Bible Study

Summer In Rome #10 – Nothing Can Separate

Read Romans 8:18-39

One of my most frightening experiences as a child was the day I got lost at the movie theater.  My parents and I went to see a movie with some family friends.  After the movie, as my parents were talking with their friends, somehow I lost track of where they were.  I ran around the movie theater lobby searching for my mom and dad.  I felt terrified, sick, and panicked… I did not want to be left alone.  

In one way or another, we all know how this feels.  When the one thing in life that brings us security isn’t there anymore, panic sets in.  How will we survive?  Right now, you may be in a position where your security is in your spouse, boy/girlfriend, friends, in a job or status, in your bank account, or even in a habit or an addiction.  But when these objects of our hope fail us, our entire world comes crashing down.  You see, hope is only as good as the object in which we place our hope.

Romans 8 assures us that our world will not come crashing down when our hope is in the one object that will never let us down—the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this hope all throughout the chapter: we have hope that we will be finally saved and brought to glory (8:29-30), that we will rise again (8:23-24), that nothing in all of creation can change God’s love for us (8:38-39), and that even creation itself has its hope in Christ for its final redemption (8:21-22).  

Jesus Christ is the only object in which we can place our hope who has proven Himself to be consistently faithful to keep His promises.  He has proven this to us throughout the entire Bible.  He made a promise to Abraham that he would have a child… and then Isaac was born.  He promised Moses that He would deliver his people from Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land… and he did.  He promised the nation of Israel blessing for obedience and disaster for disobedience… and God kept true to His word.  Finally, God promised a Son—a seed of the woman would would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15)… and He gave us His only Son, Jesus Christ, who defeated sin and death for us.  God always does what He says.  He will never, ever fail.  He will never, ever let us down.  He is our only, perfect hope.

Questions for study and discussion:

1) Re-read Romans 8:29-30.  This passage is often called “The Golden Chain Of Salvation” because it describes the process of salvation for every believer.  If everyone who is called goes through this process, what does that mean about the security of our final salvation?

2) Why is it sometimes difficult to believe that our salvation is fully accomplished by Christ and has nothing to do with our good works?

3) In Romans 8:31-39, Paul lists a series of rhetorical questions that he answers in order to assure us that there is no reason for us to doubt the promise of God that He will save us completely.  Which of Paul’s questions here is the most compelling for you?  Why?

4) Will the objects in which you are placing your hope eventually fail you?  Confess this to a friend, small group, or pastor.  Begin to pray that your hope for life and salvation will be in Jesus Christ alone.

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #9 – The Advantage Of The…

Read Romans 8:1-17

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Wow!  That is good news to us!  Chapter 2 tells us about the wrath from God that is coming against us sinners, and none of us can escape it by our own efforts.  But God sent His Son to take the wrath of God for us, and we simply receive those benefits by trusting that Jesus died for us.

As we get into Romans 8, we find that it’s all about living as a Christian.  Much of what the Apostle proclaims to us are the many benefits of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives us the righteousness of Christ (8:3-4), transforms our minds (8:5-8), give us evidence of our salvation (8:9, 16), provides a physical resurrection on the last day (8:11), helps with obedience (8:12-13), and makes us God’s own children and co-heirs with Christ (8:14-17).  These benefits are given to God’s people as a gift through the power of the Holy Spirit.  No wonder Jesus said that it was to our advantage that he leave and send the Holy Spirit!  (John 16:7)

One of the biggest advantages of the Holy Spirit is real power to live a life that pleases God.  Look at Paul’s argument through Romans 8.  First, he reminds us that we have no ability whatsoever to meet the requirements of God’s holy Law, or even please God! (8:3, 8:7-8)  Then verse 13 says: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  It seems as though obedience is now a condition on the gift of eternal life!  Is Paul contradicting everything that he has said about grace being a gift?  No way!

First, verse 13 is restating the law of sin and death—those who live in sin earn death. (6:23)  Paul is clearly affirming that those who continue to live in sin will be damned.  But then, the reality of the Holy Spirit’s help is added when Paul includes the phrase, “…if by the Spirit.”  This means that while our status before God has been indelibly changed from “unrighteous” to “righteous”, we now have real power to live out that reality in our actual lives!  John Murray, a Scottish theologian from the 20th century, put it this way, “The believer’s once-for-all death to the law of sin does not free him from the necessity of mortifying sin in his members; it makes it necessary and possible for him to do so.”  For any of us who have ever felt stuck in a sin, trapped in an addiction, or seem to struggle in obedience to God’s commands, we have hope!  The Holy Spirit lives inside of you and He makes it possible for us to obey.

Questions for study and discussion:

1) Which benefit from the Holy Spirit do you find the most comforting?  the most helpful?

2) Romans 8:7 explains how those who are not Christians are “hostile to God”. (Also see Romans 5:10 and John 15:18-25.)  How does this reality explain the tension that Christians experience in this world?

3) In Romans 8:13, Paul commands us to put the deeds of the flesh to death.  What does this mean?  What are some tangible ways Christians can rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to do this?

4) Some may interpret Romans 8:13 to mean that it’s possible for Christians to lose their salvation if they are not obedient to God.  Others interpret this to mean that those who are not obedient must not have ever really been a Christian.  How does Paul’s emphasis on the assurance of our salvation help us to understand how to read this?  (See Romans 5:9-11; 6:17-18; 8:1-4; and 8:10-11.  Also, check out Jeremiah 31:9, 31:31-34, and Ezekiel 36:26-27.)  How should we understand Romans 8:13 and the security of our salvation in light of this?

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #8 – The War With Sin

Read Romans 7:1-25

“’Til death do us part.”  These famous words spoken at almost every wedding convey the duration of marriage designed by God.  A marriage lasts until at least one person in the marriage dies.  In Romans 7, Paul uses marriage as an illustration of our relationship to God’s Law.  The apostle explains that each of us were once “married” or “bound” to God’s Law, and only death can free us from that bad “marriage”.  But how can our “marriage” to the Law, something that is good and holy, be bad?

It’s true that God’s Law is good and holy, but it also became the unwitting tool of sin. (Romans 7:5, 10)  As we read God’s Law, our sinful nature seeks to rebel against God’s rulership.  Somehow, just knowing that there is a restriction on our actions makes us want to break that restriction.  Imagine that you are walking along in your neighborhood and you come across a yard with lush, dark green grass that has just been reseeded.  The area is marked off with caution tape, and there’s even a sign that says, “Do not walk on the grass.”  What is your first instinct?  You want to walk on the grass!  (Or at the very least, you’re thinking about it.)  But if there wasn’t the caution tape and the sign, you would have never even thought about it.  This is Paul’s point.  God’s Law is good and holy, but our sinful nature is aroused by it.  The Law led us to sin, which leads only to death. (Romans 7:5)

Going back to our marriage analogy… When we were united with Christ in His death, this means that we also died to the Law.  We are now free from the Law—from that “bad marriage”—to be united to our Lord, Jesus Christ. (Romans 7:4)  

But when we are united to Christ, the reality of our current situation can be tough!  We live in a tension between our transformed mind and the sin that resides in our bodies. (Romans 7:15-20)  Paul says it’s a war, and that he even struggles with it! (Romans 7:24)  Martin Luther expounds on this point: “Wonderful and sweet is the mercy of God who at the same time considers us both as sinners and non-sinners.  Sin remains and at the same time it does not remain.”  But the gospel gives us hope in this war as well.  If we are in Christ, God gives us help to overcome sin and temptation.  Plus, we can look forward to the day when this war will be over—when we will be completely free to love and serve our Heavenly Father without sin distracting and tempting us.  That’s a day we can all look forward to!

Questions for study and discussion:

1) Re-read Romans 7:15-24.  Do you ever feel this tension that Paul describes?  What hope does it give to know that even Paul struggled with this?

2) How does God’s Law, which is good and holy, become the “unwitting tool” of sin?  How have good rules, or even God’s Law, led to sin in your own life?

3) One of the implications of Paul’s argument is that we won’t really have complete free will until we get to heaven.  When we were not Christians we were enslaved to sin, and as Christians we still live in tension between sin and a renewed mind.  How does that inform your view of free will?  How does this help us understand the state of the world around us?

4) What benefits do we gain by turning to Christ help us in this war on sin?  (See John 14:26 & 16:7; 1 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3)

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #7 – Alive To God

Read Romans 6:15-23

Romans 6:15-23 answers a very common objection to Christianity.  Maybe you’ve had this same question about God’s grace:  Now that God has saved me by His grace, freeing me from the eternal consequences of my sin, why should I stop sinning and obey God?  Won’t God just save me and I can do whatever I want?

To answer this question, Paul uses slavery as an analogy to illustrate the reality of our human condition—that every human is either a slave to sin or a slave to God.  There is no middle ground; we are going to serve one or the other.  When we were slaves to sin (and we all were at one point according to Romans 3:23), we earned the “fruit” (v.21) or the “wages” (v.23) of our actions—death.  But when we are made slaves to God, we receive eternal life, not by earning it, but as a free gift! (v.17, 23) 

Paul ends verse 19 with a command: “present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”  While our status with God has been changed from enemies of God to children of God through justification, our allegiance has been transferred from an allegiance to sin to an allegiance to God.  This is the beginning of a process called sanctification.  Wayne Grudem defines it this way, “Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”  Sanctification is unlike justification in two key ways:  First, it is “progressive”, which means, unlike our justification, it doesn’t happen all at once when we become a Christian.  It happens slowly over time, and we will never fully attain complete sanctification until heaven.  Second, it is also unlike our justification because it is the work of both “God and man”, while justification is done by God alone.

Sanctification’s aim is that each Christian would continually grow in love and devotion to the Lord.  Obedience to the Lord is borne out of that love.  But the origin of the love we have for the Lord can only come from God, who by His mercy has rescued us from our devotion to sin.  Every day, we can praise God because He has claimed us as His own children, devoted us for His purposes, and empowered us by the Holy Spirit to live for Him.

Questions for study and discussion:

1) Have you ever wondered why you should be obedient to God if you’re saved by grace?  In your own words, explain Paul’s answer to this question from Romans 6:15-23.

2) At conversion, we are justified (declared righteous), but we also begin the sanctification process (being made righteous).  However, our progress in sanctification cannot affect our justification (our status of righteousness before God).  What dangers or heresies arise when we confuse or blend together justification and sanctification?

3) According to Wayne Grudem, our sanctification is “progressive”.  What growth have you seen in your love and devotion to God since you’ve become a Christian?

4) Pray.  Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord for help in taking another step in your growth toward Christ-likeness.

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #6 – Dead To Sin

Read Romans 6:1-14

One of the reasons why the we can relate to the Bible is because its heroes aren’t pristine, perfectly obedient models for us to follow.  In fact, with the exception of Jesus, every hero in the Bible is a filthy, rotten sinner!  Moses was a murderer and had a bad temper.  David’s lust for Bathsheba led to a cover up and murder.  The apostles lied and deserted Jesus in his final hour.  Noah got drunk, Samson lusted for Delilah, and Abraham surrendered his wife to Pharaoh.  Bono, from the Irish rock band U2, explains: “That the scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me; now it is a source of great comfort.”  On every page we find the story sinners—and boy, we can relate to that!

Paul’s letter to the Romans begins by explaining the scope of our sin problem.  Sin has two main consequences.  1) eternal death because of the wrath of God (Romans 1:18), and 2) sinful behaviors that keep getting out of control (Romans 3:9-18).  So far, Paul has explained that the gospel is the solution for the first problem—through what Jesus did for us on the cross, we have been justified (counted righteous) before God (Romans 5:19).  But what about our sinful behaviors?  Does the gospel offer a solution to this daily problem?

Paul’s answer is grounded in the reality of what it means to be “in Christ.”  When Jesus died on the cross, He put sin to death and rose again for the glory to the Father.  As Christians, we are united to Christ, which means we are also dead to sin and enabled to live in a way that gives glory to the Father.  Douglas Moo writes, 

“Christ’s death ‘on our behalf’ frees us not only from the penalty of sin but from the power of sin also.  Justification — acquittal from the guilt of sin — and sanctification — deliverance from ‘sinning’ — must never be confused, but neither can they be separated.”

Isn’t that incredibly freeing?  This means that we are no longer slaves to sinful behaviors, but in Christ, there is real power to stop sinning!  In Romans 6:12-14, Paul commands us to not let sin reign in our bodies, but to use our bodies as instruments of righteousness.  But he concludes by repeating the reality of what it means to be “in Christ”: “For sin will have no dominion over you.”  This reality is not something that we earned, but rather it is a benefit of the grace God has given you.  It is a result of the gospel!

Questions for study and discussion:

1) Read Galatians 2:11-14. (For more details on this incident, read Acts 15:1-35.)  Notice how Paul says that Peter’s behavior was not “in step with the truth of the gospel.”  How were Peter’s actions in opposition to the gospel?

2) In what ways does the gospel guide how we interact with one another?

3) What response do you typically have to temptation?  Do you immediately give in, do you take time to consider it, or do you work hard to resist it?

4) The gospel tells us about our identity as children of God, how we have been set free from the power of sin and death, how the Lord is sovereign over all things and we can trust Him, and so much more.  How can the reality of the gospel help you in times of temptation?

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #5 – The Results of Justification

Read Romans 5:1-21

Family identity is a concept that is largely lost on our society.  In other cultures, the successes and failures of a father would play a part in the identity of his children.  If a father gains honor, it means status and notoriety for the children; if the father shames himself, that dishonor is passed down to his children.  In our society, we like to choose who we identify ourselves with.  We proudly wear jerseys for our favorite sports team, or identify ourselves with a political leader, all of which gives others an insight into our likes, dislikes, and beliefs.

As we enter into chapter 5, Paul introduces the concept of “federal headship”—the idea of identifying with a leader.  Only we don’t get to choose our leader—we are either under Adam or under Christ.  Before we come to faith in Christ, we identify with Adam.  Under Adam, we all sin just like he did; and because we all have sinned, death spread to all of us (Romans 5:12).  Our evil actions secured our fate and solidified our dishonorable family identity.  But grace works differently.  When we receive grace through faith, God gives us a new leader.  We are no longer under Adam, but under Christ!  Unlike our alliance with Adam that is made through our sinful actions, our alliance with Christ is made only through His perfect righteousness.

When God transfers our allegiance from Adam to Christ, this demonstrates God’s rich love for us.  He loves us so much that His desire is to adopt us into His family!  “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)

But God doesn’t stop there.  He wants us to begin to take on His characteristics as we identify ourselves with Him.  God deposits this rich love for His people into us! (Romans 5:5)  Paul demonstrates this point in Romans 9:1-5.  There, Paul shows such love for his Jewish brothers that he wishes he would be damned so that they would be saved.  That is incredible love which reflects the sacrificial love of Christ!  Martin Luther commented on this passage saying,

“From this text it is very clear that love is found not only in the sweetness and delight, but also in the greatest sorrow and bitterness.  Indeed it rejoices and delights in bitterness and sorrow, because it regards the misery and sufferings of others as if they were its own.  Thus Christ even in the final and worst hour of His suffering was aglow with His deepest love…. It filled Him with the greatest joy to suffer the greatest pain.”

Questions for study and discussion:

1) Before you were a Christian, when you were under Adam, what behaviors and allegiances characterized your life?  Now that you are under Christ, how have these changed?

2) Read Romans 5:1-21 again.  List the many benefits of being justified by faith.

3) Three times in this passage, Paul says that these benefits lead us to rejoice, and ultimately to rejoice in God (Romans 5:11).  This is worship!  Which benefits of justification by faith lead you to worship and rejoice in God?

4) How are you growing in love for others?  What problems in our society burden you?  What might God be asking you to do about it?

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #4 – Faith Alone

Read Romans 4:1-25

After reading Romans 1-4, it’s easy to see that Paul is building a logical argument for the gospel.  It goes something like this:  If we are all fallen and sinful people, then we cannot be saved on the basis of our own righteousness.  In fact, we deserve justice—God’s wrath poured out against us.  Therefore, we need someone else’s righteousness to be given to us, someone who was human and born under the law (Galatians 4:4-5).  Elsewhere, Paul writes, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

But how do we receive the righteousness of Christ?  Is it by faith or by works?  The Apostle Paul reaches back into Israel’s history to Abraham who receives the righteousness of God, not through doing any good works, but only through believing God’s promises.  Paul even notes that grace was given to him before Abraham did anything to earn it—even before Abraham was circumcised!  Therefore, just like Abraham, we are counted righteous in God’s sight solely by trusting in Christ.

In 1517, exactly 500 years ago, the Protestant Reformation helped to define this idea that God’s grace is applied to us by faith alone (Sola Fide).  This doctrine is so important that Martin Luther said, “on this doctrine the entire church stands or falls.”  In fact, Sola Fide was the primary cause of the Reformation and remains to this day the main difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity.  You see, Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that salvation is attained by God’s grace, but grace is given to the believer through a combination of faith and good works (in particular, the sacraments).  R.C. Sproul writes, 

“The Roman Catholic church believes that grace, faith, and Christ are all necessary for the sinner’s justification.  They are necessary conditions, but not sufficient conditions.  While grace is necessary for justification, it is not enough.  Merit (at least congruous merit) must be added to grace.”

Martin Luther, at the beginning of the Reformation, was convinced by scripture, and especially passages like Romans 4, that grace, faith, and Christ were not just necessary for the sinner’s justification, but they are all we need to be saved.  Therefore, we can praise God for our salvation, for He alone has accomplished it for us!

Questions for study and discussion:

1) Why do you think it’s so hard to accept that we can’t earn our salvation by our own good works?  Has it been difficult for you to accept and trust this truth?  If so, how?

2) Read Philippians 3:1-11.  How does the Apostle Paul view his own good works?  How might his perspective on his good works change the way we think about our own justification?

3) Do you think that Sola Fide (the idea that God’s grace is given to us by faith alone) is a necessary part of the gospel?  Why or why not?

4) How might the doctrine of salvation by faith alone increase your desire to worship God?

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #3 – Jesus Paid It All

Read Romans 3:9-26

It is shockingly unpopular to talk about the sinful human condition.  The majority position in our society on this issue says that everyone is inherently good and has good intentions.  The television series Star Trek was based on this concept.  The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, believed that given enough time, humanity would solve all of their internal quarrels and finally grow past their “adolescence” as a species.  In spite of this beautiful sentiment, the Bible presents a very different perspective on the human condition.

In Romans 3, Paul’s point is that our fallen nature is completely sinful—even evil—and the Law cannot do anything to help us other than point out our sin.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter if we’re Jewish by heritage or not.  Both Jews and Gentiles are saved the same way because we’re all in the same desperate situation.  We need a savior who must come to us when we least deserved it—not even when we were somewhat good, but while we were completely ungodly.  Martin Luther writes, 

“…[the human condition] is a total lack of uprightness and of the power of all the faculties both of body and soul and of the whole inner and outer man.  On top of all this, it is a propensity toward evil.  It is a nausea toward the good, a loathing of light and wisdom, and a delight in error and darkness, a flight from and an abomination of all good works, a pursuit of evil, as it is writing in Psalm 14:3: ‘They are all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt.’ ”

The gospel is the antidote to our corruption.  Christ’s sacrifice saves the Jew and the Gentile.  It saves those who died before Christ’s birth and those who live after Christ’s resurrection.  As Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus Christ is at the very center of redemptive history.  Jesus truly paid it all!

Questions for study and discussion:

1. Why do you think the concept that humanity is inherently sinful is so unpopular today?  How does this challenge your ideas and beliefs about yourself, your kids, or humankind?

2. Re-read Romans 3:21-26.  What is the “righteousness of God?” (v.21, 22, 25, 26)  How does this contrast what Paul says about the wrath of God in Romans 1:18-23?  

3. Often, we are tempted to think of ourselves as better than others because of our morality, our good works, or even our faith.  If we all deserve God’s wrath, and receive grace as a gift (v.24), how might this “level the playing field” and change our thinking?

4. Have you looked down upon others because of their behaviors?  Have you thought higher of yourself than you should?  Spend some time reflecting on these questions.  Pray to allow the gospel to be the motivation for repentance and a changed posture toward others.

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #2 – Exposed

Read Romans 2:6-16

After the first sin in Eden, Adam and Eve recognized that something was very wrong.  They immediately sowed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7), and when they heard God in the garden, they hid themselves because they were afraid (Genesis 3:8, 10).  They didn’t want God to know they had disobeyed Him.  They feared being exposed.

We all know the feeling.  Have you ever had your sin exposed?  Just thinking about this question might remind you of that terrible, gut-wrenching feeling that sits in the pit of your stomach when we get “found out.”  You had let someone down, hurt someone, and broken trust.  You start asking yourself, “What must they think of me?”  “How will they ever trust me again?”  There was nothing you could do to cover it up or make the shame of your sin go away.

In this passage, Paul is reminding his readers that all of our sin will be exposed before God.  Romans 2:6 says, “He will render to each one according to his works.”  Everyone who does righteousness receives eternal life (v.7,10), but everyone who does unrighteousness receives the wrath of God (v.8-9).  This is justice.  We get what we deserve.  

Further, human wisdom is not sufficient for determining the standard for holiness.  Think about it—If God is the judge who will judge all of us according to our works, is He going to judge us by our standards?  No!  Who are we to determine which works are good and which ones are evil?  Only God, who is the righteous judge, has the right to determine the standard for what is righteous and what is evil.  Justice is how our holy and righteous God must operate… before grace enters the equation.

Questions for study and discussion:

1. This passage implies that it is absolutely fair for God to punish those who don’t meet His standard.  How does this idea challenge our beliefs about God?

2. Read Isaiah 64:6.  Throughout church history, some have said that they can do enough good deeds to earn their way into heaven.  Why do you think it is impossible for our good works to counteract the effects of our unrighteous deeds?

3. Read Matthew 27:27-30.  Here, Jesus was exposed, ridiculed, and spat upon.  He didn’t deserve it, but he allowed this to happen because we deserved it.  How does Jesus’ willingness to be exposed in our place impact our trust and affections for Him?

4. Confession is self-exposure.  We are commanded to confess to God (1 John 1:9) and to each other (James 5:16).  Take a moment to reflect on the sin in your own life.  Spend time in silent confession to the Lord.  Then consider confessing your sin to a trusted family member or friend who can pray with you.

Bible Study

Summer In Rome #1 – The Power of God

Read Romans 1:1-17

Paul’s introduction to this powerful letter is overflowing with theology, wisdom, and encouragement.  In just the first two verses, Paul explains that God had promised the gospel through the prophets in the scriptures.  This means that we should be able to read the Old Testament and see the gospel all over it!

The gospel is Paul’s main topic in this letter, and verses 16-17 give us incredible insight about what it is.  Paul’s first point is that he is “not ashamed of the gospel.”  But why would Paul even mention this?  Why would he, or the Christians in Rome, have reason to be ashamed of the gospel?  In Rome, execution by crucifixion was incredibly shameful.  The victim was stripped naked, beaten, and then crucified.  The crowds would taunt the victim as he hung there gasping for air.  For a Roman citizen, to claim to be a disciple of a man who was executed by crucifixion would be identifying themselves with that shame.

Do we have reason to be ashamed of the gospel today?  Some reject the gospel because of its extravagant grace.  Most of the people in this group are church-goers who think salvation is earned, and so the gospel of grace is utter foolishness to them.  Others reject the gospel based on popularity.  As Christianity becomes a minority view in our society, many will view Christianity as an increasingly unpopular choice that could jeopardize their relationships or even their livelihood.

But Paul continues to explain what the gospel message really is.  He says, “…it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  This power is understood through the Old Testament (as Paul points out in verses 1-2).  In the Old Testament we learn about a God who loves his people and single-handedly delivers them from their enemies.  What Paul is saying here is that this is what God has always done, and this is what He is continuing to do even now through Jesus Christ.

Questions for study and discussion:

1. What is the gospel?  In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives the most succinct summary of the gospel message.  Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, then attempt to summarize the gospel message in 10 words or less.

2. How might being a follower of Jesus be shameful or embarrassing in our world today?  Have you ever felt ashamed or embarrassed by the gospel?

3. If you’re a follower of Jesus and trusting in his gospel, what are some things that God has delivered you from?  These may be sins, addictions, or vices in which you were deeply invested, or it could be temptations or struggles which you only experience internally.

4. In Romans 1:8, Paul says that he thanks God for the faith of the Roman church that is famous around the world.  What are Christians “famous” for today?  How are other Christians, or even non-Christians, thankful for your faith?

Blog Post

Why Apologetics?

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church.  When you’re raised Roman Catholic, the church helps you to learn all about the rich traditions of the church through Sunday school and mid-week classes.

But as a young teenager, I also had a lot of questions.  I didn’t understand the reasons behind many of the traditions and rituals I was expected to perform.  Why am I supposed to genuflect before I go into the pew?  Why use the holy water and make the sign of the cross?  Why should I confess my sins to a priest?  When I asked my questions, the main answer I got was, “That’s just what we do.”  Questions like these (as well as a healthy dose of early 90’s teen angst) drove me away from the church all together.  Christianity seemed like blind faith.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school when I met a good friend who invited me to his youth group at a protestant church.  There was the promise of free food and cute girls, so naturally I was going.  But what I found was that the student director was actually able to answer my questions.  Over the course of the next year, he showed me good reasons for trusting God.  For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that this whole Jesus thing might actually be true!

I don’t think my experience is unique… and this experience isn’t unique to Roman Catholicism. There are many who take a chance and try out their questions on protestant churches only to find that the church doesn’t give them sufficient answers.  This is why it’s so important that every Christian have a basic understanding of Christian Apologetics.

Christian Apologetics is the term used to describe the defense of the Christian faith.  We’re not “apologizing” for anything… we are presenting a defense to show that our faith is not blind faith, but it is reasonable.  In fact, this practice is something that the early church was commanded to do.  The Apostle Peter writes, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

What if you knew why your faith was reasonable?

What if you were confident that you could defend your faith against the attacks the world throws at it?

How would your faith be strengthened?

How could you help the people in your life to trust the Lord?

Next week at Stones, we’re starting a ten-week class on Christian Apologetics, and I want to invite you to be a part of it!  It’s a journey that has dramatically shaped my trust in the Lord, and I hope it will shape yours as well.

Blog Post

Some Theological Nonsense

I recently read an article written by Rachel Held Evans. (Find the article here.) The main point that Evans conveys is that the millennial generation (those born after 1982 or so…) are leaving the church in droves because they find the church to be inauthentic and performance oriented, hostile to the LGBTQ community, opposing science and rational thinking, and lacking in participation in social justice issues. She concludes by stating:

We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.  Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

Now, I appreciate a number Evans’ thoughts. First, I agree the American Church appears to be largely “inauthentic.” By this, Evans means that the church has been editing the teachings of Jesus to only those lessons that we agree with as a culture or find to be easy. In other words, the American Church wants Jesus to fit into our lives instead of allowing Jesus to shape our lives.

Second, I hope for many of the same things that Evans hopes for as well! I hope for a truce between science and faith. In fact, the data coming from the scientific community is demonstrating how science lines up with the Christian worldview with remarkable consistency. My hope is that scientists on both sides will seek impartial data and draw conclusions that only lead to the truth.

I also hope for a day when there is no longer hostility between the LGBTQ community and the Christian community. It makes me so sad when those who claim Christ tell people that God hates them or commit acts of violence against them. This is obviously not in line with the truth of the gospel, and it makes me so sad that this has contributed to the hostility.

However, at the heart of the article is the same problem that Evans is attempting to combat. Evans says,

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.  We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith… We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities. We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

These all seem like great ideas, and some of them are in line with scripture. But we must not allow our own ideas shape God or shape scripture, rather we must allow God and His Word to shape our ideas. What millennials want is irrelevant. It’s what God wants with millennials (and the rest of His church) that really matters. God’s truth will always remain constant and immovable. The poor still need to be cared for, sex outside of marriage is still a sin, and homosexuality still offends God regardless of what anyone says or does.

Each one of us, in one way or another, edit Jesus. We like the lessons that are easy for us to follow, and we ignore those that make us too uncomfortable. To bring real authenticity back to the church we have to start with this fundamental issue in each of our own lives.  And what is this core issue?


Do we really trust the Lord enough to take Him at his word in every area of our life? When the teachings of Jesus are challenging, are we willing to take Him at His Word? Are we willing to lay down our belief system, our worldview, or our moral leanings in order to let those things be conformed to the teachings of Christ? Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) Let us be a people who are marked by this ethic—conformed to the image of Christ.