Here are some of my favorite Reformed School posters from previous years
old self – new self – My personal favorite, although I had to take it down as it offended someone at church…
CoD (Canons of Dort)
What’s happening is that Paul is wrestling with many of the same questions that we struggle with… the same questions our students have asked lately, such as “Why did God choose me,” and “How come there are so many people that God didn’t choose?”
I can’t give a better answer to these questions than what Paul has written in chapter 9, so we went through it verse by verse. God does not fully reveal this answer to us. Instead, he wants us to focus on the amazing fact that he chose us before the world was even created. The words of this hymn sum it up the best:
I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He hath made known,
nor why, unworthy, Christ in love redeemed me for His own.
I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart,
nor how believing in His Word wrought peace within my heart.
But I know whom I have believ-ed, and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day!
Romans 9:16- It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
Romans chapter nine is one of the most difficult passages to understand in all of scripture. Here are some questions to help you discuss it at home. Feel free to post a few answers below, or even to ask other questions!
1) Did the Israelites choose to serve God, or did God choose to make the Israelites His people? What’s the difference, and why is it important?
2) Is it fair that God chooses some people for salvation, but not others?
3) The last few verses of chapter nine talk about how God became a ‘stumbling block’ to the Israelites. What does Paul mean here? How do we sometimes stumble over God?
4) How is this chapter frustrating? How is it comforting? How does this chapter affect our attitude and outlook on life?
Paul ends this magnificent chapter we’ve been studying for the last three weeks with some of the most powerful promises in all of scripture. In the first segment of chapter eight, we learned that as Christians we can positively know beyond a doubt that we are saved. In this last segment, we learn that no matter what happens, God will never let go of us. I doubt Paul had postmodern pre-teens in mind when he wrote this, but this is exactly the foundation our kids need as they prepare for life in our fallen world.
This passage also emphasizes the concept of predestination. I think the kidsalready knew that they have been chosen by God, but now they’re also beginning to struggle with the fact that if God choose them, there are some that He did not choose. This is a natural reaction, and I’m glad to see it in them because it tells me they’re starting to get it. Even the Apostle Paul agonized over this concept, as evidenced by what he writes in the next three chapters.
God’s sovereign election can be an unpleasant topic, but we need to understand it in order to fully appreciate the grace God’s given us. I can tell from the responses I get in class that these kids know they are saved. Pastors Jelmer and David are planning another membership class soon, and I’ve been encouraging the kids to sign up for it, and I hope you’ll encourage them at home as well. While there are many things we can make our kids do, this is not one of them; it needs to be their decision. Please pray that they will take advantage of this opportunity.
We study the book of Romans in junior high Sunday school because it neatly summarizes the entire Bible. What makes Romans chapter 8 remarkable is that it summarizes the book of Romans; so it is a summary of a summary of the Bible. That makes each and every word hugely important. The chapter is divided into three sections.
Paul begins the chapter with bold, triumphant proclamations like,
- Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; and
- Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.
We’re all familiar with the tremendous promises found in the last section of the chapter, such as:
- We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and
- If God is for us, who can be against us? and,
- That nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.
However, we’re less familiar with the middle section of the chapter. Ironically, it is these 9 short verses that really gets at what the Christian life is all about.
Read Chapter 8:18-27
This section tells of our past, present and future. We, as well as the entire creation, have been subjected to frustration. We, as well as the entire creation, will be redeemed and liberated into the glorious freedom that comes by being adopted as God’s children. However, Paul writes that these things are yet unseen. This is the future that we hope for.
Look at the present tense phrases- the words Paul uses to describe the Christian life right now. Words like suffering, groaning, weakness, pain. It is in the midst of this reality where the key to our best life now is: to patiently wait and hope in eager expectation. Certainly we all agree in the abstract that we ought to patiently and eagerly wait for God’s coming redemption, but it’s a bit trickier to put this into practice.
The example we developed in class is to consider your self an orphan in a run down, Charles Dickens style orphanage. You fill the seemingly endless days with monotonous chores and tasks, with only the anticipation of more suffering. One day, however, word comes down that you’ve been adopted by the richest, most kind and generous parents in the land. Although you’re not sure when they are coming, the adoption papers have been signed, sealed, and delivered.
Imagine what this news would do for your attitude! Even though you’re still at the orphanage, you’re not really an orphan any more. The rooms would seem warmer, the gruel would taste less bland, and you’d breeze through your chores while always keeping one eye looking out the window, because when your new parents come, you’ll want nothing to do with the orphanage. Everything changes when you have hope. Now imagine that your new parents have told you to invite all the other orphans to come to them for adoption!
This is how we are to live, as adopted sons who are still at the orphanage. We wait patiently and eagerly by glorifying God in our jobs, homes, churches and school. Although we will often experience frustration, we do so in hope, knowing that our Father will come at any moment and that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is to come. When that happens we need to be ready to instantly and eager let go of the gruel we cling so hard to in this life.
God doesn’t make us wait alone, however. His Spirit is with us every step of the way, and even when we don’t know what to say, he’s there, interceding for us with groans that words cannot express.
So, as we continue on through the chores we have in this world, make sure to keep one eye looking out the window, because the best is yet to come.
We study the book of Romans in Jr. High Sunday School because it summarizes the entire Bible in 16 short chapters. Chapter 8 summarizes the entire book of Romans. This is the stuff we’ve been working towards all year long. We’ll be studying chapter 8 until we get to the Christmas break.
Here’s a just few examples of what we talked about in class this week:
Rom 8:1 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Notice the present tense of the grammar. Our redemption is not a future event, something that may or may not occur, rather there IS NOW no condemnation! We already stand before God made righteous in Christ. As I’ve mentioned previously, the phrase ‘in Christ’ is huge for Paul, and it doesn’t translate well. A better rendering would be to say that we are into Christ, just like when you walk into a room you are in it, and not outside of it. This may seem odd to mention, but stand by- you’ll see why it’s important in a minute.
Rom. 8:9- “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” This sentence is sort of like an algebra problem- there’s more than one way to structure it. Paul phrases it negatively:
Not having the Spirit = Not belonging to Christ
Just like in algebra, the ‘nots’ can cancel each other out, making the phrase:
Have the Spirit = Belonging to Christ
Again, just like in math, the equation is reciprocal, meaning we can flip the statement around:
Belong to Christ = Having the Spirit
This is all more than just a math lesson- it’s proof that we can be ASSURED of our salvation! Elsewhere the Bible tells us the only way we recognize our need for salvation is by the power of the Spirit. So if we recognize Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and this recognition only comes by the Spirit, this means that we do belong to Christ Jesus!
Rom 8:12-13- “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” I always harp on my students that there is nothing that we can do to earn salvation because it is a gift, but yet we do have an obligation! Notice that Paul does not write that we have an obligation to paint houses, help orphans in Zambia, or go on mission trips. Rather, we have an obligation to put to death the misdeeds of the body. Remember, before we can come to life in our new self, we must first die to our old self!
Here’s why it was important to mention we’ve been brought INTO Christ. I explained in class that it is impossible to be both fully inside and fully outside of a room at the same time- it’s either one or the other. This leaves us with a conundrum- We are ALREADY fully in Christ, but yet we have NOT YET left this sinful world. This is an un-resolvable tension in the Christian’s life- we’re called to live both totally outside of and totally inside the world at the same time! Tension is always uncomfortable, and we seek to alleviate it, but we must not in this case. I know this is hard to grasp, but take a breath a read on…
As we put to death our misdeeds, we come to new life in Christ, and it is in this new life which we are called to paint houses, help orphans in Zambia, or go on mission trips. This cycle of putting to death and coming to life is ongoing until we finally fully realize our new life in the Kingdom of God. Until then, we are pilgrims who are not yet home.
The motivation here is what’s critical- we must do these things out of gratitude for our salvation. If we do them to earn our salvation, God views these ‘good’ deeds as idolatry! Our good deeds do not usher in the Kingdom of God (which is like trying to drag the inside of a room outside), but they do reduce pain and misery and give us the opportunity to glorify God for what He as done for us.
Anyways, we had a good discussion about this in class. As you can see though, this can be a very confusing passage, so be sure to take the time to go through verses 1-17 at home. Ask your student to explain what a Christian time line looks like. Let me know if you have any questions (just a note, you can leave a comment or question below without leaving your name if you like).
Here’s a starter question: Is it possible to have a Christian city, state, or nation?
Romans 7 is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. Right after teaching us that we are in Christ and made just-as-if-i’d never sinned, Paul explains that sanctification- becoming more like God- is not an instantaneous process. Rather, it’s a life long struggle: in fact, Paul says we’re AT WAR with our old selves.
We’re conditioned to relieve tension in our lives wherever we find it. If we’re cold, we turn up the heat. If we’re hungry, we eat. If we’re bogged down with work, we take a break. Obviously, this sort of alleviation isn’t always bad, but this type of mindset can’t translate to our Christian life.
When we sin, bad things happen; things that cause pain and hurt. So our human nature seeks to alleviate this tension. We ignore the pain, pretend it’s not there, and convince ourselves that we’re really not so bad (remember our inner churchie?). Our efforts to smooth things out cause us to do exactly what we learned about in chapter 1: we suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Rather than injure our glorious egos and self esteems, we tell our selves that sin isn’t sin.
The Catechism reminds us that there’s two parts to our conversion. The second part, the coming to life of our new self, gets a whole lot more attention than the first: the dying away of our old self. For most of us, including the venerable Apostle Paul, this is a slow, painful death. Although we have been ALREADY made one with Christ, we have NOT YET fully realized this new life. As Pastor Jelmer has said, our inner being is at home with God, but our feet are still on this sinful planet.
Martin Luther said there are two kinds of Christians- Christians of the cross, and Christians of glory. The Christians of glory seek to alleviate the tension we feel by masking the effects of sin, by explaining away the mysteries of God, and focus all of their attention on this world. On the other hand, a Christian of the cross accepts the painful tension caused by living simultaneously in two different realms; he’s willing to let God kill away his old sinful self, as painful as that sometimes is; and remembers that he is just a pilgrim in this sinful world, willing to be a good servant and steward wherever God has placed him, but also ready to drop it in an instant to claim the promises of eternity.
The Apostle Paul, the one who spent considerable time in the presence of the resurrected Christ, the one who bravely brought the gospel to the marketplace of the world, finishes this chapter with these words:
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
The next chapter, eight, is one of the most remarkable passages in all of literature. Next week, there is no Sunday School, so we need to wait to hear these promises. That’s ok. Take these two weeks and read through the second half of chapter seven several times, both alone and with your family. Read it slowly- let it sink in. Don’t try and relieve the tension by putting a happy face on this passage. If you don’t feel a bit like the fella in the top picture, you need to re-read it.
But don’t forget Paul’s answer to his own question:
“Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
We’re continuing on in what is sort of a transitional part of the book of Romans. In this section, Paul explains some of the ‘mechanics’ as to how it is that we are saved. This is ground work for some of the tough questions that are addressed in chapters 7-11. It’s a good thing we’re almost to this next section, because the kids are already asking some of those tough questions in class.
After nailing down a couple of key issues in chapters 4 & 5 like how our salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, chapter six shows how it is by Christ alone (notice that these are the key issues rediscovered by the Reformers). The theme of chapter six is one that is huge in all of Paul’s letters: We have died to our old sinful selves, and come to new life in Christ.
One of the key ways chapter six describes this concept is by explaining baptism. We often associate baptism with cute little babies at the beginning of their life. But here Paul ties baptism in with death! “3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Death?!?!?!? That doesn’t sound like good news at all!
If you remember the baptism class I taught last year, you’ll remember when we talked about how there’s nothing wrong with sprinkling the baptismal water, however, I think we lose some symbolism in doing so. Think instead of the immersion method. A person is dipped down into the water- symbolizing how we’re joined into Christ’s death. Our old self dies in doing so. Death is a necessary condition for what happens next: “5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” After being dipped down, the person is raised up into new life, having been joined with Christ. There’s the good news!
Like I mentioned earlier, this chapter is somewhat technical, but we can’t tackle the tough issues we have ahead of us without understanding this. The old self/new self distinction is key to understanding Christian living.
NEW WORD OF THE WEEK: SANCTIFICATION- The process of becoming holy. Notice how justification was a one time event- we’ve already been made just-as-if-I’d never sinned through Christ’s death and resurrection. Sanctification, on the other hand, will continue on as long as we breath air.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: The whole class gets credit for this one. They successfully got me totally off track, and we began discussing how God exists in eternity as opposed to our existence in time. At one point, each one of the kids was excitedly adding their two cents and asking each other some incredible questions. I let them go for awhile, like a fisherman letting his catch pull some line out. What happened next was nothing short of amazing:
The class divided themselves up into two groups. Group A said that God had no beginning, but now he experiences time along with us. Group B said that God must have had a beginning, because anything that is has to have begun at some point. I did point out to them that both groups were wrong, but what amazed me is that this is the same argument that two Greek fellas had several thousand years ago- namely Plato (group A) and Aristotle (group B). Within five minutes these kids had developed thoughts roughly equivalent to some of the greatest thinkers ever! This is why I push these kids so hard, because I know what they’re capable of.
So what do y’all think? How does God exist in relation to time?
QUESTION FOR HOME DISCUSSION: After reading chapter six, discuss how being slaves to righteousness sets us free. Feel free to comment here if you wish.