Thursday, April 14, 2011

Romans: Grace, Truth and Redemption

Now that our small group has finished John Piper’s study “The Blazing Center,” we’re starting a new one by John MacArthur on Romans. He’s written a series of study guides for personal or group use to aid people in their study of the Bible. I love it so far! He includes the historical context in which Paul was writing Romans, background information to get a better idea of the people involved and time setting, as well as verse commentary and definitions (for example, what does Paul mean by being a bondservant to Jesus Christ? If you're curious, in the Hebrew sense it implies willing service for a beloved, respected master. Love that!)

I wanted to share a few things we’ve already covered in our meeting last night on Romans 1:1-17 titled “The Good News.”

“The overarching theme of Romans is the righteousness that comes from God: the glorious truth that God justifies guilty, condemned sinners by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.”

Romans says, “The righteous will live by faith.” In other words, it is by our faith alone that we are considered righteous before God. We can’t live a righteous life or attain God’s standard for how we should live based on what we say and do (our works). Our salvation and status of righteousness is solely based on the work that Jesus did on the cross.

One of MacArthur’s study questions is “What is so good about the good news of the gospel?”
To me, it’s so good because I didn’t deserve to be forgiven for my sins, but I am anyway! I didn’t have to do anything or sacrifice anything to get this forgiveness. I didn’t have to pay the cost or endure the punishment. Jesus stepped in on my behalf and said, “No, I love her too much. She may deserve this death for the things she has done, but I don’t want her to suffer. I’ll suffer the punishment for her. Consider my death as payment for her sins so that she may be pardoned and God will not condemn her to an eternity separated from him. I want her to receive God’s love and mercy because I know it is so good!” It’s so good because it’s free to us and it frees us (from striving tirelessly to live the perfect life, from enduring earthly troubles on our own, from enslavement to sin, from judgment and the power of the enemy).

“The essence of Paul’s letter to the Romans is that despite all the bad in the world, there is good news that is truly good! The apostle was a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles preaching the gospel of God (Romans ). He brought the good news that, in Christ, sin can be forgiven, selfishness can be overcome, guilt can be removed, anxiety can be alleviated and people can, indeed, have hope and eternal glory.”

In verses 2-4 we learn that the good news was foretold long ago by prophets in the Old Testament and it is Jesus, the Son of God, who is the one that fulfills God’s promise of the good news.

In verses 14-16 Paul says, “I am a debtor to both Greeks and barbarians, to both the wise and the unwise (in other words, all people without discrimination). So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes in him.” We shouldn’t be ashamed of sharing the gospel with others (fearing embarrassment or rejection) because for those of us who have been saved and changed by it, we know that it has the power to save others as well. As we start to adopt the same desires and affections that God has, we develop the same love for people that he has. We should be passionate about sharing this good news with others so that they can know the mercy and love of God and the peace and joy that comes in having a relationship with Him too. “The Lord isn’t being slow about keeping his promise as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9.

MacArthur then references the testimony of Paul in Acts 26:12-18 and why he became so passionate about preaching the gospel of Christ. I hope you take a chance to read it because it’s a powerful testimony! Before his encounter with the risen Christ, Paul was a Pharisee who lived strictly according to the Jewish laws and traditions. He himself persecuted Christ and Christ followers. He witnessed the executions of Christians. Yet, when Jesus confronted him one day and asked him, “Why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads (in other words, you’re only hurting yourself by rebelling against my will and accepting me into your life), Paul finally believe in him, repented for his sins and old way of living, and totally changed his life around. Paul did a complete 180 in his life by going from persecuting Christians to ministering to Christians and trying to save everyone he could by sharing the gospel with them.

Don’t we want to do the same thing? Once we realize how awesome and good the good news is we want to share it with others! We want to save them from the life they’ve been living so they can live the life abundantly (John )!

MacArthur wraps up by discussing two key words: Salvation and Grace. He says, “For those people who object to the word ‘salvation’ or don’t like the phrase ‘being saved,’ I must say that alvation is God’s term. There’s no better word to describe what he offers fallen mankind through the sacrifice of his Son. Christ saves people from sin, the enemy, judgment, God’s wrath, and eternal spiritual death.” He poses the difficult (yet easy) question of “What is grace?”

To me, God’s grace is his undeserved, unmerited favor, goodwill, mercy, love and pardon upon us. It’s a free gift we can choose to receive without having to pay anything for it because he’s already paid for it. It’s good because without it we’d be lost for forever without any hope. He gives it to us because of his own loving kindness. There’s no way we can earn it or lose it, we just have to choose to accept it.

“How can lukewarm Christians recapture a sense that the gospel is good news?”

Sometimes, we can forget just how good and awe-inspiring the gospel is. We get comfortable in our faith and relationship with God. I think when we become lukewarm (which God can’t stand, see Revelation -16) we must remember the way we were before being saved. We must recall and consider the seriousness and awfulness of our sin. Although we continue to sin even after we are saved, we should never become indifferent towards it. It should still bother us (not the point of wallowing in guilt, but we should feel convicted by the Spirit and go to God in repentance every time we sin). Until we grasp just how bad and serious our sin is to God and others affected by it, we won’t understand our great need for his forgiveness and the awesomeness of God to give us that mercy freely.

I really want to learn from Paul and have the same passion and ability to share the gospel with others in such a way that displays God’s glory, not my imperfections or the imperfection of the Church. Too often, I feel that I or people get in the way when trying to “witness” to others, instead of letting God shine through the conversation. It’s not up to us to save people (Acts ). It’s only up to us to share the Word with others. God’s word (his truth) has the power to save. Therefore, we don’t have to be discouraged, nervous, or scared of telling others about the good news. We don’t have to do any work, Jesus has done it and the Spirit will do all the work in that person’s heart. We shouldn’t stop sharing with others completely because some choose not to receive it (There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent, Luke 15:7). There are so many people out there who God has been preparing to hear and accept his good news. He’s wanting and waiting on you to bring it to them. The harvest is plenty but the workers are few, Matthew .

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