Lessons on Grace: How Grace Unites (or Romans taught backwards)

 [This is the next lesson in the Amazing Grace series posted some time ago. I’m re-posting because its importance to the Quail Springs situation.]

grace2.jpgOne of the most illuminating studies I’ve ever done was reading Romans backwards–just starting with the conclusions at the end and then seeing how Paul got to them.

In the earlier lesson on Romans we stopped at chapter 8, mainly because of lack of space (and to avoid overly testing your patience), which is what we do in Bible class most of the time. It’s just nearly impossible to get past chapter 8 in a 13-week quarter. As a result, we often never get all the way to the conclusions!

Chapter 16

And so, just to be sure we get the conclusions, we’re going to start in chapter 16 and work backwards.

(Rom. 16:17) I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Now, this seems a strange place to start a lesson on unity! After all, many of the most divisive men I’ve ever met like to use this verse to aid them in their work of dividing brother from brother.

But look at what it really says. What is the “teaching you have learned”? Well, plainly, it’s what Paul had just taught: Romans 1-15–right? Paul is condemning those who teach contrary to greatest treatise on grace ever written!

In particular, as we’ll see shortly, the subject of chapters 14-15 is how to be united with your brothers. Hence, the most immediate reference is back to the immediately preceding two chapters. Paul is saying, “Watch out for those who teach contrary to what I just taught you. Stay away from those those who refuse the instructions of Romans 14 and 15!”

Therefore, we aren’t at all surprised to learn that these false teachers “cause divisions.” They disagree with Paul’s teachings on how not to divide! And now we know what “obstacles” they put in the way–they sow seeds of division: false doctrines that are obstacles to being united.

Chapter 15

(Rom. 15:7) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Take out your yellow highlighters and mark this one in your Bible! The “then” (“wherefore” in the KJV) says this is the conclusion from what has gone before. We’ve studied already Paul’s teachings on grace in chapters 1-8. Here’s the end of it all. We need to take extra care to get this verse right!

The first “accept” is in the present tense in the Greek, which implies continuous action–“continuously accept.”

The “accepted” is aorist, referring to a particular point in time. Thus, we can very accurately translate–

(Rom. 15:7) [Continually] accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you [at a particular point in time], in order to bring praise to God.

Hmm. At what particular point in time did Christ accept us? It’s obvious enough: when we were saved. I can think of no other possibility.

“Just as” translates kathos, which means, according to Strong’s Dictionary,

just (or inasmuch), as, that–(according to, even) even, as, how, when

A couple of good parallels would be–

(1 Cor 11:1) Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

(1 Cor 13:12) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

In this verse, kathos means “in the same way.”

Hence, we can refine our translation–

(Rom. 15:7) Continually accept one another, then, [in the same way] Christ accepted you [when you were first saved], in order to bring praise to God.

Now ponder this one for a while. Paul says that whether I accept someone should be based on the very same test as whether I was accepted when I was baptized! That test is simply faith, penitence, and baptism, right?

We never ask a convert his position on divorce and remarriage, the age of the earth, or even elder re-affirmation. We just ask whether they believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Why? Plainly, because that’s the only question that matters. It defines our faith–meaning those other questions aren’t about faith. They are about the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, and hence very important, but they aren’t faith, and so we don’t ask about them.

Hence, if a 13-year girl submits to baptism on a genuine confession of faith, with a genuinely penitent heart, and is properly baptized, she’s saved. And this is not the least controversial among us in the Churches of Christ. She’s saved even if she has the wrong position on “the issues”–even if her dad went through an elder re-affirmation just the Sunday before or the Sunday after. Even if her congregation teaches error on divorce and remarriage. Either way, she heard, believed, confessed, repented, and was baptized–and so she’s saved.

If that’s true (and it is), then when a 50-year old elder in the church down the road has the audacity to disagree with me on any of the issues, I must take him to be in error (I mean, who thinks his own opinions are wrong?) But I can’t consider him lost. CANNOT.

Here’s why. I must judge him by the same standard on which I was judged the day I came out of the baptismal waters. God checked my heart to see if I really had faith in Jesus and whether I’d really repented. And if my heart was right, he added me to the church.

Therefore, if the elder down the road is wrong on 100 issues, but would be saved were he freshly baptized, I must consider him saved despite his false views. Does he have faith? Is he still penitent? Well, then, he’s still saved.

The clear implication of this verse is that the standard by which we stay saved today is the same standard by which we are first saved! Indeed, as we covered earlier when we studied Romans 5, the test is–if anything–more generous, not tougher! Paul twice says that we are “much more” saved after we’ve become Christians than the moment we first become Christians.

Now, this seems to defy common sense. We expect people to mature. We expect to be held to higher standards as we grow. Shouldn’t there be a time when God requires us to actually get these answers right?

Well, of course, God wants us to get the answers right. That’s why he inspired the Bible, for crying out loud! The problem is that we ask the wrong question. We assume that no one would even study the Bible unless God would send him to hell if he didn’t!

Isn’t that the underlying assumption? We want to ask: why study the Bible if I can go to heaven without bothering? But this just entirely misunderstands both human nature and the nature of God.

I study the Bible because I love God and want to be a good child and servant. I want to be the best husband, father, and elder (and writer) I can be. But I don’t have any idea that I’m doing this just to stay out of hell! It doesn’t work like that.

I mean, I bought my wife a birthday present the other day. The only reason I did it was because she’d divorce me if I didn’t. Okay. I lied. And you knew it. What I said was obviously ridiculous. Real husbands and wives don’t work that way. I bought her the present because I love her, and giving her pleasure pleases me. Fear never once entered the equation. You see, perfect love drives out fear.

Just so, I do things for my parents, although I expect no reward and have no fear of punishment (they are just way too old to spank me!). When I was younger, those things did motivate me. But now, I’m better and more effectively motivated! I do these things out love and because, out of love, I enjoy doing them.

Okay, we’re almost to the end of chapter 15–

(Rom. 15:5-6) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Where does unity come from? From God. It’s a gift.

We try to make it a work, something that we accomplish. And we fail. We wonder why we can’t just all agree on everything? But we don’t–in 2,000 years of trying, we just don’t.

What’s the solution? Amazingly enough, it’s to accept the gift of unity. Just admit to yourself that God has united us–faith, penitence, baptism. Then look around and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters with whom you’re already united.

It’s really just that simple. The problem isn’t lack of study or hard work. It’s my heart. My heart refuses to admit that God is as gracious as he is. And yet he’s very gracious despite my ungracious attitude. If I change my attitude to be more like God’s, it all gets much simpler.

Change your attitude, accept the unity God has given, and be united. (Of course, it really helps if the people you should be united with would do the same thing.) As Paul says elsewhere,

(Phil. 3:16) Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Finally, verse 1 says,

(Rom. 15:1) We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

Recall, that “strong” refers to having a strong faith–better understanding the freedom the gospel gives.

Now, no one would like to consider himself weak, meaning we all have to consider ourselves to be the strong ones, right? And if that’s so, we all just have to learn to put up with the idiocy of the other believers whom we think are weaker than us. We bear their failings because we love them and, even more so, because we love the one who saved them despite their failings.

Chapter 14

(Rom. 14:17-19) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

The Romans were, like all of us, bad to disagree about stuff. They had doctrinal issues over what to eat and what days to celebrate. Paul explained it simply: that’s just not what the Kingdom is about!

What it is about is doing good, living in peace, and having the joy that God gives through his Spirit. Do this and you’ll please God, he says.

Now, we skip over this because we think Paul doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We think the Kingdom is all about keeping rules over worship and church organization–that this is the very center of our salvation. Paul says we please God by living righteously (which we explained earlier in the post on 1 John), living at peace, and having joy. But we’d rather fight and make ourselves and other people miserable.

Which brings us to the end of chapter 14. Chapter 14 deals with disputes over whether a Christian must be a vegetarian and whether a Christian must celebrate certain holy days.

Now, the conservative segment of the Churches of Christ argues that chapter 14 is about matters of indifference. The color of the church foyer is a commonly used example. But this is just as wrong as can be.

Those arguing for mandatory vegetarianism did so either to stay kosher under the Jewish foods laws in Gentile lands or, more likely, to avoid eating meats sacrificed to idols. Obviously, these are both doctrinal issues. Paul wrestled at length with the implications of meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians, and the kosher issue was a dispute going all the way back to Peter’s rooftop experience.

If a church in town were to start mandating vegetarianism on its members, make no mistake, they’d consider it doctrinal–and so would we!

Just so, the holy day issue is likely about honoring Jewish holy days. The same issue appears in Galatians and even the Gospels. If a Church of Christ were to mandate that Christians not work on Saturdays, the periodicals would be filled with doctrinal arguments on this “matter of indifference”!

We argue about the same stuff even today. My church has members who think it’s wrong for the church, as a church, to celebrate Christmas. A few Christians even refuse to celebrate Easter as Easter. We still argue over whether Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. Again, it should be obvious that this is also a doctrinal dispute.

Now, the logical mistake we fall into is this. If I grant freedom on an issue but you see a law, you say it’s doctrinal and I says it’s indifferent. To me, kitchens in the church building are indifferent. To others, it’s sin. Either way, the answer is found from Bible study, so either way, it’s a doctrinal issue. (The Bible does not in fact tell us what color to use in the church foyer, and so it really is indifferent.)

Notice that Paul declares it okay to eat meat (thank goodness!), but gives no answer on the holy day question. As an inspired apostle, he certainly knew the answer (and gave it in Galatians and in Colossians), but in Romans he told the two sides to get along despite their disagreements!

(Rom. 14:1-4) Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Plainly, v. 4 tells us that the other man–the man I consider weaker than me–does not deserve to stand. He can only stand before God by grace–but “he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Paul speaks with absolute assurance. “He will stand.”

Therefore, because God has forgiven his weakness, I must consider him a brother in Christ and may not pass judgment on him. I may not condemn him. God “has accepted” him–the phrase parallels 15:7.

(Rom. 14:10) You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

It wouldn’t matter that we will all stand before God unless we could all confidently expect God’s acceptance–even those with the audacity to disagreement with me! Paul’s point is simple. None of us will be saved by our merits, only by the merits of Jesus’ work. What makes you think your merits are adequate and his are inadequate? We’re all inadequate. We’ll all stand, but we’ll all stand only by grace.

And so, we get to the end: the beginning of chapter 14. What is a disputable matter?

Obviously, it’s not any issue where the apostle doesn’t give an answer. He gave the answer on eating meat right there in chapter 14! Paul knew the answer, gave the answer, and considered the issue disputable.

No, a disputable matter is any issue over which we can dispute and still remain Christians. After all, how could we be disputing if the issue were beyond dispute?!

Hence, faith in Jesus and the Lordship of Jesus (our obligation to obey) are not disputable. You cannot deny Jesus or rebel against his authority and remain saved. All else is disputable.

How do I know? Well, because I’ve seen Christians dispute over all the rest. And they’re all saved. After all, as we’ve seen, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1).

(Rom. 1:16-17) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

You see, it’s all about faith. And this brings us to the end of the book.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Lessons on Grace: How Grace Unites (or Romans taught backwards)

  1. Chris says:

    Teaching this material has proved difficult for a person who has never really been exposed to the the exclusive examples we have discussed. I am searching for how to turn this “debate” inward for self-examination. Where is it that I bind on others where I should not. I am not sure whether or not this is a generational issue or if it is a denominational issue (my heritage is Southern Baptist).

  2. Alan says:

    We think the Kingdom is all about keeping rules over worship and church organization–that this is the very center of our salvation. Paul says we please God by living righteously (which we explained earlier in the post on 1 John), living at peace, and having joy. But we’d rather fight and make ourselves and other people miserable.

    And in Rom 16:17 Paul tells us to watch out for those who place those obstacles in our way (additional rules etc), and to keep away from them. As long as they keep their beliefs to themselves we can get along. If they are not willing to do that, continuing to quarrel with them is counterproductive. Instead we should enjoy our unity with those who are willing.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Chris,

    I don't know if this helps, but the unity Jesus prayed for is about overcoming all sorts of differences, not just doctrinal differences. Racial, cultural, ethnic, educational, political, and all sorts of other barriers are to be eliminated by God's grace. Yes, God even forgives Democrats.

    Even those with no doctrinal hang ups often struggle with other barriers to unity. I mean, just look at how racially segregated the church is on Sunday mornings and how we sort ourselves into socially and politically monolithic congregations.

    Satan has become quite masterful at keeping us divided.

  4. Ric says:

    Jay,

    I know this is not the central point of this post, but it does seem pertinent. How does what you have to say on the timeing of forgiveness of sins or salvation in the space-time and this series on grace series jive with your argument in “Born of Water” that Baptism is the point of our salvation? Doesn’t the thought that, if we are saved at death, we were always saved, because to God our birth, faith, baptism, life and death all occurred simultaneously, change that view? It would seem to me that if we accept, and ever since I read CS Lewis analogy of time as a line on a sheet of paper and paper as eternity, I have, that God exists outside of time and space and thus the entire history (past, present and future) of the world we live is but a single painting hanging in God’s presence, then our salvation is less dependent on our baptism than it is on our life of faith and penitence of which baptism is only a part. Thus, it can be argued that one is saved at the time of his faith and penitence, and baptism only becomes a condition of salvation as one learns what God desires of him. If so, then our circle of fellowship has just grown much larger.

    I know my argument also suffers from the time fallacy which is what I’ve been trying to grapple with. I would like to know your thoughts on the relationship.

    Ric

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Ric,

    I actually have a lesson on the time problem with baptism in the Third Way series. I’ve just not posted it yet. But it’ll be up in a little bit. Be patient with me.

    In the meantime, you might want to read Born of Water in the “Books by Jay Guin” page.

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