Romans 13 study notes

This chapter continues to teach the believers Christian conduct.

In a sense, Chapter 13 and Chapter 14 are in contrast to each other. While Chapter 13 teaches obedience and responsibilities toward authorities such as earthly government, Chapter 14 teaches liberty of the believer from religious rules.

This might be quite surprising for many who have pre-existing assumptions about Christians. Most people have some pre-assumptions about being a Christian. Some think that a Christian is like a religious nut who follows certain restrictive and strange religious rules and rituals but pays no respect to the society and the government. But the Holy Spirit teaches just the opposite.

Concerning the earthly governing authorities, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” Romans 13:1-2.

Concerning religious observation of rituals, the book of Romans says, “He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” Romans 14:6. “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; Romans 14:14a.

What liberty in contrast!

Why? If God is God of sovereignty and supremacy, why does He strictly command His children to obey earthly governing authorities? If God is the One to be worshiped, why does He disregard rituals that seem to be religious and pious?

We see the answers to these questions only when we personally know God and understand the purpose and the works of God. We all live in a temporary and passing world. The things in this world find their meaning only in their connection to the eternity, not in how they appear, nor in how we feel about them. The temporary things are merely vessels in the hand of God. God uses the earthly government to demonstrate that He is the God of order and the God of eternal government. The believer therefore obeys not for the sake of man but for the sake of God.

On this point, another book in the Bible puts it explicitly: “Therefore submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake”, 1 Peter 2:13.

These directions concern the Christian’s relationship with the authorities under which he is placed. The Bible recognizes authorities as accomplishing the service of God, and as receiving authority from God, so that resisting them would be resisting that which God had established. Governing authorities are to be obeyed because God uses them as a temporary means to build His children up in the eternal King Jesus Christ and to bring his children toward the eternal King Jesus Christ.

However, we should be careful that the Bible does not teach absolute and blind obedience to the government. The apostles, for example, chose to disobey the authorities at their time when they were led by the Holy Spirit into the work of the kingdom and were convinced that the earthly authorities were acting to hinder the Kingdom of God. They disobeyed because they believed the authorities were acting against God’s will, but they were nevertheless submissive and respectful because they knew the authorities were in God’s hand.

Some attempt to trap Christians by way of posing an impossible dilemma in view of a few letters or lines in the Bible quoted out of context. They are testing life using death.  But the Word of God is for the living not for the dead, and nothing outside of Jesus Christ has life.  The biblical teaching of obedience to the authorities is based on a fundamental respect to the sovereignty of God, not as a disguised surrogate of the authority of the Kingdom of God. One who is led by the Holy Spirit is not to be bound by the legalistic “rules” based on pseudo-spiritual interpretation of the Bible. The God of the heavens will not subject His children to becoming slaves to the powers of this world and any teachings of this age.

Bible’s teaching of obedience to authorities is very much in contrast with its instructions with regard to religious observations. God’s children have liberty from religious observations and rules because the Son has set them free.  Not only do God’s children have liberty from such, but in fact if anything acts to replace the central place of Jesus Christ in the heart of God’s children, or to lead children of God away from Jesus Christ, is an offense to God.

Friend, may you see that God has a singular, unified, and harmonious eternal purpose in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son. God never contradicts Himself. God has measured, and will continue to measure, even into eternity, everything according to Jesus Christ. If God has chosen the Ruler to measure everything, how can you not take heed whether you are up to the measure?

Chapter 13 teaches two other principles that are related but different from obedience to authority.

First, while the philosophies of this world teach people to seek the high things of this world, the children of God are to take a lowly position, not only giving honor to those who are highly and in a position deserving honor, but also respect and love those who are lowly. A Christian who does not know how to walk in company with those of low degree in a journey through the wilderness has forgotten his position and calling.

As we take such positions, we start understand why God is so concerned of how we treat each other.

Conscience, and not force, constrains the Christian to obey, to do good, to render to every man that which was due to him in virtue of his position, and to leave nothing owing to any one.

But beyond conscience is love, because love is the fulfilling of the law. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8.

Without conscience, man feels nothing about his indebtedness; with bad conscience, man feels his indebtedness but does not do anything; with good conscience, man strives not to be in debt to anyone; but with love, we are always indebted to others but never feel others are indebted to us.

Second, the spirit of the Christian knows the present time, and knows it is time to awake. We are sons of light. The deliverance from this present evil age, which the Lord will accomplish for us, draws near. The night is far spent, the day is at hand — God knows the moment, and so should His children. Brother J. N. Darby’s words resonate in this regard: ‘Let us then walk as children of the day, casting off the works of darkness. We belong to the day, of which Christ Himself will be the light. Let our walk be in accordance with that day, putting on Christ Himself, and not being studious of that which is in accordance with the will and the lusts of the flesh.”

Romans 12 study notes

Chapter 12 of the book of Romans starts a new major section of the book.

In chapters 1–8, Apostle Paul explains the gospel from several aspects, specifically condemnation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. In chapters 9–11, the author puts the gospel in the context of human history, particularly that of Jewish history, in order to demonstrate the glorious purpose that God has in gospel for the believers to receive a new life.

Now, starting from chapter 12, the book of Romans expounds what that new life really is, how it is like, and what it ought to be. The new life is in conformity with the exalted position in which the previous chapters place the believer who has received the new life through faith. The new life is a glorious mystery. It is only with the God-given ability that the believer can live such a life. 

“Therefore, I beseech you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not confirm any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Romans 12:1-2.

It is no surprise that many who read the above calling to holiness are immediately concerned or even turned off. Not only do those who have not received the new life naturally feel this way, but also, sadly, many who are saved and born again could also harbor this feeling. It is man’s sinful and selfish nature to be always in a covered haggling (bargaining) mode with God. We therefore murmur to ourselves at this point, “Isn’t the book of Romans talking about gospel, which is the free gift from God? Why is it then all of a sudden talking about requiring me to make sacrifices?”

But God is not bargaining with us here, as if He wanted something in return of the gospel after all. God just wanted to make sure that the gift, which is the new life, He gives to the believer is actually received and is lived out properly.

Receiving the new life is not a theoretical notion, nor a mere religious metaphor. The new life is not a mere symbol. The one who is born again has been actually born again and received a real new life. And that life, being real, will actually grow and manifest its new nature. Just as the old life can’t help but manifesting its corrupted nature, so will the new life manifest the new holy nature.

Notice that chapter 12 of the book of Romans starts with the word “therefore“, instead of the word “however“. That is, the word of God says “Therefore, I beseech you,” not “however, I beseech you.” In other words, the contents in Chapter 12 are not a condition added unto salvation, which is new life as a free gift of God, but rather an inherent conclusion or result of having received the new life. The reality of this new life is exclusively manifested by conforming to a holy and spiritual exultation.

It is very significant that Chapter 12 of Romans used the word “sacrifice” and required that the believer present himself as a “living sacrifice”. This phrase captures the true meaning of the new life, even the eternal life, while living on earth.

The word “sacrifice” as used in the Bible has a meaning quite different from what people usually mean by saying “making a sacrifice”.  A sacrifice as understood in the context of the Old Testament is the living animal that has to be killed and placed on an altar.

However, once killed, a sacrifice is necessarily dead and cannot be a “living sacrifice” as required by Chapter 12 of Romans here.

The sacrifice of the Old Testament is only a “type” of the spiritual reality hidden in Jesus Christ. The real sacrifice that washes away the sin of the world and brings the peace between God and man was offered by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Jesus and Jesus alone died on the Cross, yet He was alive again, even alive forever.

In this sense, Jesus is the only true “Living Sacrifice.” Only a believer who has received the life of Jesus can therefore be a small example of this living sacrifice. It isn’t that God is in need of something that He requires us to make a sacrifice and offer it to Him. It is because God, in His mercy and love, wants us to not only have received the life of Jesus in spirit, but also confirm into this glorious life in experience. It is for this reason that Paul beseeched (begged) the believers “by God’s mercy” to become a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

Chapter 12 further details many practical aspects of the life of the believer. Your reaction when you read this chapter and the chapters after may depend on your relationship with God. The truth is, it is really impossible for someone who has not received the new life of the Lord Jesus Christ to have a correct understanding of what the Word of God commands believers to do here (and other places in the Bible). But that does not mean it is useless to read these words when one is still a nonbeliever. By the mercy of God, you might somehow get a glimpse of a little ray of the glory of this new life and decide that it is better than your present life. From there, God will open the heaven to you.

I therefore plead that you not quickly reach a conclusion that these chapters are just another moral teaching to make you a “better person.”  The Spirit of God does not speak to anyone who is merely seeking or contemplating morality, much less to someone who is seeking self-interest only, for the Spirit knows that the deeds and efforts of man are full of death, even the best of them. The eternal life is the life of the Son of God. If you have rejected the Son of God, you have rejected life. May that never be.

But to one who has received Christ, chapter 12 of Romans gives extremely important principles of the new life. 

The Christian life is a walk characterized by devotedness and obedience. It is a life subjected to the will of God, and therefore stamped with humility and dependence on God.

Why does God demand such devotedness of heart in self-sacrifice?

On the negative side, only when we are devoted to God and depending on God can we escape the danger of being controlled by our flesh which only leads to death. The danger flows from the power that acts in it, and this power is the power of sin. Our flesh always looks for an opportunity to come in and avail itself to this power.

But devotion to God is far more than just a protection to us. It serves a positive purpose. It is the right way for us to fulfill a positive purpose in service to God and to others. With regard to this, every one should have a spirit of wisdom and moderation, and should act within the limits of the gift which God had dispensed to him, occupying himself with it according to the will of God.

Here, diligence and humility are a great combination of godly characters. Diligence is to bring my best to God, while humility is to never regard myself higher than what I really am. Lacking either, I am not walking properly.

Chapter 12 also introduces the idea of the Christian assembly as a body, and the assembly is in connection with the duties of the members individually.

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” Romans 12:6.

“Let us use them,” use them in prophecy, in ministry, in teaching, in exhorting, in giving, in leading, in showing mercy, in loving, and in showing affection. The apostle’s instructions are full of the goodness in Christ, and the richness in life.

And finally, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is a danger that a Christian can be overcome by evil. We should be under no illusion to think that once we are born again, we are free of sin and evil. Although our sins are forgiven, now and forever, we are temporarily living with our sinful nature in a sinful world. But unlike the world itself, there is a special “good” in the Christian that can overcome evil. And what “good” is in us except for the new life that we received from Him?

Note here that the Word of God does not say “do not let good be overcome by evil,” but instead “do not be overcome by evil,” for the genuine good which is from Christ cannot be overcome by evil. Only we ourselves, when we retreat to our old life, may be overcome by evil. But thank God, we are in possession of the good that can overcome evil. The Word of God therefore is a promise as well as a command at the same time. 

Seeing such victorious perspective, how can we still complain about being a living sacrifice to God?

Romans 11 study notes

Chapter 11 is the last chapter of apostle Paul’s systematic presentation of God’s salvation from a big picture point of view. Starting in the next chapter (Chapter 12), Paul will move to practical personal applications of the faith.

If the previous chapters have shown us the goodness of God by convincing us of the sinful nature of man and the fundamental truth of salvation by faith, Chapter 11 further shows us the purposefulness of God.

God is the God of purpose, and His purpose is eternal. On the other hand, God demonstrates and carries out His purpose in a finite human history for the sake of man.

It is important to distinguish the purpose of God and the ways of God to carry out His purpose. The purpose is eternal, unchangeable and always in a final sense, while the ways of God’s dealing with man and human history usually appears finite and often non-final, at least to the human eyes.

God has a plan for His eternal purpose. The plan has its timing. Understanding God’s timing is a necessary beginning to understand things as broad as human history and as specific as events in one’s personal life. But to understand God’s timing, it is necessary to first recognize that not only is God’s timing according to his wisdom, but also that it is a result of God’s mercy that God works in time.

A man who knows a little bit of the past and a little bit about the future is considered a wise man with superior qualifications. But the fact that God knows the entire timing of human history is much more than a sign of His wisdom, but in fact first of all a result of God’s humbling Himself.

First, concerning God’s wisdom, what he started with the Israel did not end up in an unfruitful failure as it might seem to the human eyes, but in fact a necessary step to shut everyone up in their disbelief and place everyone on the same ground for salvation, which is by grace and through faith.

The failure of Jews brought in Gentiles into the picture, but at the same time God’s turning to Gentiles does not suggest that God has rejected Jews, His own people. In fact, if even Gentiles who had never had faith in God could be brought into faith, so could Jews be saved on the same ground.  The Jews failed on the ground of the law, but all (both Gentiles and Jews) may not fail on the ground of grace.

At the same time, the fact that God now has chosen Gentiles for salvation works as awakening call to Jews by provoking jealousy of Jews so that they too can come to salvation on the basis of God’s grace. So in the end, God’s plan is proven to be completely wise in completing a circle in a few steps in history.

Second, concerning God’s mercy, we should appreciate the fact that God did not need, for His eternal purpose, a finite human history measured by time. God is eternal. In eternity, God’s victory over Satan is a certainty that leaves no room for any questioning. But God chose to win that victory through a finite human history for our sake. By doing so, God limits Himself in human history. It is only through this purposeful self-imposed limitation of God may we come into the picture and stand benefited from God’s eternal purpose.

Don’t misjudge and abuse God’s grace and mercy. It is fearful that some people, looking at the events of their lives, other people’s lives, the society at large, and even the human history, proudly point out certain observations that seem to show a contradiction to God (in fact their notion of God). Many do the same with even stronger force after they have read and observed the actions of God recorded in the Bible, and concluded that the God according to the Bible is not only inconsistent, but also not as great as they think God would be. The Same people then present their judgment against God as a justification for their rejecting God.

(Do not think it’s strange that one could be an atheist and hold an abstract notion of God of his own at the same time. In fact, among the people I’ve known who choose not to believe in God, most do so because the God according to the Bible does not fit their notion of God, not because they’re convinced that God could not exist.)

But by doing so, one has precisely used God’s grace and mercy as a reason to reject God. This is the same reason why Jews put Jesus on the Cross to crucify Him. They used precisely Christ’s grace and mercy (in taking up the appearance of a man) as the reason to reject Christ.

Dear friends, escape this most dreadful trap set up by Satan. It is injustice in its highest and pure form, and such injustice leads to, and in fact deserves, eternal punishment and destruction which is designed for Satan himself, the master of the lie that is behind this injustice.

Therefore, trust not you own understanding but hear the gospel with a humble heart. Only then will one find how small he is and how great God is. Only then will one see God’s glory into which he is saved.

Oh, God’s wisdom and counsel, grace and mercy! At the end of Chapter 11, apostle Paul bursts into the glorious doxology:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

You’ve got to know Him

You’ve got to know Jesus. He is meek, and humbled himself from the highest to the lowest for your sake.  You would be making a fundamental mistake to judge his worth according to his humility, which is the very basis of your salvation.

Is your life without purpose? Is your life too complicated? Is your life sin-laden? If so, it is because you haven’t known Jesus. But how can you know him without first accepting him? You could know a theory without having to know its author, but you could not know a person without meeting the person.

A great mystery of gospel is that God became a person, not only to accomplish man’s salvation itself, but also to make it possible for we mortals to know God. For the proud, the very notion of God becoming a man stumbles him. Not only can he not accept this notion, in fact he supports his entire unbelief with reasons found in this notion.

For the proud, the very humbling status of Jesus becomes a reason for his despising the gospel. The proud prefers a luminous god which he makes up in his own mind, a god which he can control, a god which he can comfortably entertain and manipulate in his thought and his own domain.

However, regardless of the haughty thoughts of the proud, God Himself cannot be known by human being by their own effort. Philosophy and religion may lead to interesting ideas about God, but never to God Himself. But God gave us His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that you may not only be saved but in fact know Him.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has not only become knowable but also desires to be known by us.

“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” Romans 10:21.

Will you turn to Him to receive His saving hands? You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

The distance to the righteousness of God

How far are you away from reaching the righteousness of God? It is a heart and a tongue away.

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10: 8-9.

The fundamental meaning of “righteousness” is not the same as being merely morally just. “Righteous” means being right in the eyes of God. And if you believe that God’s righteousness is largely the same as what the society regards as “good” in conduct and behavior, you have not come to the essential truth as revealed in the Bible yet.

Concerning righteousness, there are roughly three kinds of people in this world. Those who have consciously rejected righteousness and believe that all things are merely subjective and relative; those who seek righteousness; and those who have found righteousness.

Fortunately, I have met very few people in my life who’d really belong to the first type. The majority of people are the second kind who seek righteousness. This type of people may either be religious or nonreligious, but it does not make much difference if the person is seeking outside of Jesus Christ.  If there is one thing that the Book of Romans has revealed, it is that there is no righteousness outside of Jesus Christ, who is the summary of everything God intended, God’s holiness, God’s law, love, mercy and grace.

One who seeks righteousness outside of Jesus Christ is at best seeking for self-righteousness, which will be proven unrighteous in the end (or not right in the eyes of God), regardless of how it might appear and how it might feel.

Now that we have seen God’s righteousness revealed in the gospel, and this righteousness is by faith, you may wonder how far you are away from this righteousness of God. The word of God would further tell you that this distance is not measured by your knowledge, your wealth, your health, your social status, your reputation, nor your past. It is measured by the willingness of your heart to submit yourself to God and the willingness of your tongue to confess.

“The word is near you; is in your mouth and in your heart…” Romans 10:8.

And never think that you are an exception with regard to the offer extended by God, as the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10 study notes

For many, chapters 10-11 of Roman can be a little bit perplexing. We just read about the gospel, the great truth of salvation proclaimed by Paul in the previous chapters of the book, and we may be looking forward to the next level of completion of the truth, something more like what is covered in the chapter 12 of the same book.

But here we are, seeing the apostle staying there, almost as if he’s hesitating to march on, belaboring on some points at the same plateau.

What is it that was in the heart of the apostle?

Two things: (1) the fate of the Jews; (2) the universality of the gospel.

The apostle returns to his own race and Jewish brothers. The Jews are God’s people chosen at the time of the Old Testament to God’s testimony. But the Jews fell short of the covenant that was set between God and the people. They lived according to the requirements of the law, but have thoroughly proven that they were unable to. So the “gospel of law” turned out to be bad news to Jews, not because the law was evil, but because the people were sinful.

Now that a new gospel (which in fact is not a different gospel but the completion of the same gospel as we start to understand the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but that is another topic), the “gospel of grace” is proclaimed, it seems that not only did Jewish lose their privilege which they had in the times of the Old Testament, but in fact the very gospel became a stumbling stone for them. Many Jews felt not only stumped but in fact offended hearing that God is now preaching the gospel on an entirely different basis to everyone on earth who may hear.

Has God completely rejected and abandoned his people? Apostle Paul turns to his people to tell them that God has not.

But do Jews have any justification to complain about the fact that the eyes of God are now turned to Gentiles (non-Jewish people)? Pouring out his love to his own people, apostle Paul tells them they have no reason to complain. In fact, despite the unfaithfulness of Jews, God has taken that as an opportunity to manifest his complete plan of salvation, the universal salvation for everyone, Jews and Gentiles.

Only when we have become aware of this background can we start to understand why in chapters 10-11 apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament (especially the book of Deuteronomy which concerns the covenant between God and Jews) so frequently and rigorously to support his arguments.

What a vessel God has in apostle Paul!  Paul is a true Jew, the Jew of the Jews, but at the same time a true new man with a new life that is based on the gospel of grace, not according to the law that was preached to the Jews in the old times.

“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:3-4.

The hope of Israel is now based on faith in Christ, as it is for everyone. It is the same gospel which the apostle announced — that if any one confessed with his mouth the Lord Jesus, and believed in his heart that God had raised Him from the dead, he should be saved.

Precious, simple, and positive truth of the gospel!

Thus now for the Jew, as for every one, it is a matter of the belief of the heart.

On this matter, J. N. Darby said it the best in the “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible”. In the following, I will both quote and paraphrase the comments made by brother Darby regarding this chapter and add my own understanding and emphasis.  Those who are interested in brother Darby’s original writing, please read it in the “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible”.

Observe, it does not say, “If you love in your heart,” or, “If your heart is upright towards God.” It says, “If you believe in your heart.”

A man believes with his heart. He really believes when he has a heart genuinely interested in the thing, with his affections engaged in the truth. When the grace of God is spoken of, he desires that what is told him should be the truth. He desires the thing, and at the same time he does not doubt it. He believes not because he’s part of it, but in the truth of the thing itself, and he regards the truth as being important to himself.

It is not the state of one’s affections (however important that is) that is the subject here, but the importance and the truth of that which is presented by the word — its importance to yourself, as in your needing it for your salvation, a salvation that you are conscious of needing, that you cannot do without — a truth of which you are assured, as a testimony from God Himself. If you are such a person, the Spirit of God affirms to you that salvation belongs to you.

The object of faith is not the psychological or mental aspect of one’s effort, but it is the objective truth which God assures every one who does believe.

Faith is further manifested by the proof of its sincerity. What simplest sincerity of proof can you produce? Is it not a public confession of the name of Christ? If some one is convinced that Jesus is the Christ, but refused to confess Him, his conviction would evidently be his condemnation. May it never be like that!

The faith of the heart produces the confession of the mouth; the confession of the mouth is the counterproof of the sincerity of the faith and honesty, a kind of honesty in making the claim which the Lord has upon us in grace. It is the testimony which God requires of us when we receive grace at the outset. It is to sound the trumpet on earth in face of the enemy. It is to say that Christ has conquered, and that everything belongs to Him by the matter of rights.

Christ has indeed conquered even before you choose to believe, but now He has conquered in your personal territory, and you ought to make announcement of that victory, otherwise there would be no evidence that you are part of the victory. The confession brings in God in answer to your calling the name of Jesus. It is not those few words you say which bring in righteousness, but it is the public acknowledgment of Christ, which gives expression to the faith by which you now have participation in the righteousness of God.

Such is the participation in the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, so that it may be announced, “He believes in Christ unto salvation; he has the faith that justifies him before God.”

This is not a small matter. So many people think that they believe in Jesus Christ but cannot make a positive and unequivocal statement of his faith in public! People think it’s a small matter because one may be simply shy or even has a right to see that as a personal private matter to decide whether or not to make a statement. It is not a small matter, nor a private matter, dear friend.  This is a point on which the human heart perplexes itself, and often tricks itself. An inability to make a public confession to Lord Jesus is strong evidence that there is still unbelief and self-righteousness remaining in one’s heart.

It is impossible that an awakened soul should not feel the necessity of having the heart set right and turned to God. Not submitting to the righteousness of God, he falsely thinks to make the grace of God depend on the state of his own affections, not knowing or accepting the fact that God loves us while we are still sinners.

The state of our affections is important, but it supposes a relationship already existing, according to which we love. We love because we are loved of God. Now His love has done something — has done something according to the divine glory, and according to our necessities. The task was given to Jesus, and Jesus has accomplished what was required, in order that we may participate in divine righteousness; and thus He has placed every one who, acknowledging that he is a lost sinner, believes in Him, in the secure relationship of a child and of a justified soul before God, according to the perfection of the work of Christ.

Salvation belongs to such a soul according to the declaration of God Himself. Loved with such love, saved by such grace, enjoying such favor, the saved soul cultivates affections suitable to the gift of Jesus, and to the knowledge the soul has of Him and of His goodness.

It is evident that, if it is “whosoever” believes in Jesus, the Gentile comes in as well as the Jew. There is no difference; the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him. It is beautiful to see this form of expression, “There is no difference,” repeated here. The apostle had used it before with the addition “for all have sinned.” Sin puts all men on a level in ruin before God. But there is also no difference for every one who calls upon His name shall be saved, because “the same Lord over all is rich unto all”.

On this declaration, the apostle also lays out the background and justification for the ministry of evangelization.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace.” It may seem a bit odd to some of us why the apostle suddenly switches from the topic of Jews to the topic of evangelization. But it has a special connection in this particular context. The apostle took the opportunity to explain to Jews why and how the ways of God that were accomplished in his ministry is justified.

We should remember a very important aspect of the gospel mission which started at the time of apostle Paul. Paul was appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ as the apostle to the Gentiles to preach the gospel beyond Jews and Judea. The fact that the gospel reached Europe and then other parts of the world to benefit all of us today all started from that great juncture. Preaching the gospel may seem to be a natural thing for us to at least consider (if not actually to do), but it was nothing but natural for the Jews at the time.

In dealing with these questions among the Jews, the apostle naturally and masterfully rests on the authority of their own scriptures. The Jews acknowledged that the Gentiles did not know the name of the true and living God. It was therefore necessary to proclaim Him in order that they might call upon Him. It is on this ground the whole ministry of the apostle was justified to Jews.

But he applies this principle for evangelization to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles. That is, he considers not only Gentiles, but also Jews themselves need to hear the announcement of the goodness, for it had become clear then that the law was not the announcement of good news, because the law did not bring salvation to Jews.

He quotes Isaiah to the same purpose. Since it was proclaimed— a truth thus publicly preached — that Israel had not believed, therefore Jews ought to have faith in the same New Testament truth preached according to the gospel of grace.

When we read these chapters, consider the fact that apostle Paul (and ultimately the Holy Spirit) is deeply concerned of Jews at the time of the proclamation of the gospel of grace to Gentiles. It is something that we should not only carefully consider but also appreciate. As Gentiles, we tend to be self-centered even when it comes to the gospel. But our God never neglects anything that’s important. Let us learn how to be mindful of the same thing that is in the heart of God.

Romans 9 study notes

The chapter 9 of Romans reveals two important truths.

First, only the children of the promise shall live, and the children of the flesh shall perish.  

Second, the promise is made and received purely on the ground of God’s mercy, grace and sovereignty, not by the virtue of man’s deeds.

Concerning the first truth, “For this is the word of promise: ‘AT THIS TIME I WILL COME AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.’” Romans 9:9.

We must look beyond our common assumption and understanding of the meaning of words and context when we read the Word of God. The Bible is not merely talking about the story of a son (Isaac, son of Abraham) who was born in a miraculous way (when both parents were far beyond an age of even the slightest possibility of having a child). It is talking about something far greater and universal.

This son, Isaac, was a representation and a single focal point of God’s promise to mankind through Abraham. God did not make such promises to a lot of people and subsequently liked one of the stories so much that he decided to tell us about it in the Bible. Not at all.  Isaac is the son of promise. He was the only one that God promised in the way He did. Isaac singularly points to a new mankind that is to be borne out of the Spirit based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Who that is naturally born is a son of flesh, an offspring of first Adam, and is destined to die with no hope in eternity. And this has no difference and no favoritism over any man, but purely a consequence of a choice made by the first Adam.

But who that is supernaturally born of the Spirit is a son of promise, an offspring of the last Adam (Jesus), and is destined to live with a glorious hope in eternity. And this too has no difference and no favoritism over any man, but purely an outcome of of a choice made by the last Adam.

God’s sovereignty. We live in a world that is full of tension between order and chaos, and peace and conflicts. In any conflict, peace emerges only when one of the conflicting sides has the final say.  Have you ever considered who has the final say in the end of the great Conflict? Consider God’s sovereignty.

Put in the most basic way, sovereignty means supreme authority and independence, or the highest authority that is not checked or judged by any other power. In plain words, one who has sovereignty may do whatever he desires because there is no higher power to judge him.

For this reason, the word “sovereignty” in our daily language is reserved for an independent country or kingdom and never used in association with an individual person. But even for an independent country, the word sovereignty can only be used in a relative sense and not its absolute sense. The international events we are experiencing in our times vividly demonstrate this point.

Only God has absolute sovereignty. Sovereignty is also where you can tell a difference between the only true God and man-made gods. God is the Creator of the universe. God’s power and essence does not depend on, nor is derived from, man.  In contrast, man-made gods may be imagined to be powerful, but the very fact that they are consciously created by human being makes them puppets in essence, the opposite of the sovereign God.

For many theologians, chapter 9 of Romans may appear to be using the history of Israelites to explain the concept of God’s sovereignty. But in reality, the Spirit of God does the opposite. The Spirit explains human history, particularly that of Israelites, using God’s sovereignty.

One either knows God or not. If you do, God’s sovereignty is the very premise and foundation of everything and requires no explanation but instead offers explanation to everything else. If you don’t, speaking of sovereignty of God is a very contradiction to what you believe because a god derived from man’s theory cannot have sovereignty.

As we enter into chapter 9 of Romans, God’s salvation and love is now understood and received under the premise of God’s sovereignty.

How fortunate we are, if you allow me to speak humanly, that God who is sovereign is also full of wisdom and love, for on a pure logic bases a god of sovereignty needs not be also nice.  In this fundamental sense, you start to appreciate the gospel because before even the gospel shows the substance of salvation itself, it first shows that the God who is sovereign also happens to be good, in fact all good and purely good. We cannot take this for granted and therefore must give thanks to God on this simple basis alone. 

See how the God of wisdom designed and unfolded human history to foretell and to implement His plan of salvation; and see how this plan of salvation is full of divine love, you then truly have heard the gospel — the good news.

In His sovereignty, God has decided that man’s salvation is to be based on a promise made by God, not based on the works of man. Focus on the word “promise”. If we are accustomed to human promises, we don’t treat a promise very seriously, for a promise made by even an honest man may eventually come unfulfilled. But this Promise is no human promise; it is a promise by the Almighty God. This makes the salvation unshakable and irrevocable. Be glad that your future is based on a divine promise and not based on even the best human efforts. I certainly am.

But the promise of God isn’t mere words. The promise is embodied and eventually given to us in a Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to the earth from heaven to bear your sin and my sin and died on the Cross on your behalf and my behalf, and was risen by resurrection three days later.

Receive Jesus, for He is your good news, and the only good news.

Many entertain the thought of his (and others’) ability to reject the gospel and in turn use this ability as a basis to despise God, secretly reasoning: “There must be no God, for otherwise God would make me believe.”

This secret challenge of God sovereignty reminds me an atheist who used to proclaim on a public square, “If there is a god, strike me this very moment by lightning.” But God remains silent, because God has embodied and reserved His sovereignty in His only begotten Son. God does not judge the sinner based on human logic. Man is judged for life or death on the inner altar of his heart for receiving or rejecting the Son of God, rather on a podium of public showings.

The atheist has been condemned, not because of what he said but because of what he is. (But he may still escape the condemnation by confessing his sin and receiving salvation of Jesus Christ before the time is over. See particularly Romans 8.)

The hard truth is, not everyman will enter and receive salvation. This hard truth is not only consistent with but in fact accorded with God’s sovereignty.  God promised salvation by faith not by works, but did not promise that everyone will receive this salvation.

On the other hand, man rejects what has been promised yet at the same time tries to force on God what He has not promised. The condition of a man’s heart is such that he dislikes the idea of salvation by grace yet at the same time abhors the idea that not everyone will be saved.  Man wants to rely on his own work, but does not want to be judged. In other words, man wants autonomy, and wants to be god, the very ground on which Adam and Eve were deceived. How consistent the story of Adam and his offspring is.  It is a story of his pride.

But in God’s infinite wisdom, the gospel is the ultimate and supreme judgment of man’s heart. The proud will reject the gospel because it is foolishness to them. But the humble will receive the gospel because it is the light for them who are in the darkness seeking to see the true light.

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and the rock of offense: and whoever believes in Him shall not be ashamed.”

My friend, every time your heart contemplates the gospel, it may seem that you are making a judgment on the quality and credibility of the gospel, But in reality, it is the gospel that is judging the quality and truthfulness of your heart. Don’t stumble on this stone; don’t be offended by this rock; and don’t harden your heart, lest you be condemned in the final judgment of God.

Sin and Atonement (a supplement to Romans 8 study notes)

As much as I look forward to studying Chapter 9 of Romans, my heart dwells on Chapter 8, eager to share an essential divine truth revealed in this chapter, fearing we might miss what the Word of God is telling us.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:2-4

We had previously learned how we receive forgiveness by God because of Jesus Christ. The word “forgiveness” is very often misunderstood because we often relate it to an analogy in human forgiveness. Human forgiveness is drawn from the subjective mind of the person who forgives, and is therefore a mere attitude. But to understand what kind of forgiveness we need from God, it is necessary to consider what Atonement is.

From the most basic sense, atonement is a remedy to a problem, like a cure to a disease. Specifically, atonement is God’s remedy or cure to a problem and disease called Sin.

Sin is a problem – a problem to the sinner himself; a problem to others; a problem to the universe; and most of all, a problem to the Holy God.  Sin is a blemish, a fault, and defectiveness, but it is much more than that. Sin is a destructive force, but it is even more than that. Sin is active rebellion against a righteous God and thus not only deserves punishment but must be punished, unless God himself is unrighteous.

For any problem, a remedy is necessary. If the nature of the problem so requires, the necessary remedy can be a horrible one. If you have any memory of the pandemic chicken influenza (chicken flu) broke out in Hong Kong some years ago, you will recall that the chickens or other birds stricken by influenza must be killed in mass and thoroughly destroyed by burning and burying. The healthiness of human lives and the environment not only justifies such a horrific remedy but in fact demands it.

If you see the contrast and conflict between the sanctity of healthy human life and pandemic chicken, I hope that picture gives you a clue, although still an imperfect one, to the contrast and conflict between a holy God and man’s sin.

Sin deserves death penalty and also must be punished.

“… but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17.

But God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh…”

In His perfect Son, God found the perfect remedy to the problem of human sin. Jesus Christ took the likeness of sinful nature, on account of my sin and your sin, took the punishment on my behalf and on your behalf, so that Sin was condemned, while at the same time allowed you and I to escape from the death penalty we rightly deserved. That is, the death of Jesus Christ became the atonement for my sin and your sin.

Seeing and accepting the atonement in the death of Jesus Christ is the very beginning of one’s salvation. Merely feeling some need of help by a “god who is kind” does not lead to salvation.

Many people have self-willed and wishful thoughts about God, using all possible imagination to make up an all-loving “god” without acknowledging the atonement by the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Those people will one day discover, in deep regrets, that their man-made religion does not solve their biggest problem – Sin, because it is simply a wrong remedy, an unworthy one, unacceptable to God.  And sin, without an effective remedy, will certainly lead to eternal death.

The divine truth revealed in Chapter 8 of Romans goes beyond just atonement. It revealed a new heavenly and glorious spiritual life promised for anyone who has received atonement. Once again, here you see resurrection (life) follows death (atonement). One cannot receive nor understand resurrection life without having first received atonement by the death of Christ.

God is true love. He loves not according to the self-willed wishful thinking of human being, but according to truth, the eternal truth. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16.

Romans 8 study notes

We are now brought to a glorious chapter of the book of Romans. Chapter 8 starts with a declaration:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Romans 8:1.

Friend, heed to this declaration. There is no declaration in this universe that could bring greater comfort to you. No condemnation. 

You should still remember in Romans 3:20, it was declared: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight…”

How does one move from unconditional condemnation to unconditional justification (that is, no condemnation)? Because this person is now in Christ Jesus. You are that person, or if not, you should be.

But we tend to have difficulties to appreciate how significant this is. We tend to think that condemnation is merely a subjective reaction by one person to what another person has done. Sure, we would like to be looked upon favorably by everyone, but if that does not happen, it is all right.  So our thinking goes.

Even worse, many people can be extremely sensitive to other people’s attitude toward them, to an extent that a condemning attitude of others is like a severe penalty, yet at the same time the same person may give no fearful consideration to the prospect of facing condemnation by the Almighty God.   How Satan has blinded man’s eyes!

But once your spiritual eyes are opened to see that God is the Giver of life, and condemnation by God means eternal death and even worse, your heart rejoices with thankfulness for the fact that by virtue of receiving Jesus Christ, there will be no condemnation.

This chapter of Romans, however, leads us much deeper into the reality of the salvation. We have previously discussed the aspect of sanctification beyond justification. But now we will see the end of salvation, which is glorification.

But most important, the book of Romans is not just a magnificent thesis. Behind these luminous concepts is the spiritual reality which abides in a spiritual life. One who receives Jesus Christ doesn’t merely receive a friendly welcome by a very important person, but instead receives the very life of the Son of God, and is born again.

A believer thus becomes a child of God and enters into an intimate relationship with God, a relationship he previously could not even imagine, much less to experience. For a true child of God, the concepts of justification, sanctification and glorification are merely a convenient way to describe an eternal reality he is actually experiencing.

Friend, Jesus died on the Cross so that you may receive His life.  Will you come and receive life? It will all start, rather than end, with this: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

If you have been in a Gospel meeting, you may have had occasions of being invited to raise up your hand to receive Jesus Christ.  But even if you are in private, you may still raise up the hand in your heart to indicate acceptance. Regardless of how much or how little understanding you may have when you raise your hand, you are not misled. For the Spirit of God does not mislead anyone. Satan does. When you raise your hand, your have chosen to submit to the Spirit of God, and God would not despise your decision. He will honor you.

Man’s hands were once raised by Satan to put nails through the hands of Jesus Christ to crucify Him, yet the Lord Himself prayed to the Father: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” If our Lord forgives those hands raised to crucify Him, what blessing He will be giving to those hands that are raised in submission to confess sin and to acknowledge salvation!

Romans 7 study notes

Starting from Chapter 6 and continuing into Chapter 7, Paul focuses on what happens after one’s acceptance of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ.  The word of God here starts to separate a “growing Christian” from a “baby Christian.”

Note that I did not use the term “grown Christian” but instead used “growing Christian”, for the best is still to be revealed later in the book of Romans.

If you allow me to use a few doctrinal words, we can say that here along with Romans we are moving from justification to sanctification, and expecting glorification. All these together constitute the complete salvation by God. It all starts with justification by which, as we have learned in early chapters of this book, the sinner comes to realize his sinful condition and receives forgiveness by God through Jesus Christ.

Receiving forgiveness from God is an essential start of salvation, without which man is eternally doomed. However, receiving forgiveness of one’s sin is not the same as being delivered from the power and bondage of sin.

Let me use an analogy. A child may routinely receive forgiveness of his or her parent, but that does not mean the child will stop doing wrong things.

God’s intention has never been to just give us forgiveness and leave us struggling with the bondage of sin. Not only has He given us forgiveness by the blood of Jesus Christ, He will also deliver us from the bondage of sin through the resurrected life of Jesus Christ.

Tragically, not every child of God understands the Father’s intention. A child of God knows that he is justified by faith in Jesus Christ, not by his own effort. We have learned this truth in the previous several chapters in Romans. But many children of God don’t see that it is still through Jesus Christ that he is to be delivered from sin, not just forgiven of sin.

Many falsely believe that because he has received forgiveness of his sin, he is automatically sinless and he would be all right regardless of what he does. Still others think now that he is saved, it is all up to himself to behave well and overcome sin. Many even think that the Christian requirement of not continuing to live a sinful life is the price one has to pay in exchange for the salvation he has received.  This is the case despite the fact that we acknowledge using our lips that salvation is grace.  Without ever making such a statement, many children of God harbor inside the heart a hard feeling that salvation is not free after all.

But what does Paul say in Romans? “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:21-25.

There has always been a great debate over whether Paul was hypothetically referring to an unsaved person using the pronoun “I” or he actually refers to the practical situation a saved person faces after receiving the justification. But personally, I believe the debate concerns too much of our theological distinction, not the truth itself. The truth is that whether we have accepted the only justification through Jesus Christ or not, one is dead in sin until deliverance by Jesus Christ from the death. The complete salvation isn’t a matter of merely acknowledging God’s justification, but a practical matter of being actually delivered from sin.

Despite of the commandment (for Jews) or an awake conscience (Gentiles), sin deceived me by taking opportunity by the commandment or conscience. The opportunity for such deception exists not because there is evil or loopholes in the commandment, but because of my sinful nature which responses to sin. My struggle with my own strength and effort does not help because I am bound to this condition. There is a law (as a law in physics) that dictates this condition.

Just as an unsaved person comes to a point of hopelessness of his sinful nature and cries out for forgiveness of God to get saved, a child of God comes to a point of hopelessness in his practical bondage to sin and asks for deliverance of God to be delivered.

Note that it is “who will deliver me?” not “what shall I do to escape?” or “how can I escape?”  Salvation is a Person who personally delivers us in our life. Knowing this truth is what differentiate a maturing child of God from a baby.

Friend, if you are getting ready to receive Jesus Christ as your personal savior, start from asking for forgiveness by God through the blood of Jesus Christ shed for you. But be prepared to enter into fierce battles that you may have never experienced before even as an unsaved sinner. This is so, not because God’s salvation comes in short, but precisely because God’s salvation does not stop short.  If you have heard promises of becoming a Christian to have everything easy without a struggle, you have not heard the accurate Gospel.

But if you are already a child of God and you are struggling with the bondage of sin, stop doubting God’s intention and power in the midst of your struggles but quickly come to full realization that salvation is more than forgiveness but also includes deliverance, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Through the Lord, the battle is worth fighting and the victory assured.