our love and devotion to Him as the true God of both heaven and earth (see e.g., Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Joshua 24:14-15; Kings 18:36-37; Amos 5:24; Micah 6:6-8; Habakkuk 2:2-4; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29). The Apostle Paul affirmed that in Jesus Christ the God of Israel was Himself present among His people. Jesus Christ is the most complete revelation of God and no one can fully know God apart from Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul confessed that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) and Jesus is “God over all” (Romans 9:5, NIV).

The Apostle Paul teaches that our salvation and righteousness is as close as our own mouth and heart (Romans 10:10). Salvation requires inward belief (“with our heart”) and outward confession (“with our mouth”) (Romans 10:10). If we genuinely believe in our hearts and say with our mouths that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, WE ARE SAVED and made right with God (Romans 10:8-13). Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved (see also Joel 2:32). No longer has one to try to make him or herself righteous with God by keeping the law but only to call upon the Name of the Lord. This is the freeness of the Gospel. God’s salvation is a gift and the only condition is openness of the heart and this statement of the Apostle Paul is repeated throughout Romans and the New Testament (e.g., Romans 1:16-17; see also John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-9). According to the Apostle Paul, we do not have to make ourselves righteous with God by obeying the law. Jesus Christ has provided the Gospel and we are made right and reconciled with God through our wholehearted faith and trust in Him alone. All God requires is our wholehearted acceptance of Jesus Christ His grace, and not our merit or deeds, for our happiness and salvation.

In Romans chapter 11, the Apostle Paul reviews the history of the Jewish people and reveals God’s eternal love for His chosen people (Romans 11:25-27). God has not rejected the Jewish people. The Apostle Paul quotes from the Old Testament’s story of the Prophet Elijah and the faithful remnant who remained loyal to God (1 Kings 19:10-19). According to the Apostle Paul, the Jews that believe Jesus Christ now (this small majority that believes) are the faithful remnant (Romans 11:2-4). The Apostle Paul remains the Roman church that God has always had a small group of people (a remnant) that has remained faithful to Him (Romans 11:1, 5). As it was in the days of Elijah, so it was in the Apostle Paul’s day. There was still a faithful remnant that believed in Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 11:5-6). As mentioned above, the Apostle Paul himself was a Jew, and so were Jesus Christ’s disciples and nearly all of the early Christian missionaries were a part of the faithful remnant.

Speaking to Gentile Christians, the Apostle Paul warns them not to feel superior or greater than the Jewish people (Romans 11:17-24). Abraham's faith is like the root of a productive tree, and the Jewish people are the tree's natural branches. Because of unfaithfulness, the Jews were the broken branches and Gentile believers have been grafted into the tree like a wild olive shoot. Yet, both the Jews and Gentiles share the tree's nourishment based on faith in God. Botanists and orchard growers commonly used grafting to improve their stock of flowers and fruit. Usually, they graft a weaker, cultivated branch onto a wild but sturdy root stock. The Apostle Paul admits at Romans 11:24 that “contrary to nature” God has grafted the wild branches (Gentiles) onto the cultivated roots (the Jewish people) – a reverse technique sometimes used to reinvigorate an olive tree. Therefore, the Apostle Paul interprets the Jews’ temporary felling to accept Jesus as the Messiah resulted in Gentiles being engrafted. Yet, the salvation of the Gentiles is dependent on the Jewish people, especially the patriarchs (see e.g., Abrahamic covenant) “for salvation comes through the Jews” (John 4:22, NLT). For God’s Messiah (Jesus) came through God’s historic people (the Jews) (Romans 1:16-17).

Therefore, the Apostle Paul looks at the rejection of the Good News by the Jews not a tragedy because this rejection enabled the Good News to be taken to the Gentiles. The Gentiles only received the Good News message because the Jews rejected this gracious message. So, the Apostle Paul sees the rejection of the Good News by the Jews not a failure but furtherance of God’s eternal redemptive plan and promises. Through the Jewish people’s rejection of the Good News, the true Jews (those that accept Jesus as the Messiah) took God’s Good News to the Gentile world (Romans 11:11, 15). Now, the Gentiles have been grafted into the people of God. Therefore, Jews and Gentiles are reconciled and saved by grace and mercy of God (Romans 11:15, 17).

The Apostle Paul confirms that the Jewish rejection of the Good News is not permanent but temporary until the appointed or complete numbers of Gentiles have been reached (Romans 11:25-27). All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26). So the temporary rejection of the Jewish people will be ended when the full number of Gentiles has come. Therefore, the Apostle Paul says that God will save Israel in the end because God is faithful to His promises and this summarizes Romans 9 through 11.

In summary in God's original plan, the Jewish people were to be the source of God's blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3). God chose the Jewish people to be the people through whom the rest of the world could find salvation (Genesis 12:1-3). When the Jewish people neglected this mission, God blessed the Gentiles anyway through the Jewish Messiah. Yet, God still maintained His love for the Jewish people because of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Romans 11:28-29). Someday, the faithful Jews will share in God's mercy.

The Apostle Paul had a vision of a church where all people – Jews and Gentiles would be united in their wholehearted love for God and in their obedience to Jesus Christ. While respecting God's law, this ideal church would look to Jesus Christ alone for salvation. God chose the Jews, just as He chose the Gentiles, to unite Jew and Gentile into a new Israel, a new Jerusalem, ruled by His Son, Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). God's plans will not be defeated because God is faithful and faithful to His promise. He will “have mercy on them all” – Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 60).

Apostle Paul:  Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)

“Listen, all you people . . . ! The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with Him! Whenever you seek Him, you will find Him. But if you abandon Him, He will abandon you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach them, and without the Law to instruct them. But whenever they were in trouble and turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought Him out, they found Him.” 2 Chronicles 15:2-4 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Columbia Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2014.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Apostle Paul’s Understanding of the Law in Romans

The book, Apostle Paul’s Understanding of the Law in Romans, gives a great overview of Christians' responsibility and use of the Old Testament law given their new freedom by faith in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Christ and the Law

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Romans 10:4 (NIV)

In Romans 10:4, the Apostle Paul states “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4, NIV). This statement is simply but ambiguous. How is Jesus Christ the end of the Law? The Greek word for end is “telos”.

So some scholars argue that Apostle Paul means that in Jesus Christ we see the perfect fulfillment of the Law because Jesus Christ lived up to the purpose and goal of the Law perfectly (see Matthew 5:17).  In this respect, this interpretation would mean that the Law was aimed at bringing us to Jesus Christ and that He came to fulfill the Law and thus gives the Law validity.  At Matthew 5:17, Jesus Christ said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, NIV). Yet other scholars argue that while the Jews tried to earn their righteous by keeping the Law they failed; Jesus Christ obeyed the Law completely by the Spirit and the letter. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the end of the Law in the sense He has fulfilled the Law and the Law is powerless to save.  On the other hand, some scholars argue that Jesus Christ brought an end to the Law because Jesus Christ’s advent or arrival brought the Law to humans and the Law has no more validity after Jesus Christ arrived. Yet, this interpretation is not likely because the Apostle Paul continued to follow the Law of God even after his Damascus Road experience with the risen Christ. So, it is highly unlikely that the Apostle Paul interpreted Romans 10:4 that the Law was shut down after Jesus Christ’s arrival to earth in human form.

The Greek word “telos” can mean either (1) “termination,” “cessation,” or (2) “goal,” culmination,” “fulfillment.” Most scholars believe that Jesus Christ is the goal, culmination, and fulfillment of the Law.   Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law (see Matthew 5:17) in the sense that He brought the Law to completion by obeying perfectly the Laws’ demands and by fulfilling the Laws’ types and prophecies.  Even more, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law in the sense that He gave the Law its full meaning.  Jesus Christ emphasized the Spirit of the Law and not the mere external acknowledgement and obedience. 

Based upon the entire teaching of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul probably means that with the coming of Jesus Christ, people do not have to make oneself righteous with by the Law (see Romans 6:14; Romans 7:4, 6; Ephesians 2:15). With the coming (advent) of Jesus Christ, the Law no longer justifies or declares one righteous before God because the saving work of Jesus Christ has brought to a close any attempt to attain righteousness by way of the Law.  The Apostle Paul probably did not mean at Romans 10:4 that Jesus Christ’s arrival abolished or shut down the Law (e.g., see Romans 7:7). Throughout the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul states that he is establishing the Law and that the Law has value for all people (e.g., see Romans 5:20-21; Romans 8:3-4; Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 3:24-29; and 1 Timothy 1:8). The Law reveals the mind of God and the intentions of God. Besides, the Apostle Paul never preached in the book of Romans that there is no validity to the Law. Instead, the Apostle Paul reveals that justification or righteous comes to EVERYONE WHO BELIEVE in Jesus Christ and this statement of Apostle Paul is repeated throughout Romans (e.g., see Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:21-4:25).

According to the Apostle Paul, faith in God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection obtains righteousness.  The kind of righteousness God requires is wholeheartedly seeking Him as the true and living God (Romans 10:13; see also Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). Sadly, some Jews had established many rituals, customs and traditions in addition to God's Law to try to make themselves righteous in God's sight. But human work such a trying to obey the Law, no matter how sincere, can never be a substitute for the righteousness God freely gives to EVERYONE by faith. Through the power of the Holy Spirit living within a believer’s life, the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled (Romans 8:4).  According to Apostle Paul, through our faith in Jesus Christ God sends true believers His Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2, 5). The moment one believes from the heart that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ); one also receives the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the unmistakable evidence of salvation (Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 3:16; I Corinthians 6:19–20). God’s Holy Spirit gives believers the power and strength to live for God and this power comes through our faith in God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection (Romans 1:16-17).

KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Columbia Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2014.
Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Pub., 2012.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who Is A Jew?

Apostle Paul:  For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the Law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. Romans 2:28-29 (NLT)

The Jewish people hold an important role in the Holy Scriptures. Jews are in God's family and an heir to God’s promises (Romans 9:4). God revealed His glory to the Jews, made covenants with the Jews and gave them His Law (Romans 9:4). Even more, God gave the Jews the privilege of worshiping Him and receiving His wonderful promises (Romans 9:4). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the Jews’ ancestors, and Jesus Christ Himself was a Jews as far as His human nature is concerned (Romans 9:5).

Yet in the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul has redefined the term Jew. According to the Apostle Paul, a real Jew with membership into God's family is based upon our heart devotion and obedience to Him (Romans 2:28-29). Everyone whose hearts are right with God through wholehearted faith are real Jews — that is, part of God's family (see also Genesis 15:6; Psalms 40:4; Jeremiah 17:5-10; Habakkuk 2:2-4; Galatians 3:6-7). Genuine faith in God makes one a real Jew (see Romans 4:9-17, 23-25; see also Matthew 12:48-50). In fact, Abraham himself was declared righteous by God through his faith alone in God and His promises (Genesis 15:6; see also Romans 4:11, 22-24). The Apostle Paul emphasized that we cannot depend our external actions without first depending on our internal heart trust in God. Through our wholehearted faith to God, we are declared righteous (justified, purified) and receive a new life from God (Romans 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:15-16). Even more, God sends His people the Holy Spirit to live within their hearts through genuine faith in Him (Acts 15:8-9; Acts 10:44, 47; Acts 11:17-18). The Holy Scriptures promise that anyone who seeks the Lord your God will find Him if we will seek Him with “all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29, NKJV).

Since the Old Testament, God has always defined membership into His family with all the privileges of membership based upon our faith – wholehearted devotion and obedience to Him (see also Deuteronomy 10:12-16; Jeremiah 4:4). Various rituals and ceremonies (e.g., baptism, the Lord's Supper, church membership) do not guarantee our membership into God’s family. The true and living God wants our genuine love and obedience to Him inside our hearts (see also Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Our genuine love for God is to be total involving our whole being – heart, soul, body, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30). Eventually, our genuine love for God leads to love, kindness and goodness towards others (see Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; John 13:34; 1 John 4:19-21). Genuine faith in God always leads to good deeds and moral actions in the world (see Matthew 3:8; Galatians 5:22-23). In fact, the Apostle Paul only knows of a Gospel that leads to moral actions (see Romans 12 through 15). People are not saved by good and moral deeds but they are certainly saved for goodness, mercy, and kindness (Micah 6:6-8; Ephesians 2:8-10).

Apostle Paul:  Well then, has God failed to fulfill His promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people! Being descendants of Abraham does not make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too. Romans 9:6-7 (NLT)

In the Old Testament, God made an unconditional promise to Abraham to bless Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:1-3). The Apostle Paul reminded the people that the true children of Abraham are not just his biological descendants (Romans 9:6-7; see also John 8:33-47). According to the Apostle Paul, Abraham’s true descendants are all those who trust in God and in what Jesus Christ have done for them (see also Romans 2:29; Galatians 3:7). A true Jew is one who has had an inward spiritual experience in the heart to the true and living God (Matthew 3:9). In other words, true Jews are those people that have ACCEPTED Jesus as the Messiah (Galatians 3:6-9). Those who believe in Jesus Christ are only Abraham’s descendants with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities (Galatians 3:7).

Apostle Paul:  In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this Good News to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. Galatians 3:6-9 (NLT)

In Romans 4:1-25, the Apostle Paul stressed that Abraham believed God and God declared Abraham righteous because of his faith alone (see also Genesis 15:6). The Apostle Paul used Abraham’s faith to prove that God deals with all people on the same terms – faith (belief) in Him. Sadly, the Apostle Paul’s enemies (also called “legalists”) taught that only the natural descendants of Abraham are Jews because these individuals possess the Law and are circumcised. However, possession of the Law of Moses and physical circumcision do not make one Jewish and membership into God’s family (see Acts 15:1–29). Even birth into a Jewish family does not make one Jewish. According to Apostle Paul, God says that people of faith (circumcision of the heart) are God’s spiritual children and Abraham is the father of all believers – Jews and Gentiles ((Romans 2:28–29; see also Exodus 6:12; Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 6:10). “Circumcision of the heart” means to “to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart” (Deuteronomy 30:6; see also Jeremiah 4:4). According to Apostle Paul, a true Jew is one who inwardly depends on God and obeys Him, not one who relies on external appearance and the approval of people (Romans 2:29).

Even more, the Apostle Paul speaks of a true Jew as one “born after the Spirit” (Galatians 4:29). The true sign of belonging to God is the regenerating power of God’s Holy Spirit within a person’s heart (see Titus 3:5). Being of a seed of Abraham does not make one an Israelite, for Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. But only Isaac – the child of the promise or faith – was counted as Abraham’s true seed. In the Apostle Paul’s understanding, the children of promise are those who believe in the God of Abraham and their faith is accounted or imputed to them for righteousness (Romans 9:6–13). The Apostle Paul identified the true Israelites (Jews) not as those who had physically descended from Abraham but as those who demonstrate the same kind of faith demonstrated by Abraham. In other words, Abraham’s descendants are those who share Abraham’s faith in God (see also John 8:44). Abraham was the physical and spiritual father of the Jewish race (see John 8:33, 39, 53; Acts 7:2; Romans 4:12). Also, they are referred to as the “seed” or “descendants” of Abraham (Galatians 3:16; Hebrews 2:16). According to Apostle Paul, all believers in Jesus Christ (Jews and Gentiles) are called Abraham spiritual children (Romans 4:11-12). Therefore, the Apostle Paul goes on to say in Romans 4 that all that believe after Abraham are his true descendants. Therefore, the Apostle Paul not only redefined what it means to be a Jew but he also says that Abraham’s true descendants are all of those that exercise the same faith of Abraham and trust God and not necessarily those born into a Jewish family.

Apostle Paul:  Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. . . . I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the Law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. Galatians 3:2, 5 (NLT)

According to Apostle Paul, through our faith in Jesus Christ God sends true believers His Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2, 5). The moment one believes from the heart that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ); one also receives the Holy Spirit. In other words, all true believers in Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the unmistakable evidence of salvation (Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 3:16; I Corinthians 6:19–20). The Apostle Paul clearly taught in both Romans and Galatians that one receives the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:5; Romans 8; Galatians 3:2, 5). The Holy Spirit is the Author of a believers’ new birth (John 3:5; see also 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Apostle Paul stressed that just as one begins the Christian life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so one must grow by the Holy Spirit's power. God’s Holy Spirit gives believers the power and strength to live for God and this power comes through our faith in God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection (Romans 1:16-17).

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6 (NLT)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Woman’s Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Columbia Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2014.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Victory Over Sin!

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace (favor and mercy)? Of course not! . . . Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in (yield) to sinful desires (cravings, lusts, evil passions). Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right (good) for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master . . . . Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace (favor and mercy). . . . Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through (union with) Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:1-2, 12-14, 22-23 (NLT)

In Romans 3:21-5:21, the Apostle Paul has given us readers all the wonderful and grand blessings that come with genuine faith in Jesus Christ. These blessings included salvation, grace, fellowship (peace) with God, righteousness, joy, and many other gifts. Sadly, people were beginning to believe that their faith in God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection now also gave them the right or license to sin. In other words, some devious people believed “the more I sin, the more God has to forgive me, right? Then I can live any way I want and continue sinning!” The Russian monk Rasputin, for example, concluded, “I’ll sin more to earn more forgiveness.”  Rasputin lived a bizarre life of immorality and wickedness.

In every age, many people have criticized the doctrine of righteousness (justification) by alone faith in Jesus Christ on the incorrect belief that this doctrine leads to sin or a license to live an immoral lifestyle. Some people incorrectly guessed if we are treated as righteous with God by faith and we no longer have to follow the Old Testament Law of Moses, then evil works will not condemn us either. So, why then should we be concerned about our sin or attempt to live a godly life? Previously, the Apostle Paul taught in Romans 5:20: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Therefore, some believed that no matter how great our sin, God’s grace is greater than all our sins. In other words, the Apostle Paul’s enemies argued people can sin boldly and continually because God’s grace will always be available, despite their sinful and wicked lifestyle. Theologically, this belief is known as antinomianism.

The Apostle Paul was horror-struck and disgusted at the mere suggestion of continuing in sin and wickedness once we have experienced God’s grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul reacts to the “Now I have an excuse to sin” line of thinking with shock and outrage. Starting with Romans 6 and continuing through Romans 8, the Apostle Paul teaches the true meaning of God’s grace and our victory over sin. Just because where sin abounded God’s grace super-abounded and forgave our sins (Romans 5:20), a true believer in Jesus Christ WILL NOT be drawn to a continue lifestyle of sinning and wickedness. The Apostle Paul teaches that the availability of God's grace (favor and mercy) must never become an excuse for careless living and moral slackness. According to the Apostle Paul, a true believer that has wholeheartedly accepted Jesus Christ naturally has an appreciation of God’s grace (favor and mercy), so that the end result in a surrendered and obedient life unto God out of a heart filled with gratitude and love. Through our genuine faith in Jesus Christ, God sends believers His Holy Spirit to live within believers’ hearts to empower them to live godly lives (see Romans 8). Through God’s Holy Spirit, believers live from a heart oriented towards God which naturally leads to living according the fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-23). “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT). Our genuine faith in Jesus Christ means we have died to sin and wickedness and alive through God’s Holy Spirit to live dedicated and committed to God (Romans 6:1-2, 22). The very best proof of genuine belief in Jesus Christ is a believer with a changed life. The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to “count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:11).

In fact, the Apostle Paul encouraged believers in Jesus Christ NOT to let sin rule in our bodies (flesh) (Romans 6:12). Sin must never be a way of life (lifestyle) for genuine believers in Jesus Christ because we have died to sin and no longer live in sin (Romans 6:2). The idea of a believer in Jesus Christ continuing in sin is entirely contrary to the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ. Sin is hateful, destructive, and deadly. To further illustrate this point, the Apostle Paul uses baptism (Romans 6:3-4). In our confession of faith in Jesus Christ, believers in Jesus Christ have been baptized into Jesus Christ’s death and united with Him (Romans 6:4; see also Acts 2:38).

Moreover in Romans 6:5-6, the Apostle Paul compares our genuine faith in Jesus Christ to slave imagery. As believers, our bodies are no longer to serve sin because God has graciously declared us righteous (justified, acquitted, declared not guilty) through our faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Through our genuine faith in Jesus Christ, we have been united or joined with Him and given a new life (Romans 6:4-5, 11). Thus, our evil lusts (motives, desires, and goals), bondage to sin, and our love of sin also died with Jesus Christ through our genuine faith in Him. Now, united by faith with Jesus Christ in His resurrection life, believers have unbroken fellowship with God and freedom from sin's shackles (see also Ephesians 4:21-24 and Colossians 3:3-15). Our “old self” and our sinful nature, died once and for all through faith in Jesus Christ. God has freed believers from sin’s power (Romans 6:6) and now we can choose to live for Jesus Christ (see Galatians 2:20). Even more, a genuine believer’s life is a life no longer oriented toward self, selfish desires and sins but towards God. In other words, genuine believers in Jesus Christ live for God’s glory and not self! Believers’ world view is different and is no longer slaves to sin (self) but toward God, heaven, and righteous living.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul calls ALL believers in Jesus Christ to become in practice what they already are in their status before God – dead to sin and alive with God (Romans 6:8-10, 12-13). Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul realized believers still live in a fallen and sinful world. For clarity, true believers are not sinless but we are free from sin’s shackles and power! So, the Apostle Paul encourages believers in Jesus Christ not to live a careless and selfish life but a new life oriented in godly living.

In summary, ALL PEOPLE (Jew and Gentile) are made right with God by faith alone in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-4:25; see also Galatians 2:16-17). Through our wholehearted faith in Jesus Christ, God has given us believers through His Holy Spirit a new life and sin's power is broken and buried (Romans 6:2-6; see also 2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s Holy Spirit gives true believers the desire and heart to WANT to live good and moral lives rather evil; therefore, believers in turn obey God’s moral laws (Romans 6:14-15). True believers choose God as their Master and to give themselves wholeheartedly (fully) to God – heart, soul, mind, and strength (Romans 6:16-18; see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). The Apostle Paul develops Jesus Christ’s words, “No person can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Even more, God gives believers a new nature as we are now dead to sin (self) and made alive to God (Romans 6:5, 11). According to the Apostle Paul, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 20, NLT). Finally, God gives believers a new freedom to not let sin control us but surrender our hearts to God for God’s control (Romans 6:12-16). Yielding to sin ultimately brings death; while yielding to obedience to Jesus Christ brings life and righteousness. Through a true believers’ wholehearted devotion to God, a believer is no longer a slave to sin but a slave of righteousness that leads to life and death (Romans 6:19-23). Sin pays wages — death! However, God pays wages too — new life with God that begins on earth and continues forever with God (Romans 6:23).Therefore, believers are to “not treat the grace of God as meaningless” (Galatians 2:21, NLT).

Also, Apostle Paul’s enemies accused him of preaching a “cheap grace.” The Apostle Paul taught throughout the book of Romans that God’s grace eliminated our need for obedience to the Law of Moses (Jewish Law). Sadly, some devious people believed everyone can now live sinful, wicked and selfish lives. The Apostle Paul reminded the readers in Romans 6 that our genuine faith in Jesus Christ is a new orientation toward God and NOT a license for an immoral lifestyle! Our genuine faith creates a new set of values with a DESIRE to please God and not a requirement or demand to please God according to the Law of Moses. According to the Apostle Paul, believers either are a slave a righteousness or a slave of sin but NOT BOTH (see also Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Whoever we serve is our god! Besides, the Apostle Paul knew nothing of a faith that causes a person to live careless and selfish (see Apostle Paul’s ethic section at Romans chapters 12 through 15). Believers are now slaves or instruments of righteousness and no longer slaves of sin (Romans 6:13).

Apostle Paul:  For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God. . . . He (Jesus Christ) gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:11-12, 14 (NLT)

God’s grace has brought salvation and our righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Titus 2:11). Therefore, we are to say “NO” sin, ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and “YES” to self-controlled, upright and holiness (Titus 2:12).  Repeatedly, the Apostle Paul explained that genuine faith in Jesus Christ must be accompanied by godly living (see Romans chapters 12 through 15; see also Titus 2:1-2, 4-5, 10; Titus 3:8). The Apostle Paul taught continually that ALL believers in Jesus Christ are to deny sin and live righteous lives for good deeds. True salvation should always produce good actions (Romans 12:12:1-2; see also Titus 2:10, Ephesians 2:10).

Because Jesus Christ sacrificially died and redeemed (rescued) all humans – Jews and Gentiles) from our sin disease by faith (1 Peter 2:24), we are now free from sin's power and control (see also Mark 10:45). There must be in a believer's life that final and complete surrender of their whole bodies and hearts to Jesus Christ. In other words, we are “dead to sin” and “crucified with Christ” (see Romans 6:7; Galatians 2:20). But we are not only dead to sin; we are also ALIVE in Jesus Christ.

God sent His only begotten Son (Jesus Christ) into the world that we might live through and be united Him by the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:9). As true believers, Jesus Christ now lives WITHIN US through the power of His Spirit (see Acts 10:34-38). God’s Holy Spirit gives genuine believers the power and understanding to live godly, upright and self-controlled lives that does good in the world and not evil (Titus 2:11-14). According to the Apostle Paul, believers are to use their bodies as “instruments of good” for God and not evil (Romans 6:13; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:20-21).

Therefore, a true believer’s salvation involves the double work of redeeming (delivering) us from God’s wrath, judgment and guilt (Romans 3:24) and producing holiness, goodness, and love (Titus 2:14). True believers are not only free (redeemed) from judgment for our sins, but we are also purified or cleansed from sin's power and influence (Titus 2:12, 14). In other words, the same grace that redeems (rescues) us also reform our lives and make us holy and godly. Sin is no longer be a true believer’s master (Romans 6:14; see also 1 John 2:15-17). To help believers fight against sin, wickedness, and evil lust, the Apostle Paul reminds believers that God’s Holy Spirit is available for the calling to help believers to say “YES” to goodness and holy living for Jesus Christ (see Romans 8).

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