Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Get Your Hopes Up!

Part 13 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 5:1-5




We rejoice in hope of the glory of God (v. 2). 


Should I Get My Hopes Up?

People who are accustomed to disappointment often say, “I won’t get my hopes up.”

Since today is Mother’s Day, we could think for a moment about the disappointments that many women experience. A young woman has high hopes when she imagines what marriage and mother-hood will be like. But sometimes a woman discovers she can’t have children. Sometimes a woman’s adult children abandon her. Sometimes a woman’s marriage falls apart.

Some people say, “If you never get your hopes up, you’ll never be let down.”

What about the Christian’s hope in Christ? The apostle Paul tell us, “Get your hopes up! God won’t let you down.”


The Results of Justification

So far in his letter to the Romans, Paul has written about the need for justification (1:18-3:20) and the way of justification (3:21-4:25). Now he tells us about the results of justification: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith” (v. 1a), we have….

  1. We have peace with God. “We have peace with God [i.e., reconciliation] through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1b). Peace is not just the absence of the negative (i.e., hostility) but the presence of the positive (i.e., harmonious well-being). 
  2. We have grace from God. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v. 2a). Our relationship with God is one that is built on God’s grace—from start to finish. 
  3. We have hope in God. “And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (v. 2b). 

The Hope of the Glory of God

In the NT, the word “hope” doesn’t mean wishful thinking. It means “a joyful and confident expectation which rests on the promises of God.” [1] It’s “a sure confidence.” [2]

What is the “hope of the glory of God”? Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “The glory of God” is the “state of ‘God-like-ness’ which has been lost because of sin, and which will be restored in the last day to every Christian.” [3]

Later in Romans, Paul will write, “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be con-formed to the image of his Son…. And those who he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).

Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Our hope is something to celebrate! 


Huh? 

What Paul writes next might cause us to scratch our heads: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings” (v. 3a). Why would we rejoice “in our sufferings”? Here’s Paul’s answer: “Knowing that suffering produces endurance [like how a marathoner builds endurance] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (vv. 3b-4).

How does character produce hope? Suffering tests our faith. When suffering produces character in our lives (rather than anger, etc.), we have assurance that our faith is real. And if have assurance that our faith is real, then we have greater certainty about our hope.

Does this mean that suffering is good? No. “Paul calls on us to rejoice in the midst of afflictions, and even to rejoice because of afflictions (knowing what God will accomplish with them). But he does not ask us to be joyful about the affliction itself.” [4]

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Our sufferings—which can be very great—are insignificant compared to the glory we will one day experience!


God Won't Let Us Down

Paul says, “Hope does not put us to shame [“will not lead to disappointment,” NLT]” (v. 5a). You and I have had people let us down, but God won’t let us down.

We know God won’t let us down because we’re certain that he loves us: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (v. 5b). God’s love has been revealed to us (in a subjective way) by the Spirit and (in an objective way) by the cross (v. 8).

So get your hopes up!

____________________

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 140.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 255.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 302.
[4] Moo, Romans, p. 178.

Monday, May 7, 2018

What Is Faith?

Part 12 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 4:9-25




No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised (vv. 20-21).


Incredible Promises 

Every day we hear incredible promises from advertisers. For example, lots of exercise gadgets (e.g., the Ab Roller) promise to give you “rock-hard abs.” But those gadgets usually end up in yard sales. They don’t do what they promise to do. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What is faith? We need to understand what faith really is. The apostle Paul shows us what biblical faith is by telling us about the faith of Abraham, the “forefather” of the Jews (v. 1).


Abraham Believed 

On a clear night, God takes Abraham outside. He tells him to look up at the stars and try to count them. And God says to Abraham, “So shall your offspring be.” Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky! That’s an incredible promise!

The word “incredible” means “difficult to believe.” God’s promise is hard to believe. Abraham and his wife Sarah are old and childless. To have even one descendant is physically impossible for them. But is anything too hard for God?

In spite of how everything looks, Abraham believes.

Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted [i.e., credited] it to him as righteousness” (cf. v. 3). Paul quotes this verse to show that Abraham was justified (i.e., declared righteous, innocent of wrongdoing) by faith, not by works (i.e., obeying God’s law).

Back in Paul’s day, a big question was, “Is justification only possible for ‘the circumcised’”? Paul points out that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (Gen. 17). God had not only promised Abraham that he’d have countless descendants, but that he’d also be the father of many nations (Gen. 17:5; cf., v. 17). Paul says that this promise has been fulfilled because Abraham is the father of all who believe (vv. 11-12)—whether they are Jews (i.e., circumcised) or Gentiles (i.e., uncircumcised).


Father Abraham 

How did Abraham become the father of many nations? Centuries later, the son of Abraham would be born—Jesus (Matt. 1:1). He was named “Jesus” because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). “His people” would be every person (regardless of nationality) who would put their faith in Jesus.

Before his ascension, Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). And that’s what they did. They took the gospel everywhere. It even reached us! Everyone who believes the gospel becomes a son or daughter of Abraham.

Being a son or daughter of Abraham means we enjoy the blessing of God. God promised Abraham, “In you all the families [i.e., nations] of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The apostle John was given a vision of heaven, and he tells us what he saw: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb…and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:10). God’s love extends to all people.

On that night when Abraham tried to count the stars, one of the stars represented me—a son of Abraham!


Faith Defined

Paul says that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (v. 21).

  • In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations” (v. 18). 
  • He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (v. 19). 
  • He trusted the God “who gives life to the dead [i.e., Abraham’s “dead” body and Sarah’s “dead” womb] and calls into existence the things that do not exist [i.e., many nations that didn’t yet exist]” (v. 17). 
  • No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (v. 20). 

What is faith? Faith is the firm belief that God will do whatever he has promised to do. Abraham’s faith didn’t weaken and didn’t waver. He believed even when it seemed crazy to keep on believing. But if you’ve read about Abraham in the book of Genesis, you might disagree with Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith. Didn’t Abraham’s faith weaken and waver? Yes, at times it did. But those were momentary lapses of faith. There is no believing without some doubting.

Three quick points on faith:

  1. Faith is based on God’s word. But many times we believe things that God hasn’t promised.
  2. Faith is a willingness to receive. We don’t get the credit for receiving. The glory goes to God. 
  3. Faith is nothing without God.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Faith and Works

Part 11 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 4:1-8



For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). 


A Contradiction?

There appears to be a contradiction between Romans 4 and James 2 regarding how Abraham was justified. Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith. James says that Abraham was justified by works.

  • “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted [1] as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). 
  • “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (James 2:21). 
Do Paul and James contradict each other? Are we justified by faith or works? These questions are not just for theologians to debate. These questions affect our belief in the trustworthiness of the Bible and our understanding of how we can be justified. What’s more important than that?


Making Sense of Paul and James

In order to properly understand what Paul and James are saying about justification, faith, and works, we need to know two things.

First, we need to know the chronology of Abraham’s life. The story of Abraham begins with God giving Abraham an amazing promise: “I will make of you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). The only problem is that Abraham is seventy-five years old (Gen. 12:4) and his wife Sarah is barren (Gen. 11:30).

Some time later, God repeats his promise to Abraham, “Look up at the sky and count the stars.” Then God tells Abraham, “So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5) What is Abraham’s reaction to God’s promise? Does he doubt or believe? Genesis 15:6 tells us, Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

More time passes. And just when it looks like Abraham and Sarah will never have a son, God’s promise is fulfilled. They name their long-awaited boy Isaac (Gen. 21:1-3).

Years later, Abraham’s story takes an unexpected twist. God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and sacrifice him as an offering” (Gen. 22:2, paraphrase). The next day, Abraham takes his son to the place God had told him to go. He places Isaac on the altar and takes out his knife to kill his son. But suddenly, an angel calls out to Abraham: “Do not lay your hand on the body or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son” (Gen. 22:12). [2]

Both Paul and James quote Genesis 15:6. Paul quotes that verse to show that Abraham was justified by faith. James points to the story of Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac on the altar as proof that Abraham was justified by works. Which came first? Abraham’s faith or his obedience? Abraham was justified by faith before he was justified by works. But what does that mean?

Second, we need to know that “faith” and “justify” don’t always have the same meaning. “Faith” in the Bible does not always refer to saving faith. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (v. 14). In this verse, James is referring to a certain kind of faith—a faith he describes as “dead” (vv. 17, 26) and “useless” (v. 20). It’s a faith of words but not deeds. [3]

When Paul writes that Abraham was “justified by faith,” he’s referring to Abraham’s initial justification (declared righteous by God through faith). But when James writes that Abraham was “justified by works,” he’s referring to a present justification (shown to be righteous through works). [4] Jesus used “justified” in the same way that James does: “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37; cf. 11:19).


Justified by Faith or Works?

Are we justified by faith or works? Both. Huh? Justification isn’t the only things that happens when we put our trust in Jesus. We are also given the Holy Spirit who begins the work of transforming us (i.e., putting within us love for God and others). If we have been justified by faith, we will show evidence of our justification by our works. In Galatians 5:6 Paul says that what matters most is “faith working through love” (“faith expressing itself through love,” NIV).

Paul and James don’t contradict each other; James is refuting an abuse of Paul’s teaching. What James writes is a response to people who were saying, “We have faith. Don’t bother us about how we should live.” This could be why James says what he does in vv. 15-17 (see also 2:1-4, 8-9; 3:8-11). Our love for God and others (or lack thereof) is a good test of the genuineness of our faith.

____________________

[1] To “count” (logizomai) means “to ‘credit’ or ‘reckon’, and when used in a financial or commercial context, it signifies to put something to somebody’s account, as when Paul wrote to Philemon about Onesimus: ‘If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.’ There are, however, two different ways in which money can be credited to our account, namely as wages (which are earned) or as a gift (which is free and unearned), and the two are necessarily incompatible” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 125).
[2] Skeptics often claim that it would be immoral for God to tell Abraham to kill his son. However, God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was a test of faith (Gen. 22:1) that resulted in a promise of divine blessing for Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 22:15-18) and foreshadowed God’s gracious sacrifice of his only Son. Isaac’s life was spared, God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).
[3] John 6:66 mentions that “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” John 12:42-43 says that “many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” These are two examples of people who possessed faith that did not save.
[4] “James 2:21, 24, and 25 are the only verses in James that contain forms of the verb ‘justify’...; in each case, the term means to ‘show to be righteous.’ Thus [Abraham was] shown, in history, to be righteous by [his] actions, giving proof of [his] prior spiritual state (cf. Ge 22:12, with its ‘now I know’)” (Craig L. Blomberg, Miriam J. Kamell, James, p. 136).

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Boasting in the Gospel

Part 10 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:27-31




Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded (v. 27). 


Our "I" Problem

What is the humanity’s greatest problem? Our greatest problem is our “I” problem. Augustine and Martin Luther described our “I” problem as being curved inward on oneself. (This is a translation of the Latin phrase incurvatus in se.) The human heart is curved inward—away from God and others. In other words, we are by nature most devoted to ourselves. We’re always looking out for number one. We worship the almighty self.

When we get a family photo taken, our biggest concern is “How do I look?” When a friend dies, we think, “I hope I’m in the will.” When we go shopping for a new car, we think, “I wonder which car would most impress my neighbours.”

Paul writes, “All have sinned” (v. 23). Our “I” problem—being curved inward on ourselves—is the root of all sin. (By the way, notice that the middle letter of “sin” is “I.”) We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners. We aren’t self-centered people because we think and act in self-centered ways; we think and act in self-centered ways because we’re self-centered people.

Because we’re curved inward, we are boastful people—though we try to hide our boasting. When a student gets a 95% on an exam, he wants all of his classmates to know. But he doesn’t want to be seen as bragging. So he asks his friend, “How did you do?”, hoping that his friend will ask him how he did. Then he can reveal to everyone in a “humble” that he did better than anyone else.

One of the reasons why social media thrives is because we’re boastful people. We post something on Facebook hoping people will think, “She has such a great marriage”; “He is so talented.” We fish for compliments (e.g., selfies).


Boasting Eliminated

In verse 27 the question is raised, “What then about boasting?” Paul answers, “It is excluded [i.e., eliminated].” No one should boast about being justified (i.e., declared righteous by God). Why? Because, Paul says, a person “is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 28). The gospel eliminates our boasting.

How can we be filled with self-centeredness and sinful pride after reading the following words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:3-8, NIV). 
To be justified by putting our faith in Jesus means to trust in what he did (on the cross with indescribable humility), not on what we do. The hymn “Rock of Ages” says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Being justified has nothing to do with being better than other people; it has everything to do with God’s grace. Justification is God’s achievement, not ours. This means we can’t boast in what we did for God, but we should boast in what he did for us.

There’s only one way to be justified: Paul writes, “God is one—who will justify the circumcised [i.e., the Jews] by faith and the uncircumcised [i.e., the Gentiles] through faith” (v. 30).


Upholding the Law

Paul writes, “Do we then overthrow [i.e., nullify, NIV] the law by this faith?” (v. 31a). If we say that a person can’t be justified by obeying God’s law, are we saying that we should cast it aside (i.e., forget about it)?

Paul answers, “By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law” (v. 31b). How did Paul “uphold the law”? He upheld the law by teaching that those who have been justified by faith aren’t free to live any way they choose.

People who boast in the gospel are people who obey God’s commands. Boasting in the gospel makes us humble. Boasting in the gospel gives us a servant’s heart. Boasting in the gospel fills us with love. Boasting in the gospel gives us the attitude of Christ—who humbly served God and others out of love.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Amazing News!

Part 9 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:21-26




But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (vv. 21-22). 


The Heart of Romans

The book of Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Christians living in Rome. Many scholars believe that Romans 3:21-26 is the heart of the letter. Martin Luther went so far as to say that this passage is the heart of “the whole Bible.”

So far in his letter, Paul has given us a lot of bad news. “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10). But starting in verse 21, Paul gives us the good news—the gospel of Jesus Christ.


But Now!

The verse two words of verse 21 are two of the best words in the entire Bible: “But now.” Let’s add these two words to the end of verse 20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight [i.e., declared by God to be innocent of wrongdoing], since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now….”

This week I’ve been installing laminate flooring in our house. On the kitchen there was an extra layer of plywood on the floor, and it was nailed down every three inches! The task of removing that plywood seemed almost impossible, and it created a huge mess. But now!

Paul writes, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (v. 21). In other words, it’s now possible to be justified—not by obedience to God’s law but “through faith in Jesus Christ.” We aren’t justified because of what we do but because what Christ has done. This is the gospel!


Not Plan B

Paul writes that the gospel has been “manifested” (i.e., made known), “although the Law and the Prophets [i.e., the OT Scriptures] bear witness to it” (v. 21). The book of Leviticus bears witness to the gospel. In Leviticus 16 God gives instructions regarding the Day of Atonement:
[The priest] shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil…, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins (vv. 15-16). 
In the Greek translation of the OT, the Hebrew word for “mercy seat” (i.e., the cover of the ark of the covenant; “atonement cover,” NIV) is translated hilasterion. This same Greek word is found in Romans 3:25 and has been translated “propitiation” (“atoning sacrifice,” NIV).

The sin offering on the Day of Atonement ritual didn’t actually take care of Israel’s sin problem, but it pointed forward to Jesus. Jesus is the priest who brings the sacrifice. His body is the sacrifice. And the cross is the mercy seat. As the priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, Jesus shed his blood on the cross.

The death of Jesus wasn’t Plan B to take care of our sin problem. We can see it foreshadowed over and over again in the OT.


Justification

In verses 22-24 Paul presents three truths about justification. First, justification is available to everyone. Justification is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (v. 22). Is that redundant? No, Justification is “available only through faith in Christ—but it is available to anyone who has faith in Christ” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 226). Second, justification is needed by everyone. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). Third, justification is available because of God’s grace. We are “justified by his grace as a gift” (v. 24). It’s not earned; it’s a gift.


Are You Still Amazed by the Gospel?

Is the gospel still amazing news to you? Over time, amazing things can become boring to us. Have you heard the gospel so many times that it no longer seems amazing to you? (“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this before.”)

If we really believe what the Bible says about us and we you really believe what the Bible says about God, we should always be amazed by the gospel.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Speechless Before God

Part 8 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:1-20




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 (v. 19). 


Are We Really That Bad?

As I was reading Romans 3:1-20, were you thinking, “Is the human race really that bad?” Paul, quoting the OT, writes, “None is righteous, no, not one” (v. 10). [1] Are we really that bad? 

When you were a kid, did your mom water down the Kool-Aid? Maybe there was a day when you went to your friend’s house, and his mom made Kook-Aid with the right amount of water and sugar. And then you discovered what Kool-Aid was really supposed to be. What you thought was Kool-Aid was really watered-down Kool-Aid. And I believe it’s true that what we think is righteousness is really watered-down righteousness. 


A Contradiction?

In verse 1 Paul brings up the question “What advantage has the Jew?” Paul’s answer: “Much in every way” (v. 2). He says, “To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God [i.e., the OT Scriptures]” (v. 2). Then in verse 9 Paul raises the question “Are we Jews better off?” Paul’s answer: “No, not at all” (v. 9). So Paul says that there is an “advantage” in being a Jew but the Jews are not “better off.” What does Paul mean?

Paul is saying that a Jew does have advantages in life because he’s a Jew, but on the day of judgment a Jew won’t be “better off” (i.e., God won’t show favouritism to a Jew). We could liken being born a Jew to being born into a good Christian family. There are advantages to being raised in a Christian family. But not every person raised in a Christian family is saved. And on the day of judgement, God won’t show favouritism to the person who had a Christian upbringing.


Our Addiction to Sin

Paul writes, “All [i.e., every single person], both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (v. 9). Paul isn’t merely saying that we commit sins; he’s saying we are “under sin” (i.e., under sin’s power). We are all sin addicts. Sin is disobedience to God’s commands. We disobey God’s commands when we fail to love (either God or our neighbour). We fail to love because we are by nature selfish people. Have you noticed that a toddlers like to say, “Mine!”

Even when we want to do good, we often fail to do it. Paul writes in chapter 7, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (v. 15). And even when we succeed in doing good, our good deed is tainted by a selfish motive. When you give to a charitable cause, why do you give? Paul isn’t saying everyone is as sinful as he or she could possibly be, but he is saying that nothing we do is as good as it should be. [2]


Guilty

Paul says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped [i.e., silenced], and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (v. 19).

Then Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (v. 20). To be “justified” means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent of wrongdoing). Since we are all sin addicts, there’s no chance that any of us can be good enough to be declared righteous by God. 


Speechless

The weight of evidence against us is so great that there is nothing we can say in our defense. We are speechless before God. There is no doubt about our guilt.

But then we see the cross. We see Jesus dying on that cross. As Paul will go on to say, Jesus is the one “whom God put forward as a propitiation [atoning sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith” (v. 25).

I was speechless because of my guilt, but now I’m speechless because of God’s love.

____________________

[1] Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 (vv. 10b-12); Isaiah 59:7-8a (vv. 15-17); Psalm 36:1b (v. 18).
[2] This is a paraphrase of J. I. Packer’s words in Concise Theology (p. 83).

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Justified by Works?

Part 7 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 2:12-29




It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (v. 13). 


A Contradiction?

In verse 13 Paul states, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Does this statement contradict what Paul later says in 3:20: “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight”? To be “justified” by God means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent of sin).


God Shows No Partiality

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is claiming that all people—both Jews and Gentiles—are unrighteous (i.e., guilty of sin) and are the objects of God’s wrath (i.e., righteous anger). The average Jew would have replied, “But wait, I’m a Jew! I’m one of God’s chosen people! I have God’s law! I’ve been circumcised! God won’t condemn me!”

Why did God decide to make the Jews his chosen people? It wasn’t so God could play favourites. God chose the descendants of Abraham to fulfill a purpose: to bless the other nations. God promised Abraham, “In you all the families [i.e., nations] of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This blessing would come through Jesus, “the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).


Justification by Faith


How can we be justified? Paul’s main point is that no one can be justified by obeying the law. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). But Paul continues, “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (vv. 24-25). The only way we can be justified is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is the gospel!


A Changed Heart

There are two interpretations of 2:13:
  1. Paul is speaking hypothetically. If you could perfectly obey the law, then you would be justified. 
  2. Paul is referring to the works that are the result of a changed heart. This is the interpretation I favour. 
It’s the Holy Spirit who changes our hearts (v. 29). If our faith is in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit within us, who produces love (“the fruit of the Spirit is love,” Gal. 5:22). God desires not merely an outward conformity to his commands but an inward desire (motivated by love) to obey them.

No one can be justified by obeying God’s law, but no one will be justified without being a doer of the law. We also see this in the book of James. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith [i.e., mere intellectual agreement] alone” (James 2:24).

What matters most is the heart. Your heart is the real you. “The LORD God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all you heart” (Deut. 30:6).

In many ways, a first century Jew was like a modern day churchgoer. The churchgoer might argue, “God would never condemn me! I’m a member of the Baptist church! I’ve been baptized! I serve in the ministries of the church! I give!”

But are you trusting in what Jesus did for you on the cross? Do you have a changed heart? A heart of love?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How God Deals with Hypocrites

Part 6 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 2:1-11




Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things (v. 1).


Hypocrites Give Christianity a Bad Name

What kind of person is most responsible for giving Christianity a bad name? The hypocrite. How many times have you heard someone say, “Christians are nothing but hypocrites”?

Sadly, many “Christians” are hypocrites. There are many people in churches who appear to be Christians but aren’t true Christians. They don’t really love God and others. They are hypocrites, and they give Christianity a bad name. How does God deal with hypocrites? 


Is It Wrong to Judge?

Paul writes, “Therefore you [he’s now addressing Jews] have no excuse [see 1:20], O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (v. 1). What Paul says here reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 
It’s silly to think that we should go through life without making judgments between right and wrong. [1] What both Jesus and Paul are prohibiting is judging that’s hypocritical and judgmental. [2] We have a strange habit of being critical of everyone except ourselves.


God's Justice and Kindness

There are two ways in which God deals with hypocrites. First, because God is just, he won’t allow the unrepentant hypocrite to escape judgment. “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (vv. 2-3).

Second, because God is kind, he gives everyone—even the hypocrite—an opportunity to repent. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent hearts you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (vv. 4-5). But don’t assume that God’s kindness means that judgment will never come.


Judged According to Works? 

Paul says that everyone will be judged according to works: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (vv. 6-7). Does this contradict what Paul states later in Romans? For example, he says in 3:20, “By works of the law no human being will be justified [declared by God righteous, innocent of sin] in [God’s] sight.” [3]

We aren’t justified by doing good works; we are “justified by faith” (5:1). But good works are the evidence that we have been changed by the Holy Spirit after we believed the gospel. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9:
By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 
“Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). “The presence or absence of saving faith in our hearts will be disclosed by the presence or absence of good works of love in our lives.” [4] Earlier Paul mentioned “the obedience of faith” (1:5). “Faith [works] through love” (Gal. 5:6).


God Doesn't Play Favourites

The reason why Paul states that “everyone will be judged according to works” is because he’s arguing that everyone—Jew and Gentile—will be judged in the same way. A Jew won’t receive preferential treatment. The Jew in Paul’s day is similar to the churchgoer in our day. Some churchgoers think, “God will be easy on me on the day of judgment because I’m a church member, etc.” But “God shows not partiality” (v. 11). God doesn’t play favourites. “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (v. 8).

“In contrast to the Jews’ tendency to regard their election as a guarantee that they would be ‘first’ in salvation and ‘last’ in judgment, Paul insists that their priority be applied equally to both [see vv. 9-10].” [5] With greater privilege comes greater responsibility.

The churchgoing hypocrite will either repent of his sin or face the wrath of God. There is no other fate for the hypocrite.

___________________

[1] When someone says, “You shouldn’t judge,” they’re actually judging!
[2] A judgmental person lacks honest about his own sinfulness and is quick to judge others harshly. Someone like this doesn’t understand God’s grace.
[3] One interpretation is that Paul is speaking hypothetically: if you could obey the law perfectly, then you would obtain eternal life. But I don’t think this is the correct interpretation.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, 84.
[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 139.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Why Is God So Angry?

Part 5 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:24-32




Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (vv. 24-25). 


A Foolish Exchange

People have made a foolish exchange. They have exchanged the Creator for created things (v. 25), thinking that these things can make them happy. C. S. Lewis writes,
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world (Mere Christianity, 134-135). 
We were made to know God. And if we never find him, our search for happiness will end in disappointment.

God “gave them up” (vv. 24, 26, 28). He allowed them to do what they wanted to do. The result was “all manner of unrighteousness” (v. 29).


God's Anger

Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Why is God so angry?

When we hear the word “wrath,” we often think of someone who has an anger issue (i.e., someone with a short fuse). But God doesn’t have a short fuse. In Exodus 34:6, God proclaims to Moses that he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” God is slow to anger.

God’s wrath is his righteous anger (i.e., a right kind of anger) over all sin. God is angry only when it’s right to be angry. There are times when anger is right (i.e., appropriate, fitting) and indifference is wrong. It’s right to be angry when an evil act is committed (e.g., this week’s school shooting in Florida). We get angry because we care. “Unrighteousness” (i.e., sin, breaking God’s commands—not loving God and others) makes God angry because he cares about us. Sin hurts either us or others. 

When an evil act is committed, we also desire justice. But God gains no pleasure out of punishing people for their sin. “As I live, declares the LORD GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). Jesus “wept over” (Luke 19:41) the city of Jerusalem and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matt. 23:37).

God will not overlook any sin, but he wants to forgive every sin. He is “patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The cross proves to us both the awfulness of sin in the eyes of God (if he could overlook sin, why did Jesus die for our sin?) and the love of God for us.


Homosexuality 

The apostle Paul singles out one sin: homosexuality. Why? Probably the phrase “contrary to nature” (v. 26) is the key to answering that question. Paul began by talking about mankind suppressing the truth about God, which is contrary to nature. Belief in God is natural (i.e., we’re hardwired to believe in God). So then Paul points out a sin (homosexuality) that is unnatural (i.e., not what God intended for mankind).

We live in a culture in which anything is acceptable between two consenting adults. But God made us male and female. And God made sex. And sex is only to be enjoyed by a man and a woman who are married to each other. (However it isn’t a sin to be attracted to the same sex.)

It’s imperative that we maintain a balance between biblical conviction and Christlike compassion. If you say to a gay person, “I love you, but I can’t accept your lifestyle,” they’ll say, “But this is who I am!” You probably won’t convince them with your words, so just show them love. 


Don't Forget About the Other Sins

Let’s not overlook the other sins mentioned in this passage. Gossip is a sin that angers God (v. 29). Instead of praying for a person’s problems, the gossiper would rather talk about their problems. Instead of saying a kind word to that person, the gossiper would rather criticize them behind their backs.

Don’t say anything negative about someone that you wouldn’t say to them. And when you hear gossip, ask the person, “Have you spoken to them about this concern you have?” God hates gossip. It hurts people, and it can destroy the unity of a church.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Foolish Trade

Part 4 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:21-23




Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (vv. 22-23). 


The Human Heart Is an Idol Factory 

The apostle Paul writes, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged [i.e., traded] the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (vv. 22-23). What he’s saying is that mankind traded God for idols. Idolatry is the worship of a God-substitute. Idolaters exchange the worship of God for the worship of a substitute.

What are the first two commandments? The first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). And the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exod. 20:4-5). The Ten Commandments begin by forbidding idolatry—perhaps because idolatry is the root of all other sins. 

The human heart is an idol factory. The apostle John writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). John was probably writing to Christians living near or in the city of Ephesus. [1] In Ephesus, there was both pagan idolatry and idolatry of the heart. [2] Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (see Acts 19:21-41). The worship of Artemis was pagan idolatry. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, states that a “covetous” person is “an idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). Covetousness is one type of idolatry of the heart.

John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [3] Tim Keller defines idolatry as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [4] In his book Counterfeit Gods, Keller writes than an idol is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [5] Whenever there is a financial crisis, there are some people who commit suicide. Without their money, life isn’t worth living. Money is their god. Idolatry is turning a good thing (like money) into an ultimate thing.

Settling for Less 

Paul says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (v. 22). When we turn from God to devote our lives to an idol, we are settling for less—much less. How do we settle for less?

First, when we trade God for an idol, we become less. Paul was probably thinking of Psalm 106:19-20 when he wrote verse 23: “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” The psalmist is referring to the golden calf incident. After God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they “made a golden calf” (Exod. 32:4) and “worshiped it” (Exod. 32:8). Tragically, the making and worship of the golden calf took place while Moses was on Mount Sinai received the Ten Commandments from God.

After the Israelites made and worshiped the golden calf, God described them as “a stiff-necked people” (Exod. 32:9; cf. 33:3, 5; 34:9; 2 Chron. 30:8; Neh. 9:16, 17, 29; Jer. 7:26; Acts 7:51). The golden calf would have been a bull (an ox?), a stiff-necked animal. The Israelites resembled their idol. [6] Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” [7]

Humans were made to resemble God. Genesis 1:26 says that God made us “in [his] image, after [his] likeness.” In his book We Become What We Worship, G. K. Beale writes, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” [8] In Romans, the Greek word for “image” (eikon) occurs twice: “images [i.e., idols] resembling moral man and birds and animals” (1:23) and “the image of [God’s] Son” (8:29).

Second, when we trade God for an idol, we get less. When people are devoted to an idol, they are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. People who are devoted to idols say, “If only I could [fill in the blank], then I’d be satisfied.” But idols always end up disappointing us. Augustine prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” [9]

God declared, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). To the woman at the well, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13-14).


We Are All Worshipers

Everyone is born worshiping. We all have the desire for “something more.” And we try to satisfy that desire with all sorts of things. But only God can satisfy that desire.
What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. [10]
To trade God for something else is to settle for less—much less.

___________________

[1] D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, 451.
[2] God says in Ezekiel 14:3, “These men have taken their idols into their heart” (cf. vv. 4, 7).
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[4] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 162.
[5] Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xviii.
[6] The Israelites repeatedly acted in a stiff-necked manner in the wilderness, refusing to obey God. This was especially seen when they refused to enter the promised land.
[7] See also Psalm 135:18; Isaiah 42:17-20.
[8] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, 16.
[9] Augustine, Confessions, Book 1.
[10] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, page unknown.