Easter

resurrectionNext comes the resurrection from the dead. Without this what we have said so far would be incomplete. For since only weakness appears in the cross, death, and burial of Christ, faith must leap over all these things to attain its full strength. We have in his death the complete fulfillment of salvation, for through it we are reconciled to God, his righteous judgment is satisfied, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid in full. Nevertheless, we are said to ‘have been born anew to a living hope’ not through his death but ‘through his resurrection’ [I Peter 1:3]. For as he in rising again, came forth victor over death, so the victory of our faith over death lies in his resurrection alone. Paul better expresses its nature: ‘He was put to death for our sins, and raised for our justification’ [Rom. 4:25]. This is as if he had said: ‘Sin was taken away by his death; righteousness was revived and restored by his resurrection.’ For how could he by dying have freed us from death if he had himself succumbed to death? How could he have acquired victory for us if he had failed in the struggle? Therefore, we divide the substance of our salvation between Christ’s death and resurrection as follows: through his death, sin was wiped out and death extinguished; through his resurrection, righteousness was restored and life raised up, so that–thanks to his resurrection–his death manifested its power and efficacy in us.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xvi.13.

 

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Good Friday

CB03_1920x1080Lest in the unmeasured abundance of our riches we go wild; lest, puffed up with honours, we become proud; lest, swollen with other good things – either of the soul or of the body, or of fortune – we grow haughty, the Lord himself, according as he sees it expedient, confronts us and subjects and restrains our unrestrained flesh with the remedy of the cross.

John Calvin: Institutes 3.8.5

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (8)

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The Ten Commandments in the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Righteous Judgment of God (2:12-16)

The Apostle is on the way to making a pride-shattering point that prepares the human soul to hear the Gospel.  He here prepares the way by introducing the universal nature of sin.  That is, regardless of their position before God, be it Jew or Gentile, they are under sin’s power.

12 All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

If you imagine that there is anyone who is capable of being a “doer of the law,” read Christ’s words from Matthew 5:17-48 and then come back.  Do you still believe that anyone can be a true “doer of the law” in God’s sight?  Christ, by revealing what is expected by God’s righteous and just application of the law, removes all hope that it is through this means that we can seek justification.  This is surely what is in the Apostle’s mind as he writes these words.

14 When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Paul here deals with the argument that there are good Gentiles, some of whom surpass the Jews (who supposedly have the advantage due to their special relationship with God) in their moral conduct.  This certainly would have been the case, just as today there are non-believers who’s moral conduct clearly is superior, even by God’s Word, to some believers.

Christians become aware of God’s grace at many places on the moral spectrum.  For some, they have participated in great evil and have accepted destructive ideas for long periods prior to their awakening.  For these souls the sanctification process is long and painful.  For others their faith is misused to provide cover for sin of all sorts, making them blind to their own failures.  We all fall prey to moral failure due to the power of sin that remains even after God’s grace has become known.

How then to think about our status as the Elect?  I have come to think of it in this manner.

I am a sinner saved by Christ alone.  And the Holy Spirit is working  to conform me to the image of Christ.  Because of my vanity and pride progress is too often slow.  Sometimes I rebel and backslide.  But the Father’s grace cannot be overcome by my remaining sin.  All glory and praise be to the triune God alone!

 

 

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (7)

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God’s Righteous Judgment Overshadows Rome

The Righteous Judgment of God (2:1-11)

The Great Apostle now launches a direct attack upon our pride.  How natural it is to read the previous list of sinful vices and presume that we stand apart from them.  Paul, we imagine, is surely talking about the evil people, not about nice people like ourselves.  We imagine ourselves to be a distinctly better sort, and therefore can participate with God in rendering judgment against those bad others!

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?

There is massive confusion in Christianity about the issue of judgment.  The moral relativity of our times encourages us to interpret a passage such as this in the “live and let live” sense.  That is, Christians shouldn’t judge anyone’s beliefs or behavior or we’ll be hypocritical.

However, as is clearly demonstrated elsewhere in this letter and in Scripture, we are called upon to make judgments.  So, how to interpret this passage?

I think that Paul is here discussing judgment regarding righteousness before God as opposed to that before men.  He’s addressing those of us who imagine ourselves to be of a “better” sort who thus are able to judge others with respect to their ultimate worth.  We see our “works” as having earned a level of righteousness that separates us from the stain of sin.

But none of us has earned such a position in God’s economy.  When we imagine that, because of our superior morality from whatever source, we are empowered to separate the goats from the sheep, we lie to ourselves and usurp God’s glory.

Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

But we can never be led to repentance if we are taught that there is no such thing as sin that corrupts our every thought and action, and that separates us from God.

But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Progressive Christianity simply rejects passages such as this.  Since God is a construct of their own making, he is not allowed to operate beyond their control.

For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Here we have another passage that creates bewilderment.  For, taken in isolation it appears to be about salvation by works.  And, the dominant philosophy of Scriptural interpretation is to treat each passage in isolation and then show how it conflicts with other isolated passages.  The clear purpose is to convince ourselves and others that Scripture is such a mess of contradiction that it can mean everything and anything.  We are thus freed to think and live as we please.

There was a time when issues like this were resolved under the assumption that Scripture is not contradictory.  Thus, if Scripture clearly teaches that salvation cannot be earned by works (which it does) then passages such as this cannot be interpreted to teach that false doctrine.

Note that the Apostle here does not identify the source of those good and bad works.  Rather, he simply comments on the fact that there is a difference in works that God will judge in the end.  We know that, through the process of sanctification, the elect will be drawn away from their sinful nature and towards likeness to Christ.  This process will include the increase in that which pleases God and a decrease in that which does not.

The elect can cooperate more or less with this external impulse due to the operation of their free will.  However, they are powerless to contradict God’s eternal act of providence.  So, Paul is here describing the consequence of God’s work in the elect (and the lack of same in the non-elect) as opposed to a works earned salvation.

Were we to conclude the opposite then we would have to say that the Apostle Paul in particular and Scripture in general teaches both salvation by works and salvation by grace.  This is a useful position if your goal is to do whatever happens to please you today.  It is a horrific error if your goal is to glorify God.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (6)

sinThe Guilt of Mankind (1:24-32)

Why, you might well ask, is the Apostle harping on about sin so?  After all, post-modern sophisticates have grown so far beyond the crude concept of sin that it should be considered irrelevant.  And, talking about sin might hurt someone’s feelings, which we all know is the greatest sin, oops, I mean, you know … bad-thought (?).

Here’s a quote from progressivechristianity.org that sums up the situation.

There are some who say that liberal/progressive churches don’t believe in sin.  That we never talk about it—or call people to confess.  I would agree that we seldom talk about it.  When I first came here I soon learned that was the “s” word that was never mentioned.

As a Commissioner to the Presbytery of Chicago I was able to listen to candidates during their ministry ordination examinations.  It was not uncommon for a candidate to proclaim that they didn’t believe in “sin.”  This admission caused not the slightest concern among the assembled Christian saints, and, in due course their candidacy was overwhelmingly approved.

However, the Apostle Paul considered sin to be so central to the Gospel that it had to be the first major point to be examined.  One might logically conclude that there is a direct, essential link between human sin and the Gospel.

So, you now face a choice.  You can press on, trusting that this passage of Scripture in Romans is relevant to our understanding of the Christian Gospel, or, you can pretend that it is an ancient, crude curiosity that we have evolved far beyond.  If you decide the former, welcome.  If you decide the latter, then I pray that you will someday return.



24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

This opening statement is shockingly contemporary.  What can be more obviously concluded about too much of Western Christianity than that it has chosen to serve “the creature rather than the Creator.”  Churches market themselves as places that will be comfortable and comforting.  Jesus Christ is that wonderful, faithful life coach who is always there to encourage you to “be true to yourself.”  The church programs will all affirm your good intentions and justify your personal choices.  Icky ideas like “sin” and “judgement” and “wrath” will be systematically attenuated.

And yet, the primitive Christian Church grew from tiny to massive under the threat and terrible reality of Roman persecution by preaching a Gospel that bears no resemblance to the above description.  And, in a position of freedom and safety unheard of in human history, the Western Christian Church has dwindled in both numbers and relevance while supposedly preaching the above “improved” gospel.  Perhaps the Creator knows more about what the creatures need than do they themselves.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Here the Apostle steps on what would almost two-thousand years later become the “third-rail” of social and theological conflict.  The Christian Church has much to answer for by its singling out of this sin for greater condemnation than others.  It also has much to answer for by its theological failure to place sin in it proper place and apply it consistently without regard to person or position.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. 29 They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 

We should all shudder before this list of terrible wickedness.  If you imagine yourself to be righteous concerning murder, please read Matthew 5:21-26.  For all of these vices the only thing standing between yourself and perdition is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness  through an utterly undeserved act of grace by a merciful God.  If only we Christians (myself definitely included) would consistently think and act accordingly.

32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.

If we all stand convicted of sin, then how is a Christian different from anyone else?  This verse provides an answer at the point of extremity.  For, while The Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power makes Christians ever more aware of and sorrowful about their sin, the wicked glory in it.  They seek to become better at lying, boasting, slandering and all other forms of evil.  They hold themselves up to others as the standard of freedom and effectiveness to be emulated.  They glory in their wicked skills.  Who can look upon the current crop of political operatives and not recognize this vile behavior?  Who has not found this wickedness increasing in whatever domain of human activity in which they participate?

So, if you find a power not of yourself but yet operating within your life that increasingly illuminates your sin, calls you to repentance in Christ and pushes you to reform, then you can be confident that you are found to be in Christ.

However, if you are always finding new justification for sin, working to become better at it or glory in tempting others to fall into its grip, then may God yet have mercy on your soul.

But even this isn’t the worst.  For, to claim ministry of Christ’s Gospel while denying the concept of sin is a terrible deception.  By so doing you are pledging to deny the repentance and new life in Christ to those who look to you as a Christian guide.  You are working as an enemy of the Gospel while pretending to be called to proclaim it. You are certainly not beyond Christ’s power to save, though you have run almost as far from Him as is humanly possible.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (5)

sinThe Guilt of Mankind (1:18-23)

We fallen humans are ingenious in ignoring the reality of sin within us.  Thus, there is always an excuse, someone else who is worse, some compelling good intention that justifies our evil deeds.

In this passage Paul uses the undeniable, sordid sinfulness that permeated the Roman Empire to convict all humanity of their fallen state.  That is, this most glorious, powerful human achievement of empire is shown to have resulted in maximum scope and depth for sin.  Thus, concentrated human power leads not to an improved humanity, but rather to greater opportunity for cruelty and vice.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 21 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 senseless minds were darkened.

Far too many Christians choose to read this passage as an indictment only of contemporary Rome.  They thus avoid facing up to the truth that Paul is only using Rome as a concrete example of the vile sin that infects each and every human soul, then and now.  They deeply need to believe that they are saved because of something “good” within them that separates them from the condemned.  Their vain pride demands this belief, and there is no length that they will not go to remain within that false dream.  So Scripture is ignored and distorted, arbitrary human rules are created, and human pride is substituted for humble greatfullness to a merciful God.

These darkened minds sow destruction both within and outside of the Christian Church.  They are aggressive, active and relentless in their pursuit of self justification.  Were we left to our own devices there would be no stopping them.  But they are contending not against us, but against God almighty.  So, just at the mighty Roman Empire failed to stop God in Jesus Christ, so too will the vile contemporary empire of social and political power. However, I dread the reckoning to come.  If only we would turn from our evil pride and seek forgiveness perhaps it could be avoided.  I pray that a new reformation of Christianity will restore our civilization.

22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

If we are to be saved from God’s judgment it can only be caused by that same God’s mercy.  For, “claiming to be wise” we have become fools.  May God have mercy upon our darkened souls!

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (4)

The Power of the Gospel (1:16,17)

The Alexamenos graffitoWhen the Roman’s weren’t physically harming Christians they were actively persecuting them through a sustained campaign of mockery.  The target was so easy and obvious.  For in an empire in which power and victory were worshiped above all else, the emergence of a religion that worshiped a crucified man appeared to be obvious idiocy.    An example of this mockery has survived in the Alexamenos graffito, which I have previously discussed.

So, when the Apostle Paul speaks of not being ashamed of the gospel he is not only referring to an internal emotion, but also to a very real and powerful external reality.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

God-made-him-who-had-no-sin-to-be-sin-for-us-so-that-in-him-we-might-become-the-righteousness-of-GodNote that Paul’s lack of shame is not due to anything sourced within himself, but rather to the the power of God.  It’s not that the pagans and Jews who so mock have an intellectually unsustainable position that Paul in his creativity and wisdom can defeat.  Rather, it is that God Himself has demonstrated their folly by, through this despised means, delivering salvation to everyone who has faith.  Thus, the gospel’s power is something that can only be personally experienced through a faith that originates within God’s eternal acts of mercy and grace.  However, the accumulated personal experiences of salvation will eventually shake the foundations of the pagan world.

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Note well Who has the total initiative in the first phrase of this sentence — it is God and God alone.  Perhaps this understanding could slip by a reader if they stopped here.  However, were anyone to read the entire Epistle there could be no doubt.  It is God who gives some the faith to receive the Gospel.  Thus, the righteousness of the elect exists only because God’s righteousness is imputed to then through Christ.

Far too many Christians rebel against this scandal.  They deeply desire to save some sherd of their pride by claiming credit for their salvation.  Terrible destruction has been wrought in the lives of Christians and in all with whom they interact due to this false belief.  For, we cannot give true glory to God nor properly understand the nature of sin and its consequences if we cling to our false pride.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast.

(Ephesians 2:8,9)

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (3)

12.20.CHILDREN.CC.DontLikeChristmasPrograms-324x235Prayer of Thanksgiving (1:8-15)

Paul now engages directly with the elect in the church at Rome.  If ever there were a place that contradicted the Gospel of Christ, it would be the imperial city of Rome.  This city was built on the ideals of human power to conquer and rule.  Its politics were literally blood-soaked.  It’s diversions were uninhibited by any conception of human dignity, with rampant sexual license and bloodsport.  Pagan religion placed low barriers to the exercise of the basest human desires.  For, although the pagan gods were powerful and thus in need of appeasement, they were morally no better than humans and often were far worse.  It was in this absolutely hostile environment that God had called into existence a church of Christ-followers; and to whom the Great Apostle wrote this wondrous Epistle of grace.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, 10 asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Paul could legitimately have such deep affection for people he had never met because of their connection through the Body of Christ.  Paul loved the Christians in Rome because He who so loved Paul also loved these people.  And, what evidence of their allegiance to Christ could be more unmistakable than the light that they cast into the utter darkness of Rome?  And so Paul addresses these Brothers and Sisters in Christ with profound love, and, raises them up often in his prayers.

13 I want you to know, brethren, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish: 15 so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul’s longing to visit the church in Rome is deep and profound.  However, the obligations of an Apostle are many, with God at the helm.  So, though Paul desires to visit Rome he gladly submits to God’s leading, trusting that in His good and perfect time this will come to pass.

We see here a man who by worldly standards is powerless speaking with joy and confidence about visiting the most brutally powerful city on the planet.  He leads no armed force, controls no territory and speaks for no significant segment of the population.  But he does know one thing — that God in Jesus Christ has made everything new.  The powers that be may take some time to discover this new truth.  In the meantime they may carry on in their fantasy.  But God is at work, igniting the Christian faith in human hearts, one precious human soul at a time.