A Man On A Mission.

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed,  by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” – Romans 15:14-21 ESV

As Paul begins to sum up his letter, he provides us with a glimpse into his heart. After spending nearly 15 chapters defining and defending the gospel and its non-negotiable dependence upon faith alone, he takes time to remind his readers why he wrote the letter in the first place. He was passionate. In a way, he was possessed. He had a received a personal commission from Christ Himself to take the gospel to the Gentiles and he would stop at nothing to see that he fulfilled his responsibility. That is why he could put up with all kinds of suffering, abuse, rejection, ridicule, and apparent lack of success on many occasions. He was relentless in his mission. He would not be distracted or deterred from his life’s calling.  He described it as “the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God.” Paul considered his job as an apostle and missionary was an expression of God’s lovingkindness and favor.  His responsibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles was a privilege that was undeserved and unmerited, and he did not take it lightly. And he had every reason to be proud of his work for God. Not in a self-centered, boastful kind of way, but because he knew that anything he had accomplished was by God’s grace and through His power. Paul had a healthy understanding of who he was and what he had accomplished. “For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NLT). His hard work and determination had paid off. He could look back on all his missionary journeys and see the fruit of his labors. There were thriving, growing churches filled with new believers from all walks of life. Jews and Gentiles, having come to know Christ as their Savior, were worshiping together and living out Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ. That is why he could say, “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” He had done his job. He had fulfilled his commission. But he was far from done.

Paul wrote, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” He was neither content or complacent. He was not one to rest on his laurels. In fact, he had told the church in Rome, “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Romans 1:11-12 NLT). Paul was not distracted by the things of this world. Money and materialism had no appeal to him. Which is why he wrote, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him” (Philippians 3:8-9 NLT).

Paul made it his “ambition” to preach the gospel. The Greek word he uses is philotimeomai and it means “to strive earnestly, make it one’s aim” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). You might say that Paul had a one-track mind. His single focus in life was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. It was his sole passion. And what should amaze us is the incredible impact of one man committed to a singular cause. Paul changed the world. He revolutionized the culture in which he lived. Everywhere he went, he left a wake filled with radically changed lives. One man. One mission. One gospel. One hope for making men right with God: the gospel of Jesus Christ. How easy it is for us to see ourselves as insignificant and incapable of making a difference in the world in which we live. We sometimes feel alone and outnumbered. We see our faith as too small and our influence as too weak when compared to the darkness that surrounds us. But like Paul, we must understand that any difference we make is not going to be dependent upon us, but on the power of God within us. Our job is to make ourselves available. We can make a difference – with God’s help. As we know from the life of Paul, one individual can make a world of difference, when he or she is committed to the cause of Christ and dependent upon the Spirit of God for strength.

And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. – Colossians 1:27-29 NLT

Welcome One Another.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:8-13 ESV

“Christ did not please himself,” Paul wrote back in verse three. No, Paul reminds us, “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9 ESV). As Paul sums up his admonitions and encouragements for unity between the members of the body of Christ, he uses Christ Himself as the example to follow. While it is true that Jesus came to the Jews, having been born into the line of Judah as a descendant of David, His intent from the very beginning was to make salvation available to Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made by God to Abraham: “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 28:18 NIV). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul clarifies the meaning of this promise. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV). Jesus was the means by which God was going to bless all the nations of the earth, and that includes the Gentiles. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Galatians 3:7-8 ESV).

God’s intent all along had been to make salvation available to all people groups, not just the Jews. Paul’s missionary journeys to the Gentiles was not God’s plan B. He didn’t come up with an alternative plan when the Jews failed to accept His Son as their Messiah. And Paul makes this perfectly clear by quoting from four Old Testament passages that predicted that the Gentiles would respond to God’s offer of grace and mercy:

For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. – 2 Samuel 22:50 ESV

Rejoice, O nations, with His people – Deuteronomy 32:43 NASB

Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! – Psalm 117:1 ESV

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. – Isaiah 11:10 NIV

The Hebrew word used in these passages for “nations” is gowy and it usually refers to non-Hebrew people or Gentiles. That is why Paul replaces it with the Greek word, ethnos, which refers to pagans, Gentiles or the people of foreign nations who did not worship the one true God.  God’s promise to Abraham that He would bless all the nations (Gentiles) of the earth through Abraham’s offspring was fulfilled in Jesus. He became the sole sacrifice for the sins of men, Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV). The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). Those of us who would be considered Gentiles have been extended the mercy and grace of God made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. And Paul tells us, “therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 ESV). We have been included. We have been welcomed into God’s family. Not because we deserved it. Not because we had earned it. In fact, Paul makes the truth of our amazing status quite clear: “You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT).  And the apostle Peter confirms Paul’s words:  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV).

So we are to welcome or receive one another in the same way that we have been welcomed by Christ – with open arms, no pre-conditions, no requirements based on good behavior, and while we are still sinners. Our unity doesn’t require unanimity.  We don’t always have to agree. We won’t always see eye to eye. We will have our differences, but we will always share our common unity in Christ. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous” (Romans 3:23-24 NLT).

Unity in Diversity.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Romans 15:1-7 ESV

For fourteen chapters Paul has gone out of his way to establish the fact that there is no place for bragging or pride in the body of Christ. There is no reason for anyone to think he is better than anyone else. All men, regardless of race, color, religious background, or the extent of their sins, stands before God as guilty and condemned. And all who enjoy a right standing before God do so because of what God has done in Christ. No one has earned their way into God’s good graces. No one was less sinful and, therefore, more deserving of God’s favor. As the old hymn states, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” We all enjoyed a sense of unity in our shared guilt and sinful standing before God. And those who have been shown grace and mercy by God also share a unity based on their complete dependence upon the gift of His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. As Paul wrote the Galatian believers, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NLT). We are all one in Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been adopted by the same Father into a single family and enjoy a shared inheritance. And while there is diversity in the body of Christ, there is not to be division or disunity.

In chapter 14, Paul addressed the relationship between stronger and weaker members of the body of Christ. He continues to address this issue in the opening verses of chapter 15. But when Paul refers to strong and weak, he is not talking about degrees of spirituality or holiness. The strong are not better than the weak. They are all one in Christ and there is to be a selfless, loving relationship between the two. In the Greek, the word Paul uses for “strong” is dynotoi and in this context it means, “able to do something” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). These individuals, like Paul, know that what they eat does not defile them and so they are able to eat meat without guilt. They know that their relationship with God is based on faith, not a list of dos and don’ts or legalistic regulations. But their “weak” brothers and sisters in Christ are adynatoi or “unable” to do the same thing. As of yet, they lack a freedom in their faith and a knowledge of their relationship with God that would allow them to break away from their self-imposed rules of conscience.

But rather than the strong dismissing the weak and flaunting their freedoms in their faces, Paul urges the stronger believers to “bear with the failings of the weak” (Romans 15:1 ESV). He is not telling them to simply put up with or endure their weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. He is telling them to bastazō or “take up in order to carry or bear, to put upon one’s self (something) to be carried” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). This is the same word Paul used when writing to the believers in Galatia: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). We are not simply to tolerate those whose lives are still marked by a less developed understanding of faith, we are to walk alongside them and lovingly assist them. There is no place for self-pleasing in the body of Christ. Elsewhere, Paul tells us, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). This is the same passage where Paul wrote, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2 NLT). We are to be ready, willing and able to give up our rights in order to help a brother or sister grow in their faith.

And our model in all of this is Christ. “For even Christ did not please himself,” Paul reminds his readers. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said that we are to have the same attitude that Christ had, who, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 26-7 NLT). He willingly gave up His divine rights and took on human flesh so that He could provide mankind with a way to be made right with God. He modeled selfless, sacrificial love and gave Himself up for those who did not deserve God’s grace, mercy of forgiveness. And Paul is encouraging us to live our lives with the same attitude or mindset, so “ that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6 ESV). Paul knows that this will not be easy. It will require endurance and encouragement. It will demand that each of us dies to self daily. As we live in unity as the body of Christ, patiently loving one another and bearing with one another, God receives glory. This does not mean there are never to be any  disagreements or points of debate within the church, but it does mean that unity is to trump disunity every time. Loving is to supersede winning. Being one is to be a higher priority than being right.

We are to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed us. That word means “to receive, i.e. grant one access to one’s heart” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). No walls. No lines of division. No barriers that prevent unity or discourage mutual love. Our goal should always be oneness. Our objective should always be the building up of the body of Christ – for our mutual good and God’s ultimate glory.

Dead To Rights.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:13-23 ESV

Paul bookends this section with virtually the same words. He opens with “let us not pass judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13 ESV) and ends with “blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself” (Romans 14:22 ESV). The only difference is the one on whom the judgment is assessed. We are not to judge each other and our actions toward one another should give us no cause to judge ourselves. And in both cases, it all seems to revolve around the issue of rights. Paul used himself as an example. He declared that had the right to eat whatever he wanted, because nothing was unclean for him. Paul would have been very familiar with the teaching of Jesus. “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:15 NLT). When Jesus had spoken those words, His disciples were confused, so He provided clarification. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes)” (Mark 7:18-19 NLT).

So Paul, even though he was a Jew, lived his life with a new-found freedom when it came to his eating habits. He no longer lived under the dietary restrictions associated with his Jewish heritage. But he was willing to give up his rights for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ. It all goes back to the “weaker” brother narrative in the opening verses of this chapter. There will always be those in the church whose understanding of the life of faith is less developed. They will bring to their faith a certain degree of legalistic expectations, believing that what they do or don’t do is what earns them favor with God. In Paul’s day, both Jewish and Gentile believers brought their own list of restrictions to the table. There were converted Jews who still felt it necessary to maintain the dietary laws of their Jewish faith. There were also Gentile believers who felt convicted about eating meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. Paul had to deal with this issue in the church in Corinth. He told them, “we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God” (1 Corinthians 8:4 NLT). But he went on to say, “However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). Then Paul dealt with the real issue. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But for Paul, it all boiled down to the spiritual well-being of his brother or sister in Christ.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – Romans 4:9-13 NLT

While a certain food may be perfectly fine for him to eat, Paul was not willing to demand his rights if it was going to cause a brother in Christ to stumble by sinning against his conscience. That is why he wrote, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes a brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21 ESV). It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the freedom that comes with the life of faith. Our right standing with God is not based on adhering to a long list of prohibitions and restrictions. But there will always be those who don’t understand this truth. They will have strong convictions regarding what they eat or don’t eat, what they can wear or not wear, and even what activities they can participate in or abstain from.

For Paul, the final word on all of this had to do with faith. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 ESV). For the immature or weaker believer, conscience ends up playing a far greater role than necessary. Rather than enjoying the freedom that comes with knowing that his standing before God is fully taken care of by the finished work of Christ, he ends up operating off of his own inner sense of right or wrong. So if his conscience tells him not to eat something and he believes it is of God, to violate that belief becomes sin for him. He becomes burdened down with guilt for having done what he believed was against the will of God. Paul says, “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith” (Romans 14:23 ESV). So the stronger believer, rather than wearing his or her rights like a badge of honor, should love their weaker brother or sister in Christ, willingly setting aside their rights so that they might not cause a fellow believer to sin against their conscience. We are always to build up, not tear down. We are to lovingly teach and instruct one another, not boastfully and arrogantly display our rights and flaunt our freedoms in Christ. Peter summed it up well when he wrote, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NLT).

Stop Playing God.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. – Romans 14:10-12 ESV

Don’t despise. Don’t judge. To judge is to assume that you know what is right and wrong – for everybody. To despise is to treat with contempt those who, by your estimation, are “weaker” in their faith. Notice that, in both cases, Paul warns against treating your brothers in Christ this way. When you do, you are playing God. You are taking on a role that does not belong to you. Jesus warned His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3 ESV). In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 NLT). It is presumptuous and dangerous for us to assume the role of God in the life of another believer. The day is coming when I will give an account for my own actions, but God will not ask me to give an account for my brother or sister in Christ. Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT). God will be our judge. He will determine whether what we have done was right or wrong. He will decide the quality of the works we have done since coming to know Christ. This will all take place at the Bema Seat of Christ. This judgment has nothing to do with our salvation, but with the rewards we will receive in heaven. Paul talks about this very event in his letter to the believer in Corinth: “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NLT).

But it is interesting to not that, on another occasion, Paul wrote the following words to the same church: “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NLT). Here Paul is telling believers to judge one another. But notice the difference. This has to do with sin in the life of the believer. It is not about grey areas or personal preferences. It has nothing to do with someone’s opinion. If the Word of God condemns their action as sin, then we are to deal with it accordingly. In this case, Paul was addressing an issue in the church in Corinth that had become intolerable. He painted a clear picture of the problem. “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2 NLT). Rather than condemn this man’s actions as unacceptable, they were approving of it by gladly tolerating it in their midst. In fact, they were evidently bragging about their progressive tolerance. So Paul let them have it. “Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old ‘yeast’ by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT). Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul had written, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NLT). It is not loving to tolerate and to overlook sin in the life of a brother or sister in Christ. And it does not make you more “spiritual” to refuse to judge someone in the body of Christ who is blatantly and consistently sinning. Paul gave us clear directions for dealing with sin in our midst. “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT). James says virtually the same thing. “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins” (James 5:19-20 NLT).

Remember, the context of Romans 14 is judging and despising one another based on personal opinion, not the Word of God. It is to determine what is right and wrong based on your own standard, rather than God’s. It is similar to what the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day had done. They had developed their own set of rules and regulations that had little or nothing to do with the Word of God. And they judged others based on their ability to live up to their self-appointed standards. That was not their job. God had not appointed them the arbiters of truth. He had not assigned them the role of determining right and wrong. God has made it clear what sin is. And we have no business judging sin among the lost. But we do have a responsibility to judge and deal with sin in the body of Christ because it can be infectious and deadly. But even in judging the sin among ourselves, we are always to do it with love, desiring to see our brother or sister restored in their relationship with God.

We play God when we condemn what God has condoned and approve of what God has forbidden. The prophet Isaiah warned those who did such things. “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever” (Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT). Solomon wrote, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—both are detestable to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15 NLT). We must constantly control our desire to judge and despise others based on nothing more than our own opinions. But we must also be careful to refrain from playing God by ignoring His Word and tolerating what He has clearly forbidden.

The Black and White on Grey Areas.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – Romans 14:1-9 ESV

Opinions. Everybody has one. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with having an opinion, when it comes to our faith, they can be dangerous and destructive. So it makes sense that Paul would take on this delicate and sensitive matter as he deals with the practical nature of the gospel in the life of the believer. Paul has already said that believers are to “owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8 ESV). They are to “walk (conduct their lives) properly as in the daylight…not in quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13 ESV). Now he warns, “not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1 ESV). Paul knew that the church in Rome was just like any other church. It was made up of people from all walks of life, differing religious backgrounds, conflicting cultural heritages and diverse personality types. There were those who were more mature in their faith and others who were still spiritual babies. And he knew that the health of the church was ultimately dependent upon the degree of unity the believers maintained with one another. Unity was on the mind of Jesus when He prayed His High Priestly Prayer in the garden just hours before His death.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:20-21 ESV

An individual’s personal opinion can be one of the greatest threats to the unity of any local body of Christ. When Paul talks about opinions, he has something very specific in mind. The Greek word he uses is “diakrisis” and it refers to “passing judgment on opinions, as to which one is to be preferred as the more correct” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). What Paul is addressing here is the tendency of one believer judging the opinion of another based on their own preconceived notion of right and wrong. The writer of Hebrews warns us that the ability to discern right and wrong comes from time spent in the Word of God. “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong” (Hebrews 5:14 NLT). Opinions that are not based on God’s Word will ultimately be divisive and destructive. Paul goes on to give examples of just what he is talking about. “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables” (Romans 14:2 ESV). In other words, one member of the local body has strong convictions about abstaining from meat, while another member sees no problem with it. Paul doesn’t deal with the why behind either decision. He simply says don’t despise and don’t judge. God did not welcome either member into the body of Christ based on their eating habits. Each belongs to Him. So, “who are you to pass judgment on the servant of  another?” (Romans 14:4 ESV). Let God deal with your brother’s particular opinions regarding food.

Where all of this becomes a problem is when our opinions are based on personal preference and not the clear teaching of God’s Word. We can easily develop strong convictions about a variety of topics that have no basis in Scripture, or they may be based on the poor interpretation and application of God’s Word. Too often, we can take general admonitions found in God’s Word and attempt to make them specific. For example, the Bible is clear that we are to treat God with awe and honor. We are to worship Him reverently and respectfully. But the Bible does not tell us exactly what our worship services should look like. We are not given specific directions regarding music style or order of worship. There are not clear indications or admonitions dealing with how we are to dress when we do gather together for worship. Where it gets dangerous is when we start arguing over specifics that are based on our own personal opinions rather than the clear teachings of Scripture. My personal music tastes should never lead me to judge another whose opinions differ from mine. My preference when it comes to clothing should not tempt me to look down my nose at someone who dresses differently than I do.

When all is said and done, our emphasis needs to be on the heart behind the opinion. Why does someone feel the need to abstain from meat? Why does that person have strong opinions about contemporary music? What is the motivation behind the way in which that person dresses? Paul says that the one who determines to observe a particular day as better than another should do so in honor of the Lord. In other words, make your decision with Him in mind. Whether you decide to eat or abstain, make sure you do so out of honor for God, not out of some self-centered opinion about right or wrong. We are to “live to the Lord.” We belong to Him. Our opinions are to be based on His will, not our own. Our preferences should be highly influenced by His desires for us. Judging and despising have no place in the body of Christ. We are to love one another, accept one another, prefer one another, esteem one another, encourage one another, and submit to one another. Unity is the key to experiencing true community and demonstrating the love of God to a lost and dying world.

This Is Your Wake Up Call.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:11-14 ESV

Earlier in his letter, Paul quoted from Deuteronomy 29:4, which talked about that nation of Israel’s spiritual stupor or slumber. Now, he issues a wake-up call to the believers in Rome, urging them to rub the sleep from their own eyes and recognize the urgency of the moment. This was not the first time Paul had used this kind of language when talking with believers. He had written to the Corinthians, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34 ESV). He was telling them that they should know better. Their relationship with God through Jesus Christ had provided them with a knowledge of God that should have dramatically altered their behavior. Paul had a similar thing to say to the believers in Ephesus: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Ephesians 5:11-14 ESV).

There is a sense in which all of us who are believers can be lulled into a state of spiritual stupor or slumber and find ourselves wandering around half-asleep and unaware of what is really happening around us. As believers we have been called to live in alertness and awareness, with a keen eye on the times in which we live. The apostle Peter wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:89 NLT). Paul challenged the Colossian believers, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart” (Colossians 4:2 NLT). Even Jesus Himself said, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 NLT).

When Paul had written to the church in Thessalonica, he used very similar terminology. “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 ESV). There is to be a radical difference to the way in which we conduct our lives on this planet. We are no longer to live as if we are half asleep and incapable of recognizing the dangers around us. We have had our eyes opened wide by the gospel and we know the truth. We have no excuse for living as if we are still in the dark about the seriousness of sin or the expectations of God. He has called us to live holy lives and He has given us His Holy Spirit to make it possible. We are to “walk properly as in the daylight” (Romans 13:13 ESV). Those who live in the dark do so to hide their sins. Thieves operate in darkness, not daylight. They use the dark to cover their actions. But we have been exposed to the Light. In fact, we have the light of Christ shining in us and through us. “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT).

Paul would have us “cast of the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12 ESV). There is something protective about living in the light. It enlightens our path and reveals our way. It exposes dangers along the way. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. As believers, we know that our salvation, made possible by the death of Christ, includes our ultimate glorification. We are to live with that end in mind. That is why Paul said, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11 ESV). Our hope is to be in our ultimate glorification when Christ returns for us. We should be living in anticipation for that day. Those who don’t know Christ don’t know any better than to live their lives as if this world is all there is. They are in darkness when it comes to the reality of eternity. They are asleep and unaware of the danger lurking ahead when they wake up and realize that it is too late to respond to the gospel. But we know better. We are to live differently. We have been issued our wake-up call. Now let us live fully awake and alert to the dangers around us and the hope that lies ahead of us.

The Law of Love.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

Paul had just finished encouraging his readers to, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7 ESV). And he was not alone in his thoughts on this topic. At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus was approached by some Pharisees and supporters of King Herod, attempting to trick Jesus into saying something they could use against Him. Hypocritically addressing Him as “Teacher” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”(Mark 12:14-15 NLT).  Jesus saw through their scheme and requested them to show Him a Roman coin. When He asked whose image was on the coin, they responded, “Caesar.” And Jesus matter-of-factly told them, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17 NLT). For Jesus, the issue had little to do with money, public policy, governmental authority or the rule of earthly law. It had to do with the Kingdom of God. And God’s Kingdom is not of this world. At his trial before Pilate, Jesus told him, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT).

Paul understood what Jesus meant. That is why he told his readers, “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1 ESV) and “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed” (Romans 13:2 ESV). For Paul, it all had to do with the sovereignty and rule of God. As believers, we are to be far more concerned about what He would have us do. Unless those in authority over us are causing us to disobey God, we are to see them as placed over us by God. And we are to show them the honor and respect they deserve as God’s servants.

We are to be debt-free when it comes to our submission to earthly authorities. If fact, Paul says we are to owe no one anything except love. That debt is never paid off. We owe love to everyone because of the priceless gift of love that God showered on us. Paul has already reminded his readers, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). And now Paul says that when we love others we are fulfilling the law. For all the commandments, including not to commit adultery, not to murder, not to steal and not to covet, are really accomplished by love. When we truly love others the very idea of taking something from them that doesn’t belong to us would never cross our minds. That is why, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded:

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments. – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

Paul writes, “Love does not wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10 ESV). In other words, the kind of love Jesus was talking about is incapable of harming or taking advantage of someone else. The law of God was designed to manage and legislate man’s relation with his fellow man and with God. But if we truly love God and love others, the requirements of the law will be naturally fulfilled. If we love God, we will not worship other gods. If we love God, we will honor His name with the way we live our lives. If we love others, we will treat them with dignity and respect, and never consider taking advantage of them for our own pleasure or benefit.

Earlier in his letter, Paul wrote, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). We have the ability to live according to the law, in love. Love is the key to fulfilling the law of God. And not only have we experienced the love of God through the gift of His Son, we have the power and capacity to love selflessly because of the presence of the Spirit of God within us. Jesus told His disciples, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35 NLT). Our love for believers and non-believers is an indication of our relationship with Christ and His Spirit’s presence within us. In Paul’s way of thinking, we should worry less about what the government may be taking from us and concern ourselves with what God would require of us: Love.

Sovereign Over All.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. – Romans 13:1-7 ESV

At the heart of this passage is the sovereignty of God. That should not be overlooked or under-emphasized. All throughout his letter, Paul has been dealing with the subject of man’s justification before God. He has made it clear that this is the work of a sovereign God. He is the one who calls, justifies, sanctifies and ultimately glorifies all believers. And even in this section of his letter, where Paul is talking about the practical outflow of one’s faith in relationship to others, he keeps emphasizing God’s sovereignty. In chapter 12, Paul talked about spiritual gifts and their role in the body of Christ. Because they are given by God, there is no room for pride or boasting. Like salvation, they are a gift from God and have nothing to do with human merit. Paul wanted his readers to remember that they had “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:6 ESV).

Now, as Paul addresses the subject of the believer’s relationship with civil authority, He continues to emphasize God’s sovereignty. It is important that we keep the words of Paul within their context. He is writing to believers who live in Rome, the capital of the Roman government, representing the most powerful nation in the world at the time. Both the Jews and the Gentiles who made up the church in Rome knew what it was like to live under the authority of the Roman government. And as far as the Romans were concerned, the Christians were little more than a break-off sect of the Hebrew religion. Their only real knowledge of Christianity was tied to the individual for which it was named, Jesus Christ, who was crucified by Pontus Pilate for claiming to be King of the Jews. The Christians, like the Jews, were tolerated by the Romans and given certain freedoms to practice their religions in peace. But the Jewish Christians would have had no affinity for the Romans, knowing full well that their people had lived under the weight of Roman rule for years.

Yet Paul tells his readers, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1 ESV). The word Paul uses is hypotassō and it means “to subject one’s self, obey” (Greek Lexicon :: G5293 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. Web. 23 Dec, 2015). In this passage, Paul does not address the question of what Christians are to do when those in authority over them overstep their God-given authority and begin to persecute their subjects. He simply encourages believers to submit to those in authority over them. And he was not alone in promoting this kind of behavior. The apostle Peter said something very similar. “For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14 NLT). And Paul provides the “why” behind his words. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1 ESV). It is a case of the sovereignty of God. Jesus lived out this very idea, having submitted Himself to the Roman authorities and submitting to their ultimate decision to crucify Him. But He knew that what He was doing was ultimately an act of submission to God. During His trial, when Pilate asked Him, “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” (John 19:10 NLT), Jesus responded, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above” (John 19:11 NLT).

The very existence of the Romans as a nation-state was decreed by God. And their presence in the land of Palestine and their rule over the people of Israel was not something that caught God off guard. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV). At just the right time, God sent His Son. Right when Roman rule was at its zenith and the Jewish people were living under their control, the Messiah appears on the scene. The very existence of the Roman government in the land of Israel was going to play a vital role in fulfilling the promises of God. The death of Jesus, predicted in Isaiah 53, was fulfilled in detail because of the Romans and their practice of crucifixion. Jesus’ submission to the Roman authorities was based on His understanding of God’s sovereign will for His life.

When Paul encourages our subjection to governing authorities, he does so based on his understanding that all authority exists by God’s decree. And for a believer to resist God-given authority is to resist God. Again, Paul does not address the issue of what a Christian is to do when the government encourages disobedience to God. But if we follow the example of Paul, he submitted to the governmental authorities on many occasions, but was willing to go to jail when their demands contradicted the will of God for his life. Ultimately, Paul would even find himself in Rome as a prisoner, because of his faith. There may come a time when the believer has to resist and disobey civil authority, but we must always be willing to suffer the consequences for our disobedience, even if it means persecution.

Paul makes it clear that governing authorities are appointed by God. They are “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4 ESV). They are “ministers of God” (Romans 13:6 ESV). Ultimately, our submission to civil authority is to be seen as submission to God. He is in control. We are to live our lives with the understanding that our God is sovereign and rules over all, including nations, governments, leaders, parliaments, presidents, dictators, senates, and man-made authorities of all kinds. His will will be done. His plan for this world will be fulfilled. Our lives are to be lived out in submission to and trust in His sovereign power.

Let’s Get Practical.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:9-21 ESV

As Paul did in his letter to the believers in Corinth, he follows a discussion on the spiritual gifts with an emphasis on love. Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians contains one of Paul’s most detailed treatments regarding the spiritual gifts, which he follows up with chapter 13, his incredible exposition on love. And in our verses for today, Paul stresses the need for genuine love within the body of Christ, when utilizing our Spirit-given gifts or in our daily interactions with one another. This is the point in his letter where Paul gets painfully practical, illustrating the characteristics of true Christ-likeness. Christianity is not to be some esoteric or academic pursuit, practiced in privacy and lived out in seclusion. It is to be relational and practical. The grace that God has shown us is to be shown to others. We are to love as we have been loved, to forgive as we have been forgiven. And our love is to be without hypocrisy. The Greek word Paul used is anypokritos and, as you can see, it is very similar to our word, “hypocrisy.” In the Greek world, a hypocrite was a literal play-actor, someone pretending to be something he wasn’t. It usually required wearing a mask or disguise. Paul tells his readers that their love is to be without hypocrisy. There is to be no play-acting or pretending. Our love is to be genuine and heart-felt, and it is to be practical. And Paul gives us a long list of examples of what that kind of love looks like for the believer.

Interestingly enough, in speaking of love, Paul tells us we are to hate what is evil or wicked. Notice that Paul does not tell us to hate the wicked, although we are to despise the impact of wickedness on the lives around us. Our animosity is not to be directed toward people per se, but against evil itself and its devastating effect on their lives. If our love is to be without hypocrisy, we must know the difference between what is truly good and what is evil. We must learn to see things the way God sees them. At its core, wickedness is anything that stands opposed to God and His will. That’s why, in the book of Proverbs, we read “There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:” and then we are given the list – “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NLT). Notice that these are all relational issues. They end up having a negative impact on others. And in Paul’s list, he provides a counterpoint to these very things. We are to love one another like brothers. We are to outdo one another in showing honor, instead of demanding it for ourselves. We are to be zealous and enthusiastic in serving the Lord by loving, honoring and serving others. Our lives are to be marked by hope that translates into patience even in the midst of tribulation. We are to pray, give, and show hospitality to one another.

And here is where it gets really interesting. Paul tells us to bless those who persecute us. This should sound familiar, because Paul is simply expanding on the words of Jesus Himself. In His great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His audience, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way” (Matthew 5:11-12 NLT). Jesus would go on to say…

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48 NLT

Paul goes on to promote a lifestyle marked by empathy, harmony, the pursuit of peace, a trust in God and a willingness to suffer for the sake of our faith. These things are not easy. They are certainly not the ways of the world in which we live. But they are the characteristics of Christ. They are contradictory to the self-centered focus that marks fallen man. God has placed His Spirit within us so that the love and life of Christ may become evident through us. Our faith in Christ is to be evident to those around us, both believers and non-believers, by the way we live our lives in front of them. Faith is to have fruit. Which is why James wrote, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14 NLT). Fruitless faith is no faith at all. God saved us in order to transform us into the likeness of His Son. We are to exhibit His character and model His behavior. Not through our own self-effort, but through the power of God’s indwelling Spirit. Salvation isn’t just our ticket to heaven, but the key to our sanctification, our ongoing holiness, in this lifetime.