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.

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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!

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.

 

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)

the-ten-commandments-on-the-dead-sea-scrolls-c-h-apperson

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)

Christ-Rome-30%

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.