If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
In one of the most quoted passages at weddings, Paul’s poetic words paint a beautiful picture of love. After much theology and advice to the Corinthian church, he brings us to the linchpin of it all…love. All of the gifts, all of the knowledge, all of the faith, all of the humility and service -- no matter how impressive -- mean nothing if they are not rooted in love. Christianity is built on relationship, not religion, ritual or rules. And relationships are shallow without love. Love is the essence of who God is.
1 John 4:7-8 tells us God is love. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches that it isn’t just about following rules, it is about the condition of our heart. Jesus tells us that the way people will know we belong to Him is by our love. And He tells us the greatest commandments – the ones all the other laws and commandments hang off of – are to LOVE God and LOVE one another. The greatest gift – the blood of Jesus to pay in full our sin debt and make us righteous – was based on love; for God so LOVED the world.
Paul wants to make sure we know what love is, and equally important, what love is NOT.
The “love is” side is a gauge for genuine love….patient, kind, rejoicing in TRUTH, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. It is a check on how we are being treated and how we are treating others. The “love is not” side – envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, insistent on own ways, rejoicing in wrongdoing – give us some red flags both in our own hearts, as well as in assessing potentially toxic friendships or relationships. Those that may feel good in the manipulative moment, but aren’t true, lasting, satisfying, fulfilling, mutually beneficial, or edifying love.
Let us love real, love big, and love one another well.
Question: Can you think of examples of relationships you have been in on both sides of the “love is” description?
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:4
The devil is the father of lies, and he has a few favorites. One lie is we aren’t good enough. We don’t have anything of value. We have no unique gifts worthy to share. And as we look around, we feel all alone and useless. It seems like everyone else has these amazing gifts and talents and platforms. But we just don’t matter. This is a LIE.
On the other end of the spectrum, the devil is working just as hard, making us believe that we are all that. That we are so valuable and independent. We can do it all on our own. We are better alone. We don’t need anyone else. This too is a LIE.
The devil loves to get our eyes looking to the front, back, left, and right…anywhere but up. Comparing and condemning… ourselves or others, or often both at the same time. He plants lies in our head that if people are different than us…in their look, behavior, mannerisms, giftings, priorities, passions, platforms, ministries, ways of worship…then they are wrong or they are better.
Paul is basically saying, “JUST STOP!” We are different because we have different purposes and callings, but they all come from the same source and we are all stronger together. There are things that we can accomplish in unity that could never be accomplished in isolation. In a symphony, if even one of the instruments is off-key, the entire sound is off. We are all instruments to make a joyful noise at the hands of the Great Conductor. We are all parts of one body. Though we are different, we all share the same DNA at our core…we are all created in the image and likeness of God, the creator of all things. No part of the body is more important than the other. No part of the body is insignificant. We all need each other. Paul is essentially saying, “Let’s start acting like it.”
The crazy thing is there is so much joy and freedom and peace in doing our thing…the thing we are good at and called to do…in beautiful community with other people doing their thing for the Kingdom of God.
Questions: Which lie do you generally fall for: that you are too much or too little? Do you ever let comparison get the best of you?
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3
Authority has become a four-letter word. Wait, scratch that… four-letter words are more accepted and often even revered than the idea of authority. We brisk at the concept, puff our chests and assert our authority over ourselves. No one is the boss of me, we declare.
It is such a stumbling block to our faith and our ability to genuinely accept God as the authority over our lives.
God is a God of order and authority. Authority exists in the Trinity itself – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Though all are fully and equally God, Jesus – God the Son – willingly submitted to the authority of God the Father.
The cycle of life from dependent infants to toddlers to figuring-it-out teens to students to employees to spouses all include places where we learn to submit to authority. Not only as a means for order and proper development, but also to train our hearts and minds toward a posture of authority SO THAT we can willingly and lovingly submit to the ultimate authority of Jesus. The more we buck authority in our training times the more difficult it is to submit to the authority of Jesus. The more we clench our fists around our authority over ourselves, the less our hearts are open to the authority of our Creator and Savior.
Paul has spent much ink ensuring we understand our freedom in Christ. So when he speaks of earthly authority, he isn’t taking something away from us, belittling us, or squashing us under the thumb of another. Earthly authority does not equal inferiority. Authority is not about submitting to the whims of the will of another. Jesus was no less God when He was submitting to the authority of the good and perfect will of the Father. Spiritual authority is always in the context of a loving and mutually beneficial relationship.
Questions: Do you have a hard time submitting to authority? In what ways do you rebel against the authority of Jesus as Lord of your life?
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 1 Corinthians 10:23
We often look for the line. Some rebellious ones love nothing more than to cross the line just to show they can, or don’t care what people think, or to be their own boss. But I’m guessing most of us tiptoe toward the place we can go just up to and still technically be “okay.” We live life close to the line basking in our freedom. It’s all about us and the most we can get out of life. We look around at others to see where they interpret the line to be, or how crafty they are at getting as close as possible to it.
But our thinking here is self-centered, and it does little to add true joy to our lives or glorify God. In so many different ways Jesus teaches us how to live radically different. To be the one to pick up the towel and water basin and wash feet at the table. To put the comfort and success of others ahead of our own. To love others more than ourselves. To use our time and talents and resources to build others up; to build the kingdom here on earth. But often we look at our time, talent and resources and spin our wheels trying to get the most out of them for ourselves. We put ourselves first. We make sure we are comfortable before turning our eyes to others. We seek to glorify ourselves. All the while trying to maintain “good Christian” status and not cross the line. And quite honestly, it is exhausting and unfulfilling.
We have beautiful freedom bestowed on us because of the blood of Jesus. A great many things are permissible to us…but, not all are helpful. Not all are beneficial. Not all are constructive. Just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do something. Just because something is on the okay side of the metaphorical line doesn’t mean we have to slither up to it as close as possible. People are watching and even suffering a great distance from the line, and we are missing them. And as a result, they are missing God. Nobody wins.
Questions: What things are you doing, reading, watching, etc. that may technically be permissible, but aren’t beneficial? Are there things you can stop doing to grow stronger in your faith?
…Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1
Knowledge is a good thing, but it isn’t the end game. If not correctly wielded, knowledge can backfire. As Paul says, instead of building up, knowledge can puff up… and then explode into judgment, condescension, arrogance, disdain. Quite the opposite of love.
It was an issue with the Corinthians, and honestly, you don’ have to look hard on social media to see knowledge used as a weapon by Christians today. Francis Chan has an incredible talk on this topic (Google “Francis Chan Think Hard / Stay Humble”). Chan says Paul is addressing Corinthians who may have their facts right, but their hearts are wrong. They are intelligent but unloving. They may technically have the correct theology, but they are wrong because they lack love. Their know-it-all-ness is becoming a stumbling block for their fellow believers.
Chan supposes Paul is saying…“You might be brilliant, but you’re killing our team. You’re not building up the brothers; you’re making them feel dumb and wounding their conscience. You’re not stirring them up to love and good deeds. You just keep making them feel inadequate. By your knowledge, this weaker brother is being destroyed!”
Chan challenges all of us more academic thinkers…how often do we think about people? How hard do we think about loving fellow Christians? How much do we think about the lost? Isn’t becoming like Jesus supposed to be the goal of all this knowledge accumulation?
We can be highly intelligent, a gifted communicator, generate the biggest crowds, memorize the most Bible verses, but it means nothing if we are not becoming more like Jesus. Chan says, “Your brilliance is worthless if you’re not building up your brother — and even worse if you’re destroying him with your knowledge?’” People will know Jesus by our love, not our knowledge. Knowledge is an essential tool. Accurate theology and a right view of God are critical. But it is the foundation, not the end result.
Questions: Can you think of examples when knowledge was used to tear down instead of build up? How can knowledge be used for good?
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18
Paul tells the Corinthians to FLEE from sexual immorality. Not stand strong against it. Not resist it. Not face it head-on with the full armor of God. Flee.
“Paul isn't saying sexual immorality is worse than any other sin, but he does teach that sexual sin has a unique effect on the body; not only in a physical way, but also in a moral and spiritual ways.” David Guzik
The Corinthians are knee-deep in a sexually promiscuous culture. Many believers don’t even question going to prostitutes and engaging in all manner of sexual relations. Culture rather than Christ is driving their morality. And things aren’t much different for us today. The cultural expectation is sex before marriage. You can’t even watch a sitcom without it being a common part of any even casual relationship. We’ve been taught that it equates to freedom. Freedom of ourselves, our bodies, our rights to do what we want. Paul is trying to get them to see it isn’t freedom at all.
As Christians, our bodies are not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (v.13). Our bodies are members of Christ (v. 15). Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (v. 19). We were bought with a price (v. 20). We are to glorify God in our bodies (v. 20).
This was a hot and contentious topic in Corinth and it is a hot and contentious topic here today. I don’t have all of the answers, but God does. I pray for wisdom, discernment, and conviction on all things God has entrusted me with. I make a habit to spend time in God’s Word because I want to know His truth.
Challenge: If this is an area you are questioning or struggling with, take it to God. Study what His Word says about it, read commentaries, talk to Him in prayer about it. God promises to give us wisdom when we ask. The Holy Spirit in us gives us discernment, direction, and conviction. I truly believe God will honor your sincere seeking of direction.
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 1 Corinthians 4:1
Paul described himself as a spectacle to the world, subject to public ridicule, a humiliation, hungry, homeless, humbly dressed, laboring with his own hands, defamed, despised, accused, persecuted. The Corinthians certainly didn’t look up to or aspire to be Paul. They were not only prideful of their spirituality, but they were also embarrassed by Paul’s weak and humble state.
Paul admonishes this thinking. Everything good we have and do is from God alone. Judgment and reward are from God alone. And God sees the heart…what is hidden from man.
It isn’t smooth words, appearance, huge followings, entertainment factor, or marketing skills that count for the kingdom. It is God alone. Faithfulness to His Word. Everything we need to know is contained in the Scriptures. Paul reminds us to not go beyond what is written. How often do we see this to fit in, make the Word more culturally appealing, or try to increase following counts? But God’s word is powerful. It leads to our growth. It is meant to be read and studied and discussed. And, it needs no adding to or subtracting from.
Are we embarrassed to be or follow one who doesn’t have a polished image with worldly success and power? Would we look down at one such as Paul – tattered clothes, drifter, hungry, working with his hands and ridiculed – even though they are anointed by God to carry His message?
When we forget to look to God’s Word and instead look inward or use the world as our standard of assessment, we take steps backward on the goal of conforming to Jesus. The path we are on shifts in a wrong direction. The goal post gets moved. Being held in high honor and revered by man is not the end game. Adding to or subtracting from God’s Word is not our wheelhouse or authority. It only intensifies pride – the thing that keeps us and others from a deeper dependence on Jesus.
Question: Do you sometimes fall into the trap of looking at outward appearance as a sign of significance?
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready. 1 Corinthians 3:2
Why if you have been saved – if you have been set free – do you live like your non-Christian brothers and sisters? Why has the thing that has saved you not changed you? Paul ponders these questions. And the thing that triggers it: how they are treating each other. Envy, strife, tribal alignment fueled by arrogance and exclusivity are rampant among the Corinth Christians.
It’s not okay to be saved and not progress toward spiritual maturity; toward a changed life. And if we are being transformed, we love more. We don’t do the things we used to do. The citations for their rebuke are convicting: Envy…uh oh. Strife…ouch! Spiritual elitism around a “team” or particular leader …oh my. They aren’t the typical “sins” we think of that would cause people to say we are not on team Jesus. They are indicators of our hearts and our priorities. They are things that show how we are loving our neighbors. These things lead Paul to conclude that though they may be saved, they are not living out their faith.
Do we rest in our salvation and stop there, or do we strive for more? More Jesus. Deeper relationship. More wisdom. More displayed fruit of the Spirit in us. More grace. More compassion. More forgiveness. More love. Paul uses an analogy of feeding. For a time, milk is appropriate. We all start off as “babes in Christ.” But like the physical development of a child, spiritual development should be seen in believers. The Corinthians should be ready for solid food, but they are still serving each other milk, and this is not okay. The expectation is growth. The goal is to progress over time. At some point, we need a serious heart evaluation if we are still satisfied with milk alone to sustain us. Are we moving forward?
Are we content to say we have accepted Christ as our Savior, go to church more often than not, try to be a “good” person, pray here and there….but never fully surrender, fully strive for obedience, fully declare Jesus as LORD of our life? We should be growing and our lives should show it.
Questions: Have you become so complacent in your faith that you are failing to thrive? Are you seeking that deeper relationship with God?
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6
United in the image and likeness of God + the blood of Christ but divided by nearly everything else. Different races, cultures, languages, worship styles, political views, socioeconomic status, personalities, tastes, styles, food choices, customs, and practices. Add to that differences in personal preferences and convictions. So much division. So many areas for judgment and gossip and ridicule and distancing. The tension is inevitable when we forget the power of that which binds us together.
Our attacks on one another within the church must crush Jesus as He looks on. I think he sees all the untapped potential unity would bring and He cries out for us to remember His teaching.
How can the Church, with all of our deep differences, remain united and be the powerful force in our world for change and wholeness and peace and restoration and love? Jesus. Only Jesus. What Jesus did for us and who He is to us has to be bigger than anything that divides us. And it is. But do we live like it?
What if we were more pro-Jesus than anti-each other? What if we joined together to point to Jesus instead of pointing out each others’ flaws? What if we loved Jesus more than we loved harsh pithy words? What if we read God’s Word more than trending social media posts?
Talk is easy, but unity is not. It has never been. It’s the devil’s wedge. Our differences are real; our pain is real; we are passionate sinful people; we are committed to our causes and convictions. The devil even uses talk of unity to divide us. The only thing that can unify us is Jesus. With all of our diversity in thought, culture, and backgrounds, there is no other thread that can unite us. Only the blood of Jesus.
Questions: What damage have you seen lack of unity cause in the church? What can you do to encourage unity among Christians?
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. Romans 14:1
As Christians, we have incredible freedom. This is a big deal to Paul who lived most of his life under the yoke of the Law, striving toward perfection to earn status and salvation. The freedom his encounter with Christ ushered into his life is something he was passionate about proclaiming to all. Our freedom, paid for by the blood of Jesus, is a big deal. It makes Christianity different from any other religion. But our natural inclination is to slip back into slavery and drag others down with us. We stumble and cause others to stumble from two extremes: discouraging or beating others down with legalism, or on the other extreme, enticing others to sin through unwise use of liberty.
Freedom isn’t a long list of dos and don’ts. Freedom is knowing God’s Truth and letting the Spirit give us our own personal convictions that may look different in different seasons, and that are likely different than other Christians because we all have unique weaknesses, varied character work needed, and diverse assignments planned for our lives. Chuck Swindoll sums it up, “live free in Christ and allow others to do the same.”
Swindoll sums up four principles of freedom Paul outlines in Romans 14. First, accepting others is basic to cultivating freedom. Second, refusing to dictate to others allows the Lord freedom to direct their lives. Third, freeing others means we never assume a position we’re not qualified to fill. Fourth, loving others requires us to express our liberty wisely.
Jesus saves us. The Word teaches us. The Spirit convicts us. Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus’s work on the cross is non-negotiable. Loving God and our neighbors are non-negotiable. But God is not a God of lists; He is a God of relationship. Right living comes from right relationship. We must nurture this relationship, get to know God and point others to Him, learn to hear from Him and pray for discernment in our own lives. And allow others space and grace to do the same. Trust that God is good and the Holy Spirit is powerful. It’s not all on our shoulders.
Questions: What does freedom in Christ mean to you? Do you feel like you live in freedom or under the constraint of others’ expectations?
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11
Wake up! Do you know what time it is? There is no time for sleeping in; no time to sleepwalk through life. Not now. The return of Jesus is nearer today than any other day. There’s a battle waging for souls, and Jesus is coming soon!
Arise! It’s time to get our priorities in order. Time for spiritual alertness and vigilance. It’s time to wake up and get ready!
Awake! We are one day closer to Jesus coming back. No time to lay back down; no time to slumber!
Time to get ready. Sleeping clothes won’t work. Throw them off. Cast off darkness and put on the armor of light. Put on Jesus!
Covering won’t do. You’ll be able to see through. Remove the things of the world lurking in the dark and put on light; the righteousness of Jesus.
But you can’t do it half awake. He must be IN us before He can be ON us. Lean into Him. Know Him. Befriend Him. Abide in Him. Be fully awake and aware. Eyes wide open!
Put on your work clothes. There are so many who still don’t know Him. Fully awake, dress yourself in Jesus. His holiness, beauty, humility, purity, compassion, wisdom, forgiveness, righteousness, zeal, patience, and most of all LOVE.
Challenge: Make this your prayer today…God, as I get out of bed today and every day, AWAKE MY SOUL! Empty me of me. Remove all the worldly things that creep in…selfishness, envy, pride, anger, entitlement, bitterness, complaining, self-pity, deceit. And FILL me with You. Your goodness and love and grace and mercy. Fill every space, making no room for me. Each day is one day closer to the return of Your Son, and there is much yet to do. Help me to be fully AWAKE, dressed in Jesus for the work you have called me to today.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1
Do not be conformed to this world, [insert your name]; to what culture says is pleasing and praise-worthy and desirable and acceptable. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Soak in God’s word and let it transform you. Steep in it until it changes your composition to be more like Him. In doing so, you will be able to discern His will, what is good and acceptable and PERFECT. Able to be in sync with God.
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to. Remember, [name], you are but one body among many members. Created to work together; to complement one another. You are unique, with unique gifts for a distinct purpose. Don’t covet, despise, or envy the gifts of others. Use your gifts powerfully for the glory of God. The individual gifts of each of us combined poured out on the world can be a mighty & unstoppable force. Use them well. Practice them. Give them away freely, [name].
Let your love be genuine and sincere. Use sober judgment. Hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good. Love one another in abundance. When others have success, celebrate with them. There is too much kingdom work to do and too many victories ahead to take any other posture than rejoicing with them. And when others are suffering and in pain, weep with them. Help share and carry their burdens.
You know those who persecute you, [name]? Bless them. Never repay evil for evil. Always do the honorable thing. Strive to live peaceably and in harmony with all. Let God avenge wrongs. He’s got this.
[name], you have so much to offer. You are valuable and needed in the Kingdom. Do not be lazy in your zeal and passion. Be fervent in spirit. Serve the Lord. Be generous in contributing to the needs of others and showing hospitality. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer.
Challenge: Read these words from Romans 12 inserting your name. Journal your thoughts and takeaways.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Romans 11:17-18
Grafting involves placing one branch onto a stem, root or branch of another in such a way that a union is formed and the two grow together as one. Branches that have dried up, died, or stopped producing fruit are cut off the tree. A part of the remaining tree is cut, exposing its interior and combined with a cut and exposed part of another branch. The two are joined where both have been exposed and fastened together tightly. Over time, they fuse together, grow together and become healthy and fruit-producing again.
We are the “wild olive branches” that have been grafted into God’s family. We open our hearts and tightly fasten ourselves to God’s heart. And over time, in closeness and in soaking up the nutrients of His goodness and character, we become connected…so connected, you can’t see where one ends, and the other begins. Our source for living and producing fruit comes from the deeply planted roots.
John Bunyan says, “Where there is grafting there will always be a cutting, the graft must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back or there will be no sap from root to branch. And this, I say, must be done by a wound, by a cut.”
God inspects hearts. Branches of unbelief producing no fruit are rejected. But re-connection is always possible. God made way for grafting. A way to reconnect to life through the open wounds of Jesus’s sacrifice. We have to cut into our pride, control, stubborn and unbelieving hearts…to expose an opening and allow that connection, through faith, back to the open heart of God. To press in. To become so close. To become one.
Question: How does the analogy of grafting help you see the Gentiles (us!) coming into the promise, as well as sinners reconciling to God?
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 with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10
Salvation is given to us by grace through faith in Jesus alone. There is NOTHING we can do to EARN our salvation. But we must accept it. We must believe.
There is no distinction. The same Lord is Lord of all. Bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
So, Paul poses a series of “how” questions along with a statement…
HOW then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And HOW are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?
And HOW are they to hear without someone preaching?
And HOW are they to preach unless they are sent?
HOW beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
I love this visual of beautiful feet. Beautiful feet carrying the Gospel. Beautiful feet loving their neighbor. Beautiful feet of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; who mourn for the lost. Beautiful feet worn out from making sure all hear of the beautiful feet of Jesus willingly walking to the cross in fulfillment of prophecy. And now we -- as believers; as the Church -- are the hands and feet of Jesus. Hands and feet to tell the story of the scars on His hands and feet; the blood that was shed; the sacrifice for our salvation; the GOOD NEWS.
How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
Questions: How are your feet looking? What are they walking to and walking out?
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. Romans 9:2
Paul is filled with great sorrow and anguish that his Jewish family, given all their history with God, can’t see be past their religiosity and plant their eyes on the Messiah. He agonizes over what they are missing and the devastating results that will follow.
Paul asks why Israel, who was pursuing a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching it, but the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness attain it. He answers, “Because they [the Israelites] did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.” In other words, you will never attain it if you are counting on human works…only by grace, through faith in the work of Jesus. Instead of seeing Jesus as the answer to all they had been searching for, they stumbled over Him.
Jesus fulfilled what we could not, and this is where we put our faith. I visualize Paul desperately yelling, “WHY CAN’T YOU SEE? YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN EVERY BENEFIT OF BEING ABLE TO SEE! THE SCRIPTURE YOU HAVE MEMORIZED SINCE CHILDHOOD POINTS TO IT. THIS IS IT. THIS WAS ALWAYS IT. JESUS IS IT. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BELIEVE.”
This is a message for any of us who have had all the benefits of a Christian upbringing. We know the stories. We go to church. We volunteer to serve. We even generously give. But do we have faith, or do we rely on our actions and religious routine? It’s all good, but one will save us and the other will not. Do we know and believe in Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord? Do we stumble over the stumbling stone – our activities getting in the way of relationship and submission? Is our heart hardened by the culture around us full of posturing, striving, being independent, focusing inward, feeling entitled because of our good works…or is our heart positioned to believe that it isn’t us who saves us? You alone, Jesus.
Questions: Do you think it is sometimes harder for those who grew up around religion to have faith (instead of relying on works)? What are potential stumbling stones?
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:16
Sovereign. Possessing supreme or ultimate power. Absolute in authority and unrestricted in supremacy. Omniscient (knows all), omnipotent (can do all; all-powerful), and omnipresent (everywhere at all times).
In God’s sovereignty, we see His goodness, mercy, grace, pursuit, and patience. God raised up a people – the Israelites – to unveil His plan. Piece by piece. Story by story. Hint by hint. Their adoption, their history, the covenants, the Law, the sacrifices, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, the lineage of Jesus – the Christ; the Messiah.
In God’s sovereignty, He chooses the line from which the Messiah would come. But in His love and grace, it isn’t lineage of the flesh that saves us; it is a lineage of the promise available to all who believe.
In God’s sovereignty, He shows mercy, compassion, and even allows hardening. Paul references Moses and Pharaoh. And while the end result was the destruction of so much of Egypt, God was patient and pursuing. Ten times Pharaoh and the Egyptians saw God’s power and authority on display with an opportunity to submit to Him. And ten times Pharaoh rebelled, choosing to cling to his personal power and position while watching those under his control suffer horrifically. We have a choice to say no to God, and God has a choice to say, “okay…have it your way…if this is what you want, let’s see how it works out for you.”
The prophets consistently preached both invitation to choose God, and consequences for saying, “not now” one too many times.
God chose the exact perfect time the Messiah would enter earth in the flesh and shed blood for our sins. God has chosen the exact perfect time for the Messiah to return one day and complete the restoration for those who put their faith in Him and to unleash His wrath on those who continued to say, “not now, I’ve got this. I’ll do this myself.”
Challenge: Pray for those in your life still trying to do it all on their own and rejecting Jesus as Savior.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
Paul has eloquently pointed out our sinful nature and need for a Savior. A Savior that could only be the Son of God in the flesh nailing our sins between His bloody hands and the cross; a cross meant for condemnation and humiliation and a statement. And then Paul opens Romans 8 with this powerful truth, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No. Condemnation. Forgiveness. Freedom.
Where we set our minds and actions matters a lot. In the world, there is only death and an inability to please God. But in the Spirit, there is LIFE and PEACE. We are CHILDREN of God. We are ADOPTED as FAMILY. We are HEIRS. We have HELP when we are weak and INTERCESSION when we are at a loss for words. All things are worked together for GOOD; for God’s perfect will. God is for us…who can be against us? NOTHING can separate us from His LOVE. Nothing. We are more than CONQUERORS.
Yes, and Amen! Until… you still don’t feel at peace. You still feel conquered more often than a conqueror. You sometimes don’t feel close to God. You still feel weak. You still fight temptation. You still cry your eyes out at all the suffering.
Because it is finished, but not yet final. The work of Jesus to fully satisfy the debt of sin is FINISHED. But the final battle has yet to be waged. For a time, sin and suffering still exist. Victory has been declared, but we don’t yet fully see it. We groan. The creation groans. Because things are not the way they should be. We are not yet home, and things are not yet fully restored. But even in the suffering, God is there and working all things for good. Nothing can separate us from His love. And there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Not on our best days and not on our very worst days. While we are still here, there is still work to do. He’s a good Father, that’s who He is. And we are loved by Him, that’s who we are.
Challenge: Listen to the dramatized reading of Romans 8 by John Piper below. Write out all of Romans 8 in your journal and consider memorizing it.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Romans 7:18-19
Has someone ever told you not to do something and although it had never crossed your mind before, you now want to do it? Or, has there ever been something you promised yourself – promised God – you would never do again, and you find yourself doing it over and over and over again?
If so, you might have a lot more in common with Paul than you thought!
Ever since Adam and Eve took that bite of the fruit way back in Genesis 3, the temptation of sin has slithered around making its way into all parts of our lives. Then comes the law which shows us how we should live, but also how horribly short we fall in living it.
Sin is something we don’t like to talk about or think about. Andy Stanley talks about how we all prefer to call our sin "mistakes"…an error, accident, poor judgment, carelessness, ignorance…we have no shortage of explanations we have become adept at telling ourselves and others. But deep down, we know sin when we see it. We know when something is purposeful, willful, intentional. Sin is no mistake.
The problem is mistakes can be fixed by trying harder, being a bit more diligent and disciplined. But sin can’t be remedied by us. It requires a Savior. Trying harder never cuts it. C.S. Lewis says, “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to do good.”
Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Ever feel like that? Paul answers his question, “Thanks be to God through JESUS CHRIST our Lord!” PRAISE GOD!
Questions: Do you find yourself in the position of Paul…wanting to do what is right, but finding yourself sinning instead? Thank God for providing a way out and a way of redemption through Jesus.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Romans 6:1
Paul asks another set of hypothetical questions he anticipates his readers may be thinking… Are we to continue in sin so grace may show itself even more? Or keep sinning because we are not under a law but under grace? If we are forgiven over and over again by no act of our own, can we not just keep sinning…after all, God will continue to keep forgiving us?
Paul answers his hypothetical question… By no means! Once you have tasted freedom, why would you ever go back to slavery? God has so much more for you.
We who are baptized in Christ were buried with Him in death…but also raised with Him in new life. Our old self, ruled by sin, was crucified with Him, so sin would no longer have control over us. We aren’t the same. We don’t have to do the things we used to do. We don’t have to say the things we used to say. We don’t have to think the way we used to think. We are free. Timothy Keller says, “God invites us to come as we are, not stay as we are.”
But sometimes we don’t feel free, do we? Sometimes -- even in our belief -- sin still seems to have a strong grip on us. Temptation is still rearing its ugly head for now, but we are equipped to conquer it. Paul says, “let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness…”
Instead of submitting our “members” as instruments for unrighteousness, we can strive to always present them in a way to draw closer to God. Think about how you spend your time. Think about what you scroll through. Think about what you read. Think about what you listen to in the car. Think about what you click on Netflix. Think about what you whisper to your friends. Are they things that feed that pull of temptation, or are they things that feed your soul, your faith, your love for the Lord?
Questions: How are you using your “members”, or the parts of you that you control…what you do, see, read, watch, listen to, etc.? Are there things you may need to change to feed your soul?
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1
Paul says since we have been justified by faith…we get some pretty cool benefits: peace with God through Jesus, access into grace on which we can stand, and hope in the glory of God. And among these benefits, Paul adds, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our suffering.” Wait! What?
Paul explains, “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” (Romans 5:3-5)
There are things God does for us because we can’t do them ourselves. We can’t save ourselves. So God did this for us. But there are some things we can do and need to do ourselves. And often suffering is our training ground. Endurance, character, hope…these are things we want; things we want those we love to grow in too. Not one ounce of suffering is wasted.
I think much of the anxiety we feel about suffering has to do with the anticipation of what it will be like and how we will possibly survive it. God doesn’t give us a sneak peek into that piece, only that He will be with us; He will never leave us in it. Remember when the Israelites were leaving Egypt on their way to the promised land in the desert, and God provided daily manna from heaven? They each took different portions of it, depending on what they needed…and only enough for the day. If people took more to stash some away for later, it would rot. God only provided what they needed at the time. Their daily bread. I think that is how it is with suffering. God is there to provide the sustenance we need to get through it, but only what we need when we need it. The exact amount at the exact time. We can’t predict or plan how we will manage because we haven’t been given that portion of the manna yet…we haven’t needed it yet.
God’s timing is always precisely the right time. God’s portion is always precisely the right portion. This can give us peace and hope, even when we are scared and in the middle of the fire.
Question: Have you experienced a time of suffering with great benefits?
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21
What does it mean to believe God in the way of Abraham that was counted to him as righteousness? After all, James tells us that even the Devil believes God. And in the Gospels, we saw the demons recognizing Jesus and fully believing He could destroy them. But this isn’t the belief of Abraham or the belief that will save us. True belief is faith, trust, submission, obedience, reliance on God above all. Abraham didn’t always know why or how what God said would happen, but he believed that it would happen just as God said. He believed God’s promises and was fully convinced God was willing and able to keep them. Despite a long time-lapse from the promise, despite his circumstances that seemed impossible, despite any clear direction or plan…Abraham believed. In fact, his faith grew stronger.
This. This, Paul is saying is what we should model. This is the legacy. This is the torch we should carry.
Faith is both backward and forward-looking. It is believing that Jesus died on the cross, took our sins upon Himself, and gave us His righteousness. But it is also believing God’s promises for the present and future. Faith makes Jesus our Lord and Savior, rather than ourselves.
Most of us will say we believe God. We trust God. We submit to God. Do we have the faith of Abraham? Jesus tells us we can’t serve two masters. We will only truly put our faith and belief in ONE when push comes to shove. Fighting unbelief is a constant battle. Our sinful nature defaults to ourselves in the role of lord and savior. This is why we need to stay in God’s Word and soak in His truth. Jen Wilkin says, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” We have to know Him to believe Him. We have to know His promises to believe His promises.
Questions: Do you truly believe? Is your faith and trust truly in God alone?
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? Romans 4:1
It’s harder to unlearn something than to learn it. Paul’s consistent drumbeat to the Jews in Rome is belief; faith in God and justification through Jesus. It is the Gospel…salvation via grace through faith, not works. When you have spent your entire life (and the lives of many generations before you) believing something, it is not easy to change. The Jewish people have spent their lives enslaved to a law they couldn’t keep but were convinced would save them and putting their hope in their heritage as God’s chosen people.
Paul continues his case for the Gospel to the Romans coming at it from many different angles. He is trying to convince them it not only doesn’t go against what God has spoken, but it is actually the true essence of what God has spoken.
Paul brings it way back…all the way to Genesis 15:6 and reminds them of this truth they had been given long ago, “Abraham BELIEVED God, and it was COUNTED to him as righteousness.” Long before the law was even given to the Jewish people, Abraham was COUNTED – CREDITED – as righteous. Through FAITH, God put Abraham in the righteous column of His great ledger. Abraham wasn’t justified by his good works for God. Abraham wasn’t justified by his incredible acts of love. Abraham wasn’t justified by his maturing character. Abraham wasn’t justified by keeping the law that had not even yet been given.
Abraham believed God. Period. And this – his faith – was counted to him as righteousness.
Questions: Before we go further into Paul’s example of Abraham, what do you think it looks like to believe as Abraham did? What does it look like to have faith in God and His plans? Why do you think it was so hard for the Jewish faithful to look to faith over works for salvation?
But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? Romans 3:7
Paul continues his hypothetical Q&A…
Q: So if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, is God then unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? If through my lie God’s truth abounds to His glory, why am I still being condemned? After all, my unrighteousness is serving to display God’s glory, right? Why not just do evil so that more glory may come? And what is even the point of the law or the prophets?
A: Though the law and the prophets – God’s commands – bear witness to the righteousness of God, His righteousness is manifested apart from the law. His righteousness is attained through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. We are made right as a gift by His grace through Jesus.
Q: So do we throw out the law for this faith?
A: By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. But it is not to earn favor or our salvation; it is in response to our salvation. We can uphold the law BECAUSE we are saved, not to become saved. God’s grace is not a license to sin at will, but instead an invitation to obey and serve the One who saves us.
Q: Then what can we boast about? What can we attribute to ourselves for this salvation? What can we say we have done?
A: There is no boasting in self. We are justified by faith apart from any of our works of the law.
This is the Gospel. This is freedom. We can’t accomplish it on our own, and we don’t have to. His steadfast faithfulness should draw us to Him even more deeply with gratitude and a heart that desires obedience.
Questions: What questions do you have for God? Ask Him today! He loves for you to come to Him. He can’t wait to reveal truth to you.
What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? Romans 3:3
Paul begins a debate with himself, anticipating the questions that might come from the things he is telling the Romans…and then answering his own questions. It is an incredible theological ping-pong game from the great mind of Paul. Things like…
Q: If all that you said about God showing no favoritism between Jews and Greeks is true, then what is the point of being a Jew…God’s chosen people? Does it even matter at all?
A: It matters very much. You were entrusted with the spoken Word of God. The law was given to your people. Jesus came from your lineage. Though it doesn’t lead to your salvation, it is a special heritage where God showed Himself and gave hints of Jesus as His plan for salvation along the way.
Q: But not all Jews were faithful. Does their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?
A: By no means! God is faithful even when we are not. His faithfulness does not rest on our actions. Let this truth sink in.
When we keep all our promises and are loving others well…God is faithful.
When we slip back into that sin we thought we beat…God is faithful.
When everything is falling into place…God is faithful.
When everything is falling apart…God is faithful.
When we are on our knees in prayer…God is faithful.
When we are too angry to pray…God is faithful.
When we never miss a Sunday at church…God is faithful.
When it hurts too much to go to church…God is faithful.
When our prayers are miraculously answered…God is faithful.
When our prayers seem to go unanswered…God is faithful.
Questions: Is it hard to believe God is faithful when things don’t seem to be going the way you hoped? What about when you are intentionally being unfaithful? Why is this truth so hard to believe?
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. Romans 2:1
Paul is challenging the Jews – and us – to check our judgment of others. You see the Jews have carried on the idea from generation to generation that they were God’s chosen people with an underlying assumption that they were morally superior and God would judge them differently than the rest of the world. In turn, they harshly judged non-Jews. Though most of us are not of Jewish origin, as Christians, we too can sometimes assume we have a moral authority to judge others. But Paul is saying this isn’t the case…that God shows no favoritism and all will be judged according to their works. Which in effect means that we are all equally doomed. No matter how “good” we think our lives and works are, they will never meet God’s standard of perfection.
We can agonize over the fact that we will never meet the perfect standards of a holy God and feel hopeless because it is impossible. Or, we can look at is as being the most freeing fact in the world. Because God made a way for us. The pressure is off of us. It is all on Jesus. And He did it for us perfectly.
If we could even almost do it ourselves, we would never fully surrender. We would keep trying and trying…one step forward, two steps back, but never getting anywhere substantial when it comes to our own salvation. Like the addict who keeps trying to save themselves but keeps falling back into the pit. We are all in this pit of a sinful world and sinful lives…just trying and trying to claw our way out; trying to cover it all up with good deeds and religious activity. But only Jesus can pull us out of the pit, clean off all the dirt we accumulated in it, and give us a new life with new hope and new power. Only Jesus. So, who in the world are we to judge?
Challenge: Ask God to forgive you for the times when you have had a judgmental heart (and mouth). When judgment begins to boil up, ask Him to help you immediately look internally instead, grateful for what HIs blood on the cross did for those things we should be rightfully judged for.