Accept one another
(Rom 15:7) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Paul discussion of how to live as Christ’s congregation culminates in one of the most important commands in the New Testament.
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 chapter 5. The whole book is about grace, actually, and 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.
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.
(By the way, this conclusion is actually clear from the English translation. It’s just that so many people can’t see it, sorting through the Greek helps show that the English is right.)
Now ponder this one for a while. Paul says that whether I accept someone should be based on the very same test on which I was accepted when I was baptized! That test is simply faith, penitence, and baptism, right? Just the 5 steps the Restoration Movement has taught for nearly 200 years.
We never ask a convert his position on divorce and remarriage, instrumental music in worship, or even elder re-affirmation. We just ask whether he believes Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Why? Plainly, because that’s the only question that matters at this point. It defines our faith — meaning those other questions aren’t 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-old girl submits to baptism on a genuine confession of faith, with a genuinely penitent heart, and is baptized, she’s saved. And this is not the least controversial among us in the Churches of Christ. She’s saved 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 Romans 15:7 commands that when a 50-year old elder in the church down the road — who is a penitent, baptized man of faith in Jesus — 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. He is, after all, penitent and a believer. He’s been baptized. Were he baptized tomorrow, he’d be no more saved than he is right now. That’s the lesson of this passage and Rom 5:9-10.
Just as he did in chapter 5, Paul teaches us that the standard by which we stay saved today is the same standard by which we were first saved! (Other passages that teach this include Romans 11:20; Galatians 3:2-3; 1 Peter 1:5.)
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! 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. (Plenty of non-bloggers will be in heaven, too, you know.)
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.
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 of love and because, out of love, I enjoy doing them.
That’s not to say that the Christian should have no fear of damnation, but that the mature Christian has a much higher motivation.
And so, here we have Christian ethics as taught by Paul. It’s based on the Spirit and love and faith, and Paul’s ethics address sexuality, fellowship, the government, whom we choose to lead us — just all sorts of things.
Are there boundaries? Absolutely. The boundaries are defined by things like the Spirit, the meaning of the crucifixion for our lives, love, the importance of unity, sacrifice, and faith.
Therefore — we end up right here in Romans 15 where we began, with the idea that those who remain true to their faith and repentance remain saved and hence remain in fellowship.
And this is pretty much what you wrote. You’re right. It’s just that you need to be willing to grant those in the independent Christian Churches the very same grace. God does. So must we all.