Tag Archives: Romans

Is there a third option between slavery to sin and slavery to God?

Romans 6 22

Last Wednesday I got to teach the Youth Group from Romans 6:11-23. Here were some of my reflections as I studied the passage. Suffice it to say, Romans teaches a pretty counter-cultural perspective on freedom. 

Is there a third option here?

It’s easy to like the idea of being set free from sin. Apart from Jesus our sinful desires control us and it’s a powerless feeling. In Jesus, we can be free from that slavery.

But I suspect it can be a little more difficult for us to accept that when we cease to be slaves to sin, we simultaneously become slaves to God. Paul doesn’t leave us a third option – being free from sin AND free from God. Is such a third option possible and would it be desirable?

No and no.

It’s not possible. First, to desire to be free from God was the root of Adam and Eve’s sin. They desired to be like God themselves and, in doing so, they rejected their place in his creation and, ultimately, they rejected God himself. Second, the “third option” is a trap. When we desire to be “free” from God we start down the path of sin. The sin that starts out little grows and gains more and more control. We think it’s our pet, but it becomes our slave master, and eventually leads to death.

It’s also not desirable. God created us and loves us so he knows what’s best for us. He sets up boundaries for our own good and within those boundaries he grants us incredible freedom. Like a fish is free in water, a person is free when he is in the environment for which he was created. God created us to live in love – love for God and love for one another. When we submit to him, he calls us to obey those greatest commandments. In doing so, though we are offering our whole selves in service to him, we become truly free.

Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence in church life

According to Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), the process of maturity is a movement from dependence, to independence, to interdependence. When we are babies, we are completely dependent upon others. It is easy to see that dependence is a place of immaturity whether it is in the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual realms (see Hebrews 5:12).

The next stage we move to in the maturity process is independence. Here we are able to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally. We make decisions on our own and take responsibility for our own actions. We are able to provide for our own basic needs. A lot of people believe that complete independence is the pinnacle of maturity but that’s not true. The problem is that a mental map of independence doesn’t match the reality of the interdependent world we live in. People who believe they are entirely independent are really dependent in many more ways than they would care to admit. For example, teenagers strive for independence but are much more fundamentally dependent than they realize.

The highest level of maturity, says Covey, is interdependence. When we are interdependent we take responsibility for our own spheres of influence and our own decisions. We live based on principles (what is right and wrong) not on political expediency (what will other people think of me). But we also acknowledge that we live in an interdependent world and that the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. We work together, working off of each other’s strengths to accomplish more than each of us could accomplish on our own.

This vision of maturity as interdependence wonderfully matches Paul’s description of the church as a body (see 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians). A body is a beautiful illustration of interdependence. Each part functions within its role, acknowledging its interdependence with the other parts. Each part takes responsibility for its own function – an eye sees, and ear hears, a foot moves – but doesn’t try to act as a complete body on its own. A church which practices interdependence grows up in maturity, love, and unity (see Ephesians 4).

In a “dependent” church, the individual members don’t do much of anything. They are consumers. They desire to be “fed” but won’t do any feeding. They live on the spiritual milk handed out by the preacher each Sunday. They are dependent on the human leader of the church and if that leader fails, their faith is lost. I don’t mean to blame the members. Leaders often foster this kind of thinking. Abusive leaders, or leaders with a Messiah complex, foster this kind of dependence, intentionally or unintentionally keeping their congregation in a state of dependence.

In an “independent” church, individuals take responsibility for their own spiritual growth but don’t work together as a team. Churches of this ilk may be marked by in-fighting or jealousy. Perhaps the church in Corinth was overly marked by a spirit of independence where everyone was clamoring for their own voice to be heard. It was a church marked by pride instead of humility and factions instead of unity. Christians with a completely independent mindset may check-out of church altogether. After all, if they have everything they need within the themselves, why go to church in the first place?

In an “interdependent” church members see themselves as parts of a whole. Members with an interdependent mindset often look for churches where they can work as part of a team and utilize their gifts as part of a greater mission. Here everyone is moving toward the same goal – love, maturity, discipleship, service, evangelism, etc – but each person plays a different part. An interdependent church is like an orchestra playing in harmony. It embraces both unity and diversity. Each person takes responsibility for playing their own instrument well and rejoices when others play their instruments well. Leaders in interdependent churches encourage spiritual growth and cooperation between the parts. They try to create systems where growth occurs naturally and where the Spirit is given room to build up the body.

Of course, in one sense, all churches are fundamentally dependent. We are dependent upon the Head, the Source, the Authority, and the Builder, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can you make judgments without being judgmental?

This was originally posted back in 2011 on our church’s leadership blog when I was preaching through Romans 12.

In modern usage, “making moral judgments” and “being judgmental,” are nearly synonymous. It is impossible to say that a particular action is wrong (making a moral judgment) without also being labeled as judgmental. The Bible, on the other hand, regularly encourages us to make moral judgments (or more accurately faithfully accept the judgments revealed in God’s Word) while strongly arguing against being “judgmental.”

In Romans 14 Paul is addressing some conflicts in the church. Some (the “strong”) believe they can eat anything while others (the “weak”) believe Christians should be vegetarians (14:2). Additionally, some believed certain days to be especially holy while others saw every day alike (14:5a). Paul encourages both groups to make moral judgments. He explicitly tells them “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5b). He himself is unafraid to take sides, weighing on the side of the strong (14:14). At the same time, on several occasions, he tells them not to “pass judgment” (14:3, 10, 13). There are at least 5 distinctions in Romans 14 between making judgments and being judgmental.

Despising vs. Welcoming: On two of the three occasions when Paul speaks against being judgmental he pairs it with a strong relational term which the ESV translates “despise.” So he says in 14:3 “let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains” and rhetorically asks in 14:10 “why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you why do you despise your brother?” On the contrary, we are to “welcome” our brothers. Again, 14:3 says “let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” Likewise 15:7 says, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” In other words, being judgmental implies a relational division. In simply making moral judgments however, we are able to maintain relational ties.

Leaving the “Judgment” to God: Paul’s major reason we should not judge is found in the Lordship of Christ. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (14:4) We are not the Lord of anyone. We are not the Master. And since we are not the Master we have no right to judge as though we were one. Jesus’ Lordship is seen both now (while we are alive) and in the final judgment. We live and die to Him (14:7-9) and to Him alone – not to another master. Being judgmental means assuming that we have the right to be someone else’s god. Making moral judgments, on the contrary, leaves judgment and Lordship to God alone.

Examining ourselves before examining others: Considering the final judgment also forces us to examine ourselves first. Since we will be standing before the throne alone we need to make sure that what we do we “do to the Lord” (14:6) and that we do nothing that is not out of faith (14:23).  We live with the sobering reality that “each of us will give an account to himself before God.” (14:12) The one making a moral judgment is considering whether there is something within himself worthy of judging (14:22). The judgmental person looks only to the faults of others.

Looking for the Good: Paul is surprisingly generous with the “weak” even though he himself agrees with the “strong.” He says (even though he is convinced they are wrong) that what they are doing they are doing “unto the Lord.” They are doing it out of a clear conscience, pure motives, and a thankful heart. The man making a moral judgment looks for the good in others. The judgmental person, on the other hand, is not afraid to “destroy” his brother for the sake of food and drink (14:15-17) simply because he thinks he is right.

Finding Common Ground: Paul is able to speak as he does regarding “disputable matters” because he knows the church has much more important issues before them. They cannot afford to be distracted by less important things. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (14:17) Peace, mutual edification, and your brother’s or sister’s clean conscience are sometimes more important than being right. Making moral judgments sometimes means weighing what is truly central and what is tertiary. It means finding that which unifies (especially within the church) so that we can have perspective on that which divides. Being judgmental either blurs the lines between critical and non-critical issues are simply reverses the order.

On Faith: A Painful Story

Attic After School starts up this week, so here’s the next installment of “On Faith” from Hebrews 11.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. Hebrews 11:17-19

When I was in Seminary I had to translate Genesis 22:1-14 (God testing Abraham). Translation requires slow and careful attention to every word. It’s impossible to translate (for non-experts) quickly. The problem is that Genesis 22:1-14 is one of those stories you want to get to the end of quickly. You want to get to the part where God stops Abraham from killing Isaac and provides a ram for the offering. You do NOT want to dwell on what precedes that – God’s command to Abraham, Abraham and Isaac setting out, Isaac’s question; “the fire and the wood are here but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Isaac is bound. Abraham raises the knife… I winced every time I translated the words “son” and “father.” I believe the writer wanted this response. He wanted us to feel anxiety, pain, worry, even sickness in the pit of our stomachs.

I am, to this day, still blown away by Abraham’s response. He responded with a faith I will probably never fully grasp. He could have responded in so many different ways. He could have argued – “this is the son of the promise!” Yet, the only record we have is that he simply obeyed.

Somehow, Abraham held two (apparently) competing concepts in his head. First, he really did fear God enough to give his own son (Gen 22:12). Second, he was absolutely confident that God was true to his promise that Isaac would be the son of the promise. The text of Genesis makes this second point clear. Abraham told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and we will come back to you.” And, in response to Isaac’s questions Abraham responds, “God himself will provide the lamb,” a phrase that prophetically echoes through the ages.

Hebrews 11:19 explains “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.”

I’m not sure how he worked it all out, but as Abraham held the knife over his son, his only son, he was both prepared to act and certain that he would be returning with Isaac down the mountain. Now that is incredible faith! I can think of no contemporary example or application but I’m not sure that I should. No other story is like it.

except one…

God the Father sent His Son, His one and only Son, the Son who he loved, into the world. There was no closer father/son relationship than this. And yet, both knew the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to be the perfect once-for-all sacrifice. Imagine the Father’s heart when his Son cried out in the garden, “please take this cup from me… but not my will, but yours be done.” Make no mistake, God did not force Jesus to go to the cross. The Son acted of his own accord. He laid down his life willingly – spurred on by the same motivations as the Father; the ultimate glory of God and love for the lost sheep. And yet, though they both acted willingly and in one accord this ought not cause us to think that the Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was not really full of anguish. The Christ, fully God, fully man, experienced the full weight of the curse, of hell, as he took the guilt of our sin. He was crushed for our sake, and by his stripes we are healed.

God himself had provided the lamb for the offering, and it was His Son.

Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If God demonstrated His to us by giving us own Son, how much more will His love continue to work for our good? Indeed, Romans 8 continues “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Though he did not fully understand, this “love of God in Christ Jesus” was the object of Abraham’s faith. He reasoned that God Himself would provide the offering (which He did both with the ram in the thicket and in the once-for-all offering of His Son) and that God could raise the dead (which He did figuratively of Isaac and literally of Christ.) Because of Abraham’s faith, God credited to him as righteousness. Abraham only saw from a distance, but at this stage in history we see fully. And God now offers to us salvation through faith, faith in His promise, faith in His Son, and faith that He can, and did, raise the dead. And, like Abraham, this faith will be credited to us as righteousness because of the grace of God in Jesus.