Friday, May 26, 2017

Romans 10:6-13 - The Righteousness That Comes From Faith!

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Last week, we ended with this statement by Paul: Romans 10:5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them. We start this week right there, with a great word - “but.” Knowing his audience has not lived by the law of Moses, we knowing neither have we, this “peoples’ apostle” speaks to us more about the righteousness of faith.

Romans 10:6-7 (HCSB) But the righteousness that comes from faith speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven?” that is, to bring Christ down or, “Who will go down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. He quotes Deut 9 and 30 in verse 6, explaining that if man were to go to heaven in this age it would be to bring Christ down to where He is needed. He is God and He came down in the right moment at the predetermined counsel of God the Father (Acts 2:23). There is a common misperception about Jacob’s ladder that his passage in Romans helps clarify. Genesis 28 reveals a dream Jacob had while he was on the run from his brother. In this dream, he saw a ladder reaching into Heaven, upon which angels were going up and down. How many times have you sang the song about climbing Jacob’s ladder? It portrays people climbing up to Heaven on the ladder – as if to bring Christ down? The ladder prefigures Christ, bridging the gap between Heaven and Earth. If it were a ladder for sinners to draw near to Jesus, we would have much reason to boast in ourselves. By this we know this is the wrong interpretation as much of this epistle has been focused on killing the desires of the flesh, including any boasting in the flesh for our relation with God. All interaction between God and man is initiated by God – Paul has made that clear in this epistle as have others quoted in the Scriptures. So we do not go up to heaven to bring Christ down.

Verse 7 then asks who will down into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead, quoting Deut 30:13 and Heb 13:20 – which tells us the God of peace brought Jesus up from the dead. In Paul’s mind, it is just as crazy that a mortal would think he could bring Christ down from heaven as thinking he could bring Him up from the dead! No matter what Benny Hinn has said (and he has claimed to raise several people from the dead!), such a work can only be wrought by the One Who creates life!

The righteousness of faith, Paul tells us, does NOT make these claims. The false righteousness of works – pictured well by the small boy who wants to show his mother every little thing he has done, and is all-too-often told how wonderful he is! No matter how young, we do not need encouragement to think highly of ourselves. The righteousness that comes from faith speaks against this notion that we can determine or influence where the Lord Jesus is. Romans 10:8 (HCSB) On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. Here, Paul continues quoting from Deut 30, this time verse 14, where Joshua is presenting the nation with the challenge to follow after YHWH and enter into promised land. When the gospel is presented to lost people, the message is very near them. We bring this message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to people, not the message of working harder. For those being called, the message resonated in their souls and is very close to them and will evidence this by being in their mouths. Just as there are two categories of people, in two very different realms, so there are two types of righteousness – one spiritual and one fleshly. In each case, the more common, larger group or trait is the one at war with God. For them He is not the God of peace spoken about in Hebrews 13. For those of us in Christ, He is the God of peace!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Romans 9:30-10:5 Without Faith, It Is Impossible To Be Reconciled To God

Romans 9:30-33 (HCSB) What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame.

Having addressed his Jewish kinsmen about their need of grace and God’s mercy in saving a remnant – a small number of the multitude of Hebrews who had lived since Abram’s time – the apostle asks a question to draw attention back to the age-old promise of including the Gentiles into God’s kingdom. The Jews didn’t get into the kingdom by law-keeping or lineage of their flesh. How about the Gentiles? They did not have the Law of Moses to pursue self-righteousness, yet they obtained the righteousness of God that comes by faith. Think of Rahab the harlot – kept the spies safe and were included in God’s kingdom. Think of Ruth – stayed with her mother-in-law, caring for her and is in the line of Christ! And Abraham – justified by faith before he was given the covenant of circumcision. Reconciled to God apart from the Law. But Israel – given the Law to lead them to Christ, instead used it to try and earn God’s favor. They could have achieved righteousness through the Law, Paul says, if they had pursued it by faith. But they, by and large, thought their feeble fleshly attempts at keeping the Law of Moses would close the gap. We know from Scripture that God is jealous, will not share His glory with another, if there were another worthy of sharing! How much less will He consider sharing with a lowly creature? This ought to call to mind the apostle’s question in chapter 3 of this letter: Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. (Rom 3:27) He went on to say, So the one who boasts must boast in the Lord. (2 Cor 10:17). The law of faith ties to our current passage, contrasted here as in chapter 3 with the Law of Moses. When one pursues righteousness by faith, he will boast in the Lord, for there is no-one else who played a part in our resurrection from spiritual death to new life in Christ.

In our day, the opportunity for men to falsely boast in the flesh comes in too many local churches to count. Any place where raising a hand, walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or any other action by the creature is heralded as what brings or helps bring a sinner into relationship with God would be in Paul’s gun-sights. Our focus is to be on the heavenlies, wherein our help comes from – and from Whom our help came from in answer to our greatest need.

Those who pursued righteousness by works stumbled over a stone. Paul calls it a stumbling stone – its mission was to cause works righteousness to stumble. This stone is the same rock that gave water to the ancient Jews, it is the rock on which the wise man builds his house, the same rock upon which the church is built, and the chief cornerstone that holds what is built on the foundation to hold together. This the stone cut without human hands that Daniel saw smashing the kingdoms of this world; and on this stone, men will fall upon and be broken or it will fall on them and they will be crushed. Of this stone, Paul tells us, As it is written: Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame. This comes from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16: He will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And Therefore the Lord GOD said: “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable. Those who have faith in the Son of Man will not be put to shame, will be unshakable. These are precious promises for the children of God! 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Romans 9:22-29 God is God and I am man.

Last week, we ended with: Romans 9:20-21 But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor?

We pick up this same train of thought, God’s absolute sovereignty, today: Romans 9:22-24 (HCSB) And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory — on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? The first thing that we ought to take note of, because it’s first in Paul’s train of thought and because it goes against the prevailing false view of God that is so popular in our time. The apostle posits the idea that one reason Creator God raises up and hardens some (such as Pharaoh) is to display His wrath and make His power known. For many people, their only religious creed is “God is love” – they know nothing about God other than He is love, and that’s all He is in their view. We know from Romans 8:1 that we who are in Christ are not subject to His wrath, free from condemnation. When we read that verse, do we contemplate those who are not in Christ, what their doom is? That is one thing Paul is getting at here: God intentionally pours out His wrath on the children of disobedience – now and in the age to come. He desires to have attention focused on Himself by the display of His power. We see the positive side of this in those familiar stories such Gideon and his army, which I touched on last week. When ancient Israel would rightly boast in YHWH – some put their trust in horse and chariot, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God! (Psalm 20:7) – they were doing the same thing. But we also saw in Romans 2 how people who are not repentant are storing up wrath against themselves to be revealed on the great and terrible day of God’s judgment against the people of this world. While God’s wrath is not the gospel, we should not be shy about talking of it. Neither the Lord nor His apostles shied away from this topic. The stiff-necked and rebellious people need to be warned to flee the wrath to come!

Paul goes on to explain another aspect of Truth that our post-modern humanistic friends must get a grip on. These people tend to think they don’t deserve God’s punishment, that if they’ve done evil, it isn’t really that bad and shouldn’t be subject to such horrible punishment. This is one part of the argument used in the book I mentioned last week, which a publisher I spoke with had written, denying the doctrine of hell. But our apostle tells us God has endured with much patience objects of wrath that are ready – fit, prepared, suited – for destruction. God’s character is so completely different from ours that it is difficult for us to grasp His holiness and how horrible our sin is. Infinitely holy and good Creator God is sinned against by His creatures. Such rebellion truly warrants an infinitely horrible and dreadful punishment.

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Romans 9:10-21 The Difference Between Man and God

Last time we ended with verse 9 which had Paul stating the promise YHWH had given to Abram and Sari – He would give them a son, through whom all nations would be blessed. The apostle is pressing the point that divine blessings come through divine means; mortal man is incapable of conferring God’s favor on one another. And so Abram and Sari had to wait on God 13 years after they delivered what they were able. But Paul is concerned that his audience get the message – as he has been in this entire letter. So he repeats his message, from another familiar part of Israel’s history.

Romans 9:10-12 (HCSB) And not only that, but also Rebekah received a promise when she became pregnant by one man, our ancestor Isaac. For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand—  not from works but from the One who calls—she was told: The older will serve the younger. In order to build a solid identity for national Israel that would not be able to deny was due to YHWH’s will, He determined who would be the patriarchs of that faith – contrary to the norms in that culture, which always rested on the first-born male. Recall how the Lord worked with Gideon to reduce the number of soldiers going into battle? God kept sending men home until there were only 300 – so when they won the victory, everybody would know Who had given them the day.

And there’s another aspect, just as important, that our apostle is bringing to our ears: God’s doctrine of election. John Wesley taught that God looks down the corridors of time to see who will choose Jesus and then He selects those to save. Here we see yet again how wrong he and his disciples are. Paul has already built the case of our depravity and inability to seek after God (chapter 3). Here he shows us that He chose the younger to rule before either was born, so that nobody could deny His hand in making this determination. Many passages tell us that God is jealous of His name, will not share His glory, will do what He declares. This one short passage is in complete agreement with those others – He elects whoever He wanted to, without regard for anything the elect may end up doing of their own volition. This order of brothers was turned on its head so Rebekah and all Israel would know YHWH rules!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Romans 9:1-9 Concern for friends, Confidence in Christ

Doug Moo observes that Paul’s tone moves from one of celebrating the joy of being in Christ to that of lamentation as he considers the condition of his kinfolk.

Romans 9:1-4 (HCSB) I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit—  that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises.

In our passage today, Paul reveals his deep-seated love for his kinsmen of the flesh. This should show us that it is acceptable for us to likewise care especially for our kin folk. He stresses how his conscience is clear, he speaks as one united with Christ – speaking truth, and goes on to say he is not lying. He wants his fellow Jews to know that his desire for them is to be truly united to YHWH is sincere. But we also should learn from Paul that we can do nothing to overturn God’s redemptive plan. Here he describes how could almost wish to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Jews. I believe he recognized how outrageous his desire was, for he had written previously about the sovereign nature of God in the redemption of sinners. He further knows he cannot serve as a suitable sacrifice for them because of his own sin. It’s almost like Paul is trying to convince himself that the Israelites are worth saving – he lists several things that set them apart from the rest of humanity. The promises belong to them!

Recall what the apostle said about this in chapter 3 when he asked, What advantage do the Jews have? Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the spoken words of God. Yet this advantage did not help them in the matter of utmost importance, as Paul noted in that chapter – where his point was that man cannot judge God as being unfair because He saves some but not others. Think about that in our culture. Those who think man chooses to have God save him rely on the human notion of fairness to rebut the biblical doctrine of election. Paul denies this argument as it directly bears on the Jewish people of his day. 

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Romans 8:28-30 The Golden Chain

Romans 8:28-30 (HCSB) We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.

This short paragraph is called the golden chain of redemption. Each link precious and necessary, no weak link in the chain. It starts out with a very familiar but often misunderstood declaration – Creator God works all things together for the good of His people. Just as the Spirit of God helps us when we don’t know what to pray, so He helps us in our human frailty by causing all the things we encounter to work for our good. This is not “good” as the people of the world consider things. One of the reasons the apostle has been so determined to point out the two categories of people – the redeemed and the condemned – is so that we, the redeemed, would better grab hold of the different way we view this world than those for whom it is their best life. In this first sentence, Paul was inspired to make clear for whom God works all things for good – those who love God. Not content with this – for there are far too few people who admit they do not love God; many countless people claim to love God and know Him not and are not known by Him – Paul describes further for whom God works all things for good. For those who are called according to His purpose. When you talk to people who say they love God, and move on to talking about His purpose for all He does regarding us, many of them grow disinterested – more willing to talk about their desires, perhaps; anything but what they perceive as God’s demands.

To be called by God in this manner carries the idea of being made new, born again by the Holy Spirit. This call will show up in chapter 10 where the apostle strings together some rhetorical questions to reveal the truth that without God’s call, none can call upon Him. I like to bring up the scene with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus because this shows the condition of man (dead in sin and trespass), the authority of Christ (at one with the Father), the personal nature of His call (by name), and the power of His call (the dead shall come forth – alive). Called by God, according to His purpose. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Romans 8:18-27 Suffering for Christ

We left off last week with a note about the suffering we are bound to endure if we indeed walk and talk as children of the living God. This paragraph builds on that, opening with one of the most encouraging declarations in Scripture. Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. There will be suffering because the world hates us and we must be on guard that we do not fall into a trap set by the enemy. Peter wrote that we should live in such that our conscience is pure, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:16-17) Jesus told us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves when dealing with the world (Matt 10:16). Here’s how not to follow this instruction:

When I worked for Compaq Computer, they celebrated “Gay Pride Week” every year. During one such week, a fella in one location made a poster with Leviticus 20:13 on it - If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. Some people complained that they were uncomfortable and his boss told him to take down the poster. He refused and was fired. He appealed to the EEOC and they ruled against him, saying he had contributed to a hostile work environment. Christians that I worked with were outraged at this report and asked me if I was. I told them I was sad that a brother was so dumb. Our message for the world is the gospel, not the law. We cannot bring a sinner into the kingdom by the law, but YHWH has given us the gospel for that very purpose. The Holy Spirit will convict His people of their sins and grant them repentance. If we suffer for the cause of Christ, let it be on account of us being unashamed of the gospel.

There’s another type of suffering that is common to all folks. Some people think life is hell, or some particular trial is hell. You hear people talk like that all the time. Business meetings are hell! These statements tell me those so speaking know nothing about hell. All of these things – and lots that are worse – are normal suffering that are the product of the Fall.