One Thing Matters

Romans 13:8-14

If you love your neighbor, you see, you have fulfilled the law. Commandments like ‘don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t covet’—and any other commandment—are summed up in this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Love does no wrong to its neighbor; so love is the fulfillment of the law.

In Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism, he encourages you to try to think of the one question which, if answered, will automatically answer a hundred other questions.

That’s kinda what Paul is doing here.

In this age of information insanity and sensory overload, we could use a healthy dose of simplicity. Instead of trying to keep up with the hundreds of things you’re supposed to be doing, all the rules to not break, we as people filled with Christ’s Spirit are really to focus on one thing when it comes to people—love them.

Biblical love is not of the cheap, sappy, fleeting, emotional variety. It is described as willing the good of the other. To will the good of others, out of your own love for God, will automatically answer a hundred other questions which may come up regarding how to act in specific circumstances. Your hope and desire for others to experience the joy of the Gospel will outweigh your selfish desires, as well as your potential to be offended easily.

It’s amazing how replete the NT is with the admonishment to focus on following Christ, the way of love, and not to focus on keeping all the rules, the way of law; yet we still seem to go against this. We still hold people to the outward conformity more often than simply encouraging their connection to Christ Himself, and letting His Spirit take over. And this with mucho prayer.

I love the New Living Translation’s version of verse 14:

Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

The Age to Come

Romans 12:1-2

So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s.

What’s more, don’t let yourself be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable, and complete.

I know these verses are extremely popular, but they’re so darn good, especially N.T. Wright’s translation of them as you see above from his New Testament For Everyone.

There’s a ridiculous amount of pure awesomeness pouring out here in just a few lines–like in so much of Holy Scripture. Let’s just look at a few facets.

When Paul writes “bodies”, he likely means the whole person, and from the context (“So…”), he means you are to offer the body that died to sin and is now the temple of the Holy Spirit. You’ve already died with Christ, now you are a living sacrifice, which could have the connotation that we are to offer ourselves to God continually.

Like marriage, the Christian life is not a one time decision that automatically makes us do the right thing all the time. We must do our part of tapping in to the Spirit which will direct us if we so allow.

And we cannot live the Christian life while having the world’s mindset which it tries to force upon us. Right thinking is non-negotiably required for Kingdom living. You must have a change of thinking from what the world once led you to believe. We no longer pursue all the shiny things the world would have us believe are worthy pursuits. We pursue God and all that God loves and desires for us and the whole world.

The present age.

Jewish thinkers (Paul included) by the time of Jesus divided  world history into “the present age” and “the age to come”. The present age is characterized by rebellion against God, and the corruption and death which result. The age to come is when God would give new life to the world and humankind, decisively bringing justice, joy, and peace once and for all.

The early Christians believed that, although the full blessings of the coming age lay still in the future, it had already begun with Jesus, particularly with his death and resurrection, and that by faith and baptism they were able to enter it already.

“Eternal life” does not mean simply “existence continuing without end”, but “the life of the age to come”.

God is kind and severe

Romans 11:22

Note carefully, then, that God is both kind and severe. He is severe to those who have fallen, but he is kind to you, provided you continue in his kindness—otherwise you too will be cut off.

It is clear throughout the New Testament that it is vitally important to persevere in our faith. I definitely do not understand the mystery and theology of it all, but I it seems to me wise to ere on the side of caution and renew our faith daily.

How we need to examine ourselves and test our faith to make sure that it is real, and placed in that which is eternal, in the one true God.

It is indubitably a great idea to renew our faith daily, to pray for God to increase our faith and fill us with his Spirit continually.

If you start ignoring your spouse, and it continues for years, chances are she/he will want and file for a divorce.

If you pay attention to your children until they are four years old, then are never around, never building a relationship with them beyond that point, it is likely you will not have anything close to resembling a healthy relationship with your children.

Thankfully God is full of mercy, but I still don’t really want to find out what happens if I ignore Him…

Misdirected Zeal

Romans 10:1-4

Dear brothers and sister, the longing of my heart and prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. 

Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law.

For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

I’m so glad there is no misdirected zeal for God these days (sarcastic tone).

Oh may we pursue God for who God is, and not for what we think God might be like, or how we were taught to think of God by someone who didn’t really know Jesus, or even based on only one dimension of God’s character, or solely on our favorite single passage of the Bible.

May we get to know God as God has revealed himself to us to be, and may we do so with a completely open heart, agenda free, preconceived notion-free, listening for what God may say to us.

We believe God has given us all the self-disclosure we need through nature, through Scripture, through other people, and most perfectly through the person Jesus Christ communicating to us via the Holy Spirit.

God is God, I’m Not

Romans 9:16 & 20

So, then, it doesn’t depend on human willing, or on human effort; it depends on God who shows mercy.

Are you, a mere human being, going to answer God back? “Surely the clay won’t say to the potter, ‘Why did you make me like this?'”

This is one of those chapters that, after reading, I am compelled to simply bow, no–kneel, no…lie prostrate on the ground in reverential silence, and pray, “You are God, and I am not.”

It is a good reminder to be very careful of making God in our own image, to our desired specifications.

We cannot control God, and we cannot predict everything God will do. And we cannot say, “God sent that hurricane on those people because…”

But you know what we can do?

Humbly submit in trembling reverence to God’s incomprehensible awesomeness.

This might be a good chapter to read if you’re getting too comfortable in thinking you control more outcomes than you do, or too smug in your certainty of exactly how God operates.

News Flash: None of us really know or can comprehend all of what God is doing and how He/She is working it all out in this complex mosaic of history, space, and time.

Yes, we can absolutely know God through Christ, and even take on the mind of Christ, but that still doesn’t mean we understand it all, and never puts us in the position of God!

Sin Loses

Romans 8:3-4

For God has done what the law (being weak because of human flesh) was incapable of doing. God sent his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as a sin-offering; and, right there’re in the flesh, he condemned sin.

This was in order that the right and proper verdict of the law could be fulfilled in us as we live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

When Paul says that God sent Jesus to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh, he is saying that He sent Him in the closest relation to sinful humanity possible without becoming Himself sinful.

Through Jesus, God condemned sin, meaning He took away not only sin’s guilt, but its power and dominion over our lives. The law merely shows us what not to do, but does not have in itself the power to hamstring sinful tendencies within us.

When we live according to the power of the Holy Spirit, sin has no power over us, and we automatically fulfill the law’s original intention, not just by keeping the rules, but by having the heart that God originally intended for us to have.

Acknowledge & Move Forward

Romans 7:14-25

I, however, am made of flesh, sold as a slave under sin’s authority.

I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want, you see, but I do what I hate.

I know, you see, that no good thing lives in me, that is, in my human flesh. For I can will the good, but I can’t perform it. For I don’t do the good thing I want to do, but I end up doing the evil thing I don’t want to do.

Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

I read Romans 7 to our daughters, Gabriela and Zayra, and asked them to reflect on what stood out to them.

Here’s what I got:

I like how he acknowledged that what he was doing was wrong, because that’s the first step toward life in Jesus, through Jesus—acknowledging that you’re wrong, that your way is wrong, and He is right.

This reminds me of the simple life advice my workout partner has given me over the years: “Acknowledge, and move on.”

Dividends Paid

Romans 6:23

The wages paid by sin, you see, are death; but God’s free gift is the life of the age to come, in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord.

Whatever master you choose has consequence. And you are definitely choosing one.

Sin pays you wages, wages that suck.

God gives a gift freely which consists in Life, Life directly of the age to come. This age to come is free of sin and death and evil.

One pays you for services rendered.

The other gives to you freely, having already worked all the service required.

You can work for evil dividends, or you can accept Life graciously…and then get to work.

Get Chiseled

Romans 5:3-4

That’s not all. We also celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.

Suffering chisels off our rough edges which we have allowed to grow through our self-seeking, through going our own way.

These rough edges mar and distort the image of God in all of us, the image we were created to reflect through the purest, most intimate relationship.

That perfect image and pure relationship, which was horrendously damaged, has been restored by God, through the death of Jesus on the cross in our history. This act of cosmic reconciliation was initiated by God, and has been offered up for our grateful acceptance as well as the generous opportunity to become fully what we were always meant to be.

Do you believe this?

Will you accept this?

Are you going to act upon this, allowing God to chisel away what does not look like Him?



Romans 4:20-21

He [Abraham] didn’t waiver in unbelief when faced with God’s promise. Instead, he grew strong in faith and gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God had the power to accomplish what he had promised.

I so want this to be my default setting—to not waiver in the face of God’s promises, but rather to see every new situation (even those dark ones offering little hope) as opportunities to grow stronger in my faith in God. And this because I am convinced that since God has the power to create the universe, He has the power to accomplish anything He promises—no matter how seemingly far fetched.

Abraham was 100 years old, his wife was not exactly “Fertile Myrtle”, and God promises that he’ll be the Father of a kazillion people. Abraham focused on God’s promise, His character, and power to somehow bring it to fruition, rather than the obstacles and impossibility of it all.