Alaina’s graduation

IMG_2304It is not often that I blog about family stuff–in fact, let’s be honest, it is not often that I blog at all, a failing I would like to correct before the end of my days–but I am musing today on the trip that our family (six of us, at least) just took to Pensacola for Alaina’s graduation at the Abeka Academy Commencement. It was amazing.

A couple of highlights. Alaina was fabulous in red regalia. Beautiful girl, is she. I was moved to tears as she walked across the ginormous stage. How did my little girl grow into a graduate so quick? Yesterday, she was in kindergarten. I mean, I was there. It was just yesterday. I felt like Rip van Winkle waking up after 20 years. (Even had the beard to go with it. Vacation face. Will shave by Sunday. Maybe.)

Anyway, times flies, as they say, and I thank God for a wonderful 17-year journey with minimal turbulence. Alaina, you have made me proud. I also should say that Abeka Academy, the online homeschool outfit that educated Alaina since kindergarten (which she started, remember, just yesterday), did a bang up job of producing and performing a spectacular commencement. Anyone considering doing the Abeka thing, go for it. Well worth the effort.

Alongside the wonderful graduation, our family enjoyed four days in a beautiful condominium on Pensacola Beach (credit: AirBnB). Now, that was a piece of heaven on earth. Six of us, Jeana, Alaina, Natalie, Nicolas, Christopher and me (the 2-year-old twins decided to stay at home–no, really, they preferred it that way, just ask ’em). We ate pizza ’til our ribs creaked, swam with the fishes (actually with the fishes, including a stingray and a school of minnows [?!], but, thankfully, not in the terminal, Mafioso way of swimming with the fishes) and lounged for hours by the pool. Still have sand in my shoes, I think, but worth every grain of pain.

The bottom line? Nothing as good as taking time for family. All the theology in the world, which is what this astonishingly erratic blog tends to drift toward, is theoretical nonsense until it is lived out in the world. And there is no better way to live the gospel than living it with a covenant faithful family, by the grace of God. Just want to say “I love you” to my travel companions, to my wife and kids. Life doesn’t get any better than you.

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The God That Keeps Covenant

I have been thinking and praying today about “The God That Keeps Covenant.” Been thinking about the covenant of grace, the idea that God keeps both sides of the covenant.

The covenant is simply God’s promise, God’s formal declaration that He will perform what He said He would do. For example, look at the covenant of grace that God made with Abraham in Genesis 15. God enters into an agreement with Abraham that He will make him a mighty nation and bless all nations through him. In an ordinary covenant, both parties would be equally obligated to keep the terms of the covenant. However, God does something different here. God puts Abraham to sleep and keeps both sides of the covenant. In other words, God declares that He will make sure that His will cannot be frustrated by man’s failure to keep the covenant: God will keep the covenant for him!

And how will He do this? As it turns out, by keeping covenant in Christ. In other words, Christ Jesus keeps the covenant on our behalf. Through His death, burial and resurrection, Christ Jesus perfectly performs the terms of the covenant, and God in Christ keeps His agreement with Abraham and the children of Abraham. In Christ, all nations of the earth shall be blessed. In Christ, all things shall be made new.

Of course, there is one more step in this process: the mediated presence of Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit enacts and performs the terms of the covenant (obedience) within us. God keeps covenant in Christ through the Holy Spirit within us.

This is such an incredible idea! God ensures that His faithfulness cannot be frustrated by perfectly fulfilling the terms of the covenant in Christ and filling us with His Spirit so that Christ may live out the terms of the covenant (perfect obedience) in us. So, then we must simply place our trust in Christ and be filled with His righteousness, with His perfect obedience. We are baptized into this covenant. We are plunged into the faithfulness of Christ. We are submerged in the perfect obedience of Christ. God keeps the covenant within us. He is the God that keeps covenant.

 

A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (3:21-26)

 

Romans 3:21-26

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 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. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 

Justice and Justification

Paul has taught us so far that no man can be declared righteous (vindicated by acquittal before the law-court of God) by the law of God. The law of God does not dismiss the charges; it presses them. And the law finds all men guilty before God’s divine tribunal. And, more to the point, this is exactly what the law has done to Israel: Israel is found guilty before God. But, if this is so, then how shall the promises of God come to pass? How shall God “bless all nations” through Abraham if the seed of Abraham lives under the curse of exile because they broke the law? If “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and the Jews are proved by the law to be as guilty as the rest of mankind—indeed, more so—then how can God’s promises come to pass? Is Israel’s failure God’s failure? This is the question that Paul must address.

So, address it he does. Paul declares that God has demonstrated His righteousness “apart from the law.” However, Paul is quick to add that this “righteousness-apart-from the-law” does not mean that God has done an end run around the law, for “the law and the prophets bear witness” to this “righteousness-apart-from the-law.” The law and prophets bear witness to what? The law and the prophets bear witness to the covenant faithfulness of God, that God shall keep His promises to Abraham in spite of the failure of Abraham’s children to keep their promises to God.

Moreover, Paul will argue that the law and the prophets themselves bear witness, not only to the fact that God will be faithful, but that His faithfulness will be realized apart from circumcision and law keeping, which were the marks of Israel’s election. This means, as the argument develops, that the righteousness of God transcends the limits of particular election and manifests the grace of God to all nations.

Paul will show that the law and the prophets expect that the salvation of the world must come apart from the faithfulness of Israel. In fact, the law and prophets boldly proclaim that God Himself will save His people though His people are unfaithful. All of this comes into clearer focus as Paul unfolds his argument throughout Romans. The vindication of God through the resurrection of Jesus apart from the law was not a frantic stopgap measure by which God patched up His badly broken purpose with a desperate Plan B. God’s manifest “righteousness-apart-from-the-law” proves exactly what God intended to prove from the beginning: The just shall live by faith, and this faith shall be manifest in and imputed by the faithfulness of God.

This “bearing witness of the law and the prophets” is very important to Paul’s theology. He is very careful to show that his teaching is not at odds with the Old Testament scriptures. Paul is very much aware that his opponents accuse him of breaking the Scriptures, and he is determined to prove them wrong. Paul will argue forcefully and at length throughout the rest of Romans that the fulfillment of the law and the prophets in Christ through the Holy Spirit is indicated within the law and the prophets. God is fulfilling His purpose in the New Covenant through the death and resurrection of Christ and through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This should not surprise us—at least, it should not surprise us if we read the law and the prophets with a Christ-centered, Spirit-led understanding. The law and the prophets foretold this day.

After Paul makes clear that the law and the prophets bear witness to this “righteousness-apart-from-the-law” idea, he sets out to describe what this righteousness apart from the law looks like. The righteousness of God that has been manifest apart from the law is “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Or, as the KJV renders it, “The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” Many scholars argue that this is the better rendering, which has Paul saying that the righteousness of God is manifest by the faith of Jesus Christ rather than just faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, no one doubts that we must have faith in Jesus Christ to be saved, but that is not what Paul is saying here. He means to say that the righteousness of God—or, God’s covenant faithfulness—is manifest through the faith of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, the faith of Jesus Christ here entails the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This means that the righteousness of God is manifest through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, the fact that Jesus was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8). Though Israel was unfaithful, God demonstrated His covenant faithfulness through the obedience of Jesus Christ. Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded.

Jesus’ faithfulness is the manifest faithfulness of God Himself. Because Jesus is the very embodiment of Yahweh, the faithfulness of Jesus is the incarnated faithfulness of God. So, God is vindicated in the obedience of Christ. God proves He is faithful by living out His faithfulness in the faithfulness of Christ.

And this faith of Jesus Christ has been manifested “for all who believe.” This means that God has given us access to the righteousness of God in Christ when we believe the gospel, the good news, about what God has done in Christ. It all comes back to believing the promises of God. God declared that He would bless all nations through the children of Abraham, and the ultimate child of Abraham is Jesus Christ. Therefore, those who believe in the righteousness of God revealed in the ministry and mission of Christ become partakers of that righteousness.

So, this is how the righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law: God’s faithfulness is manifest through the faithful obedience of Jesus, and the faithful obedience of Jesus is imputed and imparted to those who are faithfully obedient (faith entails faithfulness). The faithfulness of God is manifest through the faithfulness of Jesus, which is manifest through the faithfulness of those who believe.

Now, as we shall see, we cannot construe this to say that we are saved by our own faithfulness, as if we can be faithful in the flesh, for that is the very point that Paul has taken such pains to refute. No flesh can be faithful before God, which is why the righteousness of God must be manifest apart from the law. Fallen man cannot be faithful.

So then, follow this closely: if the faithfulness of God is manifest through the faithfulness of Jesus to all who are faithful—to “all who believe”—and if no man can be faithful—no man can truly believe in a saving way—then how in the world will all this work its way to a happy conclusion? How then can we be saved? It sounds like an impasse!

Paul is very well aware of the difficulty, which is exactly why wrote this epic epistle. However, Paul is not worried about the happy ending. He knows that God has made a way to save His people from their sins and redeem all creation. As Paul will lay out in the remainder of Romans, God has overcome the impasse and guaranteed the happy ending by sending the Spirit to impart the indwelling righteousness of God in Christ to those who believe.

In other words, as we shall see, God has sent forth the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, so that the necessary faithfulness that fallen man cannot muster will be imparted to him by the Spirit as a free gift. The Spirit of Christ descends to dwell within us, and we are filled with the Spirit of Christ so that the faith of Christ wells up within us like a spring of living water and provides to our faithless heart the faithful obedience of Christ Himself. To put it plainly, God is raising up a faithful people by indwelling them with His own faithful Spirit. The just shall live by faith.

Then, Paul brings the question of justification back to the matter of Jew-Gentile distinction.

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 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.”

There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, for the righteousness of God is not restricted to those who have been given the law. It has been manifest apart from the law. Both Jews and Gentiles have been unfaithful to the law of God and have fallen short of God’s glory; thus, both are equally condemned. However, in Christ, the righteousness of God is freely manifest to all. This means that both Jews and Gentiles can be saved by faith in Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles are acquitted before the judgment of God. Both are found guilty under the law, and both are declared righteous by grace as a free gift in Christ.

Therefore, God is found to be righteous. His promise of universal salvation is found to be true. God keeps His Word. In spite of Israel’s failure, God is vindicated through the free gift of redemption in Christ. The death of Jesus serves as the propitiation for sins to all who receive it by faith. Salvation by grace through faith shows “God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” By presenting Jesus as the propitiation for sins, God is able to declare His righteousness in spite of His forbearance and tolerance of sins in the past.

How can a holy God be just while justifying the ungodly? Through the perfect faithfulness of Jesus lived out on our behalf and imputed to us by grace through faith. This is the power of God to salvation to all who believe, to the Jews first and also to the Greeks.

 

A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (3:9-20)

Romans 3:9-20 

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 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. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

There is No One Righteous

So, what now? The Jews were given a tremendous advantage over all other nations when God entrusted her with the oracles of God. Does this mean, then, that Israel is “better off” than other nations (in the sense of “justified”)? “No, not at all.” Paul knows very well that Israel was chosen freely by the grace of God apart from any merit, as the Lord made abundantly clear. For example, consider Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Consider also Deuteronomy 9:3-7:

Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you. Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, “It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,” whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. 

The Lord makes it clear here that the only reason He is still keeping His Word to Israel is because He, the Lord, is faithful—not because Israel is faithful. God is righteous, and God will vindicate His own Word. These passages must have been banging around in Paul’s mind as he carefully arranges his thoughts and presents his theology of the “righteousness of God” to the Romans.

Paul knows very well that Israel has no right to boast of moral superiority over Gentiles, and he knows this from the oracles that were entrusted to Israel. Israel’s scriptures plainly show from the beginning that the Jews were not “better off” than the Gentiles. Israel’s scriptures preserved the record of her own sins. Indeed, Israel’s stewardship of the oracles meant that she carried her indictment in her own bosom. Israel’s condemnation flowed out of her advantage. To whom much is given much is required. This means that Israel actually stood more condemned that the Gentiles because knowing to do good and failing to do it is a sin in itself. The fact that Israel was given the Law at Sinai only intensified her condemnation. So, are the Jews better off because of their advantage? In the final analysis, “No, not at all!”

Of course, we must observe that Paul’s comments about the condemnation of Israel are not a matter of “us vs. them.” Rather, Paul includes himself with the Jews (seeing that he is a Jew!) in his comments on Israel and her guilt: “What then? Are we Jews any better off?” Paul may see himself as Nathan the prophet in one sense, standing boldly in the face of hypocritical Israel when they call for judgment upon the Gentiles; but in another sense Paul clearly stands and falls with Israel in her sin.

In the next few verses Paul brings his argument in chapters 1-3 to a crescendo. He reminds us that he has already “charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” The principal point to be made here is that all humanity stands condemned under the law. No one will be justified by the works of the law. As Paul brings this point into closer focus, he recites a catena of scripture passages to support his argument. As a faithful Jew, Paul believed that his doctrine must be biblical if it is to be considered at all. So, he quotes:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

“These are the things that the Law said, not me!” Paul seems to be saying. And “whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law,” which would be the Jews, the same Jews that are attempting to disqualify Paul’s Gentile converts from full inclusion in the New Covenant community because they—the Gentiles—do not keep the law. What an irony! The very ones who have set themselves up as the gatekeepers to the house of God are themselves more condemned by the law than anyone else.

If the Gentiles are refused admittance to the house of God because they do not keep the law, then what should be said about the Jews who have broken the law more than anyone? It should be said that they are no “better off,” that they have no more right to the promises of God than anyone else. If legitimate claim to the promises of God can only be made by faithful law-keepers, then no one can make that claim. No one has kept—no can keep—the law! But this is where grace comes in. Paul will show us how God has justified both Jews and Gentiles by grace through faith in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

This means, then, that Israel—indeed, all humanity—has no right to boast. As 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.” Boasting figures prominently in Paul’s thought, here and elsewhere. In fact, it is striking how much scripture addresses the idea of man’s boasting. It seems that boasting is one particular sin for which God has little tolerance. The boasts of the wicked provoke God to quick anger.

Here, the boasting Paul condemns is the boasting of Israel that they are “Jews,” that they “rely on the law and boast in God” (2:17; see also 2:23; 3:27). It is somewhat ironic that those who are called by the name of “praise” (the name “Jew” is derived from “Judah,” which means “praise”) are condemned as boasters. They, who should be praising God for His salvation to the ends of the world, are occupied rather with idle boasts about their exclusive privilege and doing everything in their power to preserve it.

The Jews were called to manifest the praises of God to the world so that the entire world might believe and be saved, but Israel had forsaken this calling and was occupied rather with hopes that the pagan nations would be destroyed. Israel’s exile had hardened her heart toward the nations so that her mission was compromised through pride and unbelief. Israel no longer understood her mission and destiny within the universal purpose of God. Thus, the people who should have been lifting praises to the glory of God were heaving up pretentious boasts.

Think about this. Let’s say you rise early on a Saturday morning and prepare to leave the house for several hours to run a few errands. You wake your eldest son and give him instructions about watching his younger siblings while you are gone. You give him a crisp, new twenty-dollar bill and tell him to use this money to purchase lunch for himself and the rest of the children. You return home later in the afternoon, and hear a ruckus going on in the back room. You pause at the door to hear what is being said, and you are amazed to hear your eldest bragging to the other children about how he was given twenty dollars for lunch, and no one else was given anything. He laughs and pokes fun at the other kids who are hungry and starting to get rather cranky by now. He boasts that he is favored by the father, the rest of the kids are despised and rejected, and the money is his to use as he pleases. There is no doubt that you, too, would become somewhat cranky. In fact, your wrath would probably be revealed from the doorway against the unrighteousness of eldest sons who hold twenty dollar bills in unrighteousness!

This is a crude illustration of what had happened to Israel. They had been given a mission to the world, and they had been given circumcision and the Law of Moses to set them apart for this task. The entire point of the law was to separate Israel out for her specific mission. Her food laws, her unique calendar, her Sabbaths, etc, were all given to set Israel apart from the world so Israel might minister to the world. (This is why Paul asserts that these Jewish distinctive are no longer useful in the New Covenant age when the gospel is preached to all nations.) And now, she is using the very thing she was given to serve the nations—circumcision and the Law of Moses—to boast about her exclusive rights to the glory of God. Israel’s boasting became a mockery of her mission.

The law declares the guilt of all men so that boasting may be stopped and that “the whole world may be held accountable to God.” The law is the formal indictment of all mankind. Israel bears the weight of this indictment as the priestly representative of all nations before God, but the whole world shares in Israel’s condemnation. As we shall see later, God has placed the entire world under condemnation so that He may place the condemnation of the world upon Christ as the atonement for the world. God condemned the whole world that He might save the whole world.

Finally, Paul declares, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The law given to Israel is the indictment upon every “human being.” In the reading of the law, the charges against man are unsealed and read in an open court. The law brings knowledge of sin. The law reveals man’s weakness. However, the law of itself cannot save, which is the point that Paul has already introduced and will develop more fully later on. Therefore, if the law cannot justify us before God, then how shall we be vindicated—acquitted of all charges—before God? That is what we shall find out.

A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (3:1-8)

Romans 3:1-8

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though everyone were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

The Advantage of Israel
So, then. If faithful Gentiles are as justified as faithful Jews and if law-breaking Jews are no better than Gentiles, then what is the value of being God’s chosen people? If the New Covenant wipes out the redemptive distinction between Jews and Gentiles, then what is the point of all the history contained in the pages of the Old Testament?

This really is the heart of the matter in Romans: Does the Christian faith invalidate the promises of God to Israel? Can the Gentiles be included in the New Covenant apart from circumcision and law-keeping without canceling the exclusive destiny of Israel? Can Gentiles share in the promises God made to Israel without becoming Jews? This is the nettle to be grasped, as some like to say.

So, Paul grasps it. He does so by asking two questions: (1) What advantage has the Jew? and (2) what is the value of circumcision? There is no doubt that God entered into a law-treaty covenant with Israel at Sinai and gave them circumcision as the sign of this covenant as He had done with Abraham. There is also no doubt that the Old Testament is filled to its bindings with statements about Israel’s exclusive destiny before God in and for the world. Israel was called to be God’s chosen people. Paul cannot—and would not—deny the advantage of being Israel or the value of circumcision. Indeed, he is determined to refute this charge before it is leveled by his opponents.

No, Paul will not deny the advantage of Israel or the value of circumcision. Rather, he simply intends to show that the advantage of Israel and the value of circumcision are fulfilled in Christ.

Paul answers the two questions with one statement, “Much in every way.” There is much advantage in being a Jew and much value in circumcision—yes, much in every way. Then, Paul gives only one very important reason—you might say the reason—for the advantage of Israel and the value of circumcision: Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God, the words that God spoke to His people to stand as a witness to and for the nations. The oracles of God are preserved as the Old Testament Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets and all the writings bound together with them. Israel was expected to preserve the oracles of God and transfer them to future generations. Israel did this faithfully, and we now have a faithful record of God’s words to His people.

However, when Paul speaks of Israel being entrusted with the oracles of God, he means much more than merely preserving and propagating the words of God to future generations. To Paul, the oracles of God are God’s plan for the redemption of the world, and Israel was called to be the means of this redemption, the agent and executor of the plan. To be entrusted with the oracles of God is like a messenger being trusted with a top secret dispatch that must be delivered through enemy lines to a beleaguered garrison. The messenger must do more than merely hold on to the message and keep its contents safe. He must preserve the contents of the message, deliver it safely to its intended recipient and interpret the message to those who cannot read its words. Israel was called to all of this when she was “entrusted with the oracles of God.”

Israel was called to be a light to nations by being “the people of the Book,” the people that possessed the greatest law ever given. God expected Israel to hear the law and take it into her heart. Israel was called to live out the implications of the law and manifest the holiness of God to the world. Israel was commanded to internalize the law and become living expressions of its righteous commands. Israel was called to become “Word made flesh” in a sense. Of course, Israel could not do this because of the weakness of the flesh, as Paul will discuss in chapters 6-8. Incarnational living was not fully possible until the incarnation of God in Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. But just because Israel could not did not mean that Israel should not. Ponder that for a moment.

However, Paul cannot speak about Israel being entrusted with the oracles of God without immediately recalling Israel’s failure to keep this trust. “What if some were unfaithful?” Paul remembers Israel’s perennial backsliding, her repeated prostration before pagan idols during the time of the judges and kings. Paul remembers the Exile when God judged Israel and cast her out into the earth under the oppressive rule of Gentile principalities and powers. Paul remembers Israel’s continued faithlessness after the remnant returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, the shame of Ezra as he beheld the corruption of Israel through intermarriage with the pagan nations around them. Paul remembers the four hundred “silent years” between Malachi and John the Baptist, and most of all, he remembers the continuing Jewish rejection of Jesus as Israel’s Lord and Christ. Paul’s recollection cannot help but stagger beneath the overwhelming weight of Israel’s unbelief. “What if some were unfaithful?” Some certainly were!

And yet, Paul refuses to believe that Israel’s story is over. He cannot fathom the idea that Israel’s unfaithfulness will induce God to betray His own Word. Paul believes, and the rest of Romans will bring this quiet note of faith to a resounding crescendo, that God will be true to His Word in spite of—indeed, because of—Israel’s unbelief. In Romans 9-11 Paul will present the astounding claim that Israel’s backsliding was a part of God’s plan all along to demonstrate man’s inability to save himself apart from the indwelling life of God. God will save Israel, and God will save the world!

Moreover, Paul will show that Israel’s “falling away” has occurred so the sins of all nations could be gathered together and piled in a heap upon Israel as a priestly nation representing the world and thus narrowed and focused in atonement upon Israel’s scapegoat, Jesus Christ. Israel was called to be a living sacrifice for the life of the world.

Paul refuses to believe that Israel’s story is over because Paul trusts in the faithfulness of God. “Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though everyone were a liar.” God is faithful no matter how much the people of God are not. Israel may have lived a lie and violated the terms of the covenant, but God cannot lie. He will do what He said He would do. His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel will surely come to pass—not because Israel is faithful, but because God is faithful. And this faithfulness, the trustworthiness of God, is the basis of salvation by grace. God will freely save whom He will because He is faithful, not because those whom He saves are. God will keep His promises and vindicate His Word for the sake of His own glory.

As noted above, the righteousness of God speaks of the “rightness” of God, the fact that God cannot lie, that His Word is right. It is God’s own faithfulness and righteousness that is vindicated, or justified, in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is the justification of God.

The justification of God may seem like odd language to our ears, but Paul is very concerned to show that his gospel does not make a liar out of God. Paul does not propose some sort of “replacement theology” where Israel forfeits her promises through unbelief and is replaced in the salvific economy of God by some sort of Hellenized Christian church. Not at all. Paul strongly believes that the ultimate salvation of Israel will be the salvation of the world.

In order to drive the point home, Paul quotes from Psalm 51. Consider the quote in its context: “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though everyone were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.'” Paul is referring to the unfaithfulness of Israel. What if some within Israel were unfaithful? Does the faithlessness of Israel nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though everyone within Israel were liars.

Then the quote: “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

David wrote these words after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet over his sin with Bathsheba. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to hide Bathsheba’s pregnancy and conceal their sin. Nathan exposed David’s sin in the dramatic telling of the story of stolen ewe lamb. David, missing the point of the story, was indignant against the man who stole his poor neighbor’s sheep only to discover in dismay that he was the man Nathan had in mind! David fell on his face in repentance, but God refused to defer His anger against David’s sin, and the illegitimate infant died in just a few days.

However, the story does not end there. “Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him.” (II Samuel 12:24) The Lord loved Solomon and later chose him to be David’s heir. Moreover, God anointed Solomon to build His temple, one of the great wonders of the ancient world, and gave to the young king unprecedented wisdom to lead the people of God. As a further example of amazing grace, this son of Bathsheba the adulteress wrote much of the Wisdom literature we have in our Bible. What an incredible story of redemption!

(We could also speak of how the temple site was selected as a result of another of David’s spectacular sins, but space does not permit us to draw in this additional example of redemptive grace.)

Paul sees the story of David’s unfaithfulness as a model of Israel’s larger unfaithfulness. David sins. He conceals his sin with an even greater sin. He lives for at least nine months as if he had done nothing wrong, worshipping God with his lips but not his heart. Nathan the prophet confronts his sin in a parable, but David cannot see himself in the story. He indignantly pronounces the sentence of death upon the perpetrator, quick to judge evil in others, not realizing that he was pronouncing judgment upon himself. David repents, and God forgives his iniquity but refuses to defer judgment. The child dies. Then, God blesses David and Bathsheba with a another child, Solomon, and God loves the child, raises him up to be king, builder of the House of the Lord and writer of wise sayings and countless songs. This, in short form, is the larger story of Israel.

The central feature of this story is God’s promise to David that He would build his dynasty and there would never fail to be a son of David upon the throne of Israel. This great promise, described as “the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 55:3; see also Acts 13:4 where Paul quotes this statement from Isaiah) is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, which Paul referred to in Romans 1:3. This is why Paul insists that the faithlessness of Israel cannot overthrow the faithfulness of God.

God is “justified” in His words and “prevails” when He is judged. God is right when He judges David for his sin, but God is also right when He chooses out of His own grace to redeem David from his sins and keep covenant with him forever. All that God has done in David He will do in Israel. This is the message of Romans.

This leads us to consider an amazing idea: “Our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God.” God displays His own holiness against the ever-darkening backdrop of man’s sin. God permits man’s unfaithfulness so that the faithfulness of God made be clearer in contrast. As stated later, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. Paul frames this idea within a question rather than a positive statement, so he must assume that our train of thought is running on his track.

Of course, this leads to the question: “What shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?” If God permits unrighteousness in order to highlight His righteousness, then how can God justify His wrath upon us? More specifically, if God has allowed Israel’s faithlessness in order to demonstrate His own faithfulness to the world, then how in the world can God judge Israel for her unfaithfulness? If Israel is only playing a part in the drama that God wrote, then why should she be judged for playing that part particularly well?

Paul is keenly aware of the impending wrath that is about to crash down upon Israel. He knows that Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem within a generation. As Paul says elsewhere, the wrath of God has come upon Israel “to the uttermost” (I Thessalonians 2:16). All of this forces Paul consider the divine rationale behind it all. Paul will consider all of this in breathtaking detail in Romans 9-11. But the idea begins bubbling up to the surface now like the first sputtering bursts of an erupting geyser.

If Israel’s unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath on Israel? We must admire Paul’s willingness to address the hard questions head on. We should learn from his example. But even in his willingness to address the hard questions, he quickly makes clear that he intends no irreverence toward God: “I speak in a human way.” This humility is striking.

Is God unrighteous? Paul asks. “By no means!” comes the swift reply. “For then how could God judge the world?” It is not only Israel that faces the wrath of God for her sins so that “the righteousness of God [may be] revealed from faith to faith” and that “the wrath of God [may be] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:17, 18); the entire world faces the righteous judgment of God. In other words, God is not being unjust to Israel when He judges her for her sins. He will judge the entire world by the same standard: the law of God. All shall stand condemned before that great tribunal. All shall find that their unrighteousness shows the righteousness of God. This, too, is the message of Romans. Paul will develop this further momentarily.

Then Paul frames the same question in a more personal way. Again, Paul is surely thinking of David. David’s lie ultimately ended up demonstrating the truthfulness of God in the wrath that fell upon him and his house and the mercy that extended to him and his family forever. God was demonstrated to be faithful in contrast to the faithlessness of man so that God alone would receive glory. So, Paul wonders aloud, “But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” Why should I be condemned for lying to the glory of God? That is quite a question!

Moreover, “And why not do evil that good may come?” If sin reveals the holiness of God, then let us sin as much as we can so God may appear that much more holy! It is obvious that Paul does not think this way, for he refers rather angrily to those who level this slanderous charge against him. But he is willing to confront the question. He does not think this way, but he realizes that some may—indeed, some have—misunderstood his argument in just this way. So, he raises the question to knock it down again.

One final comment. Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God. In Paul’s world, pagan oracles were often consulted to learn about the future. Certainly Paul is no fortune teller and the Scriptures are not tea leaves, but Paul does firmly believe that the destiny of Israel is written in the pages of the Word of God. The “fortunes” of Israel were written in the divine dispatch carried within her own scrolls, if only we can crack the code with the cipher of the Spirit. Paul will show that the surprising twist of destiny that Israel encountered in Christ is not really a surprise at all when the oracles of God are understood in light of Christ revealed by the Spirit.

The oracles of God predict Israel’s failure and redemption, and the Gentiles’ conversion to faith in the one true God. In other words, Paul insists that Israel was entrusted with preserving and presenting a story that contains the plot he is now rehearsing. Paul will show, by quoting the oracles of God, that Israel’s unbelief is not surprising to those who read the text of the Old Testament with a Spirit-led understanding. The story of Israel is all about the vindication of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is faithful and His Word is true.

A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (2:25-29)

Romans 2:25-29

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Many Jewish Christians of Paul’s day insisted that Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the law in order to enjoy full fellowship within the Christian church. It is Paul’s task in Romans to debunk this idea.

The unity of believers in Christ is Paul’s main agenda. Paul insists that his Gentile converts have as much right to full fellowship in the church as Jewish Christians. There are two barriers that the Judaizers have erected between Jewish and Gentile Christians: circumcision and law-keeping. Paul is getting ready to knock both of them down.

Here is Paul’s argument: Circumcision is worth something if you keep the law. In other words, the Judaizers are right in asserting that circumcision and law-keeping go together. But they have missed the startling implications of this fact: their circumcision is meaningless because they have not kept the law. If a Jew breaks the law, Paul says, he is no different than a Gentile. In fact, he is worse than a Gentile because he knows the truth and suppresses it.

Moreover—and this is where it gets really controversial—if a Gentile keeps the law he is no different from a Jew. He should be regarded as circumcised. This is because circumcision is “a matter of the heart” (v. 29). And, as we shall see, Paul understands “keeping the law” in terms of fulfilling the law in the Spirit by grace through faith. In this sense, the Gentile Christians are keeping the law while the Jewish Christians are breaking it by refusing to see its fulfillment in Christ.

So, those who break the law should be considered uncircumcised even if they are circumcised physically, and those who fulfill the law should be considered circumcised even if they are not circumcised physically. In one deft stroke Paul has turned Jews into Gentiles and Gentiles into Jews! This must have left their heads spinning.

Paul yanked the rug of superiority from under their feet and left the Jewish Christians no basis for their proud condescension toward Gentile Christians. Indeed, Paul insists that the faithfulness of the Gentiles in Christ will condemn the faithlessness of Israel. Even though Israel has the gramma of the law, the “written code,” only those who fulfill “the Spirit of the law” truly keep the law.

Paul’s radical theology is built upon a simple idea: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (v. 28, 29). However, this simple idea is not original with Paul. Moses made it clear that circumcision of the heart is the reality that physical circumcision signifies (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6). The prophets echoed this theme, particularly Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:4; 9:26). Paul is simply extrapolating what Scripture says in light of the new reality inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is Paul’s theology of the Spirit that undergirds everything he will say throughout the rest of Romans.

A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (2:17-24)

Romans 2:17-24

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Now Paul pulls out his trusty sharpened stick of sarcasm to puncture the pride of the Judaizers. You call yourself a Jew. You rely on the law. You boast in God and claim to know His will. You, the judge of all that is right and wrong, approve what is excellent and claim you are qualified to disqualify others because you are instructed from the law. You are quite sure that you are a benevolent guide to those poor, poor blind folks, “a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.”

This is strong stuff! Paul knows this sort of pride so well because he once lived it to its fullest. He was the epitome of this proud persona. And now, he is using his familiarity with it to ridicule its rank hypocrisy.

Paul goes on: “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” One wonders if Paul had specific names and instances in mind. Inquiring minds would like to know! Regardless, he seems to know very well that those who preach the law the hardest are usually trying desperately to conceal the fact that they measure up to it the least.

Remember, Paul himself was “blameless” in law-keeping—at least, he thought so until he found out on the road to Damascus that he was the chiefest of sinners. He knows this self-righteous crew very well, and he will not tolerate for a moment their blatant attempt to sequester the gospel and shut the Gentiles out. No, not for a moment!

Furthermore, Paul does not merely use his own personal experience to drive home the point. He quotes Scripture: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” It is not enough to remind the Judaizers that he personally knows of their perfidy, but Paul is careful to show that their condemnation is from the Judge of all living and dead.

Paul quotes loosely from the Septuagint’s rendering of Isaiah 52:5 (and possibly with Ezekiel 36:20-23 in mind), but he also seems to have in mind the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah the Hittite. This will come into clearer focus in Romans 3 when Paul quotes directly from Psalm 51, David’s famous prayer of repentance. But even now we can hear echoes of Nathan’s rebuke to David: “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die” (II Samuel 12:14 KJV).

Moreover, we cannot escape the comparison of Paul to Nathan, the Judaizers to David, and Paul’s Gentile converts standing in a direct line with righteous Uriah, the Hittite, a Gentile, who was more righteous than the Jew who had him killed. What a powerful parallel!

A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (2:12-16)

Romans 2:12-16

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. 

God is impartial in His judgment. He holds everyone to the same standard: if you keep the law, you will be justified; if you break the law, you will be condemned. Simple as that. Except it is not that simple. If it was that simple, Romans would be a very short book. But Paul goes on to show that everyone, Jew and Gentile, breaks the law, and that the only way to keep the law is by grace through faith in the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. This is fulfilling the law by the Spirit and not by the works of the flesh. Of course, this anticipates Paul’s argument a bit, but it is certainly where the argument is going.

Those who sin without the law are the Gentiles. The Gentiles were not given the written code of the law, so they are “without law.” Those who sin “under the law” are the Jews. They were given the law written upon tables of stone. The law was to be read in its entirety every seven years and portions read by Levites each Sabbath in the villages and cities of Israel at their local holy convocation, which was the forerunner of the synagogue. Israel was given many opportunities to hear the law. However, Paul reminds his audience that simply hearing the law was never enough. Israel was commanded to do the law.

James addresses this same idea in his epistle: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). Both Paul and James are alluding to Moses’ warning to Israel that they must keep the law by doing what is commanded (Deuteronomy 4:1; 5:1; 6:3; 30:12-14; cf. also Ezekiel 20:11). And both Paul and James quote Moses’ warning that if a man breaks one point of the law he is guilty of the entire law (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10; alluding to Deuteronomy 27:26).

Moses emphasized that the man who keeps the law by doing the commandments shall live in it. Of course, this is exactly the point that Paul makes. Only those who keep the law perfectly can live by the law. And here is the catch: no one can keep the law! Thus, no one can live by the law. All who attempt to keep the law in the flesh will die. Paul will show us later that this is why God gave the law to Israel “according to the flesh.” God gave them the law to demonstrate that fallen man cannot keep the law without the indwelling power of the Spirit, and no man can be righteous apart from the righteousness of Christ.

Yet, the larger point that Paul is making here is that Gentile Christians are keeping the law, in the sense that they are fulfilling the law by faith through the Spirit. Paul argues that his Gentile converts “who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires” and “they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” Further, “they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness.”

The deep irony of this passage is that Israel, who was given the written code of the law, failed to keep the law, while the Gentiles, who were not given the written code of the law, were now fulfilling it! And they were doing so without circumcision and the ceremonial observance of temple rituals. Paul contrasts the hearers (Israel) with the doers (Gentiles).

Paul turns the argument of the Judaizers on its head. He uses the momentum of their argument against them. The Judaizers seek to disqualify the Gentiles from the New Covenant because they are not circumcised and do not keep the law. But Paul will show that those who are truly circumcised and really keep the law are the Gentiles. He will reverse the argument here and show that the Judaizers are the ones who are disqualified because they are uncircumcised in heart and do not truly fulfill the law by the Spirit. This is theological jujitsu at its best!

A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (2:1-11)

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. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 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 heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

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; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

The Impartial Judgment of God
It is important as we get started with chapter two to recall the overall message of Romans. This will help us keep our interpretation centered properly as we navigate this difficult terrain. Paul is convinced that God is fulfilling His promises to Israel in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Further, Paul believes that this gospel is now preached to all nations, and the Gentiles are included freely in the new covenant of promise. Paul believes that this one body of Christ—made up of both Jews and Gentiles gathered together by the Holy Spirit through one baptism—is the means of salvation to the whole world, indeed, to all creation. Moreover, Paul insists that Gentiles are included in the church by grace through faith apart from circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses. No one can be saved by what Paul calls “the works of the flesh.” Salvation is in Christ alone.

However, there is a certain contingent of the church—the Jewish-Christian contingent—that disagrees vehemently. They believe that the Gentiles should not be allowed full access to the Christian faith unless they become converts to Judaism through circumcision and law-keeping. Otherwise, the Jewish element of the church will be disqualified by Gentile association from worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem, and this is unacceptable to them. This group believes that Christ came to purify the worship of the Old Covenant, not to end it. Paul knows very well that Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (cf. Romans 3:31; also Matthew 5:17), and yet, Paul sees this fulfillment as qualifying the Gentiles to enjoy full table fellowship with Jews in the New Covenant. There is strident disagreement here.

The heart of the controversy beats with a simple idea: the Jewish members of the church think they are more righteous than the Gentiles because they are circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. And, if the Gentiles want to join in this righteousness, they must submit to circumcision and pledge to keep the law as given to Israel by Moses. However, Paul zeroes in on the fatal flaw in their argument: Israel never kept the law. Furthermore, physical circumcision is not really circumcision at all. It never was! Physical circumcision has always been merely the outward sign of true circumcision, which is circumcision of the heart. Moses taught this, and the prophets shouted it over and over from the housetops. This is what Paul will begin to show in Romans chapter two and develop more fully as he goes along. Paul intends to puncture the pride of Jewish-Christian exclusivism and show the Judaizers that, rather than being more justified than Gentiles, they are more condemned than Gentiles because they knew to do good and did not do it, thus multiplying their condemnation.

In refusing to allow the Gentles full fellowship in the church, the Judaizers were judging the Gentiles as unworthy and condemning them to remain outside the New Covenant. This judgment-condemnation motif gets a lot of play in Romans. But now, in a surprising twist, Paul whirls around and points his long, bony finger at the judges themselves: “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.”

Hold it for a moment. This just became a little strange. The judge is practicing these things? The judge is guilty of the deadly sins just listed? Where did that come from? Surely the judge is not guilty of the very things for which he is passing sentence on others. And yet, that is exactly the point that Paul makes. Israel is guilty of the sins for which she despises the nations. Israel cannot disqualify Gentiles for being uncircumcised and breaking the law when she is more guilty of this than them.

Now, run the train of thought back down the track again. The gospel is the power of God to salvation for all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. The righteousness, or the faithfulness, of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith as the faith of Jesus Christ spreads from Israel abroad unto the nations, and the righteous shall live by this faith. Then, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all who know the truth but willfully suppress it and turn to idols. Those who give themselves to idols are themselves given over by God to the idols they serve to be totally dehumanized and reshaped into the image of the beasts that they worship. The wrath of God that is revealed from heaven against this crew decrees that they are worthy of death, along with those who approve of their debauched way of life.

Of course, to the self-righteous, law-abiding Judaizer there is no doubt to whom Paul refers here. He simply must be describing those animalistic Gentiles, those lawless pagans, those filthy and uncircumcised dogs. And, of course, he is. There were Gentiles all over the world that fit Paul’s vivid description of the unrighteous. And yet, Paul is about to show us that Israel has out-Gentiled the Gentiles, out-paganed the pagans. We first noted where Paul was headed when he quoted from Psalm 106, the story of Israel’s sins against her Maker:

“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. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea. Therefore he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them” (Psalm 106:19-23).

Israel, while standing in the shadow of Sinai with the glory-cloud of God’s presence resting upon the mountain, turned to idols. Furthermore, they never stopped turning to idols until God finally scattered them throughout the nations just as Moses said that He would (cf. Deuteronomy 28-32).

Then, after Israel had returned from exile into Babylon, they still did not turn to the Lord with their whole heart, but developed an empty form of religion that practiced empty piety and replaced truth with tradition. This form of religion was the Judaism that Jesus railed against so vehemently. It was the form of religion that elevated the traditions of man over the commandments of God. It was the form of religion that dragged an adulterous woman before the crowds to embarrass Jesus only to slink away in disgrace when invited to cast the first stone as a public declaration of blameless perfection. It was the form of religion that refused to recognize Messiah when He came and, finally, nailed Him to a Cross. This was the same form of religion that now sought to disqualify Gentiles from the Christian faith. This was the form of religion that wanted to play judge. Paul is having none of it.

Paul will have none of it because he knows all about it. He has “been there, done that” as folks like to say. Paul knows all about this because, before converting to the Christian faith, he was a model Judaizer. He says, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14). Paul knows very well about judging others only to discover that he, the judge, was guilty of the very crimes for which he was prosecuting others.

Paul testifies elsewhere that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless” (Philippians 3:5, 6), and yet, he was struck down on the road to Damascus with the revelation he was not the blameless law-keeper he had imagined himself to be. Rather, he was a murderer! That must have been quite a shock.

So, Paul knows a thing or two about “passing judgment on another” while “you, the judge, practice the very same things.” Paul knows about Israel’s hypocrisy here because he had lived it. He had embodied it.

And speaking of embodiment, there is another character in the background here that will come into closer focus in chapter three. When Paul whirls on the judge and shouts that he is the one that is truly condemned, there are rising echoes of Nathan the prophet confronting David over his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. This subtle allusion will become a direct comparison when we get to chapter three and Paul starts quoting Psalm 51. There is no doubt that this narrative casts Paul in the character of Nathan with the Judaizers sitting in judgment like another David perched self-righteously on his throne. More on that anon.

Israel, Paul says, you have no excuse. You have condemned the Gentiles for idolatry while bowing before the very same idols. You disqualify pagans for their uncircumcision and law-breaking while you, too, are uncircumcised in heart and shatter the commandments with persistent disobedience. You know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things, and yet, you keep on doing them. Do you now think that you will escape the wrath of God, the wrath that is revealed from heaven against the unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness?

Your judgment on others is presumptuous. God’s kindness is intended to bring you to repentance, but instead, as His wrath is delayed, you waste your time pointing fingers at others. And now, the time is coming when both Jew and Gentile will be judged for their sins. Do not think that Jerusalem shall escape the fate you wish upon Rome. Both shall be destroyed on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment shall be revealed. Everyone will get exactly what is coming to them. The Jews and the Gentiles that do evil will receive wrath and fury. The Jews and the Gentiles that do good will receive eternal life. For God shows no partiality.

One Day That Changed the World Part 2

Sermon notes for this Sunday.

Sunday, December 8, 2013  

Topic: One Day That Changed the World: Part Two

1 Timothy 3:16

Today, let’s consider the gospel of Jesus by asking a few questions:

1. What did God do at the birth of Jesus? The Word of God—the creative, spoken word by which God created all things and sustains the universe, the same word that was spoken to Israel as the Law and Prophets—became flesh in Jesus. Jesus is the creative word and the Law and Prophets enfleshed. God Himself became incarnate in the person of Christ to save His people from their sins through reconciliation and union with God and to redeem His good creation. God became a man to save man.

2. What did God do in the life and ministry of Jesus? God lived among men to show that the Word made flesh fulfills the Law (perfect righteousness) and Prophets (future hope) and recreates the world. Jesus is the faithfulness of God made flesh. God announced and inaugurated His promised kingdom through the preaching and ministry of Jesus and those whom He called to follow Him. God brought heaven to earth and previewed and produced the coming age in present human history. 

3. What did God do in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus? God confronted the power of sin and death that enslaved His people, took upon Himself the pain and penalty of divine alienation and broke the power of sin and death by descending into hell and rising again the third day victorious over death, hell and the grave. God planted the seeds of the heavenly world to come in the present earthly, evil age and made the victory of God inevitable. 

4. What did God do in the ascension of Jesus to the throne of God? God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him to His own right hand upon the throne of God to rule over all heavenly angels and earthly powers. God made Jesus the head of the church and the head of all creation. Jesus is Lord over all nations, Lord of lords and King of kings, President of presidents, Prime Minister of prime ministers. Jesus rules! 

5. What did God do in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost? God omnipresenced the Spirit of Jesus, the glorified humanity of Christ, and poured out His divine/human Spirit into the hearts of all believers so that Jesus is everywhere present and gathered with His people when they worship in every nation under heaven. Thus, the kingdom of God comes in the earth as the church marches forward proclaiming the gospel of Jesus—that God has kept in Christ His promise to Abraham to bless all nations through His children—through preaching, praise and prayer.

As the church becomes salt in the earth and light in the world and individuals believe the gospel, every realm of life is slowly transformed: the gospel transforms politics, education, science, medicine, art, film, music, literature, sports, fashion, economy, architecture, engineering, technology, space exploration, oceanography, culinary arts, psychology, philosophy, theology, religion, and any other thing that is a part of God’s good creation. The world is changed by the preaching of the gospel! And by this same Spirit of transformation dwelling within believers God is drawing all creation toward its ultimate and full transformation in the resurrection of the saints when Jesus comes again. 

Conclusion: One final, pressing question: if God did all of this, then what does it mean for me? How does the birth of Jesus and all the events that followed change my world? If all of this is true, then how should I live? Here’s how:

  • I must believe the gospel and accept the truth of what God has done in Christ and what it means for me. 

  • I must obey the command of the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to actualize and personalize the gospel in my life by repentance (turning from my sin); by baptism (the covenant ceremony where the church baptizes you in the the name of Jesus into the body of Christ); and by being filled with the Holy Spirit (as they were at Pentecost).

  • I must become a disciple (student, follower) of Jesus in everyday life and allow the gospel to make me a mediator of the rule of God into the world around me. When the gospel changes my world, I become a means of change to the world around me. 

This leads us to The Call: Who wants to follow Jesus in this way? 

 

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