Monthly Archives: January 2018

Romans 1:14-17 thoughts

This passage contains what is almost unanimously agreed to be the thesis of the book of Romans. It has a couple ambiguities, perhaps because multiple readings each contain aspects which will be brought out in more detail later.

First, I’m not sure about the three for‘s in this passage. The first is clear enough, and the second connects the next part to it, but it is unclear if the third for connects the third section back to the first, or to the second. That is, when he says

16For 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. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

It is clear that he is not ashamed because the Gospel is God’s power, etc. but does the righteousness of God revealed by faith in it further ground his not being ashamed? This would make sense, as parallel grounds to the one statement, but it would also make sense to see the three for‘s as nested. In the nested reading, the righteousness of God … revealed by faith is the grounds for the gospel providing salvation to everyone who believes. In other words, the gospel is not just for Jews, but for everyone, and for a very specific reason. This has nothing to say against Abraham, but he isn’t the ground for this power of God. This power of God is based on faith, and that is why it is available regardless of ethnic identity.

Both readings make sense, so maybe Paul meant this to be ambiguous, to include them both. But I think the second (nested) interpretation fits better with where he is going with regards to faith and Abraham/Moses, etc. I’ll have to think through this some more.

Second, as I talked through this passage with other teachers, it came out that some differed on the reading of the quote from Habbakuk: “The righteous shall live by faith (or, The one who by faith is righteous shall live)“. This footnote in the ESV (in parentheses) contains a second reading; other translations pick one or the other, e.g., the NIV “The righteous will live by faith” and the NET “The righteous by faith will live”.

The question seems to surround whether Paul is talking about those that are righteous by faith, who live, or whether he is talking about how the righteous live, i.e., by faith. In the first, Paul would be talking about justification (i.e., that people are legally righteous by faith, not some other means), while in the second sanctification would be in view (i.e., that people who are righteous live by faith (not by some other means).

But again, I think this might be an intentional ambiguity. Given where Paul will ultimately go in Rom 8:28-30, I don’t think he has a strong distinction between those who are justified and those who are sanctified. They are one group of people, even if we can talk about two distinct things happening to them. So to say that the righteous live by faith is true, but they are also only by faith that they are righteous at all. On the other hand, it is true that any true righteous is obtained by faith, but the fruit (and expectation, or reward) of that righteous standing is life. Once God has justified you, you get to really live, not afraid of the wrath that would otherwise be due to you. But you are also expected to live, as a natural outpouring of what God has done for you. That is, a holy life is possible on the grounds of the right standing (justification) God has given you in Jesus. But Paul will get there eventually. In any case, I think it likely that when Paul talks about salvation in v16, he has the whole package in mind. This power of God calls people out of the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of light. It gives people a right standing with God, and it also provides the strength and motivation for right living. And it will ultimately bring us into the eternal presence of God, free from the power and presence of sin, forevermore.

One last point I thought interesting in this passage, is the reference to Barbarians. Typically, Paul talks in terms of Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), as in v16. But in v14,  he refers to barbarians, those beyond even the ancient boundaries of Alexander the Great’s Empire (which spread the Greek language and culture. So this is not just a Jew/Gentile thing, the fact that faith is the ground of our salvation. It is also a culture/uncultured thing, and a civilized/uncivilized thing. There is no distinction that the ground of faith does not reach across. This is the word of God that is easy, in our mouth. But we’ll get there in Ch 10.

Our church is taking a week off of Romans next week (not sure why), so we’ll pick up on v18 next week.

Romans 1:14-17

Here is my mind map of Romans 1:16-17 (ESV):

Here are some questions to get your juices flowing:

1. What are the three causally linked sections of these verses?
2. What is the basis of Paul’s relationship to the Gospel?
3. The power of God in the gospel is for what purpose?
4. The power of God in the gospel is for who?
5. The power of God in the gospel is for which ethnic/social groups?
6. On what basis can it reach each of those groups?
7. What scriptural grounds are there for saying this (c.f., Hab 1-2)?
8. What is the purpose of the power of God in your life?
9. How do you express faith (or not)?

And you can get the scrolls for this section here.

Romans 1:8-15 thoughts

Our local church lead pastor spoke on the Gospel Compulsion this morning, which have otherwise been entitled A Pastor’s Heart. This passage seems to talk mostly about Paul’s desire for them. But while you could take that as a particularly relational message (which I think it is), it also contains a good deal of content. This isn’t just schmoozing, which at the end of the day means nothing more than we like each other (or I want you to think that I like you, anyway).

This pastor (as do most faithful church planters, I think) has specific desires for the church in question. Paul boasted of their faith which was widely known. He also saw the exchange between them as mutually beneficial, as spiritual gifts are used on both sides for the building of the church. But as well, there is the question of harvest: Paul wants fruit among them, as well as from the other gentiles where he has worked.

These last two points I found interesting, in that people presumed a different audience for each. Fruit obviously refers to ministry to non-believers, and spiritual gifts is toward believers (since he isn’t handing out spiritual gifts, so this must refer to his use of his own for the building of the church…). But I don’t see it that way. As I see it, they each can apply to both. The line “impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (v11) Can mean using my gifts for your benefit, but if Paul is evangelizing, then there would be new Christians in the group. As those people come to Christ, they would receive the Holy Spirit (with the gifts of the Holy Spirit) on conversion. In that way, Paul would be a very practical means by which those gifts would come to them, though he is neither their author not direct distributor.

In the same way, we may speak of a “harvest” as new converts, but I hope that we see that there is growth, development, and maturity to be sought after in those who are already Christians –and these can be appropriately viewed as fruit.

So we come back to the pastoral principle that we cannot know the state of another’s heart, so we are bound to treat everyone more or less the same way. We hope for the best, but we pray and preach against the worst. Yes, we must at some point decide who to baptise, let join the church, or receive communion. But we preach the Gospel (to ourselves and others, in season and out) because we all need it, not only for conversion, but also for our daily wellbeing and spiritual health.

6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
(Colossians 2:6-7 ESV)



This is Love

Last week in Re|engage, we talked about Love, and how God defines it in the Bible. One thing we looked at was 1 John 4:7-21; my map of the passage follows:

This is another passage I’ve seen many times before, but I was struck by the beauty of how it is all put together. There is an encouragement, a definition, an impact, and a rationale. Or, we should love, this is what that means, this is what will happen if we do, and this is why we do.

Rather than base our ideas of love on Hollywood (or Bollywood, as the case may be), we see that Love comes from and is defined by God, and finds it’s pinnacle in Jesus’ incarnation and propitiatory death on the cross for our sins. If we love like that, it will be evident that God is working in us, since otherwise that kind of love is impossible. The more God’s love shines through us, the more God gets the glory for any good we do,  and the more confidence (and less fear) as we consider facing God at the end of our days. Loving our tangible, physically present brother right now is practice for the love we claim to have for the God who is unseen –yet eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Circle Up!

This is my mind map of Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV):

This is a pair of verses we were encouraged to meditate on for this week’s Re|engage class. I’ve seen these verses many times before, and even had a class based on them once, called “Search”. But even there I didn’t get this as an honest attempt to see our own sin for what it is.

One of the principles of the Re|engage class is to work on the issues we bring to the table as individuals, rather than focusing our effort on our spouse’s problems. We call it drawing a circle around ourselves, and working on everyone inside the circle. In light of this principle, I found these verses opened up new meaning. In two verses, David mentions me/my six times. He’s not asking God to show him the problem with his (many) wives. He’s not asking Him to show him what’s wrong with all the other people he comes in contact with. David knows he has sin, and he’s asking God to root it out.

But this isn’t the cold sharp knife of the impersonal surgeon; David twice asks god to know him, specifically his heart and his anxious thoughts. Do we not have those? It seems I can’t talk to someone five minutes these days without running into some kind of anxiety. Which may not be a question obvious sin; it may be a result of abuse or some other kind of brokenness. But still, we need our anxieties to be known, and to know that we will be OK despite them.

But ultimately Jesus does oppose anxiety with faith, so it is instructive that David doesn’t pose the possibility that he has anxious thoughts; he outright admits them. This from the King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart?

But sometimes we really aren’t sure what we have or haven’t done. Sometimes we need to pray with David, that God would see if, and that we would be covered either way. Sometimes I sit and argue (either with myself or with my wife) about whether something is my fault, and ultimately realize that it would take less time and energy to simply admit that I don’t know, but that I may well be wrong. Why am I so concerned to not admit (even the possibility of) fault, that I would tire myself out by continuing the debate? Admit sin, and trust Jesus to cover it. Otherwise, we run the risk of calling God a liar (1Jn 1:10).

The final thing I get out of this verse is that David doesn’t see knowing sin, however gently, as the end of the story. After he asks God to search/know/test/see him, he then asks Him to lead him. God is not just seeing our sin, but he is leading us out of it. This was the crux of the great shift in how Martin Luther saw “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21. He had been thinking of it as the power and holiness by which God sees sin and punishes sinners. But he ultimately realized it was about what God provides for us in Jesus: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Rom 3:22a) So for those of us to who see our sin, and trust Jesus to save us from it and its consequences, he will lead us in the way everlasting.



Romans 1:8-15

Here is my mind map of Romans 1:8-15 (ESV):

You can get the scrolls for this lesson here.

And here are some more questions to get you thinking:

1. What does Paul say first? Why?

2. To what does he call on God as witness?

3. What does he pray for?

4. Why does he want to see the Romans? Who would benefit? In what ways?

5. Why hasn’t he seen the Romans yet?

6. What is his ‘debt’? To whom?

7. What is Paul’s desire?

Introduction: Romans 1:1-7 thoughts

Introductions are somewhat like genealogies to many of us; we have a tendency to just blow them off, and skip to “the good stuff”. But this introduction has plenty of Good stuff in it. It introduces Paul, the Gospel, Jesus, and the Christian, all of which are very relevant to us today, and which will be relevant as we go through the rest of this book.

Paul is a servant, yet also an apostle. How is one sent in authority also a servant? Yet this reflects Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:42-45 (ESV):

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servantd, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slavee of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Paul is also set apart for the Gospel, to the end of the “obedience of faith”. Interesting that those who are in Rome (v7) are “called to be saints”; holiness is also essentially being set apart. So the one is set apart to preach the gospel, and the others are set apart to live it.

These verses also pack in a lot about Jesus, the point of the Gospel (and of everything else, truth be told).  Jesus in the gospel fulfills promises made by men who spoke for God, whose words were written down and kept for us to read.

The gospel is about Jesus, the Son of God (putting together vv1-3: the gospel of God, which [God] promised beforehand … concerning his Son), but it is also about Jesus the Son of David (v3). But He is also Jesus, the Son of God in power… by his resurrection (v4), and finally, Jesus is the source of both grace and apostleship (v5).

This last one I find interesting, given the bilateral nature of lordship. That is, a Lord and a subject have a two way relationship, the one providing protection and other resources necessary for life, and the other providing service and fealty. In the same way, Jesus provides us Grace, which we need for (eternal and any other) life, but he also gives us a job, to represent him before a fallen world.

Rephrasing the above, in five short verses we see Jesus as the eternal Son of God, the human Son of Man, the glorified Son of God, and the Son our Lord.

These verses also talk about what it means to be a Christian. That is, the purpose of the Gospel is to bring about the obedience of faith (v5), and that purpose is to be fulfilled in the readers (v6). Some have argued about the meaning of “obedience of faith”, given the linguistic ambiguity of the construction. Does it mean that faith is obedience? or that obedience that comes from faith (e.g., NIV)? Or obedience that is in some other way characterized by faith? My understanding of the construction is that it doesn’t require or exclude any of these, and that we must interpret it from the larger context.

Why is this question important? One conversation I had recently asked whether Paul here is talking about a single act of faith, which produces justification (as will be treated at length later in Romans), which is thus itself obedience, but not intrinsically tied to any other obedience? Or is Paul talking about obedience that flows from faith, i.e., sanctification, the act of Christians being made more holy subsequent to their trusting Jesus. And most critically, is it possible to have the one and not the other? Is it possible to trust Jesus, then never produce any concrete life change?

I have heard this question debated ad nauseum, and I think it is important for scholars to wrestle with it, but I think here it is enough to say that even if it is possible to have faith without obedience, that would in no way be a good thing, and that in no way is the point of the Gospel. That is, for Paul (and I hope for us), we want to see lives changed because people trust Jesus (and thereby have a right relationship with God, and go to heaven, etc), but we also want to see lives changed here and now as people live more rightly (and thereby glorify God more in their bodies, here and now). If you’re promoting either one without the other, you’re cheating people, IMHO. And perhaps this is why Paul used an ambiguous phrase here. Perhaps the Gospel is there to make people obey by placing their faith in Jesus. Perhaps it is also there to make people more like Jesus, once they have placed their faith in him, and tasted and seen how good he is.

And this is affirmed in Paul’s description of hearers in v7: loved by God and called to be saints. We are not just loved, we are called to be holy. And we are not just called to be holy, but we are loved. This is a package deal, and we get it all in Jesus.

I was somewhat surprised to hear called to be saints this morning used in reference to unbelievers. I’m not sure if Paul meant it that way. But it does make sense, given that those whom he predestined he also called (8:30) is a part of the golden chain that predates conversion, and given that this predestination happened before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8 & 17:8). So while we who believe are called to be holy, it stands to reason that there are some who have not yet converted, but who are nonetheless also loved by God and called to be holy. If so, how does God show this love? And how does he call them to be holy? Paul tells us his thoughts on this in ch 10:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?c And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

So we share the Gospel, and that calls people out of darkness into the kingdom of Light, and it shows people the love of God, as they hear what meets their greatest need.

And this is why grace and peace (v7) are distinctively Christian greetings. We proclaim grace to one another, because we know that it is by grace that we live and breathe. And we proclaim peace to one another, because this is what God has accomplished for us.  And this is not just the sit-down-and-rest-awhile peace of a half time show; it is the complete fulfillment of all our needs in Jesus. It is peace with ourselves and peace with others because we have peace with the creator and sustainer of the universe –and everything else is secondary.

Introduction: Romans 1:1-7

Here is my mind map of the first seven verses of Romans (ESV):


Despite the fact that this is an introduction to the book, there are lots of cool things in this passage. You can check out some material to help through these verses here.

Here are some questions to help you think through these verses:

  1. Who is the letter from?

  2. How does he describe himself?

  3. What does he say about the gospel?

  4. What does he say about God’s Son? What is He, according to whom?

  5. What does he say about His apostles?

  6. Who is the letter to?

  7. What is the greeting?

  8. What is the overall context for this letter, personally, theologically and historically?

  9. How do you fit into that context?

  10. What is your responsibility in that context?

Once More into the Breach

Some time in the last couple months, I got wind that our local church would be studying through Romans in 2018.  Some may have groaned, but I have now looked forward to it from that time, and can’t wait to get started.  Some have said that God repeats lessons you don’t get the first time; and perhaps this is what God is doing with me and Romans. But despite the number of times I’ve been through this book, I still find something new that blows my mind each time, and I haven’t had enough of it yet.

My first formal Bible study, with Campus Ambassadors, was in Romans. They have a to-with-through model of ministry, so I co-taught the first quarter (by the school calendar at Oregon State University), then taught the second quarter myself (IIRC), then grabbed another student to do the third quarter.  We had gone through different materials by Howard Hendricks, like this more recent publication on inductive Bible study.  While Howard Hendricks has taught a lot of seminary students, his contribution to myself and my peers was to encourage and enable us to make careful study of the Bible a part of our normal layman lives. So it didn’t scare me to lead this study, since we were just looking at the text to see what it said.

My first formal Bible study in French was also the book of Romans, in Chambéry, France. The local church where we fellowshipped (while there studying French) started the study, and we joined.  It felt like trying to watch a ping-pong match without being able to follow the ball, but the difficulty of trying to understand French people discussing Romans in real time forced me to learn French more fluently, as well as being a part of encouraging their growth, and growing myself. By the end of our time there, I noticed that I was following and contributing more fluently, mostly because we were joined by another anglophone couple, who felt as lost as we had when we joined.

Near the end of our first term with Wycliffe, I led a (very) small group Bible study in our church in Nairobi, again in Romans. Most weeks we only had three of us, and we didn’t make it past chapter six or so, but it was good fellowship, and we got to take it as slow as we wanted (which I’ve found is critical to not feeling like you’re drinking from a fire-hose, in studying this book).

Earlier last year, DTS started an online class on Inductive Bible study, which I followed up with another online class on Romans 1-8. These were both pretty short courses, but could be a helpful overview if you are looking for that.

And in the spring of last year, a group of men from our local church finished a formal study (on manhood, of course), and decided to keep meeting, as they often do between official church classes. We decided to do a book, and that book was Romans. So I got to compile the questions I’d developed for the study in Nairobi, adapt it to a one-chapter-a-week (i.e., breakneck) pace, and extend it to the end of the book.   And I got to make a nice chart for chapter 5, and a genealogy to help follow chapter 9. But one thing I really enjoyed about this time through was that I basically came up with questions, and did some discussion leading, but it was mostly a bunch of guys studying God’s word. One of those guys even credits his conversion to follow-up on the first few chapters in that study. So I have been privileged to see God work through his word, without really being able to take credit for it myself.

Somewhat parallel with this last study, and something of a break from inductive Bible study, I started working through John Piper’s set of sermons on Romans, which he preached from April 1998 to December 2006. The 225(!) sermons are available as a single download as described here and here. This is a very careful exposition, spending sometimes multiple weeks on a single verse. And there is the added benefit that he continues to pastor his church through this series, so there are a number of tie-ins to church life (like one on small group Sunday, and another on an outdoor evangelism event), which grounds the study in realistic application. So it’s a bit like a multi-year marathon with a microscope in your hands. But I find that the long view requires a different perspective, which I have enjoyed. There is lots of digging down into a verse, then coming back up to remind us what it means in the broader perspective, before digging back down again, etc. Having not yet finished this, it remains the occasional backdrop to my exercise and road trip regimen.

Then this fall, BSF began a year in Romans. While I am not a fan of BSF, the guy who came to Christ in our Romans study earlier this year asked me to join him in doing it, and I couldn’t say no. Which meant that our whole family would be doing BSF this year, which is not a bad thing. And I also have been mindmapping it as we go (with freeplane, based on  freemind), so that has been a fun addition to the study. We’re about half way through the year now, as our local church is starting a year-long series on Romans.

I like this news not just because I get to do Romans again, but because we don’t just do sermons in our local church. We publish material with material and questions aimed at helping people do inductive Bible study, individually, in small groups, or in our community group Bible studies (aka Sunday school). You can follow along and download those studies as they come out here (or pick up a printed copy at church any time the week before the sermon, if you’re in the area). Practically, this means not only do we have sermons on Romans all year, but we also get to go through Romans in our Sunday morning Bible studies, and in our home groups whenever they meet throughout the week. We all get to think about Romans together, for the whole year!

Which brings me to why our local church is doing this, and why I’m so excited about it. Our pastor has been casting a vision to have the Gospel presented in each meeting we have, throughout all church ministries. While I can see that scaring some, I think the Romans focus will really help. Because Romans is focused on the Gospel, and hits hard what it is, and what it isn’t. Sometimes I hear people say things, and I wonder how clearly they understand the Gospel. With this study, we’ll be able to address these issues head on. Those who already have the Gospel can only get a firmer grip on it, and hopefully some people will grasp it for the first time. In all, saturating more people with the Gospel can only be a good thing.

And as an added synergy benefit, I got my son the first volume of Tim Keller’s Romans for You, his accessible non-commentary on Romans. I’m hoping to go through that with him this year, both to build on what we’re doing as a church and as a family, but also as a part of his discipleship leading up to a public testimony for him. Just another reason for me to be excited about what God has for us in Romans this year.

And to be clear, one thing I love about lay Bible study is that it doesn’t take a graduate degree to get something life-changing out of the Bible. Yes, I have a graduate degree, but it’s in linguistics, not theology, nor Bible. I took one quarter of Greek in college, which I didn’t finish (the quarter of Greek, not college). I have never taken a seminary class (unless you count the online ones mentioned above). So my point is that you can get a lot out of Romans (and again and again) without needing to be an expert first.

So the Gospel is “good news”, but is it just any good news? As Christians we talk about the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is a particular good news, and not just any news that might seem good from our perspective. So what are these things I hear, you ask? Rather than prejudge the multitude of opinions out there, I’ll pose a number of questions that I think Romans will help with:

  • Is the gospel about helping me live the way I want to?
  • Is the gospel about giving me blessing (materially, socially, and/or spiritually)?
  • Is the gospel about making me look good?
  • Is the gospel a card I sign, or a prayer I pray?
  • Is the gospel a set of teachings I should accept (or teach)?
  • Is the gospel a means to another end, like baptism or church membership?
  • Does everyone need the gospel (if not, who doesn’t)?
  • Is the gospel required for salvation (if so, from what)?
  • Does the gospel make me free of judgment, so I can sin as I like without consequences?
  • Will the gospel make me a better person?
  • Will the gospel make me accepted by people at church?
  • Will the gospel make me have more friends (or lose them)?
  • Will the gospel keep me from being poor (or from being rich)?
  • How does the gospel interact with what I do, feel, or choose?
  • Does the gospel require that I obey God?
  • What happens if I accept the gospel, then screw up something really bad (like cheat on my spouse)?
  • If I have screwed up something really bad (like cheated on my spouse), can I accept the gospel?

Anyway, I could go on, but I’ll not trifle with your patience. If any of the above questions are interesting to you, I encourage you to join us in studying through Romans this year. You can find the pace I’ll be taking in the scrolls (here again), and I’ll try to put some sort of drivel here on something like a weekly basis. I’d love to hear your thoughts as we go in the comments.