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!

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[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).