Friday, 28 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Romans



We're continuing today with my feature "Learning through the Letters", and this time I'm sharing verses from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, which he wrote before a visit he hoped to make to the church at Rome. Bible scholars agree that this letter holds St. Paul's most complete message.

In Romans 1:16-17, we hear quite clearly how powerful and necessary the gospel is to our walk with Christ: I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God's power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, "The person who is put right with God through faith shall live." This verse is a great motivation for me to spend time daily in the Word and to teach my children how important it is to make time to read the Bible every day. It also makes me happy that we are living in a post-Vatican II world, where the Church puts great emphasis on the Bible.

Do you, my friend, pass judgement on others? You have no excuse at all, whoever you are. For when you judge others and then do the same things which they do, you condemn yourself. Romans 2:1 This is a good reminder. Which one of us doesn't fall victim to the sin of pride, or thinking we are better than others? Who doesn't sometimes judge others, even in small ways? This is a great reminder that it's not our place to judge anyone -- especially since we all sin in our own way.

I love the following verses on how we are put right with God: God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in him... Romans 3:21-25 This reminds me that the distinction between denominations is not the biggest thing there is -- Jesus Christ is. And while I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the true church that Christ started, I don't doubt for a moment that our Protestant brothers and sisters are pleasing God when they honour and praise Jesus Christ.

Abraham believed and hoped, even when there was no reason for hoping, and so became "the father of many nations." Just as the scripture says, "Your descendants will be as many as the stars." Romans 4:18 Imagine what God could accomplish in our lives if we open ourselves up to that kind of hope! Again, a few verses later, we read: His faith did not leave him, and he did not doubt God's promise; his faith filled him with power, and he gave praise to God. He was absolutely sure that God would be able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21 

Because we all struggle with sin, I find these verses very encouraging and helpful in the battle with the enemy: Sin must no longer rule in your mortal bodies, so that you obey the desires of your natural self. Nor must you surrender any part of yourselves to sin to be used for wicked purposes. Instead, give yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes. Sin must not be your master; for you do not live under the law but under God's grace. Romans 6:12-14

When struggling with worry, anxiety and fear, I think this passage will be very helpful -- in fact, it is one of my favourites, another "life-verse": For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God's children and by the Spirit's power we cry out to God, "Father! my Father!" God's Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God's children. Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ's suffering, we will also share his glory. Romans 8:15-17 This is so wonderful -- to think, God joins his Spirit to our spirits! We are strong, not in and of ourselves, but of God! How's that for a reminder when your self-esteem is feeling taxed?

And for a supremely comforting verse, we read: We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 Not only is God working everything for our good, but He has an amazing purpose for each one of us! Again, I really feel like this verse would help a believer who struggles with low self-esteem, and which of us hasn't been there at one time or another?

Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or hardship, or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? As the scripture says, 'For your sake we are in danger of death at all times; we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love; neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below -- there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 There is so much to unpack here! I really love these verses. I remember when I was around 17, and was really struggling with anxiety and panic, I posted the second part of this verse on  my wall. It really comforted me and helped me during that difficult time. These verses tell us that we have nothing to fear -- there is absolutely nothing in any shape or form that can take away God's love for us that Christ won. What amazing love!

So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God -- what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 I find this really encouraging, because if we look at the world's standards of success and fulfillment, who could possibly measure up? On social media, on television, in magazines and all around us we are bombarded with images of people's "perfect" lives: and usually, they revolve around two things: sex and money. But that is not God's plan for us. And thank goodness -- because none of that can ever bring lasting peace or joy. Only God can do that.

Sometimes, I struggle with a low mood. It's not necessarily a sad feeling, just a blah feeling. It can be due to lack of sleep, my body's cycle, or stress. Sometimes, I can't find a reason for it. It can make it hard to be joyful in day to day living, but God always gets me through it. I find this verse particularly encouraging and uplifting in these times: Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. Romans 12:12 Again, this is a great reminder and a great antidote to what the media and society tells us -- that we must be strong and brilliant at all times, beautiful, witty, popular, successful and wealthy. That's not real life! We all have times of stress, times of sadness or anger. We all go through things that test us. And we must remember to actively seek out joy and seek out God, especially during times when joy is hard to feel! Praying at all times helps us to be patient, and gives us strength and comfort.

Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:18 I've been praying about this and trying to live it out lately -- and at first it can seem hard to try to make overtures of love and kindness to those who annoy us or who have even hurt us, but once you get into the swing of it, it really feels good -- regardless of how they react!

The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Romans 13:12 I love the vitality and hope that is so alive in this verse! We all struggle with sin, but every day we should strive to put it behind us and follow Christ.

So then, let us stop judging one another. Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make others stumble or fall into sin. Romans 14:13 What a great reminder this is. My husband is always reminding me not to be judgmental of others, because he (rightly) believes that once I get into that habit of judging, I end up judging myself, and that never ends well. I also love how St. Paul tells us here that we need to be respectful of other believers and where they are at in their walk with Christ. Different people have different temptations, and different struggles with their faith. We should never challenge (in a negative way, or even in a positive way before they are ready) where they are at, but seek only to build them up.

So then, we must always aim at those things that bring peace and that help strengthen one another. Romans 14:19 This ties in well with Romans 14:13. We're human, so we can be contrary and irritable and argumentative. But God wants us to be more than that -- to be loving and kind and helpful with each other. Imagine if we all tried our very best to bring peace and strength to everyone we come into contact with each day. What would that look like? Maybe a smile, and a quick chat with the clerk at the grocery store or the teller at the bank? Maybe an extra cuddle with your child, and a heart to heart about just how special they are to you. Maybe it would mean doing something special and romantic for your spouse just out of sheer love for them. There are countless ways we can strive to build up the people in our lives.

We who are strong in the faith ought to help the weak carry their burdens. We should not please ourselves. Instead, we should all please other believers for their own good, in order to build them up in the faith. Romans 15:1-2 Again, St. Paul motivates his intended audience, and us too, to help those that are just starting out in the faith, or who are perhaps experiencing scrupulosity, doubt and fear. During one of the times I felt God calling me back to the Catholic church, I started out full of zeal and excitement, but I backed away fairly quickly because I was weak in my faith in God, and I got caught up in all the legality of religion. It ended up causing me a lot of anxiety and fear, and kept me from returning. Thankfully, God wrought peace in my heart and the next time he called me back, I listened and trusted, and my homecoming felt so right. I think if I had had a strong Catholic friend or mentor helping me, it wouldn't have taken me as long to get "home to Rome". So I hope that, one day, I can help other Catholics or lapsed Catholics or Christians who feel God's Holy Spirit calling them to the Church Christ established, and encourage them to embrace the fullness of it all.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 This is just so beautiful, and I want to write it out and put it somewhere I will see it often. God is our source of hope, and we need to open ourselves to His in-pouring of joy and peace in our lives by striving to be strong in our faith. And even when we don't feel strong in our faith, even when we experience doubts, we know that God is always working in us. We can offer up those doubts and negative feelings, fear and anxiety, or whatever it may be, and just tell God, "I trust You. I love You. Help me to love You and trust You more each day."

These are just my thoughts and musings on these Bible verses. I don't claim to be a Bible scholar or a theologian. I'm just a Catholic woman, trying to learn more about my true love, Jesus Christ! I hope that you are encouraged to delve into your own Bible, and see what God is trying to teach you! It's very possible and most likely that you will read the same verse as I did, and take away something entirely different from it -- this is why it is called the living Word of God -- it's mysterious, and miraculous, and oh so beautiful.

photo credit: Brian Koprowski <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/8657772@N03/21515022565">Are You Not Entertained?</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>

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