Romans + notes

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Romans 1

1     Paul, slave of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, set apart for the good news of God –

Paul is set apart for the gospel of God through being a born-again believer, or disciple of Christ, not because he was called to be an apostle. We are also all slaves of Jesus Christ, bought out of the slave market of sin by His blood (His perfect sacrifice).

2    which he had promised through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures –

These are the scriptures that Jesus went through with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus immediately following His resurrection, showing them the significance of all that had happened in Jerusalem in those days.

3    concerning his Son, who came from the seed of David in respect to the flesh,

It is of paramount importance that Jesus was truly human as He had to truly represent mankind before God in His vicarious sacrifice for us on the cross. He also had to be a proven descendant of David in order to fulfil the prophecies perfectly. However, He didn’t inherit His human nature from David, just His flesh, since David’s human nature, like us all, was fallen. It had to be a virgin birth in order to break the line of inheritance of the fallen nature from Adam, which is passed down through the male side. Jesus was conceived or ‘fathered’ in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit so that we also could be fathered by the Holy Spirit as we are placed in Christ.

4    and was powerfully declared to be the Son of God, in accordance with his Spirit of holiness, by his rising from the dead: Jesus Christ, our Lord,

His divinity was later proven by His resurrection in the power of the same Spirit.

5    through whom we obtained grace and apostleship to labour for the obedience of faith among all nations for the sake of his name,

All that we receive from God we receive through Jesus and for His name, so we should expect to use it that way. Paul’s primary call is to the Gentiles though this would never preclude him from sharing the gospel with his own people and leading to Christ any who were convinced of its truth. All genuine faith leads to obedience, so Paul is simply calling Gentiles to the life to which he has been called.

6    among whom you also are invited by Jesus Christ.

With all that that implies: faith, obedience, trust, love, self-denial, service, holiness… Jesus’s indescribable sacrifice on the cross is more than the payment for all our sins – it is also a gracious invitation into the holy life of freedom from that sin.

7     To all the beloved of God in Rome, known as saints; grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

To be the “beloved of God” is to be known as a saint since every true believer is.

8    First of all I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, that your faith is being reported in all the world.

All our contact with God should be through our Lord Jesus. Their faith must have been pretty remarkable for any kind of reporting, let alone such extensive reporting.

9    God, to whom I offer spiritual service in proclaiming the gospel of his Son, is my witness of how constantly I mention you

10   in my prayers, always requesting that sometime, somehow, I might be blessed in the will of God to come to you.

Paul also has a pastoral heart – he is passionately interested in the spiritual well-being of all the assemblies (ecclesias), particularly those he has planted – he sees them as his family, as his personal responsibility. When they are struggling, he is in prayer for them, when they succeed and grow, he rejoices with them. Always he covers them in prayer before God, so he counts it a blessing to be allowed to visit them.

11    I am longing to see you, to share with you some spiritual gift of grace to build you up,

12   and be strengthened together with you, through both your faith and mine.

Always Paul’s burden is to establish and build up each assembly and each member, so he yearns to share all that God has given him with them. In the process he is well aware that he too will be strengthened by the sharing as he honours their faith by matching it to his own.

13   I don’t want you to be unaware, brethren, that many times I wanted to come to you and gather some fruit among you too, as among other Gentiles, but have been prevented so far.

Paul doesn’t explain the source of this prevention, but it would have been from the Holy Spirit, not enemy activity since, in Christ, Paul would always have the victory and nothing could block God’s plans for Paul’s labours.

14   I am obligated to both Greek natives and foreigners; to both the wise and the morally careless.

Paul consistently uses ‘Greek’ for ‘Gentile’ throughout this passage. I assume this is because of the Grecian focus of his ministry so far – he thinks of them as the same thing. The Greeks referred to foreigners as barbarians, which is a bit derogatory in modern English. While many translations incorporate that, Paul isn’t actually being particularly judgmental by the word.

15   So I am keen to bring the good news to you in Rome as well.

Paul is the original ‘great evangelist’ – he is so brilliantly focused on the task.

16   I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, and then to the Greek,

The gospel truly was aimed first at the Jews, but the majority rejected it and were lost, then it was opened out to the rest of the world.

17    for the righteousness of God in it is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “the righteous will live by faith.”

“From faith to faith” refers to, firstly the faith which saves, which corrects our standing before God as we agree with His judgment on our fallen nature and its capital punishment, and secondly, the faith by which we then live each moment of the rest of our days, trusting in Christ to live His glorious overcoming life in us and through us, to the glory of the Father – Christ is our victory. So both the initial saving faith and the day-to-day faith by which we live, are His faith: we contribute nothing, as grace means God does it for us.

18   The fury of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of those who suppress the truth unjustly,

Here, ungodliness refers to defiance of God personally, whereas unrighteousness points to wrongdoing against other people. Suppressing the truth unjustly talks about the practical denial of their claim to stand for the truth by their unjust handling of that truth. Those who suppress the truth are those who are within the assemblies and therefore know the truth and thus have a responsibility to be true to it in their thoughts, words and deeds, and yet fail to do so. However, it could also refer to those who are in open revolt against God, like those who run “churches.” They claim to have the truth but deny that claim by their practice of Nicolaitanism, lies, deception and control. These people have truly pulled the wrath of God down upon themselves.

19   because what may be known of God is evident among them, since God has revealed it to them:

God has plainly revealed it to all creation – it’s even written in the stars.

20   from the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, that is his eternal power and divinity, are clearly seen in his workmanship, so they have no defence.

Careful examination of any aspect of creation will reveal the handwriting of God to someone with an open heart. This is why the earliest scientists were believers.

21   Those who knew God neither glorified him as God nor gave him thanks, but became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were blinded.

Despite their consciences tugging at their awareness, they chose rebellion and wickedness, leading to futility, foolishness and the darkness of ignorance.

22   Claiming to be wise, they were made fools,

Nobody is wise simply because they claim to be, wisdom is revealed by the wise choice of good over evil; the choice to ‘fear the Lord’. I suspect truly wise people would never make such a claim anyway. Were made ‘fools’ is the same word as that used for the salt which ‘lost its savour’ in Luke 14:34, so, despite their claims to wisdom, they wilfully (and foolishly) discarded the savour of holiness which would have confirmed their claim.

23   and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for idols made to resemble mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles.

They chose to invent idolatry in order to insult God and find their own holiness without Him – possibly the ultimate example of futility, like painting the desert blue to quench your thirst.

24   So God gave them up to the impurity of the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies with one another.

God is not suggesting or instigating these sins, these were the desires of their hearts, He simply honoured their freewill and they defiled themselves.

25   They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The truth of God is eternal, so what they changed was their own understanding of that truth and their own teaching of it. They chose to believe Satan’s lies about God rather than the truth God had given them, so that they could live sinful lives autonomously. In order to run their lives apart from God they made for themselves false gods, but they still only had God’s creation to draw upon.

26   Because of this, God gave them up to vile passions; even their women used their bodies in ways contrary to nature.

Because of free will, God cannot fully protect us from our own “vile passions” so we are now looking at an explosion of corruption in terms of human relationships to the point where any friendly interaction is now regarded suspiciously – even a doctor, saving the life of a child, could be indicted for assault by the parents. Meanwhile, openly sinful relationships are honoured, and even promoted, in the media.

27   In the same way the men, abandoning natural sexual relations with the woman, burned with lust for each other; men practiced indecency with men, and received in themselves the appropriate penalty for their deviation.

We see this all around us, especially now that ‘gay’ marriage has been sanctioned. TV stations notoriously promote these corrupt lifestyles by using openly ‘gay’ presenters and featuring many ‘gay’ relationships. It’s even sanctioned in junior schools now. Truly we are overdue for judgment.

28   And because they set no value on continuing to know God, he gave them over to a perverse mind, to do what was not decent;

Their own perverse mind. When people choose to shut God out of their hearts, they also stop Him from helping, guiding or blessing them.

29   being filled with all injustice, sinful sexual practices, iniquity, greed, malice, filled with envy, murder, conflict, deceit and depravity. They are whisperers and

30   slanderers, hating God and wronging others, contemptuous and boastful, contrivers of evil, defying their parents;

31   foolish, faithless, uncaring, implacable, merciless;

32   who, though aware of God’s judgment that those who commit such things qualify for death, not only practice them, but also delight in others who do.

And all this because they pushed God away, rejecting His righteous judgment. That won’t give them immunity to death, it will draw it to them – and not even death on their terms, which would be a way of escaping their just desserts, but eternal death in the lake of fire. Bad choice!

Romans 2

1     So you have no excuse, you who judge: when you judge another you condemn yourself, for you practice the same things as those you judge,

This follows the preceding verse with a ‘so’ and is talking about those who have chosen a sinful lifestyle and yet feel they can point the finger at each other (in order that they might appear more righteous than each other). That is not going to work. What is needed is repentance before God, and a life of faith.

The point is that we will not judge others if we are dwelling in Christ, we will only judge others if we are living in the flesh; which means that, if we are judging others, we must be living in the flesh and therefore living in a sinful state, therefore we are doing the same kind of things as those we would accuse.

2    and we know that God’s judgment against those who practice such things is in accordance with reality.

In other words, we will be judged by what we actually did, not by what we said about it – we will however be judged by what we said about what others did! You can’t dodge the issue this way (it’s never about other people). Despite current thought that reality itself is subjective and therefore relative, God’s reality is absolute and we will be judged by that, not even what we believe to be reality.

3    Do you really think, you who judge those who practise these things while doing the same, that you will escape God’s judgment?

So pointing out somebody else’s guilt in order to hide behind that is never going to deceive God – your guilt is your guilt.

4    Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, ignorant that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

The alternative is that you have no time for the qualities or opinions of God and don’t believe in repentance. This is God’s great offer of rescue from ‘that day’.

5    By your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when the righteousness of God’s judgments will be revealed,

6    and he will repay everybody according to their deeds.

We need to understand the effect of our choice – how bad the day of God’s wrath will be for those who reject the grace of repentance when we get our just payment.

7     Indeed, eternal life to those who seek glory, honour and incorruption through patiently continuing to do good,

We live our lives yearning and aiming for the purity and glory of God to be revealed in us and God’s just response is to give us exactly that, for eternity! Throughout eternity, our bodies, souls and spirits are (will be?) incorruptible – they cannot be corrupted again into sin (or sickness or pain or death)! This is the just effect of our obedience to (ie. faith in) the word of God – in His perfect sacrifice for us. We persist in doing good because we believe, and, continuing to believe, despite all the lies and temptations from the enemy, is persisting in doing good. The good which we are called to do, is that which God “has prepared in advance for us to walk in”.

8    but wrath and indignation to those who, from a factious spirit refuse to follow the truth but are drawn to unrighteousness.

The ‘factious spirit’ means those who bring division to others to further themselves. Disobeying the truth is basically unbelief, but it also leads to choosing wickedness and injustice in their own perceived interests, in defiance of God. The justice of God means that those who actively seek corruption will gain that for eternity.

9    Affliction and distress to every person who does evil, to the Jew first, then the Gentile too,

10   but glory, honour and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile,

These judgments are pronounced on the Jews first, since they are God’s ‘chosen people’ who had the scriptures, the prophets, the covenants, and of course, Christ Himself, but we non-Jews are judged by the same measure.

11    for there is no partiality with God.

God doesn’t play favourites.

12   Whoever sins outside the law will perish outside the law, and whoever sins under the law will be judged by the law

God is fair – He will judge us according to the light we have. When He says “the law” He is talking about living a life in accordance with the character of God, by faith, not a fleshly attempt to obey the law of Moses. If anyone chooses the Law of Moses as their standard, they will be judged by the amount they failed to reach it; those who never heard of Moses’ laws of will be judged for their wickedness rather than their rule breaking.

13   as it’s not those who hear the law who are justified before God: those who obey the law will be justified.

Sitting in the synagogue each week listening to Torah, or sitting in “church” listening to sermons, will not excuse anyone of the wickedness of their lives. It’s a question of obedience. Coming to Christ and living the victorious life in Him is “obeying the law,” nothing less, since the Law leads us to Christ.

14   For whenever people who don’t have the law naturally do those things demanded by Torah, they, though without Torah, are lawful in themselves,

15   showing that the essence of the law is written in their hearts, which testify together with their consciences, using reason to accuse or defend one another

God has given everyone a conscience which we are supposed to obey, which is a moral or ethical “check” in our spirit, though it is limited by what we know and understand, which clearly can be in error. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, He tunes or aligns our conscience with the character of God so we can fully trust it.

The written law given to the Hebrews basically specifies what God defines as bad or good, which good specifically includes believing in the saving value of the sacrifice of Christ and repenting of all our sins—choosing His lordship, His kingship over us.

Ultimately we will all be judged, and those whose sins have not been covered by the sacrifice of Christ will be deemed worthy of death, whether they actually knew the Jewish laws or not, while those whose sins have been covered, through faith and repentance, will be declared righteous, whether or not they knew the laws. This is because accepting Jesus’s salvation covers obeying the law—in fact, continuing to attempt to obey the (mosaic) law oneself is the same as spurning His salvation and thereby disobeying the law, which means you remain in your sin, fearfully facing condemnation.

Having the written law could only ever justify a person if it were obeyed – but as its purpose was to prove to the Jews that they could not obey it, and so to lead them to repentance, then having the law actually brought responsibility, not escape: a responsibility to believe and repent so that Jesus could save them and God then declare them righteous, and thereby show the world the route to salvation.

It also means that the Jews will be judged first and rewarded or punished accordingly.

16   on the day when God will judge everyone’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as stated in my gospel.

17    So, you who are called a Jew, banking on the law and boasting about God:

18   you know his will and approve what is excellent, being taught by the law,

Having the law gave the Jews a strong sense of superiority; they knew what it covered and, mostly, even what it implied. Sadly, they thought having the law (even though they failed to keep it perfectly) would save them.

19   and you are confident in yourself that you are a guide for the blind, and a light to those in darkness,

Being ‘confident in yourself’ is the first step towards disaster, particularly for a believer. Setting yourself up as ‘a guide for the blind’ may well be the second, and seeing yourself as a ‘light to those in darkness’ is a study in arrogance.

20   an instructor of the foolish and teacher of the young, having a grasp of the knowledge and truth in the law.

These were not literally the foolish and the young, this was just how the Jewish rabbis, in their overweening pride, saw those they were instructing.

21   You teach others then but not yourself: you teach ‘do not steal’ but you steal,

But obeying the law – that was a different matter. We know that no-one can (or could, apart from Jesus) fully obey the law, so, whatever their pretences, these rabbis were also in sin. This doesn’t necessarily mean stealing specifically, it’s an example to get the point across. Whatever part of the law they were obeying correctly – like tithing mint and basil – there was always another part they were trying not to look at because their consciences troubled them.

22   you teach ‘do not commit adultery’ but you commit adultery, you detest idols but still you plunder their shrines.

Adultery here refers primarily to idolatry.

23   You boast about the law but by breaking it you dishonour God.

They would trust that simply being custodians of God’s law, and insisting others obey it, would be enough to ‘honour God’ in the sight of the people. But God sees things rather differently, and most people see through that kind of thing anyway. It’s exactly this kind of behaviour which has given Christianity such a bad name – and many non-believers openly blame God!

24   As it is written, “God’s name is blasphemed among the nations due to you.”

Even the Gentiles, who don’t officially know the law, knew enough to see the hypocrisy and concluded that the Jews’ God was worthless.

25   Circumcision is of value if you keep the law, but if you break the law your circumcision becomes uncircumcision,

Why do men so often end up putting their trust in their penis? Circumcision was a sign that God had been accepted as Lord and His law as rules to live by.

26   and if uncircumcised men fulfill the righteousness of the law, their uncircumcision will be counted as circumcision,

The point being that obedience was the thing, not proudly bearing the sign.

27   and the fulfilment of the law by the naturally uncircumcised shall judge you who, though circumcised, transgress Torah.

Their obedience, when set against Jewish disobedience, would condemn the Jews.

28   For being Jewish is not external, nor is real circumcision visible:

For the Pharisees and the priests, this idea was too radical to accept at all.

29   being Jewish is a hidden thing, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit not of the letter, so their praise is not from men but from God.

In this passage there are two different circumcisions mentioned: the physical one which is only of value if you perfectly keep the entire law, which we have seen is not possible; and the invisible circumcision of the heart which we appropriate by faith, and which relies on the fact that Jesus perfectly kept the law for us. The important thing for this argument is that we need to be looking to God for approval, not for honour among men, since men can easily be fooled, particularly by themselves (eg, through keeping laws and regulations), but God is never fooled, not for a moment. So a righteous life is an inner, secret deal between you and God, and not for other people to judge.

All this was terribly radical for Jewish readers who were accustomed to believing in the redemptive power of their circumcision.

Cross reference: a fuller explanation of the spiritual circumcision of Christ and how we are circumcised in Him is discussed at The Mouse Companion, Colossians 2:11, study note.

Romans 3

1     What then is the advantage for the Jew, or what is the benefit of circumcision?

2    Much in every way: primarily that they were entrusted with the actual words of God.

3    But what if some were faithless? Could their unbelief ever nullify the faithfulness of God?

Having the actual words of God, personally addressed to them, still some failed to trust Him. Clearly, their reaction cannot affect God’s faithfulness to His promises.

4    Of course not: God is always true, even if every man is a liar. As it is written, “that you may always be found righteous in your word and prevail in court.”

We often fail to realise quite how firm are the words of God – they are firmer than the structure of the earth itself, utterly immovable. They are righteous and holy and therefore we can, and must, trust our entire existence to their certainty.

5    But if our unrighteousness demonstrates God’s righteousness, can I say, as a man, “God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us”?

A patently ridiculous argument, like excusing dirt for being dirt simply because it makes the clean part look sparkling. If all the dirt were removed, the clean part would still be perfectly clean.

6    Of course not! How else could God judge the world?

7     or, “if the truth of God is amplified to his glory by my falsehood, why am I still judged for being a sinner?”

Because we have a choice, thanks to the awesome achievement of Jesus Christ on the cross. No amount of human wickedness will actually make God holier or otherwise – He is eternally unchanging. We must be exchanged, and it’s our choice.

8    or even, as some wickedly accuse us by asserting that we say, “we should do evil that good may result!” Their condemnation is just.

No amount of evil will result in good, in any sense – obviously.

9    Does that mean we are better? Absolutely not! We have already proved that Jews and Gentiles are both under sin,

‘We’ here means Jews.

10   as it is written, “there is no one righteous, not even one:

We all like to exclude ourselves from such a description but Paul’s word (the word of God) doesn’t allow us the option.

11    there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

What he means is that the fallen nature of every man is irredeemably opposed to the eternal perfections of God on His terms – even mine!

12   All have turned away, becoming worthless together; no one practices goodness, not even one.”

To ‘practice goodness’ in God’s terms is for Jesus to do the task ‘in’ you, without any contribution from your sin nature, either ‘good’ or bad. Attempting to do anything for God any other way is utterly worthless. Turning away from God and His purposes is what makes a man worthless – “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

13   Their throats are open graves, their tongues ensnare,” “their lips conceal asp venom.”

He is still describing us so this is getting personal.

14   “Their mouths are filled with cursing and profanity,”

15   “their feet hurry to shed blood,

16   their ways lead to ruin and anguish,

17    and the way of peace they’ve not known.”

18   “There is no fear of God in their eyes.”

Basically, there is no good in the fallen, sin nature of man, any man. It is far too corrupt to be improved, even by God.

19   Now we know that no matter what the law says to those under the law, it says that every mouth will be stopped and the entire world subject to the judgment of God.

The core meaning of sin is to break faith with God; to live our lives without regard to Him and His eternal perfections. The law was given to the ancient Hebrews, God’s ‘chosen people,’ not to give them some advantage – a kind of private route to eternal life through careful adherence to the laws – but to demonstrate that only by first being perfect could they ever hope to live a holy life. In other words, “You think you can earn your way into my favour – think again, only I can put this right.” 

I feel that the “every” should really be in italics as Paul is stressing that the entire world, not just Israel, will be judged by God, despite not having the Torah.

If they had read it in faith, it would have given them the advantage of setting them up to accept the salvation that God would provide – on His terms. Sadly, they did read it as a rulebook to God’s favour, and rejected their Christ when He appeared, and His glorious, hard-earned salvation. So, not giving the law to us Gentiles wasn’t any real disadvantage – we were, and are, still expected to keep faith with God, though, just like those under the law, we have often failed dramatically.

20   So no flesh will be justified in his sight by obeying the law, since the law’s purpose is that we may know our sin,

So don’t think you might wriggle through by obeying the rules. God has perfect standards, obviously, and our very best is merely insulting to One with perfect standards – particularly as He has provided real redemption for us.

This verse is particularly appropriate for those who call themselves believers but have been deceived by the Judaisers into trying to obey the rabbinic regulations – like keeping Shabbat on a Saturday, keeping Passover and Firstfruits, etc – most of which actually have no relation to Torah, and all of the ones which are, are fulfilled in Christ and are therefore ours in Him. We obey Torah perfectly by simply abiding in Christ by faith.

21   but now God’s justice has been revealed without recourse to the law, though attested to by both the law and the prophets.

In this God is not contradicting the Law in any sense as the Torah itself pointed forward to this perfect solution to the problem and God’s prophets confirmed it; what he’s doing simply does not involve the law, it doesn’t use the law, it’s not built on the law. The purpose of the law was to define the standards of God and show the Hebrews that, in itself, the law was no solution since they were powerless to obey it properly.

These translation decisions on the justice of God and the faithfulness of Christ over the next six verses are adapted, with grateful thanks, from an article by John B. Cobb, Jr. at religion-online.org.

22   This justice of God comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, into and on all who believe—there is no distinction,

All the justice of God becomes ours as we exercise the faithfulness of Christ, so we have no need to fail, whoever we are. Jesus’ radical faithfulness, in itself, reveals the justice of God.

23   for all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory,

We’re all lost without Him, but in Him…

24   being freely justified by his grace through the liberation in Christ Jesus.

we are fully freed by God’s perfect grace, from sin, the law and the flesh, in Christ Jesus! Alleluia!

25   God intended him to be a conciliatory sacrifice received by faithfulness in his death, to show his justice in passing over the former sins

Our sin, however dark, is completely ‘covered’ by the perfect sacrificial death of Jesus, through our faithfulness in it. This is often referred to as the ‘blood’ in the Bible, without further explanation, but it always means Jesus’s sacrificial death, not the blood itself, otherwise the blood becomes an idol, as in Roman Catholic doctrine. God’s justice is shown in that He passed over the earlier sins, without judging them.

26   in his tolerance, to reveal his justice now, that he might be just and he who justifies the one partaking in the faithfulness of Jesus.

God’s justice (mercy) is about justifying those who live in and by the faithfulness of Jesus, which we inherit in Him along with all His other attributes.

27   So where is boasting? It is prohibited. By what law—Torah? Of course not! By the law of faith.

It is not that boasting is against the rules – we cannot live by the rules as followers of Jesus, we have to live “by the law of faithfulness.” This means we are trusting in what He has done on the cross and in what He is doing in us and through us, not on anything we are doing or could ever do. So we have no achievement of our own to boast about, and so our believing hearts would never allow boasting.

28   We determine then that men are justified by their faithfulness, without recourse to actions demanded by the law,

The final word on the law and obeying it – we don’t: we simply can’t as we are dead in Christ.

29   or he would be God of the Jews only. Is he not God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too

30   since there is but one God, who will justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcised by faith.

Faith is the only way anyone will be justified, Jew or Gentile, and we demonstrate that faith by trusting Jesus to obey the spirit of the law in us and through us.

31   So do we annul the law by our faithfulness? Of course not! We begin to establish the law.

Since we cannot obey the law in our natural selves, the law itself cannot be established in us until we start to live in faithfulness. Only when we live in faithfulness alone do we truly fulfil the law, becoming what the law commands us to be.

Romans 4

1     Then what can we say that our father Abraham discovered regarding the flesh?

The idea of justification by faith as opposed to legal observances in no way invalidates the Old Testament, since Abraham already ‘got it’. Here we are looking at just what he understood about how the flesh had nothing to offer.

Most translations assume that this says that Abraham is our father in the flesh but, since Paul is writing to the Romans, not the Jews, then the assumption cannot be correct – Abraham was father in the flesh to many nations, but not the Romans.

2    If Abraham had earned his justification by his actions he would have had something to boast of, but not in God’s view

This isn’t suggesting Abraham could be justified by works, it is saying that, even if his actions counted for anything, it was not the way God had ordered (and, of course, they could never come close to God’s perfection).

3    for what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

What Abraham did, which was so pleasing to God, was not to even attempt to earn his right standing with God by doing anything, he simply believed that when God spoke, He spoke the truth. This is the important thing, and is not something which anyone could boast of since they’ve done nothing.

The righteousness which was credited to him, much like a bank transfer, is simply the righteousness of Christ, available throughout all history to everyone who believes. While innocence means no black mark on a person’s record, righteousness is a positive quality, a power which we can draw upon.

4    The worker’s wage is not reckoned as a gift but a debt,

Here we are comparing the principle of works with the principle of grace and see that they are in direct opposition to each other. Faith receives freely from God while works attempts to claim the credit for our righteousness, denying the value of the sacrifice of Christ. As a result faith is truly credited to us as righteousness, while our insistence on obeying the law defies God and draws us immediately into sin. The principle of the law is ‘we do something for God’ – the principle of grace is ‘God does all for us,’ – even the ‘works’ which confirm our faith, are done in total reliance on the resources, power, initiative, faith and grace of Christ dwelling in us.

5    but to the one who does not rely on his own efforts, but believes in the one who justifies the guilty, his faith is counted as righteousness.

This is because any system of works is trying to make God our debtor by our good behaviour (He has to grant us salvation because we have earned it). He is not applauding laziness, merely explaining that followers of Christ don’t ‘work’ to earn anything, we work because we have been redeemed – and it’s still Jesus in us who provides the grace, strength, and so on, to do so.

God being the one who ‘justifies the guilty’ does not mean that His justification is meaningless (declaring that which is untrue, even as a legal position) but that it is a miracle. Jesus’ righteousness really is transferred to our account, miraculously by God, in response to our faith.

6    David too writes of the blessedness of him who, separate from his efforts, God credits with righteousness, saying,

7     “Blessed are they whose iniquities are pardoned; whose sins are forgiven.

8    Blessed is he whom the Lord will not charge with sin.”

This forgiveness, even back in the Psalms, was and is only ever based on faith – obedience to the law has never been the answer, even for the ancient Hebrews; they just never worked it out, so when Jesus came and made it clear, they thought his change of emphasis (from their misunderstanding) was heresy. So they condemned Him to death.

9    So, is this blessedness only for the circumcision, or for the uncircumcised too? We have said that Abraham’s faith was credited to him for righteousness.

10   In what state was it credited, before or after he was circumcised? It was before he was circumcised, not after!

So we see that circumcision is not a prerequisite for righteousness, and, as circumcision is a basic tenet of the law, the law itself is unnecessary. All that is needed is faith, which grows from trust, and love, which leads to obedience.

11    He received the sign of circumcision as a seal on the righteousness of his faith, which he had before he was circumcised, so that he might be father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, so that righteousness could be imputed to them too.

12   He is also the father of those circumcised, who are not merely circumcised, but who also follow the footsteps of faith in which our father Abraham walked before he was circumcised.

The point of all this is that circumcision, while a sign and seal of Abraham’s righteousness gained through his faith, is not a way to righteousness at all, faith itself is the only way, whether you are Jew or Gentile. When we accept Jesus’s sacrifice, His circumcision becomes ours, in our hearts. And so Abraham is the spiritual father of all who believe that God’s word is truth and then choose to live their lives in the light of that faith through trust and obedience. He is not, in any spiritual sense, the father of those who are simply circumcised and relying on that or any other ‘works’ (legalisms) to get in to heaven.

13   The promise given to Abraham and his descendants, that he should inherit the earth, was not through the law but through the righteousness of faith,

The law is not going to help anyone at all, we need the promise.

14   for if they who obey the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless,

To say nothing of those (everybody) who disobey the law!

15   since the law produces wrath, and where there is no law there can be no violation.

Transgression or violation means ‘crossing the line’ of the Law of Moses – you can’t cross a line if there is no line, but actually sin is about breaking trust with God, rejecting His love and denying His faithfulness in what He says and does. However extensive, the law could never cover every possible situation with God’s ‘official line.’ When asked about “the greatest commandment” Jesus explained that all we have to do to avoid sin and follow Him adequately, is to perfectly love God and Man – which requires perfect faith.

When Adam sinned he broke trust with God; so God’s plan of redemption is a relationship of trusting love, ie, faith, not law-keeping. When we, in our ‘wisdom’, try to build our relationship with God by following the laws of Moses (or any laws), instead of trusting and loving God, we are rejecting, even defying, His perfect provision.

16   Therefore it is by faith, so it can be an act of grace, thus confirming the promise to all the descendants, not to those who only have the law, but to all who have the faith of Abraham, the father of us all.

Most translations get the word order wrong and imply that we could receive the promise either through keeping the law or by faith – totally contradicting the main argument.

The important point is that the promise is entirely of grace because otherwise it could not be guaranteed, since even those under the law couldn’t keep it. Grace is gained by faith, not legalism, so no one is excluded by not being under the Mosaic law. Faith on its own is good, law on its own is worthless. Paul is not closing the door to those who have been brought up to obey the law, he’s just telling them that it can never make them right with God – what they need is real faith. And it’s not that as followers of Jesus we can break the law – we believe the word of God, allowing Jesus to fulfil the law within and through us. Either way, Abraham is our spiritual father by our faith, not by our legalisms.

17    As it is written, “I have made you father of many nations.”

Facing the God he believed—he who gives life to the dead and calls things into being from nothing—

When God speaks, He never lies. Abraham stood in God’s presence and found faith the inevitable response of his heart – how could a being so pure, holy, gracious and good tell him anything but the perfect truth? If He says I will have millions of descendants, then I will.

If what He promises is not yet manifest, it is because it is either a prophecy or a miracle, which must happen once it has been declared. So He promises to give “life to the dead,” prefigured by Abraham’s body and Sarah’s womb and defined by our spiritual condition before God, and to “call things into being from nothing” such as our righteousness.

18   beyond any normal expectation, he was confident that he would become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “this is how numerous your descendants will be.”

Abraham’s normal expectation would have been to live his life and nurture his family and die at a good age, but God had explained that his existence would have far more significance to the world than that, so he believed that it would be so.

19   And not having a weak faith, he didn’t worry about his body being close to death, though he was about a hundred, nor the infertility of Sarah’s womb:

Abraham didn’t sit back in his faith and wait for an immaculate conception, he had normal relations with Sarah and trusted God for the miracle.

20   the promise of God was never doubted through unbelief, but his faith was strengthened by giving glory to God.

21   He was completely confident that what God has promised he is able to do,

Abraham’s faith was quite extraordinary. God’s promises were overwhelming, naturally impossible, and unsupported by any tangible evidence, yet he believed – simply because he was certain that God couldn’t lie, and was quite capable of honouring His promise.

22   so his faith was imputed to him as righteousness.

Righteousness, redemption, justification, salvation and so on, are of the grace of God – we are saved by grace – which is appropriated by faith, never by works.

23   It is not written that it was imputed to him on account of him alone,

Most translations suggest that this imputation was written in part for Abraham’s benefit, but it hardly could have been, since Moses wrote the story long after Abraham was dead. It can only have been written for those who would be able to read it, who came later.

The imputation was for his benefit, and also for our benefit as we in turn believe. It was written so we would know that it was, and is, by faith alone.

24   but on our account too, since it will also be imputed to we who believe on him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,

25   who was delivered up because of our sins and was raised up because of our justification,

Here the focus shifts somewhat, from Abraham believing what God promised him, to us putting our faith in the work of Christ on the cross.

All that God asks of us is obedient, trusting love – to believe His word and receive His provision – just as Abraham did. We follow that up with ongoing obedient, trusting love, not even with the circumcision that Abraham had to have. If we add any legalisms to that, we are attempting to usurp the credit due to God alone, claiming that we have, in some way, earned our righteousness, at least in part, and that the redemption He provides is not good enough for us. What this actually achieves is the cancellation of the merit of our faith, because our actions declare that we don’t believe or trust God fully.

This is why the enemy constantly tempts us do ‘be holy,’ or to ‘do righteousness,’ or to ‘stop sinning,’ or to ‘resist temptation,’ – all these amount to legalism and he knows that any attempt to do any of these things will override the indwelling Christ and so undermine His victory in us. We will fail to overcome just exactly as long as we try to overcome; instead we must allow Jesus to overcome for us, confessing that we have no suitable resources in our natural selves. Our job, like Abraham’s, is to believe, leading to obedient, trusting love.

Romans 5

1     so that, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The only way we can have peace with God – through Jesus, by faith.

2    Through him too, we have admittance by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in anticipation of [sharing in] the glory of God.

3    Not only that, but we also celebrate our sufferings, knowing that suffering builds tenacity;

This is a new concept: we rejoice in our troubles, much as the disciples did when they were “counted worthy of suffering for the Name”. What we need to realise in this context is that every task we face, every challenge and every temptation, is not for us to rise above but for the life of Jesus within us to have the victory over. We have to learn to pass every challenge over to Him and not try to deal with it ourselves. Then we can rejoice in His victory and He will get all the glory. We rejoice in the opportunity to bring glory to Jesus by our faith in the face of suffering. The spiritual growth spoken of is our growth in faith, the strengthening and increase of our faith in the utter trustworthiness of God. Faith with muscles comes through tribulation.

4    and tenacity, tested integrity; and integrity, hope;

As we learn to do so, our faith grows, our character is tested, and hope rises with it. I have often felt that, if suffering is so effective in drawing us close to God, then each trying incident is like a stepping stone over the swamp of doubt and despair. As a result, the best thing we can be praying for is more stepping stones – even though we know they are each labelled ‘suffering’. Bring them on Lord, help us to grow!

5    and hope will not embarrass us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit we are given.

6    When the time was right, while we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Without Jesus, we are utterly incapable of redeeming ourselves, but in His perfect sacrifice, all is fully accomplished.

7     Hardly anyone would die for a righteous man, though someone might possibly have the courage to die for a truly good man,

8    but God reveals the excellent quality of his love for us in that Christ died for our sake while we were still sinners.

The point being that not only did we not earn anything, while we were in active rebellion against God His love for us was so great that He went ahead with our redemption anyway.

9    Much more then, now we are justified by his blood, will we be saved from the wrath through him,

That is, through Him dwelling in us and living out His overcoming life.

10   for if, being his enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, will we be saved by his life!

Through the death of Christ we are reconciled with God – included in Christ’s death – we are also filled with His resurrection life which saves us.

11    And not only that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Even our rejoicing has to be through the power of the indwelling Christ, not in our own strength.

12   Therefore, since through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, even so death came to all as all have sinned.

Here we see that sin is not about breaking commandments, but about breaking faith with God, behaving in a way contrary to the character of God – death still brought down those who did not even have the law so they couldn’t break it. If anything which is not done in faith is sin, clearly it is impossible to get through your formation in the womb, let alone your birth, without sinning.

13   So sin was in the world before the law, but it is not taken into account when there is no law.

God chose to condemn no one before the law was given, not that He gave Moses the Law in order to punish those who broke it, but to show the Hebrews that they were constitutionally incapable of living by God’s standards. All would need the indwelling Christ by faith to adequately keep any of it, let alone fully keep it all.

14   Even so, from Adam to Moses death ruled those who did not sin in the way Adam did, he being a type of the imminent One.

Adam sinned by choosing to disobey a direct command, which applied to no one else until Moses. As the “type of the imminent One,” Adam chose to take on himself the sin of Eve, his wife, by standing with her. In the same way, Jesus took upon Himself all the sins of mankind, so that those who chose to follow Him could be forgiven and cleansed, becoming His bride.

15   But the gift of this grace is not like the offence, for if, due to the offence of the one, many died, much more have the grace of God, and the gift of grace – the one man Jesus Christ – flowed lavishly to the many.

Most translations miss this: God’s gift of grace to humanity is Jesus Himself, not just the gift of grace or life through Him – all the blessings of God are ours in Christ, nowhere else.

16   The gift is not like when one man sinned. Indeed the judgment of one sin was condemnation, but the gift, following many offences, is justification.

Adam brought condemnation to all his descendants through God’s judgment of his action; Jesus (the gift of God) delivers us – His descendants by faith – from all our sins so we can be declared righteous, again through God’s judgment of His action.

17    For if, due to the sin of one man, death ruled through that one sin, much more will those who receive the lavish flow of grace and the gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Adam did not give death permission to rule, his sin did, so death reigned through one sin and believers slide out from beneath that rule to “reign in life” through one righteous act, followed by one risen Saviour reigning in us and through us.

18   Therefore, as one offence led to condemnation for all people, one righteous act earned justification and led to true life for all.

This is Jesus reversing the judgment of God on man by reversing, in His role as Adam’s antitype, the act of Adam – Adam’s sin replaced by Jesus’ act of righteousness.

19   Again, as through the disobedience of one man, humanity were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many will be made righteous.

Jesus reverses Adam’s disobedience through His own obedience, and in the process, reconstitutes us righteous, and again, all without input from us.

20   Also, the law came in so that sin would increase, and where sin increased, grace exceeded it

When it says that the law increased sin, this is because the more regulations there are, the more will be broken, not that people will necessarily be worse because the law is written down. The grace of God is more than enough to cover all the sin of all the world throughout all history, so again, it only seems to increase. Ultimately grace will only need to cover the sins of those who believe in Jesus.

21   so that, just as sin has reigned bringing death, so also grace should reign, through righteousness, bringing eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

In those who are still lost, sin reigns in spiritual death, leading them to physical death. In we who believe, Christ reigns within us by grace in His eternal life.

Romans 6

1     What shall we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace will increase?

Paul here moves into an imagined argument – a response to his previous points. In a sense it is, inevitably, a straw man argument, since he actually has no response to argue against, but these are arguments people still raise.

2    Of course not! How can we, who died to sin, continue to live in it?

Grace may be enough to cover anything we could ever do, but we must not presume upon God’s grace by continuing to defy Him. Nor can we command the provision of grace by any means, certainly not through our disobedience. In Christ we died to sin, so we have no reason to operate in that area at all.

3    Or don’t you know that all we, who were baptised into Christ Jesus, were baptised into his death?

Baptism is not just the image of death – the sign-off or identification with Jesus in His death and burial – it is physical, and so literally our burial with Christ. Our old sin nature is truly dead, and buried in baptism, so we cannot live by it and it cannot function in the kingdom of God, so it is completely useless to us – thankfully!

4    So then, we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the Father’s glory, we also can live this new life.

Having been included in Him in death and burial, we are still in Him in His resurrection, so we must live a new life in Him. The resurrection being implicit and inevitable following His crucifixion, due to His sinless, divine life, so our new life is equally implicit and inevitable following our co-crucifixion with Him. And we remain in Him forever.

5    For if we have been planted with him in the likeness of his death, we will be in the likeness of his resurrection too.

It says “in the likeness of his death” because, though we count His death as our own, what we physically experienced was our baptism, not His crucifixion. Now we see that we cannot have His death without His resurrection, the burial being taken for granted now.

6    We know that our former self was crucified with him, so that our body of sin might be neutralised, no longer able to hold us in bondage to sin,

7     for anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Once we come to faith and accept co-death with Christ, the “body of sin”, that is the body through which sin is expressed, is rendered powerless, but it will only continue to be neutralised for the rest of our earthly lives if we continue to die in Christ. This is much like connecting a power line to earth – immediately the power cannot be used. In a very similar way, the death of Christ shorts out our carnal energy so we cannot live in sin any more. But we have to be aware that it is our responsibility to maintain that short by faith, because, as soon as it is broken, we revert to using our fleshly resources to do what we want to do, and we will instantly fall back into sin, losing our acquittal, because that power supply is in bondage to sin: it is provided by the old sin nature (the former self) as we try to do anything which is not by faith, such as trying to keep the law. As long as we hang in there, maintaining the position of dying in Christ, we continue to be justified, or acquitted, in Him.

8    Now if we died in Christ, we believe we will also live in him,

If we maintain our co-death with Christ by faith, we will live in Him by His resurrection life as He lives in us.

9    knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again since death no longer has any power over him,

Jesus has truly risen victorious over death and therefore will never die again, so our life in Christ is also never ending.

10   because, in the death that he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life that he lives, he lives to God.

The main task facing Jesus was the crucifixion – He had to die to sin so sin would never more be any kind of temptation for Him and, because we were included in His death through our faith and baptism, we too could rise above temptation by that same faith as long as we continue to abide in Christ’s death. Now He can focus every thought on obedience to God with the glory of God as His ultimate intention, and, as we are in Him, we too can be utterly committed to obedience and God’s glory.

11    In the same way, count yourselves truly dead to sin yet living to God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Christ Jesus we are also completely dead to sin and completely alive to God, so we are free to live for the glory of God. In Him we have the victory.

12   So then, never let sin rule in your mortal body by submitting to your bodily lusts,

This is clearly our choice, we have all the resources in Christ to achieve this. The moment we compromise with sin we find we are not just acting from some kind of parenthetical position: we are directly opposed to God and all He is doing in us and through us; we have surrendered our victory in Christ; we have disconnected ourselves from Christ’s death; and we have lost His overcoming life. Bad choice.

13   nor surrender any aspects of yourself to sin as devices of wickedness; but surrender yourselves to God as alive from the dead, and all your parts to God as weapons of righteousness,

The reason I chose to put “aspects of yourself” rather than ‘parts of your body,’ is that I felt that there were parts of me which, in this context, were even more important than the physical, and I felt that the Greek did not preclude them.

This feels like a practical instruction to be put into effect every day – every moment – so that we can be free, utterly free, from every hint of sin. In Christ we have been fully qualified to live this way!

14   and sin will not have authority over you, since you are not subject to law, but under grace.

Moses gave the Hebrews the Law, and saved nobody from sin; Jesus brought grace, and thus saved from sin any who believe and accept it, whether or not they have even heard of the law. The spirit of sin is not the opposite of law, though the Law defines much sin, but the opposite of grace – the opposite of the Spirit of God. As long as we live under grace, by refusing to live under law, we will remain dead to sin, but if we insist on living under law, sin will spring to life and have authority over us, and we will die again.

15   What then? Shall we sin since we are not subject to law but under grace? Of course not!

Again Paul produces an argument he has been offered – only to react in horror. As we have seen, any ongoing compromise with the demands of the old sin nature – by sinning – will destroy our standing before God, and we will be enslaved all over again and headed for death.

16   Don’t you see that to whatever you yield yourselves to obey as slaves, you are slaves to that which you obey—whether sin, leading to death, or righteousness?

Most translations get tripped up by the need, in biblical Greek, to repeat the word obedience just before the final ‘righteousness’ thus forcing the wrong comparison. As many of the looser translations obviously sense, Paul’s comparison here is not between choosing to obey sin or obedience, but simply ‘sin’ or ‘righteousness’; Paul’s aside that obeying sin will kill you, makes most literal translations compare ‘sin to death’ with ‘obedience to righteousness’ where that final obedience is not part of modern English. I’ve also taken the liberty of depersonalising sin and righteousness, since neither need it in English.

17    But thanks be to God that, though once you were slaves of sin, you have wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching you were instructed in,

18   so you have gained freedom from sin by becoming slaves of righteousness.

The real comparison is between slavery to sin, and slavery to righteousness. There is no position of freedom from both, where we ‘do what we want’ since “doing what seems right in our own eyes” is the essence of sin. We are built as slaves, just as we are built to worship, our choice is simply, ‘do we obey God or defy Him and sin?’ Defying God means doing what our corrupt sin nature wants to do, relying on its own strength to do it; obeying God means choosing and doing what God wants us to do, relying on Jesus within us by the Holy Spirit, to provide all the resources – the strength, wisdom, grace, etc.

19   I am talking about human nature because of the weakness of your flesh; for just as you used to offer your various parts as slaves to sin and wickedness leading to deeper wickedness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.

Most translators seem to think that Paul is using slavery as a day-to-day metaphor because his readers have weak flesh. I would venture to suggest that makes no sense: he’s not switched to an easier parallel for the benefit of their weak flesh ‘getting the point,’ he’s simply pointing out that he’s talking about our human nature because it is the problem.’

Commitment to righteousness as a slave is a total commitment – no time off, no freedom to compromise at all: we are slaves, owned by Another.

20   For when you were slaves to sin, you had no obligation to righteousness,

21   but what was your reward for the conduct you are now so ashamed of? Death is the only outcome of all that!

Living apart from God only leads to death anyway.

22   But now, liberated from sin and enslaved to God, you are bearing the fruit of holiness, the outcome of which is eternal life,

Now that’s a great comparison – forget the old way, follow Jesus! He’s not saying here that we will get eternal life at the end of this life, but that eternal life is ours once we transfer our servitude from sin to righteousness. He also points out that we are “liberated from sin,” not that we will be, eventually, or that we are hoping to be, but that we might not make it. No, we are “liberated from sin,” already!

23   since the wages for sin is death, but the gift of God’s grace is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Death for sticking with our old ways, eternal life in Christ for doing it God’s way. Our choice.

Romans 7

1     or don’t you realise brethren, speaking to you who know the law, that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?

No written law can apply to someone who has died. Laws are written to control the behaviour of the living.

2    A married woman is bound to her husband by the law while he lives, but if he dies, she is released from her legal tie to him.

This is a slightly unexpected direction for Paul’s argument; not only has he switched from considering the situation of a man to that of a woman, but then he also changes the ‘release’ to her freedom based on his death. So any death could undo a law for somebody, and not necessarily even for the one who dies.

3    So then, while he still lives, she will be called an adulteress if she becomes another man’s, but if her husband dies, she will be free from the law and can marry another man without becoming an adulteress.

Her choice leads to sin if her husband is still alive, but doesn’t if he has died. Here we see that Jesus dying on the cross can affect us, even though we still live – we find we are released from all the mosaic laws and qualified to live by faith instead.

4    Just so brethren, you became dead to the law through the body of Christ, so you could become another’s—he who was raised from the dead—so that we could bear fruit to God.

The reason for freeing us from the law through His atoning death was so that we could be joined legally to Him and serve God properly.

All this suggests that some of us could be of “the Lost Sheep of Israel” since how else were we ever ‘under the law’ and thus in need of rescue from it? Is this what Jesus is talking about when He “bought the entire field” ie, the world, so that He could obtain “the treasure” that was in it?

If some of us are “the Lost Sheep of Israel” that would make sense: Jesus bought the entire world with His blood so He could remarry His divorced wife – Israel. He told the Canaanite woman that He was sent “only to the lost sheep of Israel” so, while He has paid the price for every human being, including Gentiles, His prime purpose was not outside Israel at all. We Gentiles are included, but perhaps only “to make Israel jealous.”

If we are “dead to the law” in Christ, we cannot pick any of the laws to retain – not even to observe the Sabbath day each week – if we are dead to one, we are dead to all: dead is dead. And if we are not truly dead to the law, we cannot belong to Christ, and we are forced to live by our fallen nature instead of the Spirit.

5    For when we lived by the fallen nature, sinful passions aroused by the law operated in all aspects of our lives, bearing the fruit of death.

We cannot dodge death as long as we remain under the law or put ourselves under it. The law was only given to the Children of Israel, but did the negative effects of it also apply to us Gentiles, though the responsibility to follow every regulation could only ever have been theirs? The rest of us, before we believe, sin because we are wicked and God is good, so we are naturally and irredeemably opposed to God, which is sin in itself, and almost incidentally, since we wouldn’t generally be reading it, the law defines the things we do as sinful. If we put ourselves under it by refusing to die in Christ, and instead trying to earn our place in heaven through legalism, we rebind ourselves to death.

6    But now we have been released from the law, dying to that which bound us, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written regulations.

Again, to be released from the law, we had to be under it; to be bound by it, we had to be under it; and to die to it we had to be under it. Surely this means that, (at least the majority of) born-again believers are actually the lost sheep of Israel…? Except that Paul, as Apostle to the Gentiles, always refers to non-Jews as Gentiles and never mentions Israel in that context at all. Perhaps Israel, as an entity before God, actually counts as Gentiles now anyway since they were divorced. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, since Jesus “bought the entire field” for the treasure He had found, thus fully redeeming any who choose to believe, whether they be Jew, divorced Israelite, Benjamite, Hebrew, Gentile, “barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.”

Serving “in the new way of the Spirit” also, clearly, involves obedience, but not obedience to mosaic regulations: now we are to obey the Spirit, once we have checked the source of the direction given, the commands of Jesus Himself as recorded in the gospels, and the commands given through the apostles in the New Testament. These don’t count as ‘the law.’

7     So, are we saying that the law is sin? Of course not: I only knew sin through the law. I would not have been aware of my envying if the law had not said, “You shall not covet,”

One function of the law was to define sin for us. Desires can be good or sinful, but the law means we can no longer pretend that our sinful desires are good ones – that will lead to our death.

8    yet sin, finding a footing in the commandment, stimulated in me all kinds of cravings, for without the law, sin is dead.

Sin becomes more attractive to the fallen nature, once it is officially ‘forbidden fruit.’ If there are no regulations to break, we cannot be defined as lawbreakers.

9    Once I was alive without the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died,

Before the law came, sin had no meaning for me and I was alive, but now the law has come, when sin lives, I am dead, but if sin dies, I come to life! If I want to live, then I must remain dead to sin, and the only way to do so is to accept the death of Jesus as my own.

10   and I found that the life-giving commandment brought death,

11    as sin, finding grounds in the law, duped me, and used it to kill me.

Sin is presented here as alive, active, malevolent, and powerful. It uses the law as a weapon against us. In Genesis 4, JHVH tells Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” which tells me that it is more than malevolent, it has desires, and it can be mastered, at least with God’s help.

12   So, the law truly is holy, and the commandment holy, righteous and good.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, the law is not the problem: the law is actually on our side, leading us to life. The real problem is, on the one hand sin, and on the other, our corrupt sin nature. Both of these conspire to drag us away to death; sin using the law as its base of operations, as its power source.

13   Then did the good law cause my death? Of course not! Sin produces death in me using the good, and so is revealed as sin, the law exposing its extreme sinfulness.

14   We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold a slave to sin,

“Sold a slave to sin” means entirely under the control of the love of sinning, but it also means we can be bought back from the slave market by Jesus’s perfect sacrifice, for freedom. Paul’s discussion now moves to the result of attempting to use the flesh to obey the law even though you have come to faith.

15   for I don’t know what I’m doing: I don’t do what I want to, I do what I hate.

He ends up helplessly doing what he knows is wrong, rarely managing to do the right thing, and even when he does, his motives are wrong and his strength is from the corrupt source of his own flesh.

16   And if I do what I don’t want to, then I’m agreeing that the law is good,

17    so I’m no longer the one doing it, it’s sin living in me.

He agrees with the law and tries to obey it but sin dwells in his old sin nature, sinning for him. This won’t let him off the hook as he now has an exit, he just hasn’t availed himself of it.

18   I know that nothing good lives in my flesh, for despite being willing to do good, I cannot manage it.

Nothing the flesh can do is ever anything but sinful, unholy, as the flesh is utterly corrupt. Even our ‘good deeds’ are useless to God and corrupt if we do them in the power of the flesh. It is only worthy of death, being completely irredeemable.

19   I don’t do the good I want to, I keep doing the evil I don’t want to do.

And round and round he goes, trying to coax his totally corrupt flesh to earn something from God by disobediently trying to improve itself. Which is hopeless and ridiculous – it cannot be done. We cannot impress God through disobedience – any more than Adam could in Eden when he tried to become “more like God” by disobeying Him.

20   Now if I’m doing what I don’t want to do, then it is no longer me doing it, but sin living in me.

Same as verse 17: basically we try to fly, but this caterpillar has no wings; we wriggle along, flapping, and never leave the ground.

21   So I find this law: that when I want to do the right thing, evil is here with me,

This whole principle is so certain God describes it as a law – something immutable. Evil is so much the core of the flesh that there can never be any hope in that direction – it will always trump our best intentions.

22   for I delight in the law of God in my inner man,

“The law of God” is God’s character as well as His New Testament instructions for living a life worthy of God: believing, trusting and obeying Jesus by the Holy Spirit – it’s not any of the rules and regulations given to Moses on the mountain.

23   but I see another influence in my members in conflict with the law in my new nature, forcing me into bondage to the law of sin in my flesh.

Here Paul compares two principles; the law of God (which he loves), and the “law of sin” which is actually winning this fight, taking him captive, just as certainly as the (equally immutable) law of gravity will win the battle between him and gravity if he falls down a mine shaft, and pull him down to his death. Both these laws are based on our flesh.

24   A wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from the body of this death?

His failure and confusion leads inevitably to the cry of despair – immediately answered with the solution:

25   Jesus Christ our Lord, for whom I thank God! So then, in my new nature I am truly slave to God’s law, but in my flesh to the law of sin.

So we come to the solution to the problem Paul has been describing – the way to successfully and consistently live the victorious life! The secret is that God has rescued us through the perfect work of Jesus on the cross. He took us to the cross in Christ, so we are dead in Him, meaning that He is free to live out His perfect, transcendent life in us just as long as we allow Him to by faith (His faith), demonstrated by our obedience to Jesus, speaking to us by the Holy Spirit, which guidance will reflect the gospels and the apostles’ letters.

The answer is that I have the victory over my sins only in Christ, by refusing to dwell “in my flesh.” This is what it means to deny myself. As long as we remain “in the flesh” we remain a prisoner of the law of sin. Everything we have to do, we do by trusting Jesus to do it perfectly in us. If we are tempted, we pass that temptation over to Jesus and then forget it, trusting Him utterly to overcome in us and for us. This is real freedom, Alleluia! And the real temptation we are confronted by is the temptation to ‘do it in our own strength,’ not really the temptation to actually do something sinful – mostly it is to struggle, even to pray, from a position of lack of faith, and therefore to activate the flesh.

Romans 8

1     Consequently, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus who don’t walk in compliance with the flesh, but in submission to the Spirit,

It’s not that our condemnation is cancelled by what Jesus achieved, simply because we believe: there is no condemnation because, having discovered victory through faith in Jesus the Christ, as soon as we fulfil our part by trusting rather than trying, we will always overcome through the Holy Spirit, and so we will never be condemned. Belief on its own is not enough – even the demons believe.

2    as the law of the Spirit, regarding the life in Christ Jesus, released us from the law of sin and death,

Released from the law of sin and death we are free to live before God, victoriously. This law is also immutable – it will always be true. Paul calls this “the law of the Spirit, regarding the life in Christ Jesus” because our life in Him is based on His life dwelling in us, and is the power to live consistently the overcoming life we are called to, freeing us totally from the constraints of sin.

3    which was impossible for the law because it was disabled by the flesh. God then sent his own Son in a body like our sinful flesh [as the sacrifice] for sin, thus condemning sin in the flesh,

God was well aware that no-one could ever keep the law perfectly because He could see our corrupt nature, so He sent Jesus to deal with the sin problem. He had to have a body like ours – the ones we use to do and display our sins – to condemn and punish all our sins in His own flesh, so He could live His holy life in us.

4    so that the righteousness demanded by the law might be fulfilled in us, as we walk not in the flesh but by the Spirit.

This verse is the ultimate reason that “there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” We “walk not in the flesh but by the Spirit” just as God intended. This requires nothing from us, but it takes a lot of faith, which is why, in Christ, we have His faith to draw on.

5    Those who live by the flesh give their attention to fleshly matters; those in the Spirit to the concerns of the Spirit.

We still have the free will to live according to the flesh, and it’s easier, in that we already know how to do that, but we are called to be spiritual – to relish the things of the Spirit, not those of the flesh. When we “deny” the flesh, we find ourselves in the realm of the Spirit, aware of what He is saying of “the things of Christ”.

6    The mind of the flesh is death but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace,

This is the outcome, not just after death but here today, as we either live in the flesh (in sin) as if we are dead, or as being fully alive, filled with the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Christ.

7     because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God—it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it.

We generally call this “mind of the flesh” common sense when it is not an obvious expression of sin, but it is still “hostile to God” and is usually just an excuse for our lack of faith, not real wisdom. You can’t ‘sanctify’ common sense, we must deny it – clearly not by ‘doing the stupid thing’ but by looking and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and then following that.

8    Therefore those in the flesh cannot please God.

If we choose to live according to the flesh, we put ourselves in a position of hostility towards God where we cannot obey His laws nor please Him in any way. It’s just a question of which way we are facing: if we face God we are in the Spirit; if we turn away, we are in the flesh – and we cannot face in two directions at once.

9    However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. Those without the Spirit of Christ don’t belong to him.

So if we belong to Jesus, we already have His Spirit living in us, and vice-versa, we just have to deny our flesh and live by Him.

10   But if Christ is in you, your body is truly dead because of sin but the Spirit is your life for the sake of righteousness,

Before we believe, we are dead in our sins. Once we are in Christ we have a choice: either the body is dead (unemployed) and only activated by God, and our spirit is alive with the actual Life of God Himself, or we allow the body to come to life in its own strength where our spirit effectively dies and we drop back into sin. We cannot have both alive together.

11    and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will animate your dying body too, by his Spirit living in you.

We have to live using the life (zoë) which infills us by the Spirit within – He is our life. The reason it says “your dying body” is because we have to continually maintain our position of dying to sin, it’s not a once off deal, but as we do so, His Holy Spirit within us, actually provides the energy and strength to obey and serve Him.

12   Consequently brethren, we are under no obligation to the flesh, to live in a fleshly manner,

We owe it nothing – particularly as it is now officially dead, and so cannot make any claim. Living by the flesh would mean reanimating that revolting corpse and heading for the cemetery! Also, we owe it nothing since all it’s ever given us we’re now ashamed of: it’s just trouble, corruption and death.

13   for if you live by the flesh you will die; but if, with the enabling of the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live

Some translations assume that the “deeds” this refers to are the sins we commit, but that’s not enough – we have to put to death all the deeds and actions of the body, since it is the act of drawing on the self-life to do things for God which negates the life of the Spirit of God in us: it ‘disconnects’ the life of Christ.

14   for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

This makes it all seem very simple: to be a child of God, all you have to do is follow His lead! The problem is that it also needs some kind of revelation, in order to actually do that consistently.

15   The spirit you received doesn’t put you back in bondage to fear, but is the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father,”

16   the Spirit himself confirming to our spirit that we are children of God.

The Holy Spirit addresses the Father as “Abba” on our behalf, confirming in our hearts that we are truly children of God. As a result, any fear of damnation caused by our sinful history is gone.

17    And if children, then heirs too, truly heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ; and since we are suffering with him we will also be glorified together.

As heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ even, we inherit all that Christ inherits – including the suffering that leads to glory. This doesn’t say ‘if we suffer’ since we will be suffering if we are really following Him.

18   By my reckoning, our present sufferings do not nearly warrant the glory to be revealed in us.

Most translations try to ‘compare’ our present sufferings with the glory to be revealed, but that is a comparison of two very different things – things which cannot be compared as they are neither similar nor opposites.

Paul’s ‘reckoning’ is his purely pragmatic calculation of his, and our, reality, so he is unconcerned with his (light and momentary) sufferings at all. The idea he is dismissing is that we might ‘earn’ the coming glory in some way by our sufferings, because what he sees and all he cares about is the glory to come: his sufferings, and ours, are simply of no consequence.

19   The creation waits with eager anticipation for the sons of God to be revealed

Here creation also only sees the glory to come and so is looking out for the revealing of the sons of God as that will mean its own redemption too.

20   (creation itself was subjected to futility, not voluntarily, but by the will of the one subjecting it), confident

The important change here from other translations is that they, almost universally, imply that ‘creation was subjected to futility in hope that…’ whereas I believe it actually says ‘creation waits… in confident certainty that…’ God never does anything hopefully – He is always in complete control, and therefore utterly certain of the outcome. So most of this verse is parenthetical.

This futility is the fruitlessness of sin and corruption, death and decay. God subjected the entire creation to this futility in response to Adam’s sin, and it now awaits the revealing of His sons to put it all back on the proper footing.

21   that it will also be released from bondage to corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Creation is actively and eagerly anticipating its own emancipation from corruption when God reveals His true sons to the cosmos. But… it’s only going to be a tiny remnant, compared to those who think they are God’s sons!

22   We know that all creation groans and struggles together in pain until now,

23   and not only creation, but even we, who have the firstfruit of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we eagerly await our adoption—the emancipation of our bodies—

We, as fallen mankind, need the Spirit to alert us that we are in need, and that our physical emancipation from sin and corruption is coming, whereas the rest of creation is already well aware (in some way).

24   for in confident anticipation we are saved. If what we anticipate can already be seen that’s not hope, for who continues to hope for what he can already see?

Most translations use this as an attempt to define ‘hope’ which is hardly the point. Today that word in English has the unfortunate implication of doubt built in – as in, “I hope so” – and has therefore become less than helpful, so I have resisted its use here. Anticipation, particularly ‘confident anticipation’ seems to capture the spirit of the verse more clearly; as in “I’m really looking forward to…”

So how does scriptural hope differ from faith? Both are spiritual senses, as the subjects of neither are physically tangible, and they are very closely related, but I think the difference is that faith is in God, His character and His truth – the certainty that God is good and trustworthy; hope is the confident anticipation of, or simply looking forward to, those things which God has promised or prophesied.

25   But if we confidently look forward to what we cannot yet see, we can wait for it with patient endurance.

Since we have no doubt as to the eventual fulfilment of God’s promises as we know His word is true, we can get on with the business of living a holy life in His strength and in His honour without being tempted away from the narrow path.

26   Similarly, the Spirit supports us in our powerlessness; we don’t know how to pray as we must, but the Spirit himself petitions on our behalf with sighs beyond words.

Victorious faith is closely related to powerlessness or weakness. We overcome because we accept our utter inability and allow Jesus, our Saviour, to live out His resurrection life in our place.

Here, because we can rarely know all the aspects of a person’s need or the subtleties of any situation (and maybe our prayers have to be correctly addressed and formatted :o), the Holy Spirit sorts all that for us, as long as we pray in faith (even if we don’t have any words), so that we can be truly fruitful for the Father.

27   The one who searches hearts knows the intention of the Spirit since his intercession for the saints is in line with God’s thought,

Obviously the Father and the Holy Spirit are one (with Jesus) so they are utterly in agreement about everything, so answers to prayers of and through the Holy Spirit are completely certain.

28   and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

How wonderful – absolutely every aspect of our lives, however unpleasant, is in God’s hand, and is being used for our good, if we accept it graciously, thanking Him for every circumstance and offering it to Him for His glory. However bad it gets, we can still rejoice!

29   Those he foreknew he pre-appointed to be fashioned in the image of his Son, so he would be the firstborn among many brethren.

And this is the purpose of all the circumstances of our lives – to make us anew “in the image of his Son.” God is planning “many brethren” to join Jesus in eternity.

30   Those he pre-appointed he also called; those he called, he justified; those he justified, he clothed with splendour.

God has always known who would respond in faith to His gospel so He “pre-appointed” us to join Him; this meant justifying us since we were lost in our sins; and then He clothes us “with splendour.” Initially this is in the spiritual realm – we are clothed with His grace and His Holy Spirit and manifest His holiness – but ultimately we will literally ‘glow’ with purity and holiness in His presence for ever! All right!

31   What, then, shall we say about these things?

If God is on our side, who can oppose us? Obviously Satan and his demons and those who serve him can oppose us, but none can oppose us successfully since “God is on our side.”

32   Since he didn’t spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously grant us all things?

If God’s commitment to us went that far – all the way to the cross, how could He stop short of the entire plan? So all things are ours in Christ already.

33   Who can accuse those whom God has chosen? God declares them righteous.

34   Who can condemn? Christ, who died, or rather who also was raised, is at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf.

Not only can we not be successfully opposed, neither can we be accused nor condemned because Christ died and rose again. And on top of that, He is at God’s right hand interceding, with all understanding and authority, on our behalf.

35   What can separate us from the love of Christ: trouble or disaster, persecution or hunger, nakedness, danger or violence?

36   As it is written, “we are being killed for your sake throughout the day, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.”

This is not Paul describing the plight of the apostles, just our normal condition.

37   Yet in all these things we more than conquer, through him who loved us.

Living by the Spirit, rather than the flesh, is the victory.

38   For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither powers nor things present, nor things to come,

39   neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The point is, we are utterly secure in the love of Christ, nothing and no-one can undo that, so we can successfully, victoriously, live the conquering life in Him, albeit we will have to suffer, maybe even die, for Him.

Conversely, He has no guarantees that we will hang in there for Him, He can only guarantee His own faithfulness: He will never fail us, even if we fail Him and fall away. Yet He has counted the cost and deemed it all worthwhile for the sake of those of us who will remain faithful and for the benefit of the rest of creation.

Romans 9

1     I am speaking truthfully in Christ, (my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit that I’m not lying)

2    that I have great sorrow and continual pain in my heart:

Paul has his heart in tune with God’s, so the hardness displayed by his fellow Jews is a constant pain to him.

3    for I wished that I might be cursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my countrymen in the flesh,

This would, if it were possible, be an enormous sacrifice, but his yearning for their souls is too great to ignore, even though he has been called to witness to the Gentiles.

4    the people of Israel. Theirs are the adoption and the glory, the covenants and the law, the worship and the promises;

5    the patriarchs are theirs, and from them, according to the flesh, came the Christ, who is over all, forever blessed by God. Amen.

Everything they could ever have desired or needed to come to faith, they already have, and Paul can’t bear to see them lost as he loves them with God’s love.

6    The word of God cannot have failed, for not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,

7     nor are they all Abraham’s true seed because they are his descendants, but “your seed shall be through Isaac.”

He’s pointing out that, even though the Hebrews haven’t all come to faith en masse, God’s word is still good because most of them, though physically descended from Abraham, are not spiritually his descendants.

8    So, it’s not the natural descendants who are children of God, it’s the children of the promise he counts as seed.

It’s all about the seed of Abraham – those who are being saved – being God’s choice through the promise, and nothing to do with natural inheritance. Spiritual descendants are those who believe and accept the promise by faith.

9    For this is the word of promise, “at this time I will return, and Sarah will bear a son.”

10   And not only then, but also when Rebekah conceived, by Isaac our father,

11    though neither had yet been born nor done anything good or evil (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not of deeds but of the one calling),

In other words, God doesn’t select us by what we do to earn it, but by His grace. If it were earned, ie, what we deserve, we would all perish in our sins. He saves us despite our corruption, simply by His grace.

12   she was told, “the older will serve the younger.”

13   As it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

This is tough. God, by His sovereign choice, selected Jacob for blessing, He did not select Esau. That’s really what this is saying. The fact that Esau proved to be uncommitted to God is not the point – God still blessed him, and he was not turned away from faith, he simply wasn’t selected to sire God’s chosen nation.

14   What then? We cannot say that God is unjust, of course,

15   since he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

16   So it does not depend on the one who wills, nor the one who runs, but on God showing mercy.

It’s not about desire or effort, but about the decision of God; and the decisions we are talking about are to show mercy or compassion on individuals from a totally fallen and corrupted race, none of whom deserved such mercy – not to condemn the rest despite their natural good natures. It’s a question of mercy, not condemnation; those who are condemned are self-prepared for judgment.

17    As scripture says to Pharaoh, “this is the reason I raised you up, so that I could display my power in you and that my name might be revealed throughout all the earth.”

God raised Pharaoh to his position of power and authority because of his hard heart – He didn’t give him that hard heart – in order that God could display His mercy to the people of Israel.

18   Therefore he is merciful to those he chooses, and hardens those he wants to.

What he’s saying here is that God chose a man with a naturally hard heart and led him to the natural conclusion of his wickedness. The point about the mercy is actually more important.

19   You will protest, “so why does he still condemn, for who can resist his will?”

None of this removes the responsibility of each person before God to live a sinless life, even though we cannot, in ourselves, come close. We can do it because He has provided the way, in Jesus.

20   But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? That which is made cannot protest to his maker, “why have you made me like this?”

People are very quick to blame God, but He never made anyone evil (even Satan got that way by his own choice). The one who is asking this question is not genuinely interested in God’s purposes, he is looking for a way to blame God for his own wickedness, like those who practice homosexuality and claim that they were born that way; ie, God made them that way – even if they deny that God exists.

21   Does the potter not have the right to make from the same lump of clay both grand vessels and merely practical ones?

It is clearly better to be a “grand vessel” in God’s house, and that is what He is calling us to.

22   But what if God, in order to show his wrath and make known his power, patiently endured those objects of wrath who were prepared for destruction,

These “were prepared for destruction” by their own wicked choices, not by God.

23   that he should make known the riches of his glory towards the objects of his mercy whom he already prepared for glory,

24   to us, whom he has called, not only from the Jews, but from the Gentiles too?

All men however, are called, and are “already prepared for glory” by God, not by our natural goodness or holiness, for we have none, but through our response of faith.

25   As he says in Hosea, “those who are ‘not my people’ I will call my people, and she who is ‘not loved’ beloved.”

26   In the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people’ they will be called sons of the living God.

Those whom God called “not my people” were the tribes of Israel, just before He divorced and banished them. In Hosea it’s not a reference to Gentiles, unless it’s the same thing: that once Israel were divorced, they became Gentiles, in which case it would seem that the Gentile situation is a valid fulfilment.

27   Yet Isaiah cries out about Israel, “though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, just the remnant will be saved.

God chooses a remnant based on their love for Him, but again, this very specifically refers to the Israelites. With the assembly of believers it’s also “the remnant” that God actually saves, even though He wills that none should perish – this is because it’s always just the minority who care to follow Him.

28   The Lord will complete his work, bringing it to a quick end in righteousness, for he will shorten his work on the earth.”

Shorten His work in what sense? Does it mean shorter that He planned? Or that He planned to shorten it? And if so, from what?

29   And, as Isaiah foretold, “if the Lord of Hosts had not left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”

Without Jesus, God’s gracious salvation, we would all be lost – to a man.

30   So what can we say? That the Gentiles, though not pursuing righteousness, have attained it—the righteousness which is of faith;

Salvation, meaning “righteousness by faith” was not even sought by the Gentiles who were happy with their assorted idolatries – so happy that many Israelites were seduced into changing allegiances.

31   and Israel, though pursuing righteousness by the law, could not reach the law’s righteousness.

The “law of righteousness” never saved anyone since it teaches that, through his own efforts, by obeying the rules, man can be as holy or honourable or perfect as God. Since this is impossible, Israel’s legalisms failed utterly – like using ladders to reach the moon.

32   Why not? Because, since they pursued it not by faith but by doing the law, they stumbled over the stumbling stone.

33   As it is written, “see, in Zion I have laid a stumbling stone, a rock that will offend, but whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.”

It’s interesting to note that the Jews’ problem with accepting Him was prophesied way back in their own scriptures. Since the way to eternal blessing in God’s presence is by believing and trusting in Him, none of this is closed to “Israel”, it is simply there for whoever believes. It just demands the proud flesh to “deny itself.”

Romans 10

1     Brethren, the desire of my heart and my prayer to God for Israel is for their salvation,

2    for I testify about them that they have fervour for God, but without understanding.

3    Being ignorant of God’s [provision of] righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God,

Believing they could earn God’s approval by doing the works of the law, in their pride they rejected God’s gracious, free provision of salvation through Christ.

4    for Christ is the termination of the law, providing righteousness to all who believe.

Christ can provide righteousness because He is the ultimate conclusion to the law. It was written about Him, so He is its perfect fulfilment. He perfectly obeyed every precept, in order to release us from its impossible (for us), unyielding perfections.

5    Moses wrote of the law’s righteousness that “the man who accomplishes these things will thereby live.”

Jesus “accomplished these things” and thereby lives, so He gained life for us all that we can accept by faith as we abide in Him – nobody else could come close.

6    But the righteousness of faith says, “don’t say in your heart, ‘who will go up to heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down)

This would apply to Israel as they ‘knew’ that their Christ was in heaven.

7    or ‘who will go down to the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from [among] the dead).

Once He had been crucified this would apply to His disciples who ‘knew’ He was among the dead.

8   But what does it say? “The word is near you; in your mouth and in your heart.” This is the word of faith we preach:

This means the actual verses of scripture. They are in our mouths and in our hearts because we memorise them and meditate on them. Paul is also saying that he preaches directly from the Bible, using its actual words.

9    that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, believing with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Confessing Jesus as Lord is very personal. Other translations put “Jesus is Lord” which of course He is – but then, even the demons know that.

10   So with the heart we believe and are made righteous, and with the mouth we confess and are saved.

The reversal of the order between these two verses shows that they happen together, they are one thing: we believe and we confess.

11    The Scripture says, everyone who believes on him will not be shamed,

It’s not referring to the possibility of being ashamed of being Jesus’s disciple, it means those who put their trust in Him will not be shamed by their own past wickedness at the final judgement, since all trace is washed away by His blood.

12   for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek—the same Lord is Lord of all, giving generously to all who petition him,

Both Jews and Gentiles assumed there was a permanent distinction between them before God, that the Jews (Hebrews) had some kind of advantage, but God is gracious and generous – faithful to everyone, whatever their heritage. Jesus died for everyone who would ever live, when He “sold everything He had and bought the field.”

13   since all who ever call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

No one is turned away if they put their trust in the Lord. “Calling upon the name of the Lord” here means more than saying a believer’s prayer; it means repenting of all our sins (turning away from them forever), surrendering all we are and have to Jesus and accepting His perfect sacrifice on our behalf. It means living the rest of our lives in faithful obedience to the words of Jesus in the gospels and through the apostles in the New Testament and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and complete trust in God’s perfect provision for every circumstance.

14   Then how shall they call on the one they don’t believe in? And how shall they believe in the one they’ve not heard of? And how will they hear without a preacher?

15   And how can he preach if not sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the gospel of peace and grace.

The point is Jesus is building His assembly (ecclesia), so He selects the evangelist and commissions him or her to go to the lost, so that he/she can preach, they can hear and believe, and thus they are saved. In fact, at a simpler level, we are all called to “bring the gospel of peace and grace” to the lost.

16   But not all have obeyed the good news, as Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”

“Obeying the good news” means believing it and choosing to put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour, relying on His perfect sacrifice rather than any ‘works’ we could do to earn our salvation. Our good works are done in the power of the Holy Spirit because we have been saved, not to earn anything. To disobey it means either disbelieving the gospel or misbelieving due to wrong teaching and practices in “churches,” or, having believed, choosing to reject God’s gracious offer by walking away, or attempting to make ourselves righteous by following the law in our own strength.

17    Consequently, faith comes from getting the message, which comes through words spoken by God.

“Getting the message” is achieved by your spirit responding to the voice of its Creator, nothing less. This is very like a flower responding to the light and warmth of the sun on its face. Anything less than the voice of God, presented through a disciple will not do, and any resulting conversion will be “built on the sand.” Too many people have set themselves up as “church leaders” who are not actually believers in any real sense, so the gospel they present has to be in their own words, not God’s, so any response from the unbelievers will lead to people believing they are saved, when actually they aren’t. They will just be followers of the “church leader,” allowing him to govern their lives at some level (and at their expense).

18   But I ask, did they not hear? Of course: their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the inhabitable world.

All the prophets spoke clearly to Israel, offering them salvation by faith.

19   But did Israel not know? Firstly, Moses says, “I will provoke you to jealousy by the stateless; by a foolish nation I will anger you.”

God had already prophesied that He would bring the Gentiles to faith to provoke Israel.

20   Then, Isaiah very boldly says, “I was found by those who weren’t looking for me, I was revealed to those who weren’t asking for me.”

This predicts the salvation of the Gentiles who weren’t even looking for the real God – they were already quite happy with a whole slew of false gods.

21   But to Israel he says, “All day I have stretched out my hands to a disbelieving and defiant people.”

Israel’s response to God is almost incomprehensible – He gives them grace and mercy, truth and life; He covenants with them and promises them purity, holiness and eternal life in His company – and they reject Him for the worthless religions and false gods of the surrounding nations, just so they could wallow in their sins and lord it over each other. It’s no wonder they broke His heart.

Romans 11

1     I am not saying that God has rejected his people—of course not, since I am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham and the tribe of Benjamin.

Paul cites himself as the obvious exception to the suggestion, even though by far the majority of all believers at this time were Jewish, including all the original apostles and the elders, because he is writing to believers in Rome who were not Jewish.

2    God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew, or don’t you know what the Scripture records when Elijah prayed to God against Israel? He said,

God is not really in the business of rejecting; He paid a high price in His role is Saviour to prove it.

3    “Lord, they have killed your prophets and destroyed your altars; only I am left, and they are seeking my life.”

If people have gone to the trouble of killing the prophets and destroying God’s altars, they are not really looking for Him to be their Lord, they are rejecting Him. We see here how alone Elijah felt under the persecution he faced: he took time out to update God on the situation as he saw it, hoping that God would come to His senses and rescue him before it was all too late.

4    But what was the divine response to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who do not bow the knee to Baal.”

The ones who cling to God regardless of what the society around them is doing. This is also what we need to do. This had the effect of reassuring Elijah that God actually was on the case, and completely in command of all aspects.

5    Likewise, at the present time, there is a remnant chosen by grace,

God always reserves a remnant or fragment of the people for Himself – those whose hearts are true towards Him. This is never the majority. So we can see that they may be “chosen by grace,” but in a very real sense they are also self-selected and God then honours their free will, for which He paid such an awesome price.

6    but if it is by grace, it can no longer be by works, otherwise grace would cease to be grace.

The point is not that we have no part in whether or not we are “chosen,” but that our part is to believe and trust, not to work to obey the law. Faith accepts God’s gracious provision, but if we insist on obeying the works of the law to earn our own salvation, we reject that provision. What we try to provide for ourselves is always a poor imitation of God’s provision – all our buckets have holes, while God’s dealings are watertight. Their self-selection is purely by faith.

7     What then? What Israel sought he has not found; the elect have found it, but the rest were thick-skinned.

The “elect” at this stage were mostly Jews. The rest of the Jews determined to earn holiness their way, which is no way, and the natural result of their attitude was (and still is) a dulling of their awareness of God.

8    As it is written, God gave them a dulled spiritual sense, eyes they don’t see with and ears they don’t hear with, to this day.

They had chosen not to see or hear God’s words, through His prophets and ultimately through Jesus Himself. The spirit God gave them was not inferior to a believer’s spirit, it would (and did) just naturally grow a thick skin if misused.

9    And David says, “let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling stone and a retribution for them;

“Their table” refers to all that God had given Israel in terms of truth, law, light, blessing, prophets, grace, etc, and particularly their Christ, but they were completely deceived and chose the dark side… The blessings of God’s truth became a snare because, once sin was defined and God’s provision of salvation revealed, they had no excuse.

10   let their eyes be darkened so they will not see, and their backs ever bent.”

In other words, let them have what they have chosen. The bent backs are a reference to Jesus’s “burden [being] light” compared to the burden of sin and unholiness which they had selected for themselves through their stubborn legalism.

11    I ask then, were they lost through stumbling? Of course not; but to make them jealous their lapse brought salvation to the Gentiles.

12   So if their fall is riches to the world, and their loss gain for the Gentiles, how much better will it be when they are fulfilled?

Better for Israel, the Gentiles or the world? For believers.

13   For though I am speaking to you Gentiles, I make much of my calling as apostle to the Gentiles,

14   that somehow I might provoke those of my own flesh to jealousy and thereby save some of them.

Paul has seen that God really is offering hope to the people of Israel: producing envy in them by giving salvation to the Gentiles, so he is combining his ministry with God’s intention and informing Israel, whenever he gets the chance, of what he is doing. If he hadn’t understood this, he wouldn’t have dared to extend his ministry without permission. Pride, however, precluded most from responding.

15   For if their rejection was reconciliation for the world, what will their reception be but life from the dead?

Certainly redemption for Israel, but this somehow implies more: that the entire assembly of Jesus would be fully blessed if Israel came to faith. This makes sense when we remember that in Christ we are one body.

16   For if the first portion of the dough offered is holy, so will the whole batch be; if the root is holy, so will the branches be.

The initial portion, the firstfruit, of the dough is Christ; He is also the olive tree itself, and therefore its root, so we have to be grafted in and remain there to partake of His holiness.

17    Yet if some of the boughs are broken off and you, a wild olive limb, are grafted in their place, sharing the root and sap of the olive you have become,

Special note here: once we are grafted in, and while we remain so, we actually become the olive tree, just as we become the vine through being its branches.

18   don’t think yourself better than the lost branches, but if you do, consider this: you do not sustain the root, the root sustains you.

We are not “better” than anyone without the grace of Christ. All are utterly corrupt and are worthy of death. So we can claim no credit for coming to faith since all is by grace.

19   Then you will say, “the boughs were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”

20   True. They are broken off by unbelief and you stand by faith. So don’t be conceited but fear,

To be grafted in and to remain grafted depends entirely on our ongoing, active faith.

21   that if God didn’t spare the natural branches, he won’t spare you either.

If we are deceived and slide into unbelief, we will be lost just as surely. None of this “once saved, always saved” nonsense.

22   Note then God’s kindness and his severity: severity on those who fell, but kindness on you, as long as you remain in his kindness, or you also will be cut off.

This is impossible to argue against for those who believe in “once saved, always saved” – God says “you also will be cut off.” How clear can that be? We cannot be cut off if we were never grafted in.

23   And they too, if they don’t remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

These people of Israel are not those who were cut off, since they have died; here we are considering their descendants, those today of Israel who come to faith. This is because, once we jettison our faith we cannot return for we would be crucifying our Saviour all over again – no other sacrifice will do. But living descendants of Jacob are supposed to come to faith: that is why they are being provoked to jealousy.

24   For if, contrary to nature, you were cut from a wild olive tree and grafted into the cultivated olive tree, how much easier for these, the natural branches, to be grafted into their own olive tree?

Here we have “the cultivated olive tree” since there is only one – Jesus Himself.

25   I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brethren, so you won’t be conceited—that Israel has become partially hardened until the total number of Gentiles come in,

God has allowed Israel to “partially harden” themselves until He is ready to soften them again once the Gentiles are gathered in. Our possible conceitedness would be due to not understanding the situation and assuming that we (Gentiles) are somehow ‘better’ than the people of Israel because we have the truth now. All we have is the mercy of God; and soon they will too.

26   and so all Israel will be saved. As it is written, “the deliverer will come from Zion, and he will turn away Jacob’s defiance,

27   and this is my covenant with them, when I remove their sins.”

This doesn’t actually mean every descendant of Jacob, it means all who accept His salvation by faith. The saviour will come from Israel and God covenants to “turn away Jacob’s defiance” and then “remove their sins” – if they come to faith.

28   Concerning the gospel they are enemies on your account; but concerning election, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,

They are enemies in that they are hardened; as soon as the descendants of Israel turn back to God, Jesus will return and the door of salvation will close. So holding them back from faith allows Gentiles to enter that door. It may seem harsh to those who die in their hardened state, but it is a state they have individually chosen in their defiance of God and, at the same time, it is abundant mercy to we Gentiles, allowing us to choose faith, trust and obedience.

29   for God’s gifts and callings are not subject to change of heart.

God chose to love and covenant with the patriarchs and did not change His mind even in the face of corporate rebellion, idolatry and apostasy, so, in His faithfulness, He will turn the hearts of those Israelites who don’t choose to resist Him, back to faith, once all the Gentiles who choose to have come to faith.

30   Since you were once in disbelief of God, you have now been shown mercy, while they are in unbelief.

31   Thus, though you have mercy, they are now in unbelief, so that they may be shown mercy too,

Gentiles, in our ignorance and deception, were in unbelief, so God could show us mercy. Now we see that Israel, in their rebellion and deception, are also in unbelief, and so they too can be shown mercy. Nobody earns their way into the kingdom of God.

32   for God has shut us all up to unbelief so he could be merciful to everyone.

All is built on the infinite mercy of Almighty God.

33   Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable his judgments, how untraceable his ways!

34   For who has understood the thoughts of the Lord, or who has become his advisor?

35   or who has given to him that it should be repaid,

36   seeing that all things are out of him, through him and for him?

All glory be to him eternally. Amen.

Paul is completely wowed by the magnificence of God’s arrangement for our salvation and breaks into praise. I have to agree.

Romans 12

1     Brethren, I implore you by the mercies of God: present your bodies a sanctified living sacrifice, which is your rational service and precious to God.

Not only is it precious to God, it is rational to us, as that is where the blessing lies, and the freedom in Christ; if we withhold this sacrifice we deprive ourselves of the indwelling Christ and the freedom from sin, and reveal that we have not understood our inheritance in Jesus.

2    Don’t be fashioned to this age, but be ever transformed by the renewing of your mind, to verify what is the good, precious and perfect will of God.

The renewing of our minds is a work of the Holy Spirit, which we allow Him to do in us by our attention to the word of God – by our meditation on it and our obedience to it. We also have to be open to the Spirit and teachable.

3    By the grace given to me I say to each one of you, don’t entertain thoughts loftier than necessary, but aim to be wise, through the faith measured to each by God.

This kind of thinking he is warning us against is the kind that leads us into deception and sin as we start to feel we know better than others or are ‘wiser’ in our own eyes. True wisdom in Christ leads to true humility and vice versa. The “faith measured to each by God” is the faith of Jesus, not a small portion depending on how fabulous we are, but the faith of the Son of God Himself.

4    Even as we each have a body with many members, which do not all have the same function,

5    all of us in Christ are one body, members of one another.

All believers are equal before God and before each other, we just have different tasks in the body of Christ, so no one is called to have authority over others.

6    Let us excel in our gifts in proportion to our faith, according to the grace being given to us: if prophecy, in prophesying;

7     or if ministry, in serving; or if teaching, in instruction.

These gifts are to be used between equals to build up each other’s faith and understanding, training each other to heal the sick, baptise new believers, lay on hands for the baptism of the Spirit, etc.

8    Where we are gifted in imploring, let us excel in persuasion; if sharing, in generosity; if presiding, with diligence; if caring, with cheerfulness;

All this is telling us that we must do everything according to the faith which God has given us, not that some are supposed to be teachers or leaders. When we are called to preside, we must trust the anointing of God for the task and when it is finished we return to our place; when we are called to give, we give generously in faith; when we are called to help others in adversity, we do so cheerfully, trusting in the grace and provision of God; and so on. The idea is always to be a trusting, living sacrifice, by faith in God; not to be a provider, teacher or leader.

9    our love entirely genuine, loathing evil and clinging to the good.

And all these tasks must be done in love while we reject all traces of evil in our lives and hold tightly to all that is good by practising it.

10   Be tenderly affectionate to one another in brotherly love, putting one another first from respect.

This one point alone would smooth a lot of ruffled feathers in difficult fellowships, and save people from much hurt.

11    Don’t be reluctant in zeal, but fervent in spirit, labouring for the Lord,

12   rejoicing in hope, patient in suffering, and persistent in prayer.

Never take a break, of any kind, for any reason, from living the overcoming life in Christ.

13   Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursuing the grace of hospitality.

‘Practice makes perfect’ so we are to practise those things in which we are supposed to be perfect.

14   Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.

This is the transcendent response to persecution, which is only possible for us as we abide in Christ; the flesh is simply incapable.

15   Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

If we honour the emotional struggles of those around us, they will allow us to bring the gospel and wisdom of Christ into their circumstances or at least their mindset. Within the assembly it is also an expression of the oneness of all believers.

16   Be like minded towards each other, not revering high opinions but humble ways. Don’t be full of your own vanities.

This is not primarily to make us easier to live with, but to protect us from deception: “pride comes before a fall.”

17    Give no one back evil for evil; instead, give what is good in the view of all.

Again we have Jesus’s transcendent response to wickedness: one very good reason our flesh has to die. We assume that the evil referred to here is from those outside the body of Christ, but either way, the response is the same.

18   If it’s possible to you, live at peace with everybody.

In other words, if somebody sees themselves as your enemy, don’t let it be through your own actions, words or attitudes; attempt to make peace, but if you fail, don’t worry – nobody is universally loved, particularly those who have set themselves apart for God.

19   Never retaliate, beloved, but yield before rage, as it has been written, “vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

If we get angry and retaliate, we usurp God’s vengeance, and we disobey this verse. We are called to show the world etc God’s love, not His vengeance, so we must allow Jesus to live out His life in us by choosing to show love in obedience, and that is what He will show. If we express our anger, we present a false image of the character of God.

20   If ever then, your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; in doing this, you will pile burning embers on his head.

We are to actively look for ways to bless our enemies. Piling burning embers on someone’s head is obviously a metaphor – presumably in reference to something like awakening his conscience, not to hurting him in any way, nor to chalking up punishments for him for judgment day; the idea being that he will repent and be saved from his sins.

21   Don’t be beaten by evil, but defeat the evil with good.

This is our ultimate weapon: evil is completely powerless against relentless blasts of goodness, which no believer is unqualified to supply in Christ.

Romans 13

1     Everyone is to be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority but from God; those who govern have been put there by God.

These verses can only be referring to legitimate, good government, since governments which set themselves up in opposition to God’s truth or His people do not fit these descriptions. Eventually all governments slide into corruption unless they are led by God’s people, so the principle has to be more, ‘obey those laws which do not contradict the laws of God.’

2    So the one opposing the authority has resisted the edict of God; and those who resist will bring judgment upon themselves.

This is because the spirit of rebellion is of the enemy, the great rebel. The sin is rebellion against God and that which God has instituted, not our defiance of the enemy – or the enemy’s government.

3    For rulers are not to be feared if your deeds are good, only if they are evil. Do you wish to be unafraid of authority? Do good and you will be approved.

This verse starts to put a necessary rider on these instructions: many governments are terrifying to their law-abiding citizens, not because people have committed crimes, but because their governments are totally corrupt. Here we are instructed to be subject to good government.

4    He is the servant of God for your good, but if you do evil, be afraid: he doesn’t bear the sword for nothing. As the servant of God he is the executor of his wrath on the one who does evil.

If we obey God’s directives, in defiance of government – as believers have to in many countries today, simply to stay in the faith – their fury at our defiance will be in direct opposition to the will of God, not to mention his wrath.

5    So it is essential to be subject, not merely because of wrath, but also because of conscience.

It is just as essential to be subject to a government which administers God’s values as it is to be subject to God Himself.

6    For this reason pay taxes too, for they are God’s ministers, continuously expending their efforts on governing.

Tricky this, because most modern governments arbitrarily increase taxes to cover their own greed, which is plainly corruption, and no more defensible than robbery. Hard to dodge taxes though so again, we are to turn the other cheek.

7     Give everyone their dues: pay tax when tax is due, pay revenue where revenue is due, give respect to whoever you owe respect, give honour where you owe honour.

8    Owe no one anything, except to love one another; he that loves others fulfills the law,

We are not to live on borrowing since God is our provider: as soon as we choose to pay off all our debts, He will provide as necessary. The only debt that remains is our continuing debt to love one another. The “others” we are to love are those God sends us, whoever they may be, and loving means doing all we can to improve their relationship with God, to serve their physical and spiritual needs as the Lord leads.

9    for that which says, “do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false testimony, do not covet,” and if there is any other command, it is covered by this, “love your neighbour as yourself.”

So “love your neighbour” even overrides the ten commandments. So much for us being required to “obey” the law in any sense at all!

10   Love avoids harming its neighbour, so love is the essence of the law.

11    Also, note the season: now is the time for us to be woken, for our salvation is nearer than when we believed.

He likens being in sin and darkness to being asleep; we have to be woken, or to wake ourselves. Frankly, we shouldn’t be having anything to do with sin or darkness anyway, but if we are then we must stop.

12   The night progresses and the day approaches; so we must lay down the works of darkness and take up the weapons of the light.

The approaching day refers to the return of Jesus, the Christ, with His 1,000-year reign, so we must leave the ranks of the enemy and get into the fight – now.

13   Let us live decently, as in the day; not in revelling and intoxication, nor promiscuity and debauchery, nor quarrelling and rivalry,

I think we’ve understood this. This list is all Satan’s arena.

14   rather, put on the Lord Jesus, the Christ, and make no provision for the lusts of the flesh.

And this is how it’s done: we “put on” our Lord each day and refuse to plan for, or even consider, the demands of our old sin nature. This allows Jesus to live out His victorious, transcendent life in us and through us.

Romans 14

1     Accept the one whose faith is weak, without judging or discriminating,

We simply don’t know enough about anyone’s faith or relationship with God to judge them. Weak faith is not heresy. The reason we are not to judge or discriminate against each other is that the subject in question is not particularly important; we are still to judge the important stuff like sin, rebellion and false doctrine.

2    for one person believes he may eat anything, while one whose faith is weak eats only vegetables.

There is a giveaway in this verse, that abstaining from certain foods to honour God (since they may have been offered to a false god) is a sign of a weak faith, since simply giving thanks to God for our food will sanctify it for our use. It will even nullify any poisons it may contain!

3    To the one who eats anything: don’t despise the one who doesn’t eat; and to the one who abstains: don’t judge the one who eats, since God has received him.

We must live by our own faith, not somebody else’s. If we do the right thing contrary to what we believe, we cannot do it in faith and therefore, for us, it is sin. So, in a real sense, faith trumps doctrine.

4    Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls, and he will be enabled to stand as God is able to make him stand.

This is saying that whichever person we are, God will enable us to stand (at the judgment) if we live by faith, whatever other believers may think.

5    One person chooses one day above another; another reveres every day. Let each be confident in his own position.

Here he is saying that neither is wrong, just that we must live by what we believe. Those whose denomination is based on this idea, either for or against, need to reread these verses.

6    The one who observes the single day, honours it to the Lord; while the one who doesn’t, does so to honour the Lord. The one who eats, eats to the Lord and gives thanks to God; while the one who abstains, does so to honour the Lord and gives God thanks.

7     For none of us lives for himself, and none of us dies for himself.

Whatever we do in faith honours God not ourselves. The reason “none of us lives for himself” is that it’s not what true disciples of Jesus do: we serve others for God, or we serve God for Himself. Everything we are supposed to do is for God, not ourselves.

8    If we are living, we are living for the Lord; if we are dying, we are dying for the Lord. Whether we live or die then, we are the Lord’s.

9    This is why Christ died and rose and lives again, to be Lord of both the living and the dead.

So we can know that He will always be our Lord, even after we are dead. This is not saying that He is Lord of the dead, it refers to those who have died, but are alive forever more.

10   So why do you judge your brother, and why do you scorn your brother, since we will all be presented before the judgment seat of Christ?

If he is my brother, he is on the same field as me: his relationship with God is based on the same perfect sacrifice, the same divine faith, the same mercy, the same grace. He is also on the same side of the battlefield, facing the same enemy – my ‘brother in arms.’ My responsibility is “to love one another.”

11    It is written, “I live, says the Lord, and every knee will bow to me, and every tongue confess to God.”

12   So each of us will give an account of himself to God.

As we are all going to stand before God to “give an account” of ourselves, it would be wise to give attention to the details of our conduct and attitude at all times.

13   Therefore we must not continue to judge one another, instead determine to place no stumbling block or trap for your brother.

This is talking about food and drink, and therefore about similarly surface things: we are not to pass judgment on other believers for the unimportant details of what or how they believe. We are, however, to do our utmost to do nothing which will undermine them in their relationship with God, to the contrary, real Christ-like love goes to some trouble to help others to draw closer to God.

It is not contradicting our clear mandate to determine the nature of so-called ‘believers’ or ‘teachers’ etc, by judging their words and actions by the word of God: Do they live by what they profess to believe? Are their actions motivated by love? Do they preach lies about Christ? Or do they live by this world’s standards? etc. In these important areas we are commanded to judge.

14   I can see and I’m satisfied in Lord Jesus that no food of itself is unclean (but if someone believes anything to be unclean, for him it is unclean),

This confirms the vision given to Peter prior to his visit to Cornelius and releases us from following any dietary rules for religious reasons – we definitely don’t need to avoid pork, etc!

However, if a believer knows that some food has been ‘sacrificed to idols’ or is considered ‘unclean’ by older laws, and is therefore unhappy to touch it, he should absolutely not force himself to eat it, just because he sees me do so, because he would not be acting according to his faith, but by his doubts, and so he would have been led into sin by my freedom.

15   but if your brother is harmed by food you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Don’t destroy with your eating one for whom Christ died.

Jesus went to the extent of dying in agony for us, can we not avoid a few trivial things in order to make life easier for our brothers? The answer is to never eat food which others might believe is unclean – at least, not in public. Anything we choose to eat in private is sanctified by our giving thanks to God, so long as we believe that “no food of itself is unclean” and therefore act in faith.

16   Don’t let your innocence in this be maligned,

17    for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Basically, just because you know what is right you are not under obligation to do it – you are not even necessarily free to do it; you have to consider the effect of your actions on those around you. As freely committed slaves of God we have to make our priorities match God’s.

18   Whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

Acting in love, despite our knowledge or feelings, despite our likes and dislikes, is ‘well-pleasing’ to God.

19   So then, we should be pursuing peace and building each other up.

20   Don’t wreck the work of God for the sake of food. All food really is clean, but a person is wrong if what he eats leads another to stumble.

Or if what he eats leads himself into sin, of course.

21   It’s better not to consume meat or wine or anything else which will stumble or snare your brother or weaken his faith.

We are inclined to believe that we can do whatever we like, as long as it is not sinful before God, and all will be well, but here we see that it is not so simple: our behaviour can undermine other people’s faith, even when what we do is acceptable in itself. We have to be thinking about the effect on others of our actions and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is because we are not aware of what they know, or what they believe, so we cannot judge the situation for ourselves, we have to be guided by the Holy Spirit – otherwise we will trip ourselves up in overthinking each situation. If we take pride in what we think we know more than others do, it may not only stumble our brother, it will also seriously compromise our own relationship with God.

22   You have faith, but keep it to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who doesn’t feel guilty about what he approves.

23   But the one who eats despite his doubts, is condemned because he doesn’t eat in faith, and action that is not from faith is sin.

Having said that, the brother who watches us eating something which he believes to be ‘unclean’ and decides to join us will really be in more trouble – we are not supposed to base our standards of behaviour on the actions of those around us, particularly if we believe they are wrong; this is one of the reasons why the “church” has managed to get itself into quite such a mess.

We must always act in line with our faith: to do otherwise is actually sin.

Romans 15

1     We who are strong ought to shoulder the scruples of those weaker and not please ourselves.

It is not talking about being strong in ourselves, but in faith, since it is in our weakness that God’s power is shown – by strong faith. Here Paul is continuing his discussion of the food issue.

2    Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.

3    For Christ also did not please himself but, as it is written, “the slurs of those who condemned you fell on me.”

Jesus was carrying the slurs and accusations (which would come) against us when He went to the cross; He was suffering for our sakes – the principle Paul is drawing our attention to. If Jesus suffered for us we too should be prepared to pay some kind of a price to cover any shortfall in our brother.

4    All that’s been written was written for our instruction, so that through patient determination and the reassurance of the scriptures we might have hope.

Here he is pointing out that finding the above in the scriptures will encourage us to do the same for each other as we follow Him.

5    May the God of that determination and reassurance grant you the same attitude towards each other as Christ Jesus had,

Basically, ‘not pleasing Himself’ but carrying our burdens, so that we may do the same for our brethren.

6    that in full accord and with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our differences in faith levels having been covered by each other’s sacrificial attitude, we will worship together “in full accord and with one voice.”

7     So receive each other warmly to glorify God, just as Christ received us.

8    For I say, Jesus Christ became a servant to the circumcised for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers,

9    and so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written, “because of this I will confess you among the nations and sing to your name.”

10   Again, he says, “rejoice with his people, you nations,”

11    and again: “praise him, all you nations; honour him, all you peoples.”

12   And Isaiah says, “the Root of Jesse will appear, the one who will rise to rule the nations; on him the Gentiles will put their hope.”

Jesus therefore becomes the foundation on which both the circumcision (the Jews) and the Gentiles may put their hope, in fulfilment of the prophecies.

13   May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may be rich in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

14   I am convinced, regarding you my brethren, that in yourselves you are brimming with goodness, having been filled with all knowledge, and are capable of warning one another.

15   Even so, brethren, I write partly to remind you again, emphasising some points, because of the grace being given to me by God,

16   that I should be a minister of Jesus Christ to the nations, sharing the gospel of God as a sacrificial service, so that the Gentiles’ offering might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

The sacrificial component of Paul’s service was in order to perfect the Gentiles’ offering of themselves, so the Holy Spirit could sanctify it, making it acceptable to God.

17    So I glory in Christ Jesus in the things of God.

Paul is filled with praise for the way Jesus so perfectly fulfils every design and purpose of God.

Some translations imply that Paul is boasting of his work in this context but the next verse proves that to be a false conclusion. Paul is only interested in boasting about Jesus – he is too wise in the ways of discipleship to waste any time or effort looking at himself or drawing attention to himself.

18   For I dare not speak of anything but that which Christ has done through me to promote Gentile obedience: in word, deed,

19   mighty signs and miracles, all through the power of God’s Spirit. In this way I have fully proclaimed the gospel from Jerusalem right round to Illyricum.

Everything which Paul does and achieves in spreading the gospel, is done in the power of the Holy Spirit: in this case, words, deeds, signs and miracles.

Many translations imply that only the mighty signs and miracles require the power of God, and therefore the words and deeds don’t. Not true: “without Him, you can do nothing.”

20   Thus I made it my aim to take the gospel where Christ was unknown, in case I should build on another’s foundation,

Paul’s aim here is a question of honour – he is honoured to represent his Lord in this way and makes it his determination or ambition to fulfil the task.

21   so that, as it is written, “those who had no news of him will perceive, and those who have not heard will comprehend.”

Paul’s mission and calling here, beyond spreading the gospel and founding assemblies all over the place, was to fulfil the prophecy he quotes. If he had simply set out wherever he chose, rather than where the Spirit led him, he could easily have found himself simply confirming the gospel that his audience had already heard. But by obedience to the Spirit, he found virgin territory and thus fulfilled the prophecy.

22   Which is what has so often kept me from coming to you,

Just that he has been busy elsewhere, not any satanic obstruction.

23   but now there are no more such centres in these regions, and having longed for many years to visit you,

24   when I go to Spain I will come to you. I hope to meet with you as I pass through, and for you to send me on my way, once I’ve been refreshed by your company.

Note that Paul never got to Spain, so his plan to do so was just his own idea, which the Spirit had not denied. (He eventually got to Rome, under armed guard, but he was to die there for Christ.)

The literal translation of the last line would be something like, “for you to send me on my way once I’ve had enough of you,” which doesn’t really have the polite flavour which Paul would definitely have used :o).

25   But now I am going to Jerusalem to take supplies to the saints,

26   as Macedonia and Achaia were keen to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

When believers live by the Spirit of God, they will often be led to give to those in need, even beyond what they think they can afford. Therein lies blessing.

27   They were delighted to help, and really they are indebted to them; for if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual blessings, it is also their duty to serve them in practical blessings.

This is saying that God’s spiritual blessings are historically the province of Jewish believers, and that the Gentiles have merely received a share. Clearly it is our duty to bless any brethren in need if we possibly can, regardless of their heritage.

28   Once I have done this, and formally ratified this fruit [of faith], I will visit you on my way to Spain.

This is primarily the fruit of the faith of the Macedonian and Achaean saints, but it could also refer to the faith of the poverty stricken Jewish saints in Jerusalem who have been praying in faith for some kind of relief.

29   I am sure that when I come to you, I will come full of the blessings of the gospel of Christ.

Paul is saying (or at least implying) that he has been reassured by the Holy Spirit that his anointing will be sure when he visits Rome.

30   I implore you brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ and in the love of the Spirit, to labour with me in your prayers to God on my behalf:

31   that I may be rescued from the Judeans who refuse to believe, and that the relief I take to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,

32   that I may come to you in joy by the will of God, and that I may be refreshed with you.

Here we see how much store Paul sets by the prayers of the saints to enable his work in the kingdom. He even wants their prayers for simple things like his (and their) refreshment.

33   May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Romans 16

1     I am commending to you Phoebe our sister, a servant of the Cenchrea assembly.

2    that you may receive her in the Lord as befitting saints, and assist her in whatever she may need of you, for she has been benefactor to many, including myself.

3    Greet Priscilla and Aquila, who labour with me in Christ Jesus,

4    and have risked their necks for me; to whom I give thanks, as do all the assemblies of the Gentiles.

Odd of Paul to differentiate between assemblies of the Gentiles and the Jews.

5    Also greet the assembly which meets in their home. Greet my friend Epænetus, the first convert to Christ from Achaia.

6    Greet Mariam, who worked so hard for us.

7     Greet my countrymen Andronicus and Junias who shared a cell with me. They are notable among the apostles and were in Christ before I was.

8    Greet Ampliatus, my good friend in the Lord.

9    Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.

10   Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those of the household of Aristobulus.

11    Greet Herodion my countryman. Greet those in Narcissus’ household who are in the Lord.

12   Greet Tryphæna and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who works so hard in the Lord.

13   Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

14   Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them.

15   Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints with them.

16   Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the assemblies of Christ send greetings.

17    I implore you, brethren, to take note of those who cause divisions and who set snares alongside the teaching you learned, and avoid them.

This means primarily ‘avoid those who set snares’ but also, clearly, ‘avoid the snares.’ Corrupted teaching is rarely in direct contradiction to the truth, more usually it gently twists something or omits something, and it sits alongside the main body of truth, camouflaged and dangerous.

18   They are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own interests, and, by their plausible words and fair speech, deceiving the hearts of the innocent.

Innocent, that is, in the ways of corrupted teaching and of deception, not sinless.

19   Your obedience is spreading to everyone, so I rejoice over you. I want you to be truly skilled in all that’s good, but innocent concerning evil,

It’s not entirely clear whether Paul means that the habit of obedience is somewhat contagious among the assemblies in various places, or that the report of their obedience has reached many other assemblies. Either would be cause for Paul to rejoice. He means ‘innocent of practising or committing evil,’ not unaware of what sinners do, nor of the enemy’s schemes.

20   and the God of peace will soon crush Satan beneath your feet, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ being with you. Amen.

The payoff for being ‘skilled in all that’s good’ and innocent of doing evil, is that we will have a glorious victory over Satan through Christ.

21   Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you.

22   I, Tertius, the one writing this letter, greet you in the Lord.

23   Gaius, host to me and the entire assembly, greets you, as do Erastus, the city treasurer, and Quartus, his brother.

24   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, amen.

25   Now to him who is able to establish you in conformity with the gospel—the proclamation of Jesus Christ in full accord with the revealing of the truth, which was kept hidden by silence for past ages,

God is fully capable of making us holy and fruitful disciples – it is His self-appointed task.

26   but now is made known, being seen in the prophetic scriptures, and, by the command of the eternal God, revealed to all nations for the obedience of faith—

Interesting that God kept the truth hidden by silence when it was written in the scriptures all along…

27   to God, alone wise, be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen.

which is why Paul points out that God alone is wise.

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