a grand slam should never sound like a single

The Word for today:
Romans 8:1-17

Note: This article was first published on this date in 2011.

Some of the precepts and concepts of the kingdom of heaven are, at first, difficult to comprehend. So thank God that some of our Bible versions do a great job of making things easier to understand.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw The Living Bible. I think it was in 1974. I was working as a counselor at Camp Kenan on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Another one of the counselors was what we then called a Jesus Freak. He had this dark green vinyl-bound Bible that was distinctly unlike any Bible I’d ever encountered. No thees, no thous. King James was turning over in his grave, but people were buying it by the millions (1).

You can still purchase a Living Bible today, or you can buy its descendant–The New Living Translation. I recommend both titles without reservation. I read and quote them often.

But (you saw that coming) you should eventually avail yourself of what are called “standard” Bible translations–like the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, or the king of them all–King James.

Eventually you should become conversant with the words–such as justification, redemption, righteousness, sanctification, propitiation–that you will encounter in “standard” versions. Such words are so packed with meaning that, when understood, they carry more force than the explanatory words used by the paraphrased versions.

Let me illustrate with a sentence I read today in the newspaper:

“Down to their final strike in the ninth and 10th, the Cardinals won Game 6 on David Freese’s 11th-inning homer off Mark Lowe.”

Those few words, when made understandable to the uninitiated, would sound something like this:

The St. Louis Cardinals of the National Baseball League were just one throw (from a “pitcher” on the “pitching mound”) away from losing the 4th game of a best-of-7 series against the Texas Rangers, their rivals from the American Baseball League.

This series of games (known as the “World Series”) is the culmination of the professional baseball season in the USA. Thus if the Cardinals had failed to hit the final ball thrown in the ninth “inning” (the last regularly-scheduled opportunity to score a “run” by touching all four “bases” in diamond formation) then the Rangers would have won the championship there and then.

But when David Frees, a Cardinal “batter” (so-called because he attempts to strike a ball with a thick wooden stick called a “bat”) hit a ball, thrown by Ranger pitcher Mark Lowe, over a fence so far away that batters seldom reach it, it meant that the Cardinals had extended the series to a seventh game, and still had a chance to become the “world champions” of 2011.

***

The instant crack of the bat, the ball tracing indelible memories as it arcs through the flood-lit St. Louis night…gets lost in translation!

It’s like trying to explain a punch-line to a person who doesn’t “get it” in the first place. The intuitive flash of humor engendered by comic timing and inflection gets lost in the explanation.

In the same way, it becomes difficult for a Bible teacher to proclaim that “The theme of Romans is the righteousness of God; and the theme passage is 1:16-17,” when the New Living Translation renders it this way…
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes – Jews first and also Gentiles. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. (Romans 1:16-17/New Living Translation)

There is technically nothing wrong with that rendition, but unless you know how the phrase is rendered in a standard translation, it can leave you with the impression that God thinks you’re alright, you’re OK.

Here’s the same passage–the theme passage of Romans–as rendered in a “standard” translation:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17/New American Standard Bible)

The Holy Spirit in Romans 1:16-17 isn’t saying that we’re OK in God’s sight. What He’s teaching is that God mistakes us for Jesus!

It is a far cry from “makes us right” to “the righteousness of God is revealed.” But it’s not a long time until Christmas. So I hope you start dropping hints, to friends and family, that a “standard” Bible makes the perfect present–

because a grand slam should never sound like a single.

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(1) In 1972 and 1973, The Living Bible was the best-selling book in America. By 1997, 40 million copies of The Living Bible had been sold.

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connecting faith to faith

The Word for today:
Romans 7:7-25

We think of the Apostle Paul as the spiritual giant of the New Testament. He was the great defender of the faith. He was the greatest missionary who ever lived. (I also happen to think he had the highest IQ in history.)

And he was the desperate man whose voice we hear in Romans 7:

I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? (Romans 7:15-24)

God chose Paul to express, in writing, the theology of the gospel. But perhaps more importantly, God chose Paul to express, through the life he led, the transformative power of the gospel he wrote about. Thus Paul was, like Jesus, the fleshing out of the words he’d written.

Paul was chosen as Exhibit A because if the gospel could transform Paul, it can transform anybody. Let’s work this out logically, as Paul would:

(Major premise) Paul is the chief of sinners. The Bible says so:
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Tim 1 :15)

(Minor premise) Paul is the most influential Christian of all time. The Bible shows so.

(Conclusion) Therefore Paul is a vivid example of how completely God can change us for the better.

***

There are two chapter divisions in scripture which must be understood in light of one another. The first is from chapter 2 to chapter 3 of Genesis. The second is from chapter 7 to chapter 8 of Romans.

In chapter 2 of Genesis, all is innocence and harmonic perfection. But we enter chapter 3 and all hell breaks loose.

In chapter 7 of Romans, Paul is helpless against the onslaught of sin. But as we enter chapter 8, all heaven breaks loose.

What happened? In Genesis 3, sin happened. Man decided to live independently, to place his faith in himself, and hellish consequences followed.

In Romans 8, the Holy Spirit happened upon the scene. Paul decided to live dependently, placing his faith in God, and it was as if someone pressed the power button!

***

Most of my born-again life has been lived in Romans 7. I’ve known short seasons (they seemed like vacations!) in Romans 8, but then I slide back into 7.

And I’m not alone. Truth be told, the vacillation between Romans 7 and 8 is the story of every Christian life that I’m aware of.

So let me tell you what my struggles have taught me…

It was by faith in the cross of Jesus Christ that I was forgiven:
I have been crucified with Christ…
Most of us have that part of salvation (sorry to say it this way) nailed. But the next part is what sometimes eludes us:

It is by faith in the resurrection of Jesus that I am empowered to live:
…now it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God. (1)

The cross emptied us of sin; now the Spirit fills us with resurrection power. Both are components of the total salvation we received when we first believed in Jesus. We get stuck in Romans 7 when our faith stops at forgiveness, as if Jesus were still at the cross.

The full effect of our salvation is not realized until we live from faith to faith–from faith in God’s forgiveness at the cross to faith in God’s empowerment by His Spirit:
The gospel…is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

***

You can think of this in terms of your car’s battery. If we’re connected to the negative terminal (the subtraction of sin at the cross) but forget to connect to the positive terminal (the resurrection power of Jesus, through his Spirit), then our faith hasn’t come full circuit.

But when we’re connected from faith to faith, we know the sensation (as Paul did) of being carried into Romans 8 — into another realm — by a power that is not our own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Galatians 2:20

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show me the way to go home

The Word for today:
Romans 6.15-7.6

mark these:
(see verses below)

I meant to do my work today. But I’m so far under the weather that I’d need a shovel to dig my way to the surface.

I meant to be your tour guide all the way down the Romans Road.

But I found some links to other Romans Road tours that might (I must be sick to be saying this) be a little bit better than the Romans Road tour I was planning for you.

***

“The Romans Road” is a great way to show-and-tell the gospel to some other traveler who’s trying to find the way home. All you need to do is mark your Bible or Testament with the verses you’ll be seeing in just a second. Then you’ll be ready when someone asks directions.

Many of you have heard of the Romans Road, but that doesn’t excuse you from today’s field trip! If you’ve already been down that road then your assignment is to memorize the verses (1) that mark the way:

All Have Sinned:
Romans 3:10
Romans 3:23

God’s Plan of Salvation:
Romans 6:23
Romans 5:8

How We Receive Salvation:
Romans 10:9
Romans 10:11
Romans 10:13

The Results of Salvation:
Romans 5:1
Romans 8:1
Romans 8:38-39

***

I would never post this link if I weren’t delirious with fever, but for you revved-up rock and rollers out there I found “Still Like That Old-Time Romans Road.” Click it! Crank it!

And for squares like me, I found a link that will sit still as you read or listen to it:
“What is the Romans Road to salvation?”

And for the graphically-driven, this one comes equipped with its own sense of urgency:
“Romans Road Countdown.”

If you’ve already been to Rome and you’ve already got the markers memorized, then your assignment is to show the way to someone who is lost.

Meanwhile, I’m going to make a cup of hot chocolate and then find my blankie. You kids go on ahead without me. I’ll catch up tomorrow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(1) Though you will notice slight variations in the verses chosen, all Romans Road-Maps will get you there!

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he taught it to all before he taught it to Paul

The Word for today:
Romans 6:1-14

Romans is the Manifesto of the Gospel, in which Paul very deliberately develops the rationale for salvation sola fide–by faith alone in Christ alone.

Romans is a formal treatise, written to your head. (If you want to read the street version of the gospel, then turn to Galatians, where Paul takes up the ideas in Romans and aims them at your heart.)

Paul’s letters are the most thorough explanation of the gospel. Which naturally raises the question…

Q. Who explained it all to Paul?
A. He got it directly from Jesus:
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

***

Cutting to the chase, let’s take on the two most complex theological propositions in Romans in order to trace the streams of Paul’s thoughts back to their source…

1. Faith or Works?

This is the issue most identified with Paul. But it should not be associated primarily with Paul, because Jesus taught it to all before he ever taught it to Paul:
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
(Note well: If ever you get confused about the fundamentals of your New Testament, go to John 6:28-29–early and often.)

2. Election or Free Will?

The answer is both–absolutely and all at once:
All that the Father gives me (that’s election) will come to me, and whoever comes to me (that’s free will) I will by no means cast out (that’s a promise). (John 6:37)

***

What we are taught in the epistles is all in the gospels, in kernel form.
The kernel died (and rose again) in the gospels, producing many seeds:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

The ‘apostle’s doctrine’ (Acts 2:42) is what Jesus taught them:
Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20/MSG)

And they were all taught by the Holy Spirit:
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12-13)

***

Surely we listen to Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, Paul…but ultimately, we “Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:1-5; Acts 3:22; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15)

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Snap!

The Word for today:
Romans 5:12-21

We enter, in Romans chapters 5 through 8, the heart of the gospel–the good news; the startlingly good news; the radically good news.

The gospel, the Good News, overcomes the law and is the prevailing eternal truth. The law was never meant to save. It was only meant to be a tutor, to show us our need for a Savior and point the way to Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:24).

But, by faith, we graduated:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

So I’m never going back to my old school. I’m not under the tutelage of the law anymore. Since I died with Christ the law is as good as dead to me:
The law no longer holds you in its power, because you died to its power when you died with Christ on the cross…Now we can really serve God, not in the old way by obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way, by the Spirit. (See Romans 7:4-6.)

Graduation…becoming a widow…these pictures of real-life events mark radical departures from the past.

Graduation means (well, it used to) that we move out from under our parents’ roof and their rules. Bewidowment (you just witnessed the birth of a word!) means that we are beholden no longer.

You have broken from the past if you have received the salvation of the LORD Jesus Christ. When you made the break, I hope you heard the stick–the old-school life you were stuck with–snap.

Snap! If you haven’t heard it, if you haven’t decisively entered the new realm of faith in the salvation that was forever settled by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then perhaps you never really left your old school behind. Perhaps you never departed from former ways and old assumptions.

The most radical thinker who ever lived is the Christ whose name we have taken. The most radical thought ever thought is God’s determination to take your place in order to save your soul. And then (because the thoughts of God are as good as done) he did it.

For all the Bible teaching I do I rarely tell people how to live their lives, because my advice never did anything for anybody. The only thing that works is to practice the presence of the LORD–to stand in the rain, as it were, and become one with the Word that baptizes you.

But if I were to adjure Christians to do just one thing, it would be to make a radical departure from the old school and the old religion and the old law and the old assumptions.

The essence of salvation is to become ever more and more like the Savior who saved you. So get out of the old “house” where you were raised; get out from under your “parents’” rules; leave the “marriage” they’d arranged for you and fiercely embrace the new life that gets newer with each passing day:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32, quoting Genesis 2:24)

Make the break. Make the break so vehemently and decisively that family and friends and church hear something snap.

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