Friday, June 9, 2017
Friday, May 19, 2017
and looked up when
A drop of golden beam
Down a bough, perched like
a lone sentinel
Upon a timeless rock
in the fall wind.
Oh, could I stay here
as seasons die,
Waiting for a dawn
when hope gives way
And faith becomes sight
As twinkling eyes
Behold a glory
|At Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite- October 2013|
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Early in the noughts my dad urged me to get an account with the new IDBI Bank. I got one with ICICI Bank instead simply due to its proximity to where I was in India at the time. I had just come to India for a short visit, and though I could not go wrong with my choice.
Suffice it to say, that was the last time I had any respect for ICICI Bank. Forget the rumors (which may have a ring of truth to them) about burly collection agents arm twisting people to pay their dues.
I've had people lie to me about investment products, and deny me pay-out, which I needed to escalate to their CEO to get it resolved.
Their most annoying problem for Non-Resident Indians is the fact that they let you do 'internet banking' only if your ATM Card 'grid number' on its back is used for authentication. The ATM Card is invalid if it is not used in 3 months which most non-residents will not use in countries where they live.
And now, no service that should be transacted online is open to me. Given that the Indian government has decreed that PAN numbers should be updated (or Form 60s in lieu of them) before one could use banking services, people are scrambling to update these. And sure enough ICICI will not let you do this without the authentication 'Grid Card' number, which in my case is useless. To top it off, they have frozen my account which can only be opened if I update the Form 60! Classic Catch 22.
By far, the worst banking experience I have come across, even counting the nationalized banks of my youth.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
BACKGROUNDThe family was desperate. They texted me to ask if they could stay at our home for a few days as they had been deported from India, after 12 years of living and working in the country in a successful pastor-training ministry that seemed to be stable in every way. Among other things, they had trusted local partners to arrange rental accommodation without a proper rental agreement signed by them and paid for in cash, took extreme precaution to cover their internet footprint- having a secure VPN access into a US server, from which they accessed the internet, ‘secure’, encrypted hosted POP email (which was eventually hacked and their PII stolen), corresponding with ministry partners and others in defense of a Christian prisoner held by the ISIS terror organization, hosting evangelistic meetings at home (openly flouting India’s policy on ensuring that they do not preach or proselytize when on a work visa or tourist visa). Under normal circumstances, in Western countries, such activities may be understood to be normal, if somewhat unnecessarily cagey about online activity. In a country with a background like India’s, all this is a surefire recipe for deportation at a minimum. While the opposition to evangelism in India is known to most churches, missionaries and mission agencies, its extent and nuance are lost on many.
The family possessions had to be left behind. They traveled out of India at short notice, carrying 6 suitcases filled with essentials, with no assets to their name besides these. They stayed with us for a couple of weeks, during which they had several embarrassing meetings with missions pastors at their sending churches. They were questioned as to the wisdom of their actions, many being questioned by people who may not have understood the prevalent atmosphere in India or about the several similar deportations that have taken place in the last few years. The emotional toll this took on them was painful to watch.
Eventually as many do, they found a Christian school for the kids, which had funds set aside for missionaries, and a discounted apartment set aside for missionaries by a church. They were allowed to continue with their mission remotely, as in this case, it was possible to teach via live online video.
The more I thought about this, the more I was compelled to put pen to paper and write about the several ideas that have been playing in my mind over the past many years- about our current missions strategy, India’s politically charged, agenda-driven landscape and our own tendency to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to real challenges facing real people who have staked their very lives on the Great Commission.
Entry and Exit RequirementsAmong the greatest challenges to travel into countries around the world, especially those above a certain size in population or land area, is the complicated visa regulation in place in those countries. India ranks 52nd in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index Ranking of 2015, in a group of 141 countries. This is based on several factors, including international openness (which includes visa restrictions), in which it ranks 69, above countries like China (96) and Russia (99), but well below all Western countries and many APAC countries like the Philippines (29) and Malaysia (46).
In its Executive Summary, the report states that India is now relaxing many visa restrictions which have not been reflected in the document, but it is clear that this pertains to short term travel for tourism.
It is important to understand the country’s motivations in institutionalizing such restrictions. A historical background will help clarify these.
India in Context- Colonial LegacyLike many emerging economies, India views the history of its modern economy from a pre- and post-colonial perspective. In addition, it further divides its post-colonial experience into a period prior to 1991 when the economy was predominantly socialistic and after 1991, following a series of reforms, during which the economy has gradually transitioned itself into a market-driven one.
Recent academicians have pieced together India’s economic strength prior to the period of colonization, which coincided with the Industrial Revolution. In this narrative, India and China accounted for over half the world’s wealth. Individually both these countries had assets and income equivalent to the whole of Europe. GDP figures from the late economist Angus Maddison’s publication, The World Economy, Volumes 1–2. OECD Publishing. p. 638., show that annual income in India was 24.3% of the world economy, slightly more than the current US share (22%).
The colonial period is interpreted differently in India than in the West. While many liberal Indians view this period as one in which the main colonizer, the UK, helped bring Western law and order, democracy, abolition of many social evils, a modern Western education system, some industrialization and the English language as one of the official languages in India, several others consider the British legacy to be one of systematic and long-term impoverishment of India’s native political power, industries and culture through a series of manipulative power grabs, monopolistic and restrictive trade practices and a divide-and-rule policy that culminated in a painful partition of India into smaller parts, the adverse effects of which are still being experienced in the daily lives of Indians today.
For our purposes, it is what they mean by the impoverishment of culture that is most relevant. In the past 2 decades, this negative view of the colonial period has gained strength. In this view, the British sought to transform India’s culture to an approximation of the West. Several real and manufactured quotes attributed to British lawmakers during the period are frequently shared in India to deepen the feelings of anger and mistrust against all that it represented. Among the changes the British introduced were Western style education (which served to advance their interests) and most importantly, the ‘state religion’, Christianity.
British and other European missionaries traveled frequently to India during this period. Using first the British East India Company and the later the British Indian Government’s good offices, they were given safe passage, unrestricted right of entry and often good arrangements for lodging and boarding. Missionaries were often employed in schools and high positions. Unfortunately, these missions, with some notable exceptions, did not make much headway in India, not least because they were perceived as exploitative and unwilling or unable to be relational to Indians. Understandably, many missionaries took an apolitical approach to the colonial government and Indians’ troubles with it, seeking instead to focus on the Bible and its teaching on human conduct.
Unlike Hudson Taylor in China and some others, most missionaries were essentially living a Western life as in a Western country in India. Very few bothered to learn the local languages. In 1919, the massacre in cold blood under the command of Col. Reginald Dyer of 381 men, women and children who had gathered for a nonviolent protest in a public park, reportedly to defend the honor of a missionary, Marcella Sherwood, who had been manhandled by an unruly mob two days before, was representative of how Indians saw Western Christians- eager to force a foreign religion down the throats of those who did not want it, and showing none of the graces they claimed were hallmarks of this religion.
Several missionary undertakings during this period have borne fruit- notably educational and healthcare enterprises like the Christian Medical College at Vellore, created by an American missionary from the Reformed Church in America, which is today the largest teaching hospital in Asia. These are notable because they are exceptions, mainly because they involved and encouraged local leadership to take complete responsibility. Today it is local believers who effectively teach, heal and spread the Gospel in such institutions.
After IndependenceIndia’s independence in 1947 brought several changes to the country. Economically, the country gradually strengthened its industries through a combination of socialistic policies and limited free enterprise, creating a mixed economy, which invited private capital in certain industry sectors and focused government spending on finance, infrastructure and some heavy industries through Soviet-style five-year plans.
India stopped issuing missionary visas very soon after independence, though several visas that were granted prior to this period were grandfathered and not revoked. Though the category still exists, any information on a visa request that smacks of missionary activity like ‘volunteering’ are more than likely to get rejected.
There are several reasons besides the hangover from colonial days. Modern India is troubled by movements seeking to secede a religious or ethnic group from the union. Often these are violent and influenced by state actors. Among them are several movements in the North-Eastern part of the country, with people who are ethnically like Nepalese and Tibetan peoples and funded variously by communist sympathizers and countries like China. Some of these states have a sizeable Christian population, especially the state of Nagaland, which has 88% Christians. Originally followers of a tribal animistic religion, they were converted to the Baptist faith by American missionaries over a century ago. The Indian government alleges that the local Baptist church, aided by American supporters, have frequently engaged in violent acts against the union.
In addition, during the Cold War, Indians have been wary of American spies, some of whom have been imprisoned or deported due to their activities. Many Indians view Christian missionaries as having an anti-state agenda and using their country’s diplomatic mission as a conduit to execute this with impunity.
Still others view the often-loud deprecation of the Hindu religion and Indian culture by missionaries and the native-born Christians as derogatory and anti-Indian in spirit. Many Christians in India have poured scorn on Hindu practices of idolatry and rituals that many hold as meaningful. There are allegations of ‘forced conversions’ to Christianity by missionaries who offer food, medicine and other material provisions in exchange for such conversion. Though such ‘conversions’ are understood to be of no true consequence (in that they are not truly spiritual conversions), they are still viewed as methods to buy allegiance, as several corrupt politicians are wont to buy votes during elections. In recent years, the Hindu nationalistic government under the Bharatiya Janata Party has sought to convert adherents of other faiths into Hinduism, claiming that they were either induced to convert through material collateral offerings or that several generations ago their ancestors were Hindu, so a conversion to Hinduism is simply considered a return to Indian-ness. In this view, a spiritual conviction is held to be nothing more than a stance either for or against an Indian idea, the idea of being Indian. Under this narrative, a person who has made an informed decision to follow Jesus is either ignorant of India’s spiritual tradition so as to prefer Christianity over what many believe is a ‘superior’ tradition, or someone who has sold her or his soul for something crass or material. A Christian, especially recent converts, are derogatorily referred to as ‘Rice Christians’ by many Hindu nationalists, implying that they changed their religion for a bag of rice!
Christianity MisrepresentedIndeed, Christianity in general is seen as intellectually lightweight and morally deceptive, never mind the long list of scandals that have plagued the Hindu religious leaders in India or the many contradictions in Hindu ritual and practice, such as the veneration of the cow to the extent that even its fluid waste is considered good for human consumption in some quarters. This is a drastic change from when Indian intellectuals in the late 19th century engaged with Christian teaching. Influential scholars like Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Keshub Chandra Se have published admiring writings on Christianity and sought to adapt its teaching to their own worldviews. Today, the landscape is bereft of genuine Christian engagement with society, except through the high-voltage theatrics of rich televangelists who often take advantage of the people with promises of prosperity and healing; and miserable power-hungry pastors who force their un-scriptural ideas on their congregation, tolerating no challenge to their authority and are wont to invoke eternal judgment on those who dare.
Isn’t a sound theological education a good solution to this? Yes; and many missions programs are geared up towards just this- imparting the rigor and discipline of modern theological studies to Christian leaders in India and other such countries, where the Gospel is finding many willing converts but few who are trained in hermeneutics, rhetoric or other tools which are now considered vital resources for a leader. But I have seen several leaders who have been trained but with no real application in the Indian context. In India, as in many other countries where the Gospel has not had widespread historical engagement, this context is significant. Often this context takes the form of economics, politics, religious practices and beliefs, social customs, relationships and family dynamics.
We often say that human beings are not primarily rational, but relational creatures. We think we are rational, but our reason is often informed by our relationships in our community. Even in the West, our shared meanings give context to our theological understanding. In India this is highly significant, as community relations and familial ties give meaning to a person’s identity, far more than it does in Western societies. I have seen the Gospel flourishing in Indian communities which emphasize such relational engagement, coupled with an insistence of the truth of the Bible.
However, a lot of the training that leaders receive in India are geared to the Western context. Pastors talk about LGBTQ issues and decry legislation in the US promoting same-sex marriages, while they routinely ignore real problems even within Christian families, like wife-beating, or dowry, or caste or class issues, or tax evasion in real estate deals. If our Christianity does not provoke us in these areas to repentance and faith in Christ, then should we expect it to bear fruit in our lives? So, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of missions, but we must ask how we could truly help people in these countries reach out to their people and present the Gospel as compelling in their contexts.
CURRENT SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
Indians in the West today have become a political force influencing policies in India with their global goodwill as members of an affluent upper-middle class in the West, and of course their financial power to support their favored leaders in India. No leader has benefitted more from this group than the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, whose rhetoric fanning the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment in the early to mid-2000s, and opportunistic jibes at the corrupt Congress Party, combined with his image of a decisive leader, have firmly positioned him as a champion for the aspirations of modern India. His party, the nationalistic BJP, has consolidated their hold after routing the erstwhile ruling Congress Party in the 2013 elections. There is today no real opposition party that can moderate the ambitions of the BJP today. The endemic corruption and megalomania of the leaders in other parties have all but ensured that India, barring divine intervention, is on a path toward hardline Hinduism, unwilling to tolerate any alternate opinion.
This has led to a suppression of minority civil rights. Though many policies, such as the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (instead of having separate laws for different religions, on matters such as inheritance, alimony and divorce), a unique identifier program called Aadhar (initiated by the earlier Congress government) and many others are only foundational aspects of good governance, several others, such as suppression on individuals and organizations who have criticized Mr. Modi and not addressing some of his supporters who have committed barbaric acts on people suspected of transporting or consuming beef, are only confirming the image critics have long had of the administration.
The administration has worked hard to win the support of the media. As in the Russian Federation, the media largely reflects the views of the BJP, with some notable exceptions. Many journalists are accused of being bought by special interests, either for (mostly) or against Mr. Modi. In addition, the administration has engaged in a systematic policy of undermining institutions they claim are demeaning India’s image. Nonprofits such as a Greenpeace have suffered from this, and have had their assets frozen. Employers have remained unpaid for months. Though Christian social justice organizations like Compassion International and International Justice Mission still operate, largely due to the good work they have done over the past decade, their CEOs have been denied permission to enter the country, despite having had valid visas and turned away at the airport, with no explanation given. There has been a strategic effort to now allow many foreigners in India, especially if they are connected to any form of social work. Many interns and fellows at IJM who were allowed to visit in the past are not allowed any longer.
To add to this chaos, the genuine fears resulting from terror attacks on India, especially after the brutal siege on locations in Mumbai in 2008, have prompted the government to engage in unprecedented intrusive actions. The government has clashed with many smartphone makers like Research in Motion in attempts to force it to allow monitoring emails and text messages. India is one of the few countries which do not allow satellite phones to be used. In 2013, the government created a Central Monitoring System (CMS) which allows the government to snoop into any electronic communication on any server worldwide that is accessed from India for a particular communication, without any privacy law or resource for people to protect themselves against abuse.
The current administration in India recognized about 14 years ago that the media is a powerful force. Prime Minister Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat state was widely criticized for not having done enough to prevent (and from several reports, aided) the slaughter of 2000 people in his state, mostly Muslims in a convoluted trail of events that added another milestone to the tensions between Hindus and Muslims (with many other minority groups) that have been escalating since 1992.
In an interview by the BBC he was asked if he had any regrets about how he handled the incident, and he replied that the one thing he regretted was not handling the media well. In the years since then, he seems to have mastered the art of manipulating the media to win hearts. In addition, he has turned several major news corporations into allies, steadily airing his propagandist views on history, minority groups, Christian missions, NGOs, the opposition parties and others.
In our world today, overseas missions of any kind- religious, humanitarian, social justice and others- are frequently held in suspicion. In the US, many feel that such missions are a waste of money and time. Others feel that it is a story of cultural domination, one that has been played out several times in the past, with disastrous consequences. Financial misappropriation, political leverage or questionable practices by many nonprofits, such as the Clinton Foundation, the American Red Cross and others have raised this suspicion. In India, the BJP and its allies have over time turned the legacies of selfless missionaries, such as Mother Teresa, into a story of exploitation. Supported by articles that have played up the challenges faced by such missions when ministering with few resources to those whom the government and more fortunate countrymen have long ignored, this propaganda has painted a picture that is painfully inaccurate and slanderous.
Indians today believe that foreign NGOs are involved in human trafficking, such as buying and selling Muslim refugees to send to Europe. Some believe they are involved in drug-trafficking. Whenever a scandal breaks out about an unfortunate (and rare) incident, such as a Christian orphanage trying to profit from international adoptions, several Indians now conclude negatively about all Christian missions, especially those which are funded from overseas. But for all the accusations thrown at Indians, the one fear that sticks in the hearts of the most vociferous detractors is the possibility of conversion into the Christian faith. A Western mind may wonder why this could be so bad, and one could try to understand the logic, but it would be a waste of time. To soften the appearance of this harsh stance, such people allege that these are ‘forced conversions’. I have worked with several churches over the past 20 years in India and other countries, but I have not yet found a forced conversion in the sense the term is being used in India. Detractors frequently question NGOs as to why they could possibly want to do what they do in India, and why they couldn’t instead focus on solving their own country’s problems, never mind the halfway homes, prison ministries, rehabs, schools and hospitals Christians have successfully set up in the West.
Modi’s propaganda has effectively turned judge, jury and executioner with no due process, and the media and several of India’s citizens are complicit in allowing this to happen.
CURRENT PRACTICES FOLLOWED BY MISSIONARIES
Many missionaries travel to India out of real compassion and a heart to reach people whose lives they know are dissipating into both temporal and eternal destruction. Many are inspired by stories of faith and sacrifice, and several who travel on short-term trips come away feeling called to mission.
After an extensive mission preparation program, they feel equipped to begin a long-term mission in countries like India. It often comes as an unpleasant shock to realize that the trip involves some deceit in the form of applying for a visa that is for the wrong purpose. Most missionaries travel to India on anything besides missionary visas. Practically, this is the only way to enter India. Some missionaries enroll themselves in courses, others start businesses, some teach in schools, but their desire to reach out to a person to share the love of Jesus is often unfulfilled due to the intense scrutiny by the government.
To add to this, the missionaries often must resort to practices that make them feel trapped in their predicament, such as taking extreme steps to hide their electronic communications. This could take the form of using specialized email servers that use end-to-end encryption to and from their recipients in the West, or using secure VPNs to dial into proxy servers in the West, through which they are able to use the Internet. However, such practices only serve to raise red flags.
Besides their efforts to hide their digital footprint, many missionaries also try to hide their long-term ties to the country, by paying rent in cash (thereby also unfortunately enabling a landlord to evade tax) and having no signed rental agreement. Long-term foreign residents in India are also required to register with the Foreign Regional Registration Office, which automatically brings the registrant in the radar. Most long-term residents get around this by traveling outside the country before hitting the six-month mark, and return after a few weeks. Though a pragmatic method and technically sound in terms of the law, the government has been investigating long-term residents whenever a complaint is raised against them, and this has often resulted in a revocation of their stay.
What does one do in such a situation? Missionaries feel perplexed that their conviction, that is such a shining, redeeming factor in their lives, could be held in such suspicion and contempt. They often feel that this is simply a matter of the fear that the forces of darkness have for the Gospel. While this is true in spiritual terms, there is real doubt in the minds of many Indians about the intentions of Christians, both foreign and native. In other words, it is not so much the truth of Christianity that is driving many Indians to such extreme measures to oppose it, but their belief that Christians are intentionally spreading discord and hatred.
CHANGE THE MODEL
There is no surefire way to avoid electronic snooping, but here are some suggestions to live as a missionary in India; and for churches and mission partners to engage effectively in the mission:
1. Pray without ceasing. We must understand that behind the labyrinthine regulations, there is a spirit that is opposed to God’s Spirit and will use every resource to attack His people and stop the spread of the Good News.
2. Don’t do overkill- A lot of the precautions that missionaries take in countries like India need to be thought through. Try to live as simply as possible. Even if it means communicating less frequently with ministry partners, keep secure electronic communication to a minimum when talking about ministry. However, by all means, use such communication extensively to display your fun experiences and love for the country.
3. Be cautious, but draw your line in the sand. All this does not mean that you will not be tracked. After the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, government surveillance has become the norm, especially for visitors. You must assume that you are being tracked, so be careful to not overstep boundaries. When you are making online payments, for instance, remember that the internet is not secure. Do not give any PII (Personal Identifiable Information) away.
4. Abide by the law. Your local ministry partners may sign you up for an apartment without a rental agreement- this may even be the norm for them as India has been a largely cash-based economy. The government’s recent attempt to make India a largely cashless society must be observed over the next few years to evaluate, so this may be the situation in the near and medium term. However, for visitors, not having a rental agreement is a red flag. Insist of abiding by the rule of law. Indian society, including Christians, have learned over time to sidestep some laws, and unfortunately, this has had serious implications for the church’s moral compass. Such transactions, without an audit trail, enable tax evasion.
5. Engage in teaching leaders, but do not assume a primary preaching position. Many churches have come around to the idea that their efforts are best directed towards training national leaders, so many missionaries who travel to India are highly qualified to teach and train pastors. However, even this doesn’t work very well without national partners- equals- who must assume most of the responsibility. The missionary must work as a facilitator and evaluator. Why should it be this way? Again, it is the context of the culture that is the key. While our common frailties and aspirations bring us together, a Western missionary may not be able to bridge the cultural gap completely. Very few in the West comprehend the struggles of Indian believers, especially those of converts from other religions, such as the loss of a loved community which gave meaning to them in a highly relational culture. Missionaries can, however, serve as sounding boards for theological ‘true north’ and as channels of inspiration from the rich environment of ideas which flourish in Western seminaries.
6. Engage in business or much-needed social care that is encouraged by the government. As much as Indians do not trust the government, they have learned to live with the powers that be; and often they understand that such powers could be a blessing. Simply because Christians are typically opposed to the BJP does not mean that they will not support some of their policies, especially those having to do with employment, healthcare or food provisioning. The successive governments have encouraged certain businesses in India over the years- in technology, healthcare and services. A good way to become a valuable resource in the country is to engage in such businesses and work to create or strengthen the ecosystem of such businesses. I have seen several such successful models.
7. Be respectful of local customs- your criticism must be squarely focused on ideas, and even then, do it gently.
8. Be prepared for changes. Do not hinge your career on a long-term stay.
9. Truly partner with local leaders. Help them succeed, make them more visible, let them shine, treat them as equals. How many stories have you heard that highlight local leaders rather than foreign missionaries? Is this a coincidence? Institutionalize the mission.
10. Churches- care for the people (missionaries), not just the mission- they don’t enjoy deception. Build a support group. We must care for missionaries as though they were (because they are) a very special category of people- or rather, they should be. If churches have done their homework and ensured that the missionaries are carefully vetted and sent, it is their privilege to serve them in mission, and if they are in need, to give to them, more than to others with needs. It is a sign of a dying church when its members begin to see missionaries as being busybodies depending on the church for a living, rather than as people who have intentionally set out to share the Gospel with people in often dangerous situations.
11. Mission agencies need to redefine themselves- not just as financial intermediaries or program managers. Many offer programs (always for cash) to help Third Culture Kids adapt to new cultures, some taxation help, insurance and so on. Many offer ‘discipleship’ (again for a percentage of the funds raised by missionaries) which is often rigid in structure and sometimes creates issues with authority and subordination, which is the bane of such programs. The ‘system’ makes many want to drop out. Supporters of missionaries, and missionaries themselves regularly receive communication imploring them to contribute funds towards their expenses, such as a new office building or more general mission initiatives in other countries. Often such agencies do not understand the very personal nature of missions. We trust people who we know closely, and want to be a part of the mission, so that we can know how lives are changing and eyes are opening to God. Mission agencies often invite sending church pastors to annual retreats and treat them with hospitality, which in less charitable circles would be called schmoozing. Many missions pastors think highly of these agencies, when in reality their real work is far less significant in comparison to the relationships the missionaries develop with supporters. What does it take for a church or an agency to stop thinking like bean counters and start participating in the mission?
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Monday, October 3, 2016
Friday, September 30, 2016
I don't think we could ever be 'beyond' race, faith, color, ethnicity or class. These are not impediments to humanity. We will always have the weight of context, in terms of history, of the kind of collateral in society which places us in positions different from others. This is just humanity. By denying one is Indian or white or black or Christian, and claiming we are simply human doesn't make us somehow better humans. Rather, I think it makes us lose the multi-dimensional wonder that true humanity exhibits. Our humanity doesn't preclude these dimensions. I've written here in the past about how being Christian doesn't preclude me from my pride in my heritage as an Indian. Sadly, many Indians seem to not understand this. These are our buoys and channel markers to navigate the labyrinth of the human experience- we explore and search for meaning. It makes us human. Wishing them away would make us less so.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Thursday, June 16, 2016
|Adoption||Harmful to relationships when a parent is present but cannot care for a child due to financial or other difficulty||Presents a stable home with loving parents||
There are several secular people adopting kids, especially rich celebrities who receive little criticism and much adulation
|Soup kitchens||None noted||Generally admired||None noted||
Few secular alternatives
|Schools||Narrow curriculum||The good schools foster learning outside their worldview but students must subscribe to the statement of faith||
Prayer, teaching of faith matters considered an intrusion into the student's private matters; other aspects such as respect for life considered out of bounds for educational institutions
|Secular schools, especially higher ed, are rife with active atheistic and agnostic teaching. There is also open mockery of faith and discrimnation among faculty and students.|
|Hospitals||Not enough alternatives for those who cannot pay or are undocumented immigrants or visitors who cannot afford care; money-minded||Christian hospitals are understood to be dominant in this area, so there is no particular praise though it is acknowledged||Again, politicized agenda topics such as abortion, contraceptives, euthanasia, etc. are hot buttons; federal funding is another.||
Though not dominant, there are many hospitals funded bysecular universities, which attract none of the criticism- though the same issues of funding, money and denying care to the outliers also apply.
|Increases dependency and corruption||Not admired||Criticized as being culturally hegemonistic, and for religious proselytization||
Some secular alternatives, like Peace Corp and Habitat for Humanity (though founded by people of faith)
|Long term missions||Cultural hegemony||
Admired sometimes for great sacrifice like those working to treat Ebola
|Typically criticized for their faith-based efforts||None noted|
|Conversion||Cultural hegemony||Not admired||
Nearly everything about conversion is misunderstood and vehemently criticized: (1) the idea that conversion means a denigration of deeply held beliefs and traditions; (2) a foreign idea that encourages violence between existing faiths; (3) a subscription into a dominant institution; (4) the idea that missionaries "buy" allegience with material offers, and many others
|None noted; although activist secular people routinely market ideas and attitudes through the media and other interaction. This is not as visible or organized but intentional and effective.|
|Political engagement||Infringment into the rights of others; winning battles suited to a moral code at the expense of others'||"Social gospel"||The social gospel is criticized
when it is associated with a church that affirms the exclusivity of the
Christian faith. Otherwise, as many of the issues align with the world's
priorities, it is not criticized.
||Several secular movements, most taking root from Christian efforts such as in civil rights, are active.|
|Preaching||Bringing in money, exclusion of others and such matters into the content||Not admired||Preaching is typically seen as hypocritical and brainwashing.||
Just as in the matter fo conversions, secular preaching is not as visible but intentional and effective.
|Cultural hegemony||Bringing cultural prerogatives into native traditions||Sometimes, when culture and righteousness conflict, such as in the matter of female genital mutilation, culture must be laid aside||Everything Christians do is viewed through the prism of winning souls, so there is gernerally not acknowledgment of the good things||
Secular movements are typically not international with some exceptions. However, just as in the matter of conversions and preaching, secular cultural hegemony is not as visible but intentional and effective. Social liberalism is actively proselytizing.
|Political leaders||Christians are seen as useful idiots for manipulative political leaders, with very dalid precedents||Some genuine leaders such as Carter have led the country with Christian principles.||
By and large Christian leaders like Carter are not criticized, mainly because the truly hot button aspects of their faith have not been exercised during their leadership
|The US (and in indeed the world) is very gullible in following a leader of any stripe. This applies to secular people as well.|
|Money||There is real corruption in many churches which have forgotten that money is the root of all evil. After all, money is simply the currency for power. Power is the antithesis of grace.||Christians give the most. The overwhleming majoroity of charitable giving comes from them; and out of this, most comes from evangelicals.||Everything Christians do is viewed through the prism of winning souls, so there is gernerally not acknowledgment of the good things||
Secular giving exists, but the causes are mainly the celebrated ones- breast cancer, heart disease, saving endangered animals. The worst issues in the world- ebola, earthquake relief, long-term community building- are mostly addressed by Christians.
|Adultery||Not just adultery but the problem of lust is real and present in the church, not just among leaders.||Despite all the problems, Christians affirm that they may be wrong in their actions, but the Bible is right on secual practice.||There is secular criticism of lust in the church, and then there is secular criticism of the Bible decrying both lust and the world's sexual practices.||
By and large, the secular understanding of sexual desire if not based on any written code or philosophical understanding, rather on feeling and pragmatism.
Saturday, April 16, 2016
First solo trip to Port au Prince tomorrow. At home, we finished packing pencils, stickers and candy for the students at the PEF school. The kids opened up their piggy banks so I can have change. David was emotional but denied it was because I was leaving. He gave one of his small toy cars ('machine' as they call it in Haiti) for any one small boy there. Emma was distracted and irritated. Alma got all this stuff from the dollar store. My own mind is very distracted and anxious, filled with unknown fears. I can't put my finger on it. Is it the news of recent shootings in Port au Prince, in which one person I have met- Mario- was shot in the face? Is it the news of the Zika virus? Is it the travel advisory at the US Department of State website? Is it that I feel powerless that should something happen to me my family would need to continue without me? Surely they will do well enough. So what am I so worried about? What happened to my intrepid self, the one that in 1993 with my friend Ta would travel nearly penniless on trains and buses through Tamil Nadu and Kerala, surviving on rations of peanuts and good humor? Am I that old?
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.- Psalm 43:5
Will my trip be fruitful? Will I be able to relate to the kids at the school? Will the staff and administrators view me seriously? Can I go there with humility, and not as a 'benefactor' but a servant? Why is this happening, Lord?
In the past, on my trips with HART, I was almost a tourist-missionary, getting my feet wet. Now I'm on my own.
On the other hand, this is an opportunity to face my fears and see the face of God. So, make it real. Make it holy, Lord.
Friday, December 4, 2015
In Josh Moody's first sermon this December, he talked about how in the wake of the Paris shootings, a pianist towed his piano out to the middle of a square where people had gathered to demonstrate their solidarity, and began playing Lennon's 'Imagine', a perennial favorite played during such times, urging people to shed their faith in God, in heaven, hell or religion, and place their faith in humanity instead, so everyone can live in peace and unity. Josh pointed out the irony of placing faith in humanity, the same humanity that had just murdered so many in cold blood. How often we point to ideologies as being at fault and human beings simply driven by them, as if they themselves in their purest form, were not to blame at all. Despite so many instances to the contrary, we tend to believe in humanity's fundamental nobility- because to believe that we are evil and wicked would be to turn our attention to our own hearts' wickedness. Ultimately, it is not any ideology (regardless of its rightness or wrongness), but we who are the ones holding the gun, the ones to blame. Even our best manifestations, like the heroes of Chennai, are echoes of another land, not this fallen one- and not surprisingly, overwhelmingly informed by eternal, not temporal, hope.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Everyone knows politics is uncharitable. This is especially so during the elections. Politicians get by blaming unkind words on supporters, not in so many words, but by implication. Al Gore would never say George W Bush ‘stole’ the elections from him, but his supporters cry themselves hoarse doing it. Today’s crop of Republicans generally want to paint Obama as radical (black lib theo), extremist (Rules for Radicals), Islamist (Hussein), socialist (Obamacare), a liar (birth certificate) and many other things.
Be this as it may be, I have wondered why we should elect into public office people who are so ruthless in the first place. About election time, a bunch of politicians and others would urge us all to get out there and make our voice heard. Why is it so unpatriotic to not let my voice be heard? To step away, not from the political process, but from casting my vote for people I find difficult to approve? Is it because it shows we have lost faith in the idea of this nation? Isn’t that a naïve conclusion? Maybe those of us who are intentionally silent are the ones who love the idea of this nation more than anyone else, who demand that the current state of affairs must change.
Democracy has always been about a little compromise. I may need to trade away some cards to push for things I care about. I get it. But sometimes silence could resound loudly. Indian voters have an option known as NOTA, standing for ‘None of the Above’- meaning it is a vote for a candidate who is not on the ballot, registering formal disapproval for the ones who are. I think this should be mandatory in all our elections in the US. It will not get anything done except to drive changes in the system itself- the big money pouring into it, the divide and conquer policy, the half-truths and accusations, the uncouth debates. I’m really tired of the charade, and especially of the faithful millions screaming inanities about their candidate and insults about others.
|Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life[a] was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power[b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from[c] faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.|
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,[d] that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now)in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[f]
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne or Nicolas Tournier (c. 16th century)
Romans 1:3 Or who according to the flesh
Romans 1:4 Or was declared with power to be the Son of God
Romans 1:5 Or that is
Romans 1:13 The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in 7:1, 4; 8:12, 29; 10:1; 11:25; 12:1; 15:14, 30; 16:14, 17.
Romans 1:17 Or is from faith to faith
Romans 1:17 Hab. 2:4
This declaration of Sonship happened with great power, by Jesus’ resurrection after his death. Paul continues to say that it through this same Jesus that the apostles received both their commission and the grace (free and generous gift given to them by God to make things happen) to bring people to the faith they were talking about. Paul calls this faith the ‘obedience of faith’, as if by believing the people were in fact obeying. This obedience of faith, he says, is for the sake of Jesus’ name, not for his own or for any other glory, not even for the glory of the hearers of the gospel, but for God’s glory. He says it is to be proclaimed on a global scale. Finally he says the readers of his letter, the Roman churches, are also among the believers, who he says are called to belong to Jesus.
This is a long greeting, stylistically similar to contemporary letters and many of Paul’s own- but full of concepts he brings together. To appeal to his identity and authority, he points to his calling by Jesus himself, his slavehood to Jesus, Jesus own resurrection and Sonship to God, the attestations by prophets as to his Sonship, Jesus’ commission and grace to Paul to proclaim the gospel, which is to be obeyed by believing it, and this is all for Jesus’ name’s sake.
What is his context (per the letter) to write to the Romans? Let’s not yet get into an external context such as heresies.Paul has heard a lot about the Romans’ faith. He says it is being proclaimed all over the world. He is fascinated and he thanks God for this. In fact he says God knows that he has been praying for the Romans ceaselessly. He has also been asking God to get him to Rome to see them all - he really wants to give them a spiritual gift- probably to encourage them with sound doctrine, prayer, fellowshipping, etc. Paul’s visits generally meant long stays. He says he wants to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, and he has tried several times to come to them in Rome but has been prevented for unsaid reasons until now. In other Gentile places he visited he has had a spiritual harvest, and he wants to have this in Rome as well. He continues to say that as an apostle, he is in fact obligated to both Jews and Gentiles to tell them about Jesus, to both the wise and the foolish (wise probably refers to Gentiles who were also called Greeks, part of the Roman-Hellenic world).
God is not neutral to this behavior- he is angered by it, and this wrath is also revealed. God let human beings have their way- they began sinning, their hearts were impure, they dishonored their bodies. All this happened as a result of their trading away God’s truth for a lie and committing idolatry. In the process they began lusting after each other’s bodies, and went further, into same-sex sexual relations, which troubled them further in several ways (not specifically described). Apart from God’s staying hand, their hearts were filled with all kinds of evil. This gave rise to sinfulness and finally acts of sin. They became foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. In addition, though they knew that the final result of these things is death, they continued to this this and encouraged others to do the same.
This is how Paul begins his Gospel presentation- by firmly establishing the fact that human beings are unrighteous by their very acts against God, which lead to further darkening of their hearts and minds, until at last they are on a collision course with death, about which they have no qualms and to which they are actively leading other people.
|You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?|
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God;18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”[b]
25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the[c] written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.
On this day, each one is judged by his works. Let’s not step yet into justification by faith. Paul says that God’s standard for holiness is sinlessness- so by that standard, on the day of wrath, those who patiently do good things and seek glory, honor and immortality will get them- in the form of what is called eternal life. But those who seek their selves (self-seeking) and do not obey the truth (to obey includes to believe), but do obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath. This is true for both Jews and Gentiles- without partiality.
Interesting that he says ‘for the Jew as well as the Greek’. Aren’t the Jews the people to whom God gave his Law?Paul doesn’t discount this fact. He says that those who have the Law will be judged by the Law. But those who do not have the Law will perish without the Law. He explains this- the Jews are hearers of the Law (in Paul’s day, the Scriptures were often read out aloud for people to hear), but not necessarily doers of the Law. He contrasts this behavior with Gentiles who may be keeping the Law that their conscience dictates. He says when they obey their consciences, they are showing that God’s law is written in their hearts. God knows this, and nothing is secret to him, so on the day of wrath, these things will be considered. Note that Paul is not saying that Gentiles will be saved- he has already mentioned that they will perish without the law. He is talking about the value of the Law.
The Law describes correct behavior and highlights the fact that even the Jews don’t really obey it. They consider themselves a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a teacher to children, an instructor to the foolish- all because the Law contains truth and knowledge. But these same people don’t apply the same standards to their own behavior. Those preach against stealing, adultery, idolatry and other sins- but dishonor God by doing these same things. The Jews of Paul’s day had strict codes to deal with every situation, that defined whether a certain behavior was sinful or not. Instead of focusing on sinfulness, they simply focused on outward behavior which ended up being actually sinful.
Jewish males were circumcised as a symbol of their covenant with God. Paul says that a Jew who is outwardly circumcised may not be a true Jew at all- he argues that we should all be circumcised in our hearts, that it is a matter of the heart, and keeping the Law is not a matter of the letter, but of the Spirit. He adds that the inwardly circumcised are those who seek God’s approval, not that of men (like the Jews of his day who kept rules to remain in good standing with the religious establishment).
St Paul Healing the Cripple at Lystra
1663, DUJARDIN, Karel
|What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.|
3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:
“So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.”[a]
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!
9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[b]
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”[c]
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[d]
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[e]
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[f]
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[g]
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i]through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
So Paul is saying everyone is unrighteous whether they have the Law or not. Isn’t anyone righteous at all?He is saying that no one is righteous simply due to their actions. However, he says, there is another way to be righteous- and this is different from the righteousness that comes if you keep the Law fully in Spirit. This is a righteousness apart from the Law- and best of all, even the Law and the Prophets talk about it! It is the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. If all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, God took the initiative and extended his gift of righteousness (i.e., by his grace) to people who have trusted Jesus for their salvation (redemption). Jesus blood sacrifice satisfied God’s requirement for justice (propitiation) and also justified those who receive it by faith. Our sins are passed over. The results of this are striking- it means that we have no need to boast in ourselves. The Jews cannot claim he is their God alone. We need not judge anyone else. God justifies both the circumcised and the uncircumcised by faith. Curiously enough, Paul says, this doesn’t replace or overthrow the Law. Rather, it upholds the Law.
Sowing the Seed- Annie Vallotton
Christ Before the High Priest
Gerrit van Honthorst
|What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a]|
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”[b]
9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”[c] He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d]19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Paul quotes King David as having affirmed this kind of justification by faith- ‘Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’ Paul expands on this theme- he says that God had counted his faith as righteousness even before he was circumcised. He concludes that therefore, both Jews and Gentiles are justified in this same way, and this makes Abraham the father of all who are justified by faith just as he was.
Think about it- if the promise had been adhering to the Law alone, then the promise is void, because as we have seen, the law brings about wrath, not justification. If God gave such a promise, then it is a non-starter, because keeping the Law is impossible! When there is no Law there is no transgression (breaking the law). The promise was given before the Law. Just as Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness, we too must understand that it is faith that brings righteousness to both the adherents of the Law as well as those who share Abraham’s faith alone. Paul, writing to these Roman Gentile Christians, says Abraham is the “father of us all”. He hoped in God even when he and Sarah were beyond child-bearing age, that God will give him an heir.
Not just that, through the course of his life, his faith grew stronger and stronger, so that in his old age, he trusted God in everything despite the mistakes committed in his earlier years. He believed God, says Paul, so that he did not weaken in faith even as he considered his body was aged, but trusted the God who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that did not exist.” Paul concludes the answer to this question by saying that just as Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness, our faith too shall be counted in the same way when we believe in him who raised Jesus, who was “delivered up for our trespasses (sins) and raised for our justification.”
|Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.|
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people,so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul goes on to say that when Jesus died for us, we were both ungodly and weak- both sinful and unable to redeem ourselves. In human terms, a person will scarcely die for another, much less for a bad human being. But God’s love for us is so strong that he died for us when we were sinners and therefore enemies to God. Paul says that now, after we have been justified (and therefore become God’s friends), we will continue to be saved from wrath by his life. Jesus is risen, and we are his friends. How much more will we be saved? Because of this we rejoice in God through Jesus Christ.
In chapter 1 we talked about how human beings became sinful and dead. That explains why we need to be justified. How do we continue to be justified?Remember how the first human, Adam sinned against God. In the process he turned away from God. In the same way we have all sinned and turned away from God. Sin spread from Adam to us, even though we did not commit his exact same sin. Before the Law was given through Moses to Israel, sin went on spreading even though it wasn’t classified as sin under the Law until then. This turning away from God, or trespass, resulted in death, both physical and spiritual.
Just like sin spread from one man (Adam), grace and justification spread from the actions of one Man (Jesus). But Adam’s one sin set us on a sinful course and many suffered death. Jesus’ actions were triggered by many trespasses (all of ours, not just Adam’s), but his work resulted in our justification. Paul argues that if Adam’s one sin brought us condemnation, Jesus’ sinless life and work will bring us grace much more. God’s grace is overwhelmingly abundant where there are many sins. His grace is far greater than any sin. Many have the idea of God being a tyrant, banishing Adam from Eden simply because of his one disobedience. God longs to forgive us, and Jesus perfect obedience is enough for him to give us grace that is greater than all our sin.
Paul concludes this section by saying that the Law was given in order that the trespasses may increase- I understand this as saying our many sins may become manifest to us humans clearly. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. Where death increased, grace leading to righteousness and life increased all the more.
|What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.|
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a]that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.
Should we then continue to live in our old sinful ways? After all we have believed in Jesus, we are saved; and now that we are his friends, the more we sin, it looks the more grace will be given to us.Paul answers this with an emphatic exclamation- Of course not! When we believe in Jesus, we are dying to sin. To be made righteous by faith means that we trust God to direct our life (like Abraham did)- this means we are turning to God, away from our self-will. In other words it means turning from a sinful life to a life that God intends for us, which God will direct. This means being dead to sin, but alive to God. The phrase ‘dead to sin’ comes from the fact that when we trust God for our justification, we are being baptized (immersed or covered up) into Jesus’ death. Similarly just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we are raised up from our baptism into Jesus’ life.
Due to this we can live in ‘newness of life’.
Paul explains this in theological terms. He says if we have been united with Christ in death, then we shall be united with him in resurrection. Our old self (the self-willed sinful one) was brought to death at the cross when we trusted Jesus for justification. This is so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin (the old ‘self-willed’ life is anything but free- we may think we have control over it through our own will, but we are simply acting out the dictates of our fallen nature, worldly influences and the unseen provocations of the devil- or as Paul says elsewhere, the world, the flesh and the devil). And someone who has died has been set free from sin. In our case our old self died with Jesus, and our new self rose up with him. Christ was raised and will never die again- in other words death no longer has dominion over him. When he died at the cross, he died to sin once for all- but now the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, we must understand that we are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
If this is the case, we must not let sin continue in us, in our mortal bodies. We must continually keep ourselves from being instruments of sin. We must continually turn to God and present ourselves as instruments of his righteousness. Paul concludes by saying, ‘sin will have no dominion over you’ (like death doesn’t have with Jesus), since ‘you are not under law but under grace’.
[My aside- Abraham’s life involved continually learning from God about his plans, and though it must have been confusing, towards the end of his life, he had learned his lesson thoroughly. He learned to trust God and this trust (faith) is counted as righteousness. Life in Christ means this kind of continual turning to God. If we sin (and we will), we must not let it continue. We must always turn. This continual turning, rather than using our iron will to remain sinless (which is simply following the law), is what means to live in Christ.]
Having the free will to choose, if we let sin continue in ourselves, we are simply being enslaved again. When we continually present ourselves to God as slaves of righteousness, we are going through a process Paul calls ‘sanctification’, God’s process of training us into the kind of people he wants us to be- in other words, people who are like Jesus Christ. Paul says we were ‘free’ of righteousness when we were slaves to sin. But our slave-wage under this cruel master (sin) was death, not just physical death, but spiritual. But now we are set free, and when we present ourselves willingly to be slaves of righteousness, we go through sanctification, which leads to eternal life. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking eternal life is a kind of slave-wage like death is the slave-wage of sin, says Paul- rather, eternal life is the free gift of God. Sanctification is simply a process leading to it, not the effort required to get it. We become like Christ through sanctification and at the end we share in Jesus’ life. It is a free gift which Jesus earned for us, not something we could ever earn.
[My aside- I think of this as a journey up a hill, in which Jesus walks alongside us and is holding on to our hand. At the summit is a grand feast. This is prepared in anticipation of us getting there, and it has already been prepared. It is not conditional on our getting there. Getting there is the process though, but the feast is not given as payment in exchange- it is given freely and generously out of overwhelming love.
When we stumble and fall, Jesus picks us up and applies medicine and bandages. Sometime he even carries us when we are weak or short of breath or if there are wild animals around. Sometimes we sin and go back some of the way, but we have Jesus holding us by the hand, so we can’t go too far, unless we want him to let go. So we turn back continually to him, and we continue the uphill journey. In contrast when we were downhill, we were slaving away under a cruel master, receiving as our wages daily whipping and brutal treatment.
The Bible contains several accounts in the Old Testament that anticipated these events in the New Testament - the Israelites who were being led to a promised land but wanted to turn back to Egypt, for instance. But the feast, like the Promised Land to the Israelites is a free gift of God’s grace, not a wage to be earned from toil.]
|Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.|
4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh,[a] the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[b] 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d]a slave to the law of sin.
If I have been justified and I have the Holy Spirit within to me, and the grace to access God, why do I still sin? Am I not set free from sin yet?We are indeed set from sin when we are justified. This means that we do not owe an obligation to sin. Sin is no longer our master. Paul here uses the language of law, having in mind the Jewish law, but easily understandable to us who follow other legislative frameworks. A person is released from her contract of marriage when her spouse dies. She is free to remarry without having broken the law. We have died to sin and there is no more master-slave relationship. We are now united with our new master, God.
The law which administered our old relationship with sin codified all kinds of sins. Strangely, this codification produced in us only a tendency to commit that very sin! [My aside here- Adam too had only codified transgression to avoid, at which he failed]
The law is good, because it calls out sin for what it is. But sin seizes the opportunity to tempt us to commit it. Adam was alive before the commandment, but after broke the commandment he died.
We said the law is good- indeed it is, because it helps us know what sin is, despite the fact that it is twisted by the devil to tempt us into sin. It is important for us to know sin when we sense it or come across it. Because the commandment exists, sin is recognized clearly for what it is- utterly sinful!
Paul explains that though the law is good, we as human beings are exploited by the devil to commit sin because at our core, in our fallen nature, we are sinful beings. He explains that through our conscience (and the Law of God) we know that a particular sin is wrong, but we still do it, even when we hate doing it. He argues that because we actually hate it, we actually agree in our heart that the Law is a good thing.
Then what makes us do it? Paul says it is sin living in me, in other words our fallen nature or old self. In this nature, goodness does not dwell. In this nature (or natural state) I desire goodness, but cannot do it.
Paul says there is a war between my inner being, which loves the Law, and my sinful nature, which makes me a prisoner of sin. There is a battle raging between my mind and my sinful nature. The only one who can deliver me from this is Jesus Christ.
Whether we are talking about the sinner who is turning to Christ for the first time (for justification) or a justified believer turning to Christ (and away from sin)in the process of sanctification, true turning can only be done through Jesus Christ.
Apostle Paul by Rembrandt
A Wretched Man
|Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a]free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.|
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d]because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It seems like being saved is something that happens at the end of sanctification and not something that happens at justification. Is this true?Our justification means that we are saved- the first verse in this chapter affirms this. The chapter after physical death, when we are given life in a new body, comes at the end of sanctification, which involves trials of every kind- not just external opposition or conflict, but internal trials and temptations, involving a continual turning to God. Paul says this is all worth it due to the glory which will be revealed “in us”. Our sufferings and our frailty on earth are not by accident, they are under God’s command- God himself longs to bring it out into glory. We groan in hope for this redemption to happen and wait for it patiently. During this time, we pray with the help of the Spirit who teaches us how to reach out to God, what to pray for and how to respond to our situations. The Spirit intercedes for (prays on behalf of) God’s people according to God’s will. Our present time is valuable- we are given this in order to grow into Christlikeness and become aligned to God’s will by the help of the Spirit.
[My aside: what are these wordless groans we utter? I believe it is struggle against our sinful nature. We have been freed from its realm, but not its influence. We belong to eternity but live in the world. This cry of deliverance and constant ‘turning away’ and ‘turning to’ characterizes our lives as believers. John Piper says true believers are the ones who understand the Gospel as not only truth, but as treasure. For such, he says, justification is followed by sanctification, followed by eternal life].
More Than Conquerors by Sara Srubar-Erb
But how can I be sure about the outcome? Don’t I have to be done with sanctification to be absolutely sure?Paul answers this question in 2 ways:
(1) the fact that in all circumstances, God is working for the believer’s good- even in circumstances where we fall to sin, so that we can turn back to God and learn of His grace and forgiveness;
(2) God knew all about us and what we will do before anything was ever created.
We were predestined to be called by God, then justified, then glorified. Each verb is in the past participle, as in ‘it has been done’! He explains the significance of this assurance by asking a volley of rhetorical questions about God’s grace. He asks the readers if God will not give us all things when he did not spare his own Son when we were enemies. He asks is anyone could bring an accusation against us when God the judge has justified us. He reminds us that Jesus Christ himself is interceding for us. He concludes that there is nothing that could stop God from loving us. He also concludes that even in suffering, we are more than conquerors. Note that this is all in the present tense, meaning ‘here and now’. The certainty in the verses is unmistakable.
He asks, “What shall we say in response to these things?” How about- Hallelujah!!?
|I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised![a] Amen.|
6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[b] 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”[c]
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e]
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[f]
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”[i] 26 and, “In the very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”[j]
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.
28 For the Lord will carry out
his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”[k]
29 It is just as Isaiah said previously:
“Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.”[l]
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[m]
Paul says children of God are children of promise, not children by birth. God chooses and calls with a specific purpose in mind. This doesn’t mean that those who are called are in any way better people. If that were the case there would be no election, or calling. Jacob was chosen before either he or Esau had done anything good or bad. Those who are called would be wise to heed that we are called to belong and to proclaim. There is no boasting on our part to which we can lay claim. God’s redemptive purpose lies behind his calling.
Paul continues to say that God moves in his own way to elect, to call. To question him would be foolish. God even raised up Pharaoh to display his power in him and proclaim his name in all the earth. Trust God to do the best thing for every human being on earth. His mercy is greater than us and beyond our understanding. Even the ones he ‘hardens’ (meaning, closes his mind from understanding the Gospel) have a purpose. We cannot (and should not attempt to) conclude on their final outcome, but we should trust God’s justice and compassion. All we can say is that the only certain way to eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on to explore scenarios for why God prepared some to be called and others were not- he offers the idea that perhaps he was displaying his patience. He offers another idea that perhaps this was to proclaim his greatness through those who are not called in order to make the riches of his glory known to those who are called in some way. He doesn’t conclude on any of these theories, but we must trust the goodness, justice, mercy and compassion of God for the whole world, as the Bible affirms over and over again.
But we must not attempt to resolve this tension by concluding on our own pet theory. We are meant to preserve this tension as it is. A better way to ask the question would be for a believer to ask herself how she could proclaim the Gospel to the whole world, the way God wants her to proclaim. This demands our will and obedience to be aligned to God’s purposes instead of our demanding to know what God will do to those who were ‘hardened’, or those who have not heard, or those who have not yet done anything good or bad, or those with cognitive disabilities who cannot comprehend the Gospel.
As for the Jews, Paul says they did not obtain the righteousness that comes from justification by faith because they pursued righteousness through works. Remember that this kind of pursuit is not unique to the Jews but it is the prevailing worldview among nearly every person on earth. This is not how God wanted to reconcile people to him. Therefore, as Paul quotes Isaiah, only a remnant among the Jews shall be saved. These are children of the promise, just like Gentile believers. Are they Jews who trusted in Jesus for their salvation? The text doesn’t explain, but as we said before it is the only certain way to be justified. Of any other way, we have no understanding. Even if there is another way (such as for those who lived before Jesus came to earth in human form), such a way would need to be through the redemptive action of Jesus on the cross, even if not through faith- because in order to be free from the realm of sin, the one who condemned (defeated) sin in the flesh, Jesus, is the only mediator. But again, these are scenarios on which we should not conclude.
Jesus the Teacher, Holding Scroll,
by Rita Salazar Dickerson
|Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.|
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”[a] 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[d] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f]
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[g]
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[h] 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”[i]
19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,
“I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”[j]
20 And Isaiah boldly says,
“I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”[k]
21 But concerning Israel he says,
“All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and obstinate people.”[l]
Were the Israelites misled by the Law that they received? How did they miss this message of justification by faith?The Israelites did miss the message, but they were not misled at all by the Law or the Prophets. The Law was given with the message that the person who keeps the Law will live. Paul quotes several passages from the Old Testament to affirm that the message of grace was always found in the Jewish Scriptures.
In Deuteronomy 32:11-14, the Scriptures say about God’s commandments:
"For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it? But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”
Paul uses these verses to establish that the word of the Lord is in our heart (with which we believe) and our mouth (with which we proclaim it) - this is the way to be saved. Similarly, he quotes from Joel 2:32, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” the same verses quoted by Peter in Acts 2:17 when he stood to speak to the crowd on the day of the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
Paul goes into a slight aside here, and asks rhetorical questions as to how anyone could call on the name of the Lord if she had never heard of the Lord, and she could hear if no one ever preached to her, how anyone could preach unless he were sent, underscoring the urgency of believers reaching out to a lost world in order to save it.
But concerning the Jews, Paul says that they indeed heard the good news about Christ, both from their own Scriptures and from the testimony of Christians. Quoting from Isaiah, he points to their disobedience and stubborn hearts, and affirms that God’s invitation to the Gentiles into his kingdom should serve to stir up “envy and anger” (possibly leading to soul-searching and repentance) by Israel.
James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Return. Oil on Canvas (c. 1882)
|I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”[a]? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”[b]5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.|
7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 8 as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that could not see
and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.”[c]
9 And David says:
“May their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them.
10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.”[d]
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?16 If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way[e] all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27 And this is[f] my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”[g]
28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience,31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now[h]receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”[j]
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”[k]
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Jews are the people to whom the covenant was given. Granted, the true Israel is the one which is saved by faith in God. But Abraham was not yet aware of Jesus Christ, yet he was counted righteous. Does this no longer apply to the Jews? Are they no longer justified in God’s sight?Paul is saying two things in this passage- (1) As found frequently in the Old Testament, a remnant (a few remaining people) continues among the Jews to be righteous. We must understand they are saved through their faith, and chosen by grace. (2) Jews as a community are currently not God’s chosen vehicle to revere and reveal God’s glory to all creation- Christians are. But this was not done in order to exclude the Jews from God’s promises, but to stir them to return to God.
To support these arguments, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, Isiah and the Psalms that Jews have stumbled, but the elect have not. But this is not because God turned his back on them. He asks, if the Jews’ transgression (unbelief) meant that the door were opened to the whole world, what would their acceptance be but resurrection from the dead? He urges the Gentile believers not to boast that they are now justified, at the cost of man of the Jews. Instead they should continue in God’s kindness, which leads to eternal life, without which they will die.
Paul makes the point that God’s mercy waits for all Gentiles to hear the Gospel and turn to him- it is in this way that all Israel will be saved (I believe he refers to “all Israel” to mean the true Israel, the church of God). He also says that the Gentiles are like wild branches that were grafted on to the olive tree (people of God, nourished by God himself, who is the root). But the Jews were part of the original tree, like branches that were cut off. Paul rhetorically asks if Gentile believers who are wild branches could be grafted on to the tree, how easily Jews – the original branches-could be grafted on to the tree from which they were cut off.
Paul goes on to say that God loves Israel because of the patriarchs. It is difficult to interpret this sentence, because God loves everyone, and this is not due to anything good that they or their forefathers have done. I believe Paul is saying that the Jewish people who have the Law and the Prophets- the Old Testament scriptures- also have the truth of God handed down to them from their fathers, though not the truth about Jesus Christ; and in this way they receive guidance from God.
Unlike other peoples, the Jewish Scriptures are revealed truth and 100 percent true. In this way they are recipients of God’s grace still, though the number that is abiding in him through faith is small.
I think the central message in this passage is that we must trust the wisdom and kindness of God, and not boast in our justification as if it were something especially given to us at someone else’s cost. God will extend his mercy to all peoples, including Jews, so that ‘all Israel’ could be saved.
An Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane
Menorahs and Ark of the Covenant,
Jewish Catacomb in the Villa Torlonia, Rome
|Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.|
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord.20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In this chapter he switches gears quickly, but it follows the narrative very well. Having urged the Gentile believers in Rome to understand that the Jews are not forsaken but implored upon by God to move from their legalistic position into justifying faith, Paul cautions them to be humble and not puffed up with pride.
He prefaces this by saying that believers should offer their bodies (earthly lives) as a living sacrifice which is holy and pleasing to God. They can accomplish this through the renewal of the mind (training the mind to continually turn toward God and away from the law of sin and death; and filling the mind with God’s truth from Scripture rather than the lies from the world, the flesh and the devil).
Paul brings up the image of one body (the church) and many parts (believers) which he brings up elsewhere (1 Corinthians). He emphasizes the fact that one member should not think of her own gifts as superior- each one has a serious purpose for which God has called him. In this sense, we belong to Christ and we also belong to one another. We are called to serve each other in the church.
Paul also outlines what it means to be a believer in interacting with both the church and the world. In either case, the believer must love another human being with the kind of sacrificial love with which Jesus loves them. This often means giving when it hurts, but even giving when the receiver hurts us. Also, it means being ‘Christ’ to all people- rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn. It also means going out of our comfort zones- associating with those who are poor. This is not charity, but a standing together as equals and partners. Paul urges believers to never take revenge, but to do the exact opposite- show kindness- to those who are enemies. This is a high calling. This way, we heap burning coals on our enemies- I believe this is written in the same vein as when Paul talks about God provoking the Jews to envy by calling the Gentiles- meaning, the enemies will suffer, not from our vengeance, but from the moral challenge posed by our forgiveness. This form of suffering is redemptive and restorative, not punitive.
However, he also says, “leave room for God’s wrath”. This means that though we let others off our hook when we forgive, we realize that they are not off God’s hook. God is the only one who can and does judge justly- and with mercy. Leave revenge to him, praying though that he will show mercy instead of wrath, because we know he is full of grace.
|Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.|
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.[c]
But Paul describes any such authority as being appointed by God. Whether unfair, cruel, unjust, corrupt or otherwise, these authorities are understood to be in power because God let them be. Jesus himself mentioned this to Pilate when Pilate claimed he had the power to indict or release him. Paul’s advice is to do the right thing for conscience’s sake.
He continues to talk about settling all debts, whether to governments or to people. The difference is minimal- we must have only one debt, which is the perpetual obligation to love one another. This, he says, is the fulfilment of the Law.
Romans is a book about the Gospel, and therefore about being justified, which is about being right before God. In our process of sanctification, pursuing this “rightness” is important not only for the process of sanctification to lead to its expected end (eternal life), but also to be agents of God’s love to others.
As our salvation now is nearer than when we first believed, Paul urges us to be even more sober and pursue righteousness in Jesus Christ (‘clothe yourselves’ with Jesus Christ).
|Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.|
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[b]
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.[c]
Just as in 1 Corinthians (in which Paul says ‘the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know, but the man who loves God is known by God”, and “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”), here he talks about love as being the antidote to judgmental attitudes.
It is easy to judge another person for her idiosyncrasies, especially in the church. Whether this is due to weaker faith or not, we must understand that each person is on a personal journey of sanctification to eternal life in Jesus Christ. So whether we live or die, or do anything at all, we do all these things “to the Lord”. We will be judged by God as well, so why should we judge another person or treat them with contempt? Paul clarifies that no food is actually unclean (for a Pharisee like Paul, this must have taken some epiphany from God to state it this way).
In 1 Corinthians, Paul posits that love is a higher form of knowledge, culminating this idea in chapter 13, wherein he says in heaven, when we will know as we are known, only 3 things remain- faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love. In this chapter he says, if our brother or sister is upset because of what we eat, we are not acting out of love and we must take care to eat as the person eats. I think he is referring to the communal (communion) meals they ate together in the First Century church, when different people with different backgrounds may have had some reservations about the food.
Paul urges us to go beyond all these differences, and pursue the kingdom of God- which he says is not eating or drinking, but ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ He affirms that this earns not just God’s approval, but the friendship of others.
Paul says we cannot go against our conscience, even if it may be mistaken. So if we are convinced about Jewish dietary laws and do not act according to what our conscience tells us, it becomes a sin to us even if the food is not actually unclean. To help our brothers and sisters avoid falling into this “sin from doubting” we must not do anything that may cause them to fall.
|We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.|
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[b] on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”[c]
10 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”[d]
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”[e]
12 And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”[f]
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”[g]
22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.
23 But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, 24 I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. 28 So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.
30 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, 32 so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Nikolai K Bodarevski
In concluding, it looks like Paul is expressing two ideas. One, he is continuing to sow peace among the Roman believers; and Two, he talks about his plans to visit Rome in the context of his ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. Do you see this?Yes. Let’s talk about the first part. Paul is summing up the ideas he expounded in chapters 13 and 14.
Specifically, he refers to two things: God’s encouragement and endurance, which the Old Testament Scriptures teach us. He points out that Jesus Christ did not live for himself but for others. We who belong to him must follow this very example and not live to please ourselves, but live for the Gospel- to make the Gospel compelling to our neighbors, to build them up. This may mean in our day voting in a manner so as to make the Gospel compelling to another community, or serving a person so as to reflect the Gospel. This may earn us insults, but Paul quotes from the Psalms and connects it to the attitude of Jesus: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” He says this was written in the past in another context, but refers to Jesus, and was written for our endurance and encouragement.
Paul continues to talk about unity among Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. He says Jesus has become a servant of the Jews (the end notes say ‘servant of the circumcision’, meaning, I think, that he came as a Jew). This achieves two purposes: one, it fulfils the promise made to the Jews, that salvation will come to them through God’s suffering servant, as Isaiah described Jesus about 700 years earlier; and two, it fulfils God’s plan for the Gentiles to know God’s grace and praise him for his forgiveness to them. Paul quotes from Isaiah to reinforce this idea.
Paul gives his benediction to the Romans as he concludes this first part of the chapter, praying that God may fill the Romans with hope, joy and peace as they trust him. He prays they may in fact overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (as they are sanctified). He then moves on to the second part, which he prefaces with commendations to the Romans’ goodness, knowledge and ability to teach each other.
In this second part, he refers again to his calling to preach the Gospel, especially to the Gentiles, and to teach the Gospel as they are being sanctified. He longs for them to be an offering acceptable to God. This is why he is writing to them, though he admires their knowledge and wisdom- it is also clear from the strong theology in this letter that the readers of the letter were learned people.
Paul, like he does in several other epistles, (such as to the Colossians and Corinthians) affirms that among the Gentiles he will not speak of anything except Jesus Christ’s work through him, accompanied by the display of God’s power by signs and wonders through the Holy Spirit. He says in this letter that from Jerusalem to Illyricum he has fully proclaimed the Gospel. Scholars put the date of Paul’s writing this letter between late 55 AD and early 57 AD, before he goes to Jerusalem with a collection for those suffering from poverty there. It sounds like Judea suffered from several famines from 45 through 52 AD under the reign of Claudius as Caesar, and the resulting poverty, mentioned in the book of Acts, other epistles as well as in the works of Jewish historians like Josephus.
This means that Paul had concluded two of his five missionary journeys and was about to embark on his third missionary journey around the Mediterranean after his visit to Jerusalem with the collection. After Jerusalem, Paul says he intends to visit Spain and then the Romans. He is now free to do this as he has proclaimed the Gospel in the numerous churches in Mediterranean from Jerusalem to Illyricum in Eastern Europe, further east of Greece in today’s Croatia-Albania-Bosnia region. This was a province of the Roman empire in Paul’s day.
He talks about the fact that the Greek (Macedonian) and Turkish (Achaia) churches gave generously to the collection, as if they owed it to them- because the good news of God which belonged to the Jews has now been proclaimed to the Gentiles, leading to the breaking of the invisible spiritual wall between the two and inviting the Gentiles in to the kingdom of God. Remember that all the apostles were Jewish believers, who went out from the Jewish community to reach out to Gentiles about the Gospel- something which non-Christian Jews would never have tolerated.
Paul urges the Romans to join him in his struggle by praying for him- for safety from unbelievers’ violent acts and for the collection to reach Judea safely, so that he could visit them in Rome with joy when he came- if it were indeed God’s will for him to visit them at the time.
As it turned out, the book of Acts says that when Paul went to Jerusalem in AD 58, a mob seized him and beat him up. Roman soldiers arrested him and he was under arrest in Caesarea (in Northern Israel) for 2 years before being sent to Rome to face trial under Caesar. This happened because he appealed to his status as a Roman citizen by birth. The governors at Caesarea (Felix and Festus) had heard the Gospel from Paul and had mixed emotions- of fear and a hope that Paul would ask to be set free with a bribe, but this did not happen. So Paul’s visit to Rome was in chains.
The book ends with a benediction: ‘The God of peace be with you all.’ Amen.