I actually wrote this yesterday, I was just a little slow in posting it…
For the first time in a long time, Scripture came alive in my heart today. I’ve been going through Romans for the last couple weeks and for the most part it’s been an intellectually stimulating experience. Paul wrote this letter in a way that is not quite easy to understand and when reading the English Standard Version (which has a phraseology that is a little more complex than the sixth grade reading level), I have to slow down and take it in bit by bit.
Another problem I’m faced with in reading Romans is the knowledge that this is a book which many doctrines are derived from. So much of Romans deals with doctrinal subjects and for me, it kind of closes the text down. Knowing a lot of material in Romans has formed the backbone for many doctrines, I have a hard time reading this letter in any other kind of light. What normally might feed my soul doesn’t because I get tripped up in trying to understand the doctrinal statement in the text. I’m not saying that it isn’t important to understand the doctrines within the text, but I have a problem with having the doctrines being my only guide through the text. I don’t like being told what a text says simply because that’s what many others have agreed upon. I like reading through Scripture and allowing God to speak to me what He will.
This morning, Romans 10:8-9 and 13:10 came alive. Romans 10:8-9 says this, “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” In previous times of reading through Romans, I understood this as the doctrinal statement saying if you do this and this, then you’re saved. Today it seems to be understood as a requirement for being saved; that you have to confess with your mouth that you believe in Jesus. This is what came to mind when I reread it a couple days ago, but this morning it completely changed gears when listening to Danny’s message.
He did something this morning he very rarely does; he disregarded the message he prepared and spoke a message that came to him during the last song of worship. I imagine that it took a great deal of courage to surrender what he had prepared to say and speak what God told him to say. I imagine there was a little uneasiness in listening to God. But nonetheless, it was a message in great need. He challenged the church with, well, being the church. The song that moved him had the lyrics, “Those who trust in the Lord/Are a strong mountain/ They cannot…not be moved.” What he pointed out was basically our lack of enthusiasm at those words. Those who trust in the Lord simply cannot be moved. What he then went into was the difference between trusting in the Lord and trusting tradition.
It’s not our trust in systematic theology or unsystematic theology or the right list of doctrines or the wrong list of doctrines that makes us immovable. It’s our trust in the Lord. Our doctrines, theologies and various beliefs have all stemmed from our reactions to the Lord. They’ve been formed in an attempt to better understand Jesus and to live out His commandments more efficiently. But it’s not our trust in them that makes us strong; it’s our faith and trust in Him. When Danny started talking about the various elements that attack our hearts on a daily basis (worry, anxiety, trials, depression, doubt, etc.), that’s when Romans 10:9 changed lights. I no longer saw it as a message of doctrine, but instead a message of hope. “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul reminded the Romans that no matter what happens to them, the word – the word of faith – was always in their hearts. No one could remove what their hearts contained, especially if they believed in God’s power to raise Jesus from the dead.
I could not see this message of hope with the doctrine in the way. This might make some uneasy for me to say that I thought a doctrine got in the way, but it’s the truth. I could not see what perhaps God wanted me to see because of the doctrine stemming from this verse (the one about believing internally and externally that Jesus is Lord then you’re saved). Before this morning, I felt this Scripture was stale, dried out and lost in “Christianese,” as Danny likes to say. But after his spontaneous message, it came to life and actually fed my soul. Removing all hindrances, even traditional tools intended to help better understand something, is the only way we can really let God feed us.
The second passage that came to life this morning was after Danny’s message. At Calvary we have informational meetings the first Sunday of every month, which means today was the one for December. In this meeting Danny was talking about how well or not well the various ministries were doing and what might be needed to help them and whatnot. Towards the end there was a message of encouragement to all who were there to get our hands dirty, essentially, in helping to help build the church up. There are many people coming together at Calvary to make an impact in each others’ lives and in the lives of the community. We’re fellowshipping more often to build better, stronger relationships within the congregation to better and strengthen our relationships with the community. It’s twofold.
At the end of it all, Danny was talking about how this is the gospel, this is what defines love: that we care for one another and bless others as we would do for ourselves. Romans 13:10 popped right into my mind: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” God’s law does not get fulfilled by us merely believing in it; it gets fulfilled when we live it and we live it through the action of love. Love is not just a feeling in God’s eyes; it’s primarily an action. Jesus says the entire law can be summed up by the two commands of loving God and loving each other. I think we miss the point when we place so much emphasis on “sound doctrine,” right beliefs, right theologies, etc. To me, it kills what Jesus set in motion. He didn’t come to establish another organized, systematic religion; He came to establish a human revolution revolving and depending upon this thing called selfless love. He came to establish His kingdom. We won’t ever realize what that kingdom looks like if we continue to allow tradition, religion and basically our comfort zones to get in the way. Today Scripture came alive to me and I’m thirsty, hungry and eager for more – a feeling I have not had in a long time. Praise God.