Reading Romans has been a turning point for many Christians. It helped Martin Luther realize that we’re saved by grace through faith, sparking the Reformation. John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” when he read Luther’s comments on Romans, which triggered another revival. Modern theologians continue to be amazed by the book. N.T. Wright called it the Apostle Paul’s “masterpiece” and “a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge, while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.”
I’ll admit it — most old hymns put me to sleep. But there’s one that almost always brings tears to my eyes.
Amazing Grace was written more than 200 years ago but somehow the lyrics remain as fresh today as when they were written. It’s been sung by everyone from gospel choirs to bluegrass quartets to punk rockers to polka bands. If you’ve ever doubted the power of God’s grace to transform lives, then you haven’t heard the story behind the song …
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
This beautiful blessing is the oldest contained in the Bible. Not only that, it’s the oldest known biblical text found by archaeologists. An amulet bearing this blessing was found dating all the way back to before 586 B.C. when the first temple was destroyed.
It’s been used as a blessing in Jewish services for centuries. It’s often recited in Christian services as well. It has even permeated pop culture. It’s the first line in the Bob Dylan song Forever Young. In the movie Deep Impact, Morgan Freeman (playing the President) quotes it just as a comet is about to smash into Earth. It’s also the inspiration behind Star Trek’s “live long and prosper” greeting and the Vulcan Hand Salute made famous by Leonard Nimoy as Dr. Spock. Nimoy grew up in a Jewish home and based the salute on a similar “V” gesture priests make while giving the blessing.
Here’s a translation from the Ancient Hebrew Research Center that illuminates a few more details:
Yahweh (he who exists)
will kneel before you presenting gifts,
and will guard you with a hedge of protection,
Yahweh (he who exists) will illuminate
the wholeness of his being toward you bringing order
and he will provide you with love, sustenance and friendship,
Yahweh (he who exists) will lift up his wholeness of being
and look upon you and he will set in place
all you need to be whole and complete.
MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU
AND KEEP YOU TODAY
We’re counting down the top ten Bible verses of all time, based on an exhaustive study conducted by research scientists with very large brains who determined how often each verse appears in print.
Here’s this week’s verse. Read it. Meditate on it. Memorize it. Live it.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
THANK GOD FOR GRACE
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. (Romans 10:9)
Here’s the choice:
1. Life apart from God in sin, anxiety and eternal torment OR
2. Life with God in eternal peace, joy and love.
Hmm. Seems pretty obvious to me.
But how do we get there?
By God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
OK, but what exactly is “faith”?
It’s all about a loving relationship with God. Even though sin broke that relationship, God provides a way back through Jesus.
Faith isn’t mere knowledge of facts. We’re saved when we believe deep in our hearts that Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected and we trust him alone to save us.
Here’s a prayer you can pray right now. But it can’t be mere words — it has to come from your heart.
I admit that I’m a sinner
and that I need your forgiveness.
I believe that you died to pay for my sins
and that you were raised from the dead.
I want to turn from my sins and follow you.
I ask you to come into my heart
and take control of my life
through the Holy Spirit.
So, what happens next?
Let the Holy Spirit work in your life. Pray continually. Read the Bible. Hang out with other believers. If you truly let the Holy Spirit take control, you’ll start to see amazing things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
WELCOME TO THE FAMILY!
. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . (Romans 3:23)
Everybody sins and falls short of God’s glory. You. Me. Your pastor. The President. Billy Graham. Mother Teresa. The Apostle Paul. Everybody.
God makes it 158% clear that we can’t work our way into Heaven on our own no matter how hard we try. If that’s the way you approach life, it’s a bit like being in a high-jump competition where after years of training, vitamin supplements and maybe even some blood doping your best effort barely clears five feet but the qualifying height is a googolplex times infinity plus a zillion miles. You’ll always come up short.
So, what’s the solution? The Apostle Paul grappled with that very question in the greatest Bible tongue-twister of all time . . .
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Praise be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 7:15-8:4)
As if that wasn’t enough, Paul adds this:
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace . . . (Romans 8:5-6)
So, stop jumping and let Jesus carry you. It’s a matter of life and death.