I still remember the day I called my pastor, Jeff, in a bit of a panic.
I had just spent the last two years living a nightmare and I was seeing a very ugly side of me. I was so desperate to hear some good news to relieve my anguish and had found Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book, Because He Loves Me. I was finding some sweet relief until I came to the part where she talked about two types of responses to the fact that God does, indeed, love us: “Of course He loves me… He’d be lucky to have me!” or “That can’t be… how could He love a wretch like me?!” But here was my dilemma: I had neither one of those of responses! I honestly felt nothing. So? So what that He loves me? I’m a wreck and I want to fix myself, that’s what I want!! I want certain people to stop making my life a living hell, that’s what I want!! And truly, what would be the icing ontop? If that certain person saw ME as the victim and completely innocent in the whole matter and thought I was greatest thing since sliced bread. That’s what I want!! But God loves ME? Meh.
So I called Jeff. Cause I was pretty sure that THIS was proof that I wasn’t, in fact, even a believer. But his response wasn’t what I’d expected. He said something like, “Um, I’m pretty sure that’s true of all of us to some degree or another.” And as we talked it out, the verse from Romans 5 popped into my thoughts: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that WHILE we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” I felt the burden lift in that moment. God loving me isn’t dependent on me loving Him!!
Further freedom came later when I was studying Romans 2, in the context and flow of thought from the previous chapter. I found that it is in our nature to despise the kindness, forbearance and patience of God (verse 4.) We know that we are worthy of death yet we want to fix ourselves. We want to clean ourselves up. We want to prove to God that we don’t need Him. We will strive to find life anywhere but in Him, the only source of life.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead (striving to find life anywhere but in Him) in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…”
The struggle to believe and care is real, friend. But know that God is bigger and stronger than our struggle and His love towards us is active. Even when we feel… well, nothing. Because He calls into being that which doesn’t exist.
Why do we need Good News?! Is it because we’re law breakers? Is our God one who arbitrarily sets forth rules and then acts in wrath because those rules are broken?
A careful observation of Ch. 1 will show us that the problem is much more intimate than that. It is not merely a legal problem…nor is it a religious or moral problem. It is a relational problem! The Creator of the universe is scorned by His created mankind. This God, who gives us our very breath and who holds every cell of our bodies together by the power of His word, is rejected by His creatures. He is the potter, we are the clay. And yet, we act as though we don’t need Him for anything, let alone physical life!
Romans 1:18-32 lays out, in detail, how the broken relationship occurred and when. The active and passive verbs are key to helping us in our understanding of what went wrong…
What God did:
that which is known about God is evident within men… HOW?
God made it evident to them.
For since the creation of the worldGod’s
…have been clearly seen [or thoroughly seen]
…being understood through what has been made
SO THAT men are without excuse.
What man did with that knowledge:
Knew God but didn’t honor Him as God
Didn’t give thanks
Exchanged the glory of God for an image in form of man, birds, four-footed animals & crawling creatures… professing to be wise (**see below)
Exchanged the truth of God for a lie
Worshiped & served the creature rather than the Creator
Exchanged the natural function for the unnatural [defied the order that God established for producing life. “Be fruitful and multiply.”]
Did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer
What God did as a result:
Gave them over to impurity
Gave them over to degrading passions
Gave them over to a depraved mind
What became of men as a result:
Became futile in their speculations (**see below)
Their foolish heart was darkened (**see below)
Became fools (**see below)
Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed and evil;
Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, etc.
From Genesis 1-3 we see that God is the Creator, ultimate authority, the Source of life and the Provider and Sustainer of life. So imagine this… we can’t take a breath without His permission and ability; our bodies cannot operate in any tiny way without the divine power and authority of His word. And yet we say, “Um, no thanks! I’ve got this. I will decide for myself what is best for me. I can carry on just fine without you.” The result of this is a broken relationship with Him… which is death.
No wonder Paul refers to us as enemies, ungodly [lit. “without God”] and helpless!! Like our siblings, Adam and Eve, we want to believe that we can be like God, knowing good and evil. It’s interesting to note **here that the Hebrew word for “knowing” is “yada” which can mean “to discern or differentiate.” So basically, we want to be wise like God… we want to be the wise judge. (Paul will cover this problem in the next chapter of Romans.) If Romans 1:18-32 was laid out side by side with Genesis 2-3, we could see evidence of this diagnosis being played out. Adam rejected his dependence on the Creator when he subjected himself to the serpent (a created creature) and trusted those words rather than the powerful, creative words of authority from the Creator. He exchanged the truth of God for a lie. He didn’t want to trust in God and what God had made known to him about Himself… His invisible attributes; His eternal power; or His divine nature. Rather, he wanted to be like God and lean on his own understanding. This is the problem. This is the heart of sin!
What is sin? A common definition is to “miss the mark.” In this context, we can see that leaning into anything other than God Himself is “missing the mark.” God is the mark. And now we can see that our problem isn’t merely a legal, moral or religious one. It is truly a relational one. We, as creatures, don’t trust and rest in our Creator.
I think it’s fitting to be here, in the Diagnosis section of Romans, just as we enter the Christmas season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Even though we’re not in the Deliverance section yet, it’s the perfect time to see and understand our need for a Substitute. Jesus came and lived just like us, from the womb to His death, in the flesh. And yet… and yet, He lived in complete subjection to the Creator as the creature. He honored God as God… He gave Him thanks… He valued the glory of God… He explained the truth of God… He worshiped and served the Creator… and always, always acknowledged God. He loved and trusted His Father in all circumstances, even abusive ones (see 1 Peter 2:23) He never tried to hog the glory for Himself. He only said and did what the Father told Him. He only pointed to His Father. He is, therefore, our perfect Substitute!
Righteousness means “he who is as he ought to be.” From Romans 1 we can see that we are not as we ought to be, in the created/Creator relationship. We are unrighteous. But Christ came so that we can be found hidden in Him.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” ~2 Cor. 5:21
This was all done in love, in kindness, to restore the relationship that we put no value in. He did this to give us life… eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~John 3:16
The last three years have been… difficult. It started when my mom’s lung cancer came back for the third time, resulting in her third surgery and the final attempts at chemotherapy. This time, though, there was to be no relief and no help. The cancer had the final word. In the meantime, my dad was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Because my mom had been his caregiver and was now incapable of caring for him, let alone herself, my brother and I moved in to care for them both.
This has no storybook ending. The relationships were a lifelong mess and there was no hope, in any of it. Just lots of fighting, frustration and manipulation. There were many, many times that I would sit out in the car, in the back seat, hidden by the tinted windows and the darkness of night, screaming and crying… in rage, hurt, in selfishness (I just wanted my life back!) and in pity (why did it have to turn out like this?!) I felt like I was sinking in wet cement… I couldn’t breathe; the pain was so intense and there was no relief in sight.
My parents passed away, three months apart from each other, about half-way through this three year time period. One episode was over, but the other just picked up in steam and intensity. My brother and I were left to work together in taking care of the estate. But the “together” part was not to be. Things got so bad, that to this day, my relationship with him is non-existent. Ideally, I would like to reach out and love on him, as he has no other family and lives alone. But I’m too weak, too broken (and frankly, too hurt) to make that move. I just can’t do it… yet.
I write this because this situation I’m in is a microcosm of the world at large. Romans, chapters 1-3, tells us what we’re all like: Left to ourselves, we only have our own self-interests at heart so we bite and devour one another, trying to make those interests a reality. As a result, we are all in pain, to some degree or another. And in that pain, to defend ourselves, we bite and devour one another some more, living in this endless cycle of destruction. We human beings are in a civil war, battling with anyone who dares to offend us.
Not only are we dependent on God for our very breath, for our physical life, we are also dependent on Him to have compassion and kindness for another human being. Because Romans states our self-righteousness so strongly, I am confident that any time any person on the planet (especially me!) “does good” to another person, (religious or not; believer or not; friend or enemy) it can only be God who is acting through that person. Recognized or not, it is an evidence of His grace and He is the only One who deserves the credit.
In my situation, I saw my own heart. I saw my own inability to love those who hurt me. I saw my own ability to hurt those who are suffering. I did not trust God with my circumstances. I did not thank Him for the daily struggles of caring for others who were helpless. I need a Savior. I need God’s heart because mine is so ugly.
God is love. We are not.
In love, Jesus came down to live in our mess as one of us. In love, He experienced our biting and devouring. In love, He entrusted Himself to the Father while being reviled. In love, He said “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” In love, He wraps us in His robe of righteousness. In love, He pours out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He did all of this while we yet sinners; while we were His enemies; while we were helpless.
As I wrote and told a friend recently, who is in a particularly painful situation, I long for the day when we will be free from our body of death; when we will be in the presence of our Savior, experiencing the reality of His kingdom; where we will no longer hurt others nor will we be hurt; where faith and hope are no longer necessary and love is finally and fully realized.
But in the meantime, may we have empathy for one another, recognizing the cycle we’re all stuck in. May we point one another to our only hope… For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…
Christ in you, the hope of glory!
“One broken and bleeding person pointing another broken and bleeding person to the One by whose wounds we have been healed.” ~Jono Linebaugh
Romans – Part 3: Overview of the Diagnosis (1:18-3:20)
Observing scripture is a little bit like beachcombing after a storm… as you slowly meander up and down the shoreline, looking closely at the ground, your eyes start to hone in on all the little treasures just sitting right there, nestled in the sand. Or it’s even like walking along a pebbly shoreline; they’re just rocks, but upon closer examination you’ll discover the beauty of each one: colored ones, odd shaped ones, or incredibly smooth ones. “Look at this one! And that one!!” My kids love to run up and down a coastline, stuffing their pockets (and mine) until they’re full!
Studying Romans has been like that for me, especially chapters 1-3. What is so special about all the little treasures that I see in the Diagnosis section? They help me to understand human nature, from God’s perspective.
These chapters answer the questions, “why do we NEED good news? What is the problem to begin with? And who suffers from this problem? What is the problem like? How does it manifest itself?”
You may be familiar with the Old Testament story of David with Bathsheba; how he pursued her and covered his own tracks; how Nathan confronted him with his sin; how God diagnosed David’s problem; and how this diagnosis brought David to repentance. Paul’s explanation of our own diagnosis is told to us using this same pattern, even using David’s own words to teach us this reality. Paul will show us, like Nathan did with David, that “you are the man!”
We will see that like David, we don’t merely have a moral problem, or even a legal problem; we all suffer from a relational problem… with our Creator. Like David, our view of God is too low and too indifferent, while our view of self is too high and too valuable. And there is not a person on this planet who escapes this diagnosis. Paul uses words like ‘men’, ‘they’, ‘you’, ‘all’ and ‘none’ to make this point. (At the time this letter was written, the world consisted of two main people groups; a person was either a Jew or a Gentile.)
But how can this be good news?? Because learning the truth about ourselves and our Creator is necessary to being freed from ourselves. “The truth shall set you free!” So hopefully, like David’s exposure to the reality of his own heart, it will leave us, too, crying out for more of God himself. While David didn’t fully grasp what that relief would look like, we now know that it came in the Person of Jesus Christ! That is the ultimate ‘Good News!’
Next up, we’ll get down in the details of chapter one, beginning at verse 18, in the next blog post…
From Ch 1:18 – 32, make a list for “men of unrighteousness” and their pronouns, paying close attention to the verbs.
From the same verses, make a list for “God.”
Also look for the phrase that references time, asking the question, “When did this take place?”
In my last post, as an overview of Romans, I pointed out a very strong possibility for why Paul would be so eager to preach the gospel. I also broke the letter up into sections which will serve as a road map for our journey through it. In this post, I want to focus on chapters 1:1-17 and 15:14 – 16:27. These verses are not simply the introduction and salutation; they are the bookends to three great volumes of Paul’s sermon on the gospel!
But just what are “bookends” anyway?! The Webster student dictionary defines them as
“something placed at the end of a row of books to hold them up.”
In order to hold the books up, bookends need to be pretty weighty or designed in such a way to keep the heavy volumes from toppling over, right? So what makes the bookends in Romans capable of their hefty job?
Before we look to answer that question, let’s first look at the word “gospel.” It means good news. According to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, it was originally associated with the good news of victory in a battle that a messenger brought back. We can see from the very first verse that Paul was called to be the messenger of this good news. This should cause us to ask questions like, why do we need good news? What is the bad news? What is the problem? What is the battle? What is the victory? Who won it? How? Paul answers those questions for us in the Diagnosis, the Deliverance and in the Description volumes of Romans.
Let’s go back to the bookends and take a look at what will hold up, or support those answers. Let’s see what the weight or design consists of… There are five key words or ideas that Paul brings up in Chapters 1:1-17 and 15:14 – 16:27:
This is the good news that Paul spends the entire 16 chapters preaching to us. While some points are made that will be difficult to hear or understand, it’s still good… it’s necessary to hear… it’s for our benefit. He tells us that this news is the very power of God for our salvation and that God’s righteousness is revealed in it, not our own! In fact, Paul says that to fully preach the gospel is to speak of nothing except what Christ has accomplished! This is God’s good news to us concerning His Son.
From the moment God told Adam he needed a Helper, the story of redemption has been slowly unfolding. People in the Old Testament were given glimpses of it, but it remained a mystery until Christ came to fulfill all that had been written. As Paul preaches the gospel throughout this letter, he will point to Old Testament passages to support and explain our need for a Helper (our need to be rescued from ourselves) and how God Himself accomplished this though Jesus. This was the plan, set in motion, before the foundation of the world.
Grace & Peace:
Paul begins each of his letters with “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” These are not words to just gloss over. He is very intentional in using these words before he writes anything else. Grace is “unmerited favor” and peace can be defined as “harmony, safety, tranquility and security.” Paul’s preaching of the gospel is soaked in grace, resulting in peace… Peace with our Creator and peace with one another.
There is also a subtle reminder of a spiritual reality that took place in our salvation: When Paul writes that grace and peace originate from “God our Father,” he is reminding us that we have been adopted into His family and He is our Father. It’s a very sweet, relational phrase that helps us to grasp that grace and peace indeed originate from Him, a gift from a loving Father to His needy and undeserving children. We came with nothing to offer or contribute. But God, in His kindness and love, provides all that we need for life. So right from the get go, Paul wants his readers to know that everything he says in the remainder of his letters flows from this foundational truth. God is the source of all good things. We can depend on Him!
Paul’s purpose in preaching the gospel is that we may be established. In other words, he desires to see us firmly placed, made stable or fixed in position. But established in what? The truth!! He wants us to be solid in our understanding of the Diagnosis, the Deliverance and in the Description. And the really good news? Paul reassures us that it is God “who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…” It truly is the power of God and the power of His love at work!
So now that we see what the bookends are made of, we must keep them in mind as we spend time in each volume, getting down in the details. These five key words will keep us grounded in the context and help us to see the flow of thought. As we study the chapters covering Diagnosis, for example, and see how Paul lays out our problem, we must not let go of the fact that the problem has been documented in the scriptures, from the beginning, in the garden. And while it is being told to us in truth, it is covered in grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grasping the bad news, if you will, helps us to value and appreciate the good news. Having this understanding of our problem will set us firmly on the foundation of the finished work of Christ.
If we remove these bookends, the heavy volumes will topple over! We will lose the framework of Paul’s preaching and be at risk for misinterpreting. We will disrupt the flow of Paul’s thoughts and take them out of context. The result of this is the opposite of being established; rather, we will be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14) and we will remain in bondage to our wrong way of thinking.
But the truth of the gospel is meant to set us free.♥
Make a list of the five key words mentioned above.
When we are gripped by the gospel, we can’t help but shout it from the rooftops!! When we see how God takes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh through the finished work of Christ, we can’t help but want to share this good news with those around us. The gospel isn’t just “good” news, it’s miraculous news!! This is how Paul felt. This is why he preached for sixteen chapters in his letter to the Roman church.
Have you read about Paul, formerly Saul? Did you pay attention to what he was like? He was a Pharisee, advancing in Judaism; he was zealous for God and extremely zealous for his ancestral traditions. Because of this, he breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord; he persecuted them to death, being furiously enraged at them. But an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus stopped him dead in his tracks! The scales literally fell from his eyes and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus told him, “I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins…” (Acts 26:16-18) Then Paul immediately began to proclaim Christ, testifying from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. God had taken his heart of stone, which was filled with hate, and had given him a heart of flesh, full of love and gratitude. Paul, who once was zealous to persecute the church, is now eager to preach the gospel; who once went after believers to put them in prison, is now preaching the message that would set captives free!
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives us the main points of the gospel:
Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures (verse 3);
He was buried and He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures (verse 4);
He appeared to Cephas, then the twelve disciples, after that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, then James, then to all the apostles;
…and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of all the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God (verses 7-8)
However, in the book of Romans, he gives us the full meal deal!
There is a pattern to the way he preaches in Romans and there are a number of ways to look at that pattern. This is the one that I find the most helpful:
Bookend: Romans 1:1-17
DIAGNOSIS: Romans 1:18 – 3:20
DELIVERANCE: Romans 3:21 – 11:36
DESCRIPTION: Romans 12:1 – 15:13
Bookend: Romans 15:14 – 16:27
I hope that as we study Romans together you’ll come to appreciate the depth of detail that is to be found in this letter. I hope that it will become clear how deep man’s problem is, but also how deep God’s love is toward us in solving that problem; how Paul first describes the heart of stone and then describes the heart of flesh. I hope that you will be amazed and in awe of the Creator God, who can bring life from death; who calls into being that which does not exist. This is the God who rescues us from ourselves and pours out His love within our hearts. Then, like Paul, we won’t be able to stay quiet. We will want to shout “Jesus and the forgiveness of sins” from the rooftops!
Read Acts 7:58; 9:1-30; 22:1-21; 26:4-29; and 28:23-31 to get a picture of Paul before and after his conversion.
Make a list of the author (Paul) and recipients (saints in Rome.) This will primarily come from the bookend passages listed above.
Make a list of the word ‘gospel’ from this letter, paying close attention to Paul’s relationship to it and his attitude towards it.
Have you ever heard someone quote a scripture and wondered if it really means what that person claims it to mean? Or have you opened up the bible and read a few passages, only to be left scratching your head? Many, many people and various religions go to the holy scriptures for wisdom and insight; an ancient collection of wise words to be followed in order to attain a sense of holiness, or even just to add to one’s intellectual genius. When I first started studying the bible, my main focus was on the characters in the stories, who they were and what they had done, for the purpose of measuring myself up against them. At first glance, this seemed like the obvious point of the scriptures to me. But, my very first bible study teacher helped me to see that God is the main character! Once I realized this, I couldn’t escape the fact; it was everywhere!! The words that I had previously glossed over were now jumping off the pages! This launched me into a whole new world of reading and studying the bible.
When coming to the scriptures, it is impossible not to come with a presupposition, or a premise, from which we start out with, like mine that I shared in the paragraph above. After many years of studying, I’m quite confident in this premise: God is Creator and sovereign over all His universe and creation, including mankind; and the bible is His story of redemption: His love displayed and defined towards us, who are in desperate need of a savior. Now, when I read a verse or study a book in the bible, I start from this premise… and then, I let the questioning begin!
In my opinion, this is crucial! We can’t get answers or learn if we don’t ask questions. Interrogate the text! Ask who, what, why, when, where and how, and then, for starters, let the immediate text answer. Let’s use Romans 1:16-17 for an example:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Who is talking? Answer: Look back in the text and we see that Paul is talking.
Why is he not ashamed of the gospel? Answer: “for it is the power of God…”
What is the gospel? Answer: “It is the power of God for salvation…”
Who is salvation for? Answer: “…for everyone who believes…”
Who can believe? Answer: “…the Jew first and also the Greek…”
Where is the righteousness of God revealed? Answer: “In [the gospel]…”
How is the righteousness of God revealed? Answer: “…from faith to faith…”
How shall the righteous man live? Answer: “…by faith…”
This is just one of many ways of asking questions while reading or studying the text; and after a while, it becomes second nature. But, asking questions will help in the next crucial step for bible study: context.
It is so important to understand the context in which something is written. It is defined by Google like this: “The parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning.” I think a really encouraging example of this can be found in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” So often, this verse is used to show that we need to be striving to get better and better, climbing up and up! But, upon closer examination, we can observe that Paul has been talking about “confidence in the flesh” versus “knowing Christ.” He used to put his confidence in what he had accomplished, who he was and what he was capable of achieving. But now, he tells us, he puts all that behind as if it’s absolute meaningless and disgusting; and he presses on in his pursuit of knowing Christ and being found in Him. Therefore, the immediate context of chapter three informs us that his goal is learning to put confidence in Christ and what He has done, rather than putting confidence in himself, like he used to do. This falls into the larger context of Philippians, which is having joy and rejoicing as a result of knowing that it is God who is at work in us and that He will complete that work. And Philippians itself is set in the context of the whole bible, which I believe is all about God and what He is doing to reveal His love toward us and our need for Him. Context is so very important!
Flow of thought
All too often, we take passages of scripture and separate them from each other. For instance, we read the account of creation in Genesis and then tuck it away before we move on to the story of Adam and Eve or the account of the Noah and the flood. Maybe, we don’t even look at the stories consecutively, at all, and just jump ahead to Abraham, or Joseph, or… hey, let’s go read Job! There is a flow of thought to the scriptures. One thing is connected to the thing before it and after it. And, if the whole bible is about God and His redeeming love, we need to follow the flow of thought to understand how He is revealing Himself and His plan in these stories. Paul begins his sermon on the gospel in the book of Romans with, “For since the creation of the world…” and, he writes in Ephesians 1:4, “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…” Therefore, we can be certain that the gospel message started all the way back in Genesis from the very first verse, “In the beginning…” It is crucial that we stay with the flow of thought and keep verses, chapters, books and letters in their context!
Like I demonstrated in the last part of the previous topic, cross referencing is very important and very helpful. “Let scripture interpret scripture.” This can be used for a single word (i.e. gospel,) a phrase (i.e. “works of the law”) or people (i.e. Abraham) and events (i.e. Moses striking the rock.) This is accomplished by finding where a particular word is used in other places in scripture and observing the context in which it is found, making notes of the observations by asking the who, what, where, when, why and how questions. This will help give fuller meaning and help establish flow of thought.
While this is not crucial, it’s very helpful and, in my opinion, fun! This is what helps us slow down and really observe the text. For example, we could make a list for the word “gospel” in Romans 1:16-17:
power of God for salvation
the righteousness of God is revealed in it
I could have added that Paul was not ashamed of it, but to me, that tells me more about Paul than the gospel. So, I would have put that on the “author” list.
When I’m studying a letter, I will make a list for both the author and the recipients, much like I did with the word “gospel” above, using the words or phrases straight from the text. This helps me see what is being said and what is being emphasized. Once I have the lists, I will look for repeated words and phrases. With the book of Romans, for example, I found that the word “gospel” was very much a key, repeated word. And by observing and asking questions from my list, I learned what Paul’s attitude and feelings were towards the gospel. This helps inform what a particular book or letter is primarily about.
These are words that are repeated or carry the weight of the text. In other words, if that word were to be removed, the rest of the text would lose its meaning. I like to make lists of the key words, also. Sometimes, the word may only be used a handful of times in a particular letter but when I make a list from my observations, it will really add to the overall meaning. In Romans, the word “gospel” is mentioned frequently, but only in the first and last couple of chapters. But by observing this, we can see that Paul, while not using the word gospel in the remaining chapters, is actually preaching the gospel message. In other words, those chapters are explaining or defining what the gospel message is all about.
I like to use all kinds of tools to help define words: Looking up the original Greek or Hebrew word and its meaning and looking at verb tenses, or simply using our dictionary. But most importantly, the scripture itself will define the word for us, using its immediate context and by cross referencing. My understanding of the word “sin” and “unrighteousness” has changed radically since learning to study in this manner. But we’ll get to that when we get to the study of Romans!
If you are interested in doing some of this work while following along, here are a couple of resources that I recommend:
This website is a wonderful resource! This is where I look up the original Hebrew or Greek words and any verb tenses. It also offers some commentaries, if (after you’ve done all the leg work!!) you’re interested to see what others have to say about a particular verse or passage. There is also the ability to read the scriptures in many versions: KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV and NASB e.g. Besides the word studies, the most valuable tool for me is the ability to print off the text, chapter by chapter, double-spaced. This is my blank canvas, if you will! This is where I mark and make notes. I will be referring to these as “observation worksheets.”
Colored pencils and colored pens:
These pens work very well because they have a fine tip and they don’t bleed through. I use these along with colored pencils to give more options for marking.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
This is a four-volume set that gives historical background on words, events and locations.
I hope you will find this to be helpful for your own studying and maybe even fun! If you have any questions, please feel free to message me in the comments section.
So here I am, ready to take you on this journey with me through the book of Romans! This is my absolute favorite book in the bible. Why, you ask? Well, for a few reasons. The first being that it was my introduction to the inductive study method almost 20 years ago, so I’m sentimentally attached to it. Secondly, it has a reputation for being weighty and difficult, and I always love a good challenge! But primarily, I love this book because it has taught me, more than any other book in the bible, about the gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins.
I am not an educated bible scholar. I am a thinker and an avid bible observer. As you travel on this journey with me, I will point things out that I find encouraging, that correct my thinking and that cause me to worship the One who lovingly frees us from ourselves. This journey is a learning process; one that will not end until we are physically in His presence. What I understand today may very well be reshaped next year or in the years to come. These are just my thoughts. There are other people out there much, much smarter and can, for sure, explain things much better. I appreciate learning from them and anybody else that shares the truths of the gospel. What a wonderful gift of God’s grace to us! I believe that as a body, a community of believers, we are each specifically wired by Him to love and serve one another for the edification of that body. So my prayer is that what encourages me, what causes me to worship our Savior, will also encourage you to do the same.
I love God’s word! It truly is alive and chock full of treasure… a bottomless trove of treasure. I love how the various parts are so connected to the whole; what was once a mystery here, is explained in full there. But what is the whole? What is the purpose of the bible? It is God’s story of His redeeming love, each part and character a puzzle piece, which when put into its place, reveals God’s plan for redemption, a plan He designed before the foundation of the world. Both the Old and New Testaments are necessary for the telling of His story; the one sheds light on the other. In them, God is constantly exposing our inability and demonstrating His ability to rescue us from ourselves.
I had an “ah-ha” moment the other day, as I was studying Philippians and pondering 2:12b-13; “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” That phrase, “fear and trembling,” grabbed my attention. At first glance, it would seem that we need to be very afraid of God. I have often heard people referencing this verse as confirmation that we need to strive to make things happen in our devotion to God. He is a holy God, after all, and He demands obedience! But this explanation was not making sense to me. In the context of Philippians, Paul isn’t afraid of God – he’s rejoicing in Him, highlighting God at work every chance he gets! In fact, he contrasts putting confidence in God with putting confidence in the flesh. So, who (or what) are we to be in “fear and trembling” of?
The phrase, “fear and trembling” is used “to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability to meet all requirements.” Since Paul encourages us to put our confidence in God and not in ourselves, this phrase begins to make some sense. But what does it look like on the ground? Is there anywhere in scripture that supports this idea?
As I contemplated these things, the story of Moses at the burning bush popped into my thoughts. Gathering information from Exodus 2-4, Acts 7 and Hebrews 11, there seems to be two distinct phases in Moses’ life. At first, he was decidedly confident in his abilities. When he was 40 years old, he decided to step in as protector and arbiter for his people, who had been forced into slavery at that time. He did this because he had an understanding that God had called him for this purpose; and he assumed that they understood that God was granting them deliverance through his hand. But this “deliverance” failed miserably! It ended in the murder of an Egyptian, and rather than gaining respect from them as a leader, he received their disdain instead. “Who made you prince or judge over us?” His confidence shattered, Moses was out of there! Entering the second distinct phase of his life, he headed out for the land of Midian. He remained there until he was 80 years old, when God spoke to him from a burning bush. Now was the time, He told Moses, to deliver the sons of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh. Despite all the assurances that God gave him, Moses argued his ineffectiveness. After all, he had tried it before and look how that turned out! They didn’t listen then, so why would they listen now?! He said to God, “Please Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
Now, I had been taught that Moses had a speech impediment – that “slow of tongue” implied he struggled physically to get the words out. But upon closer examination, I found that Stephen, in Acts chapter 7, full of grace and the Holy Spirit, tells us otherwise! “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians and he was a man of power in words and deeds.” He wasn’t physically impaired; rather, he was certain of his own inability to accomplish this daunting mission. In other words, he was full of “fear and trembling”! But once he was persuaded that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure,” he was then able to carry out the task assigned to him. God had restored Moses’ confidence- not in himself, but in the sovereign “I AM!”
God says, over and over, in the scriptures, “I will… I will… I will…” but our tendency is to try to drown Him out with our own determination: “No. All that You say, we will do!” Yet by His grace, and in His mercy, God exposes our inability to us, so that we will believe that “God…gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” It is all God… and it is truly good news!
This is my very first post. My friends on Twitter have inspired me to write about the good news of the gospel and I’m super excited to begin! I love studying scripture, looking for the puzzle pieces that, once locked in place, paint the beautiful reality of Redemption. I hope to “blog through Romans” as I lead the gals in my church through this amazing letter, but I also want to write about my personal thoughts and stories on how God has lovingly exposed the sinner in me while wrapping me up in the righteousness of Christ, my Savior and Helper. It is amazing grace, indeed and I want to shout it from the rooftops!!