Week 8: The Gospel Teaches Us to Use Our Freedom to Love Others

Romans 14:1-23

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 

While it is easy for one’s religious faith to deteriorate into a set of rules to obey, the gospel of Christ sets us free from slavery to both sinful living and to stifling moralism. As the spirit transforms us inwardly against the outward forms of the world we will form personal convictions regarding how to exercise our freedom in Christ. At first we may be tentative in our faith because we haven’t been trained by the scriptures to identify good and evil. However, the more we train our mind according to principles found in the word of God, the more confident we should become in living out our freedom in Christ. 

Some people, because of their personal background or level of maturity in Christ, may choose to abstain from certain activities so that they do not stumble. For example, a person who had a drinking problem before coming to Christ might decide that it is best for him to abstain from alcohol completely while another Christian might not feel that total abstention is necessary for himself. One person might choose to participate in religious festivals such as Passover, Christmas or Easter, while another may feel they are unnecessary to observe. In Paul’s day, some held to a special diet for religious reasons, while others did not. The main concern in this passage is that while it is important for us to develop our own convictions before God regarding certain lifestyle convictions, we should not judge others by these personal convictions, but allow them to live before God in the way that they feel to be proper for them. 

Finally, we should use our freedom in Christ to serve others in love. Those who are able to live with more freedom should take care that they do not cause others to stumble in their faith by violating their more restrictive conscience. Alternatively, those with more restrictive consciences should understand that their personal restrictions are for their own sake and not to be applied to others. This allows us to live in harmony with one another even while holding different convictions regarding lifestyle choices.

  • Why is it necessary for each Christian to develop their own lifestyle convictions? What role does the word of God and other Christians play in helping form those convictions?
  • What are some sorts of lifestyle convictions that Christians may form different conviction about?
  • What does it mean to be strong or weak in the faith? How do we become strong in the faith according to this passage?
  • What responsibilities do we have toward others who are stronger or weaker in the faith than we ourselves are? 
  • What does it mean to welcome others in the faith who share different lifestyle convictions? What would be the opposite of welcoming?
  • How is welcoming or not welcoming others of differing convictions related to the gospel of Christ? [We’ll be exploring this question in much more depth as we study the letter to the Galatians.]

Week #7: The Gospel Calls Us to an Appropriate Response

Romans 12:1-21

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect [Romans 12:1-3].

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

This passage is a turning point in the letter to the Romans. Up until now, the letter has been primarily theoretical and theological, detailing the immeasurable mercies of God. The rest of the letter turns personal and practical: toward the sort of life the mercies of God direct us.  

Every invitation calls for an appropriate response. If I am invited to a person’s home for dinner, I could respond by rejecting or accepting the invitation. Even in accepting the invitation, an appropriate response is called for. It would be inappropriate to try to pay the host for dinner, or to show up hours late, drunk, or underdressed. Our appropriate response to the invitation does not take away from the graciousness of the invitation itself. As we have seen, in the case of our salvation the invitation is entirely undeserved. So what response is appropriate?

The appropriate response that the gospel calls us to is for us to turn our lives over to God as an act of worship.  This is a measured, considered response to Jesus Christ, in which we recognize his Lordship over us. Just as Jesus acted as a priest, presenting Himself as a sacrificial lamb on our behalf, we now are called to act as priests in response, presenting ourselves to God to be used by Him - not in death, but in life.

When we come to Christ by presenting ourselves to Him in this way, God begins his work of transformation in us. Up until this point, all of us have more or less followed the conventional wisdom of the world around us - either that of the broader culture or of a particular sub-culture to which we identify. In coming to Christ, however, we find that much of the conventional wisdom we built our lives upon has led us away from God. Thus, much of our old ways of thinking must be reappraised in light of God and his revelation to us. As we continue to read, study, and obey the Scriptures with a humble heart, the Holy Spirit will enact a work of transformation in us, producing more and more confidence in God and His will for us. 

For example, the conventional wisdom of this world might be to avoid one’s enemies. In some situations, we would even be tempted to retaliate against our enemies. Yet the gospel teaches us to love, bless and even feed our enemies, for we can trust God to judge our enemies with severe justice. To be honest, the first time I bless someone who seeks my pain, I may not fully trust the Lord’s will, yet as I test the Lord’s ways I find that His ways are truly good, acceptable and perfect.

  • Have you prayerfully and thoughtfully presented your life to God as a response to His mercies? If not, what is still holding you back? Would you do so now?
  • Read over what this passage has to say about self-image, service, love, prayer, generosity, and blessing one’s enemies. How do you already see that the gospel challenges the conventional wisdom of the culture with which you have thus far identified yourself?
  • Will you commit yourself to continue studying the Scripture with a humble attitude, open to the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation in your life?
  • Notice that this passage speaks of using our gifts to love and serve other members of the body of Christ. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. If you are not involved in a community of other believers, please seek out a local church that loves Jesus and humbly seeks to follow the scriptures.

Week #6: The Gospel is Grounded in a God Who Keeps His Promises

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” 

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! 

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 

The question of God’s character is a very important one. The Roman gods were known for their whimsy and capricious nature. They could change their minds or toy with humans. If they were not appeased, they would remove their favor and act out in vengeance. Is the Christian God of similar character? Can we trust God to follow through on His promises to His people?

The answer scripture gives to this question is a resounding yes. Taking Israel as a case study, Paul argues that God has always preserved a faithful remnant to keep His promises toward even when the majority of the nation were led astray to worship other gods. Though most of the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah, many did receive Him, including Paul himself, demonstrating that God had not fully rejected His people.

Moreover, God has used the fact that most of the Jews rejected His Messiah for good, for it was through their rejection of gospel that the message of salvation was taken to the Gentiles. Yet Paul still prays for his people, that ultimately they will turn to Christ and be once again fully included and accepted in God’s salvation.

  • This section of Scripture contains some concepts that might be difficult to understand or receive, such as God’s election and hardening. Are you able to trust God even when you don’t understand all of His ways?
  • What difference does it make in your Christian life to be assured that God is a God who keeps His promises made to His people?
  • Paul is very personally committed to seeing the gospel of Christ accepted among his people. Think about your people group or ethnic background. How is God working among your people?

Week #5: The Gospel Carries Us Through Our Sufferings

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us [Romans 8:18]. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord [Romans 8:37-39].

Suffering is an inevitable part of life, and though the Christian is not excused from it, our suffering is mediated through the perspective of faith. Scripture teaches us that when mankind rebelled against God creation itself was affected, so that we live in a world of suffering. While the Bible does not explicitly reveal why God subjected creation to futility, many Christian thinkers believe that one of the reasons God allows suffering is so that we do not set our heart on this impermanent world but on God alone, the Unshakable One. Suffering, C.S. Lewis famously observed, is God’s “megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” It is often when we undergo the most severest trials that our eyes are fixed most desperately upon God. 

While the Bible does not fully address the reasons behind suffering, we are assured of three things in this passage. 

  1. God uses suffering to bring about something good. At the end of the day we trust that there is a purpose for our suffering. Remarkably, the Christian is able to rejoice in suffering, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us [Romans 5:3-5].” 
  2. God is present with us in our sufferings: Though there will be times when our suffering makes it difficult even to pray, God’s Holy Spirit prays for us, present with us through all our trials. 
  3. Our sufferings are not an indicator that God does not love us. Many people going through trials may start doubting God’s love and concern for them. God is not against you. If you are a Christian, nothing is able to separate you from the love of God. There will be a day when the glory of His love will eclipse every sorrow.

  • How is every form of suffering able to be traced back to human sin?
  • How does the gospel teach us that God dealt with the problem of human sin? 
  • What does it mean to you that God himself has experienced suffering?
  • What are some trials that you are currently going through? What do you think God might be saying to you through your suffering?

Week #4: The Gospel Gives Us a New Identity and Power for Living

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death [Romans 8:1-2]. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God [Romans 8:14-16], and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

We often try to modify our own or others’ behavior by drafting and enforcing rules. The problem is that no rule has ever supplied power for living; the only thing rules can do is to condemn us when we break them. This is why the gospel is such good news. The gospel gives us a new identity: no longer do we stand before God as condemned law-breakers. Instead, because of what Christ has done for us, we are fully accepted by God as His own children. We live out this new identity not by slavishly following a rule-based code, but by living our lives with our mind set on God’s Holy Spirit. As we walk in constant communication with God through the Spirit, we are empowered to live lives of love and peace.

  • How does a rule-based approach to life and faith only lead to frustration and condemnation?
  • What does it mean to live out of your new identity as a child of God? How does this transform your approach to the Christian life? How does the Spirit work in your life to do what the law of God could never do?
  • Have you received the Holy Spirit into your life? How would you know? (See appendix 2, page __)
  • Try to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance this week as you face various situations. Pray for Him to guide you.