The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Word (page 1 of 26)

Two Men

This is the story—true story (though critics will claim it’s religious fanaticism gone further amok)—of two men.  The first, the first man (there had to be a first, right?—unless somehow “the Big Bang” explosively produced a horde).  To this first man we’re all connected; from him we all descend.  To the second man (the God-man!), some are connected.  He is the progenitor of  a new creation.

Paul introduces the first man as the means through which sin entered the world, thus explaining why humanity is estranged from God and needing the reconciliation of which he’s just written: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved (from God’s wrath) by his life” (Romans 5:10).

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—(5:12).

“Therefore” is the Greek dia touto, literally “on account of this”:  “On account of this (of believers’ rescue from God’s wrath) . . . ” (5:1-11).  With “just as” Paul begins to compare the effects of Adam’s sin with the effects of Christ’s grace.  But he breaks it off (hence the dash ending this verse), not to pick it up until 5:18.  In other words, “ Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Before we get there, we should note that by “sin” Paul doesn’t mean specific acts but sin as a power (see 3:10), entered the world through that first man.  And death (as the consequence of sin—death as physical expiration and death as separation from God) entered the world through sin.

Thus, the Bible’s answer as to why we die, why we can’t conquer death, is sin against the Creator.  Adam chose to disbelieve and disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).

Consequently, claims Paul, “ . . . death came to all men, because all sinned.”  Implicitly, “all sinned” because of the Adam-connection.  But what is the connection?  Some commentators/theologians explain that Adam was “the federal head” of the race, thus representing us all in his sin and subsequent death.  Others explain that Adam’s progeny were all present in him; thus all sinned and all die.

I’ve always favored the view that says we all get Adam’s immoral “genes”.  That is, we inherit a sinful, depraved nature from our forefather and all sin and all die.  (This, I just learned is known as “the Roman Catholic view” and is held by many Wesleyans and Arminians.)  Whatever.  Choose your view.   Paul is obviously saying that we’re all connected in some way to Adam and all have sinned as he did and so death comes to us all.

” . .  .for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law” (5:13).

Again, sin is more than acts of breaking God’s law.  It’s the power of evil that “was in the world . . . before the law was given.”  But sin is not marked down as a rebellious transgression against God’s law “when there is no law.”

“Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come” (5:14).

Despite the absence of law-breaking (because God had not yet revealed his law) death ruled from Adam’s time to Moses’ (when God issued his law).  Humans sinned, but not “by breaking a command, as did Adam” (“You shall not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden . . . lest you die”—Genesis 3:3).

Adam was not only the means of sin and death entering God’s creation, he also was “a pattern of the one to come.”  By “pattern” (Greek, tupos) Paul means Adam was a prophetic symbol who pictured Jesus Christ long before he came.

But in what sense was Adam a “pattern” of Christ?  Adam’s one disobedient act impacted the entire human race.  Christ’s one act of obedience impacted the “new human race”—all who would believe in him

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (5:15-19).

A pattern Adam may be, but his trespass and Christ’s gift, though alike in impact, are poles apart in results.  Paul emphasizes this with phrases like “how much more did God’s grace and gift . . . overflow to the many!”  And “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life” (5:17). 

The contrast is severe.

Connected to Adam one “dies by the trespass of the one man” (that statement seems to support the belief that somehow we are guilty for Adam’s sin); one stands condemned under God’s judgment following Adam’s “one sin”; one lives under the reign of death; one stands condemned with “all men . . . as the result of one trespass”; one lives among “the many [who] were made sinners . . . through the disobedience of the one man . . . “

Connected to Christ, one receives “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of . . . Jesus Christ” (that is, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross); one has “the gift” that “brought justification”; one receives “God’s abundant provision of grace and . . . the gift of righteousness (that allows one to reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”; one receives “justification that brings life”; one is “made righteous”.

Actually, using “one receives” throughout my comments on 5:15-19 isn’t accurate.  Often Paul uses “the many”—“the many died by the trespass of the one man”; “the many were made sinners . . . the many will be made righteous.”  “ . . . the many” is merely stylistic.  None are not sinners (“all have sinned”—3:23).  And only “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life.”

“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20,21).

Paul finishes this paragraph by a word about the law’s purpose and about the super-abounding nature of God’s grace in Christ.  The law doesn’t change the Adamic nature of humans; it only reveals humans’ sin and makes humans increasingly aware of it.  This what Paul means by, “The law was added so that the trespasses might increase.”  But the more sin increased (both in realization of sin and the practice of sin), God’s grace multiplied “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Despite the power of sin reigning over Adam and his progeny (all of us), God’s grace must and will reign through Christ’s righteousness to bring eternal life to many.

* * *

It’s not fair!  That’s how I first respond to this two-men story.  Why should my family tree traced all the way back begin with Adam?  Why should I be connected to him, so that I’m cursed with a  bent toward sin, or am born with a sinful nature, or have Adam’s guilt imputed to me?   Why should death reign over me because of Adam?  Why should his disobedience make me a sinner?  Nobody asked my opinion.  Nobody recorded my vote.  It’s not fair.

On the other hand, look what else God has done.  He’s given me the free gift of justification.  He’s given me the free gift of righteousness so that I will reign in life.  He’s given me grace and the free gift of grace that abounds.  Even though God’s law increases my sin, God’s grace abounds all the more.  He’s given me grace that leads to eternal life.  All this because of the second man in the story.  I’m connected to him.  Not by my works, just by  grace through faith.   And that’s not fair either.  That’s grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(MORE) GOOD STUFF FROM JUSTIFICATION (2)

God gives generously, liberally, abundantly.  More than can fit in one blog!  So here’s the rest of the “good stuff” that comes to us justified-by-faith-in-Christ-people in Romans 5:1-11 . . .

REJOICING IN SUFFERINGS

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us . . . ” (5:3,4a).

. . . rejoice in our sufferings” An oxymoron.  Suffering isn’t joyful.  It’s in the world because we humans exchanged the Creator’s glory for our own images.  And, in wrath, God gave us over to what we want—and the consequences. But, for the justified, God uses suffering to produce perseverance (or, endurance) in us.  Perseverance develops character—a difficult-to-interpret Greek word which moves one writer to picture a veteran soldier, no longer a boot-camp rookie, now battle-tested and toughened.  And that character produces our capacity for hope of future glory.  And, Paul writes, that hope “does not disappoint us . . . . “ –it will in no way fail to satisfy us!

“ . . .  rejoice”, again, is a verb.  (Not a state-of-being noun.)  And rejoicing ”in our sufferings” is something, says Paul, we can do because we are justified and because of what suffering-as-justified-people produces—endurance, character, and non-disappointing hope.

I’m still working on this one.  Haven’t gotten it down yet. I want healing from my physical sufferings.  Am I wrong?  Should I be praying for the ability to rejoice in my sufferings?  Apparently so.  Wouldn’t it be great to rejoice in our sufferings?  Holy Spirit, enable me!

POURED-OUT LOVE

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:5).

The reason our hope of sharing God’s glory will not end in disappointment is this:  “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul’s words recall Ezekiel’s new covenant prophecy . . .

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

In this case, Paul writes God, by the Holy Spirit, has poured out “his love” into our hearts.  By this Spirit-given love, God inaugurates our certain hope.

This love is subjective–love we sense, feel.  It bears witness with our spirit that the loving God is at work within us by the Holy Spirit.

The foundation for this love poured out and for our justification itself, however, is objective, not left to the realm of feeling . . .

“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 man, though for a good man 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” (5:6-8).

It was “just the right time” according to God’s timing.  “ . . . we were still powerless”, totally helpless to escape God’s wrath.  We were “ungodly”—anti-God, blasphemous, depraved.  We were “still sinners”—living in conscious opposition to God’s good will.

And “Christ died for us.”

Sure, occasionally some will die for a good person.  A soldier for his buddy, for instance.   But only Christ will die for wretched sinners.  And only God will  demonstrate his own love for us like that!

RESCUE FROM WRATH

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when 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!” (5:9,10).

Paul makes a logical argument.  Since God did the more difficult thing (justifying sinners by Christ’s blood), then he can do the less difficult thing (save them from his coming wrath).  By the way, let’s make no mistake.  While God in his wrath gives God-rejecters over to their lusts, the day of his wrath still comes (2:5).  But there’s no way God will allow his wrath to touch his justified.

REJOICING IN GOD TO WHOM WE ARE RECONCILED

“Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:11).

Not only will the reconciled be saved from God’s future wrath, reconciliation gives us cause to rejoice now in God.  The Greek kauchauomen means “boast of with joy” or “glorify with joy”.  The key to this rejoicing in God is “reconciliation”, which Paul uses to sum up justification and all its benefits.  The Greek for “reconciliation” is katalagayn referring to the reestablishing of a personal relationship.  We who have trusted God’s justifying work through Christ now have a personal “connectedness” with God himself.  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (8:16a).   In this God, Paul writes, we rejoice.

* * *

As I admitted above, I’m still working on the rejoicing-in-suffering “stuff”.  I get what Paul’s saying.  Suffering produces perseverance in me, perseverance produces proven character, and proven character increases my capacity to hope in sharing God’s glory.  I just want to go to God’s glory with the bottom half of my body working!  So I pray, and I ask you to pray, that, trusting the good God promises to bring from it, I might rejoice in my suffering for as long as it continues.

Poured-out love is a warm fuzzy.  Well, it’s more than that, but not less.  There’s nothing like feeling loved, especially when you don’t deserve it.  And there is nothing like feeling loved by God.  I don’t feel it often.  But I know that feeling comes when I’m meditating on his Word that tells me he loves me.  (I think there’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere!)

Paul seems to overdo rescue from God’s wrath.  It under girded his “Peace with God” benefit.  Now, here it is again.  Maybe it’s because he knows we underplay it.  A terrible day of God’s wrath is coming.  (Don’t you wonder how he can still withhold it when you look at the world?)  But he will shelter us from his wrath, because he’s already rescued us from it through Christ.

For me, rejoicing in God (that is, joyfully give him glory) doesn’t come automatically.  Largely this is due to my illness.  I have to meditate on his Word that tells me who he is and what he’s done.  When I do–and when I do it in an attitude of prayer thinking deeply about his Word (such as Romans 3:21-5:11) joyful praise to him comes.

And that’s when I realize again that God himself is the greatest “good stuff” of justification!

 

 

 

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Good Stuff from Justification (1)

What “stuff“ exactly?  Might sound greedy to ask what we get from justification.  Maybe “consequences” is more palatable.  But in Romans 5:1-11 Paul lists the “stuff” (or, “consequences” if you prefer) . . .

PEACE WITH GOD

”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . “ (5:1).

Paul has just summarized 3:21-4:24 with these words:  “ [Jesus our Lord] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  Now comes the “stuff” that follows as a consequence of being put in right-standing with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We should note that this means nothing for the person who believes he’s “good” so he’s “okay” with God.  This is why 1:18-3:20 is so important.  We’ve exchanged creation-revealed knowledge of God for our idols.  Therefore, God has given us over to the lusts we want to gratify—and their consequences.  This is God’s wrath in the world’s everyday life.  But religious people have no excuse.  They do the same as the God-rejecters and won’t repent. Therefore, they are storing up wrath against themselves on the day of God’s wrath.  Conclusion:  all are sinners; all are accountable to the God of righteousness and wrath.

But “we”, who’ve trusted the crucified and resurrected Christ, “have peace with God.”  Wrath has been appeased.  The war is over.

STANDING IN GRACE

“ . . . through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:2a).

The English “gain access” comes from the Greek, prosagogen, a word used of admission into the presence of a person of high rank. The fact that Paul uses it with “into this grace in which we now stand implies continued access.  So we, who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and are now justified, have ongoing access into grace.   So there we now stand.

I picture it like this.  The most common definition of “grace” is “God’s undeserved favor.”  God’s favor is an ocean.  We’re standing in it knee-deep as gentle waves of grace wash over us again and again.  It’s another benefit of being justified by faith.

REJOICING IN HOPE

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2b).

“ . . . rejoice” (Greek, kauchometha) obviously is a verb (unlike “peace”—above—which is a noun and, therefore, something we are given as a result of being justified).  So, rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” is something we do, says Paul, and able to do because of being in right-standing with God.

This rejoicing is specific.  It’s “in the hope of the glory of God.”  “Hope” isn’t a wish; it’s a confident expectation the future has broken into the present through Christ’s resurrection.  “ . . . in the expectation of the glory of God” captures the sense of the word.  The “glory” of God (Greek, doxa—splendor, grandeur, power) is what we fell short of (3:23) and what we exchanged for our images (1:21).  Now we rejoice because our confident expectation is to gain what we lost.

It should be noted that ”the glory of God” is more than a simple definition can contain.  If I say “God’s glory is all that he is in his splendor, grandeur and power”, we’re stepping closer.  But, in my view, “glory” is a “catch-all” word to express the inexpressible.

Why is “the glory of God” a hope in which we rejoice?  Because God’s glory will be revealed in us (8:18). This will include “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).  My imagination could soar here.  But I’ll tamp it down, so we can move on.  (You, go ahead.  It will be more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20,21).

* * *

We take peace with God (benefit #1 of justification above) pretty much for granted.  I think that’s because our culture has penetrated our minds, and we can’t envision God’s wrath against us.  God is love, right?  Besides wrath sounds so 18th century puritanical.  But the wrath-war has ended only because God makes us right with himself through our faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace as waves of his kindness and favor continually wash over us can be a tough image to accept, especially in times of suffering and pain.  How is this grace?  How is this undeserved love?  But like “peace with God”, “standing in grace” is a state of being for the justified, not something we have to do.  We’re standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace even if it feels like a dry desert at times.

Hopelessness is one of the worst emotions.  Many of us struggle with it as we face death, because we will die with much undone we wanted to do.  Only in the movies do we get to check-off everything on our “bucket list”.  But we who are justified have a future beyond our last breath here.  Paul calls it “the glory of God.”  I can’t define it.  But gaze at a field of wildflowers, or pounding ocean waves, or majestic mountains.  Creation is a tiny revelation of “the glory of God.”  Or read the Gospels and watch Lazarus come out at Jesus’ command, and envision Jesus suffering an agonizing, bloody death in our place.  And then read of the empty tomb and Jesus meeting Mary and showing his wounds to doubting Thomas.  Jesus is the supreme revelation of “the glory of God.”  And justification opens the floodgates of rejoicing in our future of God’s glory.

Pretty good stuff, no?  More to come next time . . .

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Got Credit

It’d be crazy, right, if my next IRA report showed a generous stranger had credited $500,000 to my account.  In Romans 4:22-25 Paul announces God has credited righteousness to us who believe Jesus died as a sacrifice for us.

That (crazy) good news falls mostly on deaf ears, though, since we presume we’re “okay” because we’re essentially “good”.

But even a cursory reading of Romans 1:18-3:20 demolishes that idea.  In 1:18-31 Paul explains how we humans suppress the truth of God by our wickedness, and how God in his wrath gives us over to the horrible consequences of our God-less choices.  In 2:1-3:8 he charges that even religious people fall short of God’s standard and face the day of God’s wrath. Finally, in 3:9-20, like a powerful prosecutor, he charges that we’re all sinners dominated by sin’s power.  “None is righteous . . . no one does good!”

But in 3:21-31, with a big “But now”, Paul transforms into an old-fashioned newspaper boy shouting “Good News” on a street corner:  we unrighteous, bad-doers can be right with God!  Not by doing good, but by believing in the crucified Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (Again, this is good news only to people who believe 1:18-3:20 correctly describes our standing before God!)

In 4:1-21 Paul opens his Jewish Bible and presents the father of the Jews, Abraham, as the classic example of righteousness-by-faith.  Now, here in 4:22-25, he applies the gospel of justification by faith to his readers in Rome, and to us.

“This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:22-25)

“ . . .  credited” is the key word.  Paul repeats it three times in this little paragraph . . .

  • Abraham’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness”
  • “ . . . the words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also”
  • “It will be credited to us who believe in him . . . “

The original Greek word is logizomaiI, an accounting term.  “Because you believe,” God says, “I’ll credit your account with righteousness.”

Paul adds further substance to this (crazy) good news by showing it’s not some New Testament oddity, but a solid Old Testament witness.  Righteousness was credited to Abraham who believed God’s promise.  That promise has been fulfilled in Christ.  The foundation for justification by faith is Christ’s death on the cross.  But, as Abraham bears witness, the promise of being right with God has always been by faith apart from works.

Here Paul adds a dynamic dimension to faith:  it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”  As God gave life to Sarah’s “dead” womb to birth Isaac, so he raised our Lord Jesus from the dead.  And by believing we are declared in right standing with God, though we are no more righteous than we were a minute before faith.

What, though, does Paul mean by Jesus “was raised to life for our justification”?  He means that resurrection completed Jesus’ work of putting the ungodly into right-standing with God.  Had Jesus remained in the tomb, all his claims would have been proven false.  But resurrection is a sign . . .

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here'” (Matthew 12:38-41).

Resurrection signifies Jesus’ words are true, both about himself and his work.  Therefore, resurrection “completes” his justifying work by signifying it is true.  It also adds a new dimension to justification.  It means not only that by faith we who are ungodly are declared to be in right-standing with God.  It means also that we are standing in the risen Christ.  His righteousness is ours.

* * *

For those who believe in the inherent goodness of man and that God’s okay with our being “okay”, this is only so much fanatical religious blather.  We’ve evolved out of the idea that sin is, well, sinful.  And talk about God’s wrath is likely to be met with bewilderment, at best.

I know soldiers lay down their lives for their buddies and strangers volunteer to help in hurricanes.  But how can any thinking person look at today’s world and believe man is inherently good?

What we’re offered to believe is that “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sin and was raised to life for our justification.”  Ah, there’s the rub.  To believe that is to admit we’re not inherently good–and that we can’t do anything to be good enough.

And to believe, as John Bunyan (17 century Puritan preacher best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress) wrote “he found in his heart a secret inclining to unbelief . . . Against hope, against reason, against ‘feeling’, against opinions of others, against all human possibilities whatever, we are to keep believing.”

God of all grace, help us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inherit the World

You sit in the lawyer’s office surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other heirs (it’s a big office).  The patriarch Abraham is present.  The crowd is all his faith-descendants from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  The lawyer opens a will and reads: “You—all of you (he pauses at the outrageousness of it)—inherit the world.”

That’s what Paul writes of  in today’s text–but mentions it almost as an aside.  He’s focused on Abraham, a Jewish hero, right with God, not by works but by faith.  Paul concludes this makes Abraham the father of both believing, circumcised Jews and believing Gentiles (4:1-12)—though they had been the pagans described in 1:18-32.

But, now, about . . .

GOD’S PROMISE

“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (4:13).

Paul has two passages from Genesis in mind when  he writes that sentence . . .

“After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’  And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’  Then the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’  He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars– if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:1-6).

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.  I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’ Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations’” (Genesis 17:1-4).

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, expands “offspring” and “many nations’ to “the world”.  He uses the Greek word, kosmos—here referring to the new order of creation peopled by all the redeemed “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Who’d want to inherit this world?  Sure, it has its wealth and places of magnificent beauty.  But this world is under the devil’s dominion (1 John 4:19).  It’s corrupted by wars and senseless violence, by poverty, by sickness and disease and death, and by human sin against the Creator.  But there’s a new world coming!  And it’s ours who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus we are Abraham’s descendants.  And, thus, we are made right with God, so we might have the promise.

“If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)– in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:14-17).

The reasoning of this paragraph is clear.  If those who cling to the law are to inherit, “faith is null and the promise is void.”  This because the law brings God’s wrath, because those who aim to be right by keeping laws always fall short.  And so, God has made the promise depend on faith, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all [Abraham’s] descendants”.  And Abraham’s descendants are all (circumcised or uncircumcised) “who share the faith of Abraham”.

And Abraham’s faith was as outrageous as the promise:  he believed in God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  I picture nothing—and God creating out of nothing this universe.  I picture something else too.  Old, as good as dead Abraham with his old barren wife Sarah.  He’s standing in a desolate darkness. He hears the Lord say, “’a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’  He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars– if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’”.  He looks up and sees stars, yes, more than he can count.  And he believes in this God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  He, Abraham, is as good as dead.  And not even one son exists.  But he believes in the Lord.

ABRAHAM’S FAITH

All those who share in Abraham’s faith have God’s promise guaranteed by grace. Paul uncovers the nature of Abraham’s faith (which we are to share).

“Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:18-21).

Abraham’s faith necessarily included hope, because he believed in a future work of God (“he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’”).  But that was hopeless (“against all hope”).  After all, his own body “was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old)” and Sarah’s womb was barren.  But “hoping against all hope, he believed that he would become the father of many nations” according to the Lord’s word.

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God . . . “  Those words seem at odds with Genesis 17:17,18 . . .

“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’”

Commentators suggest various solutions.  I think the best is this:  Paul was looking at Abraham’s life of faith overall.  He wasn’t perfect.  He had bouts of wavering.  But, search the panorama of his life and you find a man who hoped against hope, believing what God said he would do.

* * * *

Two applications can be made, the first concerning our inheritance.  Obviously, that we are among those who will inherit the world gives us hope for the future.  Beyond the routine of our lives, beyond even death, our new world awaits.  Though, as I’ve said above, this is an outrageous promise, we should never think of Christianity as only a “personal faith”.  It is cosmic.  It involves a new creation.  We mustn’t publicly retreat from the promise because it sounds so “crazy”.

The second application to be made here concerns our faith.   We’re called to believe that by believing in the death (and resurrection) of Christ God, despite our sins and moral corruption, declares us in right-standing with himself.  We’re called to believe in the outrageous promise of the new world.  But, since we are called to share the faith of Abraham, we’re called to “faith for the long haul”.    Day after day, year after year with no tangible evidence accompanied by “body blows” that cause suffering and raise doubts.  May God in his grace grant that it may be said of us as if was of Abraham . . .

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God,
but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

 

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Regulations and Rituals

The church where I grew up prohibited members from movies, dancing, drinking and card playing.  Many Reformed churches today erect a rhetorical fence around the Lord’s Supper table to keep out unbelievers.  My childhood church thus (unintentionally) implied being right with God was a matter of keeping regulations.  Reformed churches today (unintentionally) imply that properly participating in the ritual is required for justification.

In Romans 4:1-12, Paul addresses Jews and meets both regulation and ritual head-on . . .

REGULATIONS RE:  RIGHT WITH GOD

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about– but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:  ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him'” (Romans 4:1-8).

Why was what Abraham found about how a person is made right with God important to Paul’s justification-by-faith argument?  Abraham is revered as the father of the Jewish nation.  And Paul is primarily addressing Jews here.

Can Abraham boast of his works?  Not before God, replies Paul.  Then, citing from the Greek translation of Genesis 15:6, he writes, Scripture says “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness”.  “Credited” is the Greek logizomai, meaning ”to credit to one’s account”.  That is, his faith was the means right-standing with God was accounted to him.

This astounds the Jew.  Abraham was justified, not by obeying the Lord and leaving his father’s household to settle in an unknown land.  Nor by obeying the Lord and sacrificing his only son (the Lord stopped him at the last second).  But Abraham was counted right with God by his faith.  Therefore, Jews can’t appeal to Father Abraham as a model for justification by works; he’s a model for justification by faith.

Furthermore, a workman doesn’t get a gift of wages; a workman is due wages.  But, when it comes to right-standing with God, a person must choose not to work to earn justification, but simply trust “God who justifies the wicked”.  Thus “his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Paul next appeals to David, Israel’s greatest king.  David, he says, agrees with Abraham:  “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man who sin the Lord will never count against him”—a citation of Psalm 32:1,2.

Do two passages in the Old Testament contradict God justifying the wicked?  Exodus 23:7—“Keep your distance from a false charge—do not kill the innocent and the righteous, for I do not justify the wicked.”  Proverbs 17:15—“Justifying the wicked and condemning the righteous—both of them are an abomination to the Lord.”  The difference, however, is that justified now has been satisfied through Christ’s death, but it had not been in those Old Testament days.

RITUAL RE:  RIGHT WITH GOD

“Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!  And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:9-12).

God commanded Abraham to circumcise every male in his household (Genesis 17:10-14).  It became the outward mark of belonging to God’s covenant people (Genesis 17:1-10).  But did circumcision make a man right with God.  Absolutely not!  Abraham received the sign of circumcision (as a) seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”  In fact, Abraham was 99 years old when he underwent that rite (Genesis 17:24).

Paul applies a staggering (to the Jew) “so then”:  “So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised” . . . and “he is also the father of the circumcised” . . . who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

* * *

In his definitive research (published in Soul Searching:  the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and in Souls in Transition:  the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults), sociologist Christian Smith found that the majority of these groups believe “God wants us to be good.”  What is being “good” but a casual way of trying to keep God’s regulations?  But this is not what God wants.

Most Americans regard the sacraments (church rituals like the Lord’s Supper and baptism) as, in some way, “holy”.  But rituals signify deeper realities (fellowship with the Lord, commitment to follow him, and especially faith in him) without which rituals are empty forms–certainly not redemptive.

On one hand, we might say Paul has brought us to a joyful place.  Our sins doom us under God’s wrath–no escape by regulation-keeping or ritual-engaging.  All we can and must do is trust in Christ’s redemptive death.  Joy!

On the other hand, Paul has brought us to an uncomfortable place.  We have all sinned.  In anger, God has given us over to our lusts and their consequences.  We are storing up wrath against ourselves for the day of God’s wrath.  But God offers us Christ’s redemptive death to save us from sin and wrath and to put us in right-standing with himself.  All we can and must do is trust.  But trust means we can do nothing to justify ourselves.  Trust means we must step out on the high-wire and walk by what we can’t see.  Or in the words of the 18th century hymn, trust means singing . . .

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace . . . “

 

 

 

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No Place for Pride

Your team just won the title game. You played well.  Room for feeling good about yourself.  You aced the final exam.  Highest grade in the class.  Space for self-satisfaction.  Yet, as I envision Paul looking around a room filled with Jews, he asks, “Where is there room for boasting in here?”  That, I think, is the sense of Paul’s question.  His answer:  “No room in here for that.”

“Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded” (Romans 3:27a).

Pride is okay in some places, but not here, not when it comes to one’s standing with God.

Like an intense prosecutor confident of his case, Paul has driven home condemning truth . . .

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness . . . “ (Romans 1:18).

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).

“What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9).

All those charges lead to the exclusion of pride.  And not just pagan Gentiles—Romans, for example, who worship gods of their own making—but Jews, too.  Jews, who are circumcised, who possess God’s very words, are also under the power of sin.  Nothing to boast about before God.

But on that black velvet of sin and wrath, the gospel shines like a diamond  . . .

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

This gospel gives no grounds for boasting.  Justification comes freely by God grace through Christ’s redemption.  So pride . . .

“ . . . is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:27b,28).

A man—a woman—is justified “by faith apart from observing the law.”  Tack up the Ten Commandments on your refrigerator and pray for power to keep them today, and whatever your performance, you’ve not improved your standing with God one bit.  Justification comes by faith apart from observing the law.  The work of being right with God is God’s work from start to finish. This, says Paul, is the gospel we preach.  As true for the Jew as for the Gentile, because “there is only one God” . . .

“Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (Romans 3:29,30).

One God.  One way to being right with one God:  faith.  “ . . . faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”  That’s a stomach-punch to the crowd that insists many roads lead to God.  Only one God.  Only one way.

But what, then, of God’s law?

“Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? (Romans 3:31a).

It seems Paul does.  If right-standing with God is by faith apart from law-keeping, don’t you do away with law, Paul?

 Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31).

Paul is emphatic.  He upholds God’s law.  He’ll explain how starting in chapter 4.  For now, be sure of this:  faith-justification doesn’t allow for lawless living.

* * *

Boasting is pride spoken.  Spiritual boasting is spiritual pride spoken.  And spiritual pride is deadly–and insidious.   It lurks in our heart when we presume to deserve God’s grace.  Or when we presume to deserve good health.

That’s my problem.  I don’t deserve this chronic, debilitating disease.  I deserve healing or, at least, protection from it.

But since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, I’m one of the “all”.  And, likewise, facing the day of God’s wrath.  That’s what I deserve.  Justification, good health–anything good–is of God’s grace.   And when Jesus comes even by body will be redeemed.  I won’t deserve it.

“Father, years ago I was warned never to pray for humility.  Your humbling work would be too painful.  I’m humbled in my body now.  Please use it to remove my pride.  May I learn to walk humbly with you, my God.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

 

 

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But Now

On August 6 & 9, 1946, during World War 2,  the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively.  Within a week, Japan surrendered.  The bombs changed history.

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (3:21).

“But now . . . “  Those words signal a “bomb-dropping”-like change in the way God works in the world. God is pouring out his wrath against humans’ sin (1:18-3:20).  The question, then, that overrides everything else is “how can we escape God’s wrath and get right with him?”  Now not by trying (unsuccessfully) to keep regulations, but by receiving the gift of righteousness. This is what Paul means by “apart (separate) from law”. 

Yet this apart-from-law-righteousness was prefigured in the Mosaic Law and foretold by Israel’s prophets.  “But now” does imply that God is starting new “from scratch”; he’s fulfilling what he long-promised.

We might ask, “What’s the big deal?  I’m trying to get my career on track.”  Or, “I’m trying to mother three children.”  Or, “I’m struggling with debilitating cancer treatments.  Religion has to wait.”  But suppose Paul’s letter to the Roman church is right?  Suppose God really is giving us over in his wrath to the consequences of our wrong choices against him?  Suppose our sins against him really mean we’re storing up wrath for the day of God’s wrath?  If that’s true, what could be more important than getting right with him?  And what could be more important than receiving the righteousness he now gives, especially since regulation-keeping leaves us “short”? 

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:22-24). 

What is this “faith in Jesus Christ” through which God’s righteousness comes?  It’s “simply” trust in Jesus Christ.  It’s reliance on a person.  It’s not, “Act right and you get righteousness.”  It’s trust Jesus Christ to be the means through which God gives you righteousness.

“Faith” opens up righteousness as a potential gift to all who believe.  Paul makes a major point of this here.  “There is no difference (or, distinction); for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and (therefore all) are justified freely (without merit or achievement declared right with God) by his grace . . . ”

What does it mean to “fall short of the glory of God”?  First, what is God’s “glory”?  The Greek word itself (doxa) means, “glory, radiance, splendor”.  Doesn’t help much, does it!  John Piper calls glory “the going public of [God’s] infinite worth . . . the infinite value of God”.  So we gaze at the heavens and the earth that this God created.  We marvel at stars and clouds and mountains and oceans—and sleeping babies.  How glorious this Creator!  What a treasure all that he is must be!

But humans have exchanged God’s glory for images (Romans 1:19-24).  Thus, we “fall short” and are left without all that he is; indeed, we incur his wrath.

The Jew who’s been circumcised to mark his belonging to God’s people and assiduously commits to keeping God’s Law can now be “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  So can the pagan Gentile men whom God had given over to their consuming sexual passions for one another.  Like the “religious” person, the immoral person who’s utterly rejected God and his laws is declared right with God “freely” by faith.

This is “grace” (God’s favor, kindness, unearned love).  And it comes “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”   “Redemption” means “to buy back” and carries with it the idea of slaves being released.  So, we are slaves “under (the power of) sin” (Romans 3:9), but we can be redeemed (bought back from slavery) by Christ’s ransom-price death.  Thus, this faith centers in the person of Jesus Christ, crucified.

“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25,26).

The NIV’s translation, “presented”, is of the Greek protithayme, better translated “presented publicly”.  God openly offered Jesus as “a sacrifice of atonement”.  The Greek is hilastayrios meaning “propitiation”; that is, the place where sins are forgiven.  Again turning to John Piper’s definition, propitiation is “the work of God to absorb his divine anger toward sinful man.”  In other words, God unleashed his wrath due sinful humanity on Jesus, his Son.  Such is the unspeakable grace of God.

Because hilastayrios is used in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) to translate “mercy seat”, some have argued “mercy seat” lies behind the word’s meaning here.  Thus Paul is saying that God publicly offered Jesus in his bloody death as the merciful covering for our sin–an apt image!

Either way, it’s instructive to note that Paul narrows the object of faith from “Jesus Christ” (3:22) to “his blood”—that is, his propitiatory sacrifice.

Paul then explains the reason for God offering Christ as a propitiation—that is, “he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”.  How can God be just and allow sins go unpunished?  He only allowed it for a time.  Christ endured the punishment for all sins committed by all believers.  At the same time as he is just, he is “the one who justified (declared righteous) those who have faith in Jesus.”

* * *

Paul will apply all this in the next sentences:  “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:27,28).  In other words, “You Jews who work hard at keeping God’s law, you have nothing to brag about.  Don’t go point your finger at Gentiles who do what they shouldn’t!  Everybody who believes is justified!”

More about that next time.  For now it will be good to re-read this blog–even better to prayerfully meditate on Romans 3:21-26, admit our sin and worthiness of God’s wrath, and affirm that we are relying on Jesus Christ crucified alone to be right with God.

Because God’s “But now” changed history–and miraculously changed our standing with our glorious God.

 

 

 

 

 

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Everybody Under Sin

Sin-talk.  Mostly reserved for Sundays.  It left ordinary conversation with the Enlightenment–a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent in the West and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness–https://www.britannica.com/event/Enlightenment-European-history.

In Romans 3:9-20 Paul paints the final dark strokes of  his picture of God’s wrath.  Why God’s wrath? He explains and, therefore, the reason for the gospel.  Further, he insists “that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin”.  To prove his concluding points, Paul cites a catalogue of verses from his (Old Testament) Bible . . .

“What shall we conclude then? Are we [Jews] any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9)

Despite being entrusted with God’s very words, Jews are no better off.  All humanity is “under sin”.  Paul sees sin as a power that dominates all humans since the Fall.  No one is free from it.

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.   All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).

“As it is written” claims the words that follow are authoritative.  Paul cites Psalm 14 and virtually repeats himself citing Psalm 53 . . .

“They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1b-3).

“They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:1b-3).

No one possesses a personal, moral righteousness enabling him/her to stand before the holy God.  No one is able to comprehend his personal unrighteousness before God; unrighteousness has corrupted his moral thinking.  And no one is searching after God.  Instead, they have turned away and become depraved.  This doesn’t mean that every human commits acts of what we would call moral depravity (few are as evil as they could be); it means every aspect of our being is morally depraved because we all have turned away from seeking after God.  Not one of us does what God’s law says is good.

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.  There is no fear of God before their eyes”  (Romans 3:13-18).

Citing  Psalm 9:5, Paul says every person’s throat is like an open grave from which deceitful speech gushes.  Citing Psalm 140:3, Paul claims their words, like poisonous snakes, are aimed to destroy.  Their words curse God and man. Vile speech overflows their mouths.

Paul next turns to Isaiah 59:7,8 where the LORD condemns Israel.  Paul applies it to all humans.  They are violent in words and acts.  Theologian Karl Barth, writing near the end of World War 1 commented, “The whole course of human history pronounces this indictment against itself.”

Finally, Paul cites Psalm 36:1—“There is no fear of God before their eyes”.  No awe.  No trembling.  No sense of responsibility or accountability.  Instead, a brazen presumption that God will not judge.

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:19,20).

Jews condemn Gentiles.  But Paul reminds Jews that God’s law speaks to those under it; they can no longer boast of their righteousness.  Their lawbreaking silences their arrogant tongues.  God’s law sharply confronts their sin.   It holds the whole world accountable to him.

* * *

 Before the Enlightenment, people in the West believed in God as they believed in the sunrise.  But the Enlightenment changed that.  It elevated rational thinking.  That is, what made sense to the human mind, what was logically based on fact, won the day.  Scientific studies (man isn’t the center of the universe), geological discoveries (earth is much older than the Bible suggests) and even the Protestant Reformation (wars within the church undercut its authority) all contributed to throwing off traditional beliefs in favor of human experience and what the human mind could understand.

New scientific discoveries led to an “unprecedented optimism” based on confidence that man could “shape his material and social environment and this led man to assume that he was “to a great extent the master of his own destiny” ( https://probe.org/the-enlightenment-and-belief-in-god/).

Enlightenment thoughts still permeate ours.  But over 30 major wars in the 20th century may have shaken our confidence that man is “the master of his own destiny”.  Nevertheless, the assumption that we can shape our material and social environment remains.  And all the while we are storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5).

That doesn’t compute with the rational mind.  Remember:  the rational mind, however intelligent, is corrupted.  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened . . . ” (Romans 1:21).

We are (graciously) called to believe what the fallen human mind deems irrational–that we’re all under the power of sin, that no one seeks God, that all have turned away from him, that not even one does good, that the day of God’s wrath is coming . . .

and that God has  revealed his righteousness in the gospel
to powerfully save all who trust in his grace in Christ Jesus.

 

*Note:  Interested in a good summary of Enlightenment thought and its effect?  Go to  https://probe.org/the-enlightenment-and-belief-in-god/

 

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The Religious Right

Any group known as the Religious Right will certainly be criticized.  True to form, this group, that came to prominence in the 1970s, has been charged with self-righteousness and hypocrisy, guilty or not.

Another group definitely was guilty . . .

“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law;  if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark,  an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth– you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?  As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:17-24).

Paul warned pagan Gentiles of God’s wrath (1:18-2:16).  Here for the first time, he addresses Jews by name.  He charges them with presuming to escape God’s wrath because they are Jews who . . .

  • possess God’s Law
  • enjoy a special relationship with God
  • are taught by the law and so know God’s will and approve of what is morally/spiritually superior
  • Because they have the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the Law, are certain they are “a guide for the blind, a light for those in darkness, a teacher of the foolish and of infants”

Then come the penetrating, prosecuting questions . . .

  • You who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
  • You who preach against stealing, do you steal?
  • You who say people shouldn’t commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
  • You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (Probably by making and selling little idols)
  • You who brag about the law, do you break it and so dishonor God?

Indeed, instead of the Jews’ actions moving the Gentiles to praise God, what Isaiah prophesied of his generation (“all the day my name is despised”—Isaiah 52:5b), is also true of Paul’s:  God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”.

“Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.  A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom. 2:25-29)

Circumcision externally marks every male Jew as belonging to God’s covenant people.  But the Jew has come to trust in the external mark.  It’s valueless without obedience to the law.  Indeed, “ . . . if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.”  Furthermore, if the uncircumcised obey the law, “ . . . will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?”

Who are these uncircumcised who obey the law?  Possibly Paul’s writing of a “what-if” situation.  But I think he’s referring to actual Gentiles.  Many commentators posit that these Gentiles obey the law as the result of general revelation (the revelation of God in creation).  I think, however, Paul is referring to Gentiles who believe in Christ Jesus.  It seems to me Paul’s next statements bear that out.

Here Paul redefines “Jew” and “circumcision”.  “A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly.”  Furthermore, “circumcision (the mark that a man belongs to God’s covenant people) is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, not by the written code (or law).”

Paul has, almost incidentally, dropped a bombshell.  A new kind of circumcision exists, and by it Jew and Gentile can belong to the covenant people of God.  This “new circumcision” actually has its roots in the Old Testament from which Paul is probably drawing.

In Deuteronomy 10, Moses is rebuking the Israelites for creating a golden calf to worship.  In verses 16 and 17 he urges . . .

“Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes” (Deuteronomy 10:16,17).

How can they purify their hearts?  While it does reveal the depth of their depravity, it’s a command they can’t keep.  So later he prophesies . . .

“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Decades later the prophet Jeremiah picked up the same theme . . .

“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33b).

In the middle of a dark passage about God’s wrath, then, Paul offers Jews and Gentiles the only hope for “all [who] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23b)—not “just” justification, but sanctification, not “just” forgiveness but a new, pure heart.  But, if this puts Jew and Gentile on the same footing, a troubling question rises . . .

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” (Romans 3:1).

In other words, “If being a circumcised Jew doesn’t get us favor with God, what good is it?”

“Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”  But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)  Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?  Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?”  Why not say– as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—‘Let us do evil that good may result’? Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:2-8).

Gentiles have creation’s general revelation, while God has committed his very words to Jews.  But this raises another question (which Paul will confront in more detail in chapters 9-11):  Do the Jews (whom Paul is charging are under God’s wrath) lose God’s promises? Will God not keep the promises he made to them?

God will keep his promises (he’ll explain how in chapter 9-11).  God will be true to his word, yet pour out his wrath on Jewish unrighteousness.  And that reminds Paul of gossip against him:  “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?  Why not ‘Let’s do evil that good may result’”?  Paul won’t waste ink on more of a response than this:  “They’ll get what they deserve” (my paraphrase).

* * *

We are less like the pagan Gentile (1:18 and following) and more like the self-righteous Jew.  Because of our commitment to biblical morality, it’s easy for us to sit in judgment on egregious sinners.  The Holy Spirit warns us as Paul did the Jews . . .  “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).

 Our only hope, then, is the message of the gospel  which is . . .

” . . . the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:16,17).

This is real power.

“To hope when all seems hopeless, to wait in faith when all human means are exhausted, to persevere in the midst of trials, and most of all to love others (including our enemies), involves the experience of the supernatural as much as performing the miraculous does” (Robert L. Saucy in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?).

I add “to have a pure heart” in a fallen world involves the experience of the supernatural, too.  For we can be physically circumcised–just a quick flick of the knife (easy for me to say!); but we can’t cut away sin from our heart and make it pure.  Only God can do that.

And God does it when we trust Jesus.  In that moment, self-righteousness is removed;  Christ’s righteousness is imputed.  And we get a new heart.  This is the power of God for salvation . . .

 

 

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