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I’ve grown accustomed to people charging me with exaggeration whenever I speak about Paul’s letter to the Romans. After you hear what I have to say, you may join the choir of those who insist I’ve gone too far. So here it is. Paul’s letter to the Romans, quite simply, is the single most important and influential piece of literature ever written.

If you were to sit down over coffee or lunch with an unbelieving friend or co-worker and they asked the question, “What is Christianity?” how would you answer? I hope you wouldn’t point to a building with a steeple, as if a physical structure defines what Christianity is all about. And I hope you wouldn’t point to any individual, even one as godly as the Apostle Paul or Billy Graham. My hope and prayer is that you would say, “Well, that’s easy. Christianity is Jesus Christ!” Here is how John Stott put it:

Rome. It is only one word, and yet it evokes an entire world of history, drama, and political intrigue. One cannot speak the word without thinking of the Coliseum and the Catacombs, not to mention the many Caesars: Julius, Octavian, Augustus, and Tiberias. The pomp and circumstance of Rome, its social influence, military might, as well as its moral decadence, have made it perhaps the most famous city in all of human history, second only to Jerusalem.

I still vividly remember the first time I shared the gospel with another person, face-to-face. I had spoken at a couple of evangelistic rallies and shared my testimony about becoming a Christian. But this was the first time I sat across a table from one person and talked about Jesus.

Last week we talked about the reality of shame when it comes to sharing the gospel with unbelievers. I related my own experience with a high school classmate who, by God’s grace, actually came to saving faith. But as I told you last week, I was afraid that he might ask me a question that I couldn’t answer. The fear of being challenged in a way that we feel inadequate to address often keeps Christians silent when they know they should speak.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many non-Christian religions in the world? Have you ever wondered where they came from? How and why did they develop? Are they all simply variations of the truth or perhaps imperfect pathways to the one true God? What relationship, if any, do they sustain to biblical Christianity? And is it arrogant and judgmental of us to suggest that they are all in error and that Christianity alone embodies the truth about God and eternal life?

I face an immediate and unavoidable challenge in talking about homosexuality. In Romans 12:9 Paul exhorts us to “let love be genuine.” And in Romans 12:10 he commands us to “love one another with brotherly affection.” Here is the challenge. He also says in our passage in Romans 1 that some expressions of human sexuality are impure, dishonorable, contrary to nature, shameless, and deserving of eternal judgment. So, how can one be loving and yet say such things about homosexual conduct?

Last week we examined what the Bible says about homosexuality, both in the OT and primarily in Romans 1 in the NT. Today we turn our attention to two topics. First, I want to say a few words about the so-called “transgender” movement. Second, I want us to think deeply about the practical implications of how to live consistently with what the Bible says on these two highly controversial subjects.

In his acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1983, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed the reason for the Russian Revolution that resulted in the slaughter of 60 million people. After spending fifty years studying this question, Solzhenitsyn summarized his conclusion with this statement: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

To the extreme frustration of most preachers, sermons are frequently forgotten moments after they are delivered. I ought to know, I’ve preached my fair share of truly forgettable sermons!

There is no more important question for anyone to ask and answer than this: How might I be forgiven of my sins and reconciled to God, my Creator? I’m not suggesting that we don’t face other challenging issues in life. For some, it may be about which political party one should align with, or perhaps whether one should remain independent. I know many parents who feel the most pressing question right now concerns the education of their children: home school? private school? public school? Or perhaps some other option I haven’t considered.

I can’t begin to tell you how often people challenge me, either in the form of a question or a protest, that goes something like this: “How can God be just when so few people have access to the Bible? How can God possibly be good and fair if he condemns people for failing to believe something they never heard?” “I can understand why God would hold the Jewish people during the time of the OT accountable for their sins. They had the Law of Moses. They knew what God’s will was. They knew what he demanded and commanded, so their disobedience is certainly deserving of judgment. But what about the rest of the world that didn’t have the privilege of reading God’s law or the opportunity to obey it?” “How can God fairly judge all people when everyone has differing levels of access to God’s will and ways? Wouldn’t it be unfair for him to judge someone who grew up in remote regions of the Sudan by the same standard that he judges someone who grew up in OKC?”

I assume that most of you have heard of Ravi Zacharias, a world-famous and widely published Christian apologist. I heard him speak in person for the first time at a conference where I was also speaking in Orlando, Florida, back in the early 1990’s. I was astounded by his range of knowledge. He displayed what appeared to be a photographic memory as he cited at length, without notes, extensive quotations of famous individuals. He was articulate, energetic, passionate, and many, to this day, attribute their Christian faith to his influence. His books sold more than 2,000,000 copies.

By God’s grace, I’ve only been called to serve on a jury once. It was in Dallas in 1983. As it turned out, the accused had already pled guilty. Our task was to assess the appropriate punishment. In order to make our job possible, the assistant District Attorney of Dallas County rehearsed for us the evidence against the man and called several eyewitnesses to the stand to testify concerning the heinous and high-handed character of his crime. I’ve thought often since that day that we were, perhaps, too severe in the punishment meted out.

Most of you will not know the name of Dr. Marvin Knight, but he served for many years as the orthopedic surgeon for the Dallas Cowboys professional football team. Those of you who are old enough to remember, can probably envision in your mind a tall man wearing a huge cowboy hat lumbering out to the middle of the field to check up on a player who had just been injured during the game. That was Dr. Knight. I saw him dozens of times on TV treat injured Cowboy players before I ever met him in person.

If you were to ask me who, in my opinion, was the most frustrated and pathetic man ever to appear on TV, I would immediately point the finger at Hamilton Burger. Many of you are too young to know anything of Hamilton Burger, as he appeared regularly as the District Attorney on the TV show, Perry Mason, which ran from 1957 to 1966. I refer to Burger as frustrated and somewhat pathetic because he never won a single case against Mason, the defense attorney. He suffered one crushing defeat after another. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort or skill. Burger would amass before the court what he believed was irrefutable and convincing evidence against Mason’s client, the accused.

Do you remember the famous story told by Hans Christian Anderson concerning the Emperor and his clothes? According to the tale, a group of very clever con men approached an Emperor offering to weave for him a rare and costly garment that would be unlike any other garment in the world. This garment would have the marvelous, indeed, the magical capacity of revealing to the Emperor all the fools and idiots in his kingdom. Because of the special quality of the threads, the garment could be seen only by the wise. It would be invisible to all fools and morons.

When I was in seminary a group of professors and students went into the streets of downtown Dallas to take a survey. They approached the people on the street with two questions:

Donald Grey Barnhouse was for many years the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia. He died in 1960. During the time when he was actively in ministry, he was asked to address a combined meeting of several civic clubs in a certain city. After speaking on the gospel, a friend whispered in his ear: “Dr. Barnhouse, that man over there is a prominent businessman who always tries to trick our guest speakers. I just thought I’d warn you in advance.”

The founder and first President of Dallas Theological Seminary was Lewis Sperry Chafer. He died in 1952. When I was a student there we were required to read most of his 7-volume Systematic Theology. Virtually every theological issue was addressed in those seven volumes, some of which I disagree with.

I don’t know if you have picked up on this over the years that I’ve been senior pastor here at Bridgeway, but one of the primary things that I have tried to do is to prepare you for suffering. I know that sounds strange, but there is a reason for it. Suffering, more than anything else in life, poses the greatest threat to our belief in God’s goodness. When stuff happens, painful, distressing, discouraging stuff, our instinctive reaction is to blame God either for causing it or for not intervening to make it go away. When that happens, we take offense at God. We become bitter and resentful, and our faith starts to dwindle and weaken.

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture and immediately recognized yourself in the text? I do, every time I read Romans 5:6-11. You may wonder how that could be, given the fact that the personal name of “Sam Storms” does not appear in it. Oh, but I’m there. I’m there, writ large. I am the one who is “weak.” I am the one who is “ungodly.” I am the “sinner.” I am God’s “enemy.”

Romans is known for many things, one of which is that more than a few scholars consider it to be the most theologically complex and challenging book in the Bible. That being the case, it is worth asking: “What specific passages in Romans give it this reputation?” Some of you who are familiar with Romans might point to Romans 7. Others would argue that Romans 9 is the most challenging chapter. But I believe it has to be Romans 5:12-21.

Why did God become a man? Why did the transcendent, majestic Lord of the universe, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, condescend to become a human being in the person of Jesus Christ? Why did he suffer humiliation and rejection from his own creation, ultimately to die naked and beaten upon a Roman cross? Why did Jesus Christ come into this world?

There quite simply is no more pressing, practical issue for every one of us than how to gain victory over the temptation and sin that we encounter each day of our lives. Those temptations are many and varied, ranging from pornography to deceitfulness to selfishness to theft to lying to lust to irrational outbursts of anger to adultery, jealous, envy, and so on. I’m sure if I provided you with an even more extensive list of the challenges we face every day, most if not all of you would at some point raise your hand and say, “Yeah, that’s me. You nailed it. That’s my struggle. That’s my sin.”

I want to tell you a story about an exceedingly odd Christian man. He is known to history as St. Simeon the Stylite. Simeon was born in 390 a.d. and died in 459. At the age of 13 he heard a sermon on the Beatitudes of Jesus from Matthew 5. He immediately cast himself down at the door of a monastery, begging to be granted entry. He lay there several days and refused to eat or drink. He grew accustomed to eating only on Sundays.

I’ve been profoundly affected these past few weeks by something in Paul’s language here in Romans 7. I didn’t at first give it much attention, as I was focused on trying to make sense of what he says about the law and our relationship to it. But there it was, in Romans 7:4.

Can anyone who just heard the text we read from Romans 7 honestly say, “I can’t relate to that? I don’t recognize myself in what Paul says. I’ve never experienced this internal battle with indwelling sin. I don’t know what the apostle means when he describes himself as wanting to do one thing only to discover that he does its opposite. I can’t relate to his description of himself as doing the very things he hates while failing to do the things he loves.”

What are the two most glorious words that a sinful soul can hear? What are the two most encouraging and heartwarming words that I could speak to you today? What two words have more power to lift you out of depression than any others? What two words can put your fears to rest and deliver you from anxiety and doubt? What two words do each and every one of you here today need to hear from God? No condemnation!

When I was a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, the Christian apologist Josh McDowell arrived on campus and spoke at the student union. If you’ve ever heard McDowell speak, you know that he is incredibly articulate and persuasive. He spoke that night on a wide range of topics, but focused primarily on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The many facets of that gospel which we have been examining thus far in Romans were addressed.

I’m often blessed by reflecting on the many ways in which the Bible portrays our relationship with God. There are all sorts of illustrations and metaphors and vivid word pictures that in one way or another describe who we are. For example, in the OT the people of God are an army, of which God is the commander-in-chief. Numerous times, in both the OT and NT, we are described as sheep, with God as our shepherd. We are also portrayed as a building or a temple, of which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. On several occasions we are portrayed as a body, of which Jesus is the head.

In reading your Bible, have you ever felt as if a verse of Scripture suddenly seemed to leap off the page and smack you upside the head with a thud. And it hurts! When I say, it hurts, I mean that it is a sudden jolt to the system. It’s a bit scary. It’s unnerving. It may be downright painful to your soul. You read it and say to yourself, “I wish I hadn’t read that. My life and emotional stability in general would have been much better off had I never seen this statement.”

I hardly need to remind you of the devastating and destructive power of what we call nature or the material creation. In the past few months, we have witnessed Hurricane Ida, as well as ravaging fires throughout the western United States, accompanied by record-breaking high temperatures. As I recall, one day this summer it reached 130 degrees in Death Valley.

Yet another survey of professing Christians was recently conducted. And once again the results are terribly disappointing. The survey was conducted by the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University in its recently released American Worldview Inventory, an annual survey that evaluates the worldview of the U.S. adult population. Conducted in February, the survey included a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults. What did the survey reveal? Some 62% of self-identified born-again Christians contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence or purity.

I don’t know if you have noticed this, but in the past few years I seem to have introduced quite a few of my sermons with a long list of all the tragedies, trials, and devastating events in our world. I’ve talked about earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and pandemics and racial division and economic hardships and recurring diseases and raging wildfires and military conflicts and political upheaval, and countless other issues we face each day.

Churches and denominations throughout history have often argued and divided over a number of issues, such as: (1) the role of women in ministry leadership, (2) the timing of the rapture, be it before, during, or after the so-called tribulation, (3) water baptism: is it for infants of believing parents or only for those who have come to personal faith in Jesus Christ, and (4) the question of miraculous gifts of the Spirit: did they cease with the death of the apostles in the first century, or do they continue into the present day?

I have a guaranteed answer to one of the most pressing questions you will ever ask. I have a remedy for what may well be the greatest fear in your heart. The question and the fear are the same: Will God’s love for me one day dissipate and disappear? Is there a limit to his love? Is it even remotely possible that one day he will simply grow tired of me and give up? The answer is a resounding, No!

I sometimes wish the Bible were like Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Although it would lose its literary flare and beauty, at least we would have precise definitions for all the doctrines of the faith. We could look up under “T” the Trinity and find an inspired definition. Or we could turn to “S” and discover the definition of salvation.

Today, unlike most Sundays, I’m going to forego any form of introduction to the sermon. The depth and complexities and challenges of our passage today requires as much time as possible. So let’s jump into the deep end of the theological pool right from the start.

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., was professor of English at the University of Virginia for many years. As far as I know, he is still alive at the age of 93. His most famous book was titled, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Hirsch is convinced that there are certain facts and information that are foundational to literacy. He has in mind dates, events, people, and ideas with which you should be conversant if you hope to function properly in American culture.

The issue of race and the potential it has to divide and disrupt the life of our culture at large and the church in particular has, perhaps, never been so much in evidence as it is today. On numerous occasions in the past, I’ve explained how the division and racial hostility between Jew and Gentile threatened the very existence of the early church. You may also recall the strategy that Jesus gave the disciples for how the gospel of the kingdom would be spread, and simultaneously provided them and us with a remedy for racism. He said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Today we are going to dig deeply into the subject of prayer, or should I say the “mystery” of prayer. All of us, without exception, struggle to pray. Some attribute their failure to pray to the busyness of life: “I just don’t have time,” so they say. Others don’t pray because it so often seems rather one-sided, as if I’m doing all the talking and I struggle to believe that anyone is listening. Then there are those who have become disillusioned when requests they have brought to God for years remain unanswered to this very day.

I’m sure you have come to expect a special message on the Sunday before Christmas, and this year will be no exception. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be in Romans. After considerable thought and prayer, I honestly couldn’t think of a passage of Scripture more suited to Christmas than Romans 10:5-13. Think about it. Christmas is the glorious good news that God has sent his Son to save his people. This is what the angel said to Joseph when he discovered that Mary was pregnant:

I’ve got a story to tell you. It concerns a young lady by the name of Jackie. From the age of eight she repeatedly heard in her heart the simple exhortation, “Go.” Jackie lived in England, together with her identical twin sister and parents. She graduated from the Royal College of Music in London with a specialization in playing the oboe. At the age of 22 she still couldn’t shake the voice that had beckoned her for so many years. With what appeared to be such a vague sense of calling, no missionary organization would sponsor her. She finally decided to follow the advice of a pastor named Richard Thomson, who told her, in so many words, to take a slow boat to China and pray that God would tell her when to get off.

I want to ask all of you a question today, but I don’t expect you to shout out your answer. Here it is. What single event in the last 75 years has had the greatest impact on the Christian church? The impact doesn’t have to be a good one. It may be, but it might also be damaging.

Last week I shared with you my opinion that the single most influential event in the last 75 years, as far as its impact on the Christian church is concerned, was the formal establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. There are many today who would share my opinion, but they do so for different reasons. Some believe that Israel’s emergence as an independent nation is important because it is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and may very well be a sign of the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you were to conduct a wide-ranging survey that asked, “What’s wrong with the Church in America?” I am quite certain that a variety of answers would be given. I have no intention of listing them all. Instead, I have one answer of my own. It may strike you as odd when you first hear it, but bear with me. The greatest problem in the contemporary church is that people are bored with God. They aren’t so much offended with him or confused by him. They are simply bored.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that at no other time in the experience of the church in the 21st century has there been such an urgent, vital need for Christian holiness as there is right now. It grieves me to say this, but hardly a day passes that I don’t either hear or read of another scandal, some scurrilous bit of news, be it financial or sexual or in some way related to spiritual abuse or bullying. And I’m not talking about what goes on in Hollywood or Las Vegas or on Wall Street. I’m talking about the professing Christian church. The effect of it all is to cast an ever-lengthening shadow over the integrity and purity of the evangelical body of Christ.

One would be hard-pressed to identify a more controversial subject in Scripture than that of spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. So, today we will closely examine Paul’s list of gifts here in vv. 3-8 and spend most of our time on defining what prophecy is and how it operates in the local church.

On the eve of his crucifixion, sometime during the observance of that last Passover meal with his disciples, our Lord said something of profound significance, something the implications of which not even his disciples fully understood at the time. “By this,” Jesus said, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if . . .” (John 13:35).

If a person didn’t know anything about human nature, he might look at all of us today and conclude that we have very little in common. We don’t all look alike, dress alike, walk or talk alike. Well, maybe in Oklahoma we all talk alike, but you get my point. Each of us has his or her own distinctive personality, unique likes and dislikes, all of which might lead someone to think that we are fundamentally different from one another.

In October of 2021, a survey of some 500 registered voters in Oklahoma revealed that 64% favor the death penalty, with 41% strongly in support of it and 23% somewhat in favor of it. 23% of those polled oppose the death penalty. 13% said they were undecided. We may soon find out if these percentages are accurate, as Democratic State Representative Mauree Turner has filed legislation for the 2022 session that would create a state question to be voted on to determine if the death penalty should be retained. Twenty-three states have already abolished the death penalty.

It’s been many years since this incident occurred, but I can still remember the story of Joan Andrews, a small, soft-spoken Roman Catholic. On March 26, 1986, she entered an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida, and attempted to damage a suction machine used to perform abortions. She was arrested, charged, and convicted of criminal mischief, burglary, and resisting arrest without violence. The prosecution asked for a one-year sentence, but the Judge gave her five years. She was taken to the Broward Correctional Institute, a tough maximum security women’s prison where she was placed in solitary confinement. She served 2 ½ years of her sentence.

This is one of those special paragraphs in God’s Word that is so rich and thick and abundantly overflowing with truth that it will take all my time to unpack it for you. So, I’m going to forego any formal introduction and jump immediately into the deep end of the pool. There are three primary areas of focus for us today. First, I want to address an issue that comes up in the light of Paul’s exhortation not to “owe” anyone “anything” (v. 8a). Second, I want to explore what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself and how doing so is a fulfillment of the law of God. Third, we will look at the urgent exhortation of Paul in vv. 11-14 that we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires” (v. 14).

One of the foundational pillars on which Bridgeway Church is built is the divine inspiration and absolute authority of Holy Scripture. To put it bluntly: when the Bible speaks, we listen. But what should the Christian do when the Bible does not speak? Every issue on which the Bible does speak, it speaks infallibly. But the Bible does not speak on every issue. It is not an encyclopedia of ethics. What, then, are we to do when issues arise on which the Bible remains silent? How is a Christian to act on matters not directly addressed in Scripture, especially when they cause conflict and division in the church? That is what Romans 14 is all about.

Virtually every moment of every day every Christian is forced to make decisions or choices between alternative courses of action. Often these decisions are of little if any moral consequence: decisions such as what to wear to work, where to eat lunch, which of many differing cars one should purchase, and so on. Other decisions, however, are of great moral consequence. They are decisions that affect not only ourselves but also the people around us. These are the decisions we do not take lightly. As Christians, our first course of action is to turn to the Bible, for we know that in his written Word God has provided us with inspired, infallible, authoritative guidance to help us make the right choice in any given situation.

Today, I want us to start at the end of our passage, rather than at its beginning. We read in v. 7, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Here we are not only told what to do, but why. The end game, as it were, is made explicit. We are to strive in God’s grace to be a hospitable people, and the reason why is so that God may be glorified. Now, how did Paul get there? What led him to this conclusion, and how does it affect the way we approach life together here at Bridgeway Church?

There are numerous things that mattered greatly to Paul, a reflection of what matters greatly to God. It is God who placed these burdens on the apostle’s heart that he in turn might place them on ours. Now, what “burdens” do I have in mind? What one critically important “thing” weighs so heavily on Paul that he would repeatedly call on us to embrace?

Here in Romans 15:18-19 Paul mentions four important truths to account for the success of his evangelistic ministry. He refers to the primary instruments by which he successfully led pagan Gentiles to believe the gospel. First, Paul points to the “word” he proclaimed. He verbally declared the truth of who Jesus is and what he did. Second, his ministry was also characterized by “deeds.” This could conceivably include everything he did, be it acts of mercy or generosity or compassion or serving the poor. But the more likely reference is to the “signs and wonders” that he was enabled to perform, which is the third expression of his evangelistic ministry. Fourth, he accomplished all this, both word and deed, signs and wonders, “by the power of the Spirit of God.”

All of us will admit, I am sure, that Romans is the most complex biblical letter when it comes to deep theological truths. It stretches the mind and confronts and challenges our personal theological preferences more so than any other NT book.

I’ll be the first to admit that prayer is one of the more perplexing mysteries in the Christian life. Why does God repeatedly encourage us to pray? If God wants to accomplish some goal for his own glory, why doesn’t he just do it? Why does God tell us that if we hope to experience certain blessings, we must first ask for them? Does prayer really make a difference? Does prayer change things? Can we expect God to do for us apart from prayer what he tells us in Scripture he will do for us only through prayer? These are important and challenging questions, and there is hardly a more helpful and instructive passage in Scripture where answers can be found than right here in Romans 15:30-33.

Today, as we inch ever closer to the conclusion of our time in Romans, I want to address an issue that I’ve rarely mentioned on Sunday mornings. It seems only wise that before I step down as Lead Pastor that I articulate as best I can what we believe the Bible says about women in the life of the church, and more specifically, women in the life and ministry of Bridgeway. So, buckle your seat belts, and let’s see what Romans 16 and the rest of the NT have to say on this topic.

Whenever I come across a passage in the Bible like Romans 16, I can’t help but think about what Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I’m sure you know that text quite well, but let me shine a light on it again today:

Perhaps never before, during the last 2,000 years, has there been such a vitriolic, venomous attack launched against the Christian church as we see today. I know this sounds a bit grandiose and maybe even a bit melodramatic, but consider a few undeniable facts.

My first sermon in Romans was early in October of 2020. Here we are, nearly two years later, concluding our study of the single most important letter in the single most important book in the world. It has taken us 65 weeks to get here, but I trust that you have found it to be a blessing and an encouragement in your Christian experience.