As a people who fought a revolutionary war and founded a country from it, we seem to have an inherent distrust of government. This hasn’t changed over time but has become a sort of defining characteristic of what it means to be American. There can be, of course, a healthy aspect to this, but there is a darker side too. Consider that in the era in which we live hooligans stormed our Capitol, decent people believe weird conspiracy theories, and respect for civil authority falls diametrically along party lines. Such is the temporal age in which we live, but God’s Word is eternal. So, let us look to God’s Word, not jaded by the temporality of our day, but humbly seeking to know the will of God, and specifically considering our God-given government: our subjection to it, our protection by it, our obligation to it.
Just as there is no such thing as a churchless Christian, there’s no such thing as a cloistered one either. We are to be living in the world but not of it, not overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good. For, we who were once slaves to evil have been redeemed by the righteous, atoning sacrifice of our Savior. He of supreme virtue became sin for us that we might stand virtuously before our God and live virtuously for our Lord.
According to Jesus, what is the distinguishing mark of a Christian? Is it faith? Surely, that which God gives, and through which we are his, is the distinguishing mark? Or, is it hope? Surely, that which rests squarely on God’s provision in Christ, and in which we are to abound, is the distinguishing mark? But as essential as faith is and as important as hope is, shortly before the conclusion of his earthly ministry, Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Echoing Jesus’ command and reinforcing its distinction, Paul confirms, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Modern Evangelicals have seemingly accomplished a miracle (Or, maybe it’s a magic trick?), something foreign to Scripture yet readily embraced: the churchless Christian. Emphasizing our desires over God’s design and our pleasure over pleasing him, we have relegated the cherished assembly of the Beloved into a consumer’s option. This not to say that God is forgotten. But with the reign of easy-believism, the individual is all-important, and the authority of the self stands sovereign. In his commentary on Romans, James Boice (writing in 1995) observes, “It strikes me…that today the problem is our individualism, which I would define as hyperpersonalized religion. It is the religion of ‘Jesus and me only.’” Boice goes onto label this phenomenon a form of narcissism, warning, “you cannot have ‘one body in Christ’ if everyone is creating a private little a la carte religion for himself.”
So, how shall we then live? How shall we worship God day by day in every area of life? By God’s grace, let us be motivated by mercy. You are a great sinner, but ever-greater is your Savior. According to God’s mercy, let us be sacrificed to worship. Hold nothing back; give yourself wholly and completely to the Lord. And, according to God’s mercy and by his grace, let us be transformed to discern, that we may live day by day to the glory of God.
If there is a pinnacle to Paul’s epistle to the Romans, perhaps this is it. Surely this is the exclamation point on what has been revealed up to this point. Considering just the previous several chapters, who can hear of the doctrine of predestination and not praise God for his sovereign grace? Who can read of the gift of the gospel and the necessity of evangelism and not rejoice that God commissioned and mobilized his church into all the world? Who can learn of God’s kindness to Gentiles like you and me and not respond with humble gratitude that God grafted us in?
As defined, a mystery is “Something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.” To solve a mystery we look for clues, relying upon deductive reasoning. Some mysteries are more easier to solve than others. For example, when we consider the general revelation of the universe, when we look at the splendor of the heavens and earth, it is not difficult to deduce that it was designed and created by God: Indeed, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (1:20). It is not difficult to solve the mystery of creation’s origin, even a child can deduce it. It is only the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1).
Paul’s question presumes our knowledge of his ongoing epistolary argument: “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” (11:11). Did Israel in fact stumble, and if so how? Indeed, they did; indeed they have, as Paul describes in the ninth chapter, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:32-33). Pursuing the righteousness of God by works not faith, they stumbled over Christ. Or, as Paul puts it in the tenth chapter, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3-4).
Although we read it as a book, it is important to remember that Romans is a letter, and we should read it as it was written. In substance, it is of course more than a letter—the very Word of God. And so, we read it and study it intently even intricately to glean from God’s special revelation, to know his will. So rich and deep is this divine truth that we dare not rush through it but study it diligently verse by verse. But none of this changes its form: It is a letter.
And this must inform our evangelism. We cannot make someone believe, even those we love most, but we must be faithful to give the gift of the gospel, praying that the Giver of all good things will give the gift of faith. For, God is glorified through the salvation of his people, and through the gift of the gospel “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa. 52:10). Amen.