Sunday, August 11, 2019

Come Follow Me - Romans 7-13

Come Follow Me - Romans 7-13

Paul's purpose in writing to the Romans
As noted before, in the Book of Romans, Paul sought to establish himself with the Roman Christian Church before arriving there, a key to his planned missionary trip to Spain. The Church in Rome was likely formed by Jewish converts, who brought the gospel with them. In doing so, they taught the Gentile converts to live the Law of Moses. Wanting to establish a fuller understanding of the gospel among the Roman saints, Paul wrote the epistle to clarify certain doctrines and teachings, as he understood them.

Paul would attempt to write a balanced letter between the Jewish and Gentile Christian lifestyles. The Jewish Christians were fully engaged in the Law of Moses, circumcision, animal sacrifice, clean/unclean.  The Gentile Christians came from environment of Roman debauchery. Many of the Caesars of the time (like Nero), would have night long orgies, celebrate the violence of war in the Colosseum, and worship a myriad of gods. Paul would seek a balance by focusing on Christ as the Messiah and liberator of both the Jew first, and then the Gentile.

Living Faith vs the Dead Works of the Law

In chapter 7, Paul begins by addressing the Jewish converts (those who know the law). He explains that God saves both Jew and Gentile, even though the Gentiles are ignorant of the law of Moses. He explained that a woman could not have two husbands while they are both alive, but could remarry after the first one died. Suggesting that the Law of Moses has been fulfilled and thus is dead, they are free to marry into Christ and the higher gospel.

He goes into a confusing discussion of him being without sin until he was taught the law, which is dead, and so it made him dead also. In this, he is explaining the Law of Moses is an outward law that does not give life. Sacrificing dead animals or not coveting will not bring you back to life after death - particularly if you are only living the law out of required obedience, and not from point of faith.

But through Christ, we are saved by faith, not by the works of obedience/requirement. Yet, Paul ensures us that we still need to keep the commandments. How does this work, then? The fourth Article of Faith and the "Doctrine of Christ" (2 Ne 31; 3 Ne 11) establish that the first principles of the gospel are Faith in Christ and Repentance. Then come ordinances and covenants through baptism/ordinances and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Paul discussed faith in Christ, repentance and baptism in the previous chapters of Romans (see especially chapter 6). Now he's explaining the impact these have on the Law of Moses. Nothing in the Law of Moses is going to save us. It can only point to the true source of salvation: Jesus Christ. However, once we obtain a spiritual witness of Christ, the gospel and its meaning become alive for us. The Spirit stirs within us to action, and we do so through covenants, ordinances and obedience to the things the Spirit witnesses to us. Suddenly, obedience gives us life, but only because the Holy Ghost sparked and then fanned the flame of faith in Christ.

Sin is not an issue to someone who believes in Christ and continually repents, relying on the merits of Christ for salvation. Yet, we deal with sin daily. For Paul, living the Law of Moses and failing to keep every little commandment and rule, meant he was a failure and unworthy of God's mercy and salvation. However, through Christ's perfection, he could be rescued from himself and his poor attempts to obedience of the law. Sadly, Paul did not write this very clearly, and so it often requires looking at several commentaries to begin to understand his intricate web of sin and being unable to escape it by himself.

Christ taught, "by their fruits ye shall know them (his true disciples)." (Matthew 7:16).  True discipleship engenders joy, peace, hope, and good works through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If we keep the commandments because we feel we "have to" or are afraid of God's wrath, then we have yet to become disciples born of the Spirit. We are living a dead law. This is the reason so many feel gospel burnout. They are focused on obedience to commandments, which is a dead end by itself. When one focuses on increasing faith and repentance, THEN the Holy Ghost can interact with our hearts, minds and spirits, creating a new person out of us. A new person who desires to follow Jesus joyfully. This is what true conversion is about, and this is what Paul is trying to explain.

Paul's Confusing Letter

Paul's letter IS confusing. Peter noted that Paul's writings could cause a person to wrest with the gospel, distorting it, unto condemnation/death (2 Peter 3:16).

And so it is. Over the centuries, many Bible scholars have developed dogma/theories that have changed the nature of the gospel message, because they did not properly understand what Paul was teaching.  Among the mistaken teachings that grew from the writings of Paul are:

  1. St Augustine was the first to teach "original sin" where we are all born evil because of Adam's fall. In his theory, there is no good in any of us, and so it requires us to rely solely on Christ's goodness to be saved. In this scenario, we are all worthy of eternal hell solely because we were born. Also, it suggests we are made of inferior material than the stuff God is made of, so while we can be saved by God, we cannot ever become exactly like He is.
  2. Martin Luther's rejection of any requirement towards obedience. He saw that Paul said we are "saved by grace alone, not of works." Having seen the tyranny of the early Catholic Church, with indulgences and a myriad of invented commandments to obey, Martin sought to remove all requirement from mankind beyond a basic belief. Though he hoped men would act according to their faith, he did not see it as necessary for salvation.
  3. John Calvin's TULIP was born out of Paul's teachings. Predestination of the souls of men is a major component, where God has already decided, possibly arbitrarily, who will and won't be saved. TULIP stands for: 
  • Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
  • Unconditional Election (you are either chosen or you are not, regardless of what you do or the faith in God you have)
  • Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement, most will not be saved, only those predestined by God for salvation. All others will go to hell, regardless of their personal attempts at being good)
  • Irresistible Grace (those who are predestined to salvation will be forced to desire/accept salvation. There is no free will.)
  • Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
 An in depth study of these, compared with the full gospel taught by Jesus, clearly shows they are in error. John 3:16 alone denotes that there is no Limited Atonement as described by Calvin, but all those who believe in Christ will be saved. In fact, this is the main premise of Paul's writings. And in chapter 8 of Romans, Paul explains:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God will save the vast majority of his children. Only the sons of perdition will reject salvation, and so will not gain a kingdom of glory. Everyone else, though, will receive salvation by their level of faithfulness. Even many of the wicked will obtain the Telestial Kingdom, after a period of suffering for their sins (until they believe and repent), which kingdom was described by Joseph Smith as a wonderful place (D&C 76). It is hard for me to imagine God being a loving God, yet condemns most of his children to hell, simply because He chose to not give them free will, nor an opportunity to believe and repent.

For me, such a Being is not worthy of my worship. He is not a loving, forgiving, or caring being. Calvin's God does not care if one is saved or not, and therefore does not need a Christ to come to save mankind - especially if God has already decided to condemn most of them. For Calvin, God created all beings without free will, then condemns most of them to hell. A loving God that predestines souls, would bring all of them back to His presence. Calvin's view of God does not. Thankfully, God loves Calvinists as much as he does all his other children. Still, He desires all of us to have a correct understanding of who He is, what His attributes are, and our true relationship with Him.

And in desiring this, Paul clearly explains our relationship with God.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:14-17)

Paul is NOT discussing predestination, TULIP, original sin, or any other dogma. He is discussing our relationship with God. We literally are the children of God. The Holy Ghost testifies of this reality.  There are no exceptions noted by Paul. He does not say, "they are the sons of God, IF God predestines them." No, the only requirements given by Paul (in the previous chapters) to receive a fullness of Christ's blessings and to cement our relationship with God, are: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and receiving the Holy Ghost. 

What does it mean to be an heir of God? Joint-heir with Christ? Are we to take this literally, or is Paul just making stuff up?  For us to fully understand what Jesus does for us when we have faith in him and take upon us his name, we have to believe what Paul is telling us. We are literal children. We are made up of the stuff God is made of, and in being cleansed and justified through Christ and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, are made pure. We become pure, even as Christ is. In being pure, we are of the same holy matter Jesus is made of.  And in becoming part of the family with God, we can inherit everything Jesus inherits. Jesus gets everything. We get everything. Jesus will rule the universe. We will rule with him. Jesus will be glorified. We will be glorified in Christ. 

Welcome to the Family of God.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Come Follow Me - Romans 1-6

Come Follow Me - Romans 1-6

The Scholarly Views on Paul's Epistles
Leaving the Acts of the Apostles, we now go into Paul's letters (epistles). In doing this, we should look at the overall view of scholars regarding Paul’s epistles. The epistles we currently have were gathered together around 380 AD by St Jerome as he wrote the Latin Vulgate Bible. Jerome went through many books and epistles that were available in his day, and tried to determine which ones were authentic, and which were not. Occasionally, politics entered into his decision making. To have the western portion of the Church accept his list of approved books meant he had to include Hebrews and Revelation, though he personally believed they were not originally from Paul and John.

Today, scholars have determined that only about half of the epistles of Paul were actually written by the apostle. The remainder were possibly written by some of his followers or others who created forgeries - a very common practice in the first few centuries of Christianity, as different Christian sects sought to impose their views upon all Christians.

The Pauline epistles are now separated into three groups by modern scholars: authentic Pauline epistles, those which are disputed to be authentic by various scholars, and those that are very likely or definitely not written by Paul.

The epistles that are generally undisputed are: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

Those that are disputed by scholars on authenticity: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians - these are known as the Deutero-Pauline epistles, as a second person(s) who may have

known Paul most likely wrote these.

Finally come the Pastoral-Pauline epistles, which were most likely written by someone else: 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Whether they were actually written by Paul or not, they are accepted by Christians as inspired writings that can help us understand concepts and teachings of the early Christian Church.

 The Epistle to the Romans

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is universally accepted as being authentic. It is thought to have been written by Paul around 57 AD. Paul wrote many of his epistles prior to this time, encouraging the Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians to provide for the poor. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul explains he is enroute to Jerusalem with the funds to deliver to the leadership there.

Paul repeats some discussions he has had in previous letters: justification, Abraham, Adam and Christ as the new Adam,

Romans’ topics have been the source for several key traditional Christian concepts, including Augustine’s original sin, Martin Luther’s justification by faith alone, John Calvin’s double predestination, and John Wesley on sanctification.

Paul had established several Christian churches around the Aegean Sea, and desired to preach where others had not yet established a church: Spain. His plan was to visit Rome on the way.

It is probable that the church in Rome was founded by Jewish Christians. Gentile Romans became interested and believed in Christ. The Jewish Christians in Rome taught the Roman converts to receive circumcision and obey the Law of Moses. In writing to Rome, Paul was explaining that the Gentile Christians were saved through faith, and not the law of Moses.

In 49 AD, the Roman leader Claudius expelled from Rome both Jews and Jewish Christians over their disruptive arguments over whether Jesus was the Messiah. His successor, Nero, allowed them to return in 54 AD, but would persecute them a decade later after the Great Fire, where tradition states he fiddled while Rome burnt.

It is during Nero’s reign that Paul wrote the Romans, in hopes of establishing his branch of Gentile Christianity among them.

  I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Romans 1:18-32

 Referencing the “Wisdom of Solomon”, an ancient Jewish document, Paul condemned the sexual and violent sins of Rome. Nero was famous for orgies which, according to the ancient historian Suetonius, often lasted "from noon until midnight." He built a 50 foot round dining room, which rotated to simulate the movements of the earth and planets. Entertainment in Rome included violent depictions of battles, and often included the deaths of captured enemies or rebels.

 Paul was not ashamed to preach the gospel of Christ against such evils, noting that God would someday punish the wicked for such great sins. A major portion of his epistle would point to two main issues: the intense focus by some on following the Mosaic Law on the one hand, and the licentiousness of the Roman pagan society. Paul would have to teach them a middle view of what salvation meant. In speaking about the sins of Rome, Paul explained,

“Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile... (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness)” (Romans 2:9-15).
God has given a basic law, which not all have officially received via commandment of God. Many Gentiles lived chaste and non-violent lives without a prophet to command them, but following their conscience. Paul speaks of justification here. Those who keep God’s commandments, whether commanded through prophets, or inspired by the Holy Spirit to the conscience of man, are blessed for it. But it requires us to do, and not just hear or know a law. Many of the Jewish Christians knew the law, but were not following it.

 Instead, the gospel became a point for them to contend with Jews, and some of the Jewish Christians picked and chose the laws to be obeyed. They were not justified in knowing, and not obeying God's natural laws. Paul then taught that the Mosaic Law is one method, as is the method for the Gentile Christians. All have sinned, and therefore none can save themselves (Romans 3:9-11), but there is a salvation offered for both those under the Mosaic Law and those not under the law:
“ Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ..Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 1:22-31)
So, Paul confusingly seems to be saying we both need and don’t need the law. In fact, he is teaching that the law is not an end in itself. One is not saved by being circumcised or offering animal sacrifices. Nor is one saved by making prayers and offerings. But the Jew or Gentile Christian who develops his faith, will follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance via his conscience, and such a person will want to live the laws of God as a normal outpouring of faith. In other words, we do not earn salvation by obeying, but we embrace Christ's offer of salvation by doing the things the Spirit calls upon us to do in faith. A person obeys because of faithfulness. As Jesus stated, “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). What the Lord meant is that if we love him, keeping the commandments will be a natural outcome of that love. Our faith and love of Christ will naturally have us desire to be like him.

 Obedience flows from faith, but not necessarily the other way around. Many Pharisees paid tithes and offerings and prayed, but their obedience did not bring them to believe in Christ. Of course, faith is more than just a belief. According to the Lecture on Faith, faith is a moving power for God (and us) in all things. The greater the faith, the greater the power of God that is with us and within us.

In chapter 4, we find that Paul discusses Abraham - a Jewish ancestor that Paul uses to inspire both the Jew and Roman believers. Abraham was blessed because he believed or had faith, not because he was circumcised. Yet his faith led him to do great works of obedience, including offering up Isaac, his son. As we learn from the Nephite King Benjamin, we cannot obey enough laws or do enough to ever pay back God for our sins and disobedience in life. First off, he gave us life, and then air, water,  food and other blessings along the way, for which we owe him. When we obey God, he blesses us, so we still are ever in his debt. Benjamin noted that we are not even worth the dust we are created from, because God created the dust (Mosiah 2-5). Nephi taught us that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23). But what exactly does that mean? The Lamanite king Anti-Nephi-Lehi encouraged his people to bury their weapons of war and violence. In doing so, he explained to the people:

“it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain” (Alma 24:11).
In essence, faith and repentance are all we can do. Jesus does the rest. The greater our faith and repentance, the more Jesus can do for us. We find from Alma’s Near Death Experience and his intense sufferings in hell for his sins that a very basic faith and repentance are required for us to be saved from hell and death:
“But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.... And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:12-20).
We find that Alma’s sins and disbelief cast him from God’s presence and into a darkness of his own making. All Alma could do was believe and repent. Only his repentance could save him from the eternal torment that was upon him. So it is with all of us. A basic faith and repentance save us from hell and death.

In chapter 5, Paul explained we are “justified by faith” through the blood of Christ. When we accept the atonement through faith and repentance, we are rescued from hell and death. Justification means we are  made guiltless for our sins, reconciled to God, and therefore made eligible for heaven (or in LDS teaching, one of the levels of heaven). Although Paul does not speak here of it, we can then seek to be sanctified by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which purifies us as we become more faithful and obedient. As with Christ, we can go from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace, until we receive a fullness (D&C 93). At each new level of grace, we are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, purifying us and making us worthy to a higher level of glory and heavenly reward. That is what Grace, Justification and Sanctification are all about for us:

We are Justified (made guiltless/sinless) through faith on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We are then eligible to receive the sanctification of the Holy Ghost, which leads us from grace to grace (divine power/holiness to a higher divine power/holiness), as we receive grace for grace.

This ties into Paul's discussion on baptism (ordinances). Faith in Christ and repentance are the first principles of the gospel. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost are the first ordinances of the gospel. They tie into the concepts of Grace, Justification and Sanctification.

Paul explains some of the symbolism of baptism. We are buried with Christ, and then resurrect with Christ, as we are submerged in the living waters. We are symbolically washed clean by the water, as we take upon ourselves Christ's perfection and holiness. While Paul also speaks later of the Sacrament/Communion, he does not mention other ordinances directly.These restored ordinances such as the endowment and sealing of families, are part of the going from grace to grace, and taking upon ourselves greater levels of Jesus' holiness and power. The ordinances reflect our faith and spiritual growth.

To summarize all of this:

We cannot save ourselves through obedience to laws. We are only saved through faith in Christ and repentance. In having faith, we begin the process of desiring to be more like Jesus, and the Spirit guides us towards the things we should do to obey His will. As we receive baptism and other ordinances, we grow in faith, repent more, and receive greater guidance from the Holy Ghost. This is the process of Grace, where God takes us from one level of holiness/grace to the next, as we continue to grow in our faith in Christ, repent, and receive of the ordinances and the Holy Ghost. The day will come when we receive a fullness of God's grace, divinity and power through Jesus Christ's Atonement and Resurrection.


Nero's rotating dining room: