Tag Archives: Epistle to the Romans

Worship vs. Emotion

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.   (Romans 12:1)

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time now, but I have been hesitant to write about it because, well, it stirs up a lot of emotion. The topic of worship is a hot-button topic in church circles because Christians take worship personally – and it is personal. Most of the debate centers around the kind of music used in worship services. The conflict usually boils down to hymns vs. “praise and worship” (P&W) music, or “reverent” vs. “up-beat” music. Personally, I like all kinds of music – classical, country gospel, “high” church and regular hymns, and, yes, even some P&W music. In a recent article I remarked about listening to “godless” rock and roll; I like that too. For me, it is not about the style of the music, but rather the substance. My personal assessment of modern P&W music is that it is shallow in content, overly repetitious, and manipulative. By manipulative I mean that it is designed to excite and stir up the emotions. Hymns sometimes do that for me, but that happens when the truth of the lyrics strikes a chord in my heart that reveals my fallen condition and God’s awesome grace shed on one so undeserving. That puts a knot in my throat and brings tears to my eyes. It is, for me, an emotional experience that brings to mind the great “worth” of God – worship. Some P&W songs do the same, but by and large, not so much.

But worship has little to do with music, or the lyrics of songs. Worship means to “assign ‘worth’ to.” The hosts of heaven assign worth to the Lamb of God: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11). The first occurrence of the word “worship” in the King James Bible is found in Genesis 22:5. Here we see Abraham on his way to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God’s command. As they arrive at the location of the sacrifice, Abraham tells his servants “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” Abraham wasn’t on his way to a song service. In fact, I imagine that he did not feel much like singing at that time. He was on his way to worship. The Hebrew word here is shâchâh and it means to “prostrate (especially reflexively in homage to royalty or God): – to bow down; to crouch; to fall down flat; to humbly beseech; to do or make obeisance; to do reverence; to make to stoop; to worship.” Nothing in that definition says anything about singing or music. I am not saying that music and singing should not be a part of worship. Indeed, the Psalms are a collection of hymns and many of them, like Psalm 150, talk about singing and making music unto to Lord. Psalm 66:4 says, “All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.” It might be worth noting that the “worship” comes before the singing, not the other way around. So, there is an aspect of worship that calls for music, but even in the Psalms the focus is on God and His majesty, greatness and awesomeness. Often when a complaint is leveled against modern P&W music the retort comes back, “We’re just singing the Psalms.” That is only partially true. The fact is that one or two lines are taken out of a Psalm (and usually out of context), and repeated ad nauseam. The worshipers seldom know the source of the Psalm much less the context, but it makes them “feel” good.

Worship is more than music. Our lead verse exhorts us to make our bodies, i.e., our lives, a “living sacrifice” (recall Abraham’s sacrifice above) holy, i.e., set apart/sanctified from this world, and acceptable unto God. In the O.T. an acceptable sacrifice had to be spotless and without blemish (Exodus 12:5). In our sinful nature, that is impossible, but when we have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Isaiah 1:18), we qualify. Finally, our verse says that our sacrifice is our “reasonable service.” The Greek word translated “service” here is latreia which means “ministration of God, divine service or worship.” That it is “reasonable” (Greek logikos) means that it is logical, or rational. It is not “mindless.”

We may never fully understand God. How can the creature comprehend the Creator! But the closer we get to Him, the better we get to know Him, the more we realize His power and His awesomeness, the more we will recognize and acknowledge that HE IS GOD. And our lives should reflect that. It is not about the style of music we sing. It is not about emotion. It is not about how we feel. It is about who He is and how well we know Him. Worship has little or nothing to do with emotions. We may not feel like “worshiping,” but God is always worthy of our worship; and we show that best with how we conduct our lives.


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Cannot Sin

Romans 12_2

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)

This is one of the many paradoxes found in Scripture. How can a Christian not sin and yet sin? The Greek phase “does not commit sin” is in the present tense denoting continuous action or, in other words, a “habitual” practice of sin. The rest of the verse explains why the child of God cannot sin: “for [God’s] seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”

Paul tells us that true Christians, those who are “born again” are given a new nature: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means our old nature has been done away with: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). When we are truly “born again,” we are given a new nature so that we have the ability not to sin, but that ability comes from the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit (“Christ liveth in me”). We have the power not to sin, yet we keep our sinful flesh that retains that bent toward sin. Paul expresses his dilemma this way: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).

For the Christian, both natures exist within the individual. Someone who claims to be a Christian and continues in “habitual” sin without remorse has not truly been regenerated, i.e., born again. An authentic Christian instantly recognizes when he sins (because the Holy Spirit within him makes him aware) and immediately turns to God for forgiveness, and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).


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Is the Law Sin?

The Law

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? (Romans 7:7)

In recent years I have heard Christians reject the Old Testament as if it no longer applies. One young man tattooed the inside of his left arm with: ουδεν αρα νυν κατακριμα τοις εν χριστω ιησου. In case you do not read Koine Greek, it says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, NASB). This reading is translated from the liberal Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament. That text omits the phrase: μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV). This additional phrase is included in the Textus Receptus Greek New Testament from which the KJV is translated. (Bear with me; there is a point to this.) When I pointed out the biblical prohibition against tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) to this young man, a seminary student at the time, he lashed out at me pointing out that we are not under Law, but under Grace. Then when I pointed out the missing phrase in his tattoo, he lashed out against the King James Bible. Hmm! The missing phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” suddenly takes on greater significance. Perhaps the compilers of the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament did not like that phrase either.

So Paul asks an important question: “Is the Law Sin?” Judging from this seminary student’s reaction the answer must be, “Yes!” But what does Paul say? “God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7, emphasis added). So, where do we get the idea that we are to disregard the Law contained in the Old Testament? Jesus quoted from the Old Testament exclusively. Of course, that was all that existed at the time, but He never gave any indication that it no longer applied. In like manner, all the New Testament writers referred constantly to the Old Testament and never hinted that it was passé. In writing to Timothy, Paul affirms that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added). When he penned these words, there was no New Testament, only the Old. Instead of rejecting the Law, Paul says that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12).

Salvation does not come through the keeping of the Law. That is impossible. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). We know that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works [of the law], lest any man should boast” (Ephesian 2:8-9, emphasis added). So, does the Law serve any purpose? Paul seems to think so. “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:13, emphasis added). The purpose of the law is to shine a spotlight on what is sin.

The Christian is saved by Grace, not by attempting to keep the Law (which is impossible to do), but the Law should be to the Christian a guide as to what God regards as sinful. God wants His children to be holy – set apart from the world, and the Law guides us to what pleases God. Can we keep the law flawlessly? Probably not, but we have the assurance that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But how can we confess, if we do not know that we sinned? The Law helps us see that.

That young seminary student thought his tattoo would be a great witnessing tool. I venture to say (although I do not know for sure) that his tattoo has not helped him lead a single person to Christ. Perhaps, if he had taken to heart the omitted qualifying phrase in Romans 8:1 – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” – he would not have violated the commandment against tattoos. I do not question the young man’s salvation, and I fully understand his motive however misguided; but when Paul said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), I doubt that he meant for us to go out and get tattoos in order to win over tattooed people.

Is the Law sin? No, but it serves to show us what sin is and what we should avoid. God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and He has always expected holiness from His people. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Law is not sin; it reveals sin. The Law should be heeded, not disregarded.


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Everyone’s A Slave

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

In America, at least for the moment, we consider ourselves to be a free people. After all, we have the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. While this may be true in a temporal, earthly sense, it is not so in an eternal, ethereal sense. We are all slaves to something.

Jesus simplifies the slave masters down to two in our verse above. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon was the Aramaic term meaning “riches” or “money,” but the term can be broadened to all the trappings of this world. Anything that demands your time and your devotion is your master. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16, emphasis added). Many, including Christians, deny that they are slaves to “sin” (i.e., Mammon), but they are self-deceived. This is very easy to prove. It always comes to a choice between the things of God or the things of this world. When confronted with the choice between going to church or Bible study (group or personal) and your favorite diversion, e.g., watching your favorite sports game, watching a favorite TV show or going to a movie, going fishing, boating, or camping, taking the kids to their soccer game, or dance recital, which one comes out on top? None of the things that I listed are necessarily sinful, except when given a superior position to the things of God. Of course, I could have listed really “sinful” choices, but Paul’s exhortation was given to Christians not to “heathen.” If Christians can be enslaved by the things of this world, how much more the non-Christian who is without the power of the Holy Spirit!

The Christian should be guided by a different standard. Paul says that the Christian, “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants [slaves] of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Being a “slave of righteousness” (i.e., slaves of God) for the Christian should not be a difficult task. If it is, that one should reevaluate his standing before God. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). Strange that Jesus should use a yoke as an illustration. Certainly the reader has seen pictures of yoke of oxen pulling a plow or a cart. The yoke that binds the two oxen together for the purpose of pulling a heavy load does not look “easy.” In training oxen to pull a load, a young, inexperienced ox is yoked to an older, experienced ox. The young ox will fight the load, but gradually learns from the older. In the interim, the older ox bears most of the load while the younger is learning. Jesus assures us that “[His] yoke is easy and [His] burden is light” because He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He bears the greater load, and as we learn from Him, our load becomes easier to bear; but He must be the Master.

Everyone is a slave to something. You have the choice of who will be master of your life.


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Be Ye Holy

Image Credit: Rob Birkbeck

Image Credit: Rob Birkbeck

Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 20:7)

First of all, I need to emphasize that I believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone apart from any works of the flesh (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5). In addition, salvation cannot be maintained through any effort on our part, but it is dependent on the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His ability and faithfulness to keep His promises. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29, emphasis added). Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:3). Then he provides a long list of possibilities before answering, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

That said, as His children, God still expects us to live “holy” lives. Our opening verse comes from the Old Testament law, and it was directed at the Children of Israel. Many Christians will object: “That’s Old Testament! We are ‘New Testament’ Christians. We are not under the Law; we are under Grace!” Well, what does the New Testament say? Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandmentsHe that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:15, 21, emphasis added). Then He makes Himself our example: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Peter also echoes the words of the Old Testament when he says, “But as he [Jesus] which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [i.e., “manner of life” or “life conduct”]; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). James, the brother of Jesus, puts it very plainly, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). James is not preaching a salvation of works, but rather calls for a practical, visible manifestation of the faith we claim. He explains: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). A very simple illustration of James’ premise is this: To convince my wife to marry me, I told her that I loved her. But once we are married, I never take her out, I never help her at home, I never pay any attention to her or listen to her; I go out and spend time with my friends and leave her at home alone. I stay out late at night and use our home as sort of a “flop house.” Could an outside observer testify that I really love my wife? That is the point James is making. True faith demonstrates some sort evidence to the genuineness of that faith.

So what does it mean to be “holy”? Does it mean living a sinless life? If that were even possible, what purpose would Christ’s death on the cross serve? Of all our godly examples from Scripture, not one lived a sinless life, except for Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul lamented, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). So, being “holy” does not equate to being “sinless.”

The word “holy” means to be set apart. When God commanded the Children of Israel to be holy, He intended them to be distinct from the nations that surrounded them. Modern Christians often make light of the Old Testament laws and reject them as not applicable to New Testament saints. But, other than the sacrificial laws which were done away with the sacrifice of Christ, many of those laws were put in place for the sole purpose of distinguishing the people of God from the people of the world. Take for example, the prohibition against piercings and tattoos: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). Piercings, cuttings of the skin, tattoos, etc. were all common practices of the pagan nations that surrounded Israel. These kinds of markings are still considered “beautiful” with many primitive people today. God wanted His people to be different. I selected this one example because it is one of the most obvious that I see among Christians today – they are hard to hide. To me what this says is “I can make my body more beautiful than the one God made for me.” That aside, the point is that we have a lost generation out there that needs a Savior, and this is what they do. Christians, rather than set themselves “apart,” fall right in line with the rest of the lost world, and yet, God still calls His people to be “holy.”

“Holy” also means to be “sanctified” or “consecrated,” i.e., to be “dedicated” to the service of the Lord. That does not mean that we put on our “holy” garments on Sunday for worship and live the rest of the week serving ourselves – in whatever form that takes. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2, emphasis added). A “living sacrifice” is a daily thing. Note that it is “holy” – distinct from the world around us. Our lives should not be conformed to the passing fads of this world, but rather our thinking should be “transformed” according to the pattern of our Savior. Our lifestyle, distinct and set apart from this world, will prove to the world, as James pointed out, “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” For that Christian who thinks this cannot be done, you are correct. It cannot be done through your own strength, but by the Grace that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Be ye holy.

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