What sweeter word is there?
April 25, 2020
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
This page is a little shorter than others. Instead, I've focused on links to other sources that are really useful or the topic .
FBC Thomson is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: FBC Thomson Sunday School for April 26
Time: Apr 26, 2020 09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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We Love Good News
If you search for "Good News", you'll find plenty of results. With the news media focused on bad news, there's always a pocket of people wondering if there's any good news out there. Here are a couple of things I found. The "Some Good News" series has actually been pretty cute. "Watch Mojo" is a YouTube channel that puts out an endless stream of top 10 lists. I included here because it's so interesting what a group of pop culture-oriented non-Christians considers "good news" (case in point: their #1 good news story is the penguins getting a tour of the zoo; a great story! but is that better news than the sacrifices made by our medical personnel?)
It's Not Good News, It's the Best News Ever
Well, Christians have the original good news. Incidentally, the choir had been scheduled to sing a song by MercyMe with the fun line, "it's not good news, it's the best news ever". One day we'll finally get to sing it!
You might know that our word "gospel" comes from an ancient phrase "God-spell" which means "God's story". It was the Anglo-Saxon way of saying the Greek word "evangelion" which is where we get the word "evangelism". William Tyndale, an English martyr during the Reformation, wrote the first English translation of the Bible from the ancient Hebrew and Greek; he said that "gospel meant "good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man's heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy". That's good news!
I put the real "good news" for our purposes into two categories. First, there's the actual explanation of the gospel, like in this interesting video. (Frankly, the good news I took out of this wasn't just the gospel, but that fact that someone put so much time and creative energy into planning, designing, and the executing this presentation of the story of Jesus.)
Next, there is the good news of testimony - stories of how Jesus has changed lives. That's some of my favorite stuff to watch and read, a person sharing a testimony right before being baptized, or something similar. Our Southern Baptist mission boards have plenty of videos to watch. Here is a list of pages to consider visiting:
Don't we all love good news?
Getting Warmed Up
Here are two simple things you can do to get ready for this passage:
Come up with your own list of "good news" stories that you've heard from our days of quarantine;
Think of testimonies you've heard of the impact Jesus has made on someone's life.
Our Context in Romans
Let's take another look at my simplified outline of Romans:
What is the gospel? Salvation through justification by faith (chap 1-4)
1. Humans have a sin problem--Jews and Gentiles alike (1:18-3:20)
2. God has a grace solution: faith, not works (3:21-4:25)
What does the gospel bring? Peace and freedom and life (chap 5-8)
1. Peace with God and the hope of glory (5:1-21)
2. Freedom from sin and law, bondage now to righteousness (6:1-7:25)
3. Life eternal in the Spirit, so much more than our present suffering (8:1-39)
An aside on a very important question: where does Israel fit? (chap 9-11)
How should the gospel affect us? Transformed lives in the power of the Spirit (chap 12-15)
1. Sacrificial service (12:1-21)
2. Humble submission (13:1-7)
3. Urgent love (13:8-14)
4. Not being judgmental (14:1-23)
5. Loving acceptance (15:1-13)
We are in that "aside" of part 3, and we will be again next week. Calling it an aside might give some of you the wrong idea, that's it's tangential (and thus unnecessary) to the rest of the letter. On the contrary, it has some of the most important verses Paul has written! But we have to understand how and why Paul chose to include it.
You remember what we said about the tension between the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the church at Rome. It's a big deal to that church, and so Paul absolutely must address it. (Think of it this way: let's say the Archway Partnership came and gave us a proposal for revitalizing our community but didn't say anything about race relations; how seriously would we take that proposal?) Paul starts with the elephant in the room: the fact that so many Jews have turned away from God's plan of salvation in Jesus Christ is a tragedy. But it brings up so many questions. Was God intentionally being hard on the Jews so that He could take the gospel to the Gentiles? Was it fair that God was demonstrating His righteousness by passing judgment on the Jews? Did the Jews really have a choice in their role of rejecting the Messiah? Does God allow people free will, or are we all puppets in His master plan?
Do you see how big those questions get? How important they are? And that's what brings us to our passage this week. Paul makes the point: it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile; there is only one way to be saved. Likewise, questions of predestination and free will also only distract, because there is only one way to be saved: we must confess and believe.
Confess and Believe
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes, since Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them. But the righteousness that comes from faith speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven?” that is, to bring Christ down or, “Who will go down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.
It's not uncommon for someone to hear the word "confess" and think of either a courtroom, or a Catholic confession booth. That's definitely not what Paul has in mind here! You'll note that I started the passage with verse 4. Basically, Paul has said that Jews are just searching for righteousness, just like so many other people. The problem is that when God blessed them with His law, they interpreted that to mean that they could obtain righteousness through the law. That's a mistake! He explains that "Christ is the the end of the law". (This could mean either that "Christ ends the law and brings righteousness through faith" or "Christ fulfills the law as a way to righteousness through faith"; the point is that Christ is the final word on righteousness, not the law.)
The tragedy of the Jewish situation is that they should have known better. He quotes Leviticus 18:5 (see also Galatians 3:12) to prove that the law always pointed the people to grace. How? Because they could not keep them all. If they wanted righteousness from the law, they would have had to live by it entirely, and they all failed to do so. Paul gives two implications of the law-based life
"I can take it upon myself to bring about the Messiah through my righteous actions." But that's so crazily egotistical as to be blasphemous. No human can enact God's plan. And besides, there's no need to because God has already done so!
"I can go retrieve Christ [from His grave] so as to continue His ministry on earth." That's equally ridiculous and blasphemous and impossible for a human. And again, there's no need to!
But there is another way to righteousness: faith. This way to righteousness believes that God has already accomplished His plan for salvation in Christ, and there is nothing left for us to do.
Well, almost nothing.
God has placed the message of salvation all around, namely in His Word and His Spirit. He has made it super easy for us (this is why Jesus kept coming back to the "little child" illustration). But it is still up to us to so something about it. What exactly do we do? We confess and believe. Paul's purpose in combining these two words is to explain that salvation is both outward and inward. You can't just "walk an aisle" think that you are thus right with God. But you also can't have some strange feeling in your heart and think you're saved without any evidence in your behavior. Salvation is comprehensive; it affects your whole life. (I'll let Ronny talk about this more on Sunday morning.)
Let's look into more detail. What exactly do we confess? That "Jesus is Lord". It's not the words as a magic formula. You might remember that even demons know that Jesus is Lord (Mk 1:24; cf. Jam 2:19)! Rather, this is designed to be in contrast to the Roman proclamation, "Caesar is Lord". Declaring Jesus as Lord means so much - it repudiates the claims of the world, it centers your life on Jesus, it means that you follow Him and Him alone - basically everything spoken of in the New Testament. The Greek word for "confess" literally means to "speak the same thing" or "agree" and was often used of oaths. When you made a confession, you were declaring publicly your commitment. (You might have heard someone say, "I had made Jesus my Savior, but He wasn't my Lord." Well, it doesn't work like that. Jesus is not your Savior is He isn't your Lord. (I think I know what they mean: they made a profession of faith, but they weren't living as a disciple.))
What exactly do we believe? That God raised Jesus from the dead. That might seem a strange thing to focus on, but if you go back to our Easter lesson and our focus on 1 Corinthians 15, you'll see just how central the resurrection is to the entire gospel. The resurrection points us to heaven, to judgment, to the renewal of the earth, to our eternal relationship with God and one another, and to the goodness of God in creation. Big deal stuff. It's the entire gospel message condensed into one short phrase. I strongly encourage all of us to learn the gospel presentation known as "The Romans Road":
And here's another short description of it. It is taking the entire message of salvation and presenting it in a few verses from Romans. Lindsay mentioned this in her lesson a few weeks ago. It's super-useful, and every Christian should know it.
In Ronny's lesson, he will go into much more detail on what it means to be saved and what it looks like. This is possibly the most important question we could ever ask, so it's a good idea for us all to be paying attention!
Warning: theological historical egghead section ahead. You'll notice I left out verse 10. That's so I can give a fun history lesson. Two of the most important Christian thinkers of all time, Augustine and Luther, were both heavily influenced by Paul, seeking to understand what he meant in these words. Their thoughts have shaped Christian thought in severe ways. Let's start with Augustine. (And if you tell my professors I simplified him this much, my life may be in danger.) Augustine had a bleak view of human nature. He believed that though the lost soul had free will, it was only free to sin. But God chose to elect some humans to be saved. And in salvation, God "infused" them with the power to be righteous. In other words, God has a person believe that Jesus is Lord, and then that person becomes behaviorally righteous (doing right things). This became the basis of the Roman Catholic sacramental system--the sacraments were the regular means by which God continuously infused His grace into people. But in all of this, God alone is good; saved humans simply reflect His righteousness in the fallen world.
Luther had the perspective of a lifetime seeing how the Roman Catholic Church twisted Augustine's view of salvation and righteousness. He read Paul's words and came to a different conclusion. Rather than believe that God infused Christians with Christ's righteousness, he concluded that God imputed Christ's righteousness on us. "Impute" is a legal declaration, whereas "infuse" speaks to a change. In Luther's Reformation, Christians began to believe that salvation is the declaration of innocence in God's courtroom; everything else the Bible talks about is related to "sanctification", which is the life-long process of becoming more like Jesus.
As Baptists, we are going to line up with Luther more than Augustine. We interpret verse 10 to mean that when we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (the inner change), God declares us right with Him. And when we declare/confess that Jesus is Lord (the outer change), our eternal destiny changes. But when we read the New Testament carefully, we see that "salvation" represents a lot more than a declaration of God resulting from a declaration by us. "Salvation" is a divine process that results in a fundamentally transformed life. As people, we cannot predict it or control it (think of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus). We cannot formulate it and track it in a report. Salvation is new life, initiated by God and cooperated by us. It's not for us to understand but celebrate and share. And I believe that is intentional--the more we think we can understand salvation, the more tempted we might be to control it (or create it). Rather, we just assent to the beautiful simplicity of Paul's words: confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead. And then trust God that He will save your soul as He said He would.
For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on him will not be put to shame, since there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord of all richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
As wonderful as those previous verses are, they aren't really Paul's point. These verses are! What's better than knowing how to be saved? Knowing you can be saved! This encouragement works both ways for Paul: for the Gentiles who thought they were outside of God's favor? You can be saved! For the Jews who feared that they may have thrown away their standing with God? You can be saved!
I still get a kick out of the Oprah meme. And it almost applies to our passage. But Oprah's "gift" only applies to the people who were in that audience, people carefully chosen by a vetting team. It doesn't apply to anyone who may have watched it on tv. And it's still just a car. As nice as that gift is (and I sure hope that those folks were thankful!), it's just a car. It will break down. And then there was no commitment on the part of the audience. They didn't have to sign up for a lifetime of watching Oprah to receive the car (although I'm sure they became big fans!).
Rather, Paul is making the incredible declaration that salvation is available to everyone. Not just Jews. Not just Gentiles. (Or we could continue however you think appropriate - not just Baptists, not just wealthy white people, not just children of church members, etc, you see where I'm going.) Why? Because there is only one God, and there is only one way to God (Jesus). And Jesus does not belong to anyone--Jesus is God. God is God of all, and God chose to make salvation available to all. Jesus' death on the cross paid for every sin committed. There is no divine barrier to anyone's salvation--just their willingness to confess and believe. (And whether or not someone has told them, but more on that in a moment.)
Paul packs in three benefits in these verses. First, not put to shame. We can think of it as saying "you won't regret believing in Jesus". That seems like a low bar! But it's an allusion to Isaiah 28:16 and the mention of the cornerstone. In other words, it's more like saying "you won't be shaken (or forsaken)". Jesus is the firm foundation for your life no matter your circumstance. Second, richly blesses. Of course, what richer blessing could there be than salvation? But the rest of the Bible (and the book of Romans) is filled with the blessings of being a child of God. Look at your own life; what blessings has God given you as a Christian? Third, saved. Note how Paul has used both "believe" and "call on" (confess) in these verses, signifying the inner and outer. Salvation is available to everyone, but they must believe and call on God into order to receive that gift.
This is just as foundational as the "whoever believes in Him" of John 3:16. Perhaps your "one" from the Who's Your One? campaign didn't respond to your invitation or listen to your gospel presentation. Perhaps that discouraged you. Well, these verses should encourage you not to lose hope. Salvation is available to all because Jesus died for all. Keep praying and keep sharing, and one day your one may finally stop resisting the Holy Spirit.
How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.
And here's where the rubber meets the road. The reason you and I are saved is, yes, because we believed and confessed. But someone had to tell us what to believe and confess! The Holy Spirit worked in and through the message that was shared with us. Who shared that message with you? This would be a great time to think about how you first heard the gospel and to send a thank-you message to that person!
So we find that the gospel message is really a history-spanning, earth-spanning event that takes every Christian to participate in. This video from the Bible Project helps put that into perspective. Jesus sent the apostles. The apostles preached. Some people believed and were saved. And then that cycle continued, from generation to generation until today.
A song we sing which tells this story is "O Church, Arise". Here are verses 3 & 4
Come, see the cross, where love and mercy meet, As the Son of God is stricken;
Then see His foes lie crushed beneath His feet, For the Conqueror has risen!
And as the stone is rolled away, And Christ emerges from the grave,
This victory march continues till the day Ev’ry eye and heart shall see Him.
So Spirit, come, put strength in every stride; Give grace for every hurdle.
That we may run with faith to win the prize Of a servant good and faithful.
As saints of old, still line the way, Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls, and hunger for the day When with Christ we stand in Glory.
One confusion people have had with this verse is the word "preacher". The Greek word's root is kerusso (yes, the Christian apparel company Kerusso gets its name from this). It's used of a herald--someone who brings news. The key to understanding a herald is that heralds are sent. They don't take it upon themselves to find a message and deliver it. Someone of authority gives it to them. The problem with the word "preacher" is that we now associate it with the person who gives a Sunday morning sermon. And yes, that is an example of this message Paul is talking about, but it is only one example. Everyone who has the good news about Jesus is a preacher in the sense that Paul uses it. So, when we share the gospel one-on-one with a friend, when we write a letter to the paper with the gospel in it, when we make a Facebook post with the gospel, when we contribute to a blog with the gospel, and on and on, we are "preaching" in this sense.
There are two attendant circumstances with what Paul is saying here. (1) The Greek word is connected with the idea of a response or a decision. A herald didn't just bring news for the sake of sharing news. The herald was asking for a response. "This land is for sale; will you buy it?" "The king is coming; are you ready?" "Fires are approaching; you need to leave now." (2) Actual "preachers" (in the sense of "pastors") all have the responsibility to be heralds of the kingdom in addition to their role as pastors of a church. That's one of the reasons why Baptist pastors typically include an invitation at the end of a sermon; every message demands a response.
But here's something really cool about what Paul says here: Bible translations get it wrong when they say "how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?". The better translation is "how can they believe in Him whom they have not heard?" The point is that Christ is present in the message we bring. In other words, when someone responds positively to our gospel message, they aren't responding to us, they are responding to Christ in us. And when they reject it, they aren't rejecting us, they are rejecting Christ. That is freeing and empowering!
Finally, there is the odd acclamation of feet. Typically not beautiful, especially when caked with dirt! But the feet bring the bringers of good news, and we all love good news. But--again--it's not us that is beautiful, it is Christ in us!
What a great passage. What a great message! Go "wash your feet" and take some good news!