morgan_understand the Bible for yourself.htm
updated 2006 11 30




Understand
the 
Bible
for
Yourself 

 


Tecwyn Morgan 

Christadelphian Bible Mission, 
404 Shaftmoor Lane, 
Birmingham, B28 8SZ
UK

“Understand the Bible for Yourself” – 2006 – © CBM 
First Printing – 2006 ISBN 085189 170 5 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 

Cover  Photos.com 

Bible Quotations  Scripture quotations are from the The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by Harper Collins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

Illustrations  Clipart.com; Christian Clipart; Paul Wasson; Darren Storey; Dynamic Graphics; Doug Hardy; John Norcross. All rights reserved. 

Preparation Thanks to Sue Mathias, John S Roberts, Andrew E Walker and John Morris, for their assistance and advice. 

Further copies are available from the Publishers: Christadelphian Bible Mission, 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Birmingham, B28 8SZ UK

Printed by: Printland Publishers, GPO Box 159, Hyderabad, 500001, India 
Printland Publishers is the Printing and Paper Division of Culcreuch Exports Pvt Ltd, India 

 


 




..................Chapter in Romans         Page 
The Gospel of God         All                 1 
The Holy Scriptures                          12 
On Reading the Bible                         28 
Why God is Angry with His World 1-2          37 
The Problem of Sin and Death 3               51 
What do we know about God? 1–3              65 
What do we know about Jesus? 1–8            80 
Father and Son Together 3:20-22              97 
Why did Jesus have to Die? 3:25             113 
How we can be Justified by Faith 3–4       125 
What is the Faith that Saves? 4             141 
Jesus Christ – the Promised King 5         158 
How can We become like Jesus? 5             177 
What exactly is Christian Baptism? 6        193 
What happens after Baptism? 6–8            209 
Who or what is the Holy Spirit? 8           225 
How do I become Immortal? 8                 244 
What happens at the Resurrection? 8         262 
The Promised Reward 9                       278 
The Coming Kingdom of God 10–11            295 
What about the Jews? 9–11                  311 
How will it all End? 9–11                  328 
The Punishment of the Wicked 9–11          348 
What about the Devil and Satan? 9–11       362 
How should we Worship God? 12               382 
The Believer and the State 13               397 
Living together as Believers 14-16          413 
What should I do Now?                       427 
Summary of the Gospel                       438 
Answers to some Questions                   451 
Subject Index                               470 


 

Preface 


If the front door of a building swung shut leaving you locked outside, you would soon know how important a key really is. With it you could gain easy access again. Without it you would be unhappy, for it could take you quite a while to get back in. 

But what if someone then arrived with the key? How welcome that would be! As it turned in the lock, you would probably be resolving never to be without your own key again. And all that just about gaining access to a building! How would you feel if someone arrived with the key to eternal life? If you were told you could get into God’s House – somewhere you could live forever – wouldn’t that mean much? 

That key exists and you may well have it already. The Bible is the key that God has given to show us how to live for ever. Understand for yourself what it really teaches and, with God’s help, you can live for ever in a perfect world. Without the key, however, you will be shut out of all that is due to happen when God puts the final phase of His rescue plan into effect. 

Several times in the past, God has intervened in human affairs and the outcome has always been dramatic and hugely important. He is about to do the same again; this time on a bigger scale than ever before. The whole world is going to be changed and a new society will be formed out of the wreckage of the old one. All the indications are that this change is about to begin. We need to think about it, and what it means for us and our families. 

This book will explain what is about to happen and why. But, even more importantly, it will show you how to find the key that will let you into God’s new world. This book is not the key. The Bible is the key and this is a book about the Bible. It can help you understand what the Bible teaches and help you read the Bible for yourself. It will tell you what the author thinks is true Bible teaching, and what the church he belongs to teaches. But this book is not about him or about his church. It is about you – to help you read and understand the Bible – a book that many people find confusing and difficult. 

It will give you things to think about; suggest some answers and show you how to work things out for yourself. It invites you to check your own understanding against the conclusions presented here. 

It does not start at the beginning of the Bible and work its way through. There are other books that do that. This one looks at one New Testament letter, which happens to contain a summary of the gospel of God. Then it looks elsewhere in the Bible to see where those ideas came from and to find out more about what they really mean. We hope you will find this a challenging and informative read. 

 


 

1 The Gospel of God





When the second part of the Bible was being written – what is now called the “New Testament” – the Romans ruled the earth. They had established a powerful empire which had an iron grip on the developed world, in and around the Mediterranean Sea. Within that empire was the tiny but troublesome country known as “Israel”, which occupied the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean. 

The nation of Israel has had a really up-and-down history. The Jewish people were descendants of Abraham. They had gone to live in Egypt where, after many years, they had been made slaves. From there God rescued them to become His people,1 a nation that would be especially privileged. There were about 600,000 adult Jewish men in Egypt at that time, about 3500 years ago, and God asked them and their families to undertake a huge challenge. 

He said that He would be their God if they would be His people, and they readily agreed. They made a formal agreement together – called a “covenant” or “testament” – which is what the first part of the Bible is all about. That’s why it’s called the “Old Testament”. It is mainly about God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, while the second part, the “New Testament”, is about God’s great offer of salvation to all nations. It’s really one Bible, in two parts, not two Bibles. And we need both parts to understand God’s message to us. That message came first through the people of Israel and then through the work of Jesus and his followers. 

It is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ that makes the difference and separates the two parts of the Bible. That difference was becoming clear when the apostle Paul picked up his pen to write a letter to believers who lived in Rome – the capital city of the Roman empire. He wrote that he hoped to visit them but, before he did this, he wanted to explain his understanding of the purpose of God. Paul was a very colourful character and had become a believer in very dramatic circumstances.2 The letter had a particular purpose when it was written and contains details about certain things that were happening at that time.3 But because it contains Paul’s detailed explanation of what he believed, the Letter to the Romans is a wonderful help to us today. It gives us a summary of the gospel as it was believed and taught by the apostles, so we can work out for ourselves just what true Christianity is all about. 

Before we look at that summary, remember that this is about First Century Christianity. This is when Jesus was born and when he taught his followers, and the whole of the New Testament was written within sixty or so years of his death. That was a long time ago, but if you want to understand what Jesus and his immediate followers taught, you have to go back to their original words and not rely on what other people might tell you. If it turns out that Paul’s teaching does not fully match up with what you believe, you will need to think that through. If you have no personal views or beliefs about Christianity at this stage, then everything will be new to you. 

Here’s a useful tip at the very start. Try to approach the Bible as though it was the first time you had ever read it. Be ready to learn what it teaches – not what you think it teaches – and there is every likelihood that you will understand it better than if you have already made up your mind about what it says. That’s not always easy to do, especially if you already have strong views, but it will undoubtedly prove helpful if you can manage to do that. 



Letter to the Romans 

You might want to take some time now to read the letter for yourself, before or after this summary. Notice how the letter begins and what the apostle is setting out to achieve. Here are the opening verses: 

“[1] Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, [2] which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, [3] concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh [4] and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, [5] through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, [6] including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. [7] To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1-7 ESV).4 

If you are not familiar with the Bible you may be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to read and how readily it can be understood. Notice also how much information it contains in just a few verses.5 Here is a short summary of what we learn from these introductory verses. It illustrates how you can gain information, almost without realising what is happening. 

Paul introduces himself as someone who serves Jesus Christ and who has been called to be his spokesperson, or “apostle” (verse 1). 

He says that his function, as an apostle, is to explain the “gospel of God”, which ‘good news’ was set out first in the Old Testament – the Jewish Holy Scriptures (verse 1 again). 

Central to this good news is what happened to the “Son of God” – the Lord Jesus Christ – who has a twofold ancestry. He was connected to the Jewish race because he was King David’s descendant – through his mother Mary. And he was connected to God both because God was his Father and because God raised him from the dead (verses 3 and 4).  

Jesus shows favour to all of us – the meaning of the word “grace” – provided we believe the gospel and obey his commandments. Through the gospel, or good news, we are all called to belong to Jesus and to separate ourselves to God. This invitation comes because God loves us, and because He wants to show us favour, however undeserving we might be. He is offering us peace, just as it was first offered to the believers in Rome (verse 7). 

Notice how straightforward it is to understand what at first seems to be a difficult passage of New Testament teaching. This little example is typical of how to obtain information, either from: 
letters - like the one Paul wrote to Rome, 
narratives – like the Gospels or Acts, 
poetry – like the Psalms in the Old Testament, 
historical records – like the book of Kings 
ancient prophecies – like the book of Isaiah. 

The approach is always the same: to read carefully and to take note of what you are being told. A notebook can be helpful, especially if you are looking for teaching about a certain topic. For example, if you want to find out what the Bible says about any hope of life after death, a page of Bible references that you have written down for yourself as you have been reading will be of more direct help than a lot of comments made by someone else. This is because you will have been looking at the original material, uncluttered by what other people, with their own ideas, might want you to think. 

Notice that writing out what a verse is saying is different from just writing out the verse itself, useful though that can be at times. Here we are trying to note down the teaching of a particular verse and this book contains several worked examples of how that might be done. 
Regular Bible reading is by far the best way to understand Bible teaching and it is exactly the way God means us to come to understand His Word. A daily Bible reading planner is the best way to make sure that you work your way systematically through the entire library of books which make up the Bible. There are 66 books altogether in the two Testaments. Two different planners are included later which you may like to try.6 But before you begin a systematic study it is important to think about the best way to approach it, so that you understand what you are reading. 

Here is one approach to try. If you sit down and read right through the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Rome and then write down the key points he makes, you might come up with something like this.7 


Romans – Chapter and Verse Summary of Contents 

1:1-7 Introduction – Paul is writing about the gospel of God to all in Rome who have been called by God to receive His grace through Jesus Christ. 

1:8-17 He explains that he was hoping to visit them sometime and that he is preaching the good news about Jesus, because it can give salvation to everyone who believes it. 

1:18-32 Now he says why that salvation is needed. God is angry with mankind because it ignores the evidence of His existence and is behaving in a godless and shameful way. Mankind is depraved: people not only do wrong but they rejoice in doing those things. 

2:1-16 God is going to judge the world for its godless behaviour and that means individuals will be held responsible for their actions, unless they do something about it. 

2:17-29 This coming judgement will affect Jews and non-Jews alike.8 Having been born as a Jew, and having lived as a Jew, will be no protection. Something more than that is needed. What matters is what a person is like inside. 

3:1-20 Jews were given a head start over the rest of mankind because they got to know God during Old Testament times. But their Scriptures explain that all mankind has disobeyed God (disobeying God is what the Bible calls “sin”). Everybody has broken God’s law; everybody is guilty before God. 

3:21-31 God has an escape plan. Belief in Jesus Christ can enable a person to be saved from eternal death, but without this belief it is inescapable. Jesus died to set people free from sin and make them right with God. Jesus is at the centre of God’s plan. 

4:1-25 Belief in God has been shown in the past to be what God wants.9 It was the secret of Abraham’s success, when all else seemed hopeless, and it was the only thing that King David had left when his life went badly wrong. We should follow the example of these faithful men and learn from them. 

5:1-11 If we believe in God we can live at peace with Him, because of what Jesus has done for us. Belief will give us hope and make life bearable, whatever happens. For we will come to realise that Christ died for us and that we can be saved through him. 

5:12-21 Where the first man Adam failed, the Lord Jesus has now succeeded. Adam’s actions brought disaster upon the human race, but Jesus has made recovery possible. Through Jesus it is possible to obtain forgiveness so that we can be counted right with God which, in turn, can make eternal life available to us.10 

6:1-23 Forgiveness comes by baptism, an act which identifies us with the work of Jesus. As he was killed, buried and then rose again, so in baptism we re-enact these actions. We are buried in water and raised to a new life, having resolved to put our past life to death. The outcome is that we promise to live for Jesus, not for ourselves, and to live holy or separate lives, seeking always to please God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is part of the way in which we escape from sin and death and find eternal life. 

7:1-25 Things don’t change overnight! We can expect there to be a lot of inward turmoil and tension. It’s as though we lost one partner and found another, with all the upheaval that can bring. There is likely to be a struggle inside us, between our old and new natures. The old one tries to get us to carry on living as before and the new nature that is developing within us tries to get us to do right things. We will know what we ought to do, and sometimes will want to do that, but often we will do things that belong to our life before baptism. It can be a real struggle at times! 

8:1-17 As our spiritual life develops and we get to understand more and more what God has done for us, through Jesus Christ, we will begin to develop a way of thinking and living which is increasingly pleasing to God. We will come to realise more and more what a privilege it is to be members of God’s family – brothers and sisters in Christ. 

8:18-39 All this will give us a better view of life, with all its present unfairness and hardship. We will understand that God doesn’t want it to be like this: He wants everything set free from sin, suffering and death. God is at work to achieve things that are good and which will change the world for the better. He means to fill it with people who are like His Son, the Lord Jesus, and He can help us overcome all our difficulties. When the time is right God will destroy all that opposes Him and establish a free and perfect society. 

9-11 Although God called Israel to be a special nation and gave it great privileges, the Jews rejected His offer of salvation. God has the right to choose whoever He wants and to reject whoever He chooses to; after all, God made everybody and He is in charge of everything! But the Jews’ failure was due to their conviction that they could earn a place in God’s favour simply by being descendants of Abraham. They did not understand that belief in God and His promises was the key factor. For the moment, they have stumbled and lost their way; but it is part of God’s purpose that the nation should be reinstated to favour. Jerusalem and the Jewish people still have an important part to play in the purpose of God. 

12-15:13 God’s gracious purpose has become known to us and we should live in a way which shows true appreciation for all He has done. We should live in a way that properly honours and worships God. Every day we should try to purify our minds and find out what God wants of us. We should use our God-given abilities to His glory, learning to love one another and becoming submissive and obedient. We should live as good citizens, accepting the rule of law and complying with what the state requests (provided it accords with God’s law, which is our first priority). We should help one another, be understanding and tolerant of one another’s weaknesses and failings, live at peace, and seek to live a Christ-centred and Christ-like life. Our lives should seek to glorify God in all things. 

15:14-16:27 Conclusion: Paul explains his own position as someone who has been commanded to preach, especially to Gentiles. He tells the congregation at Rome that he hopes to come to see them soon, asks for their prayers and sends lots of personal greetings to believers whom he has met elsewhere on his travels. Thus the letter ends by giving us an insight into the Christian family of believers and the warmth and affection they felt towards one another. 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16) 



Checklist 

This brief summary of the Letter to the Romans serves at least three purposes. 
1 It demonstrates how you can work your way through the Bible and broadly summarise the main teachings it contains. There is, of course, a lot more contained in the Letter to the Romans than is summarised here – as our earlier more in-depth look at the Introduction (Romans 1:1-7) showed. But it gives an overall view of the apostle’s preaching – what he calls the “gospel of salvation”. 
2 It enables you to look for yourself at the various parts of the letter to see if the summary is fair and accurate. Remember the aim of this book is to help you understand the Bible for yourself. Your own Bible reading is a vital part of that process. You are only going to be convinced about Bible truth when you have seen it for yourself in the pages of the Bible. This book can help, but it is not a substitute for your own reading and thinking. 
3 It provides a checklist of teachings against which you can compare your own beliefs. 

For example, ask yourself these questions: 
a Do you know why belief (or “faith”) is so important to God, and what it is that we must believe, if we want to please Him? 
b Do you know who is to blame for the depraved state of mankind, and whether or not God will count us responsible for that? 
c Do you know what Abraham and David believed, which made them right with God? Do you believe those things, whatever they are? 
d What exactly was the result of Adam’s failure and how did the death of Jesus put things right? 
e Is baptism essential for salvation and, if it is, what must you believe before being baptised? 11 
f Does the nation of Israel, or the city Jerusalem, feature in your present understanding of God’s purpose in its final phase? If not, why not? 

You may find some of those questions a bit baffling at this stage, but don’t worry. This book is going to look in some detail at those issues. Because the Letter to the Romans sets out what Paul understands the gospel to be all about, we will use that letter as the framework for our thinking.12 

We will work step-by-step through the apostle’s explanations and follow his argument. The journey to explore what First Century Christianity is about will take us to many other parts of the Bible, as all 66 books of the Bible are part of God’s message to mankind. In that way we shall find the key to eternal life. 

Things to Read 

Why not read right through the Letter to the Romans, all 16 chapters? 
If that’s a bit much at this stage, pick one section of the Letter that looks interesting – using the Summary of Contents above – and read through that. See if you agree with the suggested summary for that part. If not, write your own. 

Questions to Consider (13)

1.1 What did Paul say to the Roman believers (Christians) about where the good news from God (the gospel) had first been promised? (Romans 1:2) 
1.2 What did he say about the origin and nature of the Lord Jesus Christ? (Romans 1:3-4) 
1.3 How did he describe the gospel, and what effect did he say it could have in our lives? (Romans 1:16) 

Notes

1 You can read all about this in the Book of Exodus, second book in the Old Testament part of the Bible (the first part).
2 The record of Paul’s conversion is contained in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9. 
3 See, in particular, Romans 15:14-16:23 where Paul writes about his own work, including a big fund-raising collection that was then being taken for the believers in Jerusalem, and all the personal greetings he sent to people he knew in Rome. In this part he encourages Jews and Gentiles to live peacefully together, which might suggest that they had been falling out. 
4 This book uses the English Standard Version of the Bible in most places because it is a recent English translation which combines accuracy of translation – from the original Hebrew and Greek in which the Scriptures were written – with ease of understanding. The choice of translation is something that will be discussed later, in Chapter 3, when considering how best to read the Bible. 
5 The whole of the Bible has been divided by translators into chapters and verses for easy reference: there were no such divisions when the original manuscripts were written. 6 The first is in Chapter 3, on pages 34 & 35; the other is a more comprehensive daily reading table and that can be found in Chapter 28, on pages 436 & 437. 
7 If you want to stop and read the Letter and then summarise its teaching for yourself, you can then compare your findings with those listed below. But you may not be quite ready for that yet. Do what seems comfortable for you. 
9 The Bible term for belief in God is “faith” and Paul uses that word a lot in his writings. 
8 Non-Jews are called “Gentiles” in the Bible. 
10 The technical term for being ‘right with God’ is that we can be made “righteous”. There are more than 40 occurrences of that phrase in this letter. 
11 Notice that in Romans chapter 6, Christian Baptism is defined as a burial in water, not an act of sprinkling or pouring. 
12 Paul calls the gospel: “the power of God for salvation to everyone who 
believes” (Romans 1:16). 
13 The questions at the end of each chapter are to help you think things through for yourself. There are answers, in Chapter 30, should you want to check your findings, or you can correspond with someone if you want to discuss things or get further help. More details can be found on page 451. 



2 The Holy Scriptures



Before we spend a lot of time learning to understand the Bible, we need to be sure about one thing – that the Bible is really God’s Word. If it is full of myths and fables, as some people suggest, we could be wasting our time. But if it is a message from God, we would be foolish to ignore it. Many religions have their sacred Scriptures, or holy writings. How can we be sure about what is written in the Bible? This chapter looks at something the apostle Paul says right at the start and from there examines the authority and accuracy of the Bible. 
• Word of Prophecy 
Right at the start of Paul’s Letter to the Romans1 he refers to his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ,2 and then he says something about the gospel which might surprise some readers. He says this: 

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (1:1,2). 


Paul is saying that the gospel is not just a New Testament message; it is contained in both the Old and New Testaments. You can find the gospel throughout the Bible. That’s another of the challenges the Bible presents to its readers. Ask yourself if your understanding of the purpose of God is just about the life and work of Jesus. Does it include things that are taught in the 39 books of the Jewish part of the Bible – the Old Testament? As a simple check: 
1 From now on we are going to refer to the Letter to the Romans as just “Romans”.
2 Paul says that an apostle is someone “set apart for the gospel of God”.


THE HOLY SCRIPTURES – Bible Truth 

1What do you understand by the phrase Jesus used lots of times when he taught about “the kingdom of God”?3 Do you realise that this kingdom once existed in Old Testament times? 

2 What do you make of these verses? 

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’ ” (Galatians 3:8); 
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:1,2). 

First we are told that Abraham had the gospel preached to him. A specific passage is referred to (Genesis 12:3) which is said to be a part of the gospel.4 Then the writer of another New Testament letter says that the Jewish nation had the gospel preached to them. However they were unable to receive what God had promised because they did not believe His promises. Then he warns us about the same danger. So you will see that both Testaments claim to have the same message from God. It follows that we must read and understand both parts of the Bible. The whole Bible is necessary for our salvation. 

 

What Paul told Timothy 

One of the early companions of the apostle Paul was a young man named Timothy who had been brought up in a mixed home. He had a Gentile father but a Jewish mother – and he became a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus. Writing to him on one occasion, Paul said this about his upbringing: 

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and (is) profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17). 

This shows us how important the Old Testament is. Timothy lived at a time when the New Testament had not yet been written, or when only parts of it were in circulation. His Scriptures, which he had been brought up to read and respect, were the Old Testament. They are what the apostle calls “the sacred writings” – and they held the key to his spiritual education. They had a lot to teach him; they could reprove and correct him; they could train him in righteousness – in right living before God. These Scriptures could make him acceptable to God by bringing him to “faith in Christ Jesus”. 

The reason given for this remarkable power of the Scriptures is that “All Scripture is breathed out by God”. In some versions of the Bible the translation reads that the Scriptures are “inspired” by God, or given by “inspiration”, but the ESV uses a more literal rendering.5 Scripture claims to have come out of the mouth of God, just as our words come from our mouths. 

Jesus’ Use of Scripture 

This was something that Jesus also taught. Once he was tempted to turn stones into bread and whilst resisting the temptation he said this about the Word of God: 

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). 

In his reply Jesus quoted from the Old Testament Scriptures, thus endorsing their claims and showing that he accepted them fully. The verse he used is from the Book of Deuteronomy. It was written of the occasion when the nation of Israel was wandering in a wilderness. It was a time when the people were fed miraculously by food that 

“He (God) humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). 

If we think for a moment about what we have learned from these words of the Lord Jesus, we can see that: 
Jesus believed the Old Testament absolutely, as something that had come “from the mouth of the LORD”; 6 
He used it in the way God had intended, to ‘equip him for every good work’ and to help him resist temptation; 
He believed in the wilderness experience of Israel after its miraculous Exodus experience – when the infant nation escaped from slavery in Egypt; 
He believed in the miraculous provision of Manna – something that happened daily for forty years, to keep the wanderers alive. 

At this point it is worth asking whether your approach to the Scriptures is the same as that of the Lord Jesus Christ – the founder of Christianity. Do you believe in the history of the Bible, in the possibility of miraculous events occurring as part of God’s programme of events, and are you willing to accept that Scripture is God-given or God-breathed? These straightforward questions would catch out a lot of people. Many people reckon that the Bible is mainly myth and legend, handed down over centuries and thus substantially distorted before the various books were written down. Would you rather follow them or believe what the Lord Jesus believed? There really is no choice! 


Jesus Believed the Scriptures 

If we collect together a few of the sayings of Jesus about the Scriptures, it will soon show us exactly what he believed. Evidently he was schooled in the Old Testament, as many Jewish boys would have been in his days. He had a wonderful understanding of the people who featured there, the things they said and, even more importantly, what they meant by what they said. His grasp of Bible teaching was so extensive that he could easily out-think his accusers and leave them totally confused. 
Some people said of Jesus that: “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). Jesus had an outstanding grasp of Old Testament truth because he was God’s Son and had come with God’s message. He was the God-given Saviour of the world, so we need to pay the most careful attention to what he said and believed. 

Here are some of the things Jesus said about the Old Testament Scriptures: 

“(Jesus) rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20,21) 
“And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:31-34). 
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). 
“For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfilment” (Luke 22:37). 
“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). 
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life … Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39, 47). 


Life History in Advance 

There are many more examples of similar statements made by Jesus. These few provide a flavour of the Lord’s absolute conviction that the Old Testament Scriptures were inspired and prophetic accounts. As Jesus understood matters, they spoke of him because they predicted his coming and his life history. A very considerable list of such prophecies can be compiled, which show beyond doubt that the Bible can predict the future. On the next page are listed just a few, all about the life of Jesus. 

Then Jesus said to them, 
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44) 

Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilment 
Micah 5:2 Jesus to be born in Bethlehem Matthew 2:6 
Isaiah 60:3,6 To be visited by Wise Men Matthew 2:11 
Hosea 11:1 To go into Egypt Matthew 2:15 
Jeremiah 31:15 To have his life threatened (by Herod) Matthew 2:18 
Isaiah 9:1,2 To base his work in Galilee Matthew 4:15,16 
Isaiah 35:5; 42:7 To perform miracles Matthew 12:18-20 
Psalm 69:9 To cleanse the Temple at Jerusalem John 2:17 
Psalm 22:6 To be persecuted Mark 15:29-32 
Zechariah 9:9 To enter triumphantly into Jerusalem Matthew 21:5 
Psalm 41:9 To be betrayed by his friend John 13:18 
Zechariah 11:12 For thirty pieces of silver Matthew 26:15 
Zechariah 13:7 To be deserted by his disciples Matthew 26:31 
Isaiah 53:7 To be silent under accusation John 19:9 

Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilment 
Psalm 35:15,21; Isaiah 50:6 To be insulted, hit, spat upon and scourged Mark 15:19 
Psalm 22:14,17 To be crucified Matthew 27:35 
Isaiah 53:9,12 To be crucified with wrongdoers Luke 23:33 
Psalm 34:20 Not a bone of his body to be broken John 19:36 
Zechariah 12;10; 13:6 To have his hands and feet pierced Matthew 27:35 
Isaiah 53:9 To be buried with the rich John 19:38-42 
Psalm 16:8-10; 110:1-3 To be raised from the dead and be exalted to God’s right hand in heaven Acts 2:22-28 

That table gives some idea of the range of Old Testament prophecy about just one subject – the life history of the Lord Jesus. These prophecies were written hundreds of years before his birth and come from many different time periods and many different writers. But they speak with one voice because the message is God’s, not man’s. The prophets were impelled to speak and write as God’s messengers: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20). 

 

Detailed Predictions 

We will get an even better idea of the Bible’s remarkable accuracy by looking at just one prophetic passage. Psalm 22 was written by King David, who lived about 1000 years before Jesus was born. In it he predicts what was to happen to the promised descendant who would, one day, occupy David’s throne in Jerusalem. 

David wasn’t just a poet; he was a prophet. In his own words, just before he died he said how grateful he was that: “The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me …” (2 Samuel 23:2,3). The results of that process of inspiration are breathtaking. They achieve a remarkable blend of God’s message with some personal characteristics of the prophet. Look at the scenario described in Psalm 22 as it depicted what would happen in the life of David’s successor. Bear in mind that at the time of writing crucifixion was unknown – it was a form of public execution introduced much later, one which was perfected by the Romans. Yet King David, inspired by God, could write about this. His successor would: 

Feel forsaken by God at a crucial time in his life when he was in dire trouble (Psalm 22:1) – these are the very words spoken by Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:46). 
He would be despised and rejected by his fellows, who would openly mock him and challenge him to save himself, if he could (verses 6-8) – these were precisely the taunts that were hurled at Jesus. 
He would suffer the agony of feeling that his entire body was being pulled apart (verses 14-17), would have an intense thirst, and would be a public spectacle. This is a quite remarkable depiction of crucifixion well ahead of its time, including the piercing of hands and feet. 
His clothing would be divided between others who would cast lots for his garments – exactly as the soldiers did (verse 18 and John 19:24). 
The suffering one would not lose hope. He would continue to put his faith in God, in the firm belief that he would be able to bear witness to a lot of people that God is a Saviour and Redeemer (verses 21-31). This was something that Jesus began to do after his resurrection, when he was seen by more than 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6), but the complete fulfilment of those words is still to come (see Zechariah 12:10). 

A  Remarkable Book 

So far we have taken just one topic – the way that writers of the Bible could foretell the future, because they were inspired by God. And we have looked at just one subject – the life history of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was written in advance. We have seen that: 
the Bible was able to predict exactly what would happen in precise detail; 
the Lord Jesus valued the Old Testament Scriptures and used them in his own life to obtain guidance and help; and 
he clearly believed what he read in those Scriptures. 

We saw some of the things that the Bible foretold about how Jesus would live and die (there are many more of those prophecies we did not consider). We looked at just one prophetic passage (Psalm 22) to see a remarkable prophetic picture of the crucifixion that Jesus would suffer, and the way he would overcome it with God’s help. 


More from Jesus 

But we have still only scratched the surface. If we were just to consider more fully the testimony of Jesus, we would discover that he relied upon the authority and accuracy of God’s Word to such an extent that he: 
Could base his argument on just a word (John 10:35); 
Rely on just the tense of the original Hebrew (Mark 12:26,27); 7 
Accepted as absolutely historical fact: 
the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-6), 
the death of Abel (Matthew 23:35), 
the flood at the time of Noah (Luke 17:26,27), 
the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (17:28-32), and so on. 


“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17,18), or 
“If he called them gods to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be broken – do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:35,36). 

The example of Jesus is very important in working out our approach to the authority of Holy Scripture. If we want to know what the Bible really teaches, the lead that Jesus gives is one of the very best ways of finding a correct understanding. Jesus accepted the Bible as the inspired and wholly accurate Word of God. 

 

God has Spoken 

When Jesus came he was a further link in the chain of Divine revelation. From the very beginning of His dealings with mankind, God communicated with His creation. He gave Adam and Eve instructions about how to live; told Noah when to build an ark; made great promises to Abraham and his family; gave Israel a code of laws through Moses, as well as many prophecies about their future. This was part of an almost continuous process of communication in which God made known His will to mankind.8 A New Testament writer says this: 

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1). 

The Old and New Testaments are that record of God communicating with mankind and they leave us in no doubt about that. Over and over again the prophets declared that they were speaking on God’s behalf. Here’s just one sample in which the prophet Haggai makes that point repeatedly: 

“Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:4-9). 

The prophets were God’s spokesmen. The expression “says the LORD” occurs over 500 times in the Bible because, time and again, the various writers of the Bible want us to know that their message was not theirs, but God’s. Even Jesus repeatedly made that same claim: 

Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:16,17); 
Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). 


Internal Harmony 

Notice that wherever you look in the Bible – whether it’s the prophet Haggai, or the words of the Lord Jesus – there is an unmistakable consistency so far as the message is concerned. The 66 books that make up the Bible were written over a time span of more than 1500 years, and by more than 40 different writers. They came from quite different backgrounds and lived in quite different times, yet the message has a remarkable harmony and unity. For there is only one author – Almighty God. 
People have written entire books about the unity of the Bible, or the way in which incidental details tie in wonderfully with one another. Here is just one snippet from a book about the Bible, which will give you a flavour of the way in which these arguments could be extended: 

“The Bible, at first sight, appears to be a collection of literature – mainly Jewish. If we enquire into the circumstances under which the various Biblical documents were written, we find that they were written at intervals over a space of nearly 1400 years. The writers wrote in various lands, from Italy in the west to Mesopotamia and possibly Persia in the east. The writers themselves were a heterogeneous number of people, not only separated from each other by hundreds of years and hundreds of miles, but belonging to the most diverse walks of life. In their ranks we have kings, herdsmen, soldiers, legislators, fishermen, statesmen, courtiers, priests and prophets, a tent making Rabbi and a Gentile physician, not to speak of others of whom we know nothing apart from the writings they have left us. The writings themselves belong to a great variety of literary types. They include history, law (civil, criminal, ethical, ritual, sanitary), religious poetry, didactic treatises, lyric poetry, parable and allegory, biography, personal correspondence, personal memoirs and diaries, in addition to the distinctively Biblical types of prophecy and apocalyptic.” 9 


A Book from God

This book is not written to show you why the Bible is the Word of God. We have not considered the way in which the Bible: 
predicted the future of various nations; 
was in advance of its time; 
contains accurate historical data which has been shown to be true when historians and archaeologists have made further discoveries; or 
has a message which has been remarkably preserved, so that we can be sure about its accurate transmission. 

Enough has been written in this chapter, however, to show that it is very worthwhile to seek to understand the Bible for yourself. It is a quite remarkable book – a book from God – and it has a message which is unlike anything else that has ever been written. It was written by eyewitnesses of the events that are recorded. It is utterly frank about the weaknesses and failures of the people it describes, for the Bible was not written to glorify man, or to magnify the nation of Israel, from which most of the writers came. It was written to glorify God and to explain His gracious purpose. 
The Bible is a Holy Book, because it has come from God. For that reason it is set apart from all other books. And it has been written to help to make us holy. Remember that it is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). 

Guidebook for Life 

The Bible is a deeply moral book. It shows us the difference between right and wrong in every aspect of life: it defines what God considers right and describes both what He says is wrong and what will happen to us if we do wrong things. That is why there is so much history in the Bible. It is the record of God inviting men and women to walk in His way and then observing them doing the very opposite and getting into trouble – sometimes into big trouble. But if it was no more than that, the Bible would make very depressing reading. It would be a catalogue of disasters, and it is certainly not that. 

The Bible is our Guidebook for Life. It shows us what God is like, what He wants to do with us and with our world. It shows what we must do if we want to be part of that gracious purpose, and how we can achieve a Christlike life. Most people think of improving themselves in terms of getting things and getting on. God wants us to learn to live differently; to accept His standards as those by which we will live, and to model ourselves on the way the Lord Jesus lived. 

This remarkable book from God can help us achieve those God-given objectives. It is a word of life which has the power to transform the way we think and then the way we behave. As we get to understand for ourselves what the Bible says about our situation and what God really offers – as opposed to what many people think God offers – we will come to realise how the Bible can change our lives. For the moment here is the testimony of one of its inspired writers, a fisherman whose life was entirely transformed by his encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what the apostle Peter wrote: 

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:22-25). 


Peter wrote to people whose previously impure lives had been made pure by their obedience to the things they now understood and believed. They were people who had found a new life in Christ. The way in which this had come about was that they had been reborn through the effect of the “living and abiding word of God” in their lives. That same transformation awaits us as we continue our journey of understanding. 

Things to Read 

This chapter is full of Bible references and you might look some of them up, both to become familiar with the layout of the Bible – where the different books are located – and to check out the setting or context of the passages referred to. It is always a good thing to check up Bible references, rather than just taking them for granted. 
To see how the Bible exposes the weaknesses of its writers, so that we can learn from their mistakes, read 2 Samuel chapter 11 – about King David’s big mistakes – and then Psalm 51, in which he fully repents of what he had done. 

NOTES
3 See, for example, Matthew 6:33; 19:24; 21:31,43; Mark 1:15; 4:26, 30
and Luke 4:43; 7:28.
4 Genesis 12:3 says “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. 
5 For example, the King James Version says: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). 
God supplied daily for them. 
6 When the Bible uses all capital letters to describe “the LORD” it does so to show that the original Hebrew language uses the special name of God, which is translated “Yahweh” and sometimes “Jehovah” in different Bible versions. This is God’s covenant name, a name which explains that He is a Redeemer and Deliverer of His people. 
7 In Mark 12:26,27 Jesus proved the resurrection by explaining that God used the present, not the past, tense when describing himself as the God of Abraham. He explained that God said “I am the God of Abraham”, and not “I was the God of Abraham”. That shows the remarkable confidence Jesus had in the authority of God’s Word given to Moses. 
And there are still lots of things the Lord said about the Scriptures that we haven’t considered, such as: 
8 There is a gap of some 400 years between the Old and New Testaments during which there was no communication from God. That gap was broken when John the Baptist appeared to herald the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. 
9 This extract is from “The Book and the Parchments” by F.F.Bruce. 


Questions to Think About 

2.1 How do you know that the apostle Paul still believed the Old Testament prophecies after he had become a follower of the Lord Jesus? (Acts 17:2; 24:14 and 28:23) 
2.2 Nowadays some people say that much of the Old Testament is myth and legend and that parts of it, like the Book of Genesis, were written very many years after the events there described. What help do we get from the way the Lord Jesus Christ viewed the Scriptures? (Mark 1:44; Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10; Matthew 19:3-9 and Luke 20:37) 
2.3 Did the New Testament writers claim to write inspired Scripture? (John 14:26; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 3:15-16; 1 Corinthians 14:37) 


 

3 On Reading the Bible

God has communicated with mankind in a quite remarkable way. His Book is a unique revelation – unlike anything else that has ever been written. It lays bare the lives of many of its writers, showing us just what they were like, including their faults. It presents a portrait of the greatest man who ever lived – the Lord Jesus Christ – and it thus portrays life at its very best. Yet, in describing what happened to him, it also shows us human nature at its very worst. 

A Book to Read 

Such a book has to be read. It cannot be neglected or overlooked yet, more often than not, that is what happens. Many people have Bibles; only a few read any of it and very few people read the entire Bible on a regular basis. Some people may have favourite parts of the Bible that they read quite often, but if we want to know God’s message for mankind, the entire Bible must be read. And, because it is a long and sometimes complicated book, we need to read it and keep on reading it. This is a book that can give us a new life, but it is going to take a while to understand it entirely. 
Everybody wants to know about the mysteries of life, which is why, in some countries, there is such interest in fortune telling or witchcraft. Is there any life after death? Is the world going to end sometime? Why do people suffer? Questions like that are not easily answered, but the Bible has the answers – because it contains God’s message and God’s answers. So how do we get to know what those answers are? 
This book will work through those questions and seek the answers to them as we follow the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. But it has already become clear that, to understand the Bible for ourselves, we need to do some more Bible reading of our own. At the end of each chapter in this book you will find some suggestions about further Bible reading. If you follow these they will help to increase your understanding of Bible teaching and will help you check up on what we will look at in Romans. 
It is a good Bible-based practice to check things out, not just to take them for granted. When the apostle Paul made his first visit to Europe, he met some fierce opposition in different places. He came across a group of people in a place called Berea, of whom it was said: 
“These Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (Acts 17:11,12). 
You might want to work out a pattern of daily Bible reading that suits your own needs. Different readers of this book will be at quite different stages of understanding. Some will be quite familiar with the Bible already; others might never have looked seriously at it. So a variety of ideas are suggested here and you can pick something that seems appropriate. But first, here are some general observations. 


Bible Versions 

This book uses the English Standard Version of the Bible, which is a quite recent translation into English.1 The ESV updates the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which itself was a revision of earlier versions going back to the 1611 King James Version. The reason for using it is that the ESV combines a fairly literal approach to Bible translation with a pleasant and readable style. Other versions will be referred to from time to time, where that translation is a little clearer, and it does not matter too much which version you have available or choose to use. 

The Old Testament of the Bible was mainly written in Hebrew (with just a small part in Aramaic) and the New Testament was written in Greek. All translations do the best they can to render the original languages into English, and some are bound to do it better than others. Be sure you are using a translation and not a paraphrase, as some versions – like “The Living Bible” or “The Message” – set out to be a very free rendering, more chatty and conversational than accurate. 

A Bible with Cross References can be a great help. These are references that appear in the margin, or at the bottom of the page. They point you to other passages of Scripture which are similar, or which deal with similar subject-matter. As you become more familiar with the message of the Bible you will want to make use of those extra helps. But, for the moment, what matters is how to start. 

Read through the Gospel of Mark if you want a gentle introduction to the Life of Jesus. You will quickly realise how different things were two thousand years ago. The events that are described in the Bible happened in the Middle East, in an agricultural society where Roman law controlled the life of the citizens and Jewish law regulated the way people worshipped. The more you read the easier it becomes, but it is always worth remembering that life was somewhat different in Bible times. These are writings that belong to ancient history. The marvellous thing is that they are still relevant and meaningful today. The Bible is an old book with a really up-to-date message. 

Two Different Parts 

The structure of the New Testament is quite easy to follow. The life of Jesus is told four times, in the gospel accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then comes the story of the early church – mainly centred on the preaching of the apostles Peter and Paul. That is contained in the Acts of the Apostles, which was written by the gospel writer Luke. The Acts account refers to many places that the apostles visited and the various letters, which make up the rest of the New Testament, were written during or after their journeys. 

The letters were the way the various apostles kept in touch with new congregations that had been established. Sometimes they were letters of general encouragement; sometimes they dealt with specific problems or issues that had arisen. As we have already seen, Romans was written to set out Paul’s understanding of the gospel of salvation prior to his intended visit, as well as dealing with some local problems the church in Rome had. 

narrative accounts start in the first Book – Genesis – and go right up to the Book of Esther – 17 books in all, out of 39. The first 11 chapters of Genesis describes the creation of the world, then tells how things went wrong, the coming of a worldwide flood and the building of the Tower of Babel. After that the record follows the story of one family – that of Abraham, and his descendants. 

Those descendants eventually became a nation (Israel), and were rescued from slavery in Egypt, led by Moses. After a period of wandering in the desert they entered the Promised Land and began to live as God’s chosen nation, learning to obey and follow His Law. First they had a God-given leader Joshua, after that they were given judges to save them from particular situations, and then they were given kings, somewhat like the other nations. 

The Kingdom established in Israel did not, however, run very smoothly. After initial success, under King David and his son Solomon, the kingdom split into two – North and South. The Northern kings abandoned the true worship of God and devised a completely man-made system of calf-worship. They had false priests and made up their own rules and regulations. That arrangement lasted for about 200 years before the Northern Kingdom was taken captive to Assyria and all the people were deported. The Southern Kingdom of Judah fared a little better. Altogether it lasted for about 350 years before it too abandoned the worship of God and paid the price. By then, about 600 B.C., Babylon was the ruling power in the Middle East, having conquered the Assyrians, and the people of the Southern Kingdom were deported there, to the country we now know as Iraq. 

Seventy years later a group of Jewish2 exiles returned from Babylon – which had, in the meantime, been conquered by the Persians. They started to rebuild their nation and the city Jerusalem. This part of their history is covered in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Four hundred years after that – by which time the Romans were the ruling power – the New Testament begins, with the birth of Jesus. 


Wonderful Variety 

Now you have some idea of the variety and fascination of the library of books which make up the Bible. There are books full of poetry and proverbial wisdom. The Book of Psalms is the hymn book that was used in temple worship. There are the wise sayings of King Solomon and of others; love poetry; and a reasoned treatise about the best way to live before God. There is also the Book of Job which explains how someone can become right in the sight of God, an insight that came about when Job was severely tested. 

Then there is prophecy, which makes up a large proportion of the Bible. Someone has worked out that over one quarter of the Old Testament predicts the future in one way or another (and over one fifth of the New Testament too). There are large prophecies – like those of Isaiah and Jeremiah – and twelve shorter ones, bringing us right up to the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. As the Book of Acts gives us a guide in New Testament times about when and to whom the various letters were written, so the historical parts of the Bible help us work out the meaning of the message that God’s prophets brought. For often their message had an immediate as well as a longer-term significance. 

If you would like to sample a little of the Old Testament after reading the Gospel of Mark, you might like to read the Book of Ruth to give you an insight into what life was like in those times. That book was written in the days when the Judges ruled (about 1250 years before the birth of Jesus). 
It’s a marvellous feature of the Bible that such an ancient book – written down over 1900 years ago – can still be so interesting and relevant. It should be no surprise since, as we have seen, this is a book from God. Its various writers wrote as they were inspired by God. They did not make things up. They could never have achieved such a superb result without the help of God. As the apostle Peter once said: 

“We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:1921). 



Daily Bible Reading 

If you decide you would like to read a part of the Bible every day, to work your way through everything that God has included in His message, you will find a daily Bible Reading planner helpful. It is designed to give you an introduction to different parts of the Bible and it will take you a year to work through, reading one chapter each day. 
If you think that is a bit too much for you at this early stage of your understanding, you can think about starting it later on, as your knowledge grows about the Bible’s overall message. If you want something more detailed, which will take you through the whole Bible in the course of a year, there is another Bible Reading plan towards the end of this book. But you need to pace yourself so that you can read more as your level of understanding increases. 

“These Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11) 


Bible Reading Planner  - Read a chapter a day for 12 Months 

Step Week Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday 
1 1 Psalm 18 Genesis 1 Luke 2 1 Cor 13 Mark 4 Ecclesiastes 3 2 Tim 3 
2 2 Genesis 2 Genesis 3 Genesis 4 Genesis 5 Genesis 6 Genesis 7 Genesis 8 
3 Matthew 1 Matthew 2 Matthew 3 Matthew 4 Matthew 5 Matthew 6 Matthew 7 
3 4 Genesis 11 Genesis 12 Genesis 13 Genesis 14 Genesis 15 Genesis 17 Genesis 19 
5 Matthew 8 Matthew 9 Matthew 10 Matthew 11 Matthew 12 Matthew 13 Matthew 14 
6 Genesis 22 Genesis 26 Genesis 27 Genesis 28 Genesis 29 Genesis 30 Genesis 31 
4 7 Matthew 15 Matthew 16 Matthew 17 Matthew 18 Matthew 19 Matthew 20 Matthew 21 
8 Genesis 32 Genesis 33 Genesis 37 Genesis 39 Genesis 40 Genesis 41 Genesis 42 
9 Matthew 22 Matthew 23 Matthew 24 Matthew 25 Matthew 26 Matthew 27 Matthew 28 
10 Genesis 43 Genesis 44 Genesis 45 Genesis 46 Genesis 47 Genesis 49 Genesis 50 
5 11 Mark 1 Mark 2 Mark 3 Mark 6 Mark 7 Mark 8 Mark 9 
12 Exodus 1 Exodus 2 Exodus 3 Exodus 4 Exodus 5 Exodus 6 Exodus 7 
13 Mark 10 Mark 11 Mark 12 Mark 13 Mark 14 Mark 15 Mark 16 
14 Exodus 8 Exodus 9 Exodus 10 Exodus 11 Exodus 12 Exodus 13 Exodus 14 
15 Luke 1 Luke 2 Luke 4 Luke 5 Luke 7 Luke 9 Luke 10 
16 Exodus 16 Exodus 17 Exodus 19 Exodus 20 Exodus 24 Exodus 25 Exodus 32 
17 Luke 11 Luke 12 Luke 13 Luke 14 Luke 15 Luke 16 Luke 17 
18 Leviticus 8 Leviticus 10 Leviticus 16 Leviticus 17 Leviticus 23 Leviticus 25 Leviticus 27 
19 Luke 18 Luke 19 Luke 20 Luke 21 Luke 22 Luke 23 Luke 24 
20 Numbers 14 Numbers 17 Numbers 20 Numbers 21 Numbers 22 Numbers 23 Numbers 24 
21 John 1 John 3 John 4 John 10 John 11 John 15 John 17 
22 Deut 1 Deut 2 Deut 3 Deut 6 Deut 8 Deut 18 Deut 28 
23 Acts 1 Acts 2 Acts 3 Acts 4 Acts 5 Acts 6 Acts 7 
24 Joshua 1 Joshua 2 Joshua 3 Joshua 4 Joshua 6 Joshua 20 Joshua 24 
25 Acts 8 Acts 9 Acts 10 Acts 11 Acts 12 Acts 13 Acts 14 
26 Judges 4 Judges 7 Judges 14 Ruth 1 Ruth 2 Ruth 3 Ruth 4 
27 Acts 15 Acts 16 Acts 17 Acts 18 Acts 19 Acts 20 Acts 21 
28 1 Samuel 1 1 Samuel 2 1 Samuel 3 1 Samuel 8 1 Samuel 9 1 Samuel 10 1 Samuel 15 
29 Acts 22 Acts 23 Acts 24 Acts 25 Acts 26 Acts 27 Acts 28 
30 1 Samuel 16 1 Samuel 17 2 Samuel 1 2 Samuel 2 2 Samuel 5 2 Samuel 7 2 Samuel 24 
31 Romans 5 Romans 6 Romans 8 Romans 9 Romans 10 Romans 12 Romans 13 
32 1 Kings 3 1 Kings 5 1 Kings 12 1 Kings 17 1 Kings 18 2 Kings 5 2 Chron 36 
33 1 Corinth 1 1 Corinth 2 1 Corinth 3 1 Corinth 10 1 Corinth 11 1 Corinth 13 1 Corinth 15 
34 Psalm 1 Psalm 2 Psalm 6 Psalm 16 Psalm 19 Psalm 22 Psalm 23 
35 2 Corith 11 Galatians 1 Galatians 2 Galatians 3 Galatians 4 Galatians 5 Galatians 6 
36 Psalm 32 Psalm 37 Psalm 45 Psalm 46 Psalm 48 Psalm 49 Psalm 51 
37 Ephesians 4 Ephesians 5 Ephesians 6 Philippians 1 Philippians 2 Philippians 3 Philippians 4 
38 Psalm 67 Psalm 72 Psalm 88 Psalm 90 Psalm 91 Psalm 95 Psalm 96 
39 1 Thess 1 1 Thess 2 1 Thess 3 1 Thess 4 1 Thess 5 2 Thess 1 2 Thess 2 
40 Psalm 103 Psalm 104 Psalm 110 Psalm 122 Psalm 146 Psalm 149 Psalm 150 
41 1 Timothy 1 1 Timothy 2 1 Timothy 6 2 Timothy 1 2 Timothy 2 2 Timothy 3 2 Timothy 4 
42 Isaiah 1 Isaiah 2 Isaiah 9 Isaiah 11 Isaiah 25 Isaiah 26 Isaiah 32 
43 Hebrews 1 Hebrews 2 Hebrews 3 Hebrews 4 Hebrews 5 Hebrews 10 Hebrews 11 
44 Isaiah 40 Isaiah 42 Isaiah 52 Isaiah 53 Isaiah 55 Isaiah 60 Isaiah 61 
45 Hebrews 12 Hebrews 13 James 1 James 2 James 3 James 4 James 5 
46 Jeremiah 1 Jeremiah 17 Jeremiah 30 Jeremiah 31 Jeremiah 33 Jeremiah 36 Jeremiah 38 
47 1 Peter 1 1 Peter 2 1 Peter 3 1 Peter 5 2 Peter 1 2 Peter 2 2 Peter 3 
48 Ezekiel 2 Ezekiel 3 Ezekiel 18 Ezekiel 36 Ezekiel 37 Ezekiel 38 Ezekiel 39 
49 1 John 1 1 John 2 1 John 3 1 John 4 2 John 3 John Jude 
50 Daniel 2 Daniel 3 Daniel 5 Daniel 6 Daniel 7 Daniel 9 Daniel 12 
51 Hosea 13 Joel 3 Micah 5 Zechariah 8 Zechariah 12 Malachi 3 Malachi 4 
52 Revelation 1 Revelation 2 Revelation 3 Revelation 5 Revelation 19 Revelation 21 Revelation 22 


Things to Read 

This chapter has suggested that you sample the New Testament by reading the whole of the Gospel of Mark (all 16 chapters) and the Old Testament by reading the Book of Ruth (just 4 chapters). Don’t rush them; take your time and work carefully through the passages. 
You may, however, prefer to start with the Bible Reading Planner which includes both Mark and Ruth within its suggested readings, as part of Step 5. 

There are also suggested readings with each chapter of this book, so you can decide what is best for you. Perhaps you will prefer to start regular Bible reading after you have finished this book, for there are suggestions about helpful passages at the end of each chapter. 
If you note anything especially interesting or difficult, make a note of it, or scribble down a question or two, and that will help you develop a logical and thoughtful approach to the Scriptures. 

Questions to Think About 

3.1 Even the Kings of Israel were commanded to read the Bible and to make their own copy of part of it, so that it was available for their ready reference. Every family in Israel was to talk about and teach the Scriptures in their homes, so that these things would be their daily delight. What does that indicate to us about daily Bible reading? (Deuteronomy 17:18-20; 6:6-12) 
3.2 How did the Scriptures help Jesus to learn about the will of God and what does his experience teach us about the progress we are likely to make? (Luke 2:4047,51-52; 4:3-12; 16-21) 

Notes

1 It is customary for Bible Versions to be abbreviated to just their initials, so the English Standard Version is known as the ESV, the King James Version as the KJV (or sometimes as the AV, as it is also known as the ‘Authorised Version’), the New International Version as the NIV and the Good News Bible as the GNB. 
2 Because the people who returned were mainly from the tribe of Judah – the small tribe that had been living in and around Jerusalem – from now on the people in the land are known as Jews (a word which originally referred to members of the tribe of Judah). 



 


4. Why God is angry with his World



We have been thinking about the wonder of God’s revealed Word and the need for us to read it for ourselves. This has prepared us for the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in which he set out his understanding of the gospel of God. We needed to understand at the outset how special and how different these writings are. Paul was not writing to explain his own understanding of the gospel. Far from it! His clear emphasis was upon the fact that this: 
was the gospel promised by the prophets in God’s Holy Scripture (Romans 1:1,2); 
concerned the Lord Jesus Christ who is the centre of God’s plan and purpose (1:3,4); and that 
it was Jesus who had called him to be an apostle (1:5). 

The Good News, he explained, was God’s, not his; and it puts Jesus at the centre of everything. 

God is Angry 

No sooner has the apostle made those introductory remarks than he launches into an explanation that must have startled and troubled his first century readers. It should trouble us as well. The gospel can save you, he says, if you believe it (Romans 1:16,17), but without it you and all the inhabitants of the world are in deep trouble. Here are his actual words: 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). 

Paul says either, we are considered right with God, because of the things we believe, or we are very definitely in the wrong. None of us likes being in the wrong – with our parents, or relatives or our employer – but it’s a much more serious and dangerous thing to get on the wrong side of God. None of us wants to be the subject of God’s righteous anger. So why is God so angry with the world He has made, and what can we do about it for ourselves? A careful look at Romans chapters 1 and 2 will explain all we need to know and will show us what avoiding action we should take. But take a moment to stop to think about something. 

At the very start of his letter Paul tells his readers that there is a real problem facing mankind. Why does he do that, instead of spelling out the gracious plan of salvation that God has been carefully working out from the very beginning? 

Do you go to the doctor or the clinic when you are feeling all right? Of course not! You only go when you think there is something wrong with you that needs to be put right. And that’s exactly how the apostle is approaching the question of our spiritual health. If we think that everything is all right, it is unlikely that we will pay God’s Word the attention it deserves. It is only when we know that the situation is serious that we will recognise that we need God’s help. 

Wake-Up Call 

The news that God is angry with mankind is designed to alert all mankind. It should tell us that things are seriously wrong in our lives so far as God is concerned and that we need to give this our most urgent attention. If your employer was angry with you, you would want to know straight away what had upset him or her. As it turns out, it is quite easy to work out from Paul’s letter what is upsetting God. He is angry about people who: 

Are ungodly and unrighteous – people who suppress that truth that God has revealed (Romans 1:18); 

Ignore the evident truth all around them – they do not acknowledge that the world has been created by God. If they opened their eyes they would be bound to see the evidence that God made everything, because the design apparent in creation points to the great Designer, just as it was intended to (1:19-21); 

Know of God’s existence but choose to worship other things. Many cultures and civilisations have a sense of the existence of God, but many people deliberately suppress those senses. Instead of worshipping God they choose to please themselves, or worship possessions or things that they have made (1:22-23). 


Divine Designer 

This penetrating analysis goes right to the heart of the matter. One of the earliest arguments given in support of God as Creator was that of design. As long ago as 1800 a writer1 argued that if he happened to be walking along and found a watch on the ground he would immediately wonder whose it was. It would never occur to him that it might just have happened into existence: that would have been absurd! A stone perhaps: a watch never! In the same way, he said, finding the world to be so wonderfully constructed and so carefully made, we should be asking ourselves – “Whose world is this?” and “Who made it?” 

Bible Prophecy 

Of course, there are a lot more arguments that can be advanced to demonstrate that God exists apart from that of God the designer of the Universe. We have been thinking about one of them already when looking at the wonderful revelation contained in the Bible. Who but a divine and all-seeing God could have given such marvellous advance notice about the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus. Hundreds of years before his birth, a detailed picture of his life was given so that when he came people would know this was the Coming One. It says a lot about the perversity and blindness of mankind that the Lord was despised and rejected when he came, instead of being readily accepted and followed. 
Bible prophecy is a marvellous testimony to the existence of God, as it is intended to be. Who but a divine creator could have predicted the future of a mighty city in the ancient world that was, in its day, the equivalent of Washington or New York in today’s world. Yet the prophet Isaiah said: 

“Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendour and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there; no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. But wild animals will lie down there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will dwell, and there wild goats will dance” (Isaiah 13:19-21). 

That was precisely what happened to this mighty city of the ancient world – the one with the hanging gardens that was one of the wonders of the world. It fell into absolute decay and ceased to be inhabited. In time it was lost under the sand dunes of Iraq and was only rediscovered after careful search was made for it. Exactly as predicted, the Bedouin came to regard the site with superstitious dread and would not even pitch their tents there. 

If you think that remarkable, as indeed it is, consider what God said about the Jewish nation when he described their history and that of the city of Jerusalem. Through many different prophets, and at many different times, the Jews were told that if they disobeyed God they would suffer the consequences. Moses, for example, said that this would happen: 

“The LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the LORD will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see” (Deuteronomy 28:64-67). 


Moses spoke those words nearly 3500 years ago and they have become remarkably and horribly true over the last 2000 years. When the Romans brought the troublesome Jewish state to an end and dispersed all its inhabitants, they left the land and the city of Jerusalem desolate.2 By doing this they started the process that Moses had warned about. The Jews became a homeless people, scattered throughout the entire world. To this day there are Jews in most places of the world, and now there are Jews back in the land their forefathers once inhabited. The nation that was dispersed is now being regathered, again just as the prophets of God predicted would eventually happen. Here’s just one of those prophecies: 

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land” (Ezekiel 34:11-14). 


Who would have been able to predict this remarkable happening, except Almighty God, who both knows the future and controls world events? The Jews had been away from their former land for more than 1800 years, and had suffered generations of abuse and ill-treatment during that exile. The climax of their suffering was the horror of the Nazi concentration camps, where some six million Jews perished. But now the nation is back in its ancient land – just as God promised – and exists as a political state which is now recognised among the nations. And their ancient capital city Jerusalem is back under Jewish control. 





Mankind Astray 

We have looked at just two pointers to the existence of God 
– the evident design that exists all around us, that points to a Designer; and the remarkable way in which God’s Word foretells the future, across hundreds and then thousands of years. Again, it would be possible to spend a lot of time thinking about that subject, but we need to get back to the apostle’s prime concern. 

Having made the point that God’s existence is clearly demonstrated by the world that He has made, Paul now charges mankind with the crime of wilful ignorance. What should have been obvious to everyone has been deliberately ignored. They are “ungodly”, “unrighteous” and take no notice of these great truths, and deliberately suppress their God-given sense of someone or something which is above and beyond them.3 But we need to look a little more closely at the apostle’s description of mankind in its present godless state. Using just the first two chapters of Romans, this is how the apostle summarises the unhappy state of people: 

“They became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21); 

“God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (1:28-31); 

“Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed” (2:5); 

“For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (2:8). 

This is only one section of Scripture, and we need to base our understanding on all that God has revealed. But even this brief summary contains a clear picture of what has gone wrong with mankind. Notice first that the problem is one of a futile or debased “mind” and a foolish, hard or impenitent “heart”. Something has happened to human nature that has made it both insensitive to and estranged from the will of God. Instead of being inclined towards the obvious conclusion – that since God exists He should be worshipped – mankind now takes the contrary position. Men and women live to serve themselves; their natural inclination is to glorify mankind. They prefer to worship things – the created rather than the Creator. Or, in Paul’s inspired words: 

“Although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (1:21,22). 

This is why God is angry with His world and its people. He gives them everything and they give Him nothing back, not even the recognition of His existence. Most people make no attempt to seek God and find Him, despite having every opportunity to do so. The apostle Paul once addressed some thoughtful and influential people in Athens and summed up the situation like this: 

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything … that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:2427). 



What Went Wrong? 

It was never meant to be like this, so far as God was concerned, and His righteous anger is directed at mankind because man has gone so far astray from what God wants to happen. God did not make men and women with characteristics like those Paul has described – hard and impenitent hearts, futile minds, self-seeking and self-serving, and suchlike. Quite the contrary: the Scripture says that God made the first man and woman: 

“In his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). 

The reference to “male and female” shows us that we are not being told that this was a physical image, for there are physical differences between the sexes. Instead it was a spiritual likeness, something to do with the mental and emotional condition of the created pair. They were made to worship God and to be His companions; so they had all the attributes needed to make that relationship possible. But they were also given an opportunity to make their own choices and develop their own preferences. God made them free agents. He did not create robots or automatons. He put them in a situation where they could develop characters and learn to overcome challenges. The garden eastward in Eden was a place of learning and growing where mankind could learn and develop spiritually. But wrong choices were made and the result has been disastrous. 

Later in the Letter to the Romans, Paul will carefully analyse what Adam did in Eden which brought sorrow and sadness, death and disaster into the world. As he later explains, this was the dreadful mistake that Jesus came to put right. For the moment we need to notice that two things occurred in Eden which changed human nature. God had given a Law – the first one ever given, and one which gave Adam and Eve the opportunity to show their willingness to obey God. It was such a simple thing that nowadays people joke about it, but it was a very important issue. They could eat of any tree of the garden except for one. That forbidden fruit – on the one tree that showed the difference between “right” and “wrong” – was therefore called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). Eat it and suffer the consequences; or resist the temptation and continue to live in harmony with God – that was the challenge! 

Return to Dust 

Adam’s failure was an act of wilful disobedience – the New Testament makes that clear, as we shall see in due course. There were two consequences of that act of rebellion. First, it resulted in the sentence of death being passed upon Adam as God had indicated: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This sentence was not just restricted to Adam however, it passed to all mankind for all are descended from Adam and have inherited his mortality: 

“To Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return’” (Genesis 3:17-19). 

The whole of Adam’s life was changed as a result of this action and so is ours. Whereas he might have continued to live with no fear of death, now Adam would die, and so would his descendants. God delayed the punishment, but it came in due course. His death is listed in the same chapter which contains a long list of his successors (Genesis chapter 5), all of whose life-histories end with the words “and he died”. They died and we still do: death is a universal experience and God’s words clearly mean what they say. 

Death is the end of life – it is a process of turning to dust and that is how it is understood all through the Bible. The lie that was first put to Eve suggested that she would not die (Genesis 3:4), but that breaking God’s law would be advantageous. It was said that would do them both some good. Curiously, that is what a lot of people have come to believe about death – that it is a gateway to another and better life; that it commences another existence in heaven, or suchlike. 

In Chapter 5 – The Problem of Sin and Death – we will look at these questions in more detail and will see that some popular ideas about the afterlife have no support in the Bible. For the moment, note that when God said death would result if His law was broken, He meant that Adam and Eve would cease to exist if they broke His commandments. Their lives would end; and so they did. 

Change of Nature 

There was something else too that happened at that time – a second consequence of Adam’s disobedience. Again it is something which affects us also. Just as we inherit a mortal nature4 because of what Adam did, we also inherit Adam’s tendency to please himself, rather than God. He was not created with that tendency, for God made both Adam and Eve, and all creation, in a condition which is described as “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But once he had disobeyed God5 it seems that this became a principle by which he chose to live. Adam had the capacity to become like God in some respects,6 but he chose a different path. From then on all his descendants developed the tendency to move away from God, rather than towards Him. By nature, they preferred to disobey rather than to obey Him. 

We can see this moral change very early in the Bible account. The third son born to Adam and Eve was called Seth. The inspired record records that he was born in Adam’s “own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). Adam had been made in God’s likeness, with the possibility of becoming godlike in his actions and attitudes. But all Adam’s children were born with a tendency in a different direction – they were self-centred. Cain, Adam and Eve’s first child, demonstrated what that meant in practice in a most tragic way. He and his brother Abel were encouraged to worship God: Abel did this in the way that God had indicated, by bringing an animal offering. Cain brought vegetables instead, disregarding what God required. God accepted Abel but rejected Cain, and Cain promptly killed his brother and then lied to God about what he had done. You can read about it in Genesis chapter 4. 

Two chapters further on, and 1600 year later, the world was already totally godless. Everybody was following Adam’s lawless example: they were all choosing to please themselves rather than obeying God. As it turns out, there were only eight people left in the entire society at that time who were willing to listen to God’s commandments and to obey Him. All the rest are described in this way: 

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:58). 

The Bible never wastes words, so when it uses all those words to describe the human condition – “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” – you can see how serious the situation had become. God decided to destroy the entire society and to start again with Noah and his small family, and that is why the flood came. God was angry with the people in the world that existed before the flood. He was sorry that He had put man on the earth and it grieved Him to His heart – and He is equally angry with our world. 

 


21st Century World 

Remember that the words used to describe our modern society are much the same as those that occur in early Genesis, before the flood. People today are “futile in their thinking”, their hearts are “foolish” and “darkened”; their minds are “debased”; they are filled with “all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless”. They are “self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness”. All these are expressions we found in Romans chapters 1 and 2, and there is something else too. 

Three times the apostle says what God is doing about all this. Nothing! Paul tells us that God has determined to let the world alone for the time being so that the full effects of sinful and disobedient behaviour will become apparent. Our immoral world has long-since left behind the laws of God. It has made its own rules for living and set its own standards. God’s values and laws are now challenged by many people who wish to determine for themselves what they accept as “right” and “wrong”. Here is the divine assessment of today’s society: 

“God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:24-28). 

God by no means approves of many of the things that are happening today, which are contrary to His revealed Law. In this passage express mention is made of homosexual and lesbian practices which are declared impure, dishonouring and contrary to nature. The fact that these things are now being tolerated in society does not mean that they are right. It merely shows that God is biding His time, and is still giving some people the opportunity to choose a different way of life. His “kindness”, “forbearance” and “patience” are being shown to us to give us a chance to come to repentance (Romans 2:4). 

Two Classes of People 

God has allowed men and women to behave as they wish for a period, but the Scripture says that God will not tolerate this for ever, and all the indications are that He will intervene very soon. So there is no time to lose if you want to take advantage of God’s gracious invitation to change direction and choose the things that please Him. We all have to decide where we stand. Either we go the way of the world by accepting its values and adopting its attitudes, or we find a way that is right with God. Paul says this about that class of people: 

“He (God) will render to each one according to his works: 
to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality,7 he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11). 

So there is a different way: one that will bring us back into God’s favour. It is the way that will result in life and not death; the one in which we can be reckoned to be right in God’s sight, not wrong. As we progress in our reading of Romans we shall see what this involves and what we can do to be found on God’s side, when He brings this present evil age to an end and starts again with something which is so much better. 

Things to Read 

If you haven’t already read the Letter to the Romans then read chapters 1 and 2. This will help you to see the way in which Paul presents his logical and well-reasoned arguments. 
As everything starts in Genesis, and as Paul will later have such a lot to say about Adam’s failure, reading Genesis chapters 2-4 will give you a lot of helpful background. 


Questions to Think About 

4.1 The events at the time of the Flood in Noah’s day are very similar to what is about to happen. What can we learn from the Flood which will help us? (Matthew 24:34-42; Hebrews 11:6-7; 2 Peter 3:3-15) 
4.2 The Bible says that right at the end of human government, before God takes direct control, things will be very bad on earth. Why do you think that we may have reached that time now? (1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-7) 

 “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15)

Notes

1 “In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive – what we could not discover in the stone – that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose … This mechanism being observed – it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood – the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker – that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use” (William Paley, “Natural Theology”). 
2 The Romans applied the principles of “sword and fire” to subdue the rebellious Jews and the result was devastation and death everywhere throughout the land. 
3 One writer has called this inbuilt instinct “the religious instinct in man, which makes him desire to worship something or someone”. 
4 The word “mortal” just means that we die; it is the opposite of “immortal”, which means never dying. The Bible says that God alone is immortal by nature (1 Timothy 6:16). 
5 The idea that he should disobey God would never have occurred to Adam or to Eve naturally, for they were made “very good”, but the thought was put to them by an outsider – a serpent (Genesis 3:1). Notice that the serpent is held responsible for what he had done and was cursed by God as a consequence (3:14). 
6 God wanted mankind to become godly or Godlike: to reflect his image (Genesis 1:26). 

7 Notice how the Scripture gently points out that we are mortal creatures by advising us to “seek for immortality”; we do not yet possess it. 


 

5. THE PROBLEM OF SIN AND DEATH – Romans 3 

The apostle now emphasises the points he has been making for his readers. He has already said that mankind is going its own godless way and has warned that the result will be destruction unless people choose to follow God’s way. He has spelled out why God is angry about the godless and sinful way that people are now living. He has warned both Jews and Gentiles that they must change their ways if they want to escape God’s judgements. Now he takes his readers through the Old Testament Scriptures to show that everybody, without exception, has lived in a way which is wrong in the sight of God.1 This includes every one of us as well. 
The apostle strings together a lot of verses to prove a very important point: 

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one … Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:10-20). 
In this passage (of which only the beginning and the end are shown above) there are many quotations from the Old Testament, mainly from the Psalms, which demonstrate Paul’s key teaching.2 All through Bible history the inspired writers have declared men and women to be wrong in the sight of God. Everyone has turned aside to do evil. No one does what is good. People speak and say wrong things, so their lives are ruined and miserable because they have disobeyed God’s commandments. In the law court of God, if God was to sit as Judge, every one of us would be found “Guilty!”

Don’t be too depressed about this. The apostle needs to show that we have a huge problem to face up to before he can be sure that we will take our condition seriously. Remember, it’s a bit like going to the doctor – you only go when you know you’ve got problems. The key problem Paul has identified is not a popular one today. It is the problem of “sin” which will lead inevitably to “death”, unless we take immediate avoiding action, with God’s help. To demonstrate further Paul’s concern about these two problems, look how often he talks about sin and death in this letter: 

Sin and Death 

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (5:12); 

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21); 

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (6:16); 

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23); 

“Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (7:13); 

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:2). 

For the moment, don’t worry about what all of these verses mean, we shall come to them in due course. But just notice how important the connection is between “sin” and its partner “death”. We sin and therefore we die – they are cause and effect. Sin is like an employer who pays us the wages we deserve – death; like a slave master who does with us whatever he chooses; or like a king who reigns over us and then gives us death as an inheritance. It’s a pretty grim picture, and that is exactly what the inspired apostle wants us to understand. 3 

Sin 

“Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). 

That’s the way Paul describes what we have already been considering. The first act of wilful disobedience was committed by Adam when Eve suggested to him that he should eat the fruit she had already eaten. We are told that Eve was deceived by the serpent – that she did not know what she was doing when she agreed with his suggestion (see 1 Timothy 2:14). This is why Adam is held responsible for the first act of deliberate disobedience. He was not deceived – he knew what he was doing: breaking God’s law and accepting the consequences, whatever they were. God had said that in the day he ate of that fruit he would die, so it was his sin that brought death to the human race. 
Sin is an act of rebellion against God: a deliberate refusal to do what God says. This is how the Bible defines it: 

“Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). 
“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practises lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). 
“All wrongdoing is sin” (1 John 5:17). 

So acts of deliberate disobedience, or the failure to do what God wants, are equally wrong and the Bible uses several different words to spell this out. The Bible calls people who disobey God – sinners, transgressors, rebels or children of disobedience. But why is it that all of us slip so easily into sinning? Why do we find it easier to disobey God than to obey Him? 

Sinful Nature 

When Adam sinned everything changed. Sin is one of the most addictive things in the world and once Adam had sinned it was something he wanted to go on doing. 

He was part of a created order that was made “very good”, as we have seen,4 but his act of rebellion against God changed things. He could have accepted the law of God and have lived happily under its direction. But instead he chose to disobey and became subject to another ruling principle of life. He accepted the mastery of sin – as though sin was to be the king of his life – and became subject to what Paul calls “the law of sin and death” (Romans 5:21; 6:16; 8:2). 

In some way his nature was changed by that first wrong act, and that change of nature was passed down to his descendants. This is why Seth was born in Adam’s own likeness, “after his image” (Genesis 5:3). This is why the world became so wicked so quickly, before the time of the flood. And this is why our world is in such a godless and heedless state today. We are all born with that condition in which Adam found himself after he had become a sinner. From this it follows that sin is more than just an act, or acts, of disobedience against God. Sin is also a state of being – a condition of mind and heart into which we are born; a state that we now consider perfectly natural. 

Everybody since Adam has been born with the feelings and tendencies that we consider natural – that’s what human nature is all about. Everybody is born with a nature which is self-centred and self-serving. Even the best people who ever lived had those tendencies from birth. The challenge for them was to overcome those natural feelings and redirect their lives towards God, and it’s exactly the same challenge that we too face. In a Psalm that revealed his innermost thoughts, King David once said this: 

“I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:3-5). 

nature. Both Old and New Testaments agree about this. Here are some other statements about the human condition, from other books of the Bible: 

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9,10). 

“Whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled. But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:17-20). 

“We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). 

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practise every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24). 

This is the sort of exercise you can do for yourself when you become familiar with the Bible. By regular reading, and then noting down verses about a particular topic that you are thinking about, you can soon build up a collection. It’s then a matter of stopping and asking what the verses mean. And there is nothing more important to any of us than finding out about our natural condition. 

These verses tell us that by nature we are in great difficulty. If sin gets the upper hand and controls our life, we are dead! But if we can find some other way of living and behaving, which makes us right with God, there is hope of something better. In that way we will be able to escape from sin and its deadly effect. It’s as critical and as important as that. 

 “All have Sinned” 

We are not to blame in God’s sight because we are born with human nature – that’s not our fault, it’s our misfortune. This is a very important distinction, and one we could easily overlook. By nature we all have thoughts and desires which are the product of what goes on inside our minds or hearts.5 Those thoughts tempt us to do wrong, but they are not sinful until we accept them and decide that they are things we want to do. This is how the apostle James describes the way in which sin comes about: 

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15). 

Notice the process that James describes. We are tempted when our natural desires seek to lure and entice us to do or accept something that we know is wrong. At that stage we can choose to resist and kill off the thought – which is how we overcome sin. But if we let the thought grow (and here James uses a word which could equally refer to a child growing inside his or her mother), then the thought becomes a real idea – something we really want to do. This then causes us to carry out the act – and we sin. 

But there is another point to consider, the Bible also tells us that the desire to do something bad can be as bad as the bad deed itself. Jesus once said that it is just as bad to decide that you would like to do something wrong as it is to actually do it (Matthew 5:27,28). Both sinful ideas and deeds are fatal – James says that the end-product is death. 

Every one of us, in lots of different ways and at many different times in our lives, has done wrong things: things that are against the law of God. Paul was writing about people in the First Century when he said that: “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9), and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:22). Sadly, this is true of all following centuries too. For in all that time human nature has not changed; we too are made in Adam’s image, after his likeness (1Corinthians 15:49). The desire to sin is like a disease which has been passed on from generation to generation, and without a cure we will all die, because of sin. That’s why Paul could talk about “sin” and “death” in the same breath. The one always leads to the other, unless something is done to break the connection. 

Is Death the End? 

None of this really matters, of course, if death is not such a serious condition. If it is the gateway to another life, if we have an immortal soul, then we can always make up for lost time later on, and try to put our lives right with God when we get there. But what if death really is the end of conscious existence and there is no second chance? What if it’s only in this life that we have an opportunity to get everlasting life and, if we neglect this opportunity, we lose out on an eternity of joy in the age to come which God has promised? Again we need to collect a few Bible passages that will help us work out which of these two alternatives is the right one, or if there’s something in-between. 

We have to start in Eden because that’s where the original death sentence was passed on Adam. He was told that his act of rebellion had triggered the sentence that God had warned him about. If he ate, he died; and now he had eaten, so God said: 

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19). 

It was a three-fold sentence. From now on: 

1 the ground would be cursed; 
2 life would be hard; and 
3 it would end in death – Adam had come from dust and 
to dust he would return. 


Made of Dust and Breath 

Adam was a creature made from dust. 

“The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). 

Now, when he breathed his last, his body would decompose and all that would be left would be a pile of dust. It’s true that today we aren’t specially created as Adam was. But when we die our bodies will decompose in just the same way. We too, like our ancestors, are destined to become dust when we die. But what about our life, our spirit, our conscious existence, our soul, or whatever we might choose to call it? Is there something else that will survive? 

Some Bible versions translate Genesis 2:7 rather differently, suggesting that man became “a living soul”. This has led many people to believe that God created man and woman with something special inside them, something that was destined to survive after their death. This line of thought led to the belief that the soul was immortal, and that as everybody had one, nobody could ever really die. Good people would live forever in Heaven after death; bad people would suffer forever in Hell. As this seemed a bit tough on those who were not all that bad, there developed an idea that there could be in-between states as well – called “purgatory” and “limbo”. 

If you read all through the Bible, notebook in hand, this is what you will find. There is no mention of an “immortal soul” anywhere in the Bible: it is a man-made idea. The nearest you can get to that idea is what the serpent said to Eve, when he deceived her with the words: “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Sadly, she was deceived by that lie, and many of her descendants have followed the same line of thinking in later generations. 

Adam was made a “living creature” (Genesis 2:7), and the very same phrase is used many times about the animals God made. “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (2:19). Man’s existence was essentially the same as the animals that God made. What set man and woman apart was that God had made them with a capacity to become spiritual. They could develop characters and personalities that were modelled upon divine beings. So God gave them the companionship of angels, instructed them in heavenly things and encouraged them to take control of themselves and their environment. 

They were challenged to choose the things that were best and noblest in life; but when they made their own wrong choices, they lost all that. Banished from the garden, they had to make their own way in life, and it was a much harder way than God would have arranged for them. They had to find a way back into God’s favour and, graciously, God gave them several hundreds of years more in which to live – for Adam was “930 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:5), as did all his descendants after him. 

 

Spirit 

If “soul” means “creature”, or sometimes just “life”, what about the idea that we have a “spirit” inside us, a spark of the divine, something that will survive us? What was it, for example, that God breathed into Adam that energised and empowered him – the force the Bible calls “the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7)? 

It’s certainly the case that we can’t exist without the breath of life; if we lose that energising force, we cease to exist. But that’s equally so with the animals. An ancient observer of the human condition once said that “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). Everybody can understand what he meant for there is a huge difference between something which is alive and something which is dead. That life force makes all the difference. It enables a body to function and when it is gone the body is lifeless. 

Life is a gift from God and that means that all living creatures – animal and human alike – are energized by God’s power in some way. The apostle Paul once said that God “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25), and if God chooses to take that breath away we would die. What if He did that on a wide scale? 

“If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14,15). 

What would then happen to the spirit – the life force that God had supplied? Scripture gives us that answer as well: 

“… the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). 

And what of the person who has lost that spirit, that breath of life from God? 

“When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:4). 

Unconsciousness 

The breath or spirit of life is not something which is independent of man’s body. It is the Bible’s way of describing the vital force which keeps us alive and which leaves us when we die. This life-force that empowers us while we are alive returns to God at death. We are left lifeless. Every part of us, including our brains, will then be buried in the ground and will begin to decompose; or we will be burned and destroyed at once. 
There is no conscious existence left. Our thought processes, our memories and our feelings all end then, as the Bible explains many times. Death is like a dreamless sleep; the end of our consciousness: 

“Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol (in the grave) who will give you praise?” (Psalm 6:5); 

“Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon (the place of destruction)? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Psalm 88:11,12); 

“Sheol (the grave) does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day” (Isaiah 38:18). 

All this would be fairly grim news if there was no alternative available. It does mean, however, that there is no need to create an elaborate scheme of reward in heaven and punishment in hell, with purgatory in-between. Those are pagan and not Bible ideas anyway. They were added to the original gospel because people were mistaken about the true condition of our existence. When the Bible uses the term “hell” it just means a place of destruction, usually the grave,6 and you will never find any promise in the Bible about going to heaven after death. But you will find the Scripture saying of King David, who is described as being really close to God, that: 

“David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (1 Kings 2:10); 

“David is not ascended into the heavens” (Acts 2:34); 

“For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption” (Acts 13:36). 

Waking Up from Sleep! 

However this does not mean that David missed out on a future reward, as we shall see when we think about the things God promised David. The very language used is encouraging, for both Testaments use the term “sleep”, and those who are asleep can be awakened. This is the real promise of God to all His people in every age – that there will come such a time of awakening: the Bible calls it resurrection. There will come a time when God will bring back to consciousness those that He decides to awaken. Not everybody will be restored to consciousness; some people are dead and gone forever (Jeremiah 51:39,57). But many people will be called back to life: 

“Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). 

We will explore more about this promise of resurrection from the dead later, but first there is one more question we need to look at. 

 

Why do we die? 

You may feel that you can answer this question already from what we have considered. Sin and Death are closely connected, as we saw; we sin and so we die. But it’s not quite as easy as that when you start thinking about it. Lots of people have never even heard about the law of God; they live and die without even knowing there is a Bible, the Word of God. If they don’t know God’s law, they cannot be formally classed as “sinners”. So why do they die? 
They die because they are mortal: we all are. Unless we do something to escape the effects of our natural condition we shall all die, and will cease to exist forever. But Paul says something else as well. 

He explains that God has a way of calling everyone to account, whether they have known His law or not. In the second part of Romans chapter 2, he explains that God has given men and women an inbuilt mechanism called “the conscience” which introduces a measure of right and wrong into everybody’s life. People have long argued that a bad deed is recognised as such the world over – that there are some universal standards that determine what constitutes good and bad behaviour. Paul calls that the law within them, “written on their hearts”, and says that everybody should respond to these inner feelings and live properly and decently in this life, whether they know the written law of God or not. But, unless they find the gospel of salvation, even people who have lived decently will die because they are mortal, not immortal: 

“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law” (Romans 2:12). 


Notice here that the root problem is a lack of knowledge about God and His gracious purpose. Those who “perish” are those who know nothing about “the law” of God. Long before, the inspired Psalmist had summed up the situation when he declared that: “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (49:20). 

We do not live forever – and we have no immortal soul that does. Instead the Bible describes us as “mortal”, which means “liable to death”. We are all born with a limited life expectancy which differs depending upon where we live in the world. After due time our body will wear out and we will die, as we say, “of natural causes”. This is something the Bible recognises and records, for it contains the death notices of lots of people. It encourages us to face up to our mortality and do something about it: 

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Romans 6:12); 

“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:53,54);

“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). 

Being mortal doesn’t mean that we will die and never live again. It means that because we are mortal we have to do something about it if we want to become immortal. We are not immortal already. We are dying creatures, at risk of death from the time we are born. Indeed some die at birth, or are stillborn; others die at a very early age, from illness or accident. Some die in distressing and difficult situations; and yet others die in old age, some in very old age. The time factor varies, but the event is the same – we cease to breathe; the life goes out of us; we die. 

What happened to Adam is important in helping us to understand our situation. When he sinned: 
1 He became a mortal, dying creature, so it follows that all his descendants would be mortal too; and 
2 He had become a sinner and something in his personality changed so that from then on sin would be natural for him and his descendants – that’s why we still talk about “human nature”. 
3 Because sin is so natural for us, we have all copied Adam’s bad example and have become sinners. 
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). 

Now the size of the human problem is clear – that we are all in danger of dying forever and of missing out on everything that God has in mind for His world and His people. So the apostle Paul explains just what God has done to make an escape plan for humanity. If you want to be in God’s new world, there is a way that will enable you to be there. 

Things to Read 

Isaiah 38, verses 9-19 will give you an insight into the thoughts of a faithful man of God – King Hezekiah – when he was about to die. Notice how he describes life – as something that can easily be lost – and what he says about death. 
John 11:1-46 gives an account of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Notice the language that is used throughout and what everyone present believed to be the only solution to the problem of death. 

Questions to Think About 

5.1 King David is described as “asleep” and as seeing“corruption” (1 Kings 2:10; Acts 13:36). From the Psalms, can you find out what faithful men hoped would happen after death? (Psalm 16:8-11; 17:15;49:12-15; 71:20) 
5.2 What gives men and women a hope which animals donot have? What do we need to do to realise that hope? (Psalm 49:12,20; Hebrews 11:13,39-40) 
5.3 What does the word “soul” mean when used in the Bible? (Genesis 2:7; 12:5; Exodus 1:5; Leviticus 4:2; Joshua 10:28; 1 Peter 3:20) 


Notes

1 Notice how important the Old Testament is for the apostle as a source of information about the will and purpose of God. It needs to be read and understood just as much as the New Testament. 
2 This is, in fact, the longest single string of quotations in the whole of the New Testament, which again demonstrates Paul’s appreciation of the value of the Old Testament. 
3 Notice that this is picture language to help us visualise both Sin and Death, which otherwise are quite difficult things to think about. See Romans 5:14-17 (where death is pictured as a king) and 6:16-17 (where sin is pictured as a slave-master). 
4 Genesis 1:31. 
5 The Bible uses both terms – “mind” and “heart” – to describe our innermost feelings. 
6 “Hell” is an old English word which simply means ‘a covered place’. Hence it is used in the Bible to describe the grave – the covered place in which people are buried.






6.