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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 13

Meditation Title: The Power of the Gospel


Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.


Possibly one of the biggest dangers we can face – apart from being totally apathetic or even hostile to the Gospel – is to accept a counterfeit form of the Gospel that is simply about believing some basic Christian beliefs, going to church on a Sunday and trying to be nice. In the eighteenth century John Wesley wrote of the days before he saw the light when he had a form of religion, “In this refined way of trusting to my own works, and my own righteousness...I dragged on heavily, finding no comfort … I understood it not at first. I was too learned and too wise: so that it seemed foolishness unto me.Later as he heard the truth being read from Romans he testified, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This was the start of a dramatic change; he was born again (Jn 3:3)

This verse 16 is an amazing declaration of the truth that we each need burning in our hearts. It declares first that there is obviously a need for salvation that Paul speaks about. Wesley had testified how he had been locked into a life of trying to be righteous and yet it brought him no comfort. It was a life where he was burdened by his sins and he tried to overcome that burden by his own efforts. Without realising it, he was in fact godless. He was lost in self-endeavour and it did him no good. It was only as he heard the good news about Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit was able to speak to him and he responded in faith.

So if the first thing is that we are lost and in need of saving, the second thing is that there is hope for us because God has provided a way of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. It comes by simply trusting in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross, the fact of him dying in my place to take my sins. For this truth to be received is an act of faith. It is responding to what God has said. We don't say these things because they seem a good idea to us; we say them because God has said them and it is the testimony of the whole of the New Testament. So, if God has said them, we do well to respond to them. The response of, “I believe, please forgive my sins, please wash me and cleanse me of my sins, please give me a new life,” is the door that opens up a new life for at that point the Lord responds and declares it done and imparts His own Holy Spirit to us to energise and change and guide us from then on. The truth of the Gospel is used by the Spirit to convict us, but the Spirit Himself is the means we are empowered, born again and given a new life. It is utterly life transforming.

But here is a mystery, I note after many years of watching, that for some people this life transformation is mightily dramatic and for others it is quiet and slow. I know not why! I don't know why it is that the Spirit is able to convict some powerfully so that they turn with tears and are very obviously changed. Sometimes it is because they are great and obvious sinners, and sometimes not; it is just that the Spirit convicts like this. But then there are others who come quietly and gently – but genuinely – and the experience is far less dramatic. There are some, usually children in Christian families, who receive Jesus in their very early years and it is a very simple but genuine thing and they avoid the devastations of the obvious sins, it seems, but it is still a very real thing. My wife was one such young convert. Then there are others who, only later in life, find themselves in a corner being convicted of the Spirit of the truth of the Gospel, convicted of their need, and so turn in tears or at least deep anguish and find a mighty change. I was more in this latter category.

But it doesn't matter when it occurred or even how it occurred, the outcome is always the same – change! Why? It is because there is a power at work, bringing us into a new life in a new way, a way that transforms into the likeness of Christ. It is a life that is no longer in darkness, a life that is no longer self-centred and godless and unrighteous; it is now a life that is God-centred, God-focused, God-energised and God-directed.

A final point: this is for all peoples and there are no exceptions. Paul speaks of Jew and Gentile which is a way of saying, those who appear religious and those who do not. It is nothing to do with class or culture or cleverness for we all have to come the same way, and having come, are all changed by the same way, by the good news of the work on the Cross of Jesus Christ the Son of God, and then by the convicting and empowering work of the Spirit. Thus we are saved!







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 14

Meditation Title: Life by Faith


Rom 1:17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith


One of the strangest things about the human race, something that we largely take for granted, is that we have a moral outlook. Being human means we have ideas of right and wrong. In the modern age in the West, we may be confused and many deny there are absolutes of right or wrong, but in reality when it comes to ‘my' own life, we do have clear ideas of right and wrong. It IS wrong for you to murder me, assault me, steal from me, and so on. Those things ARE wrong! Godless people have ideas of right and wrong as much as those people who would purport to be godly; the only difference is that godly people look to God for their definitions of right and wrong while ungodly people make up their own rules and work on what suits them for the moment, which may change from day to day.

The Bible uses this word ‘righteousness' which we have twice in our verse above, to describe a ‘way of being'. In its simplest sense it just means rightness of behaviour as decreed by God. There is self-righteousness that we have referred to already which is rules and behaviour established around ‘self', but the righteousness that the Bible refers to again and again, is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to be or, if you like, a way of living.

In the Old Testament it was considered that you could be righteous by obeying God's laws or simply responding to God. Noah was a righteous man , blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) i.e. Noah's behaviour and his attitude towards God declared him righteous. In the Law we find, “Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 24;13) i.e. behaving in this way is an example of righteous behaviour.

There are clear distinctions between the wicked and the righteous: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous .” (Psa 1:5) and “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God ” (Psa 68:3). Living in the righteous way IS something that is a clear and tangible way of living: “Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous .” (Prov 2:20) and “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry” ( Prov 10:3). ‘The righteous' in all of these cases (and very many more in the Old Testament) are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright.

The only trouble about life in that period of Biblical history is that most people could not keep all the laws that came to Israel through Moses and which formed the basis for their understanding of righteousness. Paul struggled with this reality in chapter 7 of this letter. We may know the law, the rules of how to live according to the Creator's design, but this thing called sin provides a stumbling block to getting it right. We fail and we feel guilty. We try harder and still fail to get it perfectly right. The bar seems to be constantly raised and we fail to clear it and feel bad – and so God feels at a distance.

And then someone comes and tells us about Jesus and tells us that he died for all our failures so that when we come to God He no longer counts them. Instead, when we simply come and say, I believe, He declares us righteous! But I'm not, we protest from inner reaches of honesty. No, but that is how I see you, He responds, and suddenly trying to keep the rules is no longer the important thing. We are overwhelmed by love and in our loving response to Him we inadvertently ‘keep the rules' but they are no longer the most important thing; it is simply His love. The more we dwell on it, the more we realise it and experience it, the more we are changed, not by trying but by being loved.

Of course it is all a faith thing because we cannot see Him or hear Him audibly with our ears, but we read of Him, we sense Him, and we sense the truth He imparts to us. We sense His love and we are blessed and changed. Yes it is all by faith, it is all by simply responding to what He has said and it is simple! Everything we do as Christians, as His children, we do by faith and as we do it we catch the sense of being loved more and more.

I sometimes think that maturity is simply the ability to believe God when He tells us how much He loves us. The echoes of Sin from the past challenges the truth of His love and wants us to resort back to self-righteous striving, but the Spirit is there to encourage us in the truth and as we are loved we change. We are righteous because He has said we are. We accept it by faith because that is what faith is – simply believing God and living it.

And that is what it is all about – living! We live by faith. Love comes to us, we believe it. We respond to it and life flows. Suddenly it is a new life, real life. We are no longer struggling to ‘be someone' for He has made us ‘someone', one of His children. We find it hard to believe, yes, but it is true. It is hard to believe that His love is that good – but it is! We may trip over out feet a dozen times a month, but in the recognition and experience of His love, we are still in the category of ‘the righteous' for no longer does it mean someone who achieves perfection but someone who has received perfection and is working towards an eternal perfection. ‘Working' towards it? All right, walking towards it in love!






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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 15

Meditation Title: The Wrath of God


Rom 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness


Mostly we associate ‘wrath' or anger with unrestrained outbursts of extremely hostile emotions witnessed by words and even deeds. Because we are so often unclear on the characteristics of God we think of God's wrath or anger in these terms but an examination of Scripture indicates that this is not so. The wrath of God is a cool, calm, purposeful bringing of judgment that is deserved. It is a bringing of justice. Yes God is upset by our foolish godlessness and unrighteousness and yes He does rise up to take action against such attitudes and behaviour, but God's anger is never out of control.

Anger, a dictionary of pastoral ethics suggests, is… ‘a response to wrong doing… may be negative or positive, unloving or loving…. redemptive or destructive… a neutral emotion.' Wrath it seems in Scripture refers to anger in action. It is right to feel emotional about wrong doing and anger is an emotion that says ‘this should not have been' or ‘this should not have happened'. Anger shows an absence of complacency about such wrongdoing, and God is never complacent. Wrath is anger that has determined that action should be taken against this wrong-doing. It is anger moving in retribution or judgment or correction. God doesn't get angry over our stumbling attempts as His children to get it right when we make mistakes.

From what Paul says in our verse today God's ‘anger-in-action' is directed at godlessness and wickedness. Wickedness is wrong that is done with evil intent. The intent of the person is to positively do evil, wrong, harm etc. It is right to be angry at wilful, positive-intent evil! God has made us with a wonderful world and with immense individual potential – specifically to be and do good, in the image of our Creator. To purposefully go in the opposite direction to cause hurt, harm or damage in a purposefully destructive manner whether it simply involves words or, more likely, specific acts or hurt or harm, is a cause for negative emotions of indignation and displeasure and these are the expression we call anger. God is right to show this indignation and displeasure when He observes this wilful godlessness and unrighteousness that we call evil.

Now we mustn't confuse the outworking of God's anger with the emotion of His anger. Anger is the emotion and the emotion, in some situations, is closely linked with His calculated decision to take remedial action. It may be to permanently stop a person's actions by removing the person who God sees will not change despite whatever He says or does. Alternatively, it is corrective in that it stops a person going down the path they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harmful or destructive. Now we are going to see in the verses ahead that God takes action (wrath = anger-in- action ) and the form of what we would call judgment is clearly corrective, i.e. designed to bring change of behaviour.

Thus we should see that although God's wrath is obvious, it isn't necessarily destructive, it isn't designed to kill or destroy people. We will see that soon in the verses ahead. So, we shouldn't misunderstand God's ‘wrath' and see it as a vindictive or spiteful act, which is what it so often is in human beings. God's wrath is thus seen to be His anger or indignant displeasure that is of such a magnitude, because of the nature of the sin, that it results in action by God against those committing the sin.

Perhaps a final thing we should emphasise is that so often men's wickedness is both an expression of and an outworking of men suppressing the truth. First of all they suppress the truth by denying it. They deny God and deny the way He has designed the world to work best, and they then proclaim and live a lie. Second, in the way that they carry out evil and wickedness, they prevent truth, the truth of God's design, being lived out as He wants it to be. They stop goodness prevailing, and they stop love prevailing.


This evil is a wilful, self-centred, pride thing and it is something human beings do purposefully. We don't accidentally fall into it.It may happen gradually as we take one small step after another into a life of utter godless self-centredness, but each step involves an act of will. It is not just one step but many steps, many times when we make these acts of will in rebellion against God It is right to be angry against such a way of living and it is right for God to take action against such things to protect His world. As we go on we will see how He does that. He is always, first of all, seeking to draw people back to Himself.







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 16

Meditation Title: God's obvious Qualities


Rom 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.


Often in Scripture one little word provides the clue or makes sense of what is being said. In the previous meditation we considered the wrath (or ‘anger-in-action') of God but remaining in verse 18 we didn't see the reason for it. Now we have verse 19 which starts with the simple word, ‘since'. An alternative word might have been ‘because'. God is angry because His character should be able to be seen by people because it is obvious when you look at the world.

The design argument for God was brought into focus by William Paley who, in the latter part of the eighteen century brought forward the idea of the watch and the watchmaker. He simply suggested that if you come across a watch and opened it up and looked inside it you would automatically conclude that there was someone who had made that intricate design. It doesn't prove God but suggests, along with Paul, that if something is clearly designed then there is clearly a designer. Now atheists have subsequently sought to punch holes in this theory but the word of God still stands.

As Paul says, God is angry at stupid people who insist on being blind to the obvious. To the simple and straight forward, it should be obvious when you look at the incredible world that we live in, that there is a wonderful Creator behind it because, says Paul, “God has made it plain to them.” It IS obvious to the open-hearted seeker. It doesn't matter what YOU say, God says it is obvious and if you refuse to see it, that is an act of will and that raises His anger against you!

Even the most famous of the modern crusading atheists uses words like “has an appearance of being designed' when referring to the world, while at the same time denying God's existence. To the Corinthians Paul said, “ The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) Satan has whispered into the minds of unbelievers and reinforced their willful blindness. They are blind because it pays them to be blind. If they cannot see then they can deny the One who made all things, but it is a willful blindness. In more recent year these crusading atheists have realised how dull and sterile they appear to the rest of us and so the strategy has been to wax eloquent on how wonderful this world is – but not made by God of course! We know how the world works, they say, so we don't need a Maker of it. Of course this is just another form of their blindness. It is like looking at a Ford car, examining it in detail and coming to an understanding of how the engine works and saying, “Ah, now we understand. There is no need to postulate a Maker of this car because we know how it works.” It ignores Henry Ford who designed it originally and as such is just another expression of this willful blindness. Oh the efforts these men go to, to try to deny God's presence!

Note that Paul doesn't say it proves God's presence but simply that it points to His presence and it has done so ever since “the creation of the world”. The modern atheist struggles with his own inconsistencies. On one hand he puts up a scientific theory that says that nothing can come from nothing and then puts forward the ‘Big Bang' theory and says it was something from nothing but, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, you can't get something from nothing-nothing. If you can imagine absolutely ‘nothing', nothing at all, not even a single particle of energy, first of all we can't imagine that and second our logic says that it is absolutely impossible for something to come from absolutely nothing on its own – unless we are an inconsistent modern atheist of course!

So, says Paul, God's invisible qualities, His power and divine nature are, and always have been, patently obvious to anyone with an open mind. Everything about this world says it wasn't an accident, everything says it was designed by an all-powerful, all wise Supreme Being and this is the God who is revealed in the world and in the Bible. So obvious is it, says Paul, that men don't have an excuse. You can scream and shout about it as much as you like, but God says you don't have an excuse and so your willful rebellion raises His righteous indignation and displeasure. As we go on we'll see how that indignation and displeasure is expressed.







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3


Meditation No. 17

Meditation Title: Futile Thinking


Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.


So often we think our thinking is right and good. We trust in what we think. If we are one of today's crusading atheists we are sure that what we think is absolutely right. We are utterly sincere in our beliefs. I remember, many years ago, hearing Billy Graham speak about sincerity and cited watching an American Football match and how through his glasses he watched one particular player grab the ball and run the pitch, and cross the back line. He was the most sincere man on the field as he made that run. The only trouble was that in the melee he was confused and ran the wrong way. He was sincerely wrong!

Now Paul doesn't make it absolutely clear who he is talking about and so we have to assume he is speaking in generalities. This is what sinful mankind does. We didn't start out like this but “their thinking became futile”. It was a process which, depending on individuals, is quick or slow. From the start Adam and Eve knew God. From the start Israel knew God. The knowledge of God was there from the beginning but something changed. You would have thought that mankind would have worshipped God because when you have a being as great as Almighty God and you are a mere human being, worship is the logical expression of what you would feel, but that didn't happen.

You might have thought the Adam and Eve would have just been filled for love of God, meeting with Him on a daily basis, enjoying the wonder of the world He has obviously made for their enjoyment. You might have thought that Israel , when they encountered God at Sinai, would have just been overwhelmed by His awesome presence so that worship would have been their automatic response, which just would have gone on and on – but it didn't. You might have thought that humanity in general would have so enjoyed the wonder of the world which God has given us that we would be ever thanking and praising Him for it. You might have thought that but you would have been wrong! The presence of sin in us leads us to have skewed thinking. We don't appreciate our world and we don't appreciate God. But it is a gradual thing.

Have you ever watched little children act almost with surprise at finding a daisy? Little children ‘discover' the wonder of our world, but then they grow up and become sceptics and take life and the world for granted and then, during this process of growing up, their thinking becomes futile. It is true of all of us; it is the effect of sin within us. We remain like that until a crisis hits and we realise our frailty and our need and God's Spirit speaks to us and convicts us, but we did need the ploughing effect of the crisis first, before the Spirit could sow the seeds of conviction. The hardness of our hearts had to be broken up and turned over by the upheaval of a crisis. Until then our thinking had been futile.

If we are sci-fi enthusiasts we have come across the word ‘futile' before. We have heard the cry of the Borg that, “Resistance is futile!” It simply means hopeless, so when Paul says “their thinking became futile” he is really saying, “their thinking became hopeless.” This is what the stupid thinking of sin does – it goes nowhere! It is hopeless. It goes round and round in circles as sinful, self-centred man tries to reason and work out his own salvation. He knows he is in a mess and struggles to better himself. That's why so many work so long hours trying to climb the ambition ladder which they think will achieve greatness. It doesn't; it just wiles away the years until, when we reach the end of it, we realise we have achieved so little that is meaningful in eternity. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, arrived at this place, of wondering what it had all been about when, within a few years after death, you are forgotten. Until our lives have been ploughed by adverse circumstances that bring us to our senses and then the Holy Spirit has sown the seeds of conviction, we remain in futile, hopeless endeavour. It is only when we come back to God and submit our lives to Him do we find ourselves with a new sense of genuine meaning.

In the meantime our minds and our hearts are ‘darkened'. Light and darkness are contrasts we use when speaking about good and evil. Darkness represents evil. Our hearts became evil in that they became rebellious against God and put self on the throne of life instead. The heart is the place of origins of intent. It isn't that organ that pumps blood round the body, not in this context at least. ‘Heart' here refers to the centre of our being (wherever that is) where we make decisions which are expressed then in the mind. Somehow, somewhere within us, we settle our intents – to be godless, to be self-centred. We rationalise it so it doesn't sound as bad as that to us, but that is what it is. We settle our intents and then all thinking flows from that and all behaviour flows from that. Our hearts are darkened and our thinking is futile; no wonder we need saving. But how does God go about that? We'll see in the coming meditations.







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 1 - 3

Meditation No. 18

Meditation Title: Claiming to be Wise


Rom 1:22,23 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

We started off the previous meditation by noting that so often we think our thinking is right and good, i.e. we think we are wise. Yet we went on to note that Paul said that our thinking (without God) is futile or hopeless, and those descriptions surely cannot stand alongside wisdom! Yet part of the deception is that we think we are wise; we think we know about life and the world and so we feel confident but, sadly, it is a false confidence. As I listen to or read the modern crusading atheists, there comes over a confidence. When I wrote an appraisal of one of these men, I found myself writing, He gives himself the position of almost divine authority. You wonder can he possibly be wrong!” This is a man who seriously ‘claims to be wise', and certainly wiser than those of us who hold a biblical faith!

But Paul says that these people who failed to see God in His Creation, having become futile in their thinking, have also become fools. Now my dictionary describes a fool as a person with little or no judgment, common sense, wisdom, etc.” That is what a fool is. In the Old Testament we find, “The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." (Psa 14:1, 53:1). A fool, says the psalmist, is one who makes out there is no God. I also note that there is a footnote in my Bible that tells us that, “The Hebrew words rendered ‘ fool' in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” So, a fool is one who is lacking judgment, is godless and is morally deficient. What a condemnation of one who thinks they are wise!

But this is exactly what deception is all about. The Bible speaks again and again of Eve being ‘deceived' by Satan in the Garden of Eden (e.g. Gen 3:13, 2 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:14). When we are deceived it simply means that we have been led into a position where we believe something false. That is what Paul is saying in these verses. People who abandon God are being deceived so that they end up with futile, hopeless thinking and yet they still think they are wise! That is classic deception!

But is it obvious, Paul goes on, you only have to see what they do. They reject the wonder and the glory of God who is eternal and they replace that with man-made idols. How stupid can you get! Yes, if you travel around the world you will still see, in a number of countries, idols that have been made in the form of human beings or animals. The prophets of the Old Testament were particularly good at deriding the folly of worshipping idols – wood or metal made at the hands of men – idols that are utterly powerless!

Perhaps today we may think we are more sophisticated here in the West and would never dream of making such models and bowing down before them, but the truth is an idol is anything we worship other that God, any substitute we make for God, and there are many such things in modern life. Rather than me put forward my list of such things, you think about modern life and see what things modern man considers more important than God.

If we take anything and make and use it as a substitute for God, we are being a fool. These substitutes do not bring genuine, lasting meaning to our lives. They become a temporary focus but in old age we realise they were empty and hollow and meaningless and we are left destitute when it comes to purpose and direction into eternity. These substitutes could not speak to us, guide us and help us and work good in us, for they were all the outworkings of the endeavours of man. Fame and fortune may appear alluring but at the end of life when we come face to face with God, we will realise that they were simply a means to enhance our self-centredness and godlessness and they do not last and cannot be taken with us as we pass through the doorway of death.

How bizarre and crazy is the outworking of sin sometimes! Here is almighty, wonderful, beautiful, glorious God, who offers friendship and salvation to us, offers us meaning and purpose and a wonderful life that stretches into eternity – and some of us turn down these offers and settle for temporary and transient things that do nothing more than bolster the deception that we are someone of substance who thinks well of themselves – who thinks they are wise while, in fact, their thinking is futile and foolish.

Jesus spoke of God's work of dealing with the ungodly: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts.” (Jn 12:40, quoting Isa 6;10) But how does God do this? He allows Satan to do it: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3,4) Yes, it is Satan who blinds people's eyes. He simply plays on their already godless and self-centred inclinations, that are the expression of sin, and speaks into their minds what is acceptable to them – “It's all right, there is no God; you do what you want to do. You know best,” and they follow along until a crisis in life ploughs their lives and the Holy Spirit speaks seeds of conviction to them, to turn them to God. But until them, they are deceived and foolish in their thinking and their godless behaviour just testifies to that foolishness. May that not be true of us! I find possibly one of the saddest expressions of this deception are seen at funerals when deceived mourners extol the virtues of their deceived loved one by playing them out to Frank Sinatra's, “I did it my way.” THAT is deception and folly!