Questions & Answers: "Romans: Cornerstone of Christian Truth" (Swindoll)

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Romans: Cornerstone of Christian Truth
Insight for Living

The editors of the New Geneva Study Bible describe the book of Romans as


Paul's fullest, grandest, most comprehensive statement of the gospel. Its compressed declarations of vast truths are like coiled springs - once loosed, they leap through mind and heart to fill one's horizon and shape one's life. John Chrysostom, the fifth century's greatest preacher, had Romans read aloud to him once a week. Augustine, Luther, and Wesley, three supremely significant contributors to the Christian heritage, all came to assured faith through the impact of Romans. All the Reformers saw Romans as the God-given key to understanding all Scripture, since here Paul brings together all the Bible's greatest themes. . . . From the vantage point given by Romans, the whole landscape of the Bible is open to view, and the relation of the parts to the whole becomes plain. The study of Romans is vitally necessary for the spiritual health and insight of the Christian.

Romans has been called a constitution and manifesto for believers, containing the essence and essentials of the Christian life. Though personal in tone, it is a well-developed presentation of grace-filled, God-exalting theology that beckons the mind to stretch, the heart to soar, and the soul to sing.


Background of Romans

Paul did not establish the church in Rome, nor had he visited it by the time of his letter, though he was well aware of its growth and impact (Romans 1:8-13). Perhaps the church at Rome began shortly after Pentecost (Acts 2), as Roman Jews returned from Jerusalem to their city with the fire of the gospel still burning in their hearts. The good news then spread to Rome's vast Gentile population.

Concurrent with the Roman church's growth was the success of Paul's missionary efforts to the east. By the time Paul wrote to the Romans, he had been evangelizing, planting churches, and training leaders from Judea to Macedonia for about 10 years. The time had come for him to take the gospel to new territories.

So he set his sights on Spain. From the city of Corinth, he planned to deliver a monetary gift to the church in Jerusalem, given by the Gentile churches in Achaia and Macedonia. Then he would sail from Jerusalem to Spain, stopping at Rome, the capital of the empire, to encourage the Christians there in their walk with Christ.

In Corinth, probably in the winter of AD 57, Paul dictated a letter to his personal scribe, Tertius, telling the Roman Christians about his plans. But this letter is no mere itinerary. Paul saw his correspondence as an opportunity to ground the Romans in the essentials of the faith, for the church there had no definitive statement of Christian truth. They needed a "constitution" to go by, not just so they could learn, but so they could be a light to the rest of the empire.


Survey of Romans

The letter unfolds in a logical fashion as Paul argued his case that God provides for us what God requires of us - perfect righteousness. Through faith in Christ alone, a "righteousness from God" is granted to sinners, which removes God's holy wrath toward us and brings us into loving relationship with Him forever.


Introduction (Romans 1:1-17)

Paul opened his letter by identifying himself as "a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1). Now there's a man who knew himself, his God, and his mission, which was to preach the gospel - for the gospel is the "power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (1:16).

Next Paul introduced his main theme, the "righteousness of God" (1:17), which he developed throughout the letter. The termrighteousness, which appears 35 times in this book, was defined by Paul as inward and outward conformity to God's law. And no one, he contended, can attain righteousness apart from divine intervention. The righteousness we need in order to please God must come from God Himself.


The Bad News: We're All Guilty (Romans 1:18-3:20)

Why must righteousness be a gift from God? Because all humanity is unrighteous, corrupted by sin and unable to live according to God's perfect standards.

Though some people live better lives than others, at least from a human perspective, everyone is guilty before God - we've all missed the mark: "There is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). The whole of sinful humanity is in the crosshairs of God's judgment.

Pretty bleak picture, isn't it? If we stopped here, we would be doomed to despair and destruction. But there's more to the story.


The Good News: God Has Given Us His Righteousness (Romans 3:21-5:21)

How could sinful people possibly appease the wrath of God? We can't. So God Himself provided the way, through the death of His Son on the cross. Though we all have "sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), we can be "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (3:24).

Just what does "justification" mean? Does it mean that, by accepting Christ's offer of salvation, we are made instantly righteous? No. It means we are declared righteous. We can enjoy a relationship with God as though we were righteous, even though we will spend all our years on earth working to get our day-to-day lives to catch up with our position.

Righteousness without works? Paul anticipated that his Jewish readers might struggle with this idea. Rituals, after all, played a major part in Jewish religion. Some of the Jews coming to Christ wanted to maintain that certain rites, such as circumcision, were a necessary component of salvation.

Yet Jewish history is filled with examples of justification by faith alone, and Paul was quick to bring them to light. First, Abraham, the father of the Jews, whose belief was "credited to him as righteousness" before he was circumcised (4:3). And next, David, whose sins were not credited to his account, though they certainly warranted God's wrath (4:7-9).

In 2 Corinthians, Paul put it this way: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That is truly good news! For Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised alike.

Just as Adam's disobedience brought sin and death to humanity, Christ's obedience brings righteousness and life (Romans 5:18-19).


More Good News: We Don't Have to Live as We Used To (Romans 6-8)

Staying one step ahead of his readers, Paul anticipated the inevitable question: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" (Romans 6:1).

In other words, since we're justified and will remain so even if we sin, can't we just live however we want? "May it never be!" exclaimed Paul. "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (6:2).

Salvation doesn't free us to sin; it frees us not to sin (6:2-11). As believers in Christ, we are united with Christ Himself and His strength. Sin no longer has a claim on our lives. We're "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6:11).

The daily process of living this new life in Christ is called "sanctification" (6:22). Whereas justification is God's declaration of righteousness, sanctification is our development in righteousness. Justification has to do with our position in Christ. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ.

As growing Christians, we no longer live under the law, which showed us our sin and condemned us. Instead we live in the Spirit, who frees us to love and serve Christ.

Old habits die hard, though, as we all know. Even though we're new creatures in Christ and will one day be perfect, we retain the vestiges of our old, sinful nature in this life (Romans 7). This war of the two natures is a struggle for the Christian who truly wants to grow.

But even in the midst of the struggle, the Spirit who dwells within us gives assurance that we are children of God who will one day stand in His presence (8:16-18). We will one day be free from all sin and suffering (8:23-25). The Spirit even helps us pray when we can't find the words (8:26-27).

The Spirit is our source of strength but also a sign of our security in Christ. Security that God works for our good (8:28). Security that we were chosen by God and will one day see Him face-to-face (8:29-30). Security that God is for us and not against us (8:31). And security that nothing, either in heaven or on earth, can separate us from the love of God (8:38-39).


The Future of Israel (Romans 9-11)

Not everyone, however, has that sense of security; not everyone is saved. And that grieved Paul, especially because many of the unsaved were fellow Jews. How could it be that God's covenant people of old could be so resistant to the gospel?

Paul explained that Israel's rejection of God is both a matter of God's sovereign choice (Romans 9) and Israel's stubbornness and self-righteousness (Romans 10).

Does that mean God has given up on Israel? Paul's vivid depiction of an olive tree in chapter 11 assures us that He hasn't. Though unbelieving Jews have been "cut off" from the olive tree (the community of the redeemed) and believing Gentiles have been grafted in, "all Israel" will one day be saved and grafted back in (11:26).

This divine plan caused Paul to praise God for His "unfathomable" ways (11:33). Though we can't always explain why God does things the way He does them, we can trust that He is God. And His plans, like His person, are perfect.


How, Then, Are We to Live? (Romans 12:1-15:13)

Having laid out the truth of what Christ has done for us, Paul, in his usual style, turned his attention to how life changes for those who are in Christ.

In light of the "mercies of God" (Romans 1-11), Paul urged us to "present [our] bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship" (12:1).

What does this mean? It means that the Christian life is a sacrificial offering of gratitude to the God who has set us free to serve Him.

How do we serve Him? Rather than being "conformed" to the world, we're to be "transformed by the renewing of" our minds (12:2). And rather than dwelling on our own importance, we're to consider the value of others (12:3-8). We're to live in a way that serves and benefits others and that combats evil with good (12:9-21).

The realm of civil government also takes on new meaning for the Christian. We're to pray for our leaders, submit to them, and live exemplary lives under their reign (Romans 13).

Life in Christ also brings freedom from external standards of righteousness. Though we're all to be sensitive to and respect the convictions held by others, righteousness isn't defined by our participation or abstinence. "The kingdom of God," said Paul, "is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (14:17).

Pleasing ourselves isn't the goal of the Christian life (15:1). We're to follow the example of Christ and work for the good of our neighbor, "accept[ing] one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God" (15:7).

The Christian life is a different life. And all the resources we need to live it are found in Christ Himself.


Conclusion (Romans 15:14-16:27)

With the lesson now complete, Paul finished his letter on a more personal note. Commentator John Stott captured the essence of Paul's heartfelt conclusion.


The apostle seems to be experiencing a twinge of apprehension about how his letter will be received. If so, the rest of it will disarm and reassure them. He writes very personally (maintaining an "I-you" directness throughout), affectionately ("my brothers," 15:14) and candidly. He opens his heart to them about the past, present and future of his ministry, he asks humbly for their prayers, and he sends them many greetings. In these ways he gives us insight into the out-working of God"s providence in his life and work.

Paul closed his letter in a way we would expect from a man who simply couldn't get over the grace and the greatness of God.

"To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen" (Romans 16:27).

We don't know for sure whether Paul ever made it to Spain. But he did eventually travel to Rome - as a prisoner - and ministered there under house arrest for two years (Acts 28:16-31). His second journey to Rome ended in martyrdom in AD 68. The Emperor Nero's execution order ended the apostle's life, but it couldn't silence his voice.

And it never will.

Questions & Answers: "How Can I Get Started Reading the Bible?" (Swindoll)

What Do You Believe?

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Chuck Swindoll

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How Can I Get Started Reading the Bible?
Pastoral Ministries
Question: I’m a new Christian, and I want to learn more from the Bible. I have an old Bible that belonged to my grandmother, and it’s difficult to understand. Where do I begin? How can I get more out of reading the Bible? 

Answer: It’s great to hear about your desire to read God’s Word. Many Christians long to know more about the Bible, but like you, they feel frustrated because of the strange words and unusual writing styles. If you’re reading an older version, such as the King James Version, the Bible can feel particularly foreign to you. How can you begin to understand what you are reading?


The first step is to purchase a Bible that you can use at home and at church. You might ask your pastor what version he uses when he preaches. It’s helpful to own a copy of the same version so that you can follow along during his sermon.


Many people want to know which Bible version Chuck Swindoll uses. He preaches from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) because he believes that this version represents the most accurate translation of the original text. The Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew and Greek, with a few sections in Aramaic. Therefore, any English Bible is a translation, and as such, it reflects the translators’ philosophy. Some Bibles present a nearly word-for-word translation, while other versions offer a looser, more contemporary translation.

The NASB translators determined to keep their version as literal in regard to the original text as possible. This is the genius of the NASB, but we must also recognize that for many people this is a drawback, since the literality may produce a rather wooden rendering. The NASB is not as smooth nor as idiomatic as other translations. 

Although Chuck preaches from the NASB, he owns other versions and reads them occasionally. In recent years, he has come to highly regard the New International Version (NIV).

Every version has virtues and limitations. Some Bibles contain study notes to help you understand the text or articles to help you apply what you reading. To learn more about Bible versions, you might read The Complete Guide to Bible Versions, by Philip W. Comfort. This book provides a list of the various versions of the Bible along with a quick overview of the history and philosophy of the translation. 

The Bible is not a typical book; rather it is a collection of sixty-six books written during various times and by different authors. With an ordinary book, you begin on page one and read to the end. But because the Bible is a collection of books, you may approach it differently. Here are a few approaches to reading the Bible: 


Scheduled Bible Reading

Many people follow a Bible-reading schedule, such as one of the schedules listed on the following Web site: Imagine that Bible reading is like taking a bus tour of a large city. On a bus tour, you cover a lot of ground without spending too much time in any one place, and that’s what scheduled reading should be. The idea is to become familiar with the major themes, stories, and chronology of Scripture. Then, if you want to study a particular passage, you can “get off the bus” and spend focused time in that specific place. 


Devotional Study

Think of the Bible as a long banquet table full of delicious entrees. You may step up to any section and select a morsel of truth. Christian devotional books take this approach. Each day the book includes a meditation on a verse or two to guide your reading. 

However, be careful not to use the Bible like a crystal ball. Some Christians try to find a message from God by closing their eyes, flipping open their Bibles, and pointing their fingers at a verse. The flip-and-point method often leads to frustration, because the verse might not mean much to you. Or worse, it leads to error, because you may take the verse out of context and interpret it to mean something that the author never intended. 

If you wish to read what the Bible says on certain topics like discouragement, hope, or eternal life, you can purchase a topical index, such as A Topical Bible Guide by Bob Phillips. This small book is worth its weight in gold! It contains verses on one hundred topics of interest, and you can pick a few verses to read as a devotional study for the day. Write down the verses on cards to carry with you, or look up and underline the verses in your Bible. You’ll be able to remember the verses more clearly when you know where they are found in your Bible. 


Book Study

You can also select a certain book of the Bible to study. If you’ve never read the Bible before, you may want to look in the table of contents and find the book of Mark. Mark is a fast-moving account of Jesus’s life and is perhaps the easiest of the four gospels to understand. As you read a selection every day, ask yourself, “What is the author trying to tell me about Jesus in this passage?” Dig for the timeless principles that the Bible is teaching, and apply those principles to your life. For example, in Mark 1:21-28 when Jesus is casting out the evil spirit, He demonstrates His authority over demons. The author is teaching the truth that Jesus is the greatest authority in the physical and the spiritual realms, and you can feel confident in His power. 

You may want to jot down the Biblical principles you discover in a notebook or prayer journal. As you examine the verses, ask yourself a few application-type questions. 

Are there any promises that I can claim in these verses?
Is there a command that I need to obey?  
Are there any sins that I need to avoid?
Is there an example to follow?  
What encouragement or comfort may I gain?  
What new perspective is God showing me? 

God has given us His Word to nourish us through every stage of our Christian development. It is “pure milk” for newborn believers (1 Peter 2:2) and “solid food” for the mature (Hebrews 5:14). You can feed on the Scripture every day for the rest of your life and never exhaust its storehouse of nourishment. May God richly bless your study of His Word.

Questions & Answers: " Why Was He Put in the Wilderness and Tested?" (McGee)

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If Jesus Could Not Sin, Why Was He Put in the Wilderness and Tested?

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Q&A with McGee
Dr. J. Vernon McGee

Q: If Jesus Could Not Sin, Why Was He Put in the Wilderness and Tested?
Selected from our Questions and Answers program

A. It was impossible for Jesus to sin. In Luke 1:35, Mary was told "that holy thing" that will be conceived by the Holy Spirit is the Son of God. He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). It is rank heresy to say that Jesus Christ could sin or that He had any sin in Him. He was in all points like we are, except for one: He was not contaminated with sin.


Jesus was not tempted to see if He would fall. He was tempted to show that He could not fall - "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John 14:30). After He had lived a life down here for thirty-three years, Satan came with this temptation, a temptation that appealed to man's total personality - the physical side, the mental side, and the spiritual side of man. The Lord Jesus could not fall, and the testing was given to demonstrate that He could not fall. If He could have fallen, then any moment your salvation and mine is in doubt. The minute He yielded to sin, we would have no Savior.


His temptation was to prove that He could not sin. These temptations that came to Him are the same temptations that come to us. But He did not fall because He could not fall. Then someone is sure to argue, "Wait a minute, then He must not have been tempted as we are." He was tempted greater than we ever were tempted. You know, a boat out in the water can stand just so much pressure. As that pressure builds up the boat will finally give way, and when it does then the pressure is relieved. When pressure is put on us, we finally give way and yield to the temptation.


That is common knowledge, of course, and we live in a mean world today. Folk put temptation in the presence of a man who is very honorable and in front of some chaste, marvelous woman. They keep building up the pressure because they know there will come a time and a circumstance when those people will probably yield to it. Now the devil put all the pressure on the Lord Jesus that was possible to put on any creature, and the Lord Jesus withstood it. He could bear all that pressure. So He has been tempted lots more than you and I have. He really knows what it is to be tempted. The difference is that you and I know what it is to be tempted and fall, but He did not experience that.

Questions & Answers: " How Could He Free Me from Sickness and Disease at the Cross?" (McGee)

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J. Vernon McGee

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 If Jesus Was Never Ill, How Could He Free Me from Sickness and Disease at the Cross?

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Q&A with McGee
Dr. J. Vernon McGee

Q: If Jesus Was Never Ill, How Could He Free Me from Sickness and Disease at the Cross?
Selected from our Questions and Answers program

A: This question approaches the problem from the opposite door that the faith healer approaches it from. Today they say that there's healing in the atonement because He took all of our sicknesses and that we're to be delivered at present from our sicknesses. Well the doctor today doesn't have to have cancer to understand how to deal with it, how to treat it, or how to feel for the patient that does have it.


The Lord Jesus didn't go through every little experience that you and I have gone through. These things that have come to us because of sin, He has not experienced. But back of sickness is sin, and He died for our sins. When Scripture uses the expression about healing, the healing I think refers actually to the healing of sin and not of physical healing. I think that there's been too great of an emphasis put upon that.


We read in 1 Peter 2:24, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." Now what are we healed of? Diseases? No, we are healed of sin. Because it says He bore our sin. Now this is the first time I've ever seen anybody approach this from the opposite side that the faith healers approach it from.


And for the same reason that I would answer them, I would answer you: He didn't have pneumonia, He didn't have cancer, He didn't have these diseases because He was dealing with that which was fundamental - He bore sin upon Him and, I think, suffered a great deal more than anyone has ever suffered from a disease that has come to us because of sin. It's quite interesting, this question, coming from the opposite direction. Frankly, I'd never thought of it from this angle. Now it's given me another argument for this matter of faith healing resting upon the idea that He took our sickness and bore our disease.

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