Tag Archives: Romans

Guest Post: Romans 13 and the American Christian

(NOTE:  For anyone concerned by the direction Western Civilization is headed, Romans 13 can seem like an impossible passage. How do we balance, for instance, the commandment to honor marriage in a society that seems to think it can redefine marriage? How do we protect human life inside the womb in a society that thinks in can redefine personhood? Indeed, Christians throughout millennia have wrestled with exactly how to balance obedience to Romans 13 with obedience to God’s commands. For example, if we take Romans 13 as literally as possible, then the priests who saluted Hitler were doing the right thing. Do we actually believe that?

As the moral fabric of our society continues to deteriorate, how are we to balance the tension between being subject to the governing authorities with honoring God with our lives? Josh and I have discussed this topic off and on for a few years now and I feel like he has articulated a very helpful understanding of what it actually means to steward our American citizenship. While our identity is in no way based upon where we live, we have been granted certain freedoms and their inherent responsibilities. We have a duty to use our freedoms to love our neighbor and honor our Maker (Gal. 5:1). On this 4th of July, I hope Josh’s perspective–with which I agree wholeheartedly–will challenge you to rethink what it means to be a Christian in America. Take some time to think consider it, wrestle with it, and let us know what you think! – daniel)

Romans 13 and the American Christian

I’m an American. For years I’ve watched our country go in a direction contrary to wisdom, righteousness, and the standards I see in Scripture. With that in mind, I’ve struggled greatly with the lessons inherent in Romans 13, which teaches that we must subject ourselves to the governing authorities and leaves no room for rebellion. The chapter doesn’t give us leeway to “obey until this point” or “submit until X line is crossed.” So how does that work for me, as an American?

For the moment, I’m not concerned with what Romans 13 looks like for the rest of the world, or what it looked like for Americans as far back as the Revolutionary War (which, by nature, was a rebellion). I’m not even primarily concerned with what this looked like for the Romans to whom Paul was writing – although this has some bearing on the issue at hand, the first application of these principles (Romans under Nero) is less of a concern to me than the present application of these principles (Josh under the current American government). These are all valid concerns, discussions, and Bible studies; however, they’re beyond the scope of what I’m going to be discussing today.

First off, it’s essential to review the Scripture at hand:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” – Romans 13:1-7

Application of this passage requires a basic understanding of the government system under which you live: if you live in an empire (as did the first readers of this passage), that would be defined as a “rule by an emperor” and he would be your ultimate earthly authority. If you lived under a monarchy, defined as “rule by a king,” then he would be your ultimate earthly authority. In the same way those under a democracy (rule by the people), an oligarchy (rule by a ruling class), or a theocracy (rule by God or a god) would have different authority figures. This is essential because you would be disobedient to Romans 13 if you tried to obey an emperor if you lived under a monarchy, or if you appealed to public opinion when you lived under a theocracy.

The government system in the United States is a constitutional republic, defined as a “rule by law.” Wait a second, that doesn’t make sense – don’t all nations have laws? Yes, all nations have “rule of law” but only a republic is “rule by law.” What’s the difference? In the same way that the definitions of the other types of governments identified the highest authority (e.g., emperor, king) a republic identifies the highest authority: in this case, the Constitution of the United States. How do we know this is true and it isn’t some ruling body or person? Check out the oaths of office below:

President of the United States:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Congressmen, Senators, and Justices of the Supreme Court:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely,without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Each of these officials, representing the highest positions of the three branches of the federal government, pledge allegiance and subordination to the Constitution. The men and women who inhabit these offices are merely representatives for the Constitution; they bear no legitimate power or authority outside of those confines.

But what happens if Congress passes a law, or the President issues an executive order, or even if the Supreme Court makes a ruling contrary to what the Constitution says? By definition, that law, order, or ruling would be unconstitutional and unenforceable. But when would it be unenforceable? If Congress passes a law that you think is unconstitutional, are you required to obey it until it is struck down by the Supreme Court or rescinded by Congress? For guidance on this, let us turn to the Sixteenth American Jurisprudence, Second Edition, Section 177:

“The general misconception is that any statute passed by legislators bearing the appearance of law constitutes the law of the land. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statue, to be valid, must be in agreement. It is impossible for both the Constitution and a law violating it to be valid; one must prevail. This is succinctly stated as follows: The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. An unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed. Such a statute leaves the question that it purports to settle just as it would be had the statute not been enacted.”

“Since an unconstitutional law is void, the general principals follow that it imposes no duties, confers no rights, creates no office, bestows no power or authority on anyone, affords no protection, and justifies no acts performed under it…. A void act cannot be legally consistent with a valid one. An unconstitutional law cannot operate to supersede any existing valid law. Indeed, insofar as a statute runs counter to the fundamental law of the land, it is superseded thereby. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it.” (emphasis mine)

Per Romans 13, we are absolutely required to be faithful and obedient to the supreme earthly authority governing the land in which we live (as long as that doesn’t require us to compromise our faith). The supreme authority in the United States is the Constitution; all public officials are required to swear that they will uphold it. Per the summary above, no unconstitutional law is ever required to be obeyed, since it is unconstitutional and illegal (read: null and void) from the first moment it was passed and not when it was first declared unconstitutional by a court.

The question then becomes how we can accomplish this. The first step is education: we have to know what the Constitution says and how it is applied in our lives. If we are ignorant of the text of the Constitution and its application we are as unfaithful citizens as we would be unfaithful Christians if we ignored the text of the Bible and its application in our lives; since Romans 13 requires us to be good earthly citizens, being poor earthly citizens means we’re being poor Christians as well. The second step is inspection: we must constantly compare the laws imposed upon us with the ideals of the Constitution; if/when we find inconsistency we are then obligated to participate in the third step: disobedience to those laws which aren’t laws at all. This is, by far, the most difficult step for the average Christian to take. We want to believe that our government has our best interests in mind, that anything they do will be within the boundaries of the authority they are given. Sadly, such is often not the case.

Let us examine the difference between the right to command and the power to command. If a gang of thugs bursts into your home in the middle of the night and overpowers you, beats your children, and rapes your wife and daughters, there’s no doubt that, in that moment, they have power over you. They do not, however, have the right to command power over you. If you were to sit idly by and allow them to have their way with your family, such would be completely contrary to the spirit of Romans 13. You should actively resist them, to the death.

Per Ephesians 5:22-24, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church; the wife is required to submit to the husband. That, however, doesn’t mean any wife is required to submit to any husband; just because I’m a husband doesn’t give me the right to go around and command wives who have husbands with less upper body strength than me (although I may have power over their husbands, I do not have the right to command that power).

Hopefully through these extreme examples the difference between someone who has power to command and someone who has the right to command is evident.

We must be educated. We must apply what we know. And when those who have physical power over us command us to do something contrary to the Constitution, per Romans 13 we have no choice but to disobey that illegal edict; per our allegiance to Christ we are required to resist anyone and any order that would attempt to usurp authority from that which we are required to obey – the Constitution.

Joshua S. Burnett
Virescit Vulnere Virtus

A Christian Perspective on Breastfeeding in Public

A Short Preface

Now, before you dismiss this as some man’s unqualified opinion, I ask you to hear me out. The fact that I am a man means that I do not have a dog in this fight—so to speak—and that I can offer an ‘outsider’ opinion. However, the principles that I hope to outline here will have broader application than just the area of breastfeeding. Another note I’d like to make is that, because this is not a topic specifically addressed in Scripture, I will be heavy on logic and light on Scripture references. With that said, here are some helpful thoughts about Christian women breastfeeding in public.

Breastfeeding is natural.

First and foremost, I want to affirm breastfeeding. Without question, it is the healthiest nutritional decision that can be made for little baby. (If you would like more information on the nutritional value of breast milk, try looking at some of these La Leche League Breastfeeding
Abstracts
.) While modern culture seems to think breastfeeding is somehow weird, this view is absurd. Out of the 7 billion humans on Earth, 100% have either been breastfed or have parents or grandparents who have been breastfed. My point is simply that breastfeeding is as natural as being born!

To be honest, I think there is something inherently beautiful in the life giving act of a mother breastfeeding her child. While I’m no expert, I think most mothers who have breastfed will confirm that—while breastfeeding can be very challenging and downright painful—there is an intimacy forged between mother and baby during that special time. To treat a breastfeeding mother as though she is doing something shameful or unnatural is absurd. In fact…

Every mother should have the right to breastfeed in public.

I fully affirm that every mother should have the right to breastfeed her child in public. However, this is where the controversy emerges. Should a woman be required to use a cover? Should a woman be allowed to breastfeed fully uncovered? Should public areas—such as libraries, court houses, parks—be required to provide areas where mothers may breastfeed privately? These are some tricky questions and one of the problems is that…

Our hyper-erotic, lust-addicted culture has sexualized breasts.

The truth is, open public breastfeeding is completely normal in many cultures. Moreover, in some cultures it’s normal for women to walk around topless when it gets warm outside. However, as Christians we have an obligation to respect the sensitivities of our culture. The fact that our society has sexualized breasts is not a justification to expose your breasts; it’s actually a very compelling reason for Christian women to cover their breasts. Do moms have a legal right to breastfeed without a cover? In some states, yes (here’s a list of Federal and State Breastfeeding Laws). However, there are times when, for the sake of the Gospel, Christians should limit their rights.

Honor your maker.

About a year ago, I wrote a series of posts about alcohol and my ultimate conclusion was that the highest priority for Christians is that we honor our Maker. In a hyper-erotic, lust-addicted culture that has sexualized breasts, I do not think it is wise for Christian women to expose their breasts, even when they are breastfeeding. Yes, breastfeeding is completely natural. Yes, they have the right to do so in public. However, any man who is willing to be honest with you will tell you that once he has seen your breasts, he will never be able to forget that image. Note that I said he will never be able to forget. We men are visual creatures and, once we’ve seen something like that, it is locked in our heads pretty much forever. Yes, there are many women who wear very immodest clothing, but that is not justification to join them. Instead, it is all the more reason for Christian women to strive to be different—to be holy. Instead of being a potential stumbling-block, this is an opportunity for Christian women to protect their brothers in Christ by intentionally choosing modesty for the sake of love (Rom. 14:13-19).

Be different: be modest.

For Christian women, I think the course of action that is wisest, most loving toward other men, and most God-honoring is to pursue modesty. I do think women can breastfeed in public and I would urge Christian women to do so with a cover. Yes, this is inconvenient. Yes, this is a lot of extra work. My wife and her friends say breastfeeding in public is a huge challenge. They say their babies can’t stand being under a blanket. They say their babies flail around and end up accidentally pulling the cover aside anyway. They say it is a lot of extra work and can be a real pain. However, they believe that no matter the inconvenience, it is the Christian mother’s responsibility to find a way to be modest. I agree. I think using a cover is the wisest, most loving course of action. Although the Bible never directly addresses this topic, Paul says that Christian women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty, self-control, and the good works that are proper for women who profess godliness (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Even though it is becoming more culturally acceptable to breastfeed uncovered, Christians are commanded not to conform to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:1-2) and I think modesty is one of the biggest areas where Christian women can be non-conformists. That’s right, be a rebel! Is modesty worth preserving in a culture gone immodest? If it is, then it will come at a price.

Ultimately, my aim here is to simultaneously affirm the beauty and normalcy of breastfeeding while encouraging Christian women to honor God and love their brothers by pursuing modesty. Breastfeeding is a good thing; so is modesty. Both are worth the sacrifice. I realize this is a controversial topic, and I encourage all Christian women everywhere to pray over this issue and conduct themselves in such a way as to be completely blameless.

4 Quick Thoughts on Marriage

One of the things I absolutely love about my seminary is that they truly value the marriages of their students. As a result they have a couple’s banquet every year where the married students are served dinner by the professors, child care is provided, and a miniature sermon about marriage is presented. This year one of my professors, Carl Laney, gave four reasons why marriage should be held in honor and I thought they were so great I’d share them here.

  1. God ordained it. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24).” Marriage is the first institution created by God. Any other time God has made a covenant with man it has been regarded as something sacred and holy. In the same way, marriage should be viewed as a sacred institution that was created by God.
  2. Jesus blessed it. Jesus blessed marriage by turning water to wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-12). He did this because marriage is something that deserves to be celebrated. Furthermore, Jesus said that there is a supernatural element to marriage. God joins the husband and wife, and we ought not separate what God has joined (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9)
  3. Children illustrate it. From the beginning, the biblical view of children is that they are a blessing. When a child is born, they have DNA from both the mother and the father. This is an illustration of the bond that occurs at marriage. Children are a vivid reminder of that unity that God creates when he weds a man and a woman.
  4. Death alone ends it. Marriage is intended as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman in the sight of God and their family. The Bible says that wives are bound to their husbands as long as he is alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39). It also says that men are to love their lives to the point of dying for her (Ephesians 5:25-30). This lifelong devotion is meant to serve as a picture of Christ’s devotion to the Church.

There you have it! May your marriage be blessed and may it be a blessing.

Are You Sure You Want God to Completely Eradicate Evil?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – Epicurus

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Great Britain: Bantam Press, 2006), 31.

One of the reasons I’m a Christian is because it is the best, most coherent explanation of life on this world. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best. When I look at modern atheistic beliefs I notice some contradictions that make it, as a worldview, illogical and in this post I’d like to look at one: the problem of evil. On one hand, atheists will point to evil in the world around us as proof that God does not exist (or if He does, then He is clearly ‘malevolent’ for allowing such evil). On the other hand, they’ll point to instances in the Old Testament, such as the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah, where God actively opposed evil and say that God is not a loving god, but clearly a bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser. This means that atheists believe that God is bad for not stopping evil yet God is bad when He does stop evil. Or, to break it down a little differently:

  • Evil exists unstopped, therefore God is bad.
  • God stops evil, therefore God is bad.

Or, to phrase it yet another way:

  • “God is evil for allowing sin.”
  • “God is evil for stopping sin.”

This is clearly a contradiction. You cannot bemoan both the fact that God has not rid the world of evil and the fact that God killed evil people at any time in human history. This is a logical inconsistency.

So which is it? Would you rather God restrains His power to stop evil, or God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil?

Now, before you answer that anyone would obviously want God to stop evil, give it some thought. The way I phrased that—God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil—means that ridding the world of evil would not be pretty.

Evil is much like a cancer; it contaminates and perverts everything it touches. Our entire world is fallen, corrupted, and tarnished: every person, family, community, city, state, country, culture, and continent. No one and nothing has escaped the cosmic consequences of The Fall. Like sand in the desert, evil is everywhere and, try as we might and no matter how much we want to hide it, we cannot cleanse evil from this world. Only God could rid the desert of sand. Only God has the power to rid the planet of evil.

So, the obvious question becomes: what would it take for God to stop evil? Well, to continue the cancer analogy, how do we get rid of cancer? We cut it out and destroy it. How could God get rid of evil? Could He flick a switch and rid the world of evil? Not likely. You see, evil is so rampant in our world that the only way for God to forever rid the world of evil is by cleansing it with the utter destruction of every man, woman, and child on the surface of the planet. Consider how God stopped evil during the Flood (Gen. 7:21-23) or in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25). Are you sure you want God to stop evil? Then perhaps you are evil.

Perhaps some will still ask “then whence cometh evil?” The problem is, in light of the reality that God does oppose evil and that He will stop evil, this is an ironically self-condemning question. Anyone who asks “then whence cometh evil” needs to look in the mirror and realize that evil isn’t ‘out there.’ Instead, evil comes from within (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19-20; Mark 7:21-23). We are the source of evil, not God. God tolerates our rebellion for now out of love and patience for us because He has a plan.

Instead of instantly purging the world of evil, God is in the process of reconciling all things to Himself through Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). God is on a rescue mission to save those who are His enemies by calling them to repentance and salvation. It is a gradual cleansing process that takes time and requires that evil be allowed to exist for now. So, could God stop evil? Yes, but there wouldn’t be anyone around to see what was left.

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:3-5, emphasis added

 

Jesus Knows Exactly How You Feel

The words “I know exactly how you feel” can either be the best or worst thing to say to someone suffering. If you do know exactly how a hurting friend feels, then they will probably be comforted by the knowledge that they are not alone in this experience, no matter how painful it is. However, if you don’t know exactly how they feel, then… well.. you’re just a great big jerk. There are certain events in life that you just can’t sympathize with unless you’ve been there.

For example, when Connie was pregnant with Kara, half of me expected her to miscarry in order that we would be able to sympathize with other couples who have experienced that tragedy. It’s not that I wanted Connie to miscarry; but I knew that if it happened, God would use it as an opportunity for us to minister to couples who have experienced it. We would know exactly how they felt. To some degree, I still fear that God may one day take our daughter or even my entire family from me so that I will be able to sympathize with people who have endured similar loss. I certainly don’t want anything like that to happen, but I do realize that it is not outside the realm of possibility. But unless something like that were to happen, there are certain people with whom I will never be able to truly sympathize.

Many people have a similar understanding of God. It’s easy for us to think of God as far away and unable to understand what it’s like to be human. This is especially true when we are suffering. Consider, for example, the following passages:

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me. (Job 23:3-5)

God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you only look at me. (Job 30:19-20)

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (Habakkuk 1:2)

 

I could find many more, but you get the idea: When we suffer, it’s easy to think of God as distant.

But that’s not where the story ends. If, as Job described it, we have all been cast into the mire (Job 30:19), then Jesus has entered into the mire with us. Jesus has not left us alone. Think about what Hebrews 4:15-16 says; this should blow your mind:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Or what about this one:

Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36, emphasis mine; see also Mark 6:34)

When we suffer, we can draw near to Jesus because He knows exactly how we feel. He has compassion for us, because He has seen firsthand how off-course and wayward we are. In fact, Romans 8:34 says that Christ intercedes for us; he pleads on our behalf because He has suffered too! So when you suffer—not “if,” but “when”—consider it an opportunity to grow closer to Christ because He knows exactly how you feel.

Romans 9: Magnifying the God of the Earth

For a class this semester I have to choose a passage from either Romans or Hebrews to study in depth. I wanted a “difficult” passage because those are the most fun for me to study so I chose everyone’s favorite chapter: Romans 9. You read that right. I decided to dive deep into Romans 9 for this project and have already started to love this passage. I wanted to share three things I’ve already seen thus far.

  1. Paul’s imitation of Christ
  2. God’s definition of injustice
  3. God’s sovereignty in human history

Paul’s Imitation of Christ: Romans 9:3 contains some very surprising words: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” To be honest, I’ve always thought this was a little over-the-top. Surely Paul is exaggerating, right? Surely Paul would never even consider being “accursed and cut off” from God, right? But this week I remembered something incredible. The words of Christ on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34; see also Psalm 22:1). Where Paul wished himself accursed and cut off from God, Christ actually was accursed and cut off from God the Father. Paul is merely imitating Christ in his desire to see others come to know the Father. They both desired to share Christ with others so much that they were willing to suffer for it.

God’s definition of injustice: After recalling the story of God choosing to love Jacob and hate Esau before either had been born (Rm. 9:13), the next verse asks this question: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” (Romans 9:14) When we read this, we assume the “injustice” is that God hated Esau. But, in the context of the passage, this is completely wrong. Look at verses 14-16 and pay attention to the words I have made bold:

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Notice anything? The injustice is not that God hated Esau. The injustice is that God loved Jacob! Think about it for a minute. What is justice? Merriam-Webster defines justice as: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” The key word there is merited: merited rewards or punishments. Justice is giving people exactly what they deserve. Because we’ve already established—in Romans, no less—that everyone has committed rebellion against God (Rom. 3:23) we know that everyone deserves eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Justice would be giving us our merited punishments. Injustice would be giving us grace, forgiveness, love, and eternal life. God’s grace to sinners is the ultimate act of injustice, but He has the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and compassion on whom He will have compassion. Why? Because He’s God! J

God’s sovereignty in human history: Take a look at this list of historical people in Israel’s history:

  • Abraham
  • Sarah
  • Isaac
  • Rebekah
  • Jacob
  • Esau
  • Moses
  • Pharaoh
  • David
  • Daniel
  • Hosea
  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Malachi
  • Amos
  • Joel
  • Jesus Christ

Believe it or not, all of those people are mentioned, quoted, or alluded to in Romans 9. Just verses 4 & 5 contain all of this: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)” That is a ton of Jewish history and Paul was writing to Jews, which makes me think that he understood that they would understand many of these references.

So what’s my point? My point is that Romans 9 rapidly and succinctly traces almost all of Jewish history from Abraham to Jesus. In the context of a discussion about God’s sovereignty, and when we think about God’s sovereignty, I think it’s important to remember that God has been around a lot longer than us and He has guided all of human history for His purposes. If we view human history as being guided by God, we suddenly get a much larger view of who God is and how His purposes span centuries and even millennia.

Romans 9 is a humbling passage and I look forward to sitting under it, learning from it, and growing as a result.

Romans 8: Bridging the Gap Between My Failures and God’s Grace

Romans 8

Before we get started, here are four things you need to know…

  • I attend Colossae, where I currently serve as an intern.
  • We are preaching our way through Romans. We focus on the ‘big thoughts’ of the letter instead of diving into the subtle nuances of each verse or phrase.
  • The pastors and interns gather weekly for a sermon prep meeting (my pastor has written about on his blog here, here, and here).
  • At Home Depot, I usually spend about 2 hours alone stocking the shelves before the store opens at 6. During this time, I’ve started listening to the Romans section that we’ll discuss in our next sermon prep meeting. For example, if we’re meeting to discuss chapter 6, I’ll listen to 5-7 to get the feel for what the letter said before the passage, what the passage says, and what the next passage says. I feel like this helps me think about the passage in the larger context of the entire letter of Romans. Also, I’ll listen to it mostly in the English Standard Version, but will listen to the New American Standard Bible, the New Living Translation, the New International Version, and sometimes the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I feel like this helps me see it from multiple perspectives and forces me to actively listen because each one is subtly different.

Okay, now that we’re all caught up…

For the last few weeks I’ve been obsessing a little bit about Romans 6-8. I used to think I loved Romans 8, but not compared to how much I love it now. You see, in Romans 6, we’re taught that we who have died to sin (Rom. 6:6) are now alive to God (Rom. 6:11). Furthermore, we are now slaves to Christ (Rom. 6:18) and follow a path and process that leads to eternal life (Rom. 6:22). In the same way that a woman is no longer legally married to a man after he dies but can freely remarry, we are remarried to Christ so we can bring glory to God (Rom. 7:4).

The only problem is our death to sin is a spiritual reality that has not yet been physically manifested; that doesn’t happen until after our physical death and resurrection (Rom. 8:23). We’re stuck in an in-between state; the check has been written but it hasn’t been cashed yet. This is why we still sin (Rom. 7:14-15); because there is a tension that exists within us (Rom. 7:25).

But!!! Even though we make mistakes, there is no condemnation for Christians (Rom. 8:1) because Jesus condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). We may be influenced by the flesh (Rom. 7:20), but we are not dominated by the flesh (Rom. 6:6; 8:11). This means we battle the flesh by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 7:13) because we have been adopted (Rom. 8:16). We have a new identity that isn’t determined by our actions or even our failures but who God says we are. The fact that we are part of God’s family means that we are heirs with Christ and will be glorified with Christ, but we will also suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17).

However!!! The suffering we endure in this life pales in comparison to the glory awaiting us (Rom. 8:18) and we wait patiently to meet the Father who has adopted us because we understand that it will be worth the wait (Rom. 8:25). This is the check that has been written but is not yet cashed. In fact, the Holy Spirit helps us (Rom. 8:26) as we continue to be transformed to look more and more like Christ so that, when we ‘go home,’ we’ll fit in the family of God (Rom. 8:29).

In fact!!! Because Christ is on our side, no one and nothing in all creation (Rom. 8:38-39) can stand against us (Rom. 8:33). We have been irrevocably adopted by God; He chose us before the creation of the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).

So here’s what I’m realizing. Chapter 7 spends about 17 verses talking about our failures and our inability to be perfect. But this is bookended by Romans 6 & 8 where God spends almost 70 verses assuring us that we are free from sin (Rom. 6:7), and are now slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18); that we have a new identity and belong to Christ (Rom. 7:4); that we face no condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 33-34); that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26) and that even Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34)! Romans 9 continues this line of thought by explaining that God’s choice cannot be revoked by any mortal (Rom. 9:16).

So, my question for Christians is this: why do you let your failures haunt you and condemn you if God does not? The whole ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ idea applies to you, too! If God is for you, how can you be against yourself?

Who will condemn you? You? Christ Jesus is interceding for us. Will you condemn yourself? Do you really think your guilt outweighs the power of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ interceding on our behalf? Do we think our failures revoke God’s choice to adopt us? Who do we think we are? God? If God is for us, who can be against us? Our failures don’t define us in God’s eyes; Christ’s finished work and resurrection define us. God doesn’t look at our failures; He looks at our new identity as His slaves/children (seems weird to us, but that’s what the text says; think of us as adopted slaves).

During Christmas time, all these thoughts swimming around in my head help me appreciate the lengths to which Christ was willing to go to make sure that I could be adopted into God’s family. I praise God that, despite my failures, He chose to adopt me. I praise Christ because He chose to come and bridge the gap between sinfulness and God’s mercy. I praise the Spirit for helping me as I await the redemption of my body. God was willing to bridge the gap so that I could be adopted into His family; for that I am eternally grateful.

He’ll forgive me…

In an article called Why Doesn’t Anybody Talk About Sin?, Scot McKnight shares a rather disturbing story. I say disturbing because it sounds far too familiar…

One day after I spoke at a church, a college student approached me and began telling me about her roommate, and I’m guessing you know someone like both of these young women. First, she told me her roommate had slept with more than one guy that semester; that her roommate got drunk most Saturday nights; that her roommate was very active in a Bible study; and that she was also in a worship band.

I asked, “Does your roommate consider herself a Christian?” The young woman responded: “Of course she’s a Christian.”

I was perhaps more bothered by that last response than by the actions of the roommate. For this person talking to me, the issue wasn’t Christian-or-not, but why I would even ask such a question.

Her final words to me were, “God forgives, you know.” Her tone wasn’t a tone of gratitude for God’s grace but presumption of God’s grace. I was troubled as much by her attitude as I am by what I see as a trend among our culture: Sin is falling into grace and disappearing from our concerns.

There you have it: When we don’t see the gravity of sin, we won’t be reliant upon God for the grace of sanctification and transformation, and holiness won’t be our aim in life. So, let’s look at what sin is, where sin wants to take us and what sin does to us.

I have a good friend whose wife divorced him a few years ago. I’ll never forget the story of her telling him she wanted the divorce. After she broke the news to him, he asked her what she thought God would think of her actions. Her response: “I think he’ll forgive me.”

The college student’s tone was a presumption of God’s grace, my friend’s ex-wife presumed on God’s grace, and in Romans we read a harsh correction against such a presumptuous, ungrateful attitude.

Or do you presume onthe riches of his kindness andforbearance andpatience,not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? – Romans 2:4

Wow, talk about painful! Here’s how the Message phrases it…

Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. – Romans 2:4, Message

But before we cast the first stone, let’s face it, we’ve all—at one time or another—sinned with the assumption that God was going to forgive us. Maybe it wasn’t a divorce, but I think we’re all guilty here. I’ve done it. I knew that my actions were sinful and yet I just assumed God would forgive me for my actions. I look back at these actions with deep regret and embarrassment, but they are on my long list of failures.

That verse in Romans serves as a good reminder that God’s mercy isn’t meant to give me a license to sin against Him. It would be like me cheating on Connie and then, if she forgave me, viewing that as a free pass to keep on cheating on her. “She’ll forgive me.” In the Old Testament, God often compares His relationship with Israel to a marriage. In Ephesians 5, we’re told that Christ is the Groom and the Church is the bride. Thus, willfully sinning against God is no worse than repeatedly cheating on a spouse; in fact I’d say it’s actually far worse. God’s grace is not a free pass for rebellion.

No, God’s kindness is meant to lead me to repentance. Instead of literally destroying us for our rebellion, God gives us yet another chance; not to keep on sinning, but to repent! Repentance is about turning away from one thing, and moving towards something else. God lavishes his rich, undeserved grace on us so that we may turn away from our sins and run to Him.