Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, Romans 3

Read Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, and Romans 3 today. This devotional is about Romans 3.

Romans 2 told us that God is just as angry with self-righteous Jews as he is with the rest of the world (Rom 1). Here in chapter 3, Paul acknowledged that God used the Jewish race to deliver God’s word (vv. 1-2) and to illustrate God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people (vv. 3-8). The bottom line, however, is that Jewish people have no greater status before God than anyone else (v. 9). Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners deserving the wrath of God (vv. 10-19) and unable to earn God’s favor on their own (v. 20).

Having demonstrated the guilt of humanity and our inability to save ourselves, the passage turned to the good news that is at the core of our faith as Christians. Although (and because!) we could not earn righteousness with God on our own, God gives righteousness to those who believe him for it (v. 21). God does this for any sinner who believes (v. 22a), Jew or Gentile (v. 22b-23a). He is able to do this without compromising his justice because the penalty for every sin was paid for in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26).

The reason why neither you nor I can take pride in our own morality or our own spirituality is that we have not earned and could not earn any righteous favor with God (v. 27). So Gentiles like us are on the same level with the Jewish people. God is our God just as he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, or whomever else you want to name.

Think about the implications of this. Do you think God was more willing to answer David’s prayers than yours because David was a man after God’s heart? Think again; David was guilty as a sinner and needed Christ to atone for his sins just like you and I do. Every advantage that God offers to his people is offered to you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.

The problems you and I have spiritually are not due to insufficient grace from God. They are not due to our lack of effort. Have you ever thought something like this, “If I only spent more time in prayer (or Bible memorization, or whatever), then God would love me more and work more powerfully in my life”? If so, please understand–there is nothing you can do to make God like you or love you more. You don’t get more grace from him by doing more good works. It isn’t like a vending machine where you put in more dollars and are able to buy more  bags of chips. Everything you could ever need as a Christian, all the spiritual life and spiritual power you desire is available to you right now in Jesus Christ.

Believe it and live like it is true; that’s what you and I need to change.

Romans 16

Today we’re reading Romans 16.

This closing chapter of the book of Romans was quite personal. It began with Paul’s personal recommendation of Phoebe (vv. 1-2), then a long list of personal greetings (vv. 3-16). Just before his closing remarks, Paul warned the believers about “those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” (v. 17b). The word “heretic” actually means “one who is divisive.” It has become a specialized term reserved for false teachers, but that is because of passages like this one. In verse 17c, we learn that the “divisions and obstacles” were “contrary to the teaching you have learned.” It was false doctrine that Paul was concerned about because that false doctrine would divide the body of Christ. Verse 18 told us that these false teachers would divide the church because of “their own appetites.” In other words, their doctrine was deliberately chosen and differentiated from the truth in order “to deceive the minds of naive people” for the personal profit of the teachers.

Think about that long list of personal greetings in verses 3-16 and this warning in verses 17-19. Paul had seen many churches where there was once warm fellowship and strong friendships torn apart by these false teachers. This entire letter was written to establish a doctrinal base, to teach the gospel Christ gave him to this church that had formed apart from Paul’s direct ministry. Paul wanted each person mentioned in this letter to fully understand the gospel, to believe it themselves and to welcome all–Jews and Gentiles alike–who believe it. It would be a bad, sad thing if “Ampliatus” (v. 8) pulled away from and stopped talking to “Rufus” (v. 13) because Ampliatus had departed from the gospel or because he had stopped accepting Jewish beliers as genuine Christians or because he broke fellowship over which day was the Sabbath and how that Sabbath was to be observed. A proper understanding and acceptance of the gospel, a commitment to serve rather than be served, and an understanding that Christ has accepted many who don’t hold all the same convictions about everything should unify believers, not divide them.

For us, we should recognize that truth is something to be explored and that exploration involves questions and sometimes debate. But when God’s people know what they believe and why, it should unify us rather than divide us. When others come in with different teaching, we should examine their teaching carefully but also be suspicious about their motives. Too many believers uncritically accept different teachings from some bestselling Christian author or TV personality or webpage they read. False teachers can be very persuasive; hold on to the gospel and reject everything that departs from it. The unity of Christ’s body is at stake.

Romans 15

Today we’re reading Romans 15.

This chapter began by wrapping up the teaching we read yesterday on Christian liberty. The Bible does not address every choice that believers make in life so we have to apply biblical principles, godly wisdom, and personal preferences when making those choices. If your choice does not lead another person to sin, does not violate your own conscience, and you are comfortable about this choice when facing the Lord at the judgement seat of Christ, you have the freedom to choose.

I mentioned in the previous paragraph that we have to apply “biblical principles” in these situations. The opening paragraph of today’s reading emphasized that principle which is, “not to please ourselves… [rather] each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (vv. 1b-2a). When we read 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul mentioned more than once that this was his guiding principle for how he ate and for not taking money from the people of a city when he was starting a new church there. Here in Romans 15, Paul points us to the example of Christ in verses 3-13. Because Christ did not put himself first, the insults of sinners fell on him (v. 3) so that the Jews might receive God’s promises to them (v. 8) and the Gentiles might glorify God as well (vv. 9-13). This reminds us of the importance of considering others when we make choices that we don’t believe to be sinful but others might. We should accept other believers without casting doubt on the sincerity of their faith (v. 8) and we should make choices that won’t cause division in the body of Christ.

In verses 14-32 Paul expressed his confidence in the believers at Rome and described his plans to come visit them in the future. He asked them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (v. 30) because he was confident about their faith and maturity in Christ (v. 14). Despite his confidence in them spiritually, he conceded that he had “written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again.” This reminds us that strong Christians need to hear direct, even confrontational application of God’s word to our lives. No matter how much we grow in grace, we will still have points of ignorance, personal blindspots, and areas where obedience is a struggle. Our faith in Christ should give us the humility to receive correction in these areas and to use them to help us grow stronger for the glory of God.

Have you received some uncomfortably direct teaching recently, maybe in the form of a message or in a personal conversation from another believer? Our tendency in those moments is self-defense and maybe that was your initial reaction. On further reflection, however, if you see the wisdom and truth of the words that were spoken to you, have the humility to receive them and put them into practice in your life.

Romans 14

Today’s reading is Romans chapter 14.

Earlier in these devotionals on Romans, I mentioned that scholars have speculated that there might have been two churches in Rome–one Jewish and one Gentile. If that’s the case–and it is just speculation–then Paul did not see them as two churches but as one church divided about some important issues. The chapters on law and grace were designed to set a foundation for healing that division; this chapter, Romans 14, addresses that division as well.

The command that opens this chapter is, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (v. 1). Verses 2-3, 5-6 raise two examples of these “disputable matters.” One has to do with diet (vv. 2-3) and the other has to do with the Sabbath (vv. 5-6). The person “whose faith is weak” is the person who wants to stay kosher (v. 2b: “another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables”) and the person who wants to observe the Sabbath–whether on Saturday or Sunday (v. 6).

Jewish believers and some Gentiles who were steeped in the Old Testament would probably have a hard time being known as the “weaker brother or sister.” because their position is based on scripture. However, they are the weaker believers because they cannot accept the later revelation that declared all foods to be clean and that Christ is the end of the law for those who believe. It would seem that Paul could have justifiably rebuked those who wanted to live a stricter life in these areas because they were not believing and applying God’s word as delivered to the Apostles. Paul did not, however, condemn them; in fact, he commanded believers on all sides not to condemn each other (v. 10). Instead of judging and quarreling, he commanded us to accept each other and believe the best about the other–that he or she is acting that way for the Lord (vv. 3c-8).

Instead of judging each other, God’s word encourages us to work out our own convictions for ourselves (v. 5b) and, if we have a more tolerant position than some Christians, to keep that to ourselves (v. 22) because we love other believers and want them to stand not stumble (vv. 13-21).

Our own choices should be measured not by other people but by two things:

  1. Knowledge that we will answer to God for how we’ve lived this life (vv. 10-12)
  2. Our own conscience (v. 23).

Is there anything you do as a Christian that other Christians might think is wrong? Do you refuse to do something as a Christian that other Christians think is acceptable? Both of those things are OK, provided they are not directly contradictory to scripture, that you do them in faith and that you are prepared to answer to God for them. In the meantime, though, act in love toward those who disagree with you. This will unify us in Christ on many issues that divide the church which will strengthen our witness to the world and help us all glorify God together.

Romans 13

Today we’re reading Romans 13.

This chapter continued applying the theology of Romans 1-11 to the everyday lives of us Christians. The passage started by telling us that government exists by God’s appointment (v. 1b), so we must obey whatever ruling authorities exist over us (v. 1a). After explaining the consequences of disobeying the government (v. 2b-5), the Bible also commanded us to pay taxes and give respect to the government officials over us (vv. 6-7). Verses 8-10 reminded us of the importance of loving each other, even reminding us that this is a debt (v. 8a) that we must continually pay. Finally, verses 11-14 urge us to wake up (v. 11b) and live “decently” (v. 13a) because this age is quickly closing (vv. 11b-12). Specifically, we should stop living for immoral pleasures and instead “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I once heard a message in college on that phrase, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” except that the message was from the King James Version which says, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The preacher of that message made a compelling case for the kind of powerful living that came from “put[ting] ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but I found myself wondering throughout the message, “What does this mean? How do you put on Christ?” At the very end of his message, he finally raised that question. “How do you put on the Lord Jesus Christ?” he asked. “I don’t really know,” he said, much to my great frustration. Now that I am a much more experienced preacher, I am glad he at least asked the question. I’m sure many of my messages have ignored essential questions, though I try not to do that.

Anyway, the preacher added, “But I just try to pray every morning and ask the Lord to help me put on Christ.” If he meant that like a magic incantation, then his approach is off the mark. But I don’t think that’s what he meant; in fact, I think what he meant was somewhat in concert with what Paul meant in this passage. Putting on Christ, clothing yourself in him, is not a technique or a formula for spirituality. It is a metaphor for the entire Christian life. “Putting on Christ” means learning to live for Jesus Christ. It means learning to think of your life through God’s eyes and doing what Christ would do in any situation. “What would Jesus do” is not just a helpful question for difficult decision points. It is what the Christian life is about; it’s about restructuring your life as God-in-the-flesh would live it if he had your family, your job, your bank account, your free time, and so on. This is what God is doing in all believers through the Holy Spirit, the word of God, and the challenging affects of other Christians in our lives. Whether you are aware of it or not, God is moving your life toward holiness through these influences, if you are a Christian.* But if we can learn to consciously think about living each day for Christ, as if we were him, that will help us to do what is right in God’s sight more often and it will help us “not [to] think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 14b). So, the preacher’s statement that he just prayed and asked the Lord to help him put on Christ was not a bad way to apply the passage. May the Lord help us apply it similarly and live for him today.

*By the way: the times in our lives when we are aware of our sins and weaknesses are part of that process, too. They are how God shows us our need of Christ and his grace for forgiveness and future growth.

Romans 12

Today’s reading is Romans 12.

Romans 11 ended with a praise poem to God’s mercy. Today, Romans 12:1 began by calling us to act differently “in view of God’s mercy.” Because God has called us and given us new life and the gift of faith, God’s word urges believers “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” That means serving God with your life by making moral choices that please him (v. 1b-2: “holy and pleasing to God…”) and living a life of service to others based on the gift God gave you (vv. 3-8). It means loving God’s people in real ways (vv. 9-13) and being kind and loving to our enemies (vv. 14-21).

I want to focus on that phrase, “living sacrifices” in verse 1. Up to and including Jesus, sacrifices were dead; they were living things killed to be offered to God on behalf of someone else. Christ gave himself as the ultimate (and only truly meaningful) sacrifice. He was the final dead sacrifice that God wanted as his death made atonement for us. Then, raised to life, he gives life to all who come to him in faith. Now, God does not want your dead body or for us to bring him dead bodies in worship. Instead, he wants believers to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” To do that, we continue to live in this world, but the things we do with our lives, our human bodies, we do in worship to him. The ways that we spend our time, the things we say and do, our service to each other and our kindness to those who are unkind to us all grow out of the fact that we are God’s and want to worship him with our lives.

Imagine that each morning when you rise from your bed, you thought about this verse and made a decision to worship God with your body, your life, that day. What would change about your daily schedule, your thinking towards other people, what is important to you, how you use your money? Would it change the way you eat or how you spend your free time? Would you find greater joy in life because you’ve surrendered control and quit worrying about things?

Try it today; maybe even write “Rom 12:1” or “living sacrifice” on your right hand to remind you.

Romans 11

Today we’re reading Romans 11.

Romans 10 discussed the fact that many Israelites rejected the good news about Christ but, today in chapter 11, Paul was quick to address the fact that not all Jews were in unbelief (v. 1). In verses 2-10, he reminded us that historically the Jewish people lived in unbelief and rebellion against God for most of their history. So the idea that only some of God’s chosen people were actually chosen to have faith in him is not something new. It is how God has always worked, saving a “remnant” who trusted him from the heart (vv. 5-6).

But why did this happen when Jesus came? Wasn’t the promise of Messiah that he would rule over all Israel? Yes, that was the promise and it will still happen (v.26). The reason it didn’t happen with Jesus’ first coming, however, was God’s desire to save us Gentiles (vv. 11-25). God will still redeem Israel, just as he promised, but not “until the full number of Gentiles has come in (v. 25b). This is all an expression of God’s mercy (v. 32). He hardened Israel, for a time, so that he would save us. The power of this grace overwhelmed Paul in verses 33-36. It caused him to remark on the greatness of God’s wisdom (v. 33a) and how his wisdom is beyond human comprehension (vv. 34-36).

Is this how you respond to doctrines that are hard to understand? Does the doctrine of election or of the Trinity lift your spirit to worship the immense wisdom of God? Or, does it cause you to question and even deny those doctrines because they are hard for us to understand. If God is all-wise and all-knowing, are we really surprised that he does things that we find hard to understand? If everything about God were simple and made perfect sense to limited, fallible people like us, then we should be concerned. So let the difficult doctrines of scripture, the ones you find hard to understand or to accept as true, cause you to look to God in awe. His judgments are “unsearchable… and his paths beyond tracing out!”