I recently read the book of Romans and was encouraged to better understand God’s purpose and plan in brining all nations and peoples to himself through mercy and grace. When we read books of the Bible from chapter to chapter, and all at once if possible, we can better see recurring themes and important truth as a connected message. When we memorize Scripture, we’re focusing on a key truth and committing it to memory. That memory serves as a handle for the larger idea and an anchor for the truth contained therein. Both extended reading, through entire books of the Bible, and focused memorization of particular verses are important habits to cultivate for the Christian soul.
LOVED BY GOD AND CALLED TO BE SAINTS
The Apostle Paul addresses his letter to the Romans, specifically to those who are loved by God and called to be saints. As believers, we’ve been called to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 2 Timothy 1:8-9 ESV
After 11 chapters of doctrinal dissertation, saint Paul concludes that all things emanate from God, proceed through God and flow to God. Thus, all glory must also be to our God, including our own glory. Whatever glory we have, or can produce, should find its rightful place at the throne of God. God has graciously given us life instead of death and by his mercy, both Jews and Gentiles are being saved and transformed into the image of Christ, in order that we, collectively, may share in the inheritance as sons of God and brothers of Christ.
With such a global cast of characters and such an expansive plot, we would do well to disentangle ourselves from the ways of the world, which are perishing, and dedicate our hearts and minds to the ways of holiness, which are eternal.
After 11 chapters of spiritual truth and logical lines, our older brother Paul begins chapter 12 by appealing to us who have been called, chosen and saved, that we would present our bodies as a sacrifice to God and allow our minds to be renewed after the image of the Creator.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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 12:1-2 ESV
BUT PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, HOW?
Paul recognized that our lives are a small but important part of God’s plan to create for himself a people whose heart is fully devoted to worship him. But practically speaking, how can we be holy and acceptable to God? More troubling, perhaps, is the question, “how can we live each day of our lives in a way that is holy and acceptable to God?”.
I find in myself the tendency to “miss the mark” and settle into that which is not good or acceptable or perfect. When the standard is perfection and holiness, it’s easy to miss the mark. It’s natural to disobey Jesus and fail to meet the standard. Fortunately, Jesus fulfilled the standard set by the law and has adopted us into his family as children of God, children who are alive according to the Spirit. If, then, we have the Spirit of God in us, we are able to live lives that are holy and acceptable to him.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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. Romans 8:9-11
THREE DEADLY SINS
Although we have the Holy Spirit, we are not immune to the effects of sin and the corruption of the flesh. We are in conflict with the flesh, but we are not slaves to sin and death, in fact, we are bondservants of Christ and heirs of life according to promise.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 ESV
There are three broad categories of sin or characteristics of “missing the mark” that are particularly pernicious when examined closely. The three deadly sins are selfishness, lust and pride. These manifestations of the flesh are in direct opposition to the life and peace that God has given us in redemption through Jesus Christ. To sum: selfishness opposes faith, lust opposes hope and pride opposes love.
AM I SELFISH OR FAITHFUL?
We are at the root of our selfishness. When we make ourselves into autonomous beings that demand attention, desire feelings and deserve possessions, we are not worshiping God or serving others. Faith, by contrast, says that God is my father and because I am his adopted child, he will provide for me. In response to God's lovingkindness, we willingly seek him first and desire to adopt his eternal ways.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV
Faith is an expression of love to our Heavenly Father and rejects the self-centered attitude that expects everything to revolve around us.
AM I LUSTFUL OR FULL OF HOPE?
Lust is a particularly fleshly desire and not limited to the sexual. Apart from God, humanity is depraved and wantonly lusts after resources to acquire possessions, and power to control people. Lust opposes the eternal virtue of hope. Lust strains for what it can see and feel, while on the other hand, we hope for what we can not see. We rest in the hope of glory and in the hope of eternal life.
AM I PRIDEFUL OR LOVING?
Pride is a special kind of selfishness that raises itself above others and ultimately says, I’m more important than you. Pride opposes love and even opposes God. Love, by contrast, seeks the interest of others, out of a pure heart.
THE SPIRIT VS THE FLESH
As we can see, the three deadly sins lead to death BUT the three virtues of God lead to life and peace. The flesh is self-centered, lustful and proud but the Spirit is filled with faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV
As children of God and heirs of the promise, we live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6 ESV