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God is Able, We Can Respond

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Romans is one of my favorite books to study in the Bible. Over the years, the Lord has used Paul’s Spirit-inspired writing to refresh and mold me into the image of Christ. I haven’t arrived. I am a work in progress. God is daily re-molding me from the inside out into the image of Christ, His character, love, purpose, and priorities. Throughout Romans, Paul calls us back to the basics of our faith while encouraging us to be radically transformed (metamorphosed) by surrendering ourselves to God and inviting the Spirit to do this radical work in our lives. Paul is genuinely a transformed Christian World Changer and calls all of us to be the same.
Paul’s closing, like his introduction of the epistle, stresses the power of the gospel. The God who rescues has called all of His followers to be Christian World Changers, sharing the gospel and love of Christ to the nations’ peoples. This call is to all followers of Christ. We impressively discover this from the names Paul list in the closing of his letter to the church in Rome.
It is apparent, in Romans 16:1-16, that women were prominent in the Roman Church, not just as attendees but also as workers and leaders. Both men and women held leadership positions and had some ecclesiastical authority in the first church.  This makes sense in light of what Paul wrote to the Galatians. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The church is made of all peoples, male and female, all socio-economic classes and the like. The gospel is to be taken into the world by such a church of Christian World Changers.
Since Christ’s church has such a mission, he challenges believers in Romans 16:17-20 to fight for unity in the church. We are encouraged to spot and deal appropriately with divisive people who would seek to destroy unity from within the church. Divisive people do not focus on the Lord but on church politics and scandalous accusations. They try to draw believers off into doctrine that is contrary to the basic message of the gospel. What are we supposed to do with the body of biblical doctrine? Identify those who violate and teach false doctrine and keep away from such people. It is virtually impossible to be a divider if you cultivate your personal walk with God and are determined to build up others. A doctrinal and ethnic litmus test can be found in asking three questions. Does the teaching agree with Scripture? Does the teaching glorify the Lord? Does the teaching promote goodness? The Believer ought to pray that division will be crushed and that grace characterizes the church.
Even Paul’s greetings from his companions, found in Romans 16:21-24, presents us with a wonderful picture of Christian fellowship that consists of vast geographical distances and cultural differences. The church is united in Christ. We are to be unified in Him while retaining our uniqueness in the body of Christ. We are to be unified, not uniform. When the church is one, working together to know God and make Him known, God’s love, power, and truth are witnessed by the world in which we live.
Paul’s benediction, Romans 16:25-27, declares that the gospel Paul received from God was all about Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers to all peoples. Though this message of salvation by faith was present in the prophetic Scriptures, it is now made clear to all nations. It calls people to be obedient to the faith. Paul concludes his epistle powerfully. Paul cries out that to “God be glory forever through Jesus Christ,” and we ought to add our passionate amen.
It is not a coincidence that Paul begins and concludes his epistle referencing God’s power through the gospel. The gospel has the power to justify. The gospel has the power to sanctify. The gospel has the power to lead believers to be glorified. In Christ, we can be made right with God (justified). By the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can become like Jesus in character, love, purpose, and priorities (sanctified). When Christ returns, the work will be completed in us as He escorts us into paradise (glorified). All and all, Romans calls us to come to Christ, walk with Him, and become a Christian World Changer. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Job Review

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Paul in Romans 15:14-33 shares a personal job review of sorts. He shares his past ministry (Rom 15:14-22) and future plans (Rom 15:23-33). He wants the believers in Rome to know what he has accomplished and what He hopes to accomplish. It offers us some insight into what a personal kingdom job review might look like for each of us.
Paul begins in Romans 15:14-22 by describing his specific calling as an apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). He was uniquely called to ministry by Christ Himself. He saw his call to minister to Gentiles as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. His ministry strategy was to establish leaders. He would call and raise up leaders who would serve as church planters. This strategy served as a genesis of a church planting movement.
Paul knew what he was called to do and went about fulfilling it with the Holy Spirit’s help. Two truths become clear to me upon the reading of Paul’s commitment to His calling. First, I am only called to accomplish what God has set me apart to do for Him. Secondly, reaching an area is not just by one person wanting to reach another person, but also through the proper leadership being established to see a movement begun and continued for the Lord’s glory.
All believers share the same purpose, to know God and make Him known. For Crosswinds, we are committed to meeting children, teens, and adults whenever they are in their spiritual journey to encourage them to take their next step in their relationship with God and others to advance His kingdom. We believe God has called us to multiply Christ-followers, disciple-makers, small groups, campuses, and churches so that the people in our region will have a repeated opportunity to hear the gospel and experience the love of Christ. Every church needs to determine their particular niche in kingdom building and every believer their specific role in seeing it fulfilled in context to their local church family. A crucial question all followers of Christ must ask is, “What has God specifically called me to do as part of His church?” And, I would add, “Am I doing it?”
Paul continues in Romans15:23-33 to discuss his future ministry plans. He speaks of these plans by requesting the believers in Rome pray for Him in these endeavors. The first request is that he will be rescued from unbelievers in Jerusalem. God answered this one interestingly. Paul is arrested and kept from being killed in Jerusalem. The second request is that the gift he brings to the church in Jerusalem will be accepted. We’re never told in Scripture how the gift was received, just that it was indeed delivered. The third request is that Paul might reach Rome. This request is answered, but again uniquely. He’s brought to Rome as a prisoner. The importance of Paul’s request is not how they are answered, but that he made the request, showing a dependency on God and appreciation for the prayers of others. When we pray, we need to leave the details to God. Prayer is not about getting what we want but partnering with God’s will. Paul’s account certainly exemplifies the power of prayer and what it looks like to surrender to God’s will.
If we are to joyfully serve God, as he has called us to do, we need the Lord’s power and presence in our life. We also need the fellowship and assistance of fellow Believers. Paul’s sharing of His past kingdom work and future plans demonstrates this well. Paul’s kingdom job review leads us to one of our own. Believers ought to know their personal ministry assignment. Then they ought to ask if they are accomplishing it or not. The good news is that we can always start anew, learning from our past and pressing on in our calling. Paul stated it this way, “ Friends, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). There is no better place to be than where God has called us in our journey of knowing Him and making Him known. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Christian Responsibility, Part 3

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It is said that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive and then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked down, but when the land forces arrived, and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.”
Unfortunately, there are times when churches relate all too well to this story. Instead of experiencing unity and peace, they are skirmishing over petty issues. When God calls on them to do something great for Him, they have nothing left to give, for they have used up their ammunition shooting at the saints. This leaves the Christian depleted and a church disgraced in plain view of the world around them. God has a better plan for His church.  It is very important that Christians get along with one another.
How do we deal with the different opinions about minor issues that separate Christians and make it difficult for them to serve or even worship together? How should we get along? What are the God-given techniques? What are the biblical examples? Paul offers us answers to these questions in Romans 15:1-13.
Paul challenges the stronger Christian, in verses 1-6, to be understanding of the weaker ones. “Stronger” and “weaker” speaking of stronger in faith and theology and weaker in the same. We are to respond to other believers who differ with us in petty issues (nonessential issues) in love. Our example of this selfless act is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our example of self-denying love, being willing to endure the curse of sin rather than to please Himself. Therefore, Paul continues in Romans 15:7-13 that Christians must accept one another as Christ has accepted Jew and Gentile alike.
Jesus receives us to bring glory to God. We are to accept others to glorify our Lord as well. As we glorify God through the power of oneness in Christ and together through power of the Holy Spirit, we can more effectively serve unreached peoples in the hope they too will come to receive Christ. By trusting in God, we find that the Holy Spirit produces an overflow of hope and joy in our lives. God uses a unified church.
During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren Assemblies, half complied, and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time—those who did not faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups, and there was much tension. Finally, they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together. Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, “What did you do then?” “We were just one,” he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.
When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents the world with an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ. When love does not prevail among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world…well, you know what it presents to the world. The real question is, “What will we Christ’s church present to the world?” Rupertus Meldenius, a Lutheran theologian and educator of the 17th century, declared, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” We must never compromise the Gospel. But, we must never allow nonessentials to bring disunity. I pray we will follow the practices of Christian freedom laid out in Romans 15:1-13. I pray we will seek to be understanding of others as well as truly accept one another. I pray we will be one in Christ united in peace and unity. Such a church will prevail, impacting the world with the Gospel by attracting others to our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Christian Responsibility, Part 2

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Paul in Romans 14 provides believers with principles to assist them in their responsibilities to one another. God’s church stands strong when united and will fall when divided. God call’s us to unity.
The May 1987 edition of National Geographic included a feature about the arctic wolf. Author L. David Mech described how a seven-member pack had targeted several musk-oxen calves guarded by eleven adults. As the wolves approached their quarry, the muskoxen bunched in an impenetrable semicircle, their deadly rear hooves facing out, and the calves remained safe during a long standoff with the enemy. But then a single ox broke rank, and the herd scattered into nervous little groups. A skirmish ensued, and the adults finally fled in panic, leaving the calves to the mercy of the predators. Not a single calf survived.
Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 that wolves would come after his departure, not sparing the flock. Wolves continue to attack the church today but cannot penetrate and destroy when unity is maintained. When believers break ranks, however, they provide easy prey.
In Romans 14:1-13, Paul challenges the believer to accommodate weaker ones. He continues his teaching in Romans 14:14-23, describing how Christians are to be watchful of weaker ones. The weaker one is weaker in faith. In other words, they are weaker due to poor theology. However, they are loved by God, and those who are strong in the faith have the responsibility to be careful not to lead the weaker astray.
The strong need to be careful in exercising their liberty. Why should this be? For one, the weak brother or sister might be led into sin. Also, flaunting freedom is not acting in love, especially when it hurts others. The very nature of liberty, which is love, causes us to refrain. Lastly, believers should be willing to refrain from exercising their liberty because they should have a paramount concern for the church’s well-being.
Tolerance, of course, can be taken too far. Some theologians suggest that anybody who claims to be a Christian should have a right to their beliefs no matter what they are. However, the New Testament sets clear boundaries, marking some matters as clear truths of the gospel (i.e., Jesus is the only way to salvation). No Christian can deviate from these or tolerate the beliefs of those who hold different views on them. But toleration on the nonessentials is what Paul calls for in this chapter. Many of the issues that divide Christians today fall into the adiaphora, not explicitly required or prohibited in Scripture, and Paul would mourn over the divisions we have created as a result of some of these petty issues.
There are two questions believers ought to ask themselves. The first, am I acting in faith or in doubt? If an action violates your conscience, don’t do it. An old hunting proverb is fitting here, “If in doubt, back out.” If you do not know if something is permissible or not, don’t do it! Any action that violates my Christian conscience is a sin. The second, does my action strengthen or lesson another believer’s walk with God? If my actions cause another believer to drift further away from God rather than closer to Him, I ought not to flaunt my freedom in front of him/her. I am to enjoy my freedom in Christ, not lash it out to hurt others. If something I am doing would cause another to fall, I will stop doing the particular act (especially in his/her presence). After all, this is the selfless and loving response.
Like the muskoxen, we are stronger, as Christians, when we are united. The world and the flesh and the devil seek to destroy us; let’s not join them in destroying one another. As Christians, we are to be watchful of one another, enjoying our freedom, while being careful not to hurt others with our liberty. The law of love ought to lead us in selfless unity. United, we stand strong, divided, and we fall.
It would be a powerful statement for each of us as individual believers and together as a church family to commit to being watchful of one another, to be united, forming a protective wall of Spirit-empowered unity and peace. Won’t you join me in committing yourself to such a life? Our church, our homes, our community, the world around us will never be the same! Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Christian Responsibility, Part 1

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The call for unity in the church is found throughout the New Testament. We, as Believers, are called by God to belong to one body. The one body we are called to belong to is strong and has integrity in the eyes of the world to the degree that it functions in harmony, with every member playing his/her essential role (see: Rom 12:3-8). Yet, time and again, the church is marked more by division and distrust than by unity and singleness in purpose.
Do not get me wrong. Peace and unity are not the only virtues of the church. Peace and unity are not to be held at all cost. The church is also called to maintain the truth while attempting to keep peace and unity. There does come a time when unity might have to be sacrificed for the sake of truth. However, most disruptions of peace and unity in a church do not take place over serious doctrinal matters (biblical truth) but petty arguments over the style of worship, personality of leadership, carpeting color, and the like.
I find this story of a pastor entirely fitting. The church where he served had just laid new carpet. At an Elder Board meeting, several complaints were aired that “certain people” were dirtying the new carpet by wearing dirty shoes, and the ominous “many” people would like for the church leadership to ask them not to attend. The pastor politely requested to be excused from the meeting. The Elder Board was astonished and intrigued. They followed the pastor, who proceeded to begin pulling up the carpet. The elders asked him to stop. They got the point. Our mission to know God and make Him known trumps clean carpets.
Now, please understand me. I believe we are to take care of the facilities with which the Lord has blessed us. But, we must never put things before people. We must never put minor things before the main thing, the main thing of knowing God and making Him known.
Paul in Romans 14:1-15:13 addresses a Christian’s responsibility towards other believers. He begins in Romans 14:1-13 by stating the principles of Christian freedom, by making a call for unity. His instructions are given in light of Romans 12:1, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” as well as Romans 13:8, “Don’t owe anything to anyone except to love each other.” He writes, assuming that those addressed have already sacrificed their bodies (whole selves) to God as living sacrifices and, as a result, are very desirous of expressing love to their fellow Believers.
We discover two principles in Romans 14:1-13 of Christian freedom. The first is that believers need to accommodate one another. Paul assumes a plurality of Christian lifestyles. Paul understands that Christians serving the same God, filled with the same Spirit, will inevitably, due to culture, background, mentorship, and the sort, have differing ideas of what constitutes a proper Christian lifestyle. It is not that teachings such as the importance of modesty and humility are not to be followed by all believers. Still, the practical application of how these teachings are to be present in a given Christ-follower’s life can and will differ. Paul also understands that these issues can cause division in a church.
The second principle of Christian freedom is that believers are not to be a stumbling block to another. At the center of this issue, I believe, is when people fallaciously make an opinion a biblical mandate. This flaw causes many conflicts. The believer is to be careful not to engage in a practice that might cause another Christian to compromise what they believe in their hearts ought not to be done.
Remember, Paul is sharing common principles. It is not always possible to accommodate all believers. It is not always possible to not cause other believers to stumble. But, we need to do everything in our power to fulfill these principles, honoring God and expressing love to others.
How about you? How do you handle your Christian responsibility toward other believers? How do you exercise your Christian freedom? I pray that all of us as believers will strive for unity and peace. I hope that we will not allow pettiness to drive us apart as a whole or as individual believers. I pray we will allow our commitment to biblical truth and love to fill us with unity until it overflows into the streets. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Flag Bearers

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Historians tell us that people have used flags for over 4,000 years. A flag is often used by a person or people as a symbol informing others who they are. Long ago, knights carried flags into battle because it was hard to know who the knights were as they were dressed up and covered in armor, ready for battle. Flags were vital because they helped soldiers tell their friends from their enemies in battle. Today, every country in the world has a flag. One of God’s names, found in the Old Testament, is Jehovah-Nissi, meaning the Lord is our banner. Moses used this name for God after the Lord had granted victory over an enemy.
As believers, when we go into battle, the Lord is our banner when we go into life. In the days of old, a banner from a dominant warrior on the field of battle brought terror in their enemies’ hearts. What does the Christian have to fear? God is our banner.
In a very practical sense, the Christian lives under three flags. As a believer, I live under the flag of God’s kingdom. I am, first and foremost, a citizen of heaven. It is this citizenship that empowers me to fulfill the responsibility of the other two flags. As a believer, I also live under the country’s flag, where I am an earthly citizen. As an American, I live under our flag, and I, even as a Christian, especially as a believer, have responsibilities to that flag. Lastly, as a believer, I live under the flag of the country God calls me to serve. For me, this country and my country of citizenship are the same. For others, it will be in places where they are serving, like Zambia or Nicaragua.
All of this may seem a bit confusing. However, it does not have to be. Paul, in Romans 13, addresses how Christian citizens are to bear these three flags. While God calls us to live His heavenly values amid the world, we must also recognize that God has not abandoned this world. God is active and challenges us to be as well.
There is much to draw from Romans 13 but let me highlight a few. As we read through Romans 13:1-8, we learn that Christians are to submit to the laws of the land, as long as they do not violate the laws of God. In verse 8, we read, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another fulfilled the law.”  This leads to a discussion on biblical principles about indebtedness. As we look at the whole of scripture, we discover that each of us should have as little financial debt as possible, where debt-free living is the goal. This leads to Paul’s teaching, found in Romans 13:8-10, that the Christian is always duty-bound to love everyone. This is reinforced in Romans 1:14, where Paul writes, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” The believer is obligated to share the gospel lovingly in both word and deed. In fact, love is the essence of the Christian ethic. Christian citizens are able to honor the three flags in their lives by living by the law of love. Lastly, in Romans 13:11-14, Paul instructs that Christian citizens will honor the three flags of their lives when they are alert, morally sensitive, and on guard against immorality, knowing that Christ will return.
If Believers try on their own strength and wisdom to live out their citizenship under three flags, they will quickly become overwhelmed. The key to living under the flags of God’s kingdom, our earthly country, and our country of mission is to clothe ourselves in Jesus Christ, live under the law of love, and respect the authorities God has established. Again, God has not abandoned this world. He is active and calls us to be active as well.
As we give our lives to God as a living sacrificed and allow His Spirit to transform (metamorphose) us from the inside out, every thought and deed, we can live as we ought. It is only as a result of God’s transforming work in our life that we can love others in a way that is pleasing to God. This love manifests itself in part through our submission to governing authorities and our expression of love towards others. The response Paul urges us to give is to respond quickly in godliness because time is running out. Christ is coming. In short, live the godly life today as Christlike flag bearers. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Transformed at the Core

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Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, declares that a believer’s reasonable response to God’s mercies is to offer himself or herself as a living sacrifice. A Christian is not to be conformed to this world’s pattern but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This will allow us to know God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. As Paul finishes chapter 12, he will describe how this commitment is worked out in social contexts. In other words, Paul will address what practical Christian service looks like. To be transformed by God, we must allow the Lord to control all of our being. When we do this, there are some amazing by-products in the way we practically serve as Christians.
In Romans 12:3-8, Paul informs believers that they are called to find their place in the body of Christ. In fact, he speaks of a serving faith. This faith is a special gift from God, enabling believers to carry out ministry, their service to God. According to the ministries He calls and equips us to do, God gives us different measures of this kind of faith (see: 1 Cor 12:9; 13:2).  There is also a serving grace that enables us to identify and use our gifts for God’s glory.
The Church, Paul explains, is like the human body. All Christians are part of that one body (vv. 4-5). But just as the body has different parts with different functions, so too, the church has people who are very diverse and serve that church in different ways (vv. 6-8). This means that each of us needs to carefully understand our role in the church and not think more of ourselves than we should (vv. 3-4). What Paul says in these verses is highly relevant to any church, for we are all too often tempted to swell with self-importance and forget our place in the community. Textually, Paul addresses this issue here in Romans because he knows that the Roman Christians are struggling with this very issue (cf. Rom 11:25; Rom 14:1-15:13).
As God’s children, how are we to think of ourselves? We are not to think too highly of ourselves. In other words, know where you fit and influence in that area. No one in the body of Christ is to presume another’s role or the ability to speak into an area for which they are not qualified to speak. The body does not work as a democracy, but it must work together for it to work. This is why Christian service is a by-product of being a living sacrifice.
When God owns the deed to our life, we can function amid our diversity in unity as God’s Church. How? Because we can keep the main thing the main thing, to know God and make Him known. However, when we get our eyes off of our purpose, take back the deed for ourselves, we operate out of selfish motives and hurt one another and the cause of Christ. When we come to Christ, our gifts and abilities are sanctified (set apart) for His service. This is a by-product of being a living sacrifice; we find our place in the body of Christ.
Paul addresses another by-product. Believers are to discover the many manifestations of love (Rom 12:9-21). Notice that this passage deals with how a believer is to lovingly relate to both fellow Christians (vv. 10, 13, 16) as well as those who are not yet believers (vv. 14, 17-21). Paul begins by writing, “Love is to be genuine.” “Genuine” or “Sincere” is a translation of a Greek word that means “not playing a part.” It is a word that comes to us from the theater. Our love of others should not be faked or merely external. It should reflect the attitude of the heart.
It’s impossible to continuously play a part. To be fake is draining. God does not want our love to be a mere portrayal, but deeply personal, coming from the transformed core of our being. This is beyond both action and emotion because both are the result of a heart conformed in substance to Christ Jesus’s. Those in Christ are part of God’s family. God’s family is diverse but united in love by His Spirit. By His Spirit, we ought to care and show our caring through loving acts of kindness towards one another.  Even further, as a reflection of that love, we are to bless our persecutors and not curse them. The believer, the Christian, responds to evil with good in the hope that the offender will come to repent and be redeemed by placing their trust in the Lord.
You may ask, “How can I do this?” How can I selflessly find my place in the body of Christ? How can I selflessly love both the Christian and the one who is yet to become a believer? Even more, how am I to show love and goodness to those who pour hatred on me? Good questions. The answer, present yourself as a living sacrifice to God. Only when we present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God can we have these godly by-products gush from the deepest part of our being. A spring of love can only come from a transformed (metamorphosed) source.
A spring is only as fresh as its source. When I give God the deed to my life, He transforms me from the core of my being. It is this transformation that allows for purity to flow from that which was once contaminated. We are fulfilled when we are who God created us to be. We are at peace when we do what God has created us to do. Such a life is made possible when we realize that it is not about me, but Him. This life is only possible as I lay myself before Him and say, “I am yours – all of me is Yours.” Then, goodness and godly purpose will pour out of my inner being, out of our inner being. Only then will we be satisfied and our service sanctified (set apart) for our Lord’s kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Who is the Owner?

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The victorious life of a believer can be summed up by answering one crucial question. Who is the owner? Who is the owner of your life? We can answer this question and live it out in a number of ways. We can be a “timeshare” Christian holding onto the ownership and let God have the façade of ownership without the deed to our life. We can be a “rental” Christian holding onto the ownership and allowing God to move into our life. God can change the rooms around and clean up, but only as the real owner, self, agrees to let Him. Certainly, any significant changes God must get approved. God can stay but does not hold the deed to our life. Neither of these choices is reasonable. For life to work, God has to be the owner. God must hold the deed. It is only when God is the owner that we can experience the victorious Christian life. This, after all, is the only reasonable response to God.
Paul speaks of ownership in Romans 11:33-12:2. In Romans 11:33-36, Paul leads us in worship of God for His wisdom. As Paul ended Romans 5-8 celebrating God’s unshakable love for His people, so he ends Romans 9-11 celebrating God’s marvelous plan for humankind.  He ends his discussion by proclaiming God’s glory. In short, Romans 11:33-36 teaches us that we cannot penetrate the mind of God. He does not need to consult us before He decides what He is going to do. At a certain point, we must stop questioning and demanding answers and simply believe and worship. Romans 11:33-36 is a beautiful hymn of praise Paul shares with us. He proclaims the wisdom and mercy of God in saving both Jews and Gentiles (all peoples). This is a fitting way for Paul’s section on doctrine Romans 1:18-11:36 to end and what follows, Paul’s practical instructions, to begin. Christian doctrine must lead to Christian ethics. The transformation (metamorphosis) made by God in the believer’s spirit must be shown in our daily life.
We discover in Romans 12:1-2 the basic commitment required of the Believer in light of all that God has done. The rest of the section describes how this commitment is carried out in daily life’s changing situations. Paul writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Paul writes of the “mercies” of God. The noun “mercy” occurs seven times in Romans 9-11; the verb occurs twice, and the synonym “compassion” appears twice in Rom 9:15. According to the hermeneutical principle of repetition (a principle used for studying and applying Scripture), it seems that this is God’s motivation in exercising His sovereignty. God is a merciful God. In fact, God’s mercies are written by Paul in the whole of Rom 1-11. The Gospel (Good News) is a message of God’s mercy on humanity.
How are believers to respond to God’s mercy? They are to dedicate themselves to God (v. 1).  We are to “offer” or “present” ourselves to God. There must be a complete surrender of the person (body), the whole person, mind, and flesh, are to be given to God. Christians are no longer to see themselves as belonging to self, but as belonging to God. God is the owner! In fact, we are to “offer” ourselves to God as an act of “worship.” We respond to God’s mercy by dedicating ourselves to God. There is also another way believers are to respond to God’s mercy. Believers who are dedicated to God are to be consecrated (Rom 12:2).
We who are dedicated to God are to be consecrated. To be dedicated to God is to be separated to or belonging to God. Another word, consecration, is used to describe this offering of self to God. To be consecrated is to be set apart for the service of God. As a “living sacrifice,” we belong to God and are useful to Him and His divine purposes.
How are believers consecrated? They are not to “conform to this world” or, as the Phillip’s Translation puts it: “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” The transformed Christian has a posture of resistance to any values, goals, and activities contrary to God’s ways.
Believers are not to be molded by the world but are transformed by renewing their minds. “The word “transformed” comes from the Greek word metamorphosed. Meta means radical, and morph means change. Therefore, transformation means radical change. This radical change comes from God. Philip’s Translation reads: “Let God re-mold your minds from within.” The thoughts of a Believer’s mind are renewed.
This is a crucial idea in Paul’s conception of the Christian life (see: Rom 1:28-29). When we come to Christ, we are transformed into a new realm of righteousness and life (see: Rom 5-8). Nevertheless, our minds are not immediately changed; our thinking still tends to follow the well-worn ruts of the old way of life. Thus, we are called to engage in the lifelong process of changing the way we think. We change the way we live. Think of it this way, the believer is continually being molded from within by the power of God. This transformation occurs in the life of a believer to show (exemplify) the Christlike life!
What is the basic commitment required of the Believer in light of all God has done? In other words, how are Believers to respond to God’s mercy? Believers are to dedicate themselves to God. Believers are to be consecrated to God. How are believers to be consecrated?  Believers are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. Believers are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Why are Believers transformed? A believer is transformed to show (exemplify) the Christlike life as they test and approve in practice God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Who is the owner of your life? Life only works when God is our owner. Won’t out give yourself to Him? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Whose Job?

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The Scriptures leave no doubt that God has a salvific plan that involves each and every one of us. The question is: What is our responsibility to His plan? Another way of asking this question is: Whose job is it to see people come to Christ? God has a wonderful plan to reach the world with His loving grace. This salvific plan is divinely inspired but has woven within it the need for human participation. In Romans 10, Paul explains God’s plan and the part each of us is called to play.
Paul, in Romans 10:8-10, describes what one must do to be saved. The gospel message is salvation by faith in Christ. It is as near as believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth, and available to all who hear. One must believe on (trust in, have faith in) Christ as Lord and Savior.  Everything else is discipleship. What must someone do to be saved? Believe!
Who can be saved? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 10:11-13. He explains that salvation is for everyone who places their faith in Jesus as Lord. God offers salvation to all and saves all who ask Him in faith. Anyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.
Then, in Romans 10:14-15, Paul answers the question: How does someone know how to be saved? In fact, these verses lay out a logical sequence of necessary events for people to come to Christ. The importance of preaching is evident. Without preaching, no one would hear the good news of Christ to believe in Him and thus call on Him. This preaching is not to be mistaken as merely being relegated to a person speaking from a platform. Instead, it embraces every believer’s ministry, sharing the message of Christ’s love and salvation with others.
I believe Romans 10:8-15 powerfully speaks to world evangelization. God’s sovereign plan includes the taking of the gospel to all peoples in the entire world. Accordingly, Christ’s last words to the apostles (see: Acts 1:8) were that they would be used to reach out to the world with the gospel. World evangelization is the theme of the Bible. Not only is the Bible the basis for missions, but missions is the basis for the Bible. Therefore, from Genesis to Revelation, we see that world evangelization is God’s sovereign plan and that humanity has responsibility within His plan. How does someone know how to be saved? They are told!
I came across this account from the life of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. William Booth was entering a city one day. As he entered the city, his heart felt strange, and he began to look at those around him with tears in his eyes. Soon he pictured himself standing at the end of a pier that extended over a rough sea. On the dock was a large, beautiful choir, and church people wrapped up in fellowship with one another with great big smiles on their faces. His attention was then drawn to what appeared to be thousands of people, young and old, in the rough sea. Each person was struggling to get their head up out of the rough water to breathe. Some he could see was under the water, and others, with hopeless gazes, ready to drown with a forced gasp of water rather than air rushing down their throat. Those on the pier seemed not to notice those in the sea. Even though those in the sea were screaming and splashing. Even though the waves were huge and smashing against the pier, those on the dock seemed unmoved, unconcerned, wrapped up in their own world. William Booth began to sob as he realized the meaning of this vision. For too long, he had spent time within the walls of the church without even a peak off of the pier into the sea of dying souls. On that day, William Booth, who would later be known as General Booth, got a view of the unsaved that turned into a burden that turned into a vision that started what we know today as the Salvation Army, a ministry reaching hundreds upon hundreds of thousands for Jesus Christ.
God has done the work necessary for people to be saved. However, He has invited us to be part of His salvific plan by being messengers of His grace. In this sense, each of us has the responsibility of knowing God and making Him known.  It is a privilege to be a part of God’s plan. Have you accepted His plan? What must someone do to be saved? Believe! Who can be saved? Anyone who calls on the Lord! Have you accepted the responsibility to be a messenger of His plan? How does someone know how to be saved? They are told! Why not give yourself to God right now? Why not accept the responsibility He has placed on all of us to know Him and make Him Known? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Whose Choice?

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Romans is a fantastic book. In the first eight chapters, Paul lays out God’s incredible work of salvation. He explains salvation in three facets. The first facet is salvation as justification when we are made right with God through accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation. This is a work done in a believer’s life once they receive Christ. The second facet is salvation as sanctification. Sanctification is the work done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to make us more and more like Christ. This is the work that is being done in a believer’s life. The third facet of salvation is glorification. This is accomplished in a believer’s life when Christ returns, and the Spirit’s work is completed. Paul clarifies that everyone needs to be saved by Christ, and all are offered salvation through Him.
In the second half of the book, chapters 9-16, Paul writes how those who have been saved ought to live. Paul will explain that they ought to live a profound life that reflects that of Christ. This is possible due to the metamorphosis a believer experiences after coming to Christ. A person who becomes a believer certainly experiences a change in position and an inner change as they become more and more like Jesus (sanctification). This is why the New Testament uses the Greek term “metamorphoõ” (where we get our word metamorphosis) to describe a transformation from what a person was apart from Christ into what they are becoming in Christ. As believers investigate and internalize the teaching found in Romans 9-16, they experience this radical transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 9 of Romans, Paul addresses God’s sovereignty (His supreme power, without any external influences) as well as human free will. For instance, when a person comes to Christ, whose choice is it? Is it God’s or the persons? This is a great question. I have heard it said that God’s sovereignty and our free will are two sides of the same coin. They are an antinomy. We do not fully understand how these two truths are reconciled with one another, but we know they do.
God’s Word does not present enough to fully understand how God’s sovereignty and our free will work together. But, it does present us with enough to believe they do. Both God’s sovereignty and our free will give us an understanding that leads us to confidence in God’s promises. God blesses us to be a blessing. God chooses to bless whom He desires. God desires to bless those who are faithful to him.
We discover two explanations in Romans 9 that affirm God’s sovereignty and human free will. The first is found in verses 10-13, where we find that God chose Jacob over Esau. The account of their lives is located in the book of Genesis.  Hindsight provides us with evidence of God’s right choice. Of course, a perfect God could do no less than perfection. What we discover is that through God’s sovereignty, we have the ability to choose. However, our choice will never thwart the salvific plan of God. What does all of this have to do with us? We can place our trust in God’s plans and promises. Knowing God is in control ought to bring us peace. Knowing that we are responsible for our own choices ought to lead us to obedience.
The second explanation is found in Romans 9:17-18. We discover that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. Verse 18 reads: “God has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” Let me first note that neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself. The fact that Pharaoh arrogantly hardened his heart against God is made explicit in the biblical account. In a sense, then God hardening Pharaoh’s heart could be called a judicial act, abandoning him to his own stubbornness. Human stubbornness and divine judgment in the hardening of the heart is seen in God’s word to Isaiah (“Make the heart of this people calloused,” Isaiah 6:10). It is also applied by Jesus to His own teaching (Matt 13:13-14) as well as by Paul to his. Look at it this way. God raised up this particular Pharaoh to show His power. We repeatedly find in Exodus these words, “I have let you (Pharaoh) live for this reason—that you might see my power and that my fame might spread throughout the earth” (Ex 9:16).
Again, note that God did clearly harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 9:12, 35; 10:27; 11:10), but not until Pharaoh had hardened his own several times (Ex 7:22; 8:15, 32). In other words, God elevated a particular person to fight against Him. Still, that person also made his own choice, which God foreknew before God punished him with a continuous hardened heart. We discover that the Bible affirms God’s sovereignty as well as human free will and responsibility. I believe two things about this passage. First, God has the power and right to work out His divine plan as He sees fit. Second, God’s sovereignty does not violate His integrity. What does this mean for us? We ought to be confident that God is in control and mindful that He created us to have free will and, therefore, be responsible for our decisions.
Let’s go back to the original question. When a person comes to Christ, whose choice is it? Is it God’s or the persons? This is a great question. The answer is, YES! God has chosen you and provides a way for you to choose Him. I do not fully understand it, but I know enough to believe. How about you? Have you explored God’s Word, knowing enough information to believe? Can you place your trust in God’s plans and promises? I pray that not only can you, but you will. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!