Three thorns and roses in Romans 8:28
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28, CSB
Romans 8:28 is one of the most beloved promises in the Bible. Most people focus on the words, “for the good.” Perhaps we should reflect more on the phrase, “work together,” because the verse is teaching that God can mix bad things in the life of a believer, and bring about good results, like roses on the end of a thorny stem. Let me suggest three kinds of thorns God brings from our lives that work together to grow roses: troubles, temptations and trespasses.
1) The thorn of troubles. God will allow troubles in our lives, to teach us to trust Him. When we have troubles, we are faced with our weakness. Yet, they work together for the good lesson of teaching us to depend on God’s sufficiency. As 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, this teaches us to “not trust in ourselvs but in God who raises the dead.”
2) The thorn of temptations. God will allow temptation in our lives, to teach us obedience. An athlete develops muscles and endurance by the pressure, weight and strain of exercise. Likewise, God allows us to be tempted, so that it works together for the good spiritual muscles that we develop as we grow stronger in obedience. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
3) The thorn of trespasses. By trespasses, I mean sin. God does not want us to sin, but when we sin, we must humble ourselves, repent, and ask Jesus for forgiveness. Scripture tells us to forgive, even as the Lord has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Those who have truly experienced the grace of forgiveness tend to be better at forgiving others. So trespasses– whether they be our own or the sins of others– work together to grow beautiful flowers of forgiveness in our lives.
Three strategies for victory, learned from Roman history
Copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
The Romans were a powerful people for over a thousand years. However, it was a slow process for Rome to become a powerful nation. They won a 70-year off and on battle against the walled Etruscan city of Veii, only ten miles to the north, finally capturing it in 396 B.C. Here are three lessons for battle that they learned, that would make them a victorious military power for centuries. Many of these lessons are useful today:
Lesson 1: Learn from defeat.
The Gallic Sack of Rome about 387 B.C. shocked them, when wild warriors from Gaul swept down from the Po Valley, burned and looted the city. After paying the Gallic army to leave, they copied the walls of Veii, and built a wall around Rome.
They fought three wars with the Samnites, who inhabited the Apennines Mountains in central Italy, and lost major battles to them because the phalanx didn’t work well in the mountains, but they learned how to fight different ways in the mountains.
What defeats have you suffered in life? How can you learn from them?
Lesson 2: Divide and conquer.
Although strategically located, the Romans were not the largest or most powerful people in Italy in their early years. But Romans were well organized and united, able to slowly “divide and conquer” the rest of Italy, mainly because the other people groups were not united. For example, the Etruscan cities were totally independent of one another, so the other cities didn’t help Veii, allowing Rome to capture them. They often played one group against another, as when they made a peace treaty with Carthage and allowed them to oppose the Greeks in Sicily, then after Rome defeated the Greeks, Rome turned against Carthage.
This strategy is manipulative and unethical when done with allies and friends. However, the “divide and conquer” strategy has its usefulness with opponents and enemies. If you have multiple opponents or problems, instead of taking all of them on, which ones could you defeat first, and then move on to the next? What ways can you let them work against each other?
Lesson 3: Make your enemies your friends.
When they defeated the Latins, Rome made them their allies, eventually merging with them. They later did the same with other groups in Italy that they conquered, including Etruscans and Samnites and Gauls. As each became an ally, Rome became stronger and stronger. At last, they were strong enough to take on the Greek colonies in the south of Italy, and slowly they united all of Italy.
This strategy is much more ethical, and has many benefits. What common ground can you find with opponents, turning them into allies and friends?
(Dr. Rogers is an adjunct history professor for The Baptist College of Florida, where he has taught Roman History numerous times.)
Five truths about predestination. Truth #2: Predestination is not unfair.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the second in a series of five articles on predestination.)
John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans 9:18, said, “the wicked themselves have been created for this very end—that they may perish.” This implies that God is arbitrary and unfair, creating some people who are already predetermined to go to hell, with no will to resist this. Yet Paul reminded us in Romans 9:14, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”
When Romans 9:18 said that God shows mercy on whom he desires and hardens whom he desires, this does not mean that God is arbitrary or unfair. Let’s look at the context of this statement. In the previous verse, verse 17, Paul spoke about Pharaoh, whom Moses confronted, demanding Pharaoh let the Jewish people go from slavery in Egypt. Exodus says that Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people of Israel go. But if one reads the story in Exodus, one finds that half of the time it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. What Exodus described was the process by which God brought out the hardness that was already in Pharaoh’s heart. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay; and the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” (Charles Spurgeon, “The Lesson of the Almond Tree,” Sermon No. 2678, April 7, 1881. Accessed on the web at: http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols46-48/chs2678.pdf.) Thus God was not making Pharaoh do something that Pharaoh didn’t already want to do. He is simply revealing what was already in Pharaoh’s heart. Likewise, God does not take away our free will to obey or disobey. God’s predestination is not unfair.
Five truths about predestination. Truth #1: two kinds of election.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
Predestination is generally understood as God’s foreordaining of what will happen, especially who will be saved. It is often associated with the teachings of the Protestant Reformer John Calvin, and thus sometimes referred to as Calvinism. Presbyterians, Reformed churches, many Baptists, and some other Christians emphasize this doctrine, although they hold to differing interpretations of predestination. In this and the next four posts, I will expound on five truths about predestination, primarily from the ninth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the third post, I will give special attention to different ways of understanding predestination.
Truth #1: There are two kinds of predestination: nations and individuals.
In Romans chapter 9, the apostle Paul was trying to explain why most of his fellow Jews had rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ. He explained it by talking about God’s “election,” or predestination. Paul implies that there are two kinds of election: election of nations, and election of individuals. The Jews were, and are, God’s “chosen people.” Romans 9:13 quotes Malachi 1:2, “Jacob [Israel] I loved.” Despite this, not all Jews will be saved. Romans 9:6 says, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” That’s because there is a second kind of election, which is individual election to salvation, and that requires faith. Romans 9:30-33 says that many Gentiles became believers, even though they were not an elect nation, because they got “a righteousness that is by faith,” but Israel, which is an elect nation, “did not succeed… Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith…”
To be continued tomorrow…
Do Paul and James contradict each other?
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. – Romans 3:28, ESV
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. – James 2:24, ESV
Many people who compare Romans 3:28 and James 2:24, see the apostles Paul and James in direct conflict over justification by faith or works.
However, Paul and James are not in conflict; they are reflecting opposite sides of the same coin. Paul uses the terms justification and works differently from James. Paul uses justification to mean receiving salvation (becoming a Christian), while James uses justification to mean revealing salvation (being a Christian). Paul uses works of the law to mean trying to earn salvation through the law of Moses; James uses works to mean good deeds to show salvation.
Thus we see that James 2:24 is not a contradiction of Romans 3:28 after all. Paul is saying that a personal faith alone is enough to become a Christian, for good works cannot earn our salvation. James is saying that an intellectual faith alone is not enough to live a meaningful Christian life, for good works can show a person is truly saved.
Paul would agree with James. Notice that in Romans 3:31, Paul says that he does not nullify the law of Moses: “On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Paul was not against the law of Moses. He had already said in verse 21 that the law points to salvation in Jesus. Paul upholds the moral standards as valid, he simply says they cannot save us. Only faith can save.
Why we need sermons on the wrath of God
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” – Romans 1:18, ESV
A subject preachers avoid
Many preachers like to talk about God’s love and kindness and say virtually nothing about God’s judgment. So when people see references to God’s wrath, they often get a picture of a primitive tribe in the jungle that thinks it has to sacrifice somebody to appease their angry God. Yet there it is in Romans 1:18. “The wrath of God is being revealed…” Has God lost his temper?
Apparently even the apostle Paul was aware of this kind of thinking, because in Romans 3:5 he asks, “What shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?”
Is wrath unworthy of God?
So is wrath unworthy of God? No, not at all. When the Bible talks about God’s wrath, it is referring to His just anger, much as we have justified outrage when we hear about the abuse of a child. Our problem is that we are comfortable with sin that God, in His holiness, finds offensive. But God’s wrath is never vindictive, nor is He an angry monster. God’s wrath is something people choose, and God uses. Let me explain what I mean.
God gave them up
After mentioning the wrath of God in Romans 1:18, we read this phrase three times in verses 25, 26 and 28: “God gave them up” or “God gave them over.” What does this mean to say “God gave them up”? Does it mean God gave up on sinners? No, C.S. Lewis explained it well, when he said that basically, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God will say, “thy will be done.” Because when we refuse to obey God, God gives us over to the consequences of our sin.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5:5 the purpose of God giving us over to the consequences of our sin, “hand this man over to Satan, so the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”
The purpose of God’s wrath
God knows that if we suffer the consequences of our sin, in order that we, like the prodigal son, will hit rock bottom, realize we have nowhere else to turn, and cry out to God for salvation. And that is when we understand our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of God’s wrath is to show us our need for the Savior.
Once I met a man at the gym, who told me his testimony of how he was a mean man, who drank and gambled and mistreated his wife and children. I asked him what happened, and he said he lost it all. His wife left him and took the children, and he hit bottom. That’s when he trusted in Jesus Christ, when he had nothing left and he realized his need for God. You could say that God gave him up. But the result was for his good, and for his salvation. That’s good news!
Does Romans 1 really forbid homosexuality?
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – Romans 1:26-27, ESV
Gay rights activists often object to this passage, claiming it does not apply to consenting adult homosexuals. Here are three objections they give, and a rebuttal to each:
1) Objection: Some say this does not apply to those whom they claim are “born” homosexual. They say that when it refers to “natural relations,” it means people born homosexual are natural, but if a person is not born homosexual, then it is wrong for them.
Rebuttal: But Paul plainly says that homosexuality itself is unnatural, and so does the rest of scripture. Genesis 1:27 says we were created male and female, and intended for heterosexual relationships. Sodom was destroyed, according to Genesis 19, because of homosexual sin. Leviticus 18:22 and 1 Timothy 1:10 also condemn homosexuality.
2) Objection: Some homosexuals say this verse in Romans only applies to abuse of children, saying it is meant to keep adult homosexuals from sexually abusing children.
Rebuttal: While child abuse is also wrong, notice that verse 27 says “men with men,” not men with boys. It plainly applies to homosexual acts between consenting adults.
3) Objection: Some will admit that the homosexual act is forbidden, but they will say that homosexual feelings cannot be helped, so as long as the person with homosexual leanings remains celibate, it is okay to be homosexual.
Rebuttal: While it is true that feelings cannot be helped, it is also true that feelings and desires, if encouraged, will lead to actions. Notice that verse 26 refers to “lusts,” also translated “passions,” as shameful.
Notice at the end of verse 27, homosexuals are described as receiving “in themselves the due penalty for their error.” The word “error” is the Greek word for “wandering” or “straying” from the truth. It is the same word used for the straying sheep in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:12, and for backsliding believers in Hebrews 5:2. And here is where there is hope: sheep and backsliders can return from their wandering, and according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, some of them did! Paul says that former homosexuals were washed and sanctified and changed!