Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Testament Lesson #36 "Beloved of God, Called to be Saints"

Romans

"Romans is a letter, not a treatise on gospel subjects.  It is not written to the world, but to the saints, to people who already know and understand the doctrines of salvation.  Paul's comments on gospel subjects presuppose an extensive prior knowledge on the part of his readers.  He does not here expound doctrines as such; he simply comments about them, leaving unsaid the volumes of gospel understanding already possessed by the saints.  Romans, hence is not a source of gospel knowledge for the spiritually untutored; it is not the initial place to turn to learn of Christ and his laws.  In the hands of the sectarian world, Romans is a book on calculus in the hands of students who are still struggling to learn the basics of common arithmetic" (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:211-212).  This accounts for so many misunderstandings in the Christian world about the doctrines of salvation.  Fortunately, as Latter-day Saints, we have access to the doctrinal "arithmetic" in our other witness of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon.  With that basic knowledge, we can understand the "college course" taught by Paul in Romans.

CONTEXT

Romans, like most of the other epistles, was written to correct a problem existing among the saints in Rome.  The Romans had taken the teachings of Paul that we find in Galatians about having liberty in Christ and twisted them into liscenciousness, thinking that they could do anything and Christ would cover it--"continuing in sin" and thinking that "grace would abound."  (See Rom. 6:1.)  Paul was appalled by this.  "God forbid!" he wrote in verse 2, which, translated into English loses its very, very forceful Greek meaning.  "It is unbelievably impossible!  Abhorent!  It cannot be imagined!"  (Gaye Strathern, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 2011, personal notes 10:68).

So Romans was written to explain how grace and works work together.

A good way to approach any doctrine is to ask what, why and how.  Once we understand the answer to one of these questions, we can add to that knowledge by pursuing the answer to the next question.  It creates a snowball effect of understanding.

Write on the top of the blackboard:  ROMANS
Write on the left side of the blackboard, in a column: 
WHAT?
WHY?
HOW?

Since Romans is "doctrinal calculus" it is nice, and even necessary, to have a little help from a gospel "professor" in understanding it.  Fortunately, we have just that right in our scriptures: The LDS King James Bible is the only one in the world (as far as I know) that has chapter headings summarizing the content of the chapter.  These chapter headings were written by the scripture committee, and principally by Elder Bruce R. McConkie.  In each chapter, then, we have a great little guide and commentary about the content of the chapter, its meaning, and particularly its key elements.

WHAT IS THE MAIN MESSAGE OF ROMANS?

"The gospel of Christ...is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:Heading).

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (1:16)

But:  "God shall render to every man according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:Heading).

"[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath" (Rom. 2:6-7).

Write on blackboard next to WHAT:  The Atonement Saves Us, But We Must Qualify 

WHY DO WE NEED THE ATONEMENT?

"For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"  (3:23).

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned..."  (5:12)

Let's read a little bit about what really happened to us with the fall of Adam:

"So how does the fall of Adam and Eve still affect us?  As their physical offspring, we inherit the physical consequences of their actions just as we inherit their changed physical condition.  The offspring of Adam and Eve are fallen physically.  That may not be apparent to people in their twenties who are enjoying good health, but when we are sick or injured and as we age, the evidence becomes more clear--to be born is also to suffer and die.  There is no more inexorable connection, no more firmly established scientific certainty in the natural world than that.  The bad news here is particularly bad:  at some point in your life, whatever is wrong with you will get worse, and then you'll die" (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ, p. 50).

We are physically fallen.

"Besides being physically fallen, we are also spiritually fallen.  That can be correctly described as geographical separation from God, being physically excluded from his presence because of our fallen and sinful condition.  But the spiritual aspects of the Fall are more directly experienced as feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, alienation, anxiety, depression, and guilt.  Where once we lived and talked with heavenly parents for thousands, perhaps millions, of years, suddenly we have been separated from that divine influence.  What comfort, what security must our parents have given us as we grew up under the loving care.  How much a part of our lives they must have become in those premortal aeons.  Now, like homesick freshmen, we suffer from a tremendous separation anxiety, a sense of loss brought about by the Fall, but because the veil has been drawn over our minds, we cannot remember what it is that we so desperately miss.  The resulting condition might be called severe spiritual trauma, like being hit on the head, kidnapped, and waking up as a slave with amnesia in Timbuktu.  In our spiritually more sensitive moments, we may feel that something isn't quite right about all this, but until we find and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ we can't really know what is wrong with this life or how to fix it" (Robinson, p. 51-52).

So we are also spiritually fallen.

"While the physical and spiritual aspects of the Fall, death, and separation from God get a lot of attention, I would like to point out some other aspects that are often overlooked but that also have a profound impact on us here in mortality.  For example, we often forget that as fallen beings we are mentally fallen...We bring no data with us from behind the veil...Even if fallen reason did have reliable data to start with, we couldn't follow it through to correct conclusions, for intellect itself is a defective instrument.  If a yardstick that is too long or too short is always used to measure itself when it is checked, the error will never be detected.  Since intellect is our fallen yardstick, intellect can never detect its own distortions.  Most of us are aware that our universe keeps surprising us, that it resists our attempts to impose our understanding upon it.  We live daily with the bloody noses that result from the way things really are being different from the way we suppose them to be"  (Robinson, p. 52-53).

We are mentally fallen.

"Another way in which we are fallen is emotionally.  Our emotions, like our flesh, are part of our carnal natures.  They are flawed and often out of control.  We cannot choose our temperament.  We don't usually choose what will 'bug' us.  Sometimes our emotional state can be influenced by physical or chemical factors in the brain, and in these cases may not be governed by agency or subject to accountability.  However, in most cases our fallen emotions, like our fallen bodies, can and must be subjected to the rule of our spirits"  (Robinson, p. 55).

We are emotionally fallen.

"Also we are fallen morally.  That means our sense of right and wrong is defective.  While it may be true that we can usually let our conscience be our guide, many times different individuals get contradictory indications from their consciences, and often conscience does not state any opinion whatever...The light of Christ gives all people enough information to be held accountable for some sins, and perhaps to avoid certain sins, but it cannot be a substitute for the Holy Ghost...We receive a physical body, which naturally seeks pleasure rather than righteousness because it has no ability to distinguish between right and wrong--flesh has no conscience" (Robinson, p. 56).

We are morally fallen.

"The Fall is not in itself the immediate cause of our personal sins, but it does put us in a bad neighborhood where we may encounter and be enticed by sin.  That enticement, combined with the enthusiastic urging of our carnal self, often overcomes the righteous desires of our spirit, and we pollute ourselves" (Robinson, p. 58).

Nothing about us is without flaw!  It is impossible for us to succeed!

Write on the blackboard next to WHY?  Because of our fallen state, we are unable to save ourselves.

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.  Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.  But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (5:19-21).

Note that chapter 7 of Romans has major changes made by the Joseph Smith Translation, from verse 5 through the end of the chapter, completely reversing the message.  You may want to draw a light X through each column to bring attention to this fact, so that you never read one of these verses out of context. Although this is a long passage to read aloud in class, it is one we seldom read and are unfamiliar with because it is tucked away in the Appendix, so it may well be worth the time.

HOW CAN WE RECEIVE THE POWER OF THE ATONEMENT?

In the Book of Mormon, as King Benjamin taught the gospel of the Atonement to the Nephites, they all fell to the earth, as they "viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth" (Mosiah 4:2).  They realized that if God were to "render to them according to their deeds" and according to their fallen state, they were in big trouble!  But King Benjamin taught the same gospel that Paul taught and so the Nephites knew where to find hope.  "And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins..." (Mosiah 4:2). They were asking to be returned to a state of guiltlessness.  They were asking for justification. 

"But how is this gift [of justification] given and received? The scriptures are explicit: it is received by exercising faith in him who can give the gift...[Here is] how that process works: As we come to Christ in faith, repenting of our sins, and covenant with him in the waters of baptism to keep his commandments, he justifies us—treats us as though we are guiltless—even though we are not yet perfect. He does this so that we might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which will cleanse us of sin as we repent and work out our salvation 'with fear and trembling.'" (Michael Wilcox, "I Have a Question," Ensign, June 1996).

Gaye Strathern explains that justification is an external change, it is a change in status.  It is like being washed with water.

But this is not all that the Atonement will do for us.  The Atonement can also sanctify us.  Sanctification is an internal change, it is a change in our state of being, not just our status before God.  It is like being purified with fire.

"As we progress from “grace to grace,” receiving “grace for grace” (see D&C 93:12–20), we will eventually be perfected and be able to stand before the Father fully justified as one who has become like him—guiltless, perfect, and holy. In the scriptures, the process by which we are cleansed and perfected is often called sanctification. Those who are justified by Christ and receive the Holy Ghost are sanctified, or 'reborn.'" (Wilcox).

The Nephites asked for justification and sanctification:

"O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men" (Mosiah 4:2).

In Romans, Paul explains the two-fold process of sanctification (justification being the first part of it) as an adoption.

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father"  (8:14-15).  Remember, Abba's English equivalent is Daddy.  "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (8:16-17).

There are two kinds of "children of God."  In one sense, everyone is a child of God, begotten spirit sons and daughters of our heavenly parents.  But the children of God this scripture is talking about are the heirs to the kingdom, people who have met some qualifications, who have "received the adoption," who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ, and who are growing and becoming like him (their Father) through the keeping of their covenants: it is a subset of the other general type of children of God (Strathern).

An infant or small child who is legally adopted by parents needs to do or say nothing to be adopted; the adoption is completely in the hands of the parents and the court.  But if prospective parents want to adopt an older child or teenager (in the United States), that child must state in court that he desires to be adopted by those parents.  He has to "receive" the adoption. 

Once an adoption is final, the adopted child is legally identical in status to a child that was conceived and birthed by those parents.  A new birth certificate will be issued stating that the child was born to those parents. Within the glorious walls of our temples, that child who is sealed to an adoptive family is theirs eternally, just as if he had been born into that family.

As a member of a family, an adopted child can learn to lose her fear of hunger, danger, loneliness, and failure and can trust in the love and care of her parents.

As a member of the family of Christ, we also must learn to trust in the love and care of our parent, our "Daddy." 



 When one of our daughters was three years old, she took a thick, black preschool crayon and, starting at her bedroom door, drew a line at her eye level all the way around the room, over the closet doors, on the dresser front, on the bed frame, under the window, over the toy china closet and back to the door.  When I discovered it, I was understandably rather shocked!  It was a lot of damage to her beautiful little light-blue bedroom. 

But did I send her packing because she colored on the walls?  Of course not.  I was upset, frustrated...I insisted that she help me scrub the walls with a toothbrush and baking soda paste.  Of course, her help didn't really help that much, and most of the cleaning was actually done by me.  But even as a very imperfect parent, kicking her out of the family would never have occurred to me!  Is there any reasonably loving parent who would throw out a three-year-old for coloring on the walls?  Of course not.  There would be no children left in families if that were the case.  Loving parents understand that a 3-year-old, or a 10-year-old, or a 21-year-old, or even a 45-year-old, lacks understanding and development.  When mistakes occur, the parent helps the child to recognize them, to make amends, and to understand how to do better.  Love deepens between parent and child, a little more maturity develops in the child, and so the process continues throughout life.

Similarly, we must "receive" the adoption into the family of Jesus Christ if we want to be children of God and heirs to the kingdom.  We do this by making covenants--entering into the waters of baptism, taking upon us the name of Christ, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, making and keeping temple covenants, and growing more and more like our "Daddy" until the end of our probation.

Being a member of Christ's family gives us a great sense of freedom, freedom to try, freedom to fail, freedom to learn, freedom to receive help.  As we "receive the adoption" we are justified; that is, our status is changed outwardly as we repent and are baptized.  Legally, we are now children of God.  As we receive also the Gift of the Holy Ghost and use it throughout our lives, continue to repent, receive instruction from and develop a closer relationship with our Father Jesus Christ (the head of our family, which is the Church and Kingdom of God), make and keep more covenants, and continue faithful to the end, we qualify to be sanctified; that is, our inward state is changed to become like our Parent.

Because our parent is all-knowing and all-powerful and all-present, and because He loves us intensely and individually, we can trust in his care, relax, and flow with the external circumstances of our lives.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called [adopted] according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). 

As we develop this relationship by believing in Christ, trusting him (Mosiah 4:9), following him, and continually repenting (Mosiah 4:10-11), King Benjamin taught that we can enter into his rest, even in this fallen life.  "And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true" (Mosiah 4:12).

Paul wrote to the Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  ...Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35, 38-39).

SEEKING FOR ZION

The rest of Romans is counsel for church members to build up a Zion society.  If you want to discuss this, you might ask class members to read their favorite scriptures that they might already have underlined in Romans and share their throughts on them.  For a class that hasn't done much personal scripture study, you could pass out the following scripture references and ask them to read them and have the class comment on them.  Or you could read and comment on the chapter headings.

10:13-14
12:5-8
12:9-15
12:21
13:11-12
14:10-13
15:1

2 comments:

La Reina said...

Great lesson development. Thank you for posting!

John West said...

I really appreciate your outline. Loved the example of the 3 year old daughter! Great analogy