Now that Paul has stressed to us salvation by grace, he realizes that some may raise questions and objections particularly the legalists in his audience. Since we have salvation not based on works, why not just continue to sin so that God’s grace will be even further exalted? Paul’s emphatic answer is that grace never gives anyone license to sin. Grace does not cancel out our ethical or moral responsibility to pursue righteousness. He teaches this message through the symbolism of the rite of Baptism. Baptism reminds us that we have died to sin so it should no longer have any hold or power over us. Yet it does have such power because we choose to allow it. It continues to appeal to us. Therefore we must fight against all its attempts to rule and enslave us.
The idea of fighting against sin and temptation should not be foreign to us if we are indeed united with Jesus. If it is, if we do not feel the need or the desire to put up resistance, then perhaps we ought to rethink our relationship with Jesus. We should do this if we, like so many of those in our society and culture have already redefined sin in order to excuse or commend our own personal lifestyle choices regarding sex, pleasure, money, or material goods.
Paul warns us that we cannot have it both ways. Those who give in to sin become enslaved by it. Those so enslaved lose their ability to choose freely. They go along their merry way, thinking they are willingly pursuing their personal lifestyle preferences. In fact are being led around by the nose. Those who are in Christ are His slaves. They no longer live for self but for Him. They act in His righteousness and walk in His will. By His grace they can choose to do good and shun evil.
Paul chastises the Christians at Rome for their hypocrisy. Many of them were boasting of their own righteousness and their acceptance by God. This was especially true of the Jewish Christians who felt that their heritage and their keeping of the Law of Moses made them better than other Christians and guaranteed them a place in God’s Kingdom. Such cocky self-assurance led them into presumption and sin. Their hearts were not right with God for though they kept the Law outwardly they felt they had the right to judge the behaviors of others while excusing themselves for actions, attitudes and behaviors which were just as sinful. Paul tells them that the Lord knows the heart. He will judge the deeds of all based on their underlying attitudes. He knows who does outwardly good deeds for His glory apart from those who do them for self-glorification.
The fact is we Christians often engage in judging and condemning those both inside and outside the church for deeds and lifestyles which violate our moral code. Yet we overlook or excuse our own behavior either by thinking we are not guilty of any serious sin or otherwise by doing whatever we please assuming that we are not bound by the same standards. Thus we live secure in our own little Church kingdom sniping and complaining about those in the world and bullying our own brethren. The Christian’s duty is to preach the gospel in word and in deed in order to lead the pagans to see the danger they are in from the wrath of God. This is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel and works of righteousness. We are not to waste our time fighting among ourselves. Neither are we to be gloating over our salvation or scornfully judging the wickedness of our neighbors. Rather we are to be witnesses testifying to these neighbors of the mercy and love of God in Christ Jesus.
We Christian must make sure that our lifestyle matches our profession of faith in Christ. Our good deeds must be performed in humility not with a desire for self-glorification. Even the best of deeds performed with the wrong heart attitude are sinful. They do not cover our sins or outweigh them. The deeds we do are for the glory of God and no other. Only then do they serve as evidence of a heart surrendered to Christ Jesus.
The subject of the sovereignty of God is one of the major themes in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The issues of the letter indicate that some of the members of that church were having difficulty getting along with one another. The Church was a cultural mix: Christians from pagan backgrounds were fellowshipping with others with Jewish roots. The latter tended to take pride in their religious heritage of the Law and so some treated all Gentiles, both Christian and pagan alike with feelings of disdainful superiority. To address this problem Paul introduced the theme of the Christian’s justification through faith alone irrespective of status, ethnic origin, culture or works. The righteous are righteous by grace through faith, not works. Righteousness is granted by God so no Christian may claim exalted status or superior rank.
Paul was not hesitant to speak his mind for he knew what was at stake here: the salvation of souls. As we are reminded from the Old Testament, particularly Psalms and Job, the whole of creation testifies to the glory of the Lord. Yet that testimony, though quite revealing is insufficient to enable anyone to live a life of perfect righteousness or to avoid sin. To be sure, throughout history, all peoples and cultures have a moral code or law which they set up for the purpose of orderly government and proper justice, yet no one ever followed those rules to perfection, not event those established by Christians.
As Paul states and we can attest to from observation, all people give themselves up to all sorts of perverse behavior, notably homosexuality which here is soundly and forcefully condemned as sin. In fact, the sin itself is its own punishment for it keeps the sinner trapped as a slave unable to do or think otherwise. Thus all pagans, all wicked people, all sinners are under the wrath of God, without hope apart from Jesus. Therefore we Christians must unite under the banner of the Holy Spirit and cease our political infighting so that we may reach out to those who do not know Christ so they, like us, may receive the same gift of eternal life which we have.
As we consider all the events that took place in the last few chapters, Paul imprisonment and trials at Caesarea, the terrible storm, the shipwreck and the bite from the deadly snake, we might think that Satan was really trying hard to disrupt the work of the Lord by assaulting him with all these adversities. Yet the Lord Himself was using all these events to accomplish his will. God had promised Paul that he would go to Rome and bear witness for the gospel and nothing would prevent that from occurring. The Lord’s purpose was to plant the gospel in the center of the Empire from which it would go out to all corners of the earth. To accomplish this, the Lord engineered all these events. In the process the gospel was preached to the people on the ship, to the inhabitants of Malta and then to all those living in the city of Rome. There Paul, though under house arrest, was able to preach to Gentiles and Jews alike, including the Roman soldiers who were guarding him. These guards, paradoxically, were a captive audience.
As Luke draws his account to a close he relates Paul’s final confrontation with the hard-hearted Jews. Paul judges them rather severely with a prophetic word from Isaiah. Although he had always preached first to Jews wherever he went and then Gentiles, from now on he would preach only to the latter. It seems that Luke is telling us that this was the course the church would take. The Jews as a whole had rejected the gospel and continue to do so to the present day, of course with some exceptions. Perhaps Luke is telling us that God finally abandoned the people who clung fast to the Old Covenant. From now on the Gentiles would eagerly embrace faith in Christ and flood into the church as people of the New Covenant sealed in the blood of Christ. New wine is best poured into new wineskins.
It is quite amazing how the Lord works to accomplish His will! Those circumstances of adversity, pain, persecution and rejection which we assume are the devil’s doing are all engineered by the Lord to work out His plan in our lives. We are not mere pawns in the cosmic battle, but we are engaged in the battle and will reap the reward of eternal joy and happiness. So whatever we endure, no matter how painful, we can rejoice that the Lord is working in our lives. Those who endure no adversity are the ones who have rejected the Lord. They need our help and prayer because though they think they are happy and prosperous now, they will reap the pains of eternal punishment unless they repent.
Luke describes to us the dangerous and terrifying voyage to Rome in just a few verses that are filled with vivid and gripping details. Apparently he accompanied Paul along with Aristarchus on this voyage which is why he could relate all the drama and terror those aboard the ship experienced during those few weeks which must have felt like years. Paul was an experienced traveler and so was right to try to urge the pilot and ship owner not to resume the voyage because of the treat of winter storms. This later elevated his stature in the eyes of both crew and passengers so that they listened to him when the situation became hopeless. No doubt his calm and serene attitude in such circumstances also helped them.
Paul trusted in God and never doubted that he would survive the trip. After all, the Lord had promised he would have opportunity to preach the gospel in Rome. The appearance of the Lord in the midst of the storm reinforced that assurance but served also to help how to encourage the others. The Lord would, on account of him, deliver them all.
God does really neat things like this for us when we are engaged in Kingdom business. We endure storms of life such as sickness, pain, economic depression many as dangerous and life-threatening as Paul and his companions suffered. The Lord God promises to carry us through them all. The hope we manifest in such dire and dreadful circumstances serves as a testimony to the unsaved who see our trust and faith. They see in us the all-sovereign power of God on behalf of those He loves. No doubt a few if not many of those 276 on board believed as a result of their deliverance.
Although Festus had made a decision, he hesitated to act especially because of the religious issues of the case. That is why he consulted Herod Agrippa II, the king of the Jews in name if not in power. Paul had a great opportunity to preach the gospel to Festus, Agrippa and his sister Bernice, both descendants of Herod the Great, and acquainted with the Law of Moses. Paul once again presented his testimony which included his zealous acts as a Pharisee, his miraculous conversion, and the Lord’s call upon him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. His testimony included the core beliefs of the faith including the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Sadly, there is no indication that any of these 3 people ever came to faith in Jesus. Paul had made a compelling case about Jesus which challenged, intrigued and threatened them. Rather than believe they dismissed it as nonsense or the ravings of a fanatic. These royal officials were probably too enamored of their comfortable, affluent and immoral lifestyles to want to give them up.
This incident teaches us that not everyone will believe the message about Jesus. Many will belittle the messenger in an effort to assuage their guilt and dismiss the threats of judgment. They desire by any means to reject the truth that draws and appeals to their desire for mercy and forgiveness but which also threatens their false view of themselves as self-sufficient and wise. They will never find happiness and peace until they repent.
Paul’s actions seem a bit strange. To begin with, he insulted the High Priest, Ananais who was enraged by Paul’s opening remark that his conscience was clear. It seemed to him that Paul’s claim that, although now a Christian, he was still a good Jew, was arrogant. To the High Priest the idea that Jesus was the Messiah or that He had risen from the dead was a blasphemous concept. Paul’s response seems to reflect a feeling of anger, which could be justified. Jesus had similar words for the hypocritical Pharisees. Yet when the Lord was before the Sanhedrin on the night He was betrayed, He was struck in the face, but did not respond. More than likely though Paul may not have known he was addressing the high priest. He was known to have had poor eyesight (Gal.4:13-16; 6:11) so that the term “white-washed wall” may have been not so much a reference to hypocrisy as an allusion to a white-robed figure across the court whom Paul could only dimly perceive. Still, the accusation was true whether or not he knew it.
Paul also made remarks about the resurrection that seem designed to deliberately set the Pharisees and the Sadducees against each other. Yet we should not see this as an attempt to curry favor with one side, but as an expression of the gospel spoken out of concern for his accusers. This triggered off further argument, which became violent. After the confrontation between Paul, Ananias, and the Sadducees, the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul and comforted him with the promise that would allay any doubts about his present trial. The Lord told him he would carry the gospel to Rome. This promise would give him the courage and perseverance he would need to carry on during his two years’ imprisonment, his three trials and his perilous voyage to Rome.
Paul’s respect for his accusers should teach us a lesson about relating to others. When we Christians face people who accuse us of wrongdoing, we ought not respond with anger but with respect and love. They may be fools and hypocrites but if we point that out, it will only make them angrier. If we argue with kindness, wisdom and sobriety we may plant the seeds of faith or at very least give our accusers pause for thought.