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Rejoicing in the Lord

Join us for an introduction to Saint Paul’s letters to Rome and Philippi and a look at how the Gospel spread in the earliest church.  This episode is dedicated, with thanks to God, to the faithful proclaimer of Paul’s message of grace, the late Dr. Walter A. Maier II.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz

Episode: 80

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Seventh Sunday after Trinity: Romans 6:19-23

In the previous pericope, Paul underscored the connection between Baptism and the new life.  Because the Christian is baptized into Christ, becoming like Him in all things, he no longer sins by necessity.  Sin no longer has dominion over the Christian, just as it has no dominion over Christ.

As Paul says in Romans 6:6-7, the Christian is no longer enslaved to sin.  Romans 6:12-18, strangely excised from the lectionary, amplifies this point.  Sin no longer reigns, but the Christian who is lax runs the risk of falling back under its dominion.  “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness” (Romans 6:13).  Paul personifies sin here in this section of Romans, making it not a personal failing, but a vicious master.  If one does not have God for a master, then sin will be the master.

The imagery of slavery, though used “because of your natural limitations,” shows the seriousness of Paul’s exhortation.  The Christian is a slave of God.  Our modern aversion to this concept should not color Paul’s point.  If the Christian is a slave, then his obedience is not a matter of choice.  He must obey the master who owns him.  To disobey God, therefore, and to turn toward sin is to run away.  Instead of laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, the Christian who willfully sins leaves the garden in a vain search for something “better.”  Outside the vineyard is only death.

This is especially true for the Christian who imagines that grace removes the need for obedience.  Antinomianism, seeking to magnify the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, slaps God in the face.  The antinomian says to his Father, “I go, sir,” but does not go (Matthew 21:30).  Salvation is not an absolute liberty to do whatever you please.  Salvation is a transfer of masters.

Further, each one will receive his wages, whether he is a slave of sin or a slave of God.  After all, lawlessness leads to more lawlessness, compounding upon itself, and righteousness leads to sanctification, also compounding upon itself.  If lawlessness grows, its fruit ultimately is death (Romans 6:21).  But righteousness also grows, and its fruit is life (Romans 6:22).  This is why it is so serious a matter when a Christian falls back into sin.  Sin is not messing up.  Sin leads to death, and the two ways of life and death do not have the same end.  It is not wandering on a road that more or less leads to heaven, but turning aside and walking down a road that leads anywhere but.

Paul says all of this to avoid a misunderstanding.  Being set free from the Law is not being set free from the demands of the Law, but rather its curse.  We seek after the Law, because it is holy, it is God’s will, not as a means of justifying ourselves.  God’s mercy is certainly magnified when He shows it to an undeserving people, and the Law shows our unworthiness.  Yet God is never glorified by sin.  Let us be careful lest, seeking to magnify God, we actually magnify our own sin.  God has not redeemed us to seek the way of death, but to turn from our wicked ways and live.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity: Romans 8:18-23

Because sin, working through the Law though not being a part of it, brings death, the Christian engages in an internal, personal war.  The holy and righteous Law of God is his delight, but sin works in his members against it.  To be in Christ is to suffer with Him, because being in Christ means being a new creation, wholly distinct from the old.  How, then, does God call His creation to live in Him?

Paul emphasizes in the reading just before the pericope for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity that Christians live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.  Christians follow after the Spirit of God as sons, not as slaves of the flesh.  Sin is not a necessity, in that sense, for the Christian.  He will sin, of course, because of his great weakness, and sin remains ever at the door, desiring entrance.  But he is no longer ruled by sin, but by Christ.  Being in Christ means suffering with him in order to be glorified with Him, for the Christian is being remade in His image.

This suffering is not meaningless, nor is it worthy of serious concern.  It is “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).  Being glorified with Christ will show these present sufferings for what they really are:  fleeting and temporary, meant for building us up and not for our destruction.  “Weeping may tarry for the night” (Psalm 30:5), and a dark night that might be, wherein “I drench my couch with my weeping” (Psalm 6:6)!  Even the most intense trouble now will give way to joy, but not in a trivial way.  Christ’s own suffering was far from trivial.  Who has suffered like He suffered on our behalf?  Yet His suffering came to an end and the Father has bestowed on Him a glory far exceeding any earthly glory, “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

On that day will come “the revealing of the sons of God,” the moment in which our glory in Christ will no longer be hidden.  “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).  The sheep will be distinguished from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  It will be the day of the fullness of our redemption, the resurrection from the dead, the hope toward which we press.  Salvation is both now and yet to come, because while our assurance comes in this moment, the fullness of our redemption will come when Christ finally brings all things under His feet.  Sin will be no more in that day, and all of the former things will pass away, never to return again.

Even creation awaits this revelation.  It too is in bondage, because Adam’s sin frustrated its original purposes.  Adam is, after all, the head not only of the human race, but of all creation.  He holds dominion over it, given to him by the Lord (Genesis 1:28).  His sin causes the earth to fail in bringing forth the fullness of its strength (Genesis 3:17-19).  Even more to the point, not only does creation undergo the judgment of the Flood because of man’s sin (Genesis 6:7), it also falls under the covenant made with Noah (Genesis 9:8-11).  Therefore, man’s sin means the creation suffers with him.  It longs to be set free from this slavery and return to its original state, just like the restoration of man in Christ.

If the world longs to see the great day of redemption, how much more do we as Christians?  We must wait, of course, and such patience is a fruit of the Spirit.  Yet, as Paul goes on to say, “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).  Even if we must suffer, we suffer with Christ.  Even if we must wait for the fullness of our salvation, we wait with Christ.  Even if we must die, we die with Christ.  Our war with sin is not fruitless or pointless, but part of separating us from the body of death and making us heirs of eternal life.

Sunday after Epiphany: Romans 12:6-16

If someone asked you what does it mean to be a Christian, what would you say? Maybe someone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior. And that’s not a bad place to start. But a lot of people claim to believe in Jesus. So how do you tell them apart? How do you know who is telling the truth and who isn’t? Look to their fruits. Look at the works which they do. Someone who is sincere will do what they say that they will do, but someone who is not will say one thing and do another. Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 7: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Even if that seems hard, it’s still true, because it’s not enough to just say that you believe. Good works show that we mean what we say.
But good works don’t get us into heaven, right? We are not saved by what we do, right? So why is Paul talking in Romans 12 about all of these good works, then? It seems like as soon as we start talking about good works, we run into the risk of making them the reason why we get into heaven. But Paul is clear that this is not the case. Good works save no one. Good works follow after faith. Paul points to this in the beginning of this chapter: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” When we do good works, we actually worship God and give Him glory. Good works do not come before faith, but after it and flow from it. The temptation is to put the cart before the horse, putting good works before faith. But all that we have, including faith, is a gracious gift of God. The Holy Spirit makes you holy, so that you do what is holy in the sight of God.
Good works, then, prove that we believe in Jesus. They are the signs in the world that we belong to Christ. As Jesus says in Matthew 5: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” And in John 13: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If good works are not there, there is no faith! Those who claim to be Christians and yet don’t do what God says are not Christians. Jesus Himself says so. But those who trust in God, calling him Abba! Father!, walk with the Holy Spirit. To be a Christian means to believe in Jesus as your Savior and to walk in the light and not in darkness.
This, then, is what Paul means. Paul says, “Let love be genuine.” Something that is genuine passes the test. Genuine gold is real gold, but fake gold, no matter how pretty it looks, is still fake. Faith is not happy with just words! Paul says, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Don’t seek after the works of the flesh, the works of darkness. As John says, keep yourself from idols. Cling to God, who is good, and He will never fail you. Paul says, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Those in the Church are not just people who all happen to be Christians. You are one in the body of Christ, members of the same family in Jesus. If, then, you are family, let us live like members of the same family in Christ. Paul says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Be so willing to put the other person ahead of yourself that you make a competition out of it. Try hard to put the needs of others before your own. Win first place at loving your neighbor as yourself! Paul says, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Let us not be lazy in the things of God, but seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Paul says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” This world is passing away, and even if we have to struggle now, it will give way to a joy which has no end. Let us pray without ceasing, lifting up holy hands everywhere. Paul says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Is there anyone among you who is in need? The Lord has given us what we have so that there will be no need among us. As the Lord has blessed you, even with physical things, let us take care of the needs of others. Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” A hard thing, yes! But by doing this, you will heap burning coals on their head. You will be a witness to Christ, a witness to the hope that is in you. And finally, Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”
Christians, remember this. Your good works are not the reason why you are acceptable to God. There could never be enough of them to do that. Your good works are the proof that your faith is living. Faith is a living tree, and good works are the fruits of that tree. You can’t have fruit without a tree! So let your love be genuine. Devote yourselves to good works, for they are excellent and profitable to you. As Paul says in Ephesians 2: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You have been chosen from before the beginning of the world to be holy in the sight of God through Jesus Christ. It is God who works in you, and in Him you are able to do what is pleasing in His sight.

First Sunday in Advent: Romans 13:11-14

The First Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the church calendar, therefore it is an opportune time to change the choice of lectionary studies. Beginning with this Sunday, I will now focus on the Epistle readings, just as I had previously focused on the Old Testament.

Romans 13:11-14 falls within the wider subsection of Romans 12-15. In the previous section of Romans 9-11, Paul demonstrates that, while Israel has stumbled and is under a partial hardening, God’s purposes in election have not failed. Israel cannot boast in the flesh, just as the Gentiles cannot boast in being grafted in to the tree in place of Israel. There is no room for boasting anywhere. “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy” (Romans 11:30-31). The Lord has not chosen based on merit. His election is sure and done for His own purposes, and the faithful are counted among the elect purely by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Deuteronomy 7:6-11).

But election is not a trump card. That was Israel’s sin that brought judgment upon them until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in. One cannot be elect and lack faith, as if being part of Israel according to the flesh was enough for salvation. The Lord chooses to have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15). But wherever this faith is, there are also the fruits of faith (Luke 6:45), which is Paul’s point in Romans 12-15. For those who know the Lord’s mercy walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Paul exhorts the Romans toward this living faith, a faith which does not delight in the division which plagued the Roman church, but seeks “the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

While there is much that is descriptive about this section, such as Romans 12:9-21 which in the Greek is composed primarily of sentence fragments without verbs, Paul does not hesitate speak commands as well. Romans 13:1, for example, is a clear imperative: let this be the case, and not otherwise. Exhortation is not merely descriptive, but also prescriptive, because the Christian struggling in the flesh needs to learn what the will of God means, often in rather concrete formulations. As Paul said in the beginning of this section, conforming to the Spirit rather than to the world involves testing and discernment, both of which are not automatic processes.

Thus, the reading for the First Sunday in Advent is a strong exhortation to put off what is evil and to cling to what is good. Paul highlights the urgency of this message by noting what the Christian should already recognize: the time is growing shorter and shorter with each passing moment. The Judgment of Christ is fast approaching. “Salvation,” by which Paul means the fullness of our salvation when Christ returns in glory, “is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Wake up! Do not slumber in sin! The end is near (Luke 21:28; Matthew 25, especially Matthew 25:13). The night of God’s patience is fast coming to an end; it is the moment just before the dawn. Even now the night is beginning to brighten in the east.

Since the time is fast approaching, Paul exhorts us to cast off “the works of darkness,” which he describes briefly here and more fully elsewhere (Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-11). There is a sense in which this call shows the reality of sin in this life. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). But Paul is not describing the struggle here, but commanding. Will we walk as is befitting for Christians? Or will we turn again to the works of the flesh? Orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, and jealousy belong to the former way of life. The Christian must choose whether to seek after life or seek after death (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). Only those who are in Christ have such a choice, of course, but the regenerate will is real. Christ saves the whole man, and those who know the Lord also choose Him above all other things.

Romans 13:14 is therefore an important summary. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” just as we have put Him on as the garment of our righteousness. But at the same time, “make no provision for the flesh.” Do not even tend to the needs of the flesh and its sinful desires! But make provision for the Spirit, walking in His ways and seeking to conform to the will of God. Too often Christians get this backwards, putting ourselves in the path of temptation, knowing full well that the end can only be evil. What’s the harm of looking? But Paul commands us clearly: do not even till the soil for the seeds of sin, but let us seek the fruit of righteousness whose harvest will come when the morning dawns.

Earthly Authority in Romans 13

Paul speaks clearly about the subject of government in Romans 13. All should be subject to authorities, because “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). Pilate received the same answer from Christ: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

But what of the authorities themselves? What does Scripture have to say about them? And what implications does this have for a Christian understanding of government?

First, all authority stems from God, and no authority exists apart from God. The Lord may use various means to establish that authority, whether war or elections. The Church chooses Stephen, for example, and this choice is ratified by the disciples (Acts 6:1-6). However, the voice of the people can certainly be contrary to the will of God. Elections may in fact be sinful (Numbers 14:1-4; 1 Samuel 8:4-9). Therefore, it is not the will of the people which constitutes authority, but the will of God for His own purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7). This is especially important in our own day, since we have a tendency to regard authority illegitimate if consent is lacking. While the Lord willed it, Israel served the king of Babylon, and that authority was legitimate, even if limited (see, for example, Jeremiah 27).

A ruler is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4). This may be to reward what is good, but it is frequently also to punish what is evil. The Law of God is written on the heart of all men, even if indistinctly (Romans 2:14). It is indistinct among those who do not have the written Law, because its fulness has not been revealed to them. The giving of the Law at Sinai means that some “have the Law” while others only do what the Law requires while “not having the Law.” In either case, the ruler serves to bring the wrath of God upon malefactors. He is an instrument in the hand of God. He carries out the Law, but does not give the Law. Even in monarchies, where the king is regarded as a law-giver rather than merely an executor, such laws may not abrogate the Law of God. The ruler, too, is a man under authority.

Paul uses a rather interesting word to describe this relationship between God and the ruler. In Romans 13:6, Paul says that authorities are “ministers” of God. Minister, in the English language, is somewhat vague. Paul uses the term leitourgos, from leitourgia, from which we get our word “liturgy.” A leitourgia in Greek refers to a public service of some kind. It may be the work of a citizen done at his own expense or a description of any kind of public duty. It came to be used in a religious sense, because the Greeks regarded their gods as recipients of public transactions. So long as the gods were happy, they would return the favor on behalf of the state. Christians borrowed the word in a generic sense to describe their worship, but casting off the pagan baggage that came with it. They were so effective in doing so, liturgy is used almost exclusively in a religious sense today.

That being said, Paul argues that an authority is a leitourgos, one who performs a liturgy. His public duty consists in being the servant of God, the avenger of His wrath upon evil, the rewarder of what is good. What this means, then, is that the ruler sits in a subordinate position to God. He has a public burden to carry out, and therefore sits under authority. A Christian who obeys the earthly king is not dividing his loyalties, but rather serving God through such obedience. Peter stating that “we must obey God rather than men” in Acts 5:29 is a recognition that earthly rulers frequently sin. They must not be obeyed in themselves, for that would mean participating in their sin, but rather God commands us to obey earthly rulers. Christians obey God when they obey men. They do not obey men in spite of God’s command (1 Peter 2:13-17).

This means, though, that it is not an idle question whether a ruler believes in God. The king who sins is sinning against God. The Scriptures are full of warnings for rulers, calling them to fear the Lord. One notable example is Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Nebuchadnezzar served as the instrument of God’s wrath upon His people (Jeremiah 25:8-9, for example), but Nebuchadnezzar also suffered the wrath of God for his sin and his boasting against the Lord (Jeremiah 25:12-14; Jeremiah 51:24; Isaiah 14:12-20; Daniel 4:28-33; etc). Thus, while the Lord will do as He pleases, the unbelieving king will suffer for his sin, and the nation may well suffer with him, just as Egypt suffered for Pharoah’s hardened heart (Exodus 7 ff.).