Rank #1: True Spirituality
Can there be such a thing as true spirituality? If so, that implies a spirituality which is not true. So how is the Christian able to discern the signs of an authentic Christian spirituality?
Many of the outward expressions of spirituality we see in life aren’t found anywhere in the Bible. It makes it seem as though, when it comes to spirituality, maybe the Bible isn’t good enough. Maybe the Bible just doesn’t cover these things.
Paul deals with these questions in terms of opposites. So, today I’d like for us to turn together to Romans 8 and as he contrasts spirit and flesh, life and death, liberty and bondage.
Jan 23 2021
Rank #2: Should a Christian Submit to the State?
In Romans, Paul speaks of our inexorable duty toward God, as well as duty toward the church. But he also develops a concept of duty towards civil government. The 13th chapter of Romans is fairly familiar to most of us, and today I’d like us to take a look at this particular concept. It is very important, and to really understand it—to really grasp what Paul is saying—we have to understand the historical background in which these words were written.
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.Romans 13:1–7 KJ2000
2 Whosoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves judgment.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil.
5 Therefore you must be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’s sake.
6 For, for this cause pay you tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
That is a fascinating scripture even taken in our modern context. What should this mean to us? What obligations goes this lay upon us today? What is our relationship to the civil government in our time? Even before asking these questions, however, I’d like to take us back to the time when Paul wrote this…
(This message is a direct continuation of Romans: The Heart of the Gospel.)
Jan 16 2021
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Rank #3: Romans: The Heart of the Gospel
Romans is easily the most important of all the New Testament epistles. I am sometimes hesitant to say the most or the greatest or the best, as superlatives are sometimes a little hard to support. But in the case of the Book of Romans, it is easy to support—and for a deceptively simple reason…
My perspective has changed on the Book of Romans. It’s not that I didn’t understand it before, but there are a lot of different ways of looking at this book. There are a lot of historical concepts that one might not be aware of, leaving some things left unseen.
In the process of studying it, I began to ask myself a lot of questions about this book. One thing has become very clear to me: It is easily the most important of all the New Testament epistles. I am sometimes hesitant to say the most or the greatest or the best, as superlatives are sometimes a little hard to support. But in the case of the Book of Romans, it is easy to support—and for a deceptively simple reason…
Jan 09 2021
Rank #4: The Epistle to the Romans #7
As we work our way through these last chapters of Romans, it’s a good thing to remember what a different world those disciples lived in compared to ours. The recipients of this letter lived and worked in the Eternal City—Rome. And this Rome was the center of empire—a very powerful place. Morally, the place was bankrupt. Being the one great power in the world had the obvious effects of power—it corrupted. The pagan religions were, at one level, a very big deal, but I often find myself wondering just how seriously they took it all.
Having left these previous religious backgrounds, there was quite a variety of belief among the disciples in Rome. They must have come from every corner of the empire, bringing with them every kind of religion. Paul wants them to be understanding and tolerant of one another’s peculiarities. They didn’t have to be tolerant of sin, but there was a wide range of custom to be tolerated. He begins chapter 14:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.Romans 14:1–4 ESV
Jan 02 2021
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Rank #5: The Epistle to the Romans #6
And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith.
At this point in Romans, Paul seems to be moving away from his preoccupation with the Jewish Christians, and starts talking like a pastor. That said, we still need to remember who the first readers of this letter were and how it would impact them. What does it mean, for example, to offer your body as a living sacrifice?
Well, normally, a sacrifice was slain. We are to be a living sacrifice. And it is our bodies—not merely our hearts and minds. We are to act with our feet, our hands, our bodies, as a sacrifice to God. Now, to be sure, their bodies were in danger in that world, but they had to throw themselves into the fight, anyhow.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.Romans 12:1 NIV ’84
Paul’s word choices here for what some translations render spiritual service of worship deserve a closer look. So let’s get started this evening in Romans, chapter 12.
Dec 26 2020
Rank #6: The Epistle to the Romans #5
I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. Romans 9–11 shows us that Paul had not expected the lack of response (or even hostile response) he received in synagogues all over his mission field. Here, he shares with us the thought process he went through trying to understand their reaction.
He begins with the emphatic assertion it would not necessarily be the natural children of Abraham who are God’s children, but the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. Why is this important? Remember, Paul is thinking of his readers in mostly Jewish terms. Why? Well, because at this time most of the Christians in the world were Jews. Those who weren’t were often "God-fearers"—associated with Judaism and synagogue before they ever became Christians. To them he says:
[…] I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. Not as though the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel: Neither, because they are the descendants of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall your descendants be called. That is, They who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the descendants.Romans 9:2–8 KJ2000
Dec 19 2020
Rank #7: The Epistle to the Romans #4
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.Romans 6:1–7
Dec 12 2020
Rank #8: The Epistle to the Romans #3
All of us go through stages of learning in our Bible study. Each time we read something like Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see it with new eyes. Unless, of course, we feel as though we have been given approved explanations and put them in a box, put a ribbon on it, stick it on a shelf, and lay it aside. If you don’t do that—if you keep if open to where you can see it—you’ll learn some things.
The problem with dogma is it tends to prevent growth. A given doctrine or dogmatic reading of a passage leads us to think we have arrived. And in this life, folks, we never arrive at our final destination. And what I’ve found is that cultivating an open mind is an important element of continuing to grow.
Now, I’ve done Romans before. I taught it in college for about seven years; I’ve done it in The Life and Teachings of Paul; I’ve done in on radio in the Christian Origins series; and yet every time I come back in here the idea develops further. Peter understood this about Paul’s letters, writing:
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him has written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable twist, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.2 Peter 3:15–18
I don’t want to suggest that there aren’t places where we know exactly where we are, and the 3rd chapter of Romans closed with a mile marker—it’s unmistakable—as we begin today’s study in Romans, chapter 4.
Dec 05 2020
Rank #9: The Epistle to the Romans #2
The second chapter of Romans begins with a Therefore. Any time you see that in Paul’s letters, you need to pay attention, because it means what follows depends on what has just been said. Paul does that a lot, and the people who put in the chapter breaks seem to miss it a lot. (Nevertheless, we won’t quibble on that.)
It comes on the heels of paragraph that began in chapter 1, verse 28. We’ll go back there briefly.
Furthermore, since they [Gentile philosophers] did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.Romans 1:28–32 NIV ’84
Nov 28 2020
Rank #10: The Epistle to the Romans #1
Back in the good, old days in the heyday of biblical scholarship (especially those German schools of scholarship) lots and lots of people were doing computer analyses on Paul’s epistles and said, Well, we don’t think Paul wrote all of his epistles. We think he may have written Galatians and a couple of others. Actually, there are fewer scholars these days who do that. They’re beginning to understand the fallacy of it. In fact, I knew it right from the get-go. When you understand that a man dictated these letters to a scribe, and the scribe was scribbling all this stuff down, it’s easy to see how his style might vary from letter to letter. Not only that, but when you have been writing as long as I’ve been writing, and you go back and read some of the junk that I wrote in previous years…Somebody, one of these years, if they ever cared enough, would run mine through a computer and say, No, no, no, no. Ron wrote that early stuff, but there was some better writer doing this later stuff.
Now, you should know this about all that: scholars have to publish or perish, and they have to somehow establish their alleged objectivity. That means they can’t take the approach of a believer and get published in scholarly journals. They not only have to do their master’s theses and please a professor, their doctoral dissertations and impress a committee, they have to publish more than that in journals and in books. And they can’t just say the same thing over and over again. Remember, scholars are like city buses downtown: if you don’t like where this one is going, just wait—there’ll be another one along shortly going somewhere else. Fortunately for us, though, that system has worked remarkably well in some aspects, because if a scholar gets way out on a limb somewhere and says, Oh, no, Paul didn’t write Romans or didn’t write this or didn’t write that, another scholar will come along and hold his feet to the fire, and he can make his bones by showing how the other scholar was wrong. And over time they have done a credit-worthy job of putting the original documents into our hands in a language we can understand. And we ought to salute and say, Thank you, guys, but we should not elevate them or put them on a pedestal.
Now, not long ago I was watching a biography of Thomas Jefferson, and the narration of the story was being done by a lineup of historians and scholars—one after another. It was actually seamlessly put together and was a pretty good job. But as I listened, I slowly came to wonder, Why am I listening to these fellows tell me what Jefferson thought when I could have Jefferson tell me himself. So I turned the thing off, got up on the internet, and ordered Jefferson’s autobiography. I was kind of shocked when I got it. It is easily the shortest autobiography I have ever read, and from a man I really would like to know a lot about—a truly remarkable man. So I could spend a lot of time telling you what scholars have said about Paul. But, hey, we have his letters right here in our hands. Just like we can get a hold of Jefferson’s letters, maybe we should go right to the source. At the Feast [in the sermon Romans 9–11], I thought I recalled that Paul had written Romans from Ephesus. As it happens, the best information we have suggests it was written from Corinth. Although I don’t think that’s certain at all. He may have written it on the boat, going from one place to another. I tend to be a little impatient with lectures on the background of New Testament books, but let’s take just a moment to acquaint ourselves with the likely time and place. Acts 18, verse 1…
Nov 21 2020