The Source of True Praise

No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God (Romans 2:29).

The rite of circumcision showed that God had set apart the Jews to obey Him and teach His law to others. Whereas the Jews had the law of God written for them by Moses, if the Gentiles were not taught God’s law, they had to learn it from using their reason, from observing natural laws, and from their conscience. However, Paul showed that neither the Jews, who had the written law, nor the Gentiles, who had reason, nature, and conscience, perfectly did everything they knew they should do. To truly obey God, people need a circumcised heart, a commitment to obey God and the divine power to do so. A rabbi can perform an outward circumcision, but only the Holy Spirit can perform an inward circumcision of the heart that will empower and teach people how to serve God and others. No law can give anyone the power to do what God’s law says. Laws will not fill people with love for the lawgiver. God’s law shows people how much they deserve to be punished by the King of the universe. However, when someone knows they are condemned by the law of God and then learns that the King of the universe sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice so He could mercifully forgive them, adopt them into His family, make Jesus their elder brother, and fill them with the Holy Spirit, their King wins their love. Their new lives may not please everyone, but they will receive praise from God.

Thinking Further

1. If you do not rely on the law, what do you rely on for your salvation. Describe your answer.

2. The Jews thought that in the law they had the embodiment of knowledge and truth (Romans 2:20). Do you agree or disagree? Give a reason for your answer.

3. Read Romans 2:23 again. How might you rephrase that verse to teach it to a persistently disobedient Christian?

4. Would you agree or disagree with the rephrasing or application of Romans 2:25 below?

“Baptism has value if you love and follow Jesus Christ, but if you walk away from Christ you are acting like one who was never baptized.”

5. Do you think Romans 2:29 could refer to both Gentile and Jewish Christians? Why?

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by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

We Can Benefit from God’s Patience

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).

When Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans, he proved that everyone has sinned against God. When John wrote one of his letters, he defined sin: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). I think everyone who has read the Bible must admit that they have disobeyed at least one of God’s revealed laws during their lifetime. Even worse, sometimes we have practiced lawlessness by doing what we have wanted to do irrespective of what God’s laws demand. Imagine what our world would be like if no local, state, or national governments enforced their laws; or, if they enforced some laws, but not others; or if privileged people never received just punishment for their lawlessness, but those who broke minor laws received extreme punishments immediately? God does not govern our world with partiality or show favoritism toward some, for God enforces all His laws equally and justly. In God’s kingdom, there is equal justice for all, whether Jew or Gentile. So, why does it seem to us that God does not equally enforce all His laws? In this life, God does not immediately punish us every time we break one of His laws because God intends His patience and kindness to lead us to repentance. The Bible says we deserve death for breaking God’s laws, and the fact that we still live indicates God is giving us yet another opportunity to turn around and follow Him. Happily, God sent Jesus to die as a sacrifice; therefore, we can place our faith in Jesus and receive eternal life.

Thinking Further

1. What are some consequences for us when we pass judgment on someone else?

2. On what does God base His just judgments?

3. What are some of the riches God bestows on all people in this life? What is the purpose of God when giving people these riches?

4. How can people store up God’s wrath for themselves in the future?

5. What did Paul say people should seek? How should they seek it? What will they receive?

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God’s Solution to the World’s Problems

For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened (Romans 1:21).

Paul described some of the consequences for people who refuse to glorify God as God and thank God. These consequences consist of enslavement to godless and wicked practices, which includes inventing evils, hating God, and unnatural behaviors. As unbelievers rebel against God, they become futile in their thinking; therefore, they make foolish choices. They “suppress the truth” in order to keep the truth from influencing their behaviors (Romans 1:18). When they darken their hearts, they lose the light of understanding and their actions become more destructive. Because they have destroyed their understanding, their reasoning is worthless. Unbelievers claim to be wise, but they become fools (Romans 1:22). Paul wrote that those who turn from God eventually become “foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” which explains the behavior of many today as we read about them in newspapers or see them on television (Romans 1:31). Many countries suffer increasingly from wicked and godless leaders and people, from those who have no understanding and whose thinking is useless. Therefore, some search for suggestions they hope will change their situations, but they ignore the only solution that will work. The majority have turned from the solution that is the theme of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The only solution is the gospel of Jesus Christ which Paul was not ashamed to preach. The good news of Jesus’ life, sacrificial death, and resurrection from the dead has redeemed people, cultures, societies, and nations, because the good news of Jesus Christ is: “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Thinking Further

1. Give Paul’s reason for not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Can you adopt that same reason for not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

2. How did Paul prove people need the gospel?

3. Toward whom does God express His wrath?

4. What might some of the consequences be in a culture or country where almost all of the leaders are godless and wicked?

5. What might you say to someone who said, “To sin is natural”?

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God’s Gifts of Grace and Peace — Romans 1:7

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s letters make it possible for people to learn more about our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and their many gifts to us. Two of the most wonderful gifts every follower of Jesus Christ receives are grace and peace. With the help of the Holy Spirit, as we learn the truth about God’s wonderful love for us through the Bible’s teachings, we turn toward Jesus until we have completely turned about to trust and follow Him. The grace of God enables us to do this because we do not deserve God’s love, forgiveness, cleansing from sin, and the power to do the will of God forever. Because we have received these additional gifts of grace from God, we have also received the gift of peace that flows from them. Our faith in Jesus Christ transforms our minds and hearts, and we find that through our obedience we have peace with God. We no longer consider God our enemy. Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have become our Friends. As we love and obey God, we also find that for the first time we are no longer at war within ourselves or constantly doing what we know we should not do. By grace, we also begin to look for ways to make peace with others or be at peace with others. Eventually, God’s grace has so changed us that we truly live as God has called us to live. We truly become what God has called us to be “saints.” We truly become those God has set apart to love God and others according to His will. As saints, God has set us apart and helps us share the grace and peace of Jesus in ways that others also come to love and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Thinking Further

1. First and foremost, how do we identify or describe ourselves?

2. What did Paul say about Jesus?

3. What did Paul say the followers of Jesus have received from Jesus?

4. For what did Paul give thanks? For what do believers today give thanks?

5. How do you think Paul spent his free time as he waited to go to Rome?

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God Hears our Prayers and Praises — James 5:13-20

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:13, 14).

No matter what happens to us or others, we can go to God in prayer. When believers suffer, prayer comes spontaneously to their minds and often to their lips. When believers experience reasons to rejoice and feel cheerful, they may need to remind themselves to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Those who follow Jesus Christ may suffer in a variety of ways for their loyalty to their Lord and their confession of faith in Him. In some places, Christians literally die daily at the hands of their persecutors.

But believers do not, or need not, suffer alone. When they are sick, they can ask the church to pray for them. They can call their pastor, their elders, and other church leaders to come to their sick bed, anoint them with oil, pray for them, and give them counsel. In the early church, elders sometimes served as doctors and gave medical treatment as they prayed. With mass communication today, believers can pray for the oppressed and persecuted around the world the moment they hear of their plight. In this life, we may never learn how many the Lord has healed, delivered, and sustained in faraway lands because believers have prayed the moment they have heard about devastating diseases or disasters. Whatever terrors or tragedies beset us or others, we can still sing with confidence these words of Joseph Scriven: “Precious Savior, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Thinking Further

1. Compare James 5:13, Philippians 4:4, and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

2. Read James 5:14-15. In what other ways do Christians do this today?

3. When we pray for those who have committed sins, what can we pray for them?

4. Is sickness always the result of sin? Can some sickness be the result of sin? Give reasons for your answer.

5. Is there a relationship between the way we live daily and the way God hears and answers our prayers?

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by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

A Love that Leads to Death

You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you (James 5:6—NRSV).

We must never take a few verses of the Bible out of context from the whole Bible. If we had nothing more than a few verses of warnings from the Bible, truths that God designed to be save the ungodly, we might mistakenly condemn anyone who is rich and tell them God will someday bring miseries upon them and destroy all their rich possessions. Thankfully, we have the whole Bible and know that it is not being rich that is the problem; instead, it is what or who we love and how we use our gifts from God that make the difference. Some rich people have chosen to love and seek luxury, privilege, power, pleasure, and wealth. But those who love money will serve money, and as Jesus said they will hate God. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Those who loved money and power arranged the murder of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. Some rich people still murder the righteous ones who cannot or do not resist them. As followers of Jesus, we need to pray that He will restrain us from loving, seeking, and serving money and draw us into a closer and more loving relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need to teach truths from the Bible that will help others and us love God, stand firm in our faith in God, and enable us to warn those who love wealth and the things of this world so they too might turn to God, repent of their sins, cease to cheat or exploit others, place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and begin to faithfully follow God. The warnings in the Bible express God’s love for sinners and God’s efforts to save us from slavery to sin, keep us free from slavery, and give us eternal life.

Thinking Further

1. Is it wrong to be rich? Give a reason for your answer.

2. What can bring contentment to rich and poor (see 1 Timothy 6:6-8)?

3. How can a Christian rightly prepare for retirement or “the last days”?

4. What did James promise those who have been cheated?

5. In the New Testament, how was “the righteous one” condemned and murdered by the rich and powerful? Today, to increase their riches, do some still condemn and murder those who do not resist them?

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How to Receive More Grace

But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

James tells us why everyone needs more grace. Even as believers in Christ, we sometimes still have cravings and passions within us that rob us of our peace by making war within us. The war within us then spills out and harms others, even those we love. Some crave something so badly that if they cannot have it, they engage in disputes and conflicts. Sadly, James recognized that some, even in the church, could let their ruling passions lead them to commit murder (or at least lie about someone to assassinate their character). When some pray, James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). Hence, we need more grace and power to overcome our temptations to pray wrongly and do wrongly. We need more grace to give us peace within, peace with God, and peace with others. When we feel cravings and conflicts within us striving for mastery over us, our praying the Serenity Prayer can open the door to our receiving more grace from God: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” In addition to praying the Serenity Prayer, we need to humble ourselves to receive the grace we need. James wrote that recognizing our wrongs should move us to mourn, weep, and seek grace to help us make the changes we need to make. When we draw near to God, God will draw near to us, and He will lift us up and help us purify our hearts.

Thinking Further

Read James 4:1-10 or Go to the James 4:1-10 Commentary and Lesson

1. What is one cause of troubles in the church?

2. Why can coveting lead to fighting and quarrelling?

3. Why doesn’t God give us everything we ask?

4. What does a friend of the world make himself?

5. What does James tell sinners inside and outside the church to do?

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What True Faith Does

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. (James 2:26).

God gives faith in Jesus Christ so believers can do the works of God. The scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day only performed the works that their laws and traditions demanded; however, since their works focused on their obeying laws and traditions, they became increasingly self-centered. They lost their love for God; they felt they lived under God’s judgmental eyes; they judged others, and they ceased to care for the needy. Christianity teaches that those who trust in and follow Jesus Christ will automatically do good works and bless others. Jesus Christ leads the way and shows the work to be done, and His followers go and do His will. They go and do because they love Jesus and appreciate everything He has done and continues to do for them. Prior to knowing Jesus Christ as Savior, people never know if they have done enough good works to please God. When they come to know Jesus as their Savior and King, they know that His sacrificial death for them made possible God’s just and merciful forgiveness and granted them eternal life. For this reason, those who follow Jesus can turn their focus from self-centered works and look to God with hearts of devotion. They pray and ask God how they can best use the gifts He has freely given them to help the needy. They can work to help others find the joy and freedom from slavery to sin that they have found through faith in Jesus Christ. True faith in Jesus Christ supernaturally moves Christians to live for God and do the works God has planned, prepared, called, and gifted them to do.

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The Obviously Evil Today

Jesus told them, “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

When the leaders in Jesus’ day confronted Him and eventually plotted to murder Him, they did so because they hated Jesus and the truths and values that He not only proclaimed but also lived by and encouraged others to live by. Jesus lived for God because Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life that His followers love and joyfully serve.

Today, those known as “the obviously evil” reject Jesus and His teachings in the Bible. They do not love Jesus or want to obey Jesus’ commandments. Actually, some who claim to be good Christians hate Jesus’ followers and His teachings; therefore, they openly express their disdain for them and try to discredit them.

Jesus taught truths to the leaders of His day that they rejected. Then, Jesus told everyone the truth about their spiritual nature. What Jesus taught then is true today. Jesus revealed that their spiritual father was the devil, and they chose to do what the devil wanted them to do. The devil is a murderer, so likewise the spiritual children of the devil want to murder others in a variety of ways. Think of the leaders today who promote murder in so many ways, and how they angrily condemn those who try to save people’s lives.

Today, we can easily recognize those who act obviously evil. They lie without shame or any concern that others might catch them in their deceptions. They refuse to obey any laws that inconvenience them or deny them power over others. They refuse to enforce laws designed to protect the powerless and those who disagree with them. They unjustly and hypocritically punish some for deeds they and their friends openly and shamelessly do themselves. They unjustly imprison some. They refuse to give justice and mercy to those who disagree with them. They feel threatened by different ideas and do their best to silence their critics in every way possible, whether legal or not.

We know from Jesus that the spiritual father of the obviously evil (and those not so obvious) is the devil. The devil inspires lying and the devil influences some to believe lies or be deceived by lies. Satan inspires evil people to promote wars and hatred among nations and people as one way to murder people for the devil’s and their purposes. Today, many leaders in the world, some political and some religious, some in corporations and some in the media, some in almost every profession or job, promote wars, give easy access to death-dealing drugs, bring about or promote the death of children before and after they are born, create deadly viruses, encourage the death of those they deem unworthy to live, demand the death of those they find inconvenient or who have various handicaps or who they deem too old. If they cannot murder someone directly, they encourage the person to murder themselves. These leaders and people are easy to recognize today just by reading the newspaper and internet reports, or by watching any news broadcast (mainstream or otherwise). Many who promote deception and murder may not know that what they are saying and doing is so obviously evil to so many, especially to Jesus’ followers.

Jesus spoke to deceivers and the deceived; they could have come to know and understand and follow the truth, but many would not. The New Testament speaks to all types of people, but will they come to know and understand and follow the truth? We see lawlessness from top to bottom among and within the nations of the world today, and this open lawlessness seems so mysterious to us because until recently it was so well hidden. The fact that evil and lawlessness is so brazenly defended and promoted by some in places of authority, by those who should know and do what is right, by those who should enforce just laws, is part of what the Bible calls “the mystery of lawlessness.” However, this evil and lawlessness would be far worse if the Holy Spirit did not restrain much of it moment-by-moment. Without God intervening, those who live obviously evil would act in far more evil ways. But there is good news! The Bible also teaches that someday God will remove this lawlessness and those who live lawless from the world.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, the Apostle Paul explained “the mystery of lawlessness” and why some are deceived by lawlessness: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.”

Today, we see Satan bringing about “every kind of wicked deception for [or upon] those who are perishing.” And we partially see God’s just judgment working upon the lives of leaders and others who make decisions and act under “a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false;” therefore they act obviously evil and promote what is evil.

Again, why are some leaders deceived and deceiving others, Paul gave the reason, “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.” When we see people promoting lawlessness without concern for what is just and merciful, and when we see them angrily promoting and defending evil and different ways to murder others of all ages, we see the evidence of God’s just judgment and God’s condemnation coming upon them.

But, also hear more Good News! The Apostle Paul also gave good news to all the followers of Jesus, to those distressed and perhaps discouraged by obvious evil all around them: “But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”

Now listen to Paul’s prayer for you, if you follow Jesus:

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

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How Can Sinners be Born from Above?

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3).

God changes sinners into believers by the Word of Truth and the power of the Holy Spirit; so, believers are people Jesus called “born again” or “born anew” or “born from above.” In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” We do not completely understand how sinners are born again any more than the people of Jesus’ day understood how or where the wind blew, for Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Thankfully, the Bible does tell us that God changes believers by grace, by God’s powerful mercy and undeserved favor. Because we have sinned against our Holy God and Creator, we do not deserve the time or energy God gives us. Still, God changes believers through faith and trust in God: God the Father sent Jesus Christ into the world to do all that God knew to be necessary to save believers from their sins, to remove their condemnation and guilt, to cleanse them from all sin, and to freely give them eternal life. When Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, Jesus did so because His suffering and death on the cross were necessary. Similarly, our response of faith and trust in God and what God has done for us through Jesus Christ are necessary for us to become believers. As believers in Jesus Christ, God has given and gives us the truth of God’s Word written, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and God’s gifts to the Church to help us follow Jesus Christ and live more like Jesus Christ, to become good examples of what it means to live by faith and trust in Jesus Christ daily.

Before we became believers, we had so damaged our ability to reason, to understand, and to choose to follow Jesus Christ that God graciously changed or enhanced our ability to reason and understand the truth of the Bible, so with the help of the Holy Spirit we became believers in Jesus Christ. As Christians study the Bible and prayerfully teach or preach the truths they know from the Bible, the Holy Spirit helps their listeners believe and act upon the truths they learn. Though we do not understand the process completely, we sometimes call what happens when a sinner becomes a believer the process of being “born again” or “born anew.” Those who are “born from above” by the Word of Truth listen to or read the Bible so they can more closely follow Jesus and live like Jesus commanded and demonstrated, especially in their relationships with God with others.

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