(1-4) Beloved, Paul’s letter to the Romans is the first epistle in the Bible. Epistles were letters written to churches or individuals for their instruction. Romans is the longest of his letters and provides the clearest explanation of his understanding of my redemptive work in and through my people. The good news Paul shared was anticipated generations before and fulfilled in my Son, Jesus. Humanly, David was Jesus’s ancestor, but he is also my beloved Son, who was crucified by Rome and resurrected by my Holy Spirit. He was and is fully man and fully God.
(5-7) Paul’s mission was to welcome people to my kingdom from every nation, inviting them to live with faithfulness, obedience, and grace. I inspired him to write this letter to the Roman saints whom I love and cherish. You too, beloved, are a saint because of my Son. Receive the grace and peace that comes only through Jesus.
(8-15) Develop the practice of giving thanks for believers around the world. My church is worldwide, and my Spirit is at work in every corner of the globe. Encourage one another in kingdom work. When he wrote this letter, Paul had never been to Rome, yet he longed to meet them face to face. One day, in my restored kingdom, all my children will be together, but until then, connections are often hindered. Regardless, proclaim the truth of my Son and the works that are happening—the effect is greater than you can imagine. I called Paul to share the gospel with both Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish. The good news of my Son belongs to everyone who will hear, regardless of their culture.
(16) You have no need to be ashamed of the gospel message because it is by this good news that people come to know and believe that I welcome everyone in my kingdom through my Son’s perfect sacrifice. The gospel is available to everyone who believes.
(17) What my Son accomplished is more magnificent than you can imagine, because salvation does not depend on your goodness or holiness, but his. You need only believe, from start to finish. Every day, remind yourself that the message of my Son is gloriously true.
(18-20) Beloved, sometimes people struggle with understanding my anger, wondering how I can feel wrath when my principle essence is love. However, know this: because I am love, I cannot tolerate anything that brings harm to my image bearers—sin and unrighteousness. When people choose to live in the kingdom of sin, they cannot see the light of truth, because they choose the dark. If you are willing to open your eyes, you will see evidence of my glory everywhere. All of creation bears my fingerprints. Every question in science, philosophy, and psychology finds its answer in me. Every creative endeavor reveals a glimpse of my beauty. My creative power and divine nature are clear and they always have been. Look at the majestic mountains, the expanding cosmos, or a bumblebee in flight and you will see my creative essence. Those who do not see it choose not to see it, so they cannot claim that my divinity was never revealed to them.
(21) Deep within, everyone feels the divine spark, but many try to “logic” their way to understanding. They exclude me from the equation and then use materialist ideas to prove my non-existence, failing to recognize the folly of their thinking. In writing me off, they ignore the need to offer me thanksgiving and honor. What they consider to be objective and thoughtful is foolishness. When you choose to exclude essential information before even asking questions, your thinking is limited. You can only discover truth in my light.
(22-23) Believing themselves to be wise, they become haughty and self-congratulatory, but they are blind fools. They could open their eyes and see my transcendent glory, but instead they home in on the things that I have created and ignore me, the glorious creator. G.K. Chesterton understood this danger, writing “Poets do not go mad, but chess players do…The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the sea, and so make it finite…The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head, and it is his head that splits.”[i] Excluding me leads only to fracture. People look for answers in images that point to my glory, but they stop short.
(24-25) I will not force the will of my image bearers. I let people have their own way, even if it is destructive. When they deny me, many people chase after impure passions, seeking self-centered pleasures rather than God-honoring practices. In truth, pleasure seeking is self-worship. People sacrifice true love for hedonism, and so they miss the big picture of my eternal transcendence.
(26-27) I allow people to follow the path of pleasure-seeking. Women and men live in conflict with the way they were created, pursuing unholy passions together. Their mission is pleasure, not love. They gratify themselves with the bodies of other people. People believe such activities are harmless and without consequence, but when they sin against their own bodies, the body remembers.
(28) When you live your life ignoring me, it leaves scars. I created you with the ability to think and reason, but that gift can be used for evil or for good. People who continually deny my existence by how they think and act will find themselves changed. They will justify behaviors and ideas that contradict my will because their brains get slowly rewired for unrighteousness.
(29-31) They practice all sorts of unrighteousness and evil. They burn with passion for what others have. They speak with poisoned tongues. They stir up division with envy, murder, strife, lying, and malice. They gossip and slander, revealing their hatred for me and what I value. What is more, they take pride in their sinfulness. They come up with new ways to practice evil, using the gift of creativity for destructive purposes. They disregard their parents’ counsel. They are foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.
(32) Deep within them, they know that I hate these things and that such evil leads to disintegration and death, yet they continue to practice and approve of them. Beloved, beware of the tendency within yourself to justify evil. I did not create you for evil, but for wholeness.
[i] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1908/1995), 22.
(1-5) Beloved, I know your sinful tendency to look at others who are sinning with a judgmental spirit, but there is no excuse for judging them because when you do, you invite judgment upon yourself since you do the very same things. When you look at someone else and say, “Well at least I’ve never…,” you are acting in judgment, not self-awareness. Leave the judgments to me. When you judge others for the same things that you practice, you are a hypocrite. Do you think that if you pretend you are righteous, I will give you a pass? Do you think that if you take advantage of my kindness and patience I will not notice? I show you kindness so that you will turn back into the embrace of my love, not so that you can sin more. When you cling to your sinfulness, it will be much more painful when I strip it away from you at the final judgment.
(6-11) I am the God of perfect justice and holiness. I do not show favoritism. Every person has daily choices to live toward wholeness or toward brokenness, toward shalom or toward disintegration, toward other-centeredness or self-centeredness. Eternal life is found only upon the path of love. If you continually choose the low road marked by disobedience and unrighteousness, your only destination is my wrath against sin. Every person, regardless of where they come from, who takes up residence with evil will find their lives ultimately marked by pain and distress. The pain of evil makes no distinction between people. Choose the path toward wholeness.
(12-13) Listen, it does not matter whether you are an expert in the Bible or whether you have never heard it. If you hope for salvation by following rules, you will not make it. Simply hearing my word confers no advantage. Instead, live righteously.
(14-16) There are those who have never heard two words from scripture, yet they choose the way of love and other-centeredness, because my law is also written in nature’s code. When they act contrary to what they know to be true, they are no better or worse off than those who know my word, yet do not follow it. I have given everyone a conscience that whispers truth to them. When they choose to act contrary to it, they will feel an internal conflict. In the end, my Son and I will judge the thoughts and intentions of every person.
(17-20) But beware, beloved. Those who call themselves believers and claim to know and follow my word are at risk. They may know what is good and true in my will because they know the Bible. They are certain that they are competent teachers, wise guides, lights in a dark world, and instructors of the next generation because they read and know the Bible and believe that it contains true knowledge.
(21-22) Yet in instructing others, they fail to be instructed because they are proud and self-righteous. They preach against stealing, adultery, idolatry, and pride, yet they practice all these things themselves. My Son’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) makes it clear that these are heart issues, not mere behavioral compliance.
(23-24) Here is the point: Do not brag about your righteousness while living in unrighteousness. Why are you even surprised that my name is so often maligned by non-believers? They see your hypocrisy and reject me. Brennan Manning once said, “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and go out the door and deny them by their lifestyle”[i]. He was right. Non-believers have a nose for inauthenticity and it stinks to them, just as it does to me.
(25-27) Outward signs are only of value if you keep the law. The rite of circumcision was valuable only because it marked a person as chosen under the law, but when someone rejects my law by how they live, circumcision means nothing. On the other hand, a person who was never circumcised, but upholds the law might as well be circumcised. The lives of those who keep my word but do not bear the physical signs of faithfulness condemn the actions of those who have the “right” credentials. (28-29) Following me is never about how you look on the outside, whether by circumcision, wearing a cross, or decorating everything with Bible words. Following me is a heart issue. Does your inward spirit bear the sign of the cross? Is my Holy Spirit alive and active in you? Are you more concerned about the impressions other people have of you, or about how I see you?
[i] Brennan Manning, on D.C. Talk’s song, What if I stumble? (Brentwood, TN: ForeFront Records, 1995).
(1-4) There is a great advantage being Jewish, because I revealed my story of redemption through the Jews. It was through their prophets and people that the pages of the Bible were written. True, many of them turned aside from me. What difference does that make? Every page in the Bible highlights my faithfulness despite people’s unfaithfulness. Beloved, I am the protagonist of the story. I remain true to my promises even when everyone else fails. My words are true and my judgment is just.
(5-8) Your darkness makes my pure light appear that much brighter. People sometimes conclude that if I am pure love and goodness, it would go against my nature to judge sin. Even though your sinfulness and your dishonesty may highlight my graciousness, it is no reason to seek out sin. Sadly, that is how some people understand my grace: a free pass to the circus of unrighteousness. Those who live that way miss the point.
(9-18) Still, even though my revealed wisdom came through the Jews, it does not mean they are miraculously exempt from sinning. Paul quoted several Old Testament passages to support the point[i]. Here is what is true of fallen humanity:
There is not one person who is whole
not even one.
There is no one who comprehends my fullness,
no one who truly seeks after me.
Every person has left the path of shalom
pursuing broken things.
They do not live for integration,
When they open their mouths,
they breathe out deception and death.
They speak out curses from a bitter tongue.
They are eager to inflict hurt.
The road they walk is littered
with the victims of their self-centered violence.
They do not put my peace into practice
because they treat my call to love with contempt.
(19-20) No one who knows my law can look at Paul’s words and not feel the sting of conviction. They have nothing to say. If those who know my law cannot keep it, even if they want to, certainly those who do not know the law cannot keep it, so every person misses the mark in regard to my righteous standard. It follows then that not one single person throughout history, other than my Son, has any hope of perfection based on how well they have kept my law. It is through the law that you can recognize sin, knowing what falls short of my holy standard.
(21-24) But my Son ushered in a new way of wholeness, a way apart from perfect law keeping, even though my law plays an important part in understanding the need for this new chapter. True righteousness is found in my Son. Put your faith in him, because here is what is true: status, lineage, culture, or inheritance do not matter. Every single person falls far short of meeting my holy standard. You cannot and will not get right with me by rule following. It is only by the pure gift of my grace that you have any hope for redemption.
(25-26) Jesus willingly poured out his very life on your behalf. Will you choose to believe that his blood is sufficient for making you whole? It is my righteousness that is revealed. It is my patience and mercy that passes over your sins. I revealed my loving righteousness through my Son at exactly the right time. Sending my Son not only maintained my perfect justice, it paved the way for your justification.
(27-28) Because your standing with me is all grace, there is no place for religious pride. When people understand the radical truth of my graciousness, the only words upon their lips are “Thank you.” You never need to prove that you are more spiritual or more holy than the people who go to the church down the street or than those who think differently than you think. Boasting has no place in my kingdom.
(29-30) Paul asked if I am the God of Jews only or also of Gentiles, concluding that I am Lord of all. The same question could be asked today. Am I the God of Catholics only? What about Baptists, Protestants, or even atheists? Yes, I am God over all creation. There is no mark, sign, or affiliation that identifies you as superior. It is all grace from top to bottom.
(31) If it is true that faith in my Son’s finished work is all that matters, am I suggesting that you can just forget what the law says and go your own way, doing whatever you want? Of course not. The law still plays an important role.
[i] See Ps. 14; Ps. 53; Ps. 5; Jer. 5; Ps. 140; Ps. 10; Prov. 1; Is. 59; and Ps. 36.
(1-3) Consider Abraham, the father of many people and nations. Did he gain status before me by right living and stringent rule keeping? Even if he were able to take pride in his own righteousness, it would amount to nothing before me, because his best living—and yours—still falls far short of perfect holiness. But my holy word does not say that your status with me is based upon how well you have kept the rules; it says that Abraham believed what I said and his belief was credited as righteousness.[i]
(4-5) When you have a job, your wages are not a gift, but your due earnings. With me, those who do not trust in their own work, but put all their hope in my Son, I credit their faith as righteousness. It is all gift. Beloved, I know the snare you face. You want to retreat to works, hoping to justify yourself before me, but works are a false security, because they offer you no real hope. Press into believing in the gift my Son gives.
(6-8) Even my beloved son David wrote of the blessing of being free from the burden of earned righteousness in Psalm 32.
Blessed are those who are forgiven for breaking the law
whose sins are buried and gone.
Blessed is the one whose sins are not counted by God.
Do you understand what David and Paul were saying? I do not count your sins against you. I am not keeping score. Your sins, all of them, were buried with my Son in the grave.
(9-12) Beloved, some people insist that the blessing of my forgiveness is only for certain people, certain groups, or certain cultures. In Paul’s time, the debate had to do with the circumcised versus the uncircumcised, Jews versus Gentiles. Today, similar disagreements about who is in and who is out tend to run along denominational and cultural lines, but remember it was Abraham’s faith that mattered, not what he did for me. My blessing came before his obedience regarding circumcision. My love is always preeminent. Abraham was willing to receive circumcision as a visible sign of the righteousness I gave to him because of his faith. It helped him remember my faithfulness toward him. In many regards, this physical sign revealed that he was the father of faith for everyone who would believe apart from external signs or works for generations to come.
(13-15) I made a stunning promise to Abraham, that he would become the Father of nations, but my promise was not based upon his righteous behavior or sinlessness. It came to pass because, in hope against hope, Abraham believed what I told him. If I made it so that your inheritance was based upon following the law, then your faith would count for nothing, but beloved, understand that despite your best efforts, neither you nor anyone else can keep the law. Because I hate sin so much, I reveal my wrath against it. But if keeping the law does not factor into your status with me, there is no law breaking to consider.
(16-17) So what do I mean in saying that it is your faith that matters? It means that my promises to Abraham…and to you…call upon you to simply believe. My promises are entirely an outflow of my graciousness to generation after generation. Whether you try to keep the law or whether you live by faith, never forget that life with me is all of grace. I am the Father of all creation. I told Abraham that he would become the father of many nations. Do you see beloved? Through Abraham, I revealed that I am the God of inclusivity, not exclusivity; the God of hope, not hopelessness. It was late in Abraham’s life—well beyond childbearing years—that I made him a father, which was further proof that I am the God who brings life from death, something from nothing.
(18) There was no earthly reason for Abraham to believe what I promised him, because my promise defied logic. Abraham chose to hope anyway because it was his only option for a legacy. He chose, day by day, to place his faith in my promise to him. Like Abraham, beloved, hope in me. Easter was proof that I bring life from death.
(19-21) When you find yourself beginning to doubt that I will do what I say, remember Abraham. He knew that even though he was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, both decades beyond fertility, I had made him a promise. Even though many years passed, he kept on believing. Over the years, his faith grew stronger as day by day, he glorified me.
(22-25) His continued hope in me is why his faith was credited to him as righteousness. He knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he had nothing to offer when it came to becoming a father of nations. He understood that if what I promised him would ever to come to pass, it would be all because of me. Beloved, trying to resurrect your own life is a hopeless endeavor, but there is great hope in faith. My hand is not shortened. I can and will do everything I have promised and that includes your complete forgiveness through my Son’s finished work on the cross.
[i] Gen. 15:6.
(1-3) Beloved, because your standing with me is not based upon your unsteady righteousness, but trust in my Son’s perfect righteousness, I want you to be at peace. In my Son, there is no conflict between us. He did everything necessary to make sure you know that you are welcome with me. My grace secures your standing, now and forever. My graciousness is my glory.
(4-5) Do not be afraid of suffering when it comes upon you, because both light and shadow provide the rich contours of your transforming life. The pain and suffering you experience produce endurance, which in turn, form your character. As you grow in character, you will become more confident in my plan. Never feel ashamed of these things, neither light nor dark, because my love—my very Spirit—is present with all the parts of you.
(6-8) Beloved, my Son died for you, not because you forced his hand, but because he truly and deeply loves you, without reservation. He did not wait for you to begin to make positive changes. He died for you at your worst when you were hopeless and weak. You could make the argument that some people would offer their lives for someone of noble character who already lives a good and holy life, but that is not what my Son did. He willingly entered the darkness of your sin and disintegration, loving you right there. In fact, he loved you so much, he willingly went to the cross for you.
(9-11) So listen, here are the implications of what I am telling you: Because you have been made right by my Son’s sacrifice, I want you to know what that implies. I hold no wrath against you. I am not burning with anger because of your sin. I am not rolling my eyes in disappointment when you fail to live and love perfectly. I feel none of that for you. NONE. In fact, it was precisely when you were living as my enemy, actively resisting my love, that I set everything right, reconciling us through my Son’s blood and because you have been reconciled, I want you to understand the implications of what life with my Spirit means right now. Beloved, you can rejoice, for you are in me, Father, Son, and Spirit. I am the reconciler of all things.
(12) I created the world in perfect goodness and beauty, without a hint of evil, but through the first man, Adam, sin came into the world. When he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, pain, brokenness, and death rushed in.[i] The cosmos was no longer how I created it. Sin affected, or more accurately infected, everything—morality, relationships, biology—indeed, your very life. Do not pridefully believe that if you had been in Adam’s shoes you would have remained blameless. Every single person in all of history apart from my Son has sinned.
(13-14) Sin was around long before I gave Moses the law codifying it. Those first generations did not know there was a divine law that they were breaking, but they felt its effects every day in pain, toil, and death. Death was not my creational intent and yet everyone has felt its sting. Adam then is a representative of all humanity. Your sin is uniquely your own, but Adam is an image of man’s sinfulness.
(15-16) But the gift of my grace stands in stark contrast to the trespass. Beloved, if so many people died as a result of sin’s infection that was introduced by one man, how much greater is the grace that my Son offers. His grace is no mere trickle from the fountain of mercy, it is a torrent. Furthermore, the effects are distinct. Sin brought condemnation, but grace paid your ransom, even after many trespasses. You have been set free by my Son’s willing sacrifice.
(17) Listen: if it is true that Adam’s sin resulted in all the pain, hurt, death, and disintegration that has ever happened, how much more will life reign through my Son? As much suffering as there is in the world, and you feel its impact every day, death’s reversal will be all that much more magnificent!
(18-19) Just as one man’s sin led to a death sentence for every person, so too my Son’s act of righteousness—his crucifixion and resurrection—paid the penalty and gives life to all people. Because of Jesus, all people are made righteous before me. Adam’s disobedience had a universally destructive effect, but my Son’s obedience has a universally integrative effect. All things will be set right through him.
(20-21) Beloved, pay attention, because I want you to understand this: I gave the law to exaggerate sin and increase your awareness of it. Of course, people sinned grievously before Sinai, but when my standards were written down, they could not simply pretend as if morality was individually defined. They knew their sin. The law’s purpose was never to provide an escape from sinfulness, but to reveal it and help people to understand their own powerlessness when it comes to being made right, but here is the most amazing thing: As your sin increases, my grace abounds even more. Your sin can never outpace my grace. You cannot become perfect under your own power. You will never be able to do so. That is the point. You are fully dependent on my grace. Sin might reign in the kingdom of death, but the grace that comes freely through my Son reigns in our kingdom.
[i] See Gen. 3.
(1-4) Beloved, your restored relationship with me is all grace from top to bottom, so does that mean you have an unlimited pass to sin and self-centeredness, knowing that everything is covered by my Son’s blood? Hear me: There is nothing you have ever done or will ever do that will cause me to reject you, but because grace is true, I invite you to a different way of life. In your baptism, you were baptized into Jesus; your “burial” in the waters was burial with him. The old you is dead and gone. It has been stripped of its power. But you have also been raised to a new life in my Son, in union with him not only in his death, but resurrection. How can you, a resurrected and redeemed person, possibly want to continue in the ways of sin? That is not who you are anymore. Walk with confidence in your new identity— “Christian.”
(5-6) Your union with my Son is key to understanding who you are. United in death, united in life. The old you was nailed to the cross with my Son. Because of the cross, the sum effect of all your sin is zero. Sin is not who you are anymore. You do not have to give in to its enticements. It has been defanged and declawed.
(7-8) How can dead people continue sinning? They cannot; they have been set free from it. The old you died with Jesus. I cannot stress that strongly enough. But the new you—the true you, the whole you—lives right now in my Son, and he in you. Theologians have called this precious truth “union with Christ.” I want you to understand the implications of union with my Son, not only for your eternal security, but for your life right now.
(9-11) My Son, who was raised from the dead, will never die again. Death has no claim on him. He willingly accepted death to break sin’s stronghold, but life in the Trinity is always lived in perfect union. I know how easy it is for you to forget this truth. Remind yourself daily. You are dead to sin and alive to me because of my Son.
(12-14) Do not let sin become your dictator, telling you what to do, think, or say. Do not let evil’s whisper encourage self-centeredness and disintegration. Do not use your mortal body as sin’s playground; rather I want you to use your whole self—mind, body, and spirit—as an instrument of shalom, redeemed and reconciled by my Son. You are not death, but life; not darkness, but light; not brokenness, but wholeness in my Son. Sin is no longer your master. Your life has been redeemed by grace. The law has no bearing on your standing in my kingdom.
(15-16) I am sure that you are once again asking if you are free to chase after self-centered sinfulness considering the magnificence of my grace. Why would you want to be a slave to evil passions and unrighteousness? The final destination of that path is disintegration and death. Instead, live in step with love, which leads to wholeness.
(17-19) Beloved, be filled with thanksgiving that my Son’s finished work permanently broke your shackles of unrighteousness. He freed your heart and will to follow the standard of love. Do you want to be enslaved to something? Let your enslavement be to becoming whole by my Spirit. I am aware, dear child, that slavery is a practice of fallen humanity and not a reflection of my created order, but if you are seeking to apply that metaphor, then become a servant to the cause of shalom. Lawlessness breeds lawlessness, but love breeds love. Allow love to take hold of you and direct your ways to righteousness, which is how you become whole.
(20-21) When you were living as a slave to sin, you were not guided by a desire for righteousness. Martin Luther referred to this as the “bound will.”[i] Because of sin’s deadlock, self-centeredness governed your decisions, but Jesus freed you from bondage. You are now able to look upon those things that you once did and see how much they opposed my character and that their end point is death.
(22-23) My Son’s blood has set you free. You are no longer beholden to sin’s rule. Let my Spirit be your master; citizenship in my kingdom is light and life. As you follow my command to love, it will lead to the growth of healthy fruit that lasts forever. The payment for a harvest of unrighteousness is death, but in my Son, you find a free and lavish gift—eternal life.
[i] J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, trans. The Bondage of the Will: A New Translation of De Servo Arbitrio (1525), Martin Luther’s Reply to Erasmus of Rotterdam (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1957).
(1-3) Let me tell you something about the law. If you understand the legal system, this will perhaps make sense to you. Laws governing behavior, for example the Old Testament law, only apply to living people. Once someone dies, the law holds no sway over them. For example, in a marriage contract, when one spouse dies, the one who remains alive is no longer bound under an active marital contract, but has been released from it. When married people become involved in a sexual affair with someone who is not their spouse, it is adultery—a breaking of the marital contract—but a widow is free to marry again without being considered an adulterer.
(4-5) The same principle applies to your faith. You were joined with my Son in his crucifixion and so you are dead to the law. That old way is not who you are anymore. Rather, you have been raised to a new, fruitful life. Your old self was governed by sinful passions. You were living for pleasure and self-satisfaction. The law was a signpost toward sinful passions and you willingly followed the path of destruction. When you look at your old life, the outcome of your choices was disintegration and death.
(6) But in my Son, the law that convicted you of your unrighteousness no longer holds any sway. It has no claim on a dead man. Your shackles are gone. You have been freed to live out your life in a new way, imbued with my Spirit and no longer in the old way of the written code.
(7-8a) Beloved, I do not want you to be confused, thinking that the Mosaic Law itself is sinful. It is not, yet some people have reacted so strongly to legalism that the law itself can feel like sin. The law’s purpose was to reveal sin, to have it literally written in stone. Although people have lived in self-centered, self-righteous ways since the beginning of time, the law made it clear. Whether they acknowledge it or not, people often operate from the maxim, “rules are made to be broken,” glorying in their rebellion. The law provokes the rebellious heart, stirring up sinful desire. Paul pointed to the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet,”[i] as an example. Even thinking about not coveting can stir up all sorts of covetousness in a heart that is turned toward self-centeredness. As my servant John Calvin wrote, “The human heart is a factory of idols.”[ii]
(8b-11) When the law is not in effect, sin is dormant. Perhaps an example will help you to see this more clearly. A young child may have no desire to go into her parents’ room and snoop around, but if her mother tells “I do not want you going into our bedroom because I am wrapping your birthday presents in there,” suddenly there is a desire to go take a peek. When you know the rules, your heart may be stirred to break them. So it is with my law; it stirs rebellion and convicts you, leaving you believing you can obtain perfection on your own, but sin takes every opportunity to twist truth, deceiving you with false beauty. As in the story of Snow White, the witch’s apple was tantalizing to the eyes, but it was filled with deadly poison.
(12) My law is good, holy, and right. It served the exact purpose for which I handed it down: to kill your belief that you can save yourself.
(13) Do not think that it was my holy law that kills, because the law itself is good. What then? It was your sinful, fallen nature that was fertilized by the good. I know it seems counterintuitive, but remember, I did not give the law to change your heart, but to reveal it. I wanted you to see sin for what it is, to clearly understand that certain things lead to death. The law is a magnifying glass for sin, enlarging and intensifying it.
(14-15) The law proceeds from my Spirit and is therefore good and true, but in Adam, you are not only spirit but flesh and your fleshly nature is shacked by sin. You feel confused by your behavior. Your true self desires to live from a place of truth, goodness, and beauty, but instead, you give in to death and disintegration, the very things you claim to hate.
(16-20) When you find yourself acting contrary to my good law, pay attention to what is happening inside of you. You experience an internal struggle because you agree that the law is good even though you act contrary to it—not from your true self, but the sinful nature that still dwells in you. The battle rages between your new self, which is redeemed and whole, and your old self, which is broken and sinful. It is your old, false self that acts in sin. On one level, you know the desire to do what is right and good, yet in the very next moment you are doing the very evil you claim to hate, feeling utterly powerless over evil’s influence. In fact, I know you truly desire to do what is good, but still act against that desire. Here is what I want you to understand: That part of you that rebels against my law is not the true you, the new self, redeemed by my Son; it is your old self who only masquerades as you. The old self is a false self.
(21) Because of these old and new selves, a battle rages within you. You want to do what is good, but evil desire whispers in your ear, tempting you toward evil. Those old cartoons where a character had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other were simplistic and inaccurate, but they do provide a glimpse of that internal conflict.
(22-25) I know that you delight in my holy standards that are written upon your heart, but sin does not die easily. It makes direct and indirect assaults on you. Evil wages war against goodness, seeking to kill any desire for holiness. Sometimes, sin takes you captive and you act according to its plan, even though you do not want to. Beloved, I know how miserable brokenness and disintegration make you feel; indeed, it is the very point of my law. Allow that feeling of fracture to drive you back to my Son who is the only way for you to become whole. Your fleshly passions will want to go after sin, but set your mind on my Son with thanksgiving for who he has already made you.
[i] Exod. 20:17.
[ii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion [ed. John T. McNeill.; trans. Ford Lewis], ( Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960), 108.
(1-3) Beloved, pay attention, because this is utterly true: there is NO CONDEMNATION for those in my Son. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The old covenant has no claim upon your soul because the Spirit of life has freed you from the tyranny of sin and death through my Son Jesus. On your behalf, my Son accomplished what you could never do on your own by trying to keep the law. My Son came to earth, fully human, and faced the same temptations every person faces, yet he overcame evil’s power, forever condemning it.
(4-6) He fulfilled the law on your behalf and you are now joined with him. You do not walk according to your old sinful ways, but in your new Spirit-filled life. When you focus upon evil and sin, it kills you, destroying wholeness. When you focus on spiritual things—truth, goodness, beauty, and love—it is life. Living in step with my Spirit brings peace.
(7-8) If you insist on pursuing evil in your thinking and actions, you are signaling your opposition to my way of love. You are telling me that your rebellion is better than my way of peace, and beloved, I will not stand in your way, but know this: If you choose to walk evil’s road, obedient to your flesh, I will not bless your journey, but I will always be here for you, ready and waiting.
(9-11) It is supernaturally true that you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. My Spirit dwells in you. Even if you cannot perceive him, he is always there. Those who do not have the Spirit of my Son do not find their identity in him, but you do. So even when your old self—the flesh—engages in sin that seeks to destroy you, your real life is assured because my Son’s unquenchable fire fills you. His righteousness is your righteousness. His life is your life. The death that comes to all mortals is not the end, because my Spirit fills you, body and soul, with eternal life.
(12-14) You owe nothing to your flesh. You are no longer its slave. You do not have to do its bidding. To live controlled by your flesh is darkness and death, but if you seek to live by my Spirit, seek life, daily killing off those evil passions. You are my beloved child and, by my Spirit, I lead you and guide you as you journey through life.
(15-17) Your inheritance is not slavery, but belonging and love. You will always be my beloved child. I welcome you as my precious little one. I am your Father, your Papa. Allow my Spirit to repeat this truth to you as you go about your day: “You are my beloved.” And because it is true that you my beloved child, remember that you are a full heir in my kingdom. You will no doubt suffer as you await your final and full redemption in my everlasting kingdom, but even then, remember that I have not abandoned you.
(18-19) The pain and brokenness that you see in the world and in yourself day by day comes to nothing when compared with my dawning glory. Indeed, my entire creation, even to the farthest reaches of the universe, awaits reconciliation, when I will restore all things to wholeness, with my children as crown jewels of shalom.
(20-22) It was not only Adam and Eve, and every generation since then that bore the wounds of sin, but the cosmos itself. Sin has infected everything: individuals, relationships, families, organizations, biology, ecology—you name it, but creation itself also waits in longing for the restoration I will bring. Child, I will restore the cosmos to its original goodness, and with that comes the glorious freedom found only in my Son. Dallas Willard once said, “God’s aim in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with God himself included in that community as its primary sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”[i] I am committed to total restoration, but before we arrive, creation will continue t0 feel birth pains.
(23) Not just creation, but you. You long for wholeness. There is a thirst within you that can only be quenched in me. Until that time when I set all things right, you will continue to thirst for integration and for the embrace of welcome back home, not only in spirit, but bodily.
(24-25) Keep hoping in that dawning light. Hope thirsts. Hope anticipates. When you already possess something, you do not feel hope for it. A child eating an ice cream cone no longer hopes for ice cream. Hope blooms where the future is unseen. I want you to wait with patience because I always make good on my promises.
(26-27) As you move through life suffering the feeling of disintegration and the longing for shalom, I want you to remember that my Spirit is always with you as your helper and comforter. When you are feeling confused or hopeless, I want you to know that the Spirit sees your disorientation and speaks up on your behalf, according to my will. Unlike you, my Spirit is never confused because his mind is my mind, his will is my will. His intercession on your behalf is exactly what you need.
(28-30) Too often, Romans 8:28 has been used to minimize pain and suffering, an offering of peace where there is no peace;[ii] however, I want you to understand that in light of my final restoration of the entire cosmos, nothing is wasted. Every chapter of your story matters to me. My Spirit is with you in celebration and in suffering, in clarity and in disorientation. I have been writing your story longer than you could possibly imagine, the story of your transformation into love, which is the very identity of Jesus. Everything I have promised you will come to pass. I guarantee it.
(31-34) Beloved, I hope that you are beginning to see that you cannot save yourself. Your salvation is all of grace and if I, the glorious creator and sustainer of all that exists, have welcomed you, who could possibly hold you back? There is no one who can supersede my love for you. The love I revealed by sending my Son to live as a light in a darkened world and to pay the ransom by his death should be evidence of the abundance of my grace. If I approve and welcome you, who then can condemn you? No one. You are fully and completely approved. You belong with me. If you don’t believe it, look to my Son who willingly went to the cross, and not only that, burst forth from the chains of death, ascending back to his rightful place, enthroned at my right side. From that place, he constantly tells me how much he loves you. He is wild about you.
(35-37) So then, who do you think can possibly separate you from me? There is no crisis, no suffering, no pain, no oppression, no material need, truly nothing that can steal you away from me. Even death cannot fracture our relationship. My Son is living proof. In him, your identity as my beloved child is the surest thing about you. It is not as though you just made it by a thread; your belovedness is total, complete, and solid.
(38-39) Rest in this truth: Not death, nor life; not angels above, nor rulers below; not in the present, nor in the future—no powers, no exuberance, no suffering, not one single thing in all I have created can possibly separate you from my love.
[i] Dallas Willard, Living in Christ’s presence: Final words on heaven and the kingdom of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), 4-5.
[ii] Jer. 6:14.
(1-5) Paul felt the pain of disunion, knowing that creation was not yet as it ought to be. He went so far as to say that he would willingly be cut off from divine union for the sake of those who do not know me, and especially the Jews, his brethren and my chosen nation through whom I revealed my story generation after generation. They were the recipients of my promises, the law, and a tradition of worship. The whole Old Testament emerged from them right up to my Son’s arrival, who is the pinnacle of my story.
(6-8) It was never my intent to restrict my love to one specific race or culture. Just because many Jews chose to walk away from me, it does not mean that my plan has failed. I never fail at what I intend. Neither your biological lineage nor cultural heritage make you right with me, but my promise. I do not love you because of who your ancestors were, but because I am love.
(9-13) I can accomplish what seems impossible to you. Consider Sarah. She was decades beyond childbearing years and yet I promised her husband Abraham that she would have a child, and she did. Her daughter-in-law Rebekah conceived the twins, Esau and Jacob. Through their birth, I also upset the tradition that said lineage was what mattered. According to tradition, because Esau was the first born, he should be doubly blessed, but that is not how my kingdom works. It is not morality, culture, status, nor anything else about you that puts you in my good graces. You are accepted because I am merciful.
(14-16) Does that make you wonder if I am unjust, or that maybe I am an unstable tyrant who impetuously and impulsively destroys my creation with glee? That is not true. I want you to understand instead that Paul was offering an invitation to see my mercy. I choose to offer mercy and compassion; it is not earned. You cannot muscle or think your way into my kingdom. It is all gift.
(17-18) Even Pharaoh, who was so sure of his importance that he wanted to be revered as a god, was no match for my gracious deliverance of my people. It was through Pharaoh’s unwavering rebellion that the power of my mercy was revealed. Every person has a part in my story. Whether people double down in rebellion like Pharaoh, or receive mercy is all a part of my grand redemption story.
(19-20) Beloved, I know that my ways are often confusing to your finite mind. You wonder how my sovereignty can be understood in terms of human suffering. You ask questions like, “How could a good God allow pain?” I understand your confusion even though I am never confused. You wrestle with how I can find fault in people when they choose evil that I have so clearly allowed to happen. Be cautious about feeling morally superior, demanding answers about why I have created you to have the capacity for evil. My design is precisely as I intended and in my omniscience, I know everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
(21-24) I am the Creator of everything. Surely, it is my divine right to create people uniquely. Some will live honorably and some will live dishonorably at the intersection of my creational intent and their free will. But if you focus on who is in and who is out of my kingdom, you are missing the point. Instead of focusing upon my wrath toward evil as a display of my power, choose instead to see the glorious riches of my mercy, displayed in fragile vessels that I created from the very mud of the ground. Focus on the glory of my freely offered grace in reconciliation’s story. You see, it is not only the Jews only who are redeemed by my Son, but those from all nations, cultures, and languages. Though the disintegrating effect of original sin was all-encompassing, the reintegrating effect of my Son’s blood is infinitely more powerful. It brings total restoration.
(25-26) Consider my words revealed through the prophet Hosea:
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people’
and she who was not my beloved I will call ‘beloved’
and in that very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’[i]
Beloved, those who are on the outside are welcomed in, not as second-class citizens, but as those with full rights, adopted into my family.
(27-29) Isaiah wrote that “the nation of Israel was more numerous than the sands of the sea, but that only a remnant would be saved,”[ii] because it is faith, not works, that matters. I will destroy all evil in my timing, yet I will preserve those who believe, for I am full of grace and mercy. If I destroyed everyone who sinned, it would leave no one alive, just like at Sodom and Gomorrah.[iii]
(30-32a) So what does all this mean? The Gentiles, those who are not from the nation of Israel and who did not seek salvation by good works but rather by placing their faith in my Son’s righteousness have attained it, yet those who belong to Israel but depended upon their works and rule keeping have failed to attain true righteousness. Let me tell you again: Restoration does not come through rule keeping.
(32b-33) They tripped over the stumbling stone, Jesus. Isaiah also wrote these words, “Listen, I am putting a stumbling stone, an offensive rock, right on Zion, my holy mountain. Whoever believes in the stumbling stone will not be shamed for doing so, but will be saved.”[iv] That stone, as you may suspect, is Jesus. Why do people stumble? Because they simply cannot believe that salvation is pure gift.
[i] Hosea 2:23; 1:10.
[ii] Isa. 10:22-23.
[iii] Isa. 1:9; Gen. 19.
[iv] Isa. 8:14; 28:16.
(1-4) Paul shared his hope that every person would come to a saving knowledge of my Son, but he knew—because he was once the same way—that although people can be zealous about me, they often miss the forest for the trees. Many people underestimate my standard of righteousness and perfect purity, believing that through right living and right thinking, they can earn their way to me, but salvation cannot be accomplished through hard work. It is only through my Son, who is the end of the law as a means of right standing with me, that you have any hope.
(5-10) Beloved, the new covenant is key to understanding my kingdom. According to the writings of Moses, righteousness came through obedience to the commandments, but the righteousness of faith in my Son does not require you to perform miracles—ascending on your own to heaven or going down into hell to rescue my Son. Then what does the new covenant say? Pay attention to what stirs up within you. Faith says, “If you confess aloud your belief in Jesus and if that confession reflects a true belief in his resurrection, you will be saved.” Period. You are justified by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. Your heart reveals your belief, which in turn pours forth from your mouth.
(11-13) Pay attention to what the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Every person who believes in him will not be put to shame.”[i] It does not matter if you are Jewish or non-Jewish, man or woman, young or old. I am the Lord of everyone and everything, without exception. Quoting the prophet Joel, Paul wrote “Every person who calls out to the Lord will be saved.”[ii]
(14-15) Do not keep this beautiful message to yourself. How will people come to know the magnificence of my mercy if they have never heard about me? And how can they hear if no one speaks? And how can you speak if you fail to engage with people? Once again, my servant Isaiah wrote, “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news!”[iii] Beloved, you know how refreshing it is to hear good news—that you don’t have cancer, that your friends are safe after a tornado, or that a friend is coming to visit. The news of my Son is infinitely better.
(16-18) Even so, not everyone who hears this message places their trust in me. Faith comes from hearing and internalizing my Son’s words. Have some then not heard? No. The truth of my Son stirs in every heart to the very ends of the earth.[iv]
(19) Many in Israel missed the unfolding story. Moses revealed my intent, writing that I would stir jealousy in the Jews by showing favor to a foolish nation who were not my covenant people.[v] I did this so that my beloved Israel would see my grace and love, not only for them, but for all.
(20-21) Isaiah even wrote that I would be found by people who were not even looking for me and that I reveal myself to those who never bother to ask about me. In contrast, in reference to Israel, Isaiah said that I offered them my very presence only to be rejected by them in their disobedience.[vi]
Beloved, my grace is for everyone. People come to know me in surprising ways, which should be a sure sign of my relentless pursuit of sinful people. I knocked Paul off his feet as he sought to destroy Christianity and I made him into the most effective missionary in history. I reveal my love to prostitutes, thieves, murderers, and the self-righteous. There is no depth to which my grace cannot descend.
[i] Isa. 28:16.
[ii] Joel 2:32.
[iii] Isa. 53:1.
[iv] Ps. 19:4
[v] Deut. 32:31.
[vi] Isa. 65:1-2.
(1-5) Some have understood Paul’s precious words in Romans to suggest that I have rejected the Jewish people, but that is untrue. I love them with an everlasting love. I have not and will not turn my back on them. Even my servant Elijah, filled with emotion, asked why I did not destroy them for their wickedness. I told him that I kept a faithful remnant who had not rejected me and made them recipients of my lavish grace.[i]
(6) Beloved, it is my grace and not your works that gives you security. If your standing with me depended on your good deeds, my grace would be meaningless with regard to your acceptance. In truth, grace is your only hope, and it alone is sufficient.
(7-8) So then, how do you make sense of those who have rejected my grace and failed to obtain the life with me they were seeking? Some obtained it through faith in my steadfast love, though others became hardened to my grace because they were working diligently to obtain acceptance on their own. As I have told you before, I let people have their own way. If they choose to wander off into the darkness of confusion, certain they know the way, I will not block them, even as they become increasingly blind to the truth found in my Son.
(9-10) Some people become so wedded to belief in their own sufficiency that they completely lose sight of who I am. They believe that if they hang around with the “right” people, go the to “right” church, or live in the “right” country, they are quite secure, but these things are all traps that lead to false security, because they blind people to their own errant thinking.
(11-12) Yet even their wandering, beloved, is a part of my divine plan for redemption. Because the Jews missed the mark and stumbled about in their own certainty, it opened the way into my kingdom for all people. People are tribal by nature and routinely mistrust those who think differently. Certainly, for the Israelites, my grace toward Gentiles aroused feelings jealousy and exclusion, but it was that nationalistic sin that made the way for nationalism to die, and for full inclusion to be possible.
(13-15) Although Paul was a devout Jew, indeed a Pharisee, I gave him the ministry to the Gentiles. He boldly told the Jews about the miraculous work I was doing through him with the Gentiles, which stoked their jealousy, yet led to salvation for some. Too many people, in their self-centered protectionism, become jealous of my mercy toward others, but my mercy is the only way to achieve global reconciliation. The acceptance of my boundless grace means restoration of true life.
(16) My grace is greater than you can imagine. Consider Paul’s metaphor of bread dough. A small amount of yeast leavens a whole loaf. Or think about a tree; what happens at the roots affects the leaves at the tips of the outermost branches. The initial impact may be local, but the effect is universal.
(17-21) When a branch is broken from a tree and a new branch is grafted in to be fed by the root, should the new branch become arrogant about its position, boasting to the other branches. It would be ridiculous for the new branch to say, “Look at what I have accomplished,” because its life does not come from its own power, but from the root that nourishes it. Other branches were broken off, making space for the inclusion of the new branch. As you ponder this metaphor, I want you to understand that it is because of my mercy that you are included, so there is absolutely no place for boasting. If you fall under the delusion that your acceptance is based upon something you have done, you are no different than those who were broken off in their unbelief.
(22-24) Pay attention: it is evidence of my severe mercy that I prune away unbelief, though my kindness is equally merciful. Continue to offer your life as a prayer of thanksgiving for my kindness so that you will not be pruned away. It is always through the power of my love that anyone can be grafted into the great flourishing tree in my kingdom, both Jews and Gentiles.
(25-27) My plan for reconciliation is supernatural and beyond human understanding, though I give you glimpses of my glorious plan. Israel’s rejection happened in order to make the way for Gentiles to be welcomed in. The pattern of the Israelites rejecting me, my discipline, their repentance, and my steadfast love is as old as time, and it has never failed to serve redemptive ends. At the end of things, my Son—the deliverer—will banish ungodliness from the Jewish people once again, a fresh reminder of my everlasting covenant with them that I will take away their sins.
(28-29) When it comes to the good news of my Son, their rebellion has been your gift, opening the way for you into my eternal kingdom, but they are still my chosen race. I love them just as I loved their forefathers.
(30-32) You have lived in rebellion just as all people have, but even in your rebellion, I was merciful to you. It is no different for the Jews; though they rebel, they too receive my mercy. I have permitted every person to rebel against me, Jew and Gentile. Why? Because your rebellion is an opportunity for me to show mercy.
(33-36) My wisdom is immeasurable. You will never fully comprehend the magnitude of my blessing. With your finite mind, you will never be able to entirely grasp the decisions that I make or the magnificence of my love. As Isaiah wrote,
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Who has given him advice
or a loan that must one day be repaid?[ii]
I am infinite wisdom, infinite knowledge, infinite goodness, infinite power, and infinite holiness. The smartest scientists, wisest philosophers, or insightful poets cannot begin to grasp the measure of my glory. It is from me, through me, and for me that all things transpire. It is all for my glory and your benefit.
[i] 1 Kings 19:10-18.
[ii] Isa. 59:20-21.
(1-2) In light of the magnificent good news Paul shared, how then should you live? Let your whole life bear the imprint of my mercy and grace. My desire is that you would become whole and holy—body and soul, an offering of worship to me. In order to live that way, you must radically reorient yourself away from self-centered worldliness and toward God-centered adoration and other-centered love. To live this way involves daily renewal, continually refocusing upon things that are good, true, and beautiful. Wholeness and integration are the very center of my will for you.
(3) Here are some ways to grow in godliness. Do not make too much of yourself, exaggerating your righteousness and leading others to believe that you are better than you really are. I have invited you into faith and I want your faith to bloom right where you are planted. If I made you a daisy, be the best daisy you can. Do not pretend you are a sunflower.
(4-8) Consider the human body. Though it is one unit, it has many different organs and functions, each contributing uniquely to the greater whole. So it is with my church, which is made up of multitudes who possess different gifts, personalities, and abilities, all of which are important. I have called some to speak prophetically, some to exceptional service, some to teaching my word, some to speaking convicting words, some to generosity, some to leadership, and some to exuberant mercy. Whatever gift I have bestowed, I want you to be willing to offer it back to me by loving well.
(9) When it comes to love, which is the very heart of who I am, do not fake it. Fake love is no love at all. Instead, be authentic and genuine. Train yourself to discriminate between good and evil. With the help of my Holy Spirit who dwells in you, seek those things that are integrating and reject those things that fracture your spirit and your relationships.
(10) Put in the effort to love others well, not with indifference, but with the caring, other-centered love that exists in healthy families. Go the extra mile to encourage so that they have no doubt that they are loved, valued, and accepted. Godly love is never about demanding your own rights to the exclusion of others, but rather to recognize that everyone is interconnected. No one is more or less valuable than another.
(11) Pursue love intentionally; do not just sit back and expect love to happen. Love is active and zealous for the good of another. When you love others in both word and action, you serve my kingdom.
(12) When pain and suffering come upon you, which they will in a world that is not yet fully reconciled, do not feel hopeless. Instead, remember that I have promised full restoration. Be patient with yourself and others, remembering what I am doing in you and in the world. As the magnificent poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “I want to beg of you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient to all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”[i] Allow these unresolved bits of you, the nagging questions and self-doubt, to be kindling for prayer. Bring everything to me. It is our relationship that matters.
(13) Be generous toward others with time, ability, and financial resources. If you cling too tightly to these things, they will be a shackle upon your soul. Instead, use them for love.
(14) There will be those who would like nothing better than to see you fail. They will speak negatively about you and may even seek your harm. Your carnal nature will urge you to retaliate, but I want you to respond instead with blessing. Seek the good of others, even when they are seeking to harm you, because that is the way of the cross.
(15) Be eager to join people right where they are. If they are celebrating, do not feel the need to warn them about excessive happiness, rejoice with them. When they are mourning, suffer with them. Humanity was never meant to be emotionless, but full of heart, shared together.
(16) I want you to live in harmony with one another. Harmony is not monotony, nor is it cacophony. It is not simply one melodious line, but many notes that mix uniquely to produce a wondrous tune. Heaven itself is a magnificent symphony, a harmony of Trinitarian love.
Do not consider yourself to be more special than others. Pride kills. Go out of your way to spend time with those who are lowly in status and in spirit. Be an encourager to everyone you encounter.
Do not be especially fond of your own wisdom and insight. I have given you the ability to think, reason, and feel, but if you begin to act as though you are some sort of sage by your own wisdom, you have left me behind and are traveling a dangerous path.
(17) Again, do not practice retributive justice. There is an old saying, referencing Exodus 21:24 that says—“If in this present age we were to go back to the old time of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ there would be very few…who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless.”[ii] Retribution is not the way of the cross. Following my Son means not only avoiding retribution but seeking to honor the humanity of others. Every single person has been created in my image. Honor their dignity.
(18-19) If it is possible, live at peace with everyone. Some will continually reject your offers of peace; that is on them, not you. You cannot control the actions or reactions of others, but only your own, so seek peace. Do not try to avenge yourself by setting things right according to your own sense of justice. Rather, leave it up to me, trusting that I am perfectly just and that I will set all things right. When all is said and done and you see my justice clearly, you will have no doubt that I handled it exactly right.
(20-21) Do you want to know what to do in the meantime? Do the opposite of what your sinful, self-protective nature tells you. If your enemy is hungry, share your food. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Paul wrote that acting contrary to your sinful nature will “heap burning coals” upon your enemy’s head. Do not immediately think of this as punishment, but understand that such treatment leads to discomfort. Undeserved mercy is countercultural and for the one who clings to evil, receiving mercy is precisely what they do not expect.
Evil is not destroyed by greater evil, but only by good; never by hate, but only by love; never by deception, but only by truth; never through self-seeking, but only through the cross.
[i] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a young poet [trans. Joan M. Burnham],(Novato, CA: New World Books, 2000), 35.
[ii] Mr. Graham. Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada: Third Session – Twelfth Parliament: Volume CXIII (Ottawa, CA: J. De L. Tache, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, February 5, 1914), 496. Accessed July 7, 2020 from http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015068463267.
(1-5) Beloved, the beginning of Romans 13 is difficult for some people to accept, especially when they witness the wickedness of some rulers, yet no government exists outside of my sovereign control. Even when you disagree with leaders or laws feel oppressive, I want you to follow the law of the land. When you actively resist the government, you resist the order that I have allowed and therefore resist me. In general, governments bring order. In addition to giving structure, they bring justice to societal wrongdoing in a way that individuals cannot. It is when you break the law that you should be worried, because laws exist to maintain justice and those who break them may face punishment. Although it may not seem like it, governments exist to provide order and institute justice.
(6-7) This means that you should also pay your taxes. Those who oppose governmental injustice sometimes want to stop paying taxes. Let it not be so. Remember, I have permitted the leaders you have. They are serving the function to which I have appointed them. Indeed, do not withhold payment to anyone who is owed. Pay your taxes. Pay your bills. Pay respect.
(8-10) Complexity and confusion arise for many Christians when the government not only acts in ways that appear to contradict my will but make demands upon the citizenship to disobey me. For example, a government that forced you to murder, steal, or deny me creates an impasse between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of heaven. Your first law is love through which my entire law is fulfilled. Think about the specifics: do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not burn with desire for what another person possesses. All those things find their root in seeking the best for another. Sometimes this has been called the “golden rule”: Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Love does not take advantage of neighbors but recognizes your interconnection. Honor your interdependence and so fulfill my law.
(11-14) Live attentively. I know you often feel tempted to float mindlessly through your days, but I want you to pay attention to my ongoing work. The time when I will make everything brand new is coming, so do not go to sleep. If you keep your eyes open, you may see my holy light piercing the darkness. Every person who follows my Son in a life of love is a beacon of hope. Guard yourself with his light. Do not live by worldly standards: drunken orgies, pursuing pleasure for pleasure’s sake, fighting, and quarreling. Instead, walk in my Son’s shoes, knowing that he is in you. Because of him, you do not have to stumble about in darkness, because you are filled with the light of love. As you go about your days, live for my glory and the good of others rather than for your own pleasure or popularity.
(1) Beloved, every person is at a different place on their faith journey. The judgmental part of you may look at others whose faith seems weaker than yours and criticize them or argue over matters of faith. Instead, welcome others right where they are. Resist the temptation to prove you are right. Focusing on who is right and who is wrong does nothing to foster unity and love.
(2-4) Christians have wide ranging opinions about many peripheral things, even though they agree on the central parts of faith. Some choose to eat heartily, while others eat a meager diet. Some abstain from alcohol, while others have no problem having a drink. Some vote conservatively, some progressively. I value them all. Differences between my children reflect the great diversity of my kingdom. Though I value unity, my creation was never about uniformity, so do not pass judgment on those who do not live like you. My judgment is the only one that matters and, in my Son, my grace keeps everyone safe.
(5-6) Here is the thing: Regardless of the decisions you face, think through them so that they are not arbitrary, but rather are informed by my Word and my Spirit. Some have elected to set aside Sunday as a special day where they refrain from working. Others do so on Saturday, while still others do not count any specific day as more important than others. Whatever you determine to be right and good, do so in such a way that it brings honor to me. If you eat a sumptuous meal, do so with thanksgiving. Likewise, if you fast, give thanks. Offer your gratitude to me on Saturdays, Sundays, and all the days.
(7-9) Let everything that you do, think, and feel be an offering of praise to me. I did not create you for yourself alone, but for me and for one another. Never forget that regardless of what happens in your life, you are my treasured possession. I sent my Son for this very purpose: that in life or death, sorrow or rejoicing, confusion or clarity, that you would know that you belong to me.
(10) Because I treasure and cherish all my children, ask yourself why you feel compelled to pass judgment on others. Why do you seethe with anger toward some people? Are they not all my children? Every person stands before my judgment seat, but my Son has already paid the ransom.
(11-12) The prophet Isaiah wrote down my words:
Every knee shall bow before me,
because I am the living God.
Every tongue shall clearly confess
that I am the Lord of all things.[i]
In light of this truth, beloved, I want you to realize that you will stand before me. Indeed every person will lay out their entire life before me and when they see the continual evidence of my presence, my mercy, and my love, their tongues will confess my power and they will offer shouts of thanksgiving and praise, knowing that I am the Lord of all.
(13) I know, dear child, that you harbor judgments against others. For the sake of your own soul, stop judging. Your critical spirit does not serve to edify, but rather to discourage and diminish others and yourself. I want you to encourage and build others up.
(14-19) Because of my Son’s finished work, there is nothing “unclean”; in other words, there is nothing in and of itself that immediately makes a person unholy. What matters instead is the heart behind it. For example, as I mentioned earlier, some people view any alcohol consumption as a sign of unrighteousness, whereas others do not. An attitude of love and other-centeredness is considerate of others. Does your freedom cause them to stumble? If another person struggles or suffers because of your “freedom,” you are not acting in love, but self-centeredness. Remember that you are interdependent; your actions are not only for yourself alone, but for your fellow humans. Just because you regard something as acceptable and maybe even good, others see evil. Keep a larger view. Life in my kingdom is not merely about defending your freedom to eat, drink, or do what you want, it is about growing together in righteousness, peace, and joy. Together, you are becoming whole by my Spirit. When you live with my Son’s heart, I am totally for you. Pursue peace, wholeness, and mutual encouragement.
(20-23) Do not tear down the work of my kingdom for something as ordinary as food. People are so much more important than your freedom to eat or drink whatever you wish. Yes, it is true that everything is clean. The old covenant no longer dictates what is holy or unholy in any binding way, but consider your motivation. If you start with an attitude of “what about my freedoms and rights?” but you do not care if your behavior causes your friends to struggle with their faith, what kind of friend are you being? I put you in relationship with them. You have no need to judge yourself because I have already justified you, but if you doubt or question whether I approve of something, I would encourage restraint because it will work negatively in your heart. Whatever does not come from a heart of faith can be destructive.
[i] Isa. 45:23.
(1-3) As your own faith continues to mature, make sure that you are patient with those who are not as far along as you are, because you were once in their shoes. Do not merely tolerate the people in your life, seek their good. Build others up, even if that means you bear extra burden and discomfort for their sakes, because that is what my Son did for you. Do not be afraid to suffer when it builds up the body.
(4-7) I have revealed the story of humanity through 66 books. There is so much more that could be written down, but the words I gave instruct you in who I am, who you are, and how to live a life of love. I gave the Bible to you so that you might be encouraged about my steadfast love and see that my love never fails. Considering my unrelenting love and encouragement, seek harmony with one another, pursuing glorious community in my Son. Welcome one another in love just as my Son welcomes you in love. Such harmonious love glorifies me.
(8-12) My Son, the Messiah, did not come as a ruler, but as a servant to the Jews in fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. Not only Jews, but all people, offer thanksgiving for my mercy to all creation, just as it was written down in ages past. Here are a few examples:
- Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles singing aloud to you.[i]
- Rejoice, o Gentiles, with his people.[ii]
- Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles
and let all people groups make much of him.[iii]
- The root of Jesse will come.
He will arise to rule the Gentiles
and he will be their hope.[iv]
Beloved, notice that these writings are from all over the Old Testament—the Pentateuch, history, wisdom, and prophetic literature. The reconciling work of my Son was not isolated to specific passages or authors in the Old Testament, but was represented everywhere.
(13) Allow those repeated truths to fill you with joy and peace, believing that I will do what I have promised. It is through the presence, power, and persistence of my Spirit that you can have boundless hope in me.
(14-16) Beloved, Paul’s audience was, in many respects, on the right path and able to share their knowledge with one another, yet he had more to share. Like Paul, you possess knowledge and goodness, but there is always more to learn, whether you were raised in the church or are brand new to faith. My word is meant to shape you into the image of my Son.
(17-21) Paul preached tirelessly among the Gentiles, generously planting gospel seeds wherever he went. He felt good about what he was accomplishing because he knew that it was not him, but Christ in him that made the difference. It was my Spirit, who was with Paul just as he is with you, that gave power and reach to the message, from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond. I called Paul to a specific ministry—bringing the gospel to those who would otherwise not hear it or see the beauty of my Son. I want each person to share their faith, though how and where is different for everyone.
(22-24) Despite the wide reach of Paul’s missionary work, the spread of the good news did not happen overnight. Paul routinely felt the tension between pressing forward into new communities and establishing deeper relationships. He desired to get to Italy and even to Spain, but it was slow going.
(25-29) He let the house churches in Rome know that his work was two steps forward and one step back. The saints in Jerusalem needed help and so he headed that way but was also blessed by gifts from congregations over a wide area. My people who make up the universal church are all interconnected. My desire is that they would share not only a common faith in me, but a common interest in one another’s well-being. Paul understood that sharing blessings materially mean sharing stories of blessing everywhere he went, assured of the presence and power of my Son.
(30-32) Paul was energized by the love and prayers of the saints on his behalf. All believers everywhere share a common tongue, which is the language of my Spirit. Pray for my presence to be with others. Pray for their protection from evil. Pray for their provision. Above all, pray that they may know me and be filled with the joy, peace, and refreshment that comes only through life with me.
[i] 2 Sam. 22:50.
[ii] Deut. 32:43.
[iii] Ps. 117:1.
[iv] Isa. 11:10.
(1-2) Relationships are essential to being human. Throughout your life, relationships will change, but do not lose sight of their importance. Though Paul was a traveling missionary, he still treasured the people who knew and loved him. He mentioned several of them by name. It was Phoebe who Paul entrusted with this letter to the Romans. Paul wanted them to welcome her with generous hearts.
(3-16) He continued mentioning his cherished fellow servants. Prisca and Aquila had risked their lives for Paul. There were many others too: Epaentus, Mary, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Herodion, the family of Narcissus, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister Olympus. These were real men and women whom Paul loved. Think about your own story; whose names would be on your list? You are all united in my Son who is the body. I want to remind you again to remember that all believers everywhere are united in Jesus. Seek to love and embrace one another rather than fighting over differences.
(17-18) There are those who come in and stir up division, who create obstacles that keep people from knowing me. Watch out for them. They want to add rules and stipulations to what it means to be a Christian. Avoid those quarrels; they do not lead anywhere edifying. Their smooth words and high-minded theology are not about glorifying my Son at all, but rather, their own egos. They love to convert trusting people to their preferred theology through intellectualization and rationalism.
(19-20) Do not become ensnared by secondary matters. Focus on knowing your belovedness and living a life in response. Watching my children pursue lives of love fills me with joy. But do not be satisfied with remaining naïve. Learn the difference between what is good and what is evil, then seek after good with the grace of my Son upholding you.
(21-23) Paul once again mentioned his friends, but this time to pass on greetings to the Romans from those who were with him: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Gaius, Erastus, Quartus, and Tertius (the scribe who wrote the letter).
(24) Not all early manuscripts include verse 24, which reads “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” These are good words, beloved. Do not get lost in the minutiae of whether they were “inspired” by me.
(25-27) Paul concluded his letter with a benediction, which comes from the Latin word meaning blessing. It was a prayer of blessing for the church and, in this case, a wonderful summary of all that Paul had said before. Notice the pattern of Paul’s closing.
He began with me. Everything begins with me. Paul knows that it is I alone who can give the strength necessary for the good news to go forth individually and globally.
He reminded the readers of generations past who were waiting with longing for my Son and of Jesus the glorious bloom of patient hope. Jesus did not come for one tribe alone, or one church alone, or one culture alone. He came for everyone, which was just as I intended, so that all people everywhere would grow into lives of wholeness, holiness, and love. All of this is done through the work of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, according to the wisdom of the Father. Rest in this truth, beloved.