Christianity, if false . . .

Xnty, if false

Does ‘Sola Scriptura’ Mean What You Think It Means?

Sharing Your Faith with Atheists Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

Does Christian Hypocrisy Undermine the Reasonability of the Faith?

Is Happiness A Good Test for Truth?

~ Ryan Pauly

You might think it’s an intrusion when strangers knock on the door. But when three Mormon missionaries showed up at my friend’s apartment, I excitedly ran down the stairs to talk to them. It’s not everyday that people ride bikes to your house to discuss truth, and evangelism doesn’t get much easier than that.

The elders asked us if we had read the Book of Mormon, and I mentioned that I own a copy. This raised their curiosity and excitement as they began to tell us about how Mormonism had changed their lives. One of the elders had just left Salt Lake City the previous week to start his mission. He stated that before arriving in Salt Lake City he had not been happy, but the training deepened his faith and made him happy again. This was a timely discussion, since I just wrote about whether or not our happiness is God’s priority.

Read more:

What Does It Mean to Have Faith?

The Just Shall Live by Faith

Romans 1:1-17.  The Just Shall Live by Faith

~ from Biblical theology Weekly Bible Study

No other portion of Holy Scripture so completely sets forth the great doctrines of the Christian faith as does Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  Called the “Constitution of Christianity,” the “Christian Manifesto,” and the “Cathedral of the Christian Faith,” it contains in detail the doctrines of justification, sanctification, divine election, condemnation, the perseverance of the saints, total depravity, the last judgment, the fall of man, the restoration of the Jews, and many others.  It was this passage that led Martin Luther to initiate the reformation of the church.  Paul’s epistle to the Romans can serve as a Basic Training grounds for the Christian.

It is evident that Paul did not establish the Roman church, since he states in the letter that he had never been to Rome at any time leading up to the writing of this epistle.  Though Catholic tradition, based upon the writings of Eusebius in his “Ecclesiastical History,” is adamant that Peter was the leader of the Roman church, it is scripturally evident that Peter was a pillar in the church of Jerusalem.  Since Peter was still in Jerusalem for the Council of the Churches in 49 A.D., he could not have been established in Rome.  Finally, Paul mentions twenty seven individuals associated with the church in Rome by name, and Peter is never mentioned.

Who founded the church in Rome?  It is evident that Christians who heard the brought their faith from other locations as they traveled there.  Most of those who spread the gospel message propagated from the eastern Mediterranean region.  The presence of Roman citizens is also specifically mentioned at the experience on the Day of Pentecost.  By the time Paul writes, the Roman church is rather large collection of small fellowships, and consists of both Jews and Gentiles.  Aquilla and Priscilla were part of the Roman church until they were expelled, along with many other influential Christians, under the reign of Emperor Claudius.  The expulsion was temporary, lasting about three years.  These circumstances place the writing of the letter to the Roman Christians around the spring of 56, 57 or 58 A.D., and was written during Paul’s three-month stay in Corinth midway through his third missionary journey that is recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.  The letter was written for several reasons.

  • To enlist the support of the church at Rome for his missionary campaign in the West
  • To enlist the prayer support of the Roman Christians for his forthcoming venture in Jerusalem
  • Paul was emphatic that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and Rome was now the center of the Gentile world.
  • The Roman church had been started apart from the authoritative leadership of an apostle.  His first-hand instruction would add validity to their ministry.

Though it was common in the ancient Roman, Greek and Hebrew cultures to write in the name of another, there is very little doubt that Paul was the actual author of this letter as he makes several personal references.  The letter is also written in his own literary style that is evident in his other epistles.  This letter is in the common form and structure of a personal ancient Greek letter.  It includes:

  • A beginning with his own name
  • a salutation
  • a note of thanksgiving for his readers (Galatians is an exception here)
  • doctrinal discussion
  • practical section
  • personal greetings
  • autograph.

This basic form does not vary much among Paul’s letters.

Romans 1:1.  Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

Paul first identifies himself as a servant using the Greek dulos, or bond-slave, of Jesus Christ.  It was common for one to open a personal letter by identifying one’s self as a servant of the one receiving the letter, making this a form of a play on words that becomes lost in translation.  To a Roman a bond-slave submits himself to his master by his own choice, is answerable only to his master, and is seeking a final reward from the master as a payment for his service. Bond-slaves were often better educated than anyone else in the household, and often served as tutors to the master’s children.  Such a slave had rights and privileges that were not granted to a property slave.  The similarities of the relationship of a bond-slave to his master and the relationship of one who is fully committed in service to the LORD are many, making this title an appropriate one for a Christian.

Paul also calls himself an Apostle.  This claim may be based on at least four arguments: he was specifically chosen of God, he was personally commissioned by Christ, he had actually seen the risen Lord, and he was the recipient of divine revelation.  Most Christians today place these four requirements upon one who is to be considered an Apostle.  If the apostolic identify of Paul is controversial, such controversy stands outside of the context of inspired scripture.  The twelve apostles that were appointed by Jesus at the beginning of His ministry may have represented, in number, the twelve tribes of Israel, but there is no specific necessity for that enumeration, as Judas Iscariot never took on the task of apostleship.  It is quite possible that, had he survived the passion week and witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, he could have given his life to the LORD and taken on an Apostolic role. The remaining apostles focused their initial evangelistic efforts primarily among the Jews, necessitating Paul’s call to bring the good news of the gospel to the Gentiles.

Paul defends his position as an Apostle, defining his call from God as his being “set apart for the gospel.”  We often refer to the process of being set apart as “sanctification,” the act of God on the behalf of an individual that truly makes that individual holy.  It is from this act of sanctification that all who have placed their sincere faith and trust in God become “saints,” a name that comes from the same root word as “sanctification.”  In the doctrine of election, Paul teaches that all Christians are set apart by the process of sanctification, and are therefore, saints.  Consequently, biblical sainthood is not a canonization bestowed on individuals by the church, but is rather the state of all who place their faith and trust in Christ.  There is no biblical defense for praying to “saints,” or the consideration of the assignment of “saints” as intermediaries between the LORD and His creation.

What sets you, as a Christian apart from the rest of the world?  When you came to the Lord in faith, the Holy Spirit which breathes and operates in you, set you apart by His presence.  People who have rejected the Gospel have rejected the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and cannot be considered saints.  However, those who have accepted Jesus as Lord through faith, do so at the prompting and power of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so receive the Holy Spirit.  These are all doctrines taught in the Book of Romans.

If we, as Christians, have been set apart for the Gospel as Paul was, what is the difference between us and Paul?  Christians today do not carry the title of Apostle in the sense that Paul did: we have not seen the risen Christ, nor received divine revelation.  What we receive is illumination of the revelation that has already been given.  Christians are, however, called as missionaries and disciples, called to service in God’s Kingdom, and in that way Christians do exercise gifts of apostleship.

Paul believed that the setting apart of every believer ultimately took place before time existed, or outside of the limitations of created time.  God’s call on himself and all Christians transcends time, as will their ultimate relationship with Him.  His experience as a highly respected Pharisee, trained under Gamaliel, and a zealot, put him in a unique place.  As a Pharisee, he was able to bridge the gap between the Jew and the Gentile, being able to bring the gospel to both in a way that no one else could do.  In this manner, his ministry was very unique.  None of the twelve Apostles had this type of religious pedigree, one that would be respected by the Jews as well as the Gentiles.

Romans 1:2.  (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

With this statement, Paul begins an explanation of the person of that Gospel: The Messiah, Jesus Christ.  When sharing the Gospel with an audience that contains Jews, where does one start?  During the first half of Paul’s traveling apostolic ministry he consistently offered the gospel to Jews before he would take it to the Gentiles.  In sharing, Paul would start his teaching with the promises, covenants, and prophesies that are contained in the Old Testament, the fundamental source of spiritual authority for the Jew.  Paul explained the gospel within the context of its base in the original covenant that God made with man.  From Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 4:2, the Old Testament announces the gospel.  Paul quotes the Old Testament 61 times in this letter alone.  He indicated that the Jewish scriptures were consistently referring to Jesus as the Messiah who would take away the sins of the world.

Romans 1:3-4.  Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

Note that we are still in the first sentence, so all of these statements flow in context with one another.  The sentence covers the first seven verses in the Greek, though some translations break it into multiple sentences.  In the last statement he noted that the prophesy was all pointing toward what he now reveals as the Messiah.  In the Greek, the Son is referred to as huios iesous cristos kurios, or literally, Son Jesus the Messiah and Lord.  Paul has not even finished his greeting and has already bridged the gospel over to the Jew, answering for him a thousand questions.  Many Jews were very familiar with their scripture, and if they could understand only this single statement made by Paul, their knowledge of the scriptures would be illuminated by their true and fulfilled meaning, and they could be saved.

What does Paul mean when he says, “made of the seed of David, according to the flesh”?  Paul stated that God’s Son was truly human as well as fully divine.  For Jesus to be the “Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world, Jesus had to be God incarnate.  Paul teaches in this letter that Jesus is the Eternal Messiah who exists outside of this creation, yet came to earth in the form of the baby Jesus to live as a man, communicate God’s plan, and take upon Himself the punishment for our own sins that those who place their faith and trust in Him would find forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and eternal life with Him.  Paul also teaches that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and returned to eternity, restored as the Eternal Messiah, Creator, and Judge.  In this way, Jesus is fully man and fully God.

As Paul presented the gospel message most people wholly rejected the resurrection of Jesus Christ, much as they do today.  The epistle to the Romans is a long letter with a lot of doctrine to follow, but Paul doesn’t waste any time addressing the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Even apart from the teachings of Paul and the other New Testament writers, we can observe the inviolable testimony through the power of the Holy Spirit to change the lives of those who witnessed the resurrection, starting with the apostles who were a bumbling, confused rabble until they met the risen Christ.  From the time of that event they never again flinched, each living a life of uncompromised integrity and faith, dying either as a martyr or, as in the case of John, in exile.  What do we need as proof of the resurrection?  The acceptance of Jesus’ resurrection as fact was as difficult for people in the apostolic years as it is today, serving as one of the primary stumbling-blocks to the receipt of salvation by a skeptical hearer.  Paul continually pressed the truth of the resurrection, as did the other Apostles, since each of them had seen Him repeatedly for nearly forty days after the resurrection.  For one to refuse the truth of the resurrection, one has to claim that each one of the apostles was either absurdly dishonest or mentally deluded.  The historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection is based upon the testimony of those who saw Him.  This is the same process used to shape most of our recorded history.  Christianity is not a religion, it is a faith.  Christians believe in the resurrection, not based upon historical evidence, but by faith that God’s Word is reliable and true.

Romans 1:5.  By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

Though this is only the opening sentence of Paul’s letter, it is rich with Christian teaching.  Paul sets forth some of the basic doctrinal ideas, and spends the remainder of the book explaining and illustrating them.  What have we received from God?  Paul uses two important words, each applied in a different manner than the secular Greek usage, bringing a dynamic description of faith.  The first is carin, transliterated as “charis” and translated “grace.”  The word passes by quickly in the sentence, as it would in a typical Greek greeting.  To the Greek, the word would be a simple gesture that communicates one’s wish for another’s blessing, or the receipt of good things from his secular life experience.  A parallel greeting our culture may be a simple, “greetings”  (cairein, James 1:1).  The ancient concept of the greeting had far more significance than it does today.  To the ancients, a greeting was an exchange of value.  One would give a greeting, and another would receive.  A greeting was given to one who was respected by the giver.  One would typically not give a greeting to one who they felt did not deserve it.

When Paul presents this word in a far deeper sense than the Greeks did, as he uses it to refer to God’s blessing on mankind rather than a blessing from the writer to the recipient.  He is expressing a foundational truth of the faith: that God so loves those whom He has created, that He gives lavishly to them when they do not deserve it.  All who have turned to God in faith have receive His grace when our sins are forgiven, and we are granted access to God, solely because of who Jesus is, and what Jesus did: not by any merit of our own.  A popular way to define this form of grace is for one to receive “God’s unmerited favor.”  Paul uses the word charis as a greeting in many of his letters, and he probably did also in his verbal communication.  This one point has inspired a behavioral change in my own life, as I have replaced the word, hello in my personal vocabulary with the word, greetings, and I sign most correspondence with the salutation, charis.  In both circumstances, these are applications of the word, grace, used as Paul would do.  God’s grace, growing out of God’s love, is the foundational act of God on the behalf of those whom He created.

The second word Paul uses is apostolhn, transliterated apostolos, and translated into English as apostleship.  Just as Paul did with the Greek word for greeting, he changes it slightly to give it spiritual meaning.  To the Greek, an apostle was simply a messenger, making this a curious word to place in the opening of a letter.  However, the word rhymes with another common Greek greeting.  Using it as a play on words, Paul states that, in receiving grace, those to whom he writes have also received the gift of apostleship.  This is not to say that all Christians are Apostles in the sense that Paul and the twelve who were personally discipled by Jesus are considered Apostles.  When we consider those who were Apostles, we use the definition to describe those who personally knew Jesus and were called by Him to be messengers of the gospel.  However, all Christians have met the risen Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit that drew them to salvation, and every Christian is called to be a messenger of God’s love and grace to a fallen world, as Paul states, “all the nations.”  Acting upon our calling of apostleship is not something reserved for a select few, but it is rather the natural response that comes out of our obedience to Christ, as He commissioned all Christians to go.

What does Paul mean when he states that this grace, apostleship, and obedience is “for His name?”  To us a name is simply a label placed on someone or something so that they can be more easily identified.  However, to the ancients, a name represented far more than a label.  A name defined one’s very nature, or more accurately, their nature defined their name.  To be baptized in Jesus’ name is to be immersed in all of who He is, to plunge deep into the knowledge of Jesus’ nature, His ministry, and His purpose for your life.  Our call to obedience is not based upon what we have done, but rather upon who Jesus is: Lord and Savior.  If we choose not to be obedient to Jesus’ call, then He is not our Lord, and our confession of faith has fallen short of the mark.  All that separates a faithful Christian from eternal separation from God is his/her decision to follow Christ in His name:  Lord, and Savior.  Satan knows first-hand that all of scripture is true, and fully knows who Jesus is, but will never subject himself to Jesus’ Lordship.  In accepting Christ, we are accepting Him for who He is, the Messiah who is the agent of creation and the Lord who will judge all men by their obedience to Him alone.

Many Bible students have placed our modern definition of Apostle on Paul’s declaration of apostleship, arguing that Paul could not have been speaking to every Christian.  However, the sentence is still continuing:

Romans 1:6.  Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

The call to apostleship is extended to all who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  All Christians are called to be witnesses to God’s grace.  By serving as witnesses, Christians become messengers of the gospel, and are exercising the gift of apostleship.  Again, this does not make the individual an Apostle in the sense of the definition as applied to the New Testament Apostles.  However, all Christians are apostles in the sense that they are all called as messengers.  In order to differentiate this definition, we might capitalize the word Apostle when it refers to those who were contemporaries of Jesus, and leave the name apostle in lower case when it refers to the call to witness that is realized by every believer.

Romans 1:7.  To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This statement completes the first sentence in the book.  The letter is clearly written to the Christians who are living in Rome, then the seat of the Roman Empire which at that time controlled the entire circumference of the Mediterranean sea, and most of Europe.  When Paul refers to Christians, he refers to them as saints.  Sainthood is not to be identified with the practice of canonization which later arose in the Roman church.  The saint of Paul’s understanding is anyone called of God and by that calling is “holy,” set apart by God and for God’s purposes.  The word comes from the same root word which translates as “sanctification:” the continual process of separation as one leaves the authority of the world and places ones’ self under the authority of God.

We will not find scriptural defense for the practice of raising an individual, by human choice, to the level of one who is to be worshipped and prayed to.  If Paul were to know that Christians would pray to him rather than to God, he would have responded sharply.  Christian doctrine never instructs us to select out of our number a few who are considered holy.  There are several dangers associated with this error.  We can take our focus off of God and worship a person.  Much damage to Christian truth has been done through this tradition, where people are taught that they are less holy than those who are canonized, and so much so, that these saints must act as intermediaries or intercessors to a God who is too busy to consider others.

The foremost examples of canonization are Peter and Paul, referred to as Saint Peter, and Saint Paul by the Roman church starting around the third century A.D.  In their name huge places of worship have been built.  What do you suppose Peter or Paul would have done if they knew that they would receive such worship?  They probably would have grieved greatly.  Clearly, Paul teaches the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.  Each Christian has full and personal access to God through prayer.  There is no biblical example of any person serving as an intermediary between God and man except Jesus Christ, who by His nature as Messiah is a person of God, and consequentially equal to Him.

As sinful man, we deserve to be destroyed by a Holy God when brought into His presence.  Instead of destroying us He has chosen to extend His grace to us because of His great love for us.  The ultimate result of the acceptance of God’s grace is to experience true peace.  One who has come into a saving relationship with God is no longer striving against Him, vying for Lordship.  Paul follows the greeting of grace with a greeting of peace.  The Greeks greeted one another with cairein, or cairein.  The Hebrews greeted one another with the Hebrew shalom, often translated as peace in English, and eirene, transliterated as eirene, in Greek.  By sharing these two words in his salutation, Paul has bridged a huge gap between the Gentile and the Jew, referring a greeting upon each that is both consistent with their culture, yet speaking a shared theological truth.

Note how this salutation, only a single sentence, has added such a dynamic meaning to those common words, grace and peace.  He has not even started his letter, yet his grammar and word selection has opened a treasure of theological truth that can be deeply mined for its meaning and application.  Paul has already showed us that Jesus Christ is The Savior and The Lord who is worthy of our obedience, an obedience that leads every Christian to the task of apostleship:  serving as messengers of the great gift of salvation that we have received from His hand, a hand that moved because of His great love for us, a hand that demonstrated an infinite grace, giving us a gift that none of us deserves.

This is the foundation of Paul’s epistle to the Christians in Rome, a church he has never visited, nor did he start.  In this letter, every sentence is as deep in God’s truth as this simple salutation, and from his words to the Romans we can learn a tremendous set of lessons concerning the nature and purpose of our calling to obedience under the Lord, Jesus.  We will learn of the doctrines of sanctification, intimated here.  In this letter we will learn of justification, salvation, adoption, and many other components of the process of grace that God has started in the heart of every believer.  This letter is truly a treasure of Christian teaching, one worth much attention and study.

Romans 1:8.  First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Here Paul gives thanks to the LORD for the congregation that forms the Roman church.  His thanks is largely due to his understanding that their faith is being reported everywhere.  This church has built an excellent reputation of faith throughout the region, and for this Paul is very thankful.  What kind of a reputation does the Church of today have?  If Paul were to write to our own church, I am sure He would thank God for the church and the believers that are here.  What would he think of our reputation, here in our own church?  Is our faith being reported all over the world?

Romans 1:9-10.  For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; 10Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you..

Paul considered prayer to be an open line of communication with the LORD, rather than an exercise that is to be repeated at prescribed times or as a rite in prescribed events.  We see an example of this idea when he pray for the Roman congregation “without ceasing.”  The wording of the statement concerning the frequency of the prayer is redundant, further driving home the concept when he says “constantly remembering …  at all times.  Certainly, the Roman church was not the only one he remembered in his prayers, since he mentions this to each of the churches to whom he writes.  Paul continually lifted up the churches in prayer, having a personal stake in each of them including a shared past experience and the presence of close friends and colleagues.  Also, Paul’s evangelical ministry had been based out of the church in Antioch, and now that he was considering extending that ministry to the west of Rome, he desired the church in Rome to be a new home base, giving him access to the west.

Do you have a personal stake in the church to which you belong?  How often do you remember the church in your prayers?  What is the main focus of your prayers, if there is any?  Usually, we spend our prayer time asking for things that we want, and usually those things involve health issues.  We usually pray for things that are our will, rather than the LORD’s.  We rarely pray for one another “continually,” or even pray for others when we tell them we will.  When we observe Paul’s prayer life we find that his greatest desire was not his own healing, or the physical healing of others:  it was to see the gospel spread; to see Christians blessed and fruitful.  Consequently, there may be a difference between Paul’s prayers and those of our own.  Paul probably spent much more of his prayer time praying within the scope of God’s will instead of his own.  In this statement he describes another part to his prayers concerning the Romans: that through God’s will Paul would visit Rome.

Paul would eventually visit Rome, but not under the circumstances he had hoped.  He was taken prisoner in Caesarea by Festus, and rather than make a decision on Paul’s case, left him in prison.  After two years Festus died and was succeeded by King Agrippa, who reopened the case.  Paul, a Roman citizen, used that status to appeal to Caesar himself, so that he would have the opportunity to share the gospel with the Emperor, himself.  King Agrippa sent Paul to Rome as a prisoner.  Though Paul fully believed that his case would be dismissed, the complexities of political intrigue prevented the arraignment of his case.  Early Christian historians record Paul’s execution in a Roman prison.

Romans 1:11-12.  For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; 12That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

Paul’s desire in coming to Rome was to be able to lavish the fellowship in agape love, sharing with them, and encouraging them so that they would have a more solid foundation in the faith.  Though he did not come to Rome as a free man, he still did have opportunity during his imprisonment in Rome to receive visitors, send and receive correspondence, etc., since he was a Roman Citizen and he had not yet been convicted of a crime.  It was during this time that he wrote most of his recorded epistles, the last of which is considered to be those to Timothy.

It is evident that Paul’s future visit to Rome was very important to him.  When Christians come together and share their gifts with each other they are all strengthened.  What kind of gifts can we share with one another?  Christians all ave a variety of gifts that may include teaching, listening, caring, hospitality, etc.  Oftentimes we hear someone saying that a particular church is not meeting their needs.  This implies that they see the church as a vehicle for consumption, that is, as a consumer they are intending to receive specific items that will satisfy some personal desire.  Not finding it, they are frustrated and move on.  We see quite an opposite attitude in Paul.  He is not concerned about what the church can do for him.  His concern is how the LORD can use him to edify the church.

From this short statement we can infer how Paul would have us to relate to our church:

  • pray for it.,
  • use the gathering as a place to mutually encourage one another.

As worshipful as it may be in the wilderness with God’s creation, nothing can edify and teach us like true Christian fellowship can do.  The writer of Hebrews calls us to “forsake not the assembling of ourselves”.  The world teaches us to be consumers, to seek out what we can receive from the world around us, and to be entertained by its events.  When this consumer attitude enters the fellowship its spiritual purpose is compromised as the members of the fellowship replace worship of the LORD with an evaluation of the church’s ability to meet their desires or their needs.

Paul envisions a healthy church as one where its members lavish agape love on each other, seeking to meet each other’s needs because of that unconditional love, a love that they exercise in the continual and sincere worship of the LORD.

Do we use our gifts to meet our own needs, or to edify one another?  We can learn from Paul’s example that God gave us those gifts so that we can minister one to another, rather than use those gifts to gain what we desire.

Romans 1:13.  Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

Paul wants the church in Rome to understand, without any doubts, that though he had been continually prevented from traveling to Rome, such a visit was always his desire.  We might be reminded of the difficulties that were associated with travel that we do not experience today.  Also, being sensitive to the LORD’s call upon him, he moved from place to place in accordance with what he understood to be God’s will.  Consequently, we can understand that Paul consistently followed his understanding of the LORD’s will rather than following his own.  Though he had desired for a long time to move his base of operations to Rome, each time he would try, he would be pressed into ministry elsewhere.

Romans 1:14-15.  I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. 15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

The word for “debtor” that Paul uses is related to the title, “bondservant” that he also uses.  He saw himself as a debtor, much like the bond-slave who works to pay a debt owed to his master.  Paul saw himself as a debtor to all people.  Just as the Jews referred to non-Jews as Gentiles, the Romans referred to foreigners as Barbarians, making Paul’s statement simply a Roman euphemism that refers to all people.  Paul’s idea of Christian service is based upon the premise that we are all in debt because of our innate sinfulness.  Isaac Watts penned words that illustrate this idea:  “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe.  Here, Lord I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.”  Paul gave his life in service to the LORD, simply because Jesus was truly the LORD of his heart.

Paul recognizes and teaches that a mature Christian is characterized by a humility that is inspired by an understanding of the cost of God’s grace, and an uncompromised submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Paul describes a Christian character that seems to be lost in the church today, a church wherein much of its leadership claim humility and submission to the LORD, but do so in word only, using their position of leadership to lord it over others, enjoying the power to make decisions for others, or using their position to assure that the church is operating the way they want it to.  This evil, pride-centered, and selfish motivation for leadership serves only keep a church in conflict and minimize the church’s effectiveness in the world today.  Leaders no longer see themselves as debtors to God.  Do you see yourself as a debtor to God?  Or do you accept your free gift of Grace without obligation?

Romans 1:16.  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Certainly, this is one of the most known statements in the New Testament.  First Paul states, “I am not ashamed…”  I am reminded of a circumstance from campus ministry that illustrates the shame that some Christians feel towards their faith.  When leading a fine group of students who were part of a campus chapter of Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship (all men in this instance) they all initially testified that they felt uneasy carrying a Bible on campus, necessitating my provision of Bibles for our weekly Bible study.  They felt embarrassed to be seen walking around the secular campus with a Bible in their hands.  However, they also understood that their behavior failed to honor the LORD as they gave in to baseless fears, fears that only served the evil one.  They were aware of the statement that Jesus made,

Mark 8:38.  Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

After about a year of continued Bible study, those same students started bringing their Bibles, including some large ones, becoming more animated in the discussions, and came to agree that their previous discomfort was almost silliness.  They were now proud to display their Bible, and hoping that someone would ask them about it so they could invite them to the Bible study.

What changed in their lives?  It is a change that many of us may need to experience.  The gospel is not something that is weak and to be hidden like a disease.  Paul describes the gospel, the good news of God’s grace offered to those who place their faith and trust in Him,  by using the Greek word dunamis, dunamis, where we get our word dynamite.  Like dynamite, the power of the gospel cannot be contained.  It is the only power over sin and death, and it is complete power over sin and death.  To be ashamed of what Jesus did on the cross only exposes one’s lack of faith in God.  To be ashamed of God among people publicly denigrates God, lifting up one’s need to please people above one’s desire to please God.  Paul understands that true faith both empowers and inspires one to take a bold stand for the LORD in this sinful world.

Romans 1:17.  For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

The gospel reveals the righteousness of God and the one means by which man will find forgiveness for his sinful nature.  Since all people are aware of their own sinfulness as they stand before a holy God, righteousness is the “holy grail” of all world religions.  All religions seek righteousness through some series of actions, works, or observances, rituals, sacrifices, or any other method as they seek to become “righteous” before a holy God.  However, there is no work that man can do to become righteous, since all works that man does is still immersed in his own sinfulness.  No man (or woman) can lead a sinless life, and is therefore guilty of sin, and unworthy to stand in God’s presence.  This is why God’s grace was needed.  No matter how perfect we try to be, there is always a seed of sin in our minds, and that seed of sin makes us imperfect, and unworthy of presence before a Holy God.  But:

Romans 5:8  For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

In this short passage that introduces us to Paul’s letter to the Romans we find a quite complete introduction to the gospel.  The promise that God made to mankind has not changed since the first moment that God breathed His life into him: God has promised that if we will place our faith and trust in Him, then He will forgive us of our sin and “cleanse us of our unrighteousness.”  We cannot cleanse ourselves of our unrighteousness, but we can place our faith and trust in God.  And though God revealed that message from the very beginning through His covenants with Adam, Noah, Moses, Israel, etc., that message was fully revealed when He, through the person of the Messiah, Jehovah, YAHWEH, the LORD of the Old Testament came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ who fully revealed the gospel message in a way that we could fully understand.  However, forgiveness did not come to mankind for free.  The Messiah also came to pay, on the Cross of Calvary, the blood sacrifice that would once and for all atone for sin.  Consequently, when one rejects Jesus Christ, they are rejecting Jehovah, and rejecting God’s offer of grace.

All “religions” will accomplish the task of bringing people to God, simply because “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD.”  However, the only way to come to God with forgiveness is to do so through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, through placing one’s faith and trust in Him as Savior and LORD.  This is the message of Paul’s letter to the Romans, introduced in these few words.  The remainder of the letter is a detailed review of this gospel as Paul starts with the sinful nature of mankind, man’s need for forgiveness, and God’s work of grace that meets that need.

Consequently, the book of Romans can and should be well-read and well-studied by every believer as it will serve to strengthen one’s faith, revealing the truth of the gospel, exposing the lies that this world would teach as truth.  It is only through the truth of the gospel that man is finally set free from the burden, bondage, and condemnation for their sin.  That truth can be found in this letter to the Romans.

Galatians 2:9.

Acts, Chapter 15.

Acts 2:9-11.

Acts 9:15.

Acts 9:6.

1 Corinthians 9:1-2.

Galatians 1:10-12, 16-17.

John 1:29; Isaiah 53:5-7.

Matthew 28:18, ff.

John 1:1-14.

Hebrews 10:25.

At the Cross, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Isaac Watts. 1707.

Ephesians 6:12, ff.


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Probing the Prologue in The Gospel According to John: John 1:1-2

~ Crosswise

As mentioned in the introduction, we are embarking on a journey through John’s prologue. The importance of a proper understanding of these first eighteen verses of The Gospel According to John is well-reflected in the words of this writer: “The most puzzling Johannine discourse is immediately illuminated by a re-reading of the Prologue”.1

Throughout the prologue, the Gospel writer makes plentiful use of imageries. We must be careful not to press them too sharply. For example, generally, analogies are often used to help explain abstract concepts, but the intention is strictly educational, rather than to provide exact parallels. Similarly, allusions are meant to illustrate a point of contact with other passages or works—to use them as literary backdrops—not as a way of stating ‘this is that’. As Rabbi Samuel Sandmel cautioned, we must be wary of “parallelomania”:

It would seem to me to follow that, in dealing with similarities we can sometimes discover exact parallels, some with and some devoid of significance; seeming parallels which are so only imperfectly; and statements which can be called parallels only by taking them out of context.2

In addition, we must be careful not to literalize metaphors or, conversely, take something intended in a literal sense and construe it as metaphorical. For example, if I were to say that I ‘broke my back’ in doing yardwork, you’d surely not take it literally. Correctly interpreting these literary devices is not always easy, however. Moreover, sometimes the writer is purposely ambiguous, thereby intending multiple meanings.

Beginning with “In the Beginning was the Word…”

Most Christians know the first verse in John’s Gospel, probably by rote: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. However, in the New Living Translation (NLT) the first section reads a bit differently: In the beginning the Word already existed. This rendition beautifully conveys the meaning in context.

For now, let’s attempt to take a fresh look at the text without imposing any meaning upon it. No worries—I’m not setting out to challenge the historically orthodox Christian understanding. My intent is both explanatory and apologetic. There are others interpreting this verse and the entire prologue (and of course Scripture in general) a bit differently, toward different ends. Are any of these other interpretations linguistically legitimate in any way? We’ll briefly test a few as we go.

For this series we will use the following pattern for exegesis. Each section will begin with the Greek text, which will be followed by its transliteration into English (Greek letter to English letter equivalents), then a very basic ‘word-for-word’ translation (to the extent possible), and, finally, a working translation. For John 1:1, we will identify each section as 1a, 1b, and 1c. Beginning with 1a:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος3
En archȩ̄ ēn ho logos
In beginning was the logos
In the beginning was the Word

For apparent poetic purposes, the Gospel writer switched the subject (ho logos, nominative case) and the indirect object (En archȩ̄, dative case). In English this could be rendered The Word was in the beginning, which would not change the meaning one iota. But it wouldn’t be as poetic. We could even take the NLT translational idea and make this The Word existed in the beginning. However, in keeping with the poetic nature of the prologue, it seems best to retain the original order (though word order in Greek is much more flexible than English, which will be illustrated as we progress): In the beginning existed the Word. In better English: In the beginning the Word existed. This is what John’s Gospel is conveying.

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Critical community

~ Sam Storms on the value/need of community:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared:

“If somebody asks [a Christian], Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him of salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word . . .

But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain; his brother’s is sure” (Life Together, pp. 11–12).

The question we want to explore is this: How crucial is it to our salvation and endurance in the faith that we be committed to community and the encouragement and rebuke that come from other believers? To answer that question, look at Hebrews 3:12-14 –

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

A couple of observations are in order.

First, we need to be energetically attentive to what is happening in our hearts. Sin is deceptive and powerful and the world, the flesh, and the Devil are conspiring to lead you into unbelief and ultimately into departing from the living God.

Second, John Piper explains: “Hebrews sees two possibilities for professing Christians: either they hold fast their first confidence to the end and show that they have really become sharers in the life of Christ, or they become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from God with a heart of unbelief and show that they did not have a share in Christ.”

Third, and most important, is that the means God has ordained and provided by which we persevere is the consistent, faithful, loving exhortation and encouragement that comes to us from other Christian men and women (v. 13).

Again, Piper explains:

“It is written that the saints will persevere to the end and be saved. Those who have become sharers in Christ by the new birth will hold their first confidence to the end and be saved. But one of the evidences that you are among that number is that when God reveals in his holy Word the means by which you will persevere, you take him very seriously, you thank him, and you pursue those means. This text makes it very clear that the means by which God intends to guard us for salvation (1 Peter 1:5) is Christian community. Eternal security is a community project. Not just prayer, not just worship, not just the sacraments, not just Bible reading, but daily exhortation from other believers is God’s appointed means to enable you to hold your first confidence firm to the end.”

How and where is this done?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Where should we “meet together”? Anywhere and everywhere! Here at Bridgeway Church this would include our corporate assembly on Sunday mornings, in our community group gatherings during the week, and in our D-groups whenever possible. And let’s not leave out the coffee shop, around our kitchen tables, at the soccer field, etc.

The author of Hebrews refers to “the habit of some” in not meeting together on a consistent, regular basis. At no time in the history of the Christian Church have we seen this more in evidence than today. Energized and affirmed by the spirit of western individualism and consumerism, professing Christians feel increasingly “led” (often claiming that it is actually the Spirit who is behind it!) to neglect local church life, mock covenant membership, ignore small group dynamics, cast aside any notion of commitment, and pursue their own personal “spirituality” on the back porch, at Starbucks, somewhere between the seventh and tenth holes on the golf course, at a Thunder game, or sitting around a table playing cards.

So, how urgent and critical is it that we pursue a ministry of encouragement, accountability, rebuke, and love? Consider the following scenarios before you answer that question.

• The man who is excessively devoted to his career to the neglect of time and involvement with his wife and children . . .

• The woman who squanders her daytime with soap-operas, reality TV, and romance novels and whose resultant fantasy life undermines her commitment to her husband . . .

• The man whose growing addiction to pornography is distorting his view of women and destroying sexual intimacy with his wife . . .

• The woman whose infatuation with gossip is justified under the guise of “gathering-information-so-that-I-can-pray-for-them-more-specifically” . . .

• The man whose emotional insecurity and ego-driven desire for stature and respect have led him to rationalize low-grade embezzlement and income tax return fudging . . .

• The woman whose body-image obsession has led to dangerously unhealthy eating habits, exercise routines, and an excessively seductive style of dress . . .

• The man whose relationship with his personal administrative assistant is perilously close to adulterous, being justified in his mind by the sexual and emotional neglect of his wife . . .

• The woman whose spending habits have spiraled out of control and driven her family into debt, symptomatic of an idolatrous dependence on things to the exclusion of a singular love for God . .

• The man who, as he passes through middle age, feels increasingly bored with life and finds the excuse “You only go around once in life so grab for all the gusto you can” more and more reasonable with each passing day . . .

• The woman (or the man) whose anguish over a rebellious child, an unbelieving and emotionally distant spouse, a terminal diagnosis of cancer, or the mounting financial pressures of life, leads to increasing bitterness toward God and doubts about whether faithfully following him is really worth it . . .

These are only a few of the countless reasons why people are vulnerable to that “evil, unbelieving heart” that threatens to lead them “to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12b). The potential for being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13b) is so real and relentless that we must “exhort one another every day” (Heb. 3:13a) and aim “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), “not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25).

Brothers and Sisters, We Must Recover Friendship