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Friday, May 31, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 21

A Study of the Epistle to the Romans

The Moral World Under Sentence of Condemnation

"According to Truth"

It is the truth, not "truth." Perhaps you have been in court at some time and have seen a witness called to the stand. He swears "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," but he does not do it, and so justice is miscarried. Paul is saying that when God sets Himself up to judge man, there is going to be the truth - "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." In other words, the moral man will have to face the naked and awful truth when he comes before God. That is what the apostle wants him to face here; there will be no evasions. Paul intimates here that these people knew that very principle. He says, "We are sure" that this is so. In this way he reaches out and includes all these men, whether Jews or Gentiles. The Jews knew that God is true and righteous; the Gentile believers also knew that God would judge according to truth.

Now, in view of that knowledge, here is the way Paul sets forth man's attitude toward God:

In verses 3-5, there are three words which are key words - one in each verse. The first key word (v. 3) is "thinkest." (My version is "reckon"; it means "reason.") Second (v. 4) is "despisest." Third (v. 5) is "treasurest." Each word indicates the contents of its verse.

These men knew that God's judgment was according to the truth. How are you going to explain their attitude in going on in sin? Paul says it is their false reasoning: "Did you think you are going to escape the judgment of God?" Any man who thinks so is the victim of false reasoning.

Suppose a man denies that. "I did not think that way." Paul says there is just one alternative - you "despise!" It's either one thing or the other - either you are the victim of false reasoning or you "despisest ... the riches of His goodness and forbearance in longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." That expression "not knowing" is one word  in the Greek. It does not mean that the man is absolutely ignorant of it, but he "ignores" it.

That God has not punished sinners for nineteen hundred years, that He has not broken through the heavens and struck men down, because God has not brought a judgment on the whole world since the flood has led men to draw a false conclusion from this delay. They are concluding that God will never punish sin because He is now silent. They ought to learn from this that God is longsuffering, that He is "not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9). That is what they ignore: "Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." From he silence of God, men draw wrong conclusions.

In either event (it does not matter which), a man who reasons this way is treasuring up wrath for himself. He is like the man who goes to the bank every week and puts away twenty dollars. He is treasuring up his wealth. To think that every thought, word, and deed of a man out of Christ is laying up wrath. Contrary to this, Jesus said, "Lay up ... treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20). That is a different kind of treasure. In reality, the righteous do lay up treasure in heaven, but the wicked are laying up a different kind of treasure that is going to be poured out on them in the day of God being revealed, but a time is coming when it is going to be fully revealed.

"According to His Deeds"

In this passage Paul is accused of teaching salvation by works. Notice in the seventh verse, when he starts to explain: "To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life." Some say Paul there teaches that if a man does a certain kind of work, he will have eternal life. But I answer, note the following points.

In the first place, even before looking at the passage before us, this could not be possible, for Paul says, "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (3:20). And again, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness" (4:5). Paul never taught salvation, or justification by works.

Nevertheless, from the phrase in the seventh verse, "Patience in well-doing," comes the question, "what is well-doing?" In every age of man God has revealed certain truth, and obedience to that truth in that age constituted well-doing. Paul here is not dealing with simply one age - the age of grace, the age of law, or any other age. He is laying down an eternal principle by which God is going to judge men in all ages, and he says: "To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life." Let us go back to the age of conscience, and see what is well-doing . Genesis 4:3-7: "If thou doest well" - the same expression. "If thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door." Abel brought the sacrifice of an animal: Cain did not. God said one man did well; the other man did not. Well-doing in that age was bringing the appointed sacrifice. In the words of 1 John 3:12, Cain is condemned "because his works were evil." So, well-doing back there was bring the sacrifice that God appointed. The age of law required that they keep God's law, and if they broke it, bring a sacrifice.

What is well-doing in this age? Well-doing in this age is believing on the name of the Son of God. "What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:28-29). Now if you want to do well in God's sight in this age, believe on the Son of God. That is well-doing.

When the end comes and God judges men, He is going to judge them by their life attitude, their heart attitude toward the truth in the age in which they lived. This is a general principle which is not confined to one dispensation at all, but is applicable down through the ages.

When God reveals a certain truth in a certain age, there are two classes that emerge. One class is obedient to the truth, and the other is rebellious. For them that rebel there shall be "wrath and indignation" from God's side (v. 8); "tribulation and anguish" on man's side (v. 9). This will be true for "the Jew first, and also the Greek." That is an awful priority, isn't it? Did you ever think of it? What was the Jew morally? He said, "I am first." and he was first, too. But in a larger sense than he ever dreamed of! For if God would render to him first from the standpoint of righteousness, He would also render to him first from the standpoint of responsibility. Revelation of truth determines priority in the mind of God. On the positive side the principle of judgment follows the same order (v. 10).

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 22 - "No Respect of Persons")

God's Shield Against Discouragement

Sometimes we suffer discouragement because of difficult circumstances caused by no one in particular: natural disasters, disease, economic downturns, injury. Frequently, however, we suffer because enemies cause us harm and refuse to stop. That was David's lament in Psalm 5. He knew discouragement can easily escalate into resentment, bitterness, hatred, and finally retaliation. He feared becoming like his oppressors. So, David reflected on the Lord's character and asked Him for the ability to do things His way. David then considers the character and actions of his enemies (Psalm 5:9-10).
There is nothing reliable in what they say;
Their inward part is destruction itself.
Their throat is an open grave;
They flatter with their tongue.
Hold them guilty, O God;
By their own devices let them fall!
In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out,
For they are rebellious against You.
In his mind, David deliberately hands his enemies over to God, who has the sole authority to dispense justice or mercy. He also asks God to allow them to "fall by their own devices." When dealing with those who oppose righteousness, it's helpful to remember that they are fighting against the Lord, not you. Consequently, you can be sure He will not allow evil deeds to continue forever. He will limit sin and hold the sinners accountable. If left alone in their own counsel, they will fall by themselves!

Paul the apostle says it straight in Romans 12:17-19.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.
The daily grind of discouragement is lessened when we trust that the Lord will fight our battles for us.

Finally, having celebrated the righteous character of God, having requested the ability to remain on God's side of the issue, and having considered the ultimate fate of evildoers, David imagined the future joy of the righteous (Psalm 5:11).
But let all who take refuge in You be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy;
And may You shelter them,
That those who love Your name may exult in You.
The key thought through this verse is joy. How are you doing regarding your countenance---is it joyful? Do you really live above the pressures? Is there an evidence of peace written across your face? If you fight your own battles without the Lord, you'll become bitter, severe, cranky, and ultimately your face will bear the marks of the battle.

Have you ever taken note of Cain's response to God's refusal of his offering? A most significant statement appears in Genesis 4:5: "So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell." Another way of translating the Hebrew text adds a bit more color: "And Cain burned with anger exceedingly and his face fell." When anger and resentment are harbored, our faces show it. Our jaw tightens with clenched teeth. Our eyes narrow. It is impossible to hide inner discouragement! "Fallen" faces reveal discouraged hearts. David wanted God to take his inner burden and replace it with inner joy.

Finally, the composer mentions a promise we frequently forget:
For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD,
You surround him with favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:12)
David closes his song with his eyes turned toward the Lord and away from the sources of his discouragement. Having given God his "morning burden," David's discouragement fled. The shield he mentions at the end of his song here in verse 12 was the largest of warriors' shields, covering the entire body. So what is the promise? God will bless the one who looks to Him for protection. How? He will do this by giving him favor and by providing him with His large, protective (yet invisible) shield. Up with the shield . . . out with discouragement!

~Charles Swindoll~

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 20

A Study of the Epistle to the Romans

The Moral World Under Sentence of Condemnation

"Thou ... Dost ... the Same Things"

That may seem a little difficult to believe. It may seem impossible to you that these men who were moral men should be doing the same things that we found in the first chapter. You may even say, "It is impossible. If they were doing that, then it is wrong to call them moral men."

However, several explanations may be made, for there are perhaps three or four ways in which they did the same things.

First, they may not have done all the things, but only some of them. You will notice that they were covetous, envious, boastful. You can find things in that catalog of which every moral man is guilty; though he may not fall down before a graven image, he does some of those things.

Then perhaps he may not do them outwardly but inwardly. There is an intimation in verse 16 that this is what the apostle is thinking about, as he says, God shall judge the secrets of men." Have you ever seen someone who outwardly was good but inwardly wicked, and that very man condemning other people who were outwardly bad? That is what Paul has in mind. "Thou ... dost ... the same things."

Then again (and this is probably the greatest sin of all), what was the outstanding sin of the people in the first chapter? They sinned against light. "Knowing God, they glorified Him not as God" (1:21). These men were doing in their lives the very things they disapproved. In that sense, they were doing the same things.

"Thou Art Without Excuse"

This indictment is doubly true. If these men did the same things, they are without excuse. But their guilt was heightened by their own morality, by their own ability to judge. 

Look at verse 32 of the first chapter. Pagan men not only do evil things, but they have pleasure in others that do them. The word "consent", you will recall, means "applaud" or "approve." These people in the first chapter knew that these sins brought death, yet they approved of them. The difference between the two classes now becomes clear. Both kinds of men were sinners, both did the same things; but the pagans did something of which they approved, and the moralists did something of which they disapproved. The second is worse.

So the conclusion to be drawn from verse one is this: man is condemned by his own judgment.

The Moral Man Condemned by God's Judgment

Paul has shown that this moral man is self-condemned, and now he is going to show that he is God-condemned. He first turned his own judgment against him, and now is going to turn the judgment of God against him (2:16). In these verses, Paul explains four great principles of judgment which constitute the four features in this section:

1. "According to truth" (verse 2). Truth is the first principle by which God is going to judge men.
2. "According to his works" (verse 6). Practice is second.
3. "There is no respect of persons" (verse 11). When God judges men, there will be no partiality. 
4. "According to my gospel" (verse 16). There will be a searching judgment of the secrets of men.

We are going to find some "things hard to be understood" (2 Peter 3:16). Some say, for instance, that Paul teaches salvation by works, and at first glance it looks that way too. But remember that Paul is not trying to show men how to be saved; he is trying to show men why they are lost. So you will find no gospel in this section. He is dealing with a crowd of men who stand off and say, "We are righteous in ourselves." He is trying to sweep away their refuge, to cut the foundation from beneath them. God is talking about judgment!

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 21 - "According to Truth")

Exercising the Muscle of Faith

Yesterday we looked at the importance of God's Word to strengthen our faith.  Yet there is something more we need to do to see our faith grow.  We must use it.

In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul says this about faith,
Fight the good fight of faith.

Faith is made for conflict.  It does not grow without conflict.  It does not grow without pressure.  You need to use it.

Remember our illustration of the body builders and how a proper diet is essential to building muscle mass?  Well, they will also tell you that it is not enough to drink protein shakes and eat tuna fish, you have to work those muscles if they are going to grow.  They work those weights every day in order to build their muscles.

The same thing is true when it comes to faith.  Faith is a muscle that you have to use.  It is not enough just to listen to your Bible teaching CDs all day long.  Hearing alone is not enough to develop faith.  You must use your faith muscle.

That is what the fight of faith is all about.  You exercise your faith when you are standing in the midst of your storm, and you are assailed by temptations and every kind of trial that tells you you're not going to make it, that you are going down with the ship.

As you stand in the midst of your storm, and the wind is howling around you, and the lightning is flashing, and the waves are breaking over the bow of your little ship, stand up and say, "I believe God, that it is going to be just as it was told me."  That is where the fight of faith comes in.

No matter what you may be going through today, exercise that muscle of faith.  Trust God to do just as He has promised. 

~Bayless Conley~

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 19

A Study of the Epistle to the Romans

The Moral World Under Sentence of Condemnation (Romans 2:1-16)

In the latter part of the previous chapter, the apostle drew a terrible picture of the sin of the heathen world and its awful condemnation and punishment. All the time Paul was talking about that heathen world and telling about their descent into idolatry, he was conscious that there was a class of men in the world who could say amen to everything he was saying. They would say, "Yes, Paul, is right. We know the heathen world has fallen into those sins, and in our judgment they deserve all they got." They were standing right beside him and approving his condemnation of the heathen world.

Now Paul turns to those very fellows and says to them, "Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practice the same things" (2:1).

Precisely to whom is the apostle referring, and who falls beneath the ban of this judgment? Some commentators and expositors declare that the apostle is talking to the Jew here, but they say that Paul was approaching the subject very carefully and therefore does not name the Jew until the seventeenth verse. Let the Word settle the identity of those to whom God is speaking here through Paul: "O man, whosoever thou art that judgest." Then to whom is he talking? Any man (it does not matter who he is) who judges. To finish it, look at the latter part of the ninth and tenth verses. What two classes are mentioned both times?  Jew and Gentile. Then this passage is addressed to any man, whoever he may be (Jew or Gentile) in the whole world that judges. It is sufficient to say that this is a man who knows right from wrong, who has moral discernment. Paul is talking to him right here.

The key word of this section is the word "judgest" (or "judgment"). Nine times that particular word occurs, and it sums up everything in this passage. The first and the last verses of this section provide a contrast: "O man, whosoever thou art that judgest"; and later, "In the day when God shall judge." This section starts out with man on the throne of judgment and ends with God on the throne of judgment, which is proper and right. Judgment is the keynote of the section.

There are two great divisions of thought in the whole section: 1. in the first verse, the moral man (for that is the man under consideration) is condemned by his own judgment; 2. the rest of the section (2-16) shows the moral man condemned by God's judgment. Condemned by his own judgment, condemned by God's judgment: those are the two main divisions and everything in the passage falls under those two heads.

The Moral Man Condemned According to His Own Judgment

At the very beginning in the first verse is the key word that will analyse the verse. It is the word "thou"; it occurs five times in the first verse. Four of these fit into an analysis of the passage:

1. "Thou ... that judgest" - the identification of the man.
2. "Thou condemnest thyself" - the endorsement of the man.
3. "Thou ... dost ... the same things" - the inclination of the man.
4. "Thou art without excuse" - the indictment of the man.

"Thou That Judgest"

What does it mean? On the negative side it does not mean what we have often thought - that is, a mere condemnation of somebody else; but on the positive side it means the faculty of moral discrimination that every man has to a more or less degree. Let me illustrate: I see a man steal something, and I  say in evaluating that deed, "That is wrong." This means I have judged. I have exercised the faculty of judging right from wrong. That is precisely the significance of the words, "Thou ... that judgest." I can conceive of the fact that some men might fall so low that they could almost lost that faculty - for instance, those men in the first chapter. But even these men had that faculty to a degree. They could look and say, "This is right; or that is wrong."

"Thou Condemnest Thyself"

I have heard sermons which say, "It is wrong to judge somebody else. If a person does that, God will judge him." The thing that this man is condemned for here is his act of judging. But nothing could be more wrong than this conclusion. The faculty of moral judgment is right. God approves it. Every man ought to have it. Everyone ought to be able to look at another man and say, "That is wrong" or "That is right." This man was not condemned because he condemned others. He was condemned because while he was condemning others, he was doing the same thing and therefore condemned himself for his own sins.

A wonderful illustration comes from the Old Testament. David committed murder because he wanted a man's wife. David have many wives. This man had only one, but the king desired her. He then had one of his officers take her husband and place him in front of the army to be killed. Then David took his wife! Nathan came to him. (David had the faculty of moral discrimination.) Nathan told him the story of a man who had many herds and flocks. He had a neighbor who had one little lamb. Instead of taking one of his own flock to entertain a stranger, the man with many flocks took the neighbor's lamb. David became very angry. He said, "Show me that man!" Then Nathan said: "Thou art the man!" In other words, "You who judge are condemning yourself because you do the same thing."

Never let anybody tell you that it is wrong to judge things in the lives of others. It is right. If we did not have the faculty of moral discrimination, think where we would be. However, God wants us first to judge the same things in our own lives. 

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 20 - "Thou ... Doest .. The Same Things")

Selfish Christianity

Which interests you more—who Jesus is or what He can do for you? I’m afraid that too many of us are more concerned about what He can give us than we are about getting to know who He is.

But this is nothing new—Jesus had this problem when He walked on earth. The crowds often sought Him out for what He could do for them. Even though their needs were quite often legitimate, Christ knew their motives.

There is a fine line between selfishly trying to use the Lord to get what we want and humbly coming to Him with our needs and struggles. Some of the issues we bring to Him are so pressing and urgent in our minds that our desire for Him to take action in the way we want becomes greater than our willingness to submit to His will. At times, what we call “faith” is really a demanding spirit.

We must remember that our needs will come to an end, but Jesus Christ will remain forever. If our prayers have dealt only with presenting our requests to the Lord, We’ve missed a great opportunity to get to know the One with whom we’ll spend eternity. Let’s invest time in pursuing intimacy with Christ. Then we can enjoy the benefits of that relationship forever.

How much of your communion with God is devoted to your needs—even legitimate ones? Are you spending any time getting to know the Lord? Although God delights in our prayers and tells us to pray about everything, He also wants us to come to Him just because we enjoy being with Him. 

~Charles Stanley~

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 18

The Wrath of God Deserved

Those ancient civilizations had some truth. Therefore, it is correct to state that the wrath of God was deserved.

Paul, in this passage (19-23), anticipates an objection. Concerning the wrath of God being revealed, someone may say, "What about the ancient heathen world? They had no revelation of God. How can people like that be expected to honor and worship God? Do such people deserve the wrath of God?" That is an old question. Are the heathen really lost? Were they responsible, those people living back there in the darkness? The apostle answers this question. He says they do deserve the wrath of God!

The key word is "because: "Because that which is known of God is manifest in them, for God manifested it unto them." (v. 19); "because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God" (v. 21).

First, "that which is known of God is manifest in them." God did what? "He showed it unto them." There are two tenses there. First is the present tense: "That which is made known of God." The verse closes with the past tense: "for God showed it to them." Verse 20 says, "The invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and divinity, that they may be without excuse." God revealed Himself through the created universe, and every man has that revelation. His eternal power and Godhead, the fact that He is God, and has power to punish ought to be revealed to every man by looking up at the starry heavens. "They are without excuse."

That settles the question of the responsibility of those people; they had a revelation of God. Every man has the same revelation. It is the evidence of creation. When a man can look out at the created universe and fail to see the power, the Godhead, and the divinity of God, he is a man who is holding down the truth - not because he cannot see it, but because he is unrighteous. That is what Paul is talking about in relation to the ancient people. They had the truth, and if they had not held down the truth, it would have prevailed.

The second reason they deserved the wrath of God was "because that, knowing God, they glorified Him not as God." Then comes the downward trend involving seven steps. Undoubtedly in this twenty-first verse the apostle Paul was talking about a different revelation than in those other two verses. There is the revelation of creation spoken of in Psalm 19: "the heavens declare the glory of God." The heavens tell us there is a God,  a God who has power, yet the heavens can never make us "know" God. We can never know God in the actual sense of the word without a special revelation. Paul says in this twenty-first verse that these people not only knew about God, but they knew Him. They could not know God without a revelation. God apparently revealed Himself to man back there in a special way, before the Word of God was given. Archaeology has discovered in the records that there are traces of an original, primeval revelation. We know that God revealed Himself to Adam and to Noah and his sons. There may have been others.

These ancient people took a path of seven steps downward:

1. They knew God, but refused to honor Him. "Knowing God, the glorified him not as God."

2. They were not thankful for God's goodness to them, "Neither gave thanks."

3. They began speculating foolishly. "Became vain in their reasonings."

4. Their minds became senseless and darkened. "Their senseless heart was darkened."

5. They thought they were wise. "Professing themselves to be wise."

6. In reality, they had become very foolish. "They became fools."

7. Instead of worshiping the eternal God, they preferred idols patterned after mortal man. "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man."

That is total descent. They knew God, but when they arrived at the bottom, they were worshiping sticks and stones, carved out in the shape of animals and "creeping things." Compare the theory of evolution with this picture. As a pattern of development, evolutionary theory permeates everything today, so of course it has been applied in the realm of religion. Evolutionists say religion developed in a process like this: When man was primitive (when he had graduated from the ape tribe, lost his tail, quit climbing trees), he felt an impulse to worship something, so he took a stick, carved out an image, and began to worship that. That was the first step. As his intellectual powers grew, he began to make moral distinctions, saying, "This is right, and that is wrong." The next step in his reasoning process was to realize that the rain and the seasons must come from one or more superhuman beings and so he gave thanks to the gods for their gifts. From that point he rose to the conception of the true God and became a monotheist.

Paul's description of man's religious development does not follow the evolutionary order. His arrangement is the reverse, going from monotheism to idolatry. Man did not begin with the worship of sticks. Archaeology confirms that man began with monotheism and later degenerated. This is therefore, an accurate, scientific statement of Paul's.

In Isaiah, God exposes the foolishness of idolatry. He says, "The smith maketh an axe, and worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with his strong arm; yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth; he drinketh no water and is faint. The carpenter ... shapeth it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man ... he planteth a fir tree, and the rain doth nourish it" (Isaiah 44:12-14). Who gives the rain? Who gives him his strength? Who gave him the water he needed to drink while he was making his idol? Isn't that wonderful irony? "Then shall it be for a man to burn; and he taketh thereof, and warmeth himself; yea, he kindleth it and baketh bread" (Isaiah 44:15). He couldn't bake his bread if God didn't give him wood. "Then he maketh a ... graven image; he falleth down in front of it." (Isaiah 44:17).

The Wrath of God Inflicted

How did God inflict His wrath on the ancient heathen world? "Wherefore God gave them up." God stayed with them all the way as they descended into the pit, until they come to the point where they carved out wood and stones and made idols and worshiped them. Then God surrendered them! That is the key phrase of this passage: verse 24 - "God gave them up"; verse 26 - "God gave them up"; verse 28 - "God gave them up." All three verses are alike: "God gave them up!" The number three signified completeness. When these folks had turned to idols, God completely abandoned them to their own ways!

First of all, "Gad gave them up to the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness." They became depraved in heart when God gave them up. First it is the heart, then it is the body. Next, God gave them up to a reprobate mind." A depraved heart, a depraved body, a depraved mind. The word "reprobate" means "tested and found to be no good" - like a piece of tested steel in a machine shop. God tested man and gave him up. Men vied with one another to invent new forms of vice in the days of Paul.

There you have the list. You may ask this question: "Is every man in the world guilty of those things?" No, not in outward act. The best man on earth may never do outwardly one thing in this catalog of sins, but let him turn his back on God! Someday every one of these things would develop in that man's life, for it is there in germ and needs only the proper environment to come out. A drunkard went reeling along the street, and an onlooker said, "There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford." Our hearts are all the same. It is only because God has not given us up that we are here today.

Some people have asked, "What is the wrath of God like?" The wrath of God inflicted, whatever else it includes, includes one thing: abandonment. If you can look at the world when God removes all His restraining forces and His love, and lets sinners wander in their sins - that is hell; that is the wrath of God! No man can say this response of God is not righteous. Even as they refused to know God, God gave them up.

Notice the final charge: "Who knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practice them." The word "consent" may be translated "applaud." People not only do these things, but they applaud others who do them. There is one great lesson here: evil (sin) is progressive and you cannot stop it, once it is started.

Some people ask, "Why should I go to church Sunday morning to worship God?" Why should we come here to thank God for the things we have received during the week? "Neither give thanks" is one of the first steps in declension. If we keep close to Him, if we worship His as God, if we have a thankful heart, He keeps us from taking the plunge such as these men took.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 19 - "The Moral World Under Sentence of Condemnation")

The Reward of Godliness

In today's devotional, I want to draw your attention to the importance of the pursuit of godliness.  Let's look at 1 Timothy 6:6,

Now godliness with contentment is great gain.

What an incredible truth. Godliness coupled with contentment is great gain. Not just gain, GREAT gain!

Over and over in Scripture, God highlights the importance and reward of godliness. For instance, it says in Psalm 4:3, That the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly. 2 Peter says the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations. Those are great rewards!

But there is more. Look at 1 Timothy 4:7-8,

But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

It could not be more clear! There is profit in godliness, and that profit is not only in this life, but in the life that is to come.  Godliness is going to pay off in both this life and into eternity! 
So it makes sense to make this pursuit of godliness a priority! Even if people want to kick you every time you do something that is right, you need to stay with it. 

Determine today to make godliness an everyday pursuit. If you do, you will reap the rewards of godliness, great gain and profit, not just in this life, but for eternity. 

~Bayless Conley~

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 17

A Study of the Epistle to the Romans

The Pagan World Under Sentence of Condemnation

As powerful as this gospel is, there is one thing that this gospel cannot do: it cannot save any man until that man sees himself as a guilty, lost, condemned sinner. Therefore, before Paul even begins to talk about God saving sinners, he takes a whole section of his letter to demonstrate that men need the gospel. it is a universal gospel for a universal need. If no one sick, why send for the doctor? If no one is lost, why preach the gospel? If the world of men is not lost, absolutely condemned, then preaching the gospel is foolish.

This next section of the book of Romans deals with condemnation and answers the question, "Is the world really lost?" That section extends from verse 18 of the first chapter to verse 20 of the third chapter. It unfolds logically from the very start through to the end.

This section on condemnation has four distinct movements of thought: 1. the condemnation of the heathen world, 2. the condemnation of the moral man (the better class, so to speak), 3. the condemnation of the religious man (represented by the Jew), and 4. the condemnation of the whole world.

The condemnation of the Heathen World

This condemnation is covered in verses 18 to 32, thus completing chapter one. There are three distinct divisions in this passage: 1. the wrath of God revealed (v. 18), 2. the wrath of God deserved (vv. 19-23), and 3. the wrath of God inflicted (vv. 24-32).

The Wrath of God Revealed

"The wrath of God is revealed," Paul says. What is the wrath of God? The word "wrath" makes most of us think of an arbitrary outburst of temper. But when we speak of "the wrath of God," we do not mean that. The wrath of God is His holy aversion to all that is evil, and His purpose is to destroy it. The wrath of God might be compared to the wrath of the judge of the wrath of the law, for it is proper to speak of "the wrath of the law." If a man murders another man, the wrath of the law will be revealed - he will be punished for his crime. The wrath of God is like that.

The question that arises is, "How is the wrath of God revealed? Where can I see its revelation?" The wrath of God is revealed plainly in three ways:

The wrath of God is revealed in the Bible. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). Throughout the Bible the wrath of God is revealed right alongside the love of God. There are many who would like to omit the wrath of God yet keep the love of God; but the two attributes are inseparable.

The wrath of God is revealed in the Cross of Christ. There is no greater revelation of God's wrath than is revealed in the Cross of Christ at Calvary. When Christ hangs on the Cross and cries, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46), God's wrath against human sin is revealed. Paul says about his gospel, "For therein is revealed the righteousness of God." The place where righteousness is revealed is the Cross. The same place where God reveals His righteousness, He also reveals His wrath, and through His revelation of wrath He brings forth a revelation of an obtainable righteousness.

The wrath of God is revealed in the natural world, and that is the greatest revelation, perhaps, of the wrath of God to a man who rejects the authority of the Bible and the historicity of the Cross. Disease, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, flooding volcanic eruptions,  - all are given as warnings of the coming wrath of God.

According to the text this revelation is from heaven. The Bible is from heaven; the Cross of Christ originated from heaven; and the laws of nature also came from heaven.

Something in this verse not apparent to the English reader is that this revelation of God's wrath is a standing revelation. The tense of the verb is "revealed" is the present in the original Greek and might well be translated like this: "The wrath of God is being revealed continuously." Consider how true this is. The Word of God continues to stand in the world. The Cross of Christ, although it occurred nineteen hundred years ago, continues to stand as the great witness of the wrath of God and has stood for the last nineteen hundred years. Similarly, the wrath of God is being revealed continuously upon those who break the laws of God in nature. It is a standing revelation!

Notice the object of God's wrath. Paul, in two words, has summed up all of human sin, placing it in two great divisions: ungodliness and unrighteousness. "Ungodliness" is sin against the "being" of God. "Unrighteousness" is sin against the "will" of God. Man is not only a moral sinner (he is unrighteous), but man is a religious sinner (he is ungodly). The unrighteous man lives as if there were no will of God revealed; the ungodly man lives as if there were no God. That is the relationship between those two things. While unrighteousness has to do with morality - our relation with our fellow man, ungodliness has to do with religion - our relation to a sovereign God.

Some say, "I am righteous; I live a moral life; I do not sin against my fellow men." Such a man - even if he were perfect in that respect, never breaking the laws of man's relationship to man - would still be guilty of ungodliness. It is not enough to keep the laws between man and man for the sake of morality, but h must live righteously for the glory of God, and that is what godliness means. This was the godliness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every righteous act that He performed, every righteous thought He thought, every righteous word He spoke - was all to the glory of God. He was both godly and also righteous!

Paul mentions "ungodliness" first. Here is an evidence of inspiration in the order of these two words, because ungodliness precedes unrighteousness. The first thing the heathen do not do: "They glorified Him not as God" (v. 21). That is ungodliness. In a later verse they are presented as "being filled with  all unrighteousness." Their moral decline started with ungodliness! Men have reversed the order, however, in religious teaching. Men are emphasizing primarily righteousness, when in reality everything flows from a godly life. We must first of all worship God, and then our lives will line up in the realm of righteousness.

The eighteenth verse in the King James Version says, "Who hold the truth in unrighteousness." The American Standard Version translates it, "Who hold down the truth in unrighteousness," which is a different thing. The King James Version may be wrong, for this reason: the apostle Paul is talking about why they did not hold the truth. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie" (v. 25). Obviously, they did not hold it. This translation is more clear: "Who hold down the truth in unrighteousness, or "Who hindereth it in unrighteousness." Sin has a tendency to suppress the truth, and no matter how much truth a man has, it will not manifest itself in his life as long as he continued to disobey God. So at this point the American Standard Version correctly uses the word "hinder" instead of the word "hold."

There is one great thing that can hinder or hold back the operation of the truth of God: unrighteousness in the church. It must be purged out in order that the truth of God may have full freedom to work. There must be righteousness in order that the truth may prevail.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 18 - "The Wrath of God Deserved")

Lawn Care

"He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass" (Ps. 72:6).
Amos speaks of the king's mowings. Our King has many scythes, and is perpetually mowing His lawns. The musical tinkle of the whetstone on the scythe portends the cutting down of myriads of green blades, daisies and other flowers. Beautiful as they were in the morning, within an hour or two they lie in long, faded rows.
Thus in human life we make a brave show, before the scythe of pain, the shears of disappointment, the sickle of death.
There is no method of obtaining a velvety lawn but by repeated mowings; and there is no way of developing tenderness, evenness, sympathy, but by the passing of God's scythes. How constantly the Word of God compares man to grass, and His glory to its flower! But when grass is mown, and all the tender shoots are bleeding, and desolation reigns where flowers were bursting, it is the most acceptable time for showers of rain falling soft and warm.
O soul, thou hast been mown!
Time after time the
King has come to thee with
His sharp scythe.
Do not dread the scythe--
It is sure to be followed by the shower.
--F. B. Meyer
"When across the heart deep waves of sorrow
Break, as on a dry and barren shore;
When hope glistens with no bright tomorrow,
And the storm seems sweeping evermore;
"When the cup of every earthly gladness
Bears no taste of the life-giving stream;
And high hopes, as though to mock our sadness,
Fade and die as in some fitful dream,
"Who shall hush the weary spirit's chiding?
Who the aching void within shall fill?
Who shall whisper of a peace abiding,
And each surging billow calmly still?
"Only He whose wounded heart was broken
With the bitter cross and thorny crown;
Whose dear love glad words of Joy had spoken,
Who His life for us laid meekly down.
"Blessed Healer, all our burdens lighten;
Give us peace, Thine own sweet peace, we pray!
Keep us near Thee till the morn shall brighten,
And all the mists and shadows flee away!"
~L. B. Cowman~

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 16

A Study of the Epistle to the Romans

The Theme of the Epistle to the Romans

The gospel, of course, is not bound up in paper. You can go outside, stop the first man you meet on the street, and say, "Jesus died for your sins and rose again from the dead," and if he believes it, instantly his sins are blotted out forever. He stands righteous before God, and the eternal life of Gd enters into his soul. The words which you have spoken have been the power of God. Someone will say, "Is it possible that mere words can save the soul of man?" In Acts 11:13-14, the angel came to Cornelius and said for Cornelius to send to Joppa for Simon, who would come and "tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." God said words would save him, and they did. Peter came to the home of Cornelius, and they were all gathered together waiting for him. He began to speak words, and the record says, "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word" (Acts 10:44) and they were saved! Peter had nothing we do not have today. We have the same words of the same gospel, and it has the same power - to save the souls of men.

The Greek word which is translated "power" in Romans 1:16 is the word "dunamis". From that Greek word we derive our English words "dynamite, dynamo, dynamic." It is possible therefore to translate the verse like this: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the dynamite of God unto salvation." Or, if you want to put it this way: "It is the dynamo of God." Those two English words are very appropriate words with which to describe the mighty power of the gospel, for the power of the gospel has two aspects. "Dynamite" is a destructive power, it blows things to pieces. A "dynamo" has a constructive power, it produces energy. The gospel too tears down; it blows to pieces the old life. But at the same time it has the constructive power to build up the new life. It is absolutely true that the gospel is not only the dynamite of God but the dynamo, too.

Power is a dangerous thing if it is not handled carefully. Electricity is very useful. It lights our cities, cooks our food, washes our clothes; but if a man handles it carelessly it will kill him. Dynamite, too, has been very useful; and yet if a man handles it carelessly, it will blow him to pieces!This is true also of the gospel. Let men beware how they handle it: it is a "savor of life unto life," and "death unto death" (2 Corinthians 2:16). To the man who receives the gospel and has the right attitude toward it, it will bring the life of the eternal God into his soul; but to the man who turns his back on it, it spells eternal death to his soul!

We are told the church has no power today. The diagnostician and experts are running around in circles trying to find what is the matter and discover a remedy so that the church may recover its lost power. They tell us that all the churches must unite; that they must hold the young people; that they must get into politics; that they must teach the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; that they must cease preaching the theological dogmas of the Bible. All these are mere quack remedies. If the church has lost its power, it is because it has lost the gospel, because the gospel is power. God has vested His power in the truth we preach. The church is not the power nor the preacher nor the members in the pew nor methods, organization, and money. Some say we ought to pray more. "When we pray more, we will have more power." That is true. But the most astounding spectacle in all the universe is an apostate church which, having cast away the true gospel, is now on its knees praying to God for power! An astonishing contradiction, and yet, that is the tragic situation today: on the on hand, throwing away the power, and then praying for sunlight; or going on a hunger strike and praying for food; refusing to breathe and at the same time praying for air. It must make the angels weep and the devil laugh!

To add on to the first: "It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." The gospel is for everyone. The word "Greek" in the text was a term very often used by the Jews to mean all the Gentiles. The gospel has no racial boundaries. It even ignores  degrees of goodness or badness. The ignorant and the wise, the high and the low - the gospel is for all. It is like the air we breathe, the rain that falls from heaven - it is for everybody.

The Holy Spirit is gracious to tell this at the beginning. The human writer is about to begin the first section of the book, and in that section he will prove that as far as sin is concerned, every man is lost. "All have sinned." But before he takes that awful plunge into the condemnation of the world, he must first assure us (thank God!) that the gospel goes just as far as even sin has gone. In other words, before he shows that every man is a sinner, he tells us that the gospel saves sinners.

That thought accompanies the reader through the gloomy section of the book which takes man, brings him down, and stands him naked before the judgment bar of God. The Holy Spirit must have anticipated that a good many people who started to read this section would need comfort before getting through. Logically, the discussion of the gospel belongs later, but the Holy Spirit mercifully reveals it first.

The sold condition attached is faith. The gospel is "to everyone that believeth." There is no other condition. The gospel is not the power of God to everyone who is circumcised o baptized, or who keeps the law. "It is the power of God unto every one that believeth"; that is the only condition. If any other condition were attached to the receiving of the gospel, then it would not be for everybody. For if God required any work or character before a man could receive the gospel and be blessed by it, then certain individuals would be excluded. There is one thing that everyone (man, woman, and child) can do, and that is believe. No matter where you are, what you are, you can believe, you can trust.

What does faith mean? The book of Romans speaks of faith many times. Faith is nothing complex and mystifying, as some theologians have implied. But faith is just the simple, trusting acceptance of what God gives. God says, "I give," and the heart responds, "I take." An illiterate, simple man was once asked, "What is faith?"; and his answer deserves attention from the wise as well as the ignorant. He answered, "Faith is the hand of the heart." That agrees perfectly with what Paul said: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10).

The last statement: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith." That is the secret of the power of the gospel. The sixteenth verse never should be read apart from the seventeenth. God has joined those two verses together, and "what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6), whether it is a man and woman or two verses in the Bible.

The explanation of the gospel's power is in the seventeenth verse: The gospel is the power of God for salvation because in the gospel is a revelation, and that revelation is a manifestation of the righteousness of God; that is the reason the gospel has the power to save a sinner. Man has no righteousness; but God, in the gospel, has provided a righteousness, and He give that to man if he will only take it. This fact makes Christianity different from every other religion the world has ever seen. Every great scheme to save men has failed on just one point: its success depended on man's righteousness, when in reality there is no righteousness in man. Christianity  attacks the problem at this point of righteousness. It recognizes that man has no righteousness and then brings the righteousness of God and clothes the man in that righteousness and saves him!

In the very next verse the wrath of God is to be revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. We are to stand and hear the thunderings and the crash of the judgment of God; we are to stand and be stripped of every rag of our own righteousness. But before He reveals His wrath, He reveals His righteousness. We are not to feel the wrath of god until we know there is a righteousness for all those who need it; we are not to know anything about that wrath of God which is against us until we know that there is a righteousness of God for us. In other words, righteousness is before wrath. He always anticipates our needs and He supplies them fully. It is the old story of the Lamb slain "before" the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20) - before human sin ever started. Isn't that right? Righteousness comes first.

Paul was preaching not a plan, not a philosophy,but a "Person" - The Lord Jesus Christ - in preaching the gospel. When he says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel," in reality he is saying, "I am not ashamed of Jesus," for He is the gospel. There is an echo there of those words of our Lord. "Whosoever ... shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Paul says, "I am not ashamed of Him," and he never was ashamed of His Lord nor of the gospel that told of His Lord. Paul was called to stand before the dignitaries of the world, before the high priest of Israel, before the philosophers at Athens, before the governor, the emperors of Rome, even before Caesar himself, and not once in the record can be found the blush of shame upon his face for His Lord. Almost the last word we have from him was written to Timothy, from his dungeon in Rome, with the chain upon his hand; and he wrote this: "For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).
May we go out as Paul did, with a gospel that is the power of God for salvation, and not be ashamed of it - or rather, I would say, not be ashamed of Him, for that is who it is!

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 17 - "The Pagan World Under Sentence of Condemnation")

Just Believe

Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe? You will see greater things than these." John 1:50

What does it take for you to believe? For some, we want the small things like a peaceful day. For others, we want our bodies healed. And for others, we want God to appear to us and give us direction on what to do next. All of these requests fall on the lines of appeasing our flesh. Our flesh doesn’t want to struggle or guess; we want clarity, peace and a life that is pain free. But that is why many do not believe.

At times, God does perform these kinds of miracles, but God doesn’t need to prove He is God as much as we need to prove we believe He is God. Despite how we feel, what we see or how we think, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith goes beyond the senses to a deep understanding and knowing that He is God in the midst of a hassled day and in the hurts from life’s circumstances. Faith is believing without seeing.

The Lord asks us today, “Do you believe?” If the answer is yes, He will spiritually open your eyes to see in faith what He has for you. He might not show you through a burning bush or through an earthquake, but it is that still small voice that will testify within your spirit His will and ways for you. Sometimes He says, “Wait.” Other times He will say, “Go.” But every time, the Lord Jesus Christ will say, “Just believe.” He knows what is best. Trust Him today with that issue you want to see God work through so badly. Give it to Him. Lay it down at His feet. Just believe and you will see greater things than these.

~Daily Disciples~

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 15

The Theme of the Epistle to the Romans

In the introduction following Paul's salutation and personal comments, comes a statement of the theme of the Epistle to the Romans. In those oft quoted and remarkable verses, the apostle Paul states the theme of his letter to the Roman church. The theme is the gospel, or literally, the "good news." And this good news is of Christ, as the third verse says, "concerning Christ."

But the gospel is more than only news concerning Him: Christ Himself is the good news. Apart from Jesus Christ there is no good news. If somebody should ask, "What is the gospel?", we ought to answer, "The gospel is not "what", it is "Who!" The gospel is the Lord Jesus Christ, in His blessed person and in His mighty work. To lose Jesus is to lose the gospel. One of the strangest things in the religious life of the world is that the world would like to have Christianity "without" Christ. It would like to get rid of Jesus and at the same time keep the gospel. The world would like to have good news from God without the Son of God (they love that); but they hate the name of Jesus, and the two are inseparable. Christians must stand with the apostle Paul and proclaim that apart from Jesus Christ, God has no good news for any man [and that's what the world wants!] Eliminate Him, and there remains no good news for the world, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of fiery indignation (see Hebrews 10:26).

In stating the gospel as he has here, Paul has used some great words. He talks about power, God, salvation, righteousness, faith, and the just. And then he talks about life. Seven powerful words. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who gives meaning and value to those words; take Him out of those words and nothing is left but empty words and high sounding phrases.

For instance, take the first great word. He says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power." But what about power? "Christ [is] the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:2); that is what makes the gospel the power of God! Let us take the word "God." First Timothy 3:16 declares that Christ was God manifested in the flesh, for He is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). How much would you know about God if you did not have Christ?

The next one: "The power of God unto salvation." Simeon, the old man, took Mary's child in his arms and looked up into heaven and said, "Mine eyes have seen thy salvation" (Luke 2:30). Jesus is our salvation.

The next word (which comes right in the middle of that perfect number seven; it is the heart of it): "righteousness." (1 Cor. 1:30). The next word is "faith": "Jesus [is] the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). Without Him, we would not have any faith.

The next expression is "just," in which Paul quotes from the Old Testament. Acts 22:14 speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ as "that Just One." Romans 5:9 declares that in His blood we are justified (declared just); we become just in Him. There would not be any such thing as a just man except for Him.

The last word is "life." John 6:51 a reads, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." So the word "life" occurs three times in one verse.

Thus it becomes evident that Christ is everything. When you take Him out, you have nothing left of the gospel: you have lost the power, you have lost the God that gave the gospel, the salvation that the gospel brings, the righteousness that it reveals, the faith by which we appropriate it, justification - yes, and we have lost life!

The first statement Paul makes about the gospel is, "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation." He does not say the gospel "contains" power, or that it "is" powerful, or that it "has" power, or that it "exerts" power. He doesn't say any of those things. But he does say that "the gospel "is" the power!"

Power is awe inspiring. No man can stand by Niagara Falls and see all that mighty torrent plunging over the rocks without feeling insignificant. Radium has the faculty of hurling our power 186,000 miles per second, a power than can pierce walls of stone and destroy every living tissue that is in its path; no man can handle a tube of radium without feeling awed. The stars also represent great power, as they are sustained in their orbits and maintained in their brightness.

The most condensed statement of the gospel is contained in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. In that passage is all the gospel: Jesus Christ, His death for sins, His resurrection again from the dead. This is the gospel in less than two verses and about twenty-six words, just a scrap of paper and a few drops of ink! "Not very impressive," someone may say. "Nothing to get excited about"; and yet those few words contain the most amazing power that is known in the universe today: the power of God which can save men's souls!

This power can take a sinner who is depraved in mind, body, and soul, a man who is spiritually dead, with no thought of God, bound by the law of choice and nature to an eternal hell and can arrest his course,cleanse him from all sin, make him righteous in the sight of God, raise him up with Jesus, and guarantee him future glory and happiness forever! What a marvelous, awesome thing the gospel is!

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 16)

From Moses to Pentecost?

During the time of Moses, God established a festival to celebrate the grain harvest. The first day of the feast became known as the Day of Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21). After Jesus ascended to heaven, God revealed a new spiritual meaning for Pentecost. On that day the promised Holy Spirit arrived, and the church of Jesus Christ was born!

While the disciples and others had been Jesus’ followers before this, there had been no “body of Christ” to which they could belong. On Pentecost all that changed. God’s Spirit baptized believers into the Lord Jesus, making them one with Him (1 Corinthians 12:13-14). Now they had a brand-new relationship with the Lord: from that point on, the Holy Spirit lived Christ’s life through them, and they abided in Jesus through His Spirit.

What a difference the Spirit’s indwelling presence made in their lives. No longer were they fearful men who ran away; nor were they people looking out for their own interests. Now they were transformed into a cohesive group who “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42, 44).

Our own personal “day of Pentecost” occurs at salvation, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and baptized into the worldwide body of Christ. The Spirit’s presence is permanently given to everyone who believes, for He is the guarantee of our salvation. What difference is the Spirit of God making in your life?

~Charles Stanley~

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Gospel of God's Grace # 14

The Message of the Epistle to the Romans

Paul's Longing

"For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me" (1:11-12). Paul's statement does not lack dignity, and yet it breathes the very spirit of love and tact and delicacy. It begins with an expression of love - "I long for you," literally, "I am homesick for you" - and then he mentions his immediate purpose. He says, "I want to come that I might impart unto you some spiritual gift." He explains that the result will be to establish them. But he begins to think that some will misconstrue what he is saying and think that he is trying to assume a position of spiritual authority. So he anticipates this by further explanation, that it is not just that he may give them something, but that at the same time he may receive something back from them: that he may obtain comfort while they get the spiritual gift. In other words, the benefit will be mutual.

We cannot give without receiving. That is an impossibility. We cannot impart something without taking back something in return. It is a monumental mistake to suppose that the preacher always gives and never receives. Every true teacher and preacher of God's Word is acquainted with that mysterious reflex aid he is receiving while he is pouring out to others. There is a life that flows from one to another. There is a contribution that every saint of God makes to that wonderful fellowship, to that knowledge of the love of Christ.

Paul's Purpose

"Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto)." The word "let" is old English; we don't use that word any more. "Hinder" is the meaning. This is Paul's explanation for the long delay in his visit to Rome. He had been a called apostle for more than twenty years to the Gentile world, but he had not yet found time to preach Christ in the capital of that world to which he was called. It was no wonder that this church could say, "Why is it that this visit is so long delayed?" There are also other verses that speak of Paul's purpose and how he was hindered: "Paul purposed in the spirit" (Acts 19:21). "I have been much hindered from coming to you" (Romans 15:22). Apparently Paul had held to his purpose throughout the years in spite of those hindrances, and he clung to that purpose to go up to Rome. But he was human after all, like the rest. Perhaps he began to wonder if he would ever arrive at Rome. There is just a hint of this in the book of Acts. In one of the darkest hours of his life, when his own countrymen had tried to tear him to pieces and the captain had to put him in a cell to save his life, the angel of the Lord came to him and said, "As thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11). The Lord seemed to think he needed a little encouragement.

Hindrances are not always an evidence that our purposes are wrong. Too often we purpose to do something that we think is according to the divine will, and when we start to do it, a hindrance comes up (or two or three). Immediately, with unseeming haste, we decide that this is not God's will for us, and so we abandon it. But our purpose may be exactly according to the divine will, only perhaps we are trying to carry it out at the wrong time, and the very hindrance that appears as an obstacle in our path may be a divine testing of our purpose, as well as the assurance that it will be carried out at God's appointed time.

Paul's Indebtedness

"I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise." It is very possible that these words reveal Paul's reason for going to Rome - because he is a debtor. Paul wrote these words not at the beginning of his missionary labors, but after he had preached the gospel in a multitude of cities, and lands and had endured untold sufferings and persecutions. He had rendered perhaps the most splendid missionary service that the world has even see, yet after all that, he writes these words. This is Paul's conception of Christian service. Because God had saved him, Paul was made a debtor, but not to God. The Lord Jesus Christ had paid that debt to the last farthing, but Paul had been constituted a debtor to the whole world. He only regarded himself as an honest man ready to pay his debts. It cost Paul his life to pay the debt at Rome.

Every one intelligent in the Word of God feels that he can go to Romans 8:38-39 and say, "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Do we not feel that we have a right to apply that to ourselves? But we have no right to say, "I am persuaded," if we are not also ready to say, "I am a debtor." The two are the same book, they were written by the same man, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and they wee written to us; and if the one is true, then the other is true. If nothing can separate us from the love of God, then we are debtors to the whole world of sinners! This debt to the heathen is just as important as our debt to the grocer, or to the tax collector. If it is wrong to repudiate the one, it is wrong to repudiate the other.

Paul's Readiness

"I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also" (1:15). It is not enough to have a missionary purpose, to feel indebtedness to the heathen world. We must be able to say with Paul, "I am ready"! Here we can put our finger on that terrible thing that has hindered and dragged out the evangelization of the world for nineteen centuries, and has made it a failure even in this present day. God is ready. But we are not ready. God has prepared His feast, but we are not ready to go out and invite men to the feast. When our Lord was about to ready to depart out of the world, He said, "Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh" (Matthew 24:44). There is not the slightest doubt in my heart that when He comes, He will take unto Himself every last one of His own. He will not take part of the church and leave the rest here; He will not take the strong ones and leave the weak ones. You will not be able to say, "I am ready for His coming" if you are not able to say, "I am ready to do all in my power to preach the gospel where it is needed." Paul says, "As much as in me is, I am ready." Whatever you can do, look up into the face of God and say, "I am ready!" It may be praying; it may be giving; it may be going.

Paul was a wonderful man, and he stands revealed in the light of these verses. No tribute, no praise is too great for such a man. It is a delight to honor such a man. And yet, we are not to forget what he himself wrote: "Let no many glory in man, but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.! If Paul could be here in person to speak to us, he would turn aside all our praise and repeat these  words: "By the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Holy Spirit would have us remember that this very man was once the Saul of Tarsus, a fierce hater and persecutor of all them that called on the name of Jesus. It is a testimony to the power of Paul's Christ to change the heart! All the credit for the mighty transformation of the life of Saul of Tarsus belongs to Him and not to Paul. Let us not glory in Paul, but let us glory in the Lord of Paul, the Christ of God that made him what he was.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 15 - "The Theme of the Epistle to the Romans")