Category Archives: Romans

Something More!

Romans 8:37 In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. 38 I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, 39 and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!  CEV

Have you noticed there are times in life when a phrase or a topic of faith just “pops” up from enough different sources that you know you’re being taught something new?  For some time now I’ve been pondering something I wouldn’t necessarily want more of; weakness.  But not weakness as inadequacy, mind you, but the conversion of weakness to need and dependence.  God has been introducing me to the “odd couple” I wrote about in last Sunday’s blog; weakness and prayer.  I can be satisfied with my weakness because “not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate [me] from God’s love for [me] in Christ Jesus our Lord!”  

I began this exploration of weakness some time ago by asking God to protect my mind and my heart.  Now that’s become the basis of most of my prayers for anyone else. Please remember even the “other” faithful disciples of Jesus had to experience the conversion of their own weakness into faith too.  They were so confident of their faith in the best of times but in the crisis moments their reactions were painfully different.  James, Thomas and Peter are a few of those “others” who come to mind.  God has answered my prayers by revealing His purpose for my faith is to build His strength into my weakness through His Word for me and my words to Him.

“Something more?”  There have been several of them lately.  I knew when I read this quote before I landed at this part of Romans 8, it was one of them: “When the longing of one’s heart is inked into words and offered as a prayer, that’s when it springs to life in God’s mind.a  That seems very different from the more familiar “thy will be done.”  This IS God’s will; that our hearts are converted by our words to, and our need for, Him.  It really has felt like “something more than a victory.”  It has felt like a gift.  After all, my salvation is God’s victory, not mine.  I just cling to the hope that by recognizing the conversion of my own weakness into need and dependence on Christ, I might be able to make Him look good.

“Because of Christ who loves us” there’s a second “something “more than a victory!”  This week I read that in the final year of Henri Nouwen’s 40+ years of determined faithfulness, he was still dealing with the realities of his own flaws. It wasn’t victory he wrote about in those last months, but of “the constant need of conversion that we have in life. Conversion from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.” and “What an enormous, important spiritual journey it is when we discover that where our healing begins is where joy is rooted.“ ‘The conversion [Nouwen] maps is from self-rejection to self-acceptance, from competition to compassion, from productivity to fruitfulness. b’ “

There is yet another “something more” that came my way. This article from Desiring God by Jon Bloom about weakness and this quote. “Someday, when our Master returns, he will ask us to give an account of the talents he’s entrusted to us. Some of those talents will be our weaknesses. We don’t want to tell him we buried any of them.”

Our weakness is not converted to strength  because of our determination.  Our weakness is converted to strength knowing it is Jesus who could calm the stormy sea with a word.  Our weakness is converted to strength by Jesus who  revealed his wounds to heal us and it’s Jesus ‘s strength that converts our weaknesses into “something more!”

a From the novel, Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
b Excerpted from the book Community compiled posthumously from Henri Nouwen’s writings.

The Big Answer

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose…31 What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ESV

I would guess most of us read and ponder the Bible for answers so it seemed like a remarkable thing that there was a question to be answered in every single verse of this passage.  I had planned to skip right over the familiar verse 28 and get right to the “What shall we say to these things?”  But what things?  Turns out these simple questions are related to some very big things from verses 28 -30.  Things I wish I knew more about so I had better answers for them. Things like love, foreknew, predestined, conformed to the image of his Son, called, justified, and glorified.  Impossible things, really.   

Then I spotted the footnote [h] to Verse 28 [Some manuscripts; God works all things together for good, OR God works in all things for the good] for those who are called according to his purpose.  Both of those footnoted translations made a simple change that drew my attention away from those “things” I don’t know to the BIG answer to “What then shall we say to these things?”  God works! 

Odd Couple

Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ESV

Sometimes the impact of a few words in the Word can become a lightbulb moment.  That happened with those few highlighted words from Romans 8:26.  The Lord has been using the Word and my own words each time I write a blog post to refine me during this time while the entirety of my life has been re-defined.  I am no longer part of a couple, I am a widow. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” has become my new awareness that in the faith the Lord has given me there is a powerful relationship between weakness and prayer. 

My concept of praying as a strength has been revealed for the flawed idea it is.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought.”  I know my prayers have changed because what my heart needs to pray in this time has coincided with the awareness of my own weakness.  For the first time I emotionally understand Paul’s comment about his weakness being his strength.  I’ve experienced “groanings too deep for words.  My own words of prayer have mostly seemed weak to my ears.  But somehow the “mind of the Spirit” heard those words that were spilled out in tear-filled broken phrases and translated that weakness “according to the will of God” into a different reality for me.

I’ve become aware that the power of prayer doesn’t depend on the strength of my words to provide the answers I need to endure anything more than confessing my own weakness.  Just a couple nights ago I found myself needing to confess I had once again flunked trusting the faith I write and speak of.   That’s when I realized weakness and prayer ARE the “odd couple” the Spirit of God uses to remind me the reality of Jesus’s strength IS my faith.  What I am able to ask of Him in weakness, the Spirit of God can use to reveal deep truth to me: a broken and fearful heart still has life.  Life is good because Jesus said so.   His promises still hold true as long as His life is in my body. “He who searches hearts knows” my weakness and my fumbling prayers are the gift of my heart and He responds “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in [your] weakness.a  That’s a passing grade I can live with.

a 2 Corinthians 12:9

Definitions

Romans 8:22-25 RSV
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail [painful or laborious effort] together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits [the first installment of our future glory], groan inwardly as we wait for adoption [taking another’s child and bringing it up as one’s own] as sons, the redemption [the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil] of our bodies.  For in this hope [feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.] we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience [to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.]

Still

Romans 8:18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

Suffering in a fallen world is what came to my mind as I read these verses. I thought I understood that relationship pretty clearly until my husband was killed.  The world was a wreck and suffering was the result!  Grief has become my faithful teacher and my repeated prayer is now “Lord, help me to honor you, and my husband in my grief.”  Grief has shown me a new bottom line; suffering in a fallen world reveals new strengths and glaring weaknesses. They are both gifts from God.  The benefits of the strengths are obvious, but it’s in the awareness of my weakness that I recognize God’s reminder to me, in a brand new way, how great my need for Him still is, and that His desire is still to be my strength.

“If there were no afflictions and difficulties and troubles and pain, our fallen hearts would fall ever more deeply in love with the comforts and securities and pleasures of this world instead of falling more deeply in love with our inheritance beyond this world, namely, God himself.” John Piper 

Obligation

Romans 8:10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.  12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

Jesus’s Part:
…to give life to your mortal bodies” that overcomes sin because “the spirit [of Christ in you] is alive because of [His] righteousness.”

Our Part:
…“We are under obligation” to live being “led by the Spirit of God,”

What does that look like to you?  I’ll bet you dollars to donuts you’ve fallen into the same trap I have – it looks like doing the right thing at the right time in the right place. That’s certainly a good look but it’s the least valuable part in God’s eyes.  Remember all the venerated people from the Old Testament who did the wrong thing at the right time and in the right place?  God led them and saved them despite the evidence they were often careless, broken and flawed people.  They have their place in the Bible because of one simple thing; they were willing to be reminded by God of their need to pursue their relationship with Him despite having only the slightest inkling of what He really desired from them.

For most of us that’s still the reality of what we have to offer God today.  It’s true we have much more knowledge, we have the Bible and we often have true shepherds who lead us.  Sadly, we have have turned those things into our “obligation” instead of recognizing our magnificent and determined Creator has given us those things as His graces.  Our obligation is still the same simple one from long ago; that we be willing to pursue our relationship with “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” and He will lead us and save us despite the repeated evidence we too are often careless, broken and flawed people.  

Of The Spirit

Romans 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. NASB

Circumstances bombard us with “the things of the flesh” and they do have a negative impact on our mindset.  Paul has reminded me about Jesus’s promises of blessings that have a positive impact “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  I share my own words written back in 2016 because right now I personally need to remember “the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Use the underlined links below to read them and then the back button to return.  I hope your Spirit might be refreshed today and…

• Blessed by knowing it’s not our spirit that sustains us. Self has Fallen Through the Cracks of life and in the process caught a glimpse of a promised new kingdom of heaven.
• Blessed by realizing that in the Unfamiliar Reality of the emotions of mourning God is replacing the need to cope in unbearable circumstances with the release of comfort.
• Blessed by an undeserved and unearned inheritance and an eternity to explore and understand what submissive, yielding and obedient is. Meek is the mystery of God moving us into position to fulfill his plans as we learn the difference between Be-ing vs Choosing.
• Blessed by Jesus using something as basic and daily as our body’s craving for nourishment to remind us there’s Another Kind of Life to crave: long for, yearn, desire, want, wish or need – a life of righteousness.
• Blessed by the mercy of Jesus and The Perfected Golden Rule: “Do unto others…as I have done unto you.”
• Blessed by the power of God and the life of Jesus to create pure hearts by chiseling away stony pieces to bring us One Pebble Closer to being able to see God.
• Blessed by peacemakers who go Beyond Just Fixing to create opportunity for those in conflict to explore the reality of truth as God means it to be: a path to unity not separation.
• Blessed by a new perspective on Jesus words and the fullness of one Greek word, diṓkō.  The blessing that overtakes persecution is two-fold for “those who live according to the Spirit [and] set their minds on the things of the Spirit;”  righteousness and endurance.   In Each Case the reward is the kingdom of heaven.

Potential AND Limitations

Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. NASB

It’s a sad truth that many Christians have looked at God’s acceptance of their apology as little more than a release from guilt.  There is a difference between knowing you’re forgiven and “no condemnation.”  It’s the difference John Piper points out in this quote: “our apprenticeship to Jesus is living into both our potential and our limitations.”

Even forgiven believers struggle to accept the potential God has created in them because there are obvious limitations that condemn us; the ”shoulds.”  The “Shoulds” are “the law of sin and of death” that “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has overcome.   We have incorrectly separated our potential from our limitations rather than celebrating that God has a plan to weave a life for us that includes potential AND  limitations.

Nothing is more powerful than the realization that careless. broken and sinful people can be forgiven AND that Jesus has a plan to redeem our potential AND limitations as part of the perfect life He’s creating for us right here and now.  Can you believe that?  It’s true!

Read what the Apostle Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 12:10 “For when I am weak, then I am strong…”  Click the image to enlarge it. It’s a visual object lesson.   God has lined up those secured vertical strands of His promises to be like the years of our life.  Our choices sometimes fall under the promises and sometimes skip right over the top of them.  The Lord has chosen to weave those “+” and “-“ choices of our life into a fabric that completes His life in us.  Potential AND limitations woven together “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit;” confident that we are part of His perfect design.  “Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Likeness

Romans 8:3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. NASB

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This week an interesting discussion about the word “likeness” became the catalyst for fresh look at Romans 8 and part of a previous Advent post from 2015.  We all know what the “Law could not do.”  It couldn’t change us and even those first two people couldn’t manage to obey it.

“What a surprise to find myself in my favorite chapter from the whole Bible for my Advent reading today.  If you remove the “religiousity” factor of laws you have to admit we can’t live without them.  We need laws to create order and some level of security in our society.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one that’s broken some of them: ever rolled through a stop sign?  That’s an easier-to-swallow version of “weak as it was through the flesh” to own up to.  Now that our minds are in the right place maybe we can face the issue of “sinful flesh”…and “in us.”a   

Eden was where “weak as it was through the flesh” became a reality.  There was only one law but the bad choice to violate it was where the separation between man and God began.  [BTW that’s not unlike that stop sign.]  The amazing truth of Advent is God chose new birth to fulfill something that one “first” law was unable to accomplish.  

Advent is pretty dramatic evidence of the second time God created perfection for all mankind to experience.  The birth of Jesus revealed God’s determination to redeem and replace what had been lost in Eden.  This time perfection was a person, not a place.  That first Advent God chose a baby, His Son…God with us…Jesus, to restore His own “Image” within “the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.”  Advent is our annual reminder that Jesus is the reality of God’s promise to unite the likeness of our sinful flesh with His own Image “in us.”

a Click here to read that original post

The Third Chapter – Romans

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

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Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above.  His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God.  There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me.  One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.”  The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.  

Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature.  I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung.  Instead God has provided reality.  Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal.  That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.   

• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification
• Justification reveals God’s righteousness.

These realities are  a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ.  There is not a ladder, only a track.  Repeat laps as needed.