Who can be against us?

What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. -Romans 8:31-34

A few verses back in Romans Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit prays through us making intercession for the will of God in our lives. He seems to echo that thought here when he says that Christ is also interceding for us. The thought of this sort of advocacy so comforts me. It is like a parent in the stands cheering their child on as they run towards the goal line. Despite what our heads say to us at times, God is for us. He wants the best for us in everything that we do.

In light of this advocacy, how can we ever accept a condemnation or an accusation regarding God's love for us. In a sense we make ourselves vulnerable to such attacks when we are not secure in God's love for us. In truth, a healthy self image comes from knowing that we are divinely and unconditionally loved. Knowing this, there is no accusation against us that can stick. We are fully and unconditionally loved by the God "who did not spare his own Son".

Teach us Lord to fight off feelings of inadequacy and self hatred. Help us to accept your love.

To become like his Son ...

And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. -Romans 8:27-29 NLT

Ever wonder what the will of God is for your life? Perhaps you think of His will in terms of jobs, places and life choices? I have had these thoughts too. Yet in these few sentences Paul seems to express a different way of thinking about God's will. He begins by telling us that the Holy Spirit is interceding for us with regards to this divine will. He goes on to say that God works everything in our lives together to achieve that purpose or will. He then tells us what this will is.

The phrase "to become like his Son" specifies what the will of God is for the believer. I am blown away when I think about how God is working the good, the bad and the ugly things of my life together that I might be like Jesus. It puts everything in focus. No longer is suffering a path to sadness but now is a way that God can be glorified in my life. Each time I say no to temptation I am becoming more like Jesus. To become like the Son of God gives meaning to my life.

Open our eyes Lord ... open my eyes ... to see the ways that you are making us like your Son.

The Holy Spirit helps us ...

the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. -Romans 8:26-27 NLT

What do you think Paul means when he says "the Holy Spirit prays for us"? Is he saying that God is praying to himself or is he saying that the Spirit is praying through us. I believe that it is the latter. Writing in the context of spiritual gifts the apostle tells the Corinthians "I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in words I understand." The sentiments in both passages seem to indicate that there are times that words are inadequate when we approach God in prayer.

I resonate with such groanings in prayer. There have been times that, in deep anguish of soul, I have prayed in unintelligible words. On many of those times I have experienced a deep peace as I prayed in that manner. There is something about releasing our concerns to God in prayer that has the ability to quiet our hearts. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is there in those times comforts me. When our words fail us He rises up with groanings from deep within us.

Come Holy Spirit. Help us to know how to pray. Pray through us with words known and unknown.

A foretaste of future glory ...

if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. ... And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.
-Romans 8:17-18,23 NLT

King Solomon once wrote that God "has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end" In a very real sense human beings somehow understand that there is more to life than this fleshly existence on planet earth. Life can be so hard and suffering can hit us so deeply. We all groan for something better. We long for a time when our tears will be dried and our pain will be a thing of the past.

In this passage Paul writes about a foretaste of heaven. He tells us that the Holy Spirit within speaks to us of something greater than this life we are now living. It reminds me of the many times that I have heard the Spirit speak to the deepest part of me. In times of pain He speaks with such a comforting and reassuring voice. And in worship I am often brought into His beautiful presence. These things remind me that I do not hope in vain for that future glory.

Come Holy Spirit. Please comfort those who suffer. For those who are desperate I ask you to give them hope.

We cry out, “Abba! Father!”

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. -Romans 8:15-17 NLT

Jesus Christ changed mankind's view of God when he gave us a prayer to pray that began with the words "Our Father". Before that time people were all about lineage and ancestry. A few of the gospels even begin with the ancestral lineage of the Son of God. Jews embraced Abraham as not only their father in the flesh but a spiritual parent as well. So this idea of a Father God was an alien one at best. People could relate to a God they feared but not so much a father.

I think that this perception of God as our loving father has the power to change everything. Unlike earthly fathers our heavenly father embraces and loves us unconditionally. Unlike many fathers, God never leaves us and is always there, through prayer, when we need him. The Greek word Abba denotes a sense of intimacy and closeness - it is sometimes translated papa or daddy. It is an appropriate word for one of God's children and fellow heirs with Jesus Christ.

Abba! Father! Dispel any pain we have concerning our earthly fathers. Open our hearts to your father heart.

Give life to your mortal bodies ...

you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. -Romans 8:9-15 NLT

There is a practical mysticism woven in this passage as Paul speaks of the way that Christ gives life to our mortality. Before we were born spiritually (i.e. born again) we lived without a compass and were spiritually weak. This radically changed when the Holy Spirit came and gave us new hearts. No longer would we be spiritually and morally adrift. We experienced a new power when the Holy Spirit came into our lives. We are no longer alone when we are tempted.

The issue for us is now one of strength and power. Will we follow the Spirit's lead and do the things that strengthens our heart or will we follow the rationalizations of our brain and continue to strengthen our flesh? I liken it to preparing for a battle. Each time we follow our innermost being we pump spiritual iron. Every time we love an enemy we cause power to flow to our hearts. When we pray and embrace the scriptures we do the things that give life to our mortality.

Teach us Lord to do the things that strengthen our innermost being and give life to our mortal bodies.

There is now no condemnation ...

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. ... For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. ... However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. -Romans 8:1-2,5,9 NLT

Paul has spent much of his this epistle so far speaking about how the Mosaic Law cannot defeat sinful actions and behaviors. Halfway thru his letter he makes this glorious pivot saying that condemnation is no more for those who are in Christ Jesus. He elaborates the meaning of this sentiment by speaking of a different kind of law. In contrast to laws that define sinful behavior this new law speaks to the things that bring spiritual life and set us free from sin and death.

I love the definitive way that the apostle says that we who believe "are not in the flesh but in the Spirit". It reminds me how Jesus once spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus about being "born of the Spirit". In the same way that one must be physically born to experience physical life one must be spiritually born to experience spiritual life. We who are born again set our minds on spiritual things. It is not an issue of religious preference but one of spiritual transformation.

Thank you Father for giving your Spirit to us that we might truly be free from sin and death.

Evil is present in me ...

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! -Romans 7:21-25 NLT

I think that it is so easy to define evil in terms of terrorism and despotism. No one ever wants to, as Paul does in these verses, admit that evil is present in them. The difficulty is with the way that we define evil. Is a "little white lie" evil even if no one is hurt by it? Is something evil if no one ever finds out? I think that you see the problem. The dictionary say that evil is profoundly immoral, wicked, depraved and malevolent. Hard to see that in us. Yet Paul sees it in him.

The problem is that we can rarely, if ever, see the end result of a sinful act. How could Adam or Eve know that a taste of that forbidden fruit might cascade forward towards the murder of their son? I am sure that General Petraeus did not see how his adultery would ruin all that he worked so hard for. No one can ever anticipate the ways that a sinful act will affect their lives and the lives of others. It is why we must pay attention to "the law of God in the inner man".

Please help us dear Lord. Teach us to defeat the evil in ourselves that we face each day.

Released from the Law ...

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. -Romans 7:1,6 NLT

There is a tendency amongst some to see parts of the Old Testament as authoritative for followers of Christ. These speak of following laws, like the ten commandments, as if they were ordained by God for New Testament believers. In the verses in this chapter Paul tells us that the law is like a spouse who has died and the surviving spouse is no longer joined to that loved one. I think that is a good image of what it is like for some to let go of their religious rules.

So what is wrong with having rules anyway? The apostle gives us a hint when he contrasts obeying the letter of the law with serving in the newness of the Spirit. In a sense it is the difference between following God with your head and following him with your heart. The law appeals to the logical part of us while the Spirit captivates something deep within us. It is the contrast between the inner and the outer that Jesus teaches us about in the Sermon on the Mount.

Lord help me to get past external obedience and embrace living and loving from the deepest part of me.

The free gift of God ...

thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. ... the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 6:17-19,23 NLT
The imagery of slavery is such a stark one. In my thinking the word encompasses two aspects - ownership and servitude. That first aspect speaks to our identity. If sin is our master then we are helpless to serve anything else. And we are in a sorry state if we find ourselves serving our bad habits and giving priority to them. Such is the way that so many find themselves in these days. These are desperate, hopeless and in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

In contrast to this message of bondage and slavery Paul speaks of freedom and a free gift. He teaches us that a heart transformed is one that embraces a different kind of slavery - one with different ownership and servitude. The former slavery embodied a coerced submission to a harsh taskmaster while the latter a voluntary, joyful and thankful attitude toward a loving Gift Giver. This gift is free for the asking. All that is required is a heart-filled yes to Jesus.

Lord, help us to remember that we are free people because you gave your life for our freedom.

Do not give in to sinful desires ...

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. ... So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. -Romans 6:6-7, 11-12 NLT

In these few sentences Paul paints the contrast that we see in the scriptures regarding sin. On one hand he speaks to the way that sin has lost its power in our lives because of the cross of Christ. On the other hand he tells his readers that they must not let sin control their lives. Is this an exercise in double speak or is the apostle painting an accurate image of this troubling tension? Is the power of sin over the believer different than for unbelievers?

In this chapter and the following one Paul paints a compelling picture of a man who is torn. He speaks of doing things he knows is wrong and not acting in ways that he knows is right. The easy answer for Paul, and for us, is to point to some sort of spirituality that separates us from unbelievers in this area. In my thinking it is simply not that simple. The struggle against sin is ongoing and prayer filled. The difference is our attitude towards sin and our desire to subdue it.

Like the tax collector in the gospels we cry out Lord - be merciful to we who sin every day.

Grace rules ...

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? -Romans 5:20-6:2 NLT

The law was central to Jewish culture and the religious atmosphere in Israel. Many, like the Pharisees and the Scribes, believed that they were made righteous by strictly adhering to the letter of the law. In contrast to what Paul says here they saw the law as their path to salvation. The fallout from this approach is the disdain that is seen in the gospel acounts towards those know simply as 'sinners'. This disdain is a stark contrast to the grace that Paul speaks of here.

The truth is that there is only One who has ever lived that did not sin. Jesus Christ is the only one who fully obeyed God's law. Everyone else has fallen short of God's law. We all have sinned and cannot self-righteously boast in how we have obeyed the law. It is why Paul accentuates grace. Grace trumps sin! Grace does what the law could not. Grace brings us into right relationship with God. Grace transforms our hearts and causes us to not want to sin

Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like. I once was lost but now am found. Blind and now I see.

New life for everyone ...

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. -Romans 5:17-19 NLT

The notion of 'original sin' has so captivated theologians for so very long. Some prefer to see Adam and Eve as ones who brought a bubonic plague type of disease upon mankind. Others understand that these first humans were no different than you or I in the sense that we also would have eaten the forbidden fruit. So what is Paul saying here? Is he blaming Adam for our sinful condition or is he explaining how from the very beginning we have all struggled with sin?

The answer I think comes in way that we view the work of Jesus Christ. Do we believe that all who have received "God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness" no longer sin? Do we think that Christians no longer eat of that proverbial forbidden tree? Or do we understand that the work of Christ was to give us something that Adam lost? The glorious obedience of Christ has opened the door for a new and different life. A new way. A new birth. A new heart.

Thank you Lord for our new birth and new life in you. Once we were blind but now we can see.

Christ has made us friends of God

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. ... So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
-Romans 5:6-8,11 NLT

God's pursuit of the heart of mankind is such an amazing story that rings so clearly throughout all of the bible. From the very beginning we read of how God befriended his creation in the garden. In Genesis we read of God talking and walking with Adam. The stories of Abraham, Moses and David are wrapped in beautiful and divine friendships with the Lord. And when God came to earth he chose to surround himself with close friends as he ministered.

What do you think of when you hear the word "friend"? Perhaps you go back to childhood memories of the one buddy that you spent so much time with? Or maybe you think of the person that you can tell anything to? The word friend is such a warm one. These verses tell us that God wants to be our friend. I think that this perspective has the potential to change the way that we pray. No longer are we slaves petitioning the master but people sharing hearts with our friend.

Help us Lord to embrace your friendship. Teach us to be good friends as we share our hearts with you in prayer.

The hope of God’s glory ...

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. -Romans 5:1-5 NET

The path to hope passes through all sorts of dangerous and frightful territories. King David, in writing Psalm 23, likened these areas to the valley of the shadow of death. It does not seem possible to walk such terrain with peace and joy in our hearts. How can it be possible to have peace when life is unraveling? Why is it that some can lay hold of joy in times of unbearable sadness? I think that the answer to these questions lies in the words "hope of God’s glory".

I have found that hope shines brightest in my life when I understand that one day I will experience the glory of God. This hope helps me to rejoice when no joy can be found in my circumstances. It keeps me alive and causes me to endure when I want to give up. This hope of glory emboldens my character and makes me to be like the One who gave his life for me. This hope has never disappointed me. This hope causes me to embrace the love of God in my heart.

For those who suffer today Lord, we ask that you would give them a hope that will cause them to endure.

Fully convinced that God is able ...

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping — believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.

The older I get the more that I am aware of how crazy the birth of Isaac was. Babies are for young people. These days it is rare for a woman to give birth after forty. Yet God visited Abraham in his old age and promised him a son. Even so, the promise took years to come to pass. While he waited he fathered a son with his wife's maid - Abraham's waiting was not perfect. Yet somehow Abraham continued to believe the thing that God promised him that he would do.

I believe that there are differences between this specific promise and the promises that we often find in the scriptures. In fact, this promise is pretty rare in biblical text. Most of the promises we read of in scripture are more general in nature. Yet these promises are acquired the same way that Sarah conceived Isaac - by faith and faithfulness. We must not only believe God today but continue to believe him tomorrow. And sometimes the promise is fulfilled in heaven.

We are convinced Lord that you are able to do what you have promised to do.

The promise is received by faith ...

Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. ... So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. -Romans 4:13,14,16 NLT

When I ponder the word 'promise' I recall that there are two types of promises - conditional and unconditional. Many times in the bible the word "if" precedes a promise. Today's passage embodies both forms of promise. On one hand Paul states that God's promise is not received by obeying God's law. On the other hand he says that faith is required. He plainly states that it is not a quid pro quo proposition but one where the promisee simply trusts the Promiser.

I think that this can be a confusing concept at times. The temptation is to see God's promises in a formulaic way and not understand that our role is to simply trust the Promiser and not just work the promise. Yet the tension remains. On one hand our brain reads the promise and wants to do everything to bring it to pass. We want promised healings, miracles and answers to prayers. In contrast our heart speaks to us about trusting the Promiser and not the promise.

You are worthy of our trust Lord. Help our lives to be a testimony to the faithfulness of your promises.

For those whose record the Lord has cleared ...

David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:
“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.
Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”
Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? -Romans 4:6-9 NLT

Have you ever had a moment when you did not get the punishment that you deserved? Reminds me of that moving moment in Les Misérables when Jean Valjean is found by police to be in possession of silverware from the church. He is brought back to Bishop Myriel fully expecting to be condemned for his theft. In a moment of unexpected and glorious forgiveness the Bishop not only denies that Valjean stole the silverware but gives him precious candlesticks as well.

This beautiful image reminds me how God forgives us and blesses us with precious gifts. We are Jean Valjean. We have done nothing to earn the good will of God. We are brought before him with the stolen goods of pride and ego. And in an instant we are set free. And like Valjean we stand in utter disbelief that God would be so kind to us. The clearance of our sins is so unbelievable. How can we not, with the faithful of all ages, rejoice in such forgiveness.

Words escape us Lord. How can we say thanks for all you have done for us? To God be the glory!

Not because of their work ...

Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. -Romans 4:1-5 NLT

The life of Abraham presents us with a mixed review of a man of faith. On several occasions he lied and led people to believe that Sarai was not his wife just to save his own skin. In King David, a man after God's own heart, we are also presented with such a mixed review of a man who vacillates between sin and faith. The truth is that no one's work has ever caused them to be right with God. Yet the grace of God is so evident in the history of the faithful.

The fact is that faith is not a simple concept. Many struggle with the idea that faith is a gift given to everyone because the world is filled with people, like Abraham and David, who do not always act in faith. My thinking is that faith is like a dormant seed that comes alive and grows. For some that seed remains dormant and never comes alive. In others the seed comes alive but never grows. Yet in some the seed flourishes and increases with humility and God's grace.

Our boast is in you alone Lord God. Help us to do the things that cause faith to grow in our lives.

Not based on obeying the law ...

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn't he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law. -Romans 3:27-31 NLT

Can you relate to the kind of boasting that Paul speaks of? I can. There was a time when I embraced such an arrogant attitude about not only my relationship with not God but the spiritual gifts that I operated in. It was as if the divine favor I experienced was based on my performance. The orientation towards performance and obeying external rules has crippled the gospel. Hurting people who need the Lord the most are discouraged and feel they can never measure up.

Thanks be to God that the apostle, in these few verses, dispels any myth of a performance based salvation. It reminds me of how Jesus speaks of our 'work' to be a simple belief in the One who the Father sent. To some this simple work of belief is an affront their notions of what faith really is. To others, like me, the glory and loving kindness of God is reflected in the idea that one can be made right with God by simply saying yes to the Holy Spirit's invitation to come.

Again this morning we say "Yes Lord"! Yes to your love! Yes to your goodness! Yes to your will! Yes to your kingdom!

We all fall short ...

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. -Romans 3:23-26 NLT

This passage reflects two sides of religious dogma - the problem of sin and how sin is dealt with. Many religions deal with sin, or lawlessness, by offering antidotes that include things like penance, restitution and other atoning acts. For sure actions like these are appropriate responses when a person has sinned. Yet, as Paul points out in these verses, salvation is not brought on by these actions but these actions are the righteous fruit of believing in Jesus Christ.

I love the way that Paul points so much to God in these verses as he speaks of God’s glorious standard, his undeserved kindness towards us and how Jesus sacrificed so much for our salvation. I think this focus separates Christianity from other religions. In the gospel we see that God takes the initiative in the form of his Son. It teaches us that salvation is not about earning God's favor but but responding to his love with a simple yes to his invitation.

Lord, we fall so short of the mark every day. Thank you for sending Jesus to show us the way to live.

We are made right with God ...

Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. -Romans 3:19-22 NLT

Faith is a difficult concept for a person like me to grasp. Perhaps it is for most people? Faith is illogical. You could not encapsulate it in a computer programming language because it is not algorithmic - computers could never understand it. Perhaps that is why so many people are drawn to religions that embrace laws and rules? Groups such as those seem more logical that ones who focus on faith over law. Yet we are not computers. We are people with hearts.

I have heard the law described as a mirror. When we look at it we get a reflection of who we are in a spiritual sense. We see that we are unable to measure up in the flesh. Each time we envy or gossip the law speaks to our minds and reminds us that we have fallen short of the goal. In contrast faith speaks to our hearts. Faith trumps the law because it is the only thing that can change the heart. The law can change our head but only faith in Jesus can alter our hearts.

Thank you Lord for the gift of faith. Help us to live a life of faith from our hearts today. You are worthy.

How can God condemn me ...

True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful? Of course not! Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true. “But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn't it unfair, then, for him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) Of course not! If God were not entirely fair, how would he be qualified to judge the world? “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” -Romans 3:3-7 NLT

This passage speaks to the strange ways that people contort the scriptures to suit their own agendas and excuse their bad behavior. It reminds me of how the comedian Flip Wilson used to flippantly say "The Devil made me do it!" While some might not put it that way others do seem to express the idea that they are merely weak pawns in life and not really responsible for their own actions. These insinuate that God is responsible for their bad behavior.

In rebuttal Paul contrasts God with unfaithful humans who excuse their bad behavior with lies and rationalizations. It reminds me that even in Eden, at the very beginning of our history, people have tried to evade responsibility for their actions. Excuses and rationalizes always fall short. Mostly these tactics are based on what people deem to be fair. It reminds me of how my kids spoke to me of being "fair". I often reminded them that fairness is not the same as justice.

Help us Lord to shed rationalizations about fairness. We confess our sins to you with no excuses. Please forgive us.

Circumcision is of the heart ...

The physically uncircumcised man, by keeping the law, will judge you to be the transgressor of the law, even though you have the letter and circumcision! For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the letter. This person’s praise is not from people but from God. -Romans 2:27-29 NET

In most of this chapter in Romans Paul has been addressing the whole dynamic of what it means to be a spiritual person. Is it merely following your conscience or a law written on our hearts? Or is it about following the traditions and obeying laws penned in antiquity? His thoughts have been homogenized down to the command that Abraham was given to live a circumcised life. In these few sentences the apostle tells us that there are two types of circumcision.

The first form of circumcision is external and can be plainly seen in the mirror. The Jews reveled in this identification. David called the giant Goliath an uncircumcised Philistine. This sort of circumcision separates people based on external identifications. In contrast Paul speaks of the circumcision of the heart that is done by the Spirit of God. This is the circumcision that unites and welcomes all to fellowship. It is the sign of a true Jew and one who is spiritually born anew.

Help us Lord to remember today that we are of the circumcision that worships you and rejoices in Christ Jesus.

There is no partiality with God ...

For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous. For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. -Romans 2:11-16 NLT

In these few verses Paul addresses the issue of those who have not heard of the name of Jesus. He tells us that the Gentiles (those not counted as God's chosen people) have a law that is written in their hearts and a conscience that bears witness to right and wrong. I tend to see things in that light. I think that we are all created with a God given ability to respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit. God has never been partial with respect to race or ethnicity.

I love the way that the apostle speaks to the issue of responding to the information that we already have. He does not say that those who do not understand Sabbath laws should keep them. Rather he indicates that faith is responding to the things that we already know. The gentile Cornelius was such a man and the bible tells us that he was was devout and God-fearing. This man knew in his heart to be charitable and he generously responded in faith to God's voice.

Lord, help us to be like Peter and share the good news of your Son to those who are like Cornelius.

God’s kindness leads you to repentance ...

Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things. And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? -Roman 2:1-4 NLT

Self-righteousness is one of the nastiest demeanors that a believer can have. I should know. In days gone by I often played the role of Pharisee looking down on others and judging them for the things that they did. I look back with shame at the attitude that I carried. I did not really understand that my judgment of others was creating a condemning sickness in my soul. Thanks be to God that I was forced to change. As my life got harder I had to let go of my judgment.

In my former years I could quote you the verse that tells us that "God’s kindness leads you to repentance". Yet I did not really understand that often God expresses his kindness through us. Kindness is the opposite of judgment. One cannot carry judgment in their hearts and then be the loving and kind presence of God to another. In contrast the Lord would have us to forbear and be patient with each other. For we do not really know how God is working in another's heart.

We need you so much Lord. Please drive every shred of self-righteousness from us. Help us to be kind.

God gave them over ...

For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. -Romans 1:21-26 NLT

Is there a more troubling verse in all of holy writ than "God gave them over"? In these few sentences the apostle seems to reflect the sentiments written in the sixth chapter of Genesis when God says that he will not strive with man forever. I do not like to say it but there is time when He who is endless with patience will be patient with our obstinence not longer. The world is filled with those of whom it is plain to see that God has given them over to their unrelenting unbelief.

Many prefer to use the verses that follow these to condemn sexual sins that they are not tempted by. These, when they speak of this chapter, rarely ever mention, as Paul does mention, how God gives people over to covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility, gossip and slander. It is always easier to point to another's sin. Yet the context remains true that some love sinning more than they love God. These exchange the truth and glory of God for a lie.

Help our desires to be your desires Lord. Cause our hearts to always glorify you and give you thanks.

People are without excuse ...

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.
-Romans 1:19-20 NLT

Salvation has never been an issue of the head. As Paul writes here, the world around us testifies to a Designer. Refusing to acknowledge this Designer of the universe is not scientific at all. Who can really look at the amazing and logical nature of the world around us and think that it all happened by accident? It is no more logical to do so than to credit the invention of the light bulb to random happenstance. One would have to have a biased agenda to do so.

In light of that, one has to wonder why so many deny the existence of a Designer. Paul says here that it is a matter of unrighteousness. From the beginning this has been so. In Eden our ancestral parents exchanged the truth for a lie. Since that time the lie grows. The lie tells people that there is no meaning to life. Everything is random. There is no Designer. No God to give an account to. It is an issue of the heart and people are without excuse.

Lord, we plead for those who are caught up in the mental gymnastics of atheism and agnosticism. BRING THEM HOME.

I am not ashamed of the gospel ...

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. -Romans 1:16-19 NLT

These words remind me that the gospel is all about the One who said that He would be ashamed of anyone who is ashamed of Him. To be ashamed of the good news is to be ashamed of Jesus Christ. In contrast we who live by faith proclaim the good news in the very way that we live. We acknowledge his transforming power when we love unconditionally. We shout out his salvation when we forgive. His righteousness is revealed when we live by faith.

I think that the phrase "the wrath of God" is one of the most misunderstood ones in the bible. The Greek word for wrath here is the same as the one translated as anger in this verse from the third chapter of Mark.
After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Theologian Albert Barnes says of this that "our Lord has taught us that anger is never lawful except when it is tempered with grief or compassion for those who have offended." And Paul tells us here that God has made the gospel plain to all men - there is no one truly ignorant. The issue is not knowledge but a hardness of heart that keeps one from faith.

Show us any hard places that have lodged in our hearts Lord. Cleanse us of things that are not of faith.

That we may be mutually comforted ...

First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit by preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continually remember you and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you according to the will of God. For I long to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually comforted by one another’s faith, both yours and mine. -Romans 1:8-12 NLT

Many times Paul opens his letters saying that he prays for his readers. Do you ever wonder what the prayers of the apostle looked like? I wonder how detailed and specific his prayers were. It begs the question of how we too should pray. Should our prayers include a laundry list of our needs and wants? Or should they more embody a deep trust in the One to whom we pray? Perhaps our focus on specific needs reflects worry more than faith and thanksgiving?

The words "that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you" speaks to me about the heart of a spiritual parent. I love the way that Paul writes about mutually comforting each other. These words reminds me that we are members of God's family. We so need the comfort of family when times are rough and their joy in our successes. Life is not meant to be lived in solitude. God comes to us in the form of others. We are His gifts of love to each other.

Bind us together Lord. Teach us to pray for each other. Help us to be Jesus to each other and to the world.

The Good News is about his Son.

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. -Romans 1:1-4 NLT

These days we do not hear much of people calling themselves apostles. For sure there are a few but in general we use words like missionary and church planter to describe the work that Paul was commissioned to do way back then. I think that a strong sense of calling is required to do this kind of work. When I consider the beatings and imprisonments that he suffered the word "apostle" is not all that attractive. Perhaps it was never meant to appeal to our flesh?

What images come to your mind when you hear the words "Good News" or gospel? In just a few sentences Paul tells us that the gospel is prophetic - the coming of the Messiah was predicted centuries before he came. He tells us that the gospel is all about Christmas and Easter. The first four books of the New Testament are called gospels and tell us that the Good News is all about the birth, life, death and resurrection of God's Son. This gospel is for Jew and Gentile alike.

Lord, when I ponder your gospel all I can say is thank you Jesus for coming with such Good News for mankind.