Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (17)

Contemporary Contemplations (1)

It is so easy to presume that Imperisl Rome was a primitive place that is unrelated to our advanced contemporary state.  But is this true?  On the one hand, we err seriously by underestimating the level of political, military and organizational sophistication necessary to acquire and then rule a vast empire for centuries.  On the other hand we tend to vastly overestimate changes to human nature over millennia.  Thus, if we look with open minds, the differences between Imperial Rome of A.D. 56 and imperial Washington D.C. of 2018 are less than might be initially assumed.

I will here, perhaps surprisingly, focus on the topic of paganism.  How, you might ask, can I presume to compare what truly was a pagan civilization with what is now a civilization founded on Christianity?  I am not arguing that the United States was not founded upon and continues to be strongly influenced by Christianity.  However, I do contend that the elite governmental, business, educational, legal, media and other institutions in the United States have become “paganized” to the point that it must be considered to be their dominant spiritual position.  Perhaps a definition will help.  Following is the first response when “define paganism” is searched in Google.

pa·gan·ism
ˈpāɡəˌnizəm/
noun

a religion other than one of the main world religions, specifically a non-Christian or pre-Christian religion.  “converts from paganism to Christianity”

a modern religious movement incorporating beliefs or practices from outside the main world religions, especially nature worship.  “modern paganism includes a respect for mother earth”

Can there truly be any doubt that our progressive elite institutions and the people who inhabit them have come to view orthodox Christianity as a reactionary, if not wholly evil force (see also here)?  By “orthodox” I mean any  Christian organization that intentionally remains connected to the Bible as the unique authoritative source for belief and practice.  Yes, there are many practicing Christians in the United States, but they are few and far in-between (and generally very quiet) among our ruling elite.

But you might say, where are the pagan gods?  Certainly no-one in contemporary America believes in entities like those of ancient Greek and Roman religion.  Romangods-banner

On that narrow point we can agree.  However, I contend that there are entities in the contemporary United States that fill the role of pagan gods, but in an updated form.  The following summary of ancient Roman religion will assist this discussion.

The Romans, according to the orator and politician Cicero, excelled all other peoples in the unique wisdom that made them realize that everything is subordinate to the rule and direction of the gods. Yet Roman religion was based not on divine grace but instead on mutual trust (fides) between god and man. The object of Roman religion was to secure the cooperation, benevolence, and “peace” of the gods (pax deorum). The Romans believed that this divine help would make it possible for them to master the unknown forces around them that inspired awe and anxiety (religio), and thus they would be able to live successfully. Consequently, there arose a body of rules, the jus divinum (“divine law”), ordaining what had to be done or avoided.

These modern “godly” entities are the progressive institutions that have come to dominate our political, commercial, educational and media lives.

Modern-gods

Although these institutions are not personified they are made up by people who consider themselves to be elite.  The institutions appear to have a permanence that transcends the scope of individual human lives.  They also have the power to smite those who have earned their displeasure with a power that can rarely be resisted.  They operate as arbitrary and capricious sources of what is true (jus divinum) and therefore must be carefully appeased.  Only by so doing can there be peace in our society (pax deorum).  This network of progressive institutions operates within a common social and ideological framework that creates the mutual trust (fides) necessary for godly action.

The people who inhabit these institutions fill the role of priests who communicate the god’s wishes to the unwashed multitudes and who are able to influence the gods so as to ensure their cooperation and benevolence.  Thus their inclusion in these god-like institutions places them in an exalted cultural position.  And, they jealously guard their supposed superior status.

Look at what has happened when the citizens of the United States dared to elect an individual outside of the elite Progressive pagan priestly class to the Presidency.  Their religious fervor has verged on hysteria and sometimes has become overtly violent.  The pagan gods of contemporary America have been insulted!  Only by returning to fealty can peace be restored, so Resist or be outcast to eternal darkness!

Pagan-DC

Imperial Washington D.C. and its Gods

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Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (16)

faith1Righteousness through Faith (3:27-31)

The Great Apostle has delivered the Gospel with clarity and completeness.  However, so persistent and powerful is the human will to pride that he once again explains our human helplessness with regard to salvation in the most specific possible manner.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. 28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. 

It is a testament to the awesome, terrible consequence of sin that throughout the Christian Church works-based theology dominates (either explicitly or implicitly) in spite of the Bible’s absolutely clear testimony to the contrary.  Let there be no doubt, many professing Christians demand their “rightful share” of the glory for their salvation.  How dare God horde all of the glory?  How dare God presume to decide whom to save?  How dare God declare us all to be dead in our sins, thus denying those of us “better persons” our higher moral status?  It is an outrage that cannot be allowed to stand!

And so, we Christians prance around pretending to have achieved a higher moral and spiritual status because of our works.  We treat God Almighty like an embarrassment.  We presume to be His judge.  And, we mock Him by imagining that His Gospel requires our modification for it to be relevant in our contemporary world.

29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Chapter 3 ends with this statement of the Gospel’s universal scope — for the Jews and the Gentiles encompasses all of humanity.  In the next thirteen chapters Paul will expand and elaborate on the themes introduced up to this point.  However, the Gospel — God’s response to human sinfulness — has been delivered to Imperial Rome.  And, in spite of its apparent pagan power, Rome will eventually bow down to Christ because God willed that it would be so.

The Apostle Paul could not have known that, almost three centuries later, this would happen.  However, he did know Christ crucified and risen.  And, on that faith he staked his life, which was likely ended by an executioner’s sword near Rome.

Rome-Christ-90%

 

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (15)

Christ-Rome-50%

The Gospel of Jesus Christ’s Light Breaks Over the City of Rome

Righteousness through Faith (3:21-26)

Verses 21 through 25a summarize the Gospel with both brevity and comprehensiveness.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

The Apostle makes the following points:

  1. The Gospel’s power derives only from God’s righteous act,
  2. The Gospel’s power derives absolutely nothing from human obedience to the law,
  3. The Gospel is a seamless continuance of God’s purposes as revealed in what we now call the Old Testament,
  4. The Gospel’s presence in a human life is made known by the the realization of faith in Jesus Christ,
  5. That faith itself is a gift from God, not a human work,
  6. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross provides the only source of atonement for all sins of those who are saved.

This is the Gospel that transformed tens, then hundreds, then thousands then hundreds of thousands of human lives within the Roman Empire.  Christians gladly gave up family, friends, social status, economic opportunity and sometimes their lives in order to follow Christ.  They created a new culture driven by Christ’s love that transformed Roman religion and morality.  Eventually, centuries later, the Roman Empire set aside its pagan God’s and embraced Christianity.

Outside the bounds of faith in Jesus Christ this sequence of events could not have been anticipated when Paul wrote Romans .  Why would the greatest Empire in the world abandon the religion upon which it was founded?  Why would an Empire founded on the acquisition and use of raw human power be converted to a religious philosophy based on sacrificial love?

And yet, Paul, writing this Epistle under the Holy Spirit’s power makes not the slightest concession to the pagan powers that be.  He boldly preaches Christ crucified as the only source of hope for all of us lost sinners.  Yes, he will accept (just as did Jesus) that the Roman government has worldly authority.  But he rejects the pagan foundation for that authority, replacing it with God’s (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) providential purposes.

It is this Gospel that made the world new one redeemed life at a time.  This is the same Gospel that will always make the world new to those who receive it by faith.

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

Here I will lean on the Interpreter’s Bible exegesis.

This must mean then that God’s apparent ignoring of man’s previous sinning would have been impossible (because morally inadmissible) if it had not been for the fact that all the time the death of Christ, which was a “sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world” (past, present, future), was present in the purpose and foreknowledge of God.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (14)

Romans 3-10 There Is None Righteous No Not One brownNone is Righteous (Romans 3:9-20)

As was covered in the previous post, the Apostle Paul’s review of human sinfulness as the necessary prerequisite for understanding the Gospel is aligned with the Prophets, Angels, Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself.  However, it is this Apostle’s calling to deliver the blow to our pride with a power and finality that infuriates the arrogant.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands, no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This is a description of our natural state apart from the grace of God.  When people tell you that “being true to yourself” is the sure source of morality it is the above state of being to which they condemn you.  The fact that even in communities calling themselves Christian this statement is common shows the extent of our disobedience.  Make no mistake, this lie is extremely useful to those who wish to destroy Christianity and replace it with something called “Christianity” that is its utter negation.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Apostle has destroyed all hope that we of our own works can be found to be righteous in God’s sight.  We are rather found to be “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  That is, you are as unable to do anything about your state of sin as is a dead person about their state of being — nothing.

Of course, this is just a description of the darkness that has been shattered by the light of God’s amazing grace.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (13)

what-is-sinNone is Righteous (Romans 3:9-20)

The Great Apostle began this discussion about sin in 1:18.  So, at its end in 3:20 he has expended 64 verses (of course there were no “verses” when he wrote) on this topic.  Given that Romans’ systematic theology is a corner stone of Christian thought, we must ask ourselves why sin was the first component of Paul’s explanation of the Gospel, and, why he focused on it at such length and depth.

Perhaps the beginning of an answer can be found in John the Baptist’s proclamation preparing the way for Christ’s ministry (Luke 3:2b,3).

the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Thus, the first statement specifically about Christ’s Gospel was about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

When Joseph was informed about the virgin pregnancy of his betrothed, Mary, the angel said of Jesus: “For it is he that shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  Near the end of His worldly life at the Last Supper Jesus said: “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  And, very near the end, while dying on the cross He said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The Apostle Peter speaks of our sin’s place in Christ’s Gospel: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  And, the Apostle John also:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

It is here that I return to the Progressive Christian belief regarding sin, though now at greater length.

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.  But I don’t believe for a minute it’s because we feel no guilt or shame or remorse.  In fact I observe that many people here at Southminster, take on guilt way beyond their need.  But I think we are confused about how to describe, define, talk about sin.  We know it is not as narrow as sexual behavior (as some Christians try to make it); we know it is not as simple as breaking 10 commandments, as we probably learned in Sunday School…if we went to Sunday School; because we know it has something to do with context.  We many of us, don’t believe that Jesus had to come and die for our particular sins to atone a vengeful God. We don’t really know what to teach children because we don’t want them bogged down in shame and guilt—yet we also want them to grow into adults are moral and ethical and compassionate.

This is an important and remarkable statement.  It is honest about Progressive Christianity’s rejection of sin to the point of refusal to even use the word.  It admits utter confusion about how to define and therefore think about sin.  It is only confident about what sin isn’t (i.e., not “narrow sexual behavior” or “breaking 10 commandments”).

But, eventually, the truth is blurted out.  That being we: “don’t believe that Jesus had to come and die for our particular sins to atone a vengeful God.”  The bottom line is that acknowledging the concept of sin is verboten because it relates to something terribly wrong with God Himself.  Ultimately, sin speaks to God’s sinfulness, that being His vengefulness.  Therefore these Progressive Christians will not expose their children to this awful concept so that they won’t become “bogged down in shame and guilt.”  For, there are no “particular sins” for which they or their children need God’s atonement.

And yet these Progressives call themselves Christian while openly, defiantly contradicting the teaching of Holy Scripture about sin and its place in Christ’s Gospel.  I wonder when was the last time that anyone in the Christian Church confronted them with this fact?  In all probability for many the answer is never.  For, when candidates for ministry in the PCUSA stood before the Presbytery of Chicago Assembly and denied their belief in sin they were overwhelming accepted and sent forth to “preach the gospel.”

Over ninety years ago in Mainline Denominations (including Presbyterian) the “Modernist” defeated the “Fundamentalist” camp in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy.  The “Modernists” claimed victory as Christians who were more accurately, more completely teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The membership of these denominations therefore placed their trust in the “Modernists” to lead their churches.

These “Modernists” who now call themselves “Progressives” have been leading for over ninety years.  It is long past time to ask what fruit they have generated.

It has been my misfortune to look deeply into that which the Progressive Christian leadership of the PCUSA is saying, thinking and doing.  I strongly suspect that similar results would be obtained for most other Mainline Protestant denominations.  I will not here rehearse my charges against them (though they can be easily found in this blog’s posts).  What I will say is that it is time for a true reckoning concerning their stewardship.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (12)

God's-Justice-JobThe Law and God’s Justice (3:5-8)

Paul now turns to more general arguments against the logical validity of the Gospel.  The counter-argument appears to be: “If the light of God’s mercy in Christ shines all the more brightly in greater darkness, then our sin supports the Gospel by deepening that darkness.”

They may have posed this idea to Paul in very personal terms.  For, his conversion story is about God showing mercy through Christ to a man (Saul) whose life was consumed by murderous hatred of Christ’s Body.  Thus, it is the terrible darkness of Saul’s life that enabled God to show the amazing extent of His mercy.

Thus (so Paul’s detractors imagined) they could destroy the Gospel by using it to justify unrepentant, deepening sin.

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?

It’s of interest that Paul dispenses with this line of argument so curtly.  My view is that he is giving it all the respect that it is due.  For, it represents that type of argument against God that is so aptly described in Psalm 1.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

 

If you believe that there is no God, or that God is not our judge, then the argument is irrelevant.  However, if you believe that He is, then to say that God can’t discriminate between sin and righteousness is utterly illogical.  Thus, Paul destroys this objection with appropriate contempt and efficiency.

Paul not proceeds to a second variation of the same argument.

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 some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Certainly some must have made these arguments to Paul.  Paul’s response here is even more contemptuous than before.  For, having already sufficiently exposed its absurdity, he simply responds with disgust at their slander of God’s person and purpose.


These arguments are not relics of the past.  Rather, the heirs of this position now strut around in our assemblies, flaunting their mockery and openly scoffing at the idea of God the judge.  And, those of us who supposedly know better look away so that our comfortable lives won’t be inconvenienced by controversy.  Shame on them; shame, shame on us!

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (11)

The Jews and the Law (3:1-4)

Although Paul has placed Jews and Gentiles on equal terms with regard to their sin, he yet maintains that God’s act in choosing them as His people did bestow special benefits and responsibilities.

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every man be false, as it is written,

“That thou mayest be justified in thy words,
and prevail when thou art judged.”

Paul’s point is that God’s purposes are not dependent on our faithfulness.  That fact cannot be used to justify or excuse our unfaithfulness.  It does, though, humble those who yet fear the Lord.  It is also a profound warning to those who presume to correct or oppose Him.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (10)

abraham_isaac_ratner282x418

“Abraham and Isaac,” by Phillip Ratner

The Jews and the Law (2:25-29)

Paul now continues his case against the Jew’s sense of spiritual superiority by addressing that most intimate outward mark of their Covenant with God — circumcision.

25 Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

He begins by pointing out that circumcision is an outward sign of an inner spiritual truth.  That truth is God’s covenant with the Jewish people.

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. (Genesis 17:9, 10)

This is a bi-lateral covenant, with responsibility on the Jewish side to be kept.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” (Genesis 17:1,2)

But Paul has established that no-one, Jews or Gentiles, is able to “be blameless” in God’s sight.  Thus, although God had kept His end of the covenant, no-one in the Jewish nation, then or now, had been able to do the same. Therefore, circumcision, though a significant outward sign of God’s grace did not point to an inner truth in any Jew.

26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

Paul spiritualizes and generalizes what the Jewish nation had turned into a concrete, physical sign of special status.  That being, anyone, Jew or Gentile, who keeps the law is regarded by God “as circumcision.”  And, only through the righteousness inputed by Christ can anyone be fount to be justified before the law in God’s sight.

28 For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.

Paul appears to have removed all ground upon which the Jewish nation could claim a special status before God.  But there is much more to be said on this topic.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (9)

jewish_lawThe Jews and the Law (2:17-24)

Paul’s charge against the arrogance of the Jews must have struck deep, given that it was being made by a man who had previously been a prominent and dedicated Jew, who described himself in Philippians 3 thusly:

Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless.

And yet here is what his encounter with the risen Christ has led him to say about his previous life in Romans.

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely upon the law and boast of your relation to God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed in the law, 19 and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Yes, then Saul (now Paul) had attempted to find in the Law his purpose and salvation.  He had made the utmost effort to achieve righteousness by this means.  It led him to hatred of and violence against the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus Christ and His followers.  That is, it led to utter moral failure and personal destruction.

Yet Christ had other plans for this troubled soul, plans that were set before the beginning of time.  Continuing in Philippians 3 we find Paul contrasting that which came before Christ with that which came after.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Yes, Paul’s words struck deep in the Jewish community.  They would eventually have their revenge by his execution in Rome.  But God’s work in his life could not be extinguished or hidden.  It lives eternally in Holy Scripture, calling all, Jew and Gentile alike, to repentance and new life in Christ.

Praise be to God!