Romans 10

Read Romans 10 today.

In this chapter, Paul continued discussing the unbelief of his people Israel. He spoke directly about his desire and prayer for the salvation of his countrymen (v. 1). Then he reflected on his own experience and concluded, “Yes, we Jews are very enthusiastic about God, but not according to knowledge” (v. 2).

And what was the knowledge they lacked?

That righteousness comes from God (v. 3) to “everyone who believes” (v. 4b). Since they did not know this, they “sought to establish their own” righteousness (v. 3b).

Verses 4-13 contrasts the “righteousness for everyone who believes” (v. 4) with the “righteousness that is by the law” (v. 5). The righteousness that comes by the law is given to those who obey the law; as verse 5b put it, “The person who does these things will live by them.” That’s the promise of righteousness by the law–do what the law says and you will live.

Israel’s history–and yours and mine, too–shows that we can’t keep the law. Because we are sinners, as we saw in Romans 7, we can’t keep God’s law even when we want to–and most of the time, we don’t want to.

That’s why Christ came. He is, according to verse 4, “the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” He kept the law we could not keep in order to give us the righteousness we could not earn. The way to righteousness (that is, “to be right with God”) is by faith in Christ (vv. 9-13). This has always been the case as we see from Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament here in Romans 10:

  • v. 8 quotes from Deuteronomy 30:14
  • v. 11 quotes from Isaiah 28:16
  • v. 13 quotes form Joel 2:32

This is why God sends his servants into the world–to spread the message, the good news, of righteousness before God in Jesus Christ (v. 15). As we share the good news, we must remember that people are saved not through our slick presentation or clever arguments; rather, “faith comes from hearing the message,(Y) and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (v. 17). The message itself carries the ability to create faith in those God has chosen.

So, let’s be faithful about carrying the message!

Romans 5

Read Romans 5

Romans 4 told us that people are declared righteous by faith and that righteousness was secured by Jesus Christ. Today in chapter 5, verse 1 told us that the result of being declared righteous by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The next several verses went on to describe the future (v. 2b, 9-11) and present results of God’s grace to us in Christ (vv. 3-5).

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation.

It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15–2x, 16–2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15–2x, 17, 20, 21), of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21).

The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ–and that his grace which saved us is available to save others.

Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ–not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.

Romans 2

Today let’s read Romans 2.

At the end of chapter 1 we read, “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” (v. 32). That verse concluded a lengthy description in chapter 1 about why God’s wrath and judgment is being revealed against human wickedness. Humanity rejected God, therefore God has allowed wickedness to flourish within the human race. Rather than being fearful of God’s judgment, however, people keep on sinning and approve of others who sin.

Here in chapter 2, Paul turned from those who approve of sin and those who practice it to those who condemn and judge sinners (v. 1). Since those who approve of sin and sinners are condemned in chapter 1:32, we might expect that those who condemn sin and sinners would be approved by God.

No, said Paul, “because you who pass judgment do the same things.” There are no points for righteousness awarded to sinners who condemn other sinners. We may comparatively evaluate ourselves to be better than other sinners, but we still deserve God’s judgment because of our own sins (v. 3) and lack of repentance (v. 4). Instead of earning favor with God for judging other sinners, the self-righteous sinner is “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath” (v. 5). All humanity–Jew or Gentile, self-righteous or self-declared sinner–are headed for judgment before Jesus Christ (v. 16). In verses 17-29, Paul narrowed his focus to his fellow Jewish people. He pointed out that even the most upstanding Jewish person has broken God’s laws (vv. 21-24) and that God wants people who inwardly, genuinely belong to God, not people who have the religious symbols of godliness (vv. 25-29).

As I discussed yesterday, Paul seemed to be laying out his doctrine of the gospel to these Roman believers so that they would receive him and support his ministry when he came to them. This chapter, then, was designed to show how Jewish people are under God’s judgment, too, just like their Gentile counterparts in chapter 1. This passage applies to Jews who reject Jesus in order to live self-righteous lives, but it also applies to anyone who thinks himself to be righteous by comparison to others yet who still sins.

Agreeing with God’s word about what is sinful is not impressive to God; what matters to God is obedience (v. 13) and we all fall short there. Tomorrow we will see the remedy to this in Christ. But even if we’ve received that remedy, we should take to heart the things said about the self-righteous in this passage. If you have any moral character at all, you will be able to find lots of examples of people who fall short of your moral virtue. But, if you have any honesty at all, you will have to admit that you fall short daily of your own standards, not to mention God’s moral standards. Instead of judging others in order to feel good about ourselves, God wants us to acknowledge our own failures to be perfect. Then, just as God showed compassion to us in Christ we should reach out to other fallen people around us with compassion and the hope that is found in the gospel.

Have you ever thought about the people around you not as your spiritual inferiors but as people who need God’s rescue to save them?

When we remember that we are all in the same moral boat as everyone else, speeding relentlessly toward God’s wrath, it gives us a greater humility about ourselves and a greater compassion for those who are bound in their sin and in need of salvation. So check yourself when you find yourself disgusted with others; they are not any different than you and I are, except that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.

Romans 1

Today we begin reading the book of Romans, so read Romans 1 today.

As we’ve read the book of Acts, we have stopped here and there to read Paul’s letters around the points chronologically where scholars think they were written. In other words, Acts 19 described Paul’s two year stay in Ephesus. After reading Acts 19, we stopped to read 1 & 2 Corinthians because there are good reasons to believe that Paul wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians during his time in Ephesus. In Acts 19:21, Paul described his desire to go to Jerusalem but to stop in the regions of Greece (Macedonia & Achaia) on his way. 2 Corinthians described his coming visit. Also in Acts 19:21, Paul described his desire to visit Rome. At the end of Romans (Rom 15:28-29), Paul described his coming trip to Jerusalem and his intention to visit Rome after he went to Jerusalem.

Here in Romans 1:10b-11a we read, “I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong….” So the book of Romans was a letter designed to prepare the believers in for Paul’s intended visit after he went to Jerusalem. That’s why we’re reading Romans now.

Paul had not yet been to Rome as an apostle, so the church that existed there was not one that he founded. In this letter to the Romans, Paul laid out his doctrine of the gospel so that the Roman church would understand their faith better and would receive him and support him as he intended to go further out to Spain (see Rom 15:23-24). He began by summarizing his doctrine of Christianity (vv. 1-4) and his commission to preach the gospel (v. 5). Then he described his prayers for the believers in Rome (vv. 8-10) and his desire to visit them (vv. 11-15).

Starting in verse 16, Paul transitioned to the gospel. He wrote first about the greatness of the gospel in verses 16-17, then about the universal human need for it (vv. 18-32). Humanity’s rejection of God (vv. 18-23) and the deep-rooted sinfulness that results from rejecting God (vv. 24-32) are the source of all human problems. Some human problems–like sickness and death–are not cured by the gospel in this life. Instead, the gospel holds a promise for deliverance from those in the life to come. But every other human problem, the things that take up the first page of every day’s newspaper, are caused by people rejecting God and cured by the gospel. Very often we try to make things more complicated than they really are. We think that typical human issues like materialism, homosexuality, murder, gossip, arrogance, disobedient children, and other problems are caused by insecurity, lack of love, poor parenting, fear, poverty, hopelessness, and other psychological issues. While all of those things may be factors in why people act as they do, they are not the cause. All these things and others are human responses to rejecting God. The cure is Christ–who died for our sins in order to save us from these problems and an eternity apart from God. Paul stated in verse 16 that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it was God’s power to save all who believe its message of deliverance. What the disobedient child (v. 30) needs is salvation in Jesus. The same is true for those eaten alive by envy (v. 29b), those who kill (v. 29b), those who exploit others for financial gain (aka, the greedy, v. 29a), homosexuals (vv. 26-27), and every other sinner. People need forgiveness, rescue, and reconciliation with God more than they need better coping strategies, more powerful drugs, or a happier childhood. That is what the gospel offers.

As you and I live in this world, we meet people who are stuck in these and other problems. We may offer sympathy to those who are suffering, advice to those who are confused, and even prayer but do we offer the gospel? That’s where the power of God to save resides. Don’t be ashamed of the simple message that Christ died for our sins; use it to rescue sinners for the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 6

Read 2 Corinthians 6.

This chapter continues the thread of the past several chapters. Paul commended the ministry of himself and his co-workers to the fickle, loveless (v. 12) Corinthians. Verses 1-2 here in 2 Corinthians 6 wrapped up the discussion from chapter 5 about the importance of the gospel message which Paul and his men preached. Verses 3-10 laid out the reasons why Paul and his associates should be loved and championed by the believers in Corinth. Then, in verses 11-13, Paul directly urged the church in Corinth to give that love and acceptance to him and his coworkers in the gospel.

In verses 14-18 Paul changed the subject to the relationship the church in Corinth should have with unbelievers. This seems like a sudden change in subject, like a driver who unexpectedly made a right hand turn from the left hand turn lane. This is not Paul’s usual style for moving from one topic to another, so it is possible–likely even–that this section is connected to the previous section. Verses 11-12 pleaded for the Corinthians to “open wide your hearts also” to Paul and his associates. Those verses, plus this section, may indicate that Paul feared the church was turning away from his leadership and toward some other kind of spiritual leadership, a leadership that came from “unbelievers.”

Note how verse 16 says, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” Given the strong presence of idolatry in Corinth, it might be that the Corinthians had moved from merely eating food offered to idols (as we saw in 1 Corinthians) and had begun mixing Christ with some of the other religious practices in Corinth.

If that is true and the Corinthians were flirting with idolatry in some way, then how would this passage apply to us today?

First of all, the most common application of this passage–don’t marry an unbeliever–would still apply. Verse 14 laid down a command that would apply across many dimensions of a believer’s life.

But, secondly, consider the phrase, “we are the temple of the living God” (v. 16b). The wording of that verse seems to suggest the entire church as God’s temple, not our individual bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe the church in Corinth had begun accepting unbelievers into membership, treating them as if they were Christians even though they were freely mixing Christianity with idolatry.

Maybe they had begun using the idol temples as places for Christian worship and the unsaved population around them was confused.

Maybe they even began consulting with false teachers from the idol temples, borrowing some of their ideas to mix with the scripture.

These days there are churches that perform secular songs in their worship services. There are churches that recommend books and authors who are “spiritual” but not Christians. These would, in my opinion, be violations of this passage. 1 Corinthians 6, then, teaches us to be careful about how we treat those who don’t explicitly claim to follow Jesus.

We may read books by secular authors but we should never treat any book but God’s word as the authority on any subject. To do that would be placing that book on a level similar to scripture.

We certainly should allow unbelievers to attend our church After all, this is a place where they can hear the gospel and see it lived in our lives. But we should not act as if everyone who attends weekly is automatically a believer.

What is your relationship to unbelievers? The Bible certainly calls us to be in contact with them so as to give the gospel message and live out our faith among them. But be careful about giving them acceptance or an audience that is equal to or greater than the acceptance and authority of Christ himself.

2 Corinthians 5

Today, read 2 Corinthians 5.

Yesterday in 2 Corinthians 4, we read that Paul and his companions did not lose heart despite the hardships they faced because they have a ministry that transforms lives by the power of Christ.

Today’s reading continued the theme of serving the Lord despite the costs that come with it. Another reason not to lose heart is eternity–“we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (v. 1b).

Believers should long for eternity (vv. 2-8) but live for Christ with the time we have on this earth (vv. 9-10). Living for Christ means reaching out to non-believers with the life-transforming power of the gospel message (vv. 11-21), so this is why Paul and his team kept traveling, kept giving the gospel despite the pain of persecution and the difficulty of dealing with disrespectful churches.

There are so many powerful verses in this chapter!

  • verse 7: “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
  • verse 10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
  • verse 11: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.”
  • verse 15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
  • verse 17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.”
  • verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
  • verse 21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

But the one that stands out to me today is verse 9, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”

Pleasing God is not the same as trying to earn his love or his salvation. That’s impossible; God loved us unconditionally when we were still sinners and saved us as a gift of his grace alone. But, once saved by God’s grace, we want to become holy like he is and to rescue sinners like he did. God is pleased with these things because they are the evidence of the life of the Holy Spirit within us (v. 5) and because they show that we are “no longer living for” ourselves “but for him who died for” us “and was raised again” (v. 15).

Now that we are God’s children, our goal is to please him with our lives. Is this a goal that we think about daily? Whatever you face today, consider what it would look like to please the Lord in the things you pay attention to, the decisions and choices you make, and what you do with the time in front of you.

1 Corinthians 1

Read 1 Corinthians 1.

Was there ever a more mixed-up group of Christians than the believers in Corinth?

Although they had been blessed by the ministries of several faithful men (v. 12), they could not receive and each man’s teaching. Instead of seeing each man’s ministry as one part of God’s complete instruction to them, they took sides. They claimed to follow one of these men as if they were in opposition to each other instead of co-workers for Christ.

In addition to their divisions, they were confused about what God’s grace meant and about several points of Christian doctrine. We’ll read about all of this in the coming days, but just know or remember that the church in Corinth had a lot of problems.

Yet, Paul began his letter to them by writing, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 2-3).

That greeting gives me great hope. It reminds me that we don’t belong to Christ because we volunteered and worked hard morally to become worthy of being his people.

Instead we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Sanctified means “set apart.” In this context, it refers to our membership in God’s family by faith. It is our association with Christ—being “in Christ Jesus”—that caused us to be set apart to belong to him. It is through the gospel Jesus preached that they and we were “called to be his holy people” (v. 2).

Despite our many differences, we are one in Christ “with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (v. 2). Despite differences in where we live on earth, or when we live on earth, or age, or language, or anything else, if we’re in Christ, we are one. We all call on the same Lord and that same Lord is working on us, causing us to grow and become like him.

2 Thessalonians 3

Read 2 Thessalonians 3.

We all know that we should be praying for our missionaries and others who serve the Lord full-time in ministry. But what should we pray for, specifically?

Maybe we ask the Lord to “bless them,” but what do we really mean by that?

Second Thessalonians 3 starts out with Paul’s request for prayer from the Thessalonians. He asks them to pray specifically for two things. Both of these requests serve as good models for our praying for those serving the Lord in the gospel.

We should pray:

  1. For people to be saved through the gospel message. Verse 1 says “pray for us that the message of the Lord may” do two things: “spread rapidly” and “be honored.” The message of the Lord spreading rapidly means that people come to Christ for salvation a few or more at a time. Instead of reaching people one-by-one, the gospel spreads rapidly when a crowd of spiritually hungry people hear the gospel and trust Christ. They, in turn, are discipled and organized into churches while simultaneously telling others they know about Christ.

    In this way, the gospel spreads rapidly. The phrase “be honored” is a way of referring to a response of faith. We see this from the next phrase in verse 1, “just as it was with you”; in other words, just as the Thessalonians honored the gospel by believing it, Paul asked them to pray for others to hear and believe the gospel as well. This is the first way in which we can pray for those serve the Lord—pray for many to hear the gospel and for many to respond to it in faith.

  2. For preachers to be delivered from persecution. Paul’s second prayer request for the Thessalonians is in verse 2: “And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people….” This is a request about persecution; specifically, that God would rescue his servants from those who would seek to harm them physically or make it difficult for them to communicate the gospel.

    Calling them “wicked and evil people” not only describes their own lifestyle, but it reminds us that those who oppose the spread of the gospel are sinning against God. They are not merely misinformed; they are opposing the Lord and his work. The last phrase of verse 2, “for not everyone has faith” explains why there are wicked and evil people in the world. The difference between those who “honor the message of the Lord” (v. 1) and those who oppose it is the gift of faith that God gives to some when they hear the gospel.

    Paul acknowledges that some who hear the gospel will reject it and even oppose the opportunity for others to hear it. Paul asked that those who prayed for his ministry ask the Lord to deliver him from these people. Similarly, when we pray for God’s servants who share the gospel, we can pray for them to be free from the attacks and opposition of those who love disobedience and want to suppress the truth.

Whenever we pray for those serving the Lord in full-time ministry, we can pray for their encouragement, for their health, for their families, for their financial needs, but let’s remember to pray, too, for many people to believe the gospel and for protection from those who don’t believe the gospel and don’t want its message to spread.

1 Thessalonians 2

Read 1 Thessalonians 2.

Unlike his relationship with some of the other churches he started, Paul had a great relationship with the church at Thessalonica.

In yesterday’s reading, Paul described how the Thessalonians received the gospel from him and how they began spreading that gospel in their region.

Today’s reading in 1 Thessalonians 2 described his first contact with the Thessalonians in more personal terms. Verses 1-7 stated how Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica after suffering persecution in Philippi (vv. 1-2a). Despite “strong opposition” (v. 2b) they spoke the gospel plainly and clearly to the Thessalonians without trying to enhance it for human acceptance with “error or impure motives” (v. 3a), tricks (v. 3b), people-pleasing (v. 4b), flattery (v. 5a), or a hypocritical face to cover up greed (v. 5b).

And yet, he said, “our visit was not without results” (v. 1). In other words, some in Thessalonica received the gospel “as it actually is, the word of God” (v. 13). God’s word was, from that time forward, “at work in you who believe” (v. 14b). What a rebuke to many “ministries” today. Instead of giving the uncorrupted, unadorned gospel, many churches have turned to entertainment and gimmicks in order to get results.

A few years ago, I read about a church whose band performed the song “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday. That may have gotten the attention and approval of some in their audience, but it did not bring glory to God. Just the opposite; God’s heart must have been grieved by such an ungodly act.

Living for God and giving his gospel requires us to guard the message from corruption and to deliver the message in a way that is “worthy of God” (v. 12). Since we believe that salvation is his gift of life delivered to those who hear and believe his word, we should do nothing more than faithfully, clearly, and consistently deliver the message. God will bless his word; there will be “results” (v.1)—as God sees fit to deliver them.

Acts 17

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

Yesterday we read about Paul’s venture into Greece. While he was there, Paul found people who were ready to receive the gospel and others who were ready to persecute him and his team. As he always did, Paul started presenting the gospel to the Jewish people in every city, then expanded his witness out to the Gentiles (v. 2, 4, 10, 12, 17). Paul went to Athens (vv. 15-34) but not because he was planning to preach the gospel there. Instead, he was waiting there for his teammates Silas and Timothy who were supposed to get there ASAP (v. 15).

While in Athens, Paul did speak to the Jewish people who lived there (v. 17) but he also found a secular audience for his message in the marketplace (v. 17b) and on the hill called Areopagus (v. 19). This passage gives us a glimpse into how Paul presented Christ to Gentile non-believers. Notice that he did not seek common ground with these men; rather, he used their altar “to an unknown God” (v. 23) as a starting point for his message, but quickly moved to direct confrontation by saying they were “ignorant of the very thing you worship” (v. 23b). He told them that the true God, the Creator God, did not reside in manmade structures (v. 24) or need food from human hands (v. 25a). Furthermore, he chided them for thinking that manmade statues had any significance for knowing and worshipping God (v. 29), then he moved to preaching repentance, judgment, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead (vv. 30-31).

Of all the controversial things Paul said, the resurrection of the dead was the one that seemed to create the strongest negative reaction among his listeners (v. 32). This is not at all the only place where people objected to his teaching that Christ rose from the dead. Yet Paul never shied away from teaching that God was invisible, not an idol, or that Christ rose from the dead bodily.

Instead, he went straight to the truths of the Christian faith that would be most controversial. This approach is quite a bit different than the way that many of us talk about God. When we talk about God, we may be tempted to avoid the supernatural and just stick to talking about Jesus and what he can do for you. But the reason that Paul didn’t retreat from the controversial aspects of the gospel is that he knew that believing the gospel required God’s supernatural gift of faith, not a group of secular arguments.

The point for us to emulate here is not to minimize the difficult points of the gospel like the resurrection but to feature them in our presentation of the gospel. When we do that, we are relying on God’s power to save people, not our ability to argue people into assenting that Jesus is the Christ.