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Most Christians have a sense that Romans is a book that is unique in the New Testament. It is many people's favorite book and is one of the most quoted letters in the New Testament. However, for as much as we discuss and invoke the words of Paul in Romans, there is a general lack of awareness of the context in which Paul wrote this letter. Like many other letters, Paul is addressing a conflict between Jews and Gentiles in Romans, but unlike many of the other New Testament conflict letters, it was the Gentile Christians mistreating the Jewish believers in the Church in Rome. In Romans, Paul is arguing that Jesus has created access to God for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. In the same breath, he wants the Gentile Christians to understand the unique role Israel plays in the story of salvation God has been writing from the very beginning. In order to accomplish this goal, Paul retells the most important story in the Old Testament: The Exodus. In other words, Paul is framing Jesus' redemptive actions through the lens of The Exodus. In Romans 8 he does this by saying that Jesus is a new and greater Moses. Jesus, like Moses, was sent by God to redeem His children from the bondage of slavery. In Romans 8:1-4, we get a snapshot of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf and how our redemption was actually achieved.
In our world today, there are many different opinions of who Jesus really is. He is often viewed as a really interesting guy, as a great teacher, and as a wise philosopher. However, the belief that Jesus is the Son of God seems to feel more and more far- fetched. In Colossians, Paul makes it clear that Jesus is indeed God and the rest of Scripture points to this truth. Scripture also says eternal life and salvation are only found in Christ. This doesn't connect well in a consumeristic world full of countless choices. In a world where we can pick and choose anything from music to spirituality, Christ as the only way to salvation just doesn't seem to make sense for many people. Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" This is a question that we, too, must answer.
In Romans 6, Paul addressed the problem we all face as being part of humanity. He said we have all been, at one time or another, enslaved to sin. In Romans 7, Paul continues to explain, or describe, what this slavery and bondage is like. He is, in many ways, giving us a picture of what life is like for those who are not yet freed from the "Egypt" of sin and death. In order to properly diagnose the "sin disease" we have all been infected with, Paul reminds the reader of how sin entered the world to begin with. In Romans 7:7-13, Paul begins to impersonate Adam in order to show where this slavery of sin was first introduced. His primary motivation is to prove that sin has infected us all because we are all—Jew and Gentile alike—children of Adam. In Romans 7:14-25, he goes on to describe what life is like "in Adam." The language Paul uses describes a time of bondage from which we cannot free ourselves. In fact, he says if you are "in Adam," you are actually "a prisoner of the law of sin." The dramatic point Romans 7 is making is that the weight of sin is a heavy load we cannot bear on our own. When we recognize the bondage of sin in our own lives, it leads us to cry out for help like the Israelites did in Exodus. And the Good News is that God both hears and responds to the cries of the oppressed by sending a redeemer.
The 18th Century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau is famous for saying, "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." While Rousseau was speaking to the injustices happening in France during his lifetime, his statement is also an accurate description of human nature. We are born with an innate longing for freedom, whether we know what that fully means or not, yet we constantly find ourselves in chains. In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul says we all have been found, at one time or another, enslaved to sin. In chapters five through eight, Paul uses the Old Testament story of The Exodus as an object lesson, or model, to explain what Jesus accomplished for all of creation. Paul begins by reminding the reader of the slavery we find ourselves in before fully fleshing out the liberation that Jesus brought to the world. In facing the harsh realities of life when we are enslaved to sin, we begin to truly long for the freedom that comes from submitting ourselves to the lordship of God.
Life presents many unknown aspects and an abundance of questions soon follow: What do I do, and when do I do it? Where do I go, and who is going with me? When walking through these unknowns, you will either have no clue what to do to discern God's will, or you will instinctively take action. The process of discerning God's will for your life will either be one of confusion or clarity. God brings His will into focus through the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the People of God. If you enter a season of unknown and you want to have a better understanding of God's will for you then the best things you can do include instinctively studying God's Word, asking God's Spirit to lead you into all truth, and submitting your life to the counsel of a few trusted advisers. If the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God are demonstrating signs of agreement, then God might be trying to tell you something.
There are times in life when we all experience pain, suffering, and tragedy that seems to be senseless. These stories surface a lot of raw emotion and cause us to ponder some of life's most profound questions. This is a difficult message because it deals with some of the most fundamental questions that we face as humans. When we go through these difficulties, one of the first questions we ask is, "Why?" Why doesn't God keep us from experiencing this pain? Why doesn't God reward those who live faithfully by helping them escape tragedy? These questions have been around a long time, but they are also as current as today's news. No matter how long you have followed Christ, we all have questions like these that we cannot answer. We don't always understand what God is up to and why certain things happen in this life. Knowing that difficult seasons like this may find their way into our lives, it's important to know how to navigate these experiences. One of the most helpful things we can do during these seasons is maintain an accurate picture of who God is and how He works in our lives.
Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus gave the commandment to his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28). Jesus was reminding his followers of their purpose in being called out by God. He is reminding them that the people of God were formed for the purpose of movement and mission. In other words, God's people are always a "sent" people and called to bring the Good News with them wherever they go. The problem is the Church in the Westernized parts of the world has largely forgotten this purpose. In the process, we've turned the purpose of the Church into meeting our personal desires and needs. However, when we look at the full scope of the Bible, we can see that God's purpose in forming a distinct people was for movement and mission. He wants us to share the Gospel while we are going, often times even before we know where we're going, so that all people will get a foretaste of what His Kingdom is all about.
It has been said that a great way to test what we value is by how we spend our free time. If this is true, by most measurements we can say that worship is still one of the things Americans value in their lives because it remains to be one of the most popular ways people continue to use their free time. Christians in particular understand how essential worship is to developing our relationship with Christ. In short, there is never an instance in history where a Christian community exists without also finding evidence of Christian worship. But with all of the talk, focus, and attention that worship gets in our culture, many people rarely stop to think about the role worship is to play in our discipleship and how it functions in Scripture. We see in Acts 2:42-47 that worship for the earliest Christians was a response to God's activity in the world. In other words, worship is not something we initiate or manufacture on our own. We also see that worship leads us to living out the mission of God in our daily lives. Finally, we see in other New Testament passages, such as Romans 12, that worship functioned as a discipline to help develop love and affection for God.
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul is outlining what Jesus accomplished on our behalf and what it means for us as humanity. He is clearly defining our relationship with God for those who are in Christ. He begins by saying we have been justified by faith. "Justification" is a legal term used when someone has been declared to be in right standing. If you are a believer in Christ, the Bible says you have been declared right standing before God because Jesus has served your sentence for you. Paul goes on to say that through Jesus we have obtained access to the presence of God. Jesus has made possible unrestricted access to the presence of God. Because of this Good News, we have hope as believers, even in the midst of sufferings and trials. Because of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf, we have been justified, we have peace, we have access, we have hope, we have joy— even in trials—and we have security in God's love, which will never fail.
In the 1980s and 90s, the Church in America went through a period of wrestling with different worship styles. The conversation got so heated at points that it began to be described as "worship wars." These hot debates were primarily over personal preferences and styles of music. While that conversation has reached a calmer state today, the debate now has seemed to shift toward the subject of "equipping." There has long been an assumption that spiritual formation must include a series of classes and programs to be effective. Over time, our strategies for forming believers into mature disciples have turned into a vehicle that is built to primarily pass on intellectual knowledge rather than form mature believers. Ephesians 4:12-13 says the purpose of "equipping" is to help the believer "become mature." Scripture says the goal of equipping is more about educating the spirit than it is about informing the mind; it's about creating mature believers who do the will of God, not simply talk about it. We see in Acts 2:42-47 that this is how equipping functioned from the very beginning. What was learned in the temple courts applied to everyday life in the home and, in the process, created mature disciples of Jesus.