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).