“Background characters”: now let’s be honest, didn’t your heart sink, even just a little, when you opened the Adult Bible Study Guide for the fourth quarter of 2010? Well, I’ve got good news if you haven’t gone further than the title page yet, because the authors, Gerald and Chantal Klingbeil are really to be commended for this concept, which has huge potential for affording rich insights into God’s Word and into the way He works in human lives.
The title of this week’s lesson is terribly misleading. To say, “all the rest is commentary” implies that we have now finished the important parts of Romans and what remains is of secondary significance at best. That would be like saying, “We’ve finished four quarters of the Super Bowl, the score is tied, and the rest doesn’t mean very much. It’s just sudden death overtime. No big deal.”
At first glance, the term “living sacrifice” seems like an oxymoron. To sacrifice means to surrender, to renounce, to “permit injury or disadvantage to for the sake of something else.” In biblical terms we generally think of a sacrifice as something that is dead—perhaps a bull or a sheep or a pair of pigeons. But in Romans 12, Paul envisions a new kind of sacrifice that models not death, but rejuvenation.
I appeal to you… present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Throughout the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul has repeatedly stressed the inclusiveness of the gospel. This emphasis is one that resonates with most of us. As tolerant, accepting, and open-minded readers of Paul’s letter, we rejoice in the announcement that the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Paul’s proclamation that “righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22) rings beautifully in our sensitive ears.
We are about half way through the Book of Romans. I hope by now we are all realizing again, maybe for the first time, how central and clear Paul’s message is. Yet, we have also seen those issues where Christianity has split itself, even in Paul’s day down to ours! Something about Romans brings out the worse and best in us.
The seventh chapter of Romans is a continuation of Paul’s discourse on the Christians relation to the law, the reality of sin and the grace of God. In first-century Judaism everyone was familiar with the law and for many it had become a noose around their neck, an unyielding set of rules that only highlighted how far a person was from God’s holy precepts. How different this picture is from our own western society.
"But God's grace is always available," protests the student. "And he is always ready and willing to forgive my sins no matter what I do!"
“Yes,” I respond.
"But wait," another student chimes in, "God expects us to obey his commandments and to be holy. You can't just do whatever you want and expect God to always forgive you."
The first student is quick to respond: "Oh yes I can!"
Shaking his head, the other student's response is just as quick, "No, you cannot!"
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Romans 5:12-21 is a crucial passage in Paul’s epistle, yet has often been misunderstood, as a result of reading non-Biblical philosophical views, particularly Platonic, into the text. St Augustine articulated perhaps the most popular interpretation of the passage in his formulation of the doctrine of original sin. This excursus will first briefly explore the history of interpretations of this passage that led to Augustine’s dogma, after which I shall set forth a brief overview of how Romans 5 functions in the context of Romans 1-4.