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.

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