Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Romans 7:1-12 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: “Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law . . .” (Romans 7:1a).
As a reminder, Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome that was divided between Christians with a Jewish background, those who had dedicated their lives keeping the 613 commandments in the Torah, and Gentile Christians, who had never observed such restrictions and didn’t even know what they were.
When he reasons, sometimes Paul speaks the language of his people, the Jews, in order to reach these same people. He uses the reasoning and language that Jews of this time period would have understood and found affirming.
We do this all the time. I pastor on a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) college campus that has hundreds of non-Adventists in attendance. It’s so entertaining and educational to sometimes simply sit and listen to the confusion of those students who are new to Adventism. Here are some of the things I’ve heard my non-SDA friends say:
“I keep hearing about this really popular teacher here on campus named Ellen White. She’s pretty popular, but I don’t even know what department she teaches in.”
“What’s a haystack? And why would I want to eat one?”
“Does the cafeteria not have a permit to cook meat?”
“What’s with shutting everything down on Saturdays? I went to the market to get something to drink and it was closed!”
Listening to these students try to decode the unfamiliar Adventist system they have inadvertently joined is a constant reminder that subcultures can seem normal to those who are steeped in them, but cryptic and confusing to outsiders.
Paul understood this very well. He spent years studying Gentile culture before he attempted to call this group of people to Christ. He learned their language, their customs, and their lifestyle habits. He was able to be their advocate with the Jewish brethren because he immersed himself in their culture and understood them. Paul became “all things to all people that he might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Paul was also able to switch teams and speak to his own culture. This is what he is doing as he appeals to the Jewish Christians in Romans 7. Paul speaks their language to teach them that the law cannot save them, and they are not bound by it anymore. They are now bound by Christ—to a higher calling, a deeper life, and a freer existence.
Recalibrate: Have you found yourself in a place that left you confused by the inside jokes or language? How did you feel? Out of place? Curious? How do you think visitors feel in your church when they don’t understand the “lingo?”
Respond: Ask God to broaden your scope and help you understand a group of people who are not like you.
Research: Check out these words and phrases found in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible that only an insider would know.
Remember: “Still, the Law and its commands are holy and correct and good” (Romans 7:12, CEV).
Mark Witas is the lead pastor at Pacific Union College Church in Angwin, CA. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Mark has served as a youth pastor, Bible teacher, college and academy chaplain, and lead pastor in the United States and Canada for the last 33 years. He has also authored four books: Born Chosen, Live Out Loud, Portals, and Just Jesus.
Hold your little one’s face gently in your hands and say, “Do you know how much you are loved? Everything is about living love with you. God loves you more than you will ever know. We can relax knowing that God knows the right and good way. We use our ears to hear, our eyes to see, and our hearts to feel the big love God has for us.”
The Bible says, in Romans 7:12, that “The law and its commands are holy and correct and good.” Can you think of words that would describe what holy is, as well as what is correct and what is good? Paul has been talking a lot about the law and how the law cannot save us. Only the gift of grace given to us by Jesus can do that. Have you ever played a game with someone who is all about the rules and you hardly get to play the game because they are so busy looking at the rules? Jesus came to show us how to play. When we learn how He played, the rules take on a whole new meaning.
My best friend is a big, tall, and charismatic guy named Makenzy. He and I have been friends for about six years, and many times when people are around us they have no idea what we are saying to one another. It is almost like we have our own language. People will try to hang out with us, but within an hour they say, “What are you guys talking about?” We have special terms for everything under the sun, and it is so cool to have that bond with him. Chances are, you too have a friend like Makenzy—someone who gets you and to whom you can give a certain “look” that makes you both burst out laughing. It is an amazing thing to have people in your life like this. But with relationships like these has to come intentionality. Sometimes people have had their feelings hurt after spending time with Makenzy and me. They have felt like we did not include them enough, and chances are good that we probably didn’t. Many people have felt this way at church. Have you ever gone to a church where the people all seemed to know something you didn’t know? I would encourage you today to ask yourself how you can be a Christian who is true to who you are, but also welcoming and inclusive to all people. Wouldn’t it be cool if all people felt welcome and included in our churches?