As you might have noticed, we’re wrapping up the book of Romans with just a few short verses to go. Remember when I said that Paul started out with the “heavy” material and ended the book with slightly lighter fare? Well, I misspoke: Maybe I should have said “heavi-er” material, because even in these “housekeeping” type of verses, there’s plenty to absorb and digest.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I really think that the common nostalgia lots of Christians have for the 1st century church is a bit overdone. Human nature hasn’t changed, and God certainly hasn’t. All of the problems we see today are pretty much the ones the church struggled with 2000 years ago.
Case in point: Paul warned about false teachers and pseudo-Christians who’d snuck in and introduced bad teaching, which had caused division in the church. Sound familiar? He tells the rank-and-file believers reading this to stay away from them. Don’t listen to their “smooth talk and flattery.” This was a danger back then, and it’s a danger now.
That brings us to something that the modern American Christian desperately needs to hear: When it comes to God’s truth, ignorance is not bliss. Paul tells them in vs. 29 that he wants them to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Not ignorant. Innocent. Jesus was referring to this distinction when he told us to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” According to vs. 19 in today’s passage, these con-men are targeting “naive people,” so by not being discerning you’re opening yourself up to deception.
Keep in mind that bad teaching does more than lead individual Christians astray. It also tends to divide churches. Christians who should be united in the truth instead bicker over issues that should've been settled long ago. And the Devil watches and laughs.
So what does it mean? It means when someone presents some teaching that sounds new, you need to carefully examine it in the light of what God’s word says. And if it doesn’t match up, then drop it. Don’t indulge in it.
And near the end of this book, he presents a glorious promise right after these warnings. False teachers will always be with us, but ultimately the source of all their “teaching” will find himself under the boot. Of course, we know that at the end of history as we know it, the longstanding war between Satan and our Lord will culminate in Satan being tossed into the Lake of Fire. And I can see why that’s part of what Paul’s referring to here.
But I think we can experience some of that ultimate victory right here and now. When he told the believers in Rome that the God of peace (ironic title considering the rest of the verse) will “soon” crush their Enemy beneath their feet, I don’t think he was just talking about the end of the Age. When we’re discerning about good and evil--listening to the good and shunning the bad--that’s a good way to put the Enemy under our feet right here and now. He sometimes attacks frontally, but most of the time in the Age his most dangerous weapons are lies.
And of course covering all of this is God’s grace. We desperately need his grace—his unmerited favor-- to discern truth from lies, turn away from these lies and towards our Father, and to crush our Adversary beneath our feet.
If we listen to our Father, we can’t lose.
Father God, it seems like I constantly need my ears unplugged and my heart softened. Help me to be deaf to the Enemy, listening only to your voice.