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Monday, July 26, 2010

Roaming Through Romans (Romans 9-11)

Roaming Through Romans (Romans 9-11)

Why were so many of the Jewish people refusing to believe in their Messiah, Jesus Christ? God had shown Paul clearly that salvation and righteousness come only through faith in Christ. But many of his fellow Jews did not recognize Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. They were substituting their law-righteousness for faith-righteousness in Christ. Paul was worried about them. In Romans 9-11 he pours out his concerns.

In speaking of his beloved Israel Paul laments: “but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ Romans 9:31-33.

This stumbling stone is also mentioned in Isaiah 28:16 and in 1 Peter 2:6-8. The stone that the builders rejected, the stumbling stone is Jesus Christ, who offers salvation by faith and not works. This stone is described In 1 Peter 2:6 “---Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Peter here contrasts what Christ means to believers and what He means to unbelievers. To the believer Jesus, the Cornerstone, is precious, but to the unbeliever He is a rock of offense to be stumbled over. These passages reaffirm that what we do with Jesus Christ is all important!

Paul continues: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” Romans 10:1. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:3-4.

Paul, the great evangelist continues on in Romans 10:9-13: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

These passages in Romans are so beautiful. Salvation is so simple. Even a child can understand and accept it. No detailed plan, no tedious obstacle course, it’s just one Way. It isn’t earned by good works. It’s a gift that can be received by just believing and confessing. It’s universal, free to all: Jew and Greek. It’s so easy that unbelievers stumble over it.

Paul continues worrying about his Jewish brothers. Since many Jews have not trusted in Christ, Paul believes that they will be lost. How can God keep His promises to bless and save Israel if they continue rebelling? Didn’t God make covenants with the Jewish nation? Didn’t God promise that Israel would be delivered? How can this be if they don’t believe? It doesn’t add up in Paul’s mind. Things aren’t working out the way he thought they should. Paul twists and turns in his anguish.

In Romans 11 the Holy Spirit through Paul begins to address these questions. All Jews won’t be saved but God will save a remnant. A parable is told of a cultivated olive tree that had all of its’ dead branches removed. Then branches from a wild tree are grafted into the cultivated olive tree to replace the dead branches that had been cut off. Paul interprets the parable by explaining that the cultivated olive tree is Israel and the branches that are removed are the Jews who rejected God. The wild tree branches that are grafted into the cultivated olive tree are the Gentiles who accept God’s salvation.

Romans 11:25b-27 tells us that Israel’s blindness to salvation is only temporary. It reads: “The blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

We read this prophecy of how all along God is working with the Jews and the Gentiles and we shake our heads. Even while they are rebelling He is working. We can’t understand the full meaning of the olive tree and the branches that were cut out and the other branches that were grafted in. Gods’ mysteries are too deep for us to comprehend. We have to trust that He will do what He promises even when it seems impossible to us. Paul seems to be saying that even though things look out of control to us that God is in control. Romans 11:33 reads: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

Even though Paul was dismayed that Israel had not recognized her Messiah, he was learning to trust God to take care of the situation. He still believed that Gods’ promises are sure, even though he couldn’t understand how they would be worked out. We are often like Paul in that we also need to look to God and His promises when we can’t see any way out of our troubles..

When we are new Christians we sometimes assume that God will bless our lives with continuous victories. Since we love God, we believe that our children will turn out to be good Christians and our job will always remain secure and our ministry for God will touch many lives. And then our children rebel and we lose our job and our ministry doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. And we twist and turn and wonder where God is. And that’s when we, like Paul, have to trust God with our impossibilities and just keep on trusting. We need to keep standing on His promises and having done all to stand we just stand. God will help us. Our little faith grows sturdy and tough through all of our trials and all of our standing on the promises and all of our trusting. And the longer we stand and the tighter we hang on, the stronger our precious faith will grow.

Our problems are only temporary. The only thing God asks of us is to trust. Let’s show Him that we can do that. Let’s let go and let God. A day is coming when the Deliverer will come out of Zion and will give us the victory, even though right now we can’t begin to understand how.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Predestination vs Freewill

Our Sunday School Class has been discussing the difference between predestination (Calvinism) and freewill .  Sarah Scheuermann, one of the members of our class wrote this thoughtful piece and I want to share it with you.  

Predestination vs. Freewill
by Sarah Scheuermann

First of all I believe that God is in control, but He doesn’t control everything that happens.

As I think about Predestination and Freewill there are two areas, P&F and salvation and P&F and fate.

Predestination and Salvation:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”2 Peter 3:9

If God already predestined who would be saved, wouldn’t that render the Great Commission useless? But God is timeless, no past, no future, so He knows how everything is going to turn out.

But there are verses that throw a wrench into the mix.

2Thess. 2:13,” because from the beginning God chose you to be saved.”

Ephesians 1:4, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and will.”

1 Thess1:4 “For we know, brothers loved by God , that He has chosen you..”

Col 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…”

Wait a minute, just because I choose somebody doesn’t mean they choose me back! I suppose I believe that God predestined everybody to be saved, but He knew that everyone wouldn’t accept His gracious gift.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on Him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already because He hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” KJV

That says it all. I believe God chooses grace for everyone, but we have to accept it.

Predestination and fate:

There is a joke, a Baptist pastor falls down some stairs, and he says “Thank you, God, that I didn’t break my neck.” The Presbyterian minister falls down the same stairs and says, “Thank goodness that’s over with!”

First of all I believe that God is in control, but He doesn’t control everything that happens. If everything were predestined to happen we would not have to read the Bible or try to make the right decisions. I don’t believe God meant for me to have this speech problem anymore that it is in His will for tragedies that we don’t understand to happen to people we love. But I trust ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

I sometimes have trouble thinking about all the evil in the world. I wonder why God is allowing it. If he created everything and it was good, why in such a short time did everything go wrong? Then I read Job 38

2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel

with words without knowledge?

4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?

Tell me, if you understand.

5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6 On what were its footings set,

or who laid its cornerstone-

7 while the morning stars sang together

and all the angels shouted for joy?

12 "Have you ever given orders to the morning,

or shown the dawn its place,

17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?

Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?

18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

Tell me, if you know all this.

19 "What is the way to the abode of light?

And where does darkness reside?

There is a reason that God is God.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Roaming Through Romans (Romans 8:18-39)

Roaming Through Romans (Romans 8:18-39)

As we read through Romans we discover many spiritual truths and treasures, but when we get to the eighth chapter of Romans we hit the Mother lode. Whenever I feel depressed I read that last half of chapter 8 and it always helps. The descriptions there in Romans 8 of the profound love and provision and victory that are ours in Christ are so over the top that I can scarcely take it all in. We humans are so used to scraping by and making do with semi solutions to the troubles we encounter in our sinful world that the confident victorious language in Romans 8 sounds foreign to our ears. Let’s read on and see!

Romans 8:18 reads: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Verse 19 and 21 continue with: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God ---because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

We learn here that the whole created universe has suffered the consequences of human sin and has been subjected to corruption. However this process of deterioration is temporary since God promises deliverance. We will be delivered and so will creation. Our suffering will be turned into glory. Since nature (the earth) was cursed because of our sin, it will be emancipated too when we are. Verse 21 says that creation is eagerly waiting for this to happen! What a day that will be!

Romans 8:23 reads: “ ---but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” This verse is saying that just as the first fruits of a harvest are an evidence of a good crop that will be coming, the Holy Spirit in our lives is the evidence-the proof of our adoption into God’s family, and the future redemption of our bodies. We groan now because even though our souls are saved and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, our bodies are still mortal and subject to pain and death. However we can look forward to having resurrected bodies in the future. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:53

Romans 8:24-27 continues discussing the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, His help in our weaknesses and His intercession for us. But when we come to Romans 8:28 we find a mysterious and comforting truth waiting for us. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

We can stand on this amazing promise when we are going through bitter disappointments and hardships and sufferings. Sometimes our lives seem out of control and evil seems to be winning out. Nothing makes sense and God doesn’t seem to hear our cries. This is the time that we need to remember Romans 8:28. God can work everything in our lives together in the long run for good, even the bad things. We need to remember that God is still in control and can take our worst messes and our bitterest disappointments and turn them around to be good, even though we can’t begin to understand how.

More amazing truths follow. Romans 8:29-30 reads: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called, whom He called, theses He also justified: and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

I read these verses and believe that they are saying that God had an advance plan. God knew ahead of time who would accept Him, so whom He foreknew He predestined and called to Himself and justified. –and later will glorified. Scripture tells us that it isn’t God’s will that any should perish, but that all should have eternal life. 2 Peter 3:9. God created us in His likeness. God has a will of His own and He gave us humans a will of our own. We are not robots and God doesn’t force us into His kingdom. We have a choice whether to accept the Lord in our lives or whether to reject Him. God foreknows who among us will accept Him and He puts a hedge around those He foreknows will accept Him and keeps them and calls them and justifies them for Himself. His preparation for us has been continuing through the ages. There’s more than meets the eye in this salvation of ours. He’s got us covered!

The next two verses are equally amazing. Romans 8:31-32 read: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? “ These scriptures again shout out the love and acceptance and special privilege that God has poured out on His children. We can scarcely take it in!

Chapter 8 of Romans ends with assurances that we can never be separated from Christ’s love. Romans 8:33-39 reads: Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long: We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God has justified us so no one can accuse us. Christ has died and risen for us so we cannot be condemned. God has us in His Hand. His banner over us is love. Nothing in the universe is outside of God’s control so nothing, including our own selves, can separate us from God’s everlasting love. Didn’t I tell you that the promises and truths found in this eighth chapter of Romans would be over the top?


Monday, July 5, 2010

Roaming Through Romans (Romans 7-8:17)

Roaming Through Romans (Romans 7-8:17)

As we continue reading through Romans we find more truths and discover more treasures. In the seventh chapter of Romans Paul talks about the difference between living under the law and living under grace. Gods’ law is good because it points out our sin. But just knowing that we are sinning isn’t enough since we don’t have the power in our own strength to stop sinning. Without help we can never reach Gods’ standard of perfection. So God’s law by itself isn’t enough as it convicts us but can’t save us. Some people count on their good deeds to save them. They try to follow the law and they believe that their own best efforts should be good enough. But Romans 7:14 tells us: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.”

Paul talks about the frustrations of living with his old fleshly nature. When the word “flesh” is used in Scripture it means the human personality that is controlled by sin and selfishness. Our human nature, the nature we were born with just isn’t good enough. Our “fleshly” nature which is carnal (not spiritual) can never learn to obey Gods’ law which is spiritual. We need help. We need a new spiritual nature. And that is exactly what God gives us when we trust Him.

So when we trust Christ as our Savior we are “born again” and given a new spiritual nature. Paul describes his two natures, his new nature in Christ and his old fleshly nature, and the conflict this causes him. All Christians share this same conflict since we now have two natures. Even though Scripture tells us that we have been given a new nature in Christ, we are still stuck with our old sinful nature until we die.

Paul in trying to describe the futility of trying to be good enough on his own describes himself and his personal struggles with sin. “For the good that I will to do, I do not do: but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. ---For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:19,22-25.

In verse 24 Paul cries out asking for deliverance from “this body of death” The figure is of a despairing person chained to a dead body. In verse 25 Paul’s despair gives way to victory. Throughout life our struggle like Paul’s between the new nature and the old one will remain. But Christ can free us from the bondage of our old nature if we live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul shouts out our victory and his in the next verses, Romans 8:1 and 2. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

This law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus refers to the work that the Holy Spirit carries out in our lives, breaking the dominion of the old law of sin. Romans 7:4 says: “---You also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ,---“ We are instructed to consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to Christ. What we couldn’t do by ourselves – stop being slaves to sin – Christ can do for us. When we believe, we are given a new life in Christ that we didn’t have before. The believer has power in Christ, and the Holy Spirit has been given to believers to help us be victorious over sin. Breaking sin’s power over our lives is something we could have never done on our own. But now we have a Helper, a Guide.

Paul continues by encouraging us to live according to the Spirit (our new nature in Christ) and put to death the things of the flesh (our old sinful nature). To live in the Spirit is life and peace, he promises. Romans 8:6. He reminds us that if we follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit we can be free of the bondage of fear and he tells us that the Holy Spirit will bear witness with our spirits that we are children of God. Romans 8:16.

God’s people, who lived during the age of the law when the Old Testament was written, did not all receive the Holy Spirit personally in their lives. The Holy Spirit was given to some prophets and special leaders, but not to every Jew. Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on all believers, had not happened back then. The age of grace had not dawned and Christ had not yet given Himself as a sacrifice for sin. We believers today have so much more. We live in the New Testament age of grace, after Pentecost, where each believer has been promised the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives to guide them. Christ has fulfilled the law and we no longer live in fear under it. We now follow the Holy Spirit and live under grace.

Paul’s main message here in these passages in Romans is to remind us to follow the Holy Spirit and to describe the believer’s two natures. He calls us to live our lives in the Spirit (our new nature) and not in the flesh (our old sinful nature). The fight is on Oh Christian soldier! Two natures within us battle for supremacy in our lives and it is up to us to choose between them. We can follow our old nature and live as backslidden Christians, bringing sorrow and reproach on our Lord and Savior. Or we can live a fruitful life following the Spirit and bringing joy and honor to Christ.

It’s a process, learning to live our new life in Christ and leaving behind the old. Sometimes we will fail in our Christian walk but we must get up and try again, remembering that we always have the Holy Spirit with us to help. It takes time to mature in Christ, to grow in grace. And some believers get stuck along the way and never grow up. Let’s not be one of them. Many witnesses are watching as we run the race. So let’s give it all we’ve got.