Taking Romans Personally

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12.1-2

Humility Quote C. S. LewisPaul connects Romans 12 (“therefore”) to the mountain of previous teaching from Romans 1-11. Before he presents what we should do, Paul deals with great theological truths about what God has already done and how we stand in relation to Him because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Beyond being merely an intellectual exercise, the renewing of our minds includes actually obeying God–doing that which is good and right–which Paul immediately outlines for us in Romans 12.3-15.7. Here’s a quick breakdown of what is covered:

  1. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought; evaluate yourself properly (12.3-8)
  2. Love genuinely (12.9-13)
  3. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (12.14-21)
  4. Subject yourself to the government (13.1-7)
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself (13.8-10)
  6. Walk properly, as in the daytime (13.11-14)
  7. Welcome the weak in faith (14.1-15.7)

Just about all of this has to do with submitting ourselves to others. How do we actually present our lives as living sacrifices to God and renew our minds? We follow Christ’s footsteps (see 13.14; 15.1-13) by assuming the lowest place, subjecting ourselves to every ordinance of God, submitting to one another in love, yielding to our enemies, and welcoming brethren with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Humility Quote by D. A. CarsonIn a conversation last night with a friend, something hit me. He asked (in light of the “bearing with the weak in faith” from Romans 14) how we decide who is stronger and who is weaker?

“How can you know who is the weak one?” he asked.

“Whoever the other guy is, that’s the weak one,” I jokingly replied.

But silliness aside, I’m pretty sure that is not the question God would have us ask, because if we use Romans 14 to start a big row over who is weak and who is strong, does that not tend to divide rather than unify, as Paul insisted upon?

As I read Romans 12-15, God speaks to me, personally. I know He didn’t write Romans directly to me, but I should read it as a message from God to me. In other words, I don’t read it to figure out how you ought to change in your actions towards me; rather I read to discover how I might repent and change in my actions towards you. I can only worry about and change myself, and God has only given me control over one person on this planet!

FlowerIf every Christian read the Bible this way, wouldn’t we make gigantic strides towards unity? If every husband only worried about being the right kind of husband and didn’t worry about forcing his wife to be the right kind of wife…if every wife only worried about respecting her husband properly…if every brother only worried about how he was treating his fellow siblings and not about what they did to him or didn’t do for him…how powerful would that be?!

Is that how you read God’s word?

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12.18)

Widows, Coins, and Corrupt Religion

Widow's MiteWhat’s the standard line when studying the widow’s two mites? Have you heard sermons on how Jesus was pleased with the widow because of her giving heart? Was Jesus happy with her because she gave all she had, a much greater percentage of what those rich folks gave? Quickly refresh your memory from Luke 21.1-4:

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

Does Jesus comment on her heart, her attitude, or her intent? Does He indicate whether or not He is pleased with her? Perhaps we have read it so often with that in mind that it seems as though that’s what the text says…but if you look carefully, Jesus makes no statement to that effect. He just observes that she gave everything she had; it wasn’t much, but it was more than the rich.

Rule #1 in Bible study: Keep it in Context! What came before, what comes after, and what is the main course and tenor of the larger section in question?

Immediately Before

Jesus had, in the previous chapter (Lk. 20.45-47), just warned all the people to beware of the scribes because they “like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers.” Jesus ended by asserting: “These will receive greater condemnation.”

Immediately After

Just after Jesus observed our poor widow, He began to prophesy of the utter destruction and ruin of Jerusalem (Lk. 21.5ff).

Back to the Widow

Two mitesThis story of the widow giving her two copper coins is not some simple sideline story but an intentional and provocative illustration of the subject at hand. Matthew 23 gives an even fuller picture of Jesus pronouncing woes and condemnation upon the scribes and Pharisees. They were a bunch of hypocrites who devoured widows’ houses!

“How do we devour widows’ houses?!” they would have exclaimed in furious offense. They knew it was a matter of law to watch out for strangers, widows, and orphans–it was all over their scriptures.

This little widow woman stands as living proof. Their religion glorified the rich, as they sounded trumpets before casting their bags of coins into the temple treasury (Mk. 12.41; Mt. 6.2). And their religion greatly burdened and oppressed the poor! This poor woman was giving all she had–for what?

Jesus sees the evidence of a corrupt and broken religion, for any religion built on the backs of the poor and needy is false, oppressive, and unrighteous! This poor woman was trying to live up to the religious system of her day. Rather than use what she had to live, she felt compelled to give it up, go home, and starve to death!

Using Religion to Trample the Poor

Prosperity GospelWhat does Vatican City have in common with the prosperity gospel? Have you ever seen pictures of the great cathedrals in Europe? Do you know what riches have been consolidated into the little country called Vatican City State? So much of that has been built by taxing the common, poor constituents of the Roman Catholic church; those amazing buildings were built upon the backs of the poor. Martin Luther was so disgusted by the greed, especially illustrated through the sales of indulgences, that he (at great personal cost) attempted to reform the church.

We can see evidence of the prosperity gospel all around us, manifesting itself in enormous church complexes and incredibly rich preachers who own private jets and mansions but who continue to pound their people for more money. (Check out this little clip from Kenneth Copeland bragging about being a billionaire in the kingdom of God.)

Folks, if these men were teaching the truth about God’s word and leading others to repentance godly living, I would be right behind them. I don’t care how much money another man makes. I’m not concerned with how rich someone is. I’m concerned with men who use religion to take from the poor and amass wealth for themselves! I’m concerned with false teachers who twist the Bible in order to get well-meaning poor folks to send money to their ministries–to them.

What about Us?

PovertySo much of this prosperity gospel preaching has saturated this country that we can easily fall right in line. Of course, we would never fall for major abuses, would we? But why would we look at the story of the widow’s two copper coins and seek to glorify her for what she did? Why would we consider her level of giving to the treasury such an awesome thing, instead of seeing it for the abuse it really was? Perhaps it’s because some semblance of the prosperity mindset exists in our heads.

She was so spiritual, we think. We wish we had the faith to give everything in our bank accounts…but we beat ourselves up for not being as spiritual as that lady.

Stop! God does not expect you to hurt yourself giving to some religious body! “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this,” James wrote, “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained form the world” (1.27). It’s giving to widows, not getting from them.

Don’t miss that the oppressive religion Jesus witnessed at the temple was destined by God for complete destruction. God judged that corrupt system. Don’t expect our corrupt religious systems to escape His wrath!

We Just Want Peace…Don’t We?

Hatred QuoteI’m not seeing a whole lot of peace out there right now. Even so-called “peaceful protests” are really the result of unrest. Why the protest in the first place? Because folks are irritated and discontent.

Guns and the bombs reveal a whole new level of unrest. So far the city of New Orleans has had 69 murders in 2016. The last two were on the 5th and 6th of this month. We are number 7 on a most murders per capita list for this year. Birmingham, AL, is number 25, and Baton Rouge, LA, is number 29.

Makes me want to move out into the country. Probably no crime out there, right?

Unfortunately, where you find people you find crime. Anger, covetousness, greed, envy, jealousy, lust, and other passions control so many. When those passions spin out of control, the fireworks start and men engage in irreversible actions.

Islam claims to be a religion of peace. Why, then, is there such violence among them? Why does most of the mass violence on this earth right now result from followers of Islam? There seems to be little peace among them.

Sister HugsWhy is there so little peace in our cities? Men want to avenge themselves when others look down upon them and belittle them. Men want to take from those who have. They don’t believe the other person deserves all that wealth–so they steal and sometimes murder. Men feel the color of their skin has something to do with rights. Some feel they have more rights than others while others feel their rights are suppressed and trampled upon.

We are so sophisticated. We are so mature. We know what should and shouldn’t be. With gun or club or fiery speech we stride confidently into battle to fight for our rights, to gain honor over the enemy, to trample the hated oppressor, to get even with the man who keeps us down…TO WHAT END??

What is the purpose of all this violence? If we think this violence creates peace, Satan has completely sabotaged our thinking! How upside down are we? “War is hell,” said William Tecumseh Sherman, and as one of the major Civil War army generals for the north, he knew! Remember Sherman’s march to the sea, as his army left a swath of complete devastation and ruin in its wake?

I understand that God created governments to protect their nations with a standing army and to wield the sword against evil-doers. I get that. But violence at the individual level makes me sick.

One day the God who actually has the RIGHT to destroy evil will come in judgment upon every evil in this world. He’ll take care of it all. But until then, He gave us the example of Jesus Christ, His Son, who, rather than come off the cross to squash the spitting, mocking haters in the crowd (which He easily could have done), hung on the cross until He died.

Peaceful BabyJesus didn’t come to destroy but to save lives (Luke 9.51-56). What a wonderful world we’d have if everyone was concerned about saving others! Christ cultivates this mind in His disciples, and those who truly follow Him become conduits of salvation and peace. We become more like children as we mature in Christ. All those given over to the hardness of their fleshly hearts around us think maturity is about control, violence, demanding their rights. And Jesus calmly teaches self-control, peace, and giving up rights. Read the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7. Read the gospels. Read the epistles. It’s all in there.

We need men and women with the tender hearts of children.

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus in Matthew 18.3-4

Should Christians Celebrate Independence Day?

Declaration of IndependenceFor the thinking United States Christian, Independence Day should cause us to ask a few questions.

If you, like I, enjoy reading original documents, you probably read the Declaration of Independence every year on this day. Won’t you consider this foundational document, originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson, with me as I dare to question some of Jefferson’s statements?


 

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

— From the outset, we see this document declares reasons why the thirteen colonies wished to separate themselves from Great Britain. In fact, they felt it was “necessary.” —

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

— Biblically, where might we find that governments should derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? Is this something God designed? —

Rebels –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

— Hello! Read that again. “It is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” any government which becomes destructive to the rights of the people–namely, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Where in Scripture has God given us that right? —

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— In other words, when the government gets to be too oppressive (quite the subjective statement, eh?), we then activate a right and duty to throw off such government. At what point might we consider our government as having crossed the line? Again, where in Scripture might we discover this right and duty to throw off government? —

Flag and Eagle–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

 

— You cannot read that list of grievances without deep pity and sympathy for what those colonials must have had to bear. That, indeed, was a tough time to live in the colonies. —

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

— Aha. Jefferson understood the colonies to be “free,” but he does not define his term. To what extent, exactly, is anyone free? Who defines freedom? I reckon he would point back to the top to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” but those are still much too subjective for me. To explain that we have a God-given right to Liberty argues in circles, for does not liberty equal freedom? Am I now free under my government? I could easily make the case either way, I’m afraid. —

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Loading a GunWe, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies,

— The representatives of the colonies appeal to God for the rightness of their intentions but then to the authority of the people for their actions. See any problem there? —

solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


I always feel like stopping for a moment of silence after I finish reading that. That ending paragraph sealed the deal for the colonies and engaged them in a bloody Revolutionary War with Great Britain. Several of the 56 men who signed this document ended up losing their lives and fortunes to this cause. No doubt much good came of this brave and historic endeavor, and I don’t wish to speak ill of any of the men or cast dispersions on their hearts or intents.

I just ask whether or not such a revolution can be defended biblically.

War

Jesus, Peter, and Paul all lived under the oppressive Roman Empire. Jesus was crucified by the authority of the Romans, and Paul was eventually executed by the same. Yet notice what Paul wrote:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quite life, godly and dignified in every way.” – 1 Timothy 2.1-2

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” – Romans 13.1-2

Concerning the paying of taxes, Jesus taught:

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Mark 12.17

Peter agrees:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” – 1 Peter 2.13-17

Perhaps these questions will make you think more deeply about the roots and beginnings of our nation. No doubt many of our founding fathers were Christians. They validated their cause with some sort of Scriptural interpretation, but it’s difficult for me to comprehend. We often do the same–when we want something badly, we can justify it. We ought to be careful.

Should we celebrate the day which honors a rebellion against the king? I’ll leave that for you to chew on. Feel free to comment 🙂