Wednesday, October 31. Romans 10 – 12

    The book of Romans addresses a conflict between Jewish and gentile Christians that has, at its heart, a misunderstanding of Christian teaching.  Jewish Christians in the Roman church relied on their Jewishness, not faith, to ensure their relationship with God.  Gentile Christians, already somewhat disposed to antisemitism, believed that the grace of God, not faith (and surely not Jewishness), ensured their relationship.

    In chapters one through eight, Paul focuses on the importance of the life of faith. 

    In chapter nine, he returns to the importance of Jewish heritage he mentioned in chapter three.  But important or not, being Jewish will not take the place of having faith.  Faith is the litmus test of a child of God.  It was precisely the Jews’ lack of faith that opened the door to gentile conversion.

    Chapter ten highlights this issue even more.  He contrasts the notion that good standing with God comes by works with the more biblical notion that righteousness comes by faith, and proves his point in favor of tghe latter with Old Testament quotations from Deuteronomy 30, and Isaiah 28.  Since good standing with God (righteousness) does not come by one’s Jewishness, but by faith, it opens the door to everyone – not just Jews – to be God’s people.  He proves that point with a quote from Joel 2 and Isaiah 52.

    But despite the fact that Paul’s point is made from the Old Testament, and Jewish people should know better, still, they live without faith.

    This is not just a message to a people of long ago about a controversy no longer relevant.  The message for us is that there is nothing in the whole of the Christian life more important than living the life of faith.  Without it, nothing else really matters or counts.

Tuesday, October 30. Romans 7 – 9

    Paul believed that without the help of God, on our own, mankind was doomed to sin.  In fact, in chapters six and seven, he personalizes sin.  Sin “enslaves” (6:17), seizes opportunities (7:8,11), and deceives (verse 11).

    The law of God has a role to play in all this, for after all, if there were no laws, there would be no sin.

    But that doesn’t mean the law is bad.  It isn’t.  It is holy, righteous, and good.

    I, on the other hand, have a tendency to take the road of disobedience.  It’s my own weakness really.  That’s why Paul calls refers to it as a “body of sin” and a “sinful nature.”

    When I yield myself to life according to my tendencies and weaknesses, I am bound to find myself captive to sin.

    The real difficulty with the “problem Christians” in Rome was that they had given themselves over to live as they pleased without regard for what God pleased.  Thinking that they only had to be “religious” (ie.  Jewish), they turned away from holy living.

    There was an alternative: Rather than follow their own leading, they could submit to the leading of God through His Spirit.  But could they possibly be successful in being led by the Spirit?  Chapter eight provides the answer.  The Spirit provides not only direction, but power.

    Those who focus on the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit focus on the least important of the Spirit’s blessings.  The real blessing – the permanent blessing –  is the power to conquer sin.

    Are you following the Spirit’s leading?  You can tell, and so can others.  If a Christian’s life looks like one guided by the Spirit of God, it will be confident, kind, ethical and moral.  If it doesn’t look that way, it isn’t.

Monday, October 29. Romans 4 – 6

    Remember Paul’s opening point: You do not stand “right” with God (righteous) because you are religious.  Jewish Christians, depending on the religious nature of their Jewishness, believed they were okay with God.  Paul’s point is that they are not.

    It’s a huge point.

    Jews depended on their Jewishness to confirm they were God’s people.  But Paul says it doesn’t come that way.  You must have faith.  The proof that his Jewish readers (and gentile readers too) did not have faith (despite the fact they were Christians) was found in the way they lived their lives (note the lists of sins they are guilty of in 1:28 – 2:1 and 2:17 – 24).  This is proof they do not have faith (3:3).  It’s important you see Paul’s flow of thought.  God has called us to an obedience that springs from faith because righteousness comes this kind of faith (the point in 1:1-17 – the last time Paul mentions “faith” until chapter three).  Then, in the rest of chapter one and through chapter two, he describes what a life not characterized by faith looks like, and it looks like the lives of Jewish Christians who are counting on their Jewishness. 

    In chapter four, Paul focuses on Abraham.  Though he was the father of the Jewish people, he did not stand right in the sight of God because he was Jewish, for God declared him righteous before he ever had the mark of Jewishness (circumcision).  God declared him righteous simply because he “believed” God (had faith).

    And how do we know he had faith?

    Because he and Sarah continued to try and have children, despite the fact they were well past the age of being able to have children.  This is often overlooked, as if because God promised they would have a child left them with nothing to do but wait for the pregnancy.  But just waiting isn’t how a woman becomes pregnant.

    Faith is an abiding trust in God that leads the believer to act as God directs.  Without this obedience, faith is nonexistent, and so is righteousness.

Sunday, October 28. Romans 1 – 3

    You must constantly keep in mind the setting for Romans.  It is focused exclusively on a controversy between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  The Jewish Christians believed that because of their heritage, their Jewishness, they stood right in the sight of God.  The Gentile Christians believed they stood right in the sight of God without the trappings of Jewishness.

    The problem is that both sides rejected the obedient life.

    Chapter two is explicit.  Your standing before God is inseparably connected to your obedience to God.  God will give to each person according to “what he has done” (verse 6).  There will be trouble for everyone “who does evil” (vs.  9), but “glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good” (vs.  10).  Those righteous in God’s sight are those who “obey the law.”

    Two points are important just here.  First, “obeying” the law doesn’t make you righteous.  When you are obedient, you are “declared” righteous.  There is a difference.  We can’t make ourselves righteous in God’s sight.  But we can live in such a way that God will make us righteous.

    Second, the Jewish Christians would maintain that they were obedient: after all, they observed all the Jewish festival days, the dietary laws, and circumcision – everything that made them Jewish.  They relied on doing these things and because they did them, bragged about their relationship with God.  And yet, though they might have maintained all these hallmarks of Judaism, they were miserable failures because their lives were full of sin, ignoring God’s will for them with lives characterized by stealing, adultery, and a total lack of ethics.

    The real characteristics of God’s people are not to be found in external rituals, but in a life whose ethics mirror those of God, taught in His word.

Saturday, October 27. 2 Thessalonaisn 2 – 3, Acts 19

    Most of us struggle with the notion that success depends on us.  It does.

    And it doesn’t.

    Certainly God has expectations of us with regard to trusting Him and being obedient.  So as 2 Thessalonians comes to a close, Paul emphasizes the importance of being obedient to God – to the extent that if one is not obedient, being stubbornly rebellious to Him, that person should be removed from the fellowship of the Church.

    But there’s a difference between being stubbornly rebellious and struggling with obedience.  That’s why, as Paul concludes this letter, he points to prayer and the help that comes from God.  Notice how dependent Paul indicates he is on the Lord for success:

*    That the faith of the Thessalonians and their ability to hold up under persecution is growing and has grown so well is due to the Lord’s help (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).

*    That God’s name might be glorified in their lives is dependent on the work of God Himself (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).

*    God will work on those who do not believe the truth and who delight in wickedness to the extent that they will not be able to change (a sobering thought!) – 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

*    Encouragement and strength for every good deed and word comes from the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

*    Success in evangelism is dependent on the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

*    Protection from Satan is dependent on God’s work (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

*    Peace comes from the Lord (2 Thessalonaisn 3:16).

    Is there anything we must do?

    Yes.  Trust God and His way and be obedient to Him.

    But beyond that, it’s all up to the power, presence, and love of God.

Friday, October 26. 1 Thessalonians 4 – 2 Thessalonians 1

    Here’s a reminder in case you missed it: In Thessalonians, Paul’s chief concern is that his readers “live lives worthy of God” (2:12), “please God” (4:1), and “live a holy life” (4:7).

    Neither they, nor we, can do this if we are asleep at the switch, not paying attention to our lives, constantly evaluating them and adjusting them to meet God’s call and Christ’s example.  Chapters four and five speak specifically to many of these requirements.

    Why should we be so vigilant?

    Because Jesus is coming back, and with Him he will bring two things: salvation for the ready, and wrath for those who are not.  It is not God’s intent that we suffer His wrath, but we will, if we do not make our lives ready.

    Two points stand out to me in the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians.

    First, salvation is multi-dimensional.  While the Thessalonians have been “saved” from their past sins, they are looking for another salvation to come.  Salvation is not a “once for all” event.

    Second, God has not left us on our own to accomplish the holy life.  He Himself helps us by making us holy through and through, and keeping us blameless until Jesus comes (5:23-24).

    Good.

    I need all the help I can get.  How about you?

Thursday, October 25. 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3

    As you read chapter two, note the recurring phrase “you know” (and variations on it, “as you know,” and “you remember”).  These are important because they remind us that nothing in this letter is new.  Paul is simply reviewing matters he taught them when he was there – only a few months previously.  Paul was not there very long, however, and that is important as well.

    What we have in Thessalonians is possibly the only sample (outside possibly the gospel of Luke) of what early Christians taught new converts.  As you read it, look for the sort of things Paul reminds them of, and consider that these things were basic to Christian teaching.

    But in chapter two particularly, Paul talks about how he conducted his ministry.  First of all, he was a hard worker.  The people of Paul’s day were accustomed to being asked for donations to support wandering philosophers, but Paul did not do that.  He did not want people to feel like he was “living off” them.  Second, he demonstrated how much he cared for them, treating them like their mother and father.  Third, he was not a “do as I say” kind of preacher.  He was a “do as I do” kind of fellow.  He realized he was an example – the only example of Jesus they had ever seen.

    All Christians are engaged in ministry.  To be as successful at it as Paul, we will have to conduct our ministry as Paul conducted his.

Wednesday, October 24. Galatians 4 – 6

    The law, specifically containing regulations about circumcision, festival days and dietary laws, was given at a time when the people of God were young.  There needed to be some way to identify the people of God.  It certainly would not be by their ethical behavior because it was abysmal.

    In the family, a child can be hardly distinguished from a slave.  He is subject to others, older.  But there comes a time when the child is no longer a child and must act with the responsibility of an adult – more importantly, an heir.

    From the end of chapter three of Galatians through chapter four, we find some difficult comparisons, but the heart of the matter is this: If being a child of God is just a matter of keeping the rules, then the child is simply and solely a child.  The adult keeps the rules not because they are rules, but because it is his way of life.  A child is always breaking the rules, and as such, demonstrates a slavery to influences outside his heritage.  But the adult is true to his heritage and behaves as he should simply because it is his nature.

    If we seek to reduce Christianity to a few litmus tests of righteousness, we will still be acting like slaves – children.  We will always be controlled by something other than the Spirit of God – our real DNA.  But when we give up litmus tests and simply seek to follow Jesus, we will be adults and our lives will be noticeably different.

Tuesday, October 23. Galatians 1 – 3

    Paul’s earliest letters were written on his second missionary journey – probably from Corinth in Greece because he was continually on the move until he arrived there.

    Some years before, on his first missionary journey, he established churches in the Asian cities of Lystra, Derbe and Iconium.  It is to these churches he is writing when he pens the letter to the Galatians.

    In the opening chapter, you can tell Paul is upset.  In fact, he stays upset throughout the letter, though we do not find out exactly why until chapter three.  The bottom line is that some in the Galatian church have narrowed the Christian faith to three important (at least to them) characteristics: observing specific dietary laws, observing specific festival days, and circumcision.  These are particularly Jewish characteristics, and the Christians in these churches have adopted these as litmus tests of righteousness.  It allows them to “fit in” with another faith similar to theirs: Judaism.  After all, Jewish people believed in the same God, read the same Bible, and looked for the coming of the Christ.  By fitting in to a wider religious audience, these Christians did not feel so isolated.

    In chapter three, Paul will tell why these litmus tests are failures, but in the first chapter, Paul simply says such teaching is contrary to what he taught them when he brought them the gospel.  Then he draws a line in the sand: anyone who teaches anything that contradicts what Paul taught stands accursed by God.  The implication is: anyone who follows anything other than what Paul taught will find himself accursed.

    Christian people over the centuries (and even today) argue about how much authority Paul had, but Galatians resolves the controversy forever.  Paul had the authority of God as a spokesman for Christ.  You ignore him at your own peril.

Monday, October 22. Acts 16 – 18

    Paul’s sermon before the Areopagus is a masterful summation of Christian theology.

    First, our God is the creator of heaven and earth.  This doctrine is not optional for Christians.  Our God maintains He is the creator.  If, in fact, He did not create our world, He lies.  But Paul’s point is to identify God as supreme because He is the creator. 

    Second, His creation of heaven and earth gives Him sovereignty over it all, just as his creation of all nations gives him authority over all people.

    Third, because God has created all things, He needs nothing from His creation.  God is a provider, not a “needer.”

    Fourth, God has created mankind and his environment so that mankind would worship Him.

    Fifth, because we are God’s children, we should not think that God is like some idol.

    Sixth, God has appointed a day in which He will judge all mankind, and He will do so through Jesus.  whom He raised from the dead.

    Had Paul been able to complete His sermon, we would have a superb compendium of theology.  But he doesn’t.  He is interrupted.  But this can serve as a starting point for us, as we consider our life under God and what He calls us to believe – and why we should believe it.