Tag Archives: David Hazelton

Book Review: The Simplified Guide: Paul’s Letters to The Churches

12 Dec

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Deep River Books (September 5, 2013)
***Special thanks to Emily Woodworth for sending me a review copy.***

Like Paul, David Hazelton’s professional background is in the law and business. He is a senior partner in a law firm in Washington, D.C., one of the nation’s five largest firms. Dave’s passion is teaching Sunday School and leading Bible studies in his home, church, and workplace. He serves as an elder at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church.

Visit the author’s website.


Paul wrote to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 1:2). Far from works of abstract theology, his letters provide practical instruction to people without any special theological training or educational credentials––regular people like you and me. In The Simplified Guide, David Hazelton collects Paul’s instructions on specific issues as faithfully and completely as possible. Rather than promoting a particular interpretation, Hazelton guides readers to make their own observations about applying Paul’s instructions to their lives.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 216 pages

Publisher: Deep River Books (September 5, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 193775684X

ISBN-13: 978-1937756840

My Impressions:

Divided into three parts — Right Beliefs, Right Conduct and Right Relationships, The Simplified Guide: Paul’s Letters to The Churches examines the teachings of Paul. Hazelton’s topical guide is suitable for individual or group study and includes commentary, scripture references and discussion questions. The introduction lays out the framework and the background of Paul’s writings.


Paul explains the essentials of the gospel message of salvation
in simple and straightforward terms. Rather than focusing on a rigid set of
rules, or a detailed set of rituals, or a complex system of theology, Paul
focuses on the person of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and his
resurrection from the dead. If we understand the gospel correctly, everything
else will follow. Before we worry about any other issue, Paul wants us to under­stand
the gospel in all of its clarity, beauty and majesty.
We therefore begin in chapter 1 with
Paul’s explanation of this pure and simple gospel. Due to its central
importance, Paul issues strong warnings against any additions to or
subtractions from this gospel as discussed chapter 2. While insisting on strict
faithfulness to the essentials of the gospel, chapter 3 discusses Paul’s
declaration of our freedom in practices and personal convictions on secondary
matters. Chapter 4 next explains that Paul relies on Scripture as the
foundation for understanding the gospel and, more generally, what we believe as
Christians. In chapter 5, we conclude Part I of our study by discussing how
Paul takes a practical approach to “theological” issues, which brings us back,
again and again, to the gospel.
The Pure and Simple Gospel
This is the most important chapter in this book. As Paul makes
clear, the gospel is the basis for our salvation. It is the foundation on which
all of his other instructions are built. If we build on any other foundation,
everything else that we believe or do will crumble in the end.
The gospel
message as declared by Paul is easy to understand but often hard to accept.
Almost everyone can readily grasp the essential elements of the gospel at a
basic level. But many want to make it more complex than it is, perhaps because
it is difficult to accept that something so important can be so simple. Paul is
very clear, however, that the gospel message of salvation is simple,
straightforward, and available to all who come in faith. Let’s examine the
foundation for Paul’s teaching—and our faith—and what it means for us today.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, Paul states
plainly the gospel by which we are saved:
I want to remind you of the gospel I
preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By
this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.
Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you
as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according
to the Scriptures.
Paul provides quite a
buildup before identifying the essentials of the gospel message. “By this
gospel you are saved” (1 Cor. 15:2). It is the “gospel I preached to you,” the
gospel “you received and on which you have taken your stand,” the gospel to
which you must “hold firmly,” and it is a matter of “first importance” (1 Cor.
15:3). Having emphasized its importance, Paul states the essential elements of
the gospel in a few simple words: “Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according
to the Scriptures” (2 Cor. 15:3–4). Clearly, nothing is more important to Paul
than the person of Jesus Christ, his death, and his resurrection.
The book of
Acts documents that Paul preached this very gospel message to the churches when
he was with them in person. When arriving in a city, it was the “custom” of
Paul to go to the synagogue where “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.
‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said” (Acts 17:2–3). Thus,
in his sermon recorded in Acts 13:13–41, Paul presented the “message of
salvation” (v. 26) and “the good news” (v. 32) by focusing on the historic
events of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Specifically, he pro­claimed:
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers
did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the
prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a
death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried
out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid
him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen
by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:27–31)
Similarly, when put on trial for
preaching the gospel, Paul explained: “I am saying nothing beyond what the
prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the
first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people
and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22–23). We are often tempted to complicate the
gospel, but when his back was to the wall, Paul stood firm on a simple
statement about Jesus Christ, his death, and his resurrection.
Paul’s insistence on this
pure and simple gospel wasn’t limited to his preaching. In his letters to the
churches, Paul repeats again and again the simple gospel that he had preached.
In 1 Corinthians 2:1–2, he explains: “When I came to you, I did not come with
eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I
resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him cru­cified.”
Similarly, Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that “we preach Christ
crucified.” He identifies “the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If
you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that
God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:8–9).
describing the message that he preached to the Galatians, Paul declared:
“Before your very eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” (Gal.
3:1). Again, in 2 Timothy 2:8, Paul instructs: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised
from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”
Jesus was crucified by the Romans, a regional empire that
occupied and controlled Palestine at the time. It seemed like a matter of local
politics in a backwater province, where the local Roman governor—a man named
Pilate—sought to placate Jewish religious leaders who had a vendetta against
Jesus. Yet there was a much deeper meaning to the crucifixion of Jesus—a God­ordained
plan to restore the relationship between humans and their Creator, a
relationship that was fractured when sin entered the world. It was this deeper,
divine plan that compelled Paul.
In his death on the cross, Jesus
Christ—who lived a life without sin—took our sin upon himself and accepted the
punishment that we deserved. As Paul explains in Romans 5:6–11:
You see, at just the right time, when we
were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die
for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to
die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still
sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his
blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if,
while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his
Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Paul addresses
this spiritual reality again and again in Romans, which contains his most in­depth
discussion of the gospel and its implications for our lives. After explaining
in Romans 1:18 to 3:20 that every person is a sinner who is without excuse
before God and under God’s wrath, Paul declares that we have access to
forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross:
For all have sinned and fall short of
the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the
redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of
atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Rom.
To ensure that his readers understood
the eternal significance of the crucifixion, Paul returns to it again and
again. Romans 4:25 states: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was
raised to life for our justification.” In Romans 6:6–7, we read: “For we know
that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be
done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who
has died has been set free from sin.”
The life­changing power of Christ’s atoning death is emphasized
in Paul’s other letters as well. Ephesians 1:7 explains: “In him we have
redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the
riches of God’s grace.” In Colossians 2:13–14, Paul declares again that “you
were dead in your sins” but:
God made you alive with Christ. He
forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness,
which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to
the cross.
Thus, as Paul
states emphatically, the fact that “Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures” is a matter of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) because his death
provides the basis for God’s forgiveness of our sins.
We humans are afraid of countless things. We fear spiders,
clowns, heights, public spaces, public speaking, and a thousand other terrors.
From the silly to the serious, fear is an unavoidable part of what it means to
be human.
Yet there is one fear that rises like a
specter above all others, that sounds a sinister echo in the background of our
daily lives: the fear of death. Nothing is so terrifying as the realization
that we will, sooner or later, die and confront the uncertainty about what will
happen to us on the other side of this life. The inevitability of death makes
it no easier to accept; its permanence forces us to come to grips with
fundamental issues.
It is in this profoundly human context
that Christ died as a man, just as every man, woman and child will eventually
die. Yet Christ conquered death through his resurrection. As sons and daughters
of God, we share in Christ’s victory over death and his promise of eternal
Paul’s most extensive discussion of the significance of Christ’s
resurrection is in 1 Corinthians 15:12–57. In that passage, he begins by
correcting those who deny the resurrection, explaining that “if Christ has not
been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v. 14) and “if
Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins”
(v. 17). He then declares in verses 20–22:
But Christ has indeed been raised from
the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came
through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in
Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
On the day of
our resurrection to eternal life, our decaying material bodies will be
exchanged for glorified and imperishable bodies. Christ “will transform our
lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Much as
a seed is planted or sown in one form but then emerges from the earth as
something new and better, Paul explains:
So will it be with the resurrection of
the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is
sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised
in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is
a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:42–44)
He compares our current mortal bodies to
“jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7) and an “earthly tent” which we will exchange for
“an eternal house in heaven” (2 Cor. 5:1). The glory of what God has in store
for us is beyond our comprehension. “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has
heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for
those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
resurrection power not only has eternal significance, it also has the power to
transform our lives today. Emphasizing the connection between the resurrection
and the power to live a holy life today, Paul explains in Romans 6:4–10 that:
We were therefore buried with him
through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the
dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we
have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united
with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified
with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should
no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from
sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again;
death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once
for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Again, Paul explains in Romans 8:11
that: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he
who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies
because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
Jesus Christ took our sins upon himself
when he was crucified on the cross, but it was his glorious resurrection that
conquered death and prepared the way for our resurrection and eternal life. The
great human fear of death is conquered in the triumphant resurrection of
Christ. His victory over death changed everything.
Paul emphasizes the primary importance of the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ in all his teaching. Yet crucifixions were all too
common during that period of human history. And while resurrections were
exceedingly rare, the Bible records others such as Lazarus who were raised from
the dead. What was it about Jesus Christ that, above anyone else who ever
lived, his crucifixion and resurrection could have such eternal and
earthshaking significance?
Paul states
the answer plainly in Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the
Deity lives in bodily form.” While Jesus “as to his earthly life was a
descendant of David” (Rom. 1:3), he is also “in very nature God” (Phil. 2:6).
He “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Detailing several of the
fundamental characteristics that distinguish Jesus Christ from the rest of
humanity, Paul continues in Colossians 1:15–20:
The Son is the image of the invisible
God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers
or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the
head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among
the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was
pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to
himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making
peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
In Ephesians 1:19–21, Paul explains how
God’s “incomparably great power” was demonstrated when God raised Christ from
the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above
all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not
only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Paul continues in verses
22 and 23: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be
head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who
fills everything in every way.”
As declared by Paul, Jesus Christ’s unique nature as sinless God
who became man is the reason why his death could pay the price for our sins and
thus provide the basis for our salvation. Outside of Jesus, there has never
been a death that could provide forgiveness for our sins, and there has never
been a resurrection that could conquer death and pave the way for our
Christ paid the price for our
forgiveness and conquered death so we could have eternal life. We are helpless
without him. Salvation is therefore a gift received freely in faith, not
something we earn through good works. Paul’s letter to the Romans again
contains his most systematic discussion of the role of faith in receiving
salvation through the gospel. Emphasizing this important distinction between
faith and works, he declares in Romans 4:4–5 that:
Now to the one who works, wages are not
credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work
but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as
Paul emphasizes the important role of
faith for salvation again and again in Romans. “For in the gospel the
righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from
first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’”
(Rom. 1:17). “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Explaining that we “are justified freely by
his [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” Paul
declares that “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the
shedding of his blood— to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24–25). “For we
maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the
law” (Rom. 3:28). “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we
have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained
access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Rom. 5:1–2).
Driving the point home
that faith has always been the basis by which people are justified before God,
Paul points in Romans 4 to Abraham, the forefather of the Jews who lived more
than 2,000 years before Christ’s crucifixion, as a model of someone justified
by faith. “‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’”
(Rom. 4:3). “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed” in God’s promise that
he would be the father of many nations (Rom. 4:18). “Without weakening in his
faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a
hundred years old” (Rom. 4:19). “Yet he did not waver through unbelief
regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory
to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Rom. 4:20–22).
Paul is emphatic that salvation in
Christ must be received in faith. Indeed, in Romans and his other letters to
the churches, he refers to “faith” more than 100 times. For example: “We live
by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “The life I now live in the body,
I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”
(Gal. 2:20). “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God,
because ‘the righteous will live by faith’” (Gal. 3:11). “He redeemed us
in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through
Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the
Spirit” (Gal. 3:14). “In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may
approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12).
In his personal testimony, Paul declares
that he is found “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes
from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). This small sampling of
Paul’s references to “faith” reflects his conviction that Christ has done it
all, that we cannot save ourselves, and that we only can accept salvation in
Christ through faith.
Perhaps the best
definition of “faith” is found in the New Testament book of Hebrews. “Now faith
is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb.
11:1). “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who
comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly
seek him” (Heb. 11:6). Unless received in faith, the gospel message has little
meaning for the one who hears it. “For we also have had the good news
proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value
to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed” (Heb. 4:2).
Faith does not
require that we understand the mystery of the gospel in its fullness to accept
it. When explaining “the message concerning faith that we proclaim,” Paul
states the simplicity of the expression of faith required for salvation:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus
is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will
be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it
is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Rom. 10:8–10)
When we genuinely believe in our hearts
and confess with our mouths, it is the Spirit of God at work in us. For “no one
can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
How does this gospel—the unbelievable, life­transforming,
history­shaping good news declared by Paul—affect our lives today? As we close
this first chapter, we pause to reflect on the practical implications of Paul’s
instructions. This opportunity for reflection is not intended to prescribe
specifically what we need to do or how we need to change in light of the truths
declared by Paul. Instead, these few questions can encourage us to come before
God and seek his guidance on how to respond to the truths taught by Paul.
1. Why should God let us into heaven?
2. What would be our eternal destiny if God gave us what we
deserved rather than the forgiveness we can have through Christ?
3. Can we be saved by following rules and performing rituals?
Why not?
4. What is the significance of the fact that salvation is a gift
to be received in faith rather than something to be earned through good works?
What is the significance of this fact to our daily walk as Christians?
5. What is the significance of the fact that the gospel is
centered on Christ and what he did, rather than on us and our efforts? How
should this reality affect our daily walk as Christians?
6. What does it mean to accept the gospel in faith? At an intellectual
level, how do we accept the gospel? How does receiving the gospel in faith go
beyond intellectual acceptance?
7. Can we fully understand the mystery and miracle of the
gospel? Why not?
8. If we cannot be saved by our own good works, what is the role
of good works in a Christian’s life (which will be discussed at length in Part
II of our study)?
9. What is your relationship with Christ? Is he both your Lord
and Savior?
10. How should we live differently in light of the gospel?