Archive for June, 2019

Romans 3:18-22

In Romans 3:18-22 Paul explains why sin is such a problem. He summarizes it in a simple sentence. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Every sin and rebellion against God happens because we do not have a proper respect for Him. Wherever there is sin, there is no fear of God. John Calvin wrote this on the topic of the fear of God: “In short, as it is a bridle to restrain our wickedness, so when it is wanting, we feel at liberty to indulge every kind of licentiousness.” If we don’t fear God, we’re definitely going to feel free from the law and the penalty of violating it because we become the supreme authority and decision maker, which is absolutely not the case.

Paul points out that man’s utter sinfulness comes to us in the law to silence every critic and to demonstrate the universal guilt of mankind – that all the world is guilty before God. “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.” Remember that many Jewish people of Paul’s day took every passage of the Old Testament describing evil and applied it only to the Gentiles – not to themselves. They tried to excuse their own actions and treated the law as something that didn’t necessarily apply to them.

But Paul is clear – we can’t do enough good works to be saved. The law cannot save us. The law can’t justify anyone. It is useful in giving us the knowledge of sin, but it cannot save us. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Since the time of Adam and Eve, people have tried to justify themselves by the deeds of the law. In the Garden of Eden Adam tried to make himself presentable to God by making coverings out of fig leaves – and he failed. In Job, the oldest book of the Bible, the problem is presented clearly: how can a man be righteous before God? They cannot. God makes part of the answer clear here through Paul – the answer is not in the performance of good works, in the deeds of the law. The answer is knowing we are sinners in need of a Savior – Jesus Christ.

The law will justify no one. The law has been broken and now can only condemn us – it can never save us. This means that even if we could now begin to perfectly keep the law of God it could not make up for past disobedience, or remove present guilt. We’ve already got sin all over our past, and the law cannot remove that. It also means that keeping the law is not God’s way of salvation or of blessing under the New Covenant – that belongs to the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone. “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.”

Romans 3:9-17

In Romans 3:9-17 Paul tackles the question about whether the Jews have a better position because of their heritage. And he’s talking to the guy in the mirror as he was himself Jewish by birth so ‘we’ means me in his case. “What then? Are we Jews any better off?” The point is that by nature, the Jewish person is no more right with God than anyone else, even the Gentiles who were thought of as a lower class by his Jewish brothers and sisters. The reality is that all mankind is guilty of falling short of God’s requirements – which is what sin is – and as a result we are all under condemnation as sinners.

Paul says it clearly – there is no difference between Jews and Greeks – we are all ‘under sin’ which really means we are slaves to sin. The literal meaning of what he wrote is that we were ‘sold under sin’ and are guilty and identified as sinners. We cannot break free on our own. We are captives of our sinful human nature and have only one way out of that sinful slavery – Jesus Christ. “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.” None of us are righteous on our own.

Scripture has many places it talks about our failure to live up to God’s righteous expectations. We all come up short. When God finds none righteous, it is because there are none. It isn’t as if there were some and God couldn’t see them. There has never been a truly righteous man apart from Jesus Christ. “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” We deceive ourselves into thinking that man, on his own, really does seek after God. While it may appear we are seeking God, we end up creating idols that we can control and really aren’t seeing communion with God at all.

Paul writes that we’re ‘worthless’ which describes the idea of rotting fruit in the original language. This isn’t a temporary place of not doing the right things. We’ve turned away and are permanently on the wrong course. It isn’t some surface issue Paul calls out all parts of our human body as sinful. “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips.” We use every part to rebel against God and His righteousness. “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” Sin penetrates our entire being and we quickly allow all of our body to be consumed by our sinful nature. “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”

Romans 3:5-8

In Romans 3:5-8 Paul continues to explain life to the Jewish leaders of that day. They wanted to claim salvation based on their heritage, but Paul says that isn’t how it works. Paul was familiar with the line of thinking that says, “God is in control of everything. Even my evil will ultimately demonstrate His righteousness. Therefore God is unjust if He inflicts His wrath on me, because I’m just a pawn in His hand.” “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.)” The leaders were looking for a way to excuse themselves from having to be held accountable to God’s law.

But Paul says that’s not how it will go down. Paul dismisses the question of these leaders easily. If things were such they suggested, then God could judge no one. “By no means! For then how could God judge the world?” Scripture is clear that God will judge each of us. When we die, we’ll stand before a holy and just God and face Him needing to account for our life and the choices we made. What will be obvious is our sin, and that will preclude us from entering heaven on our own merits. But if we’ve received His answer for our sin, the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross, we’ll approach His judgment covered by the blood of the Lamb and God won’t even see our sin, just Christ’s righteousness covering our sin.

Paul re-states the objection of his questioners: “If God will glorify Himself through my lie, how can He judge me, since I seem to indirectly increase His glory?” This was a perversion of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. “But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” If you take this thinking far enough, you end up saying, “Let’s sin as much as we can so God can be glorified even more.” This shows us that one way to examine a teaching is to extend its meaning and consequences and see where you end up. In this case, you end up with the enemies lies. How we live does matter, and someday we will stand before a righteous God condemned by our sin without the blood of Jesus to cover them through faith.

If we find ourselves accused of preaching a gospel that is “too open” and too centered on faith and grace and God’s work then we find ourselves in good company with Paul. But that grace and freedom does not excuse how we act. God rightly condemns anyone who teaches that we have a license to live in sin. “And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” Twisting the glorious free gift of God in Jesus into a supposed license to sin is perhaps the peak of man’s evil ways. It takes the most beautiful gift of God and perverts it and mocks it. This twisting is so sinful Paul saves it for last, because it is beyond the depravity of the pagan, beyond the hypocrisy of the moralist, and beyond the false confidence of the Jew.

Romans 3:1-4

In Romans 3:1-4 Paul tackles the question that his audience is thinking about after he made clear that God’s love and grace was available to all, not just the Jews. “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?”  Paul has carefully explained in Romans 2 that the possession of the law or circumcision will not save a Jewish person. In fact, it won’t save any of us. Salvation is not based on who we are or what actions we might take. It is a matter of the heart if we fall short of complete obedience to the law, which is how all of us will stand before God, plain sinners!

Paul answers his own question about the advantage people have being Jewish. “Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Paul knows there are many advantages God gave to the Jewish people. In particular, He entrusted them with the oracles of God, which speaks of God’s written revelation before the time of Jesus. He gave the Jewish people His Word, and that is an indescribable gift. Trapp wrote “This was their prime privilege, that they were God’s library-keepers, that this heavenly treasure was credited to them.” God gave His Word to His people, and that is a foundational advantage, although many fell short of really leveraging that gift.

The reality is that many Jews did not receive and accept God’s truth. The fact that the Jewish people as a whole to that point had rejected the gospel did not mean that God’s faithfulness to them was in vain. It did not mean that God’s work was futile or without effect. “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” Man’s response does not change God’s truth. Paul reminds us that God will be justified in all His actions. In the end, it will be demonstrated that even our unrighteousness somehow proclaimed His righteousness and glory, even if only in judgment.

Paul again answers his own question. “By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” Spurgeon wrote “It is a strange, strong expression; but it is none too strong. If God says one thing, and every man in the world says another, God is true, and all men are false. God speaks the truth, and cannot lie. God cannot change; His Word, like Himself, is immutable. We are to believe God’s truth if nobody else believes it. The general consensus of opinion is nothing to a Christian. He believes God’s word, and he thinks more of that than of the universal opinion of men.” There is one source of truth – God’s Word.

Romans 2:25-29

In Romans 2:25-29 Paul addresses some of the false assumptions in the spiritual arena.  The first had to do with the fact that Jews in that day believed that his circumcision guaranteed his salvation. He might be punished in the world to come, but could never be lost. Paul hits that thinking head on. “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” Judgment is based on our obedience to the law – and nothing else. That’s how it was back in Paul’s day, and how it remains today. It’s why we’re all going to fall short and need Jesus.

Today many believe rituals, like baptism or the sacraments, might save the. It will not. “So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?”  Circumcision and baptism do about the same thing that a label on a can does. If the outer label doesn’t match with what is on the inside, something is wrong! If there are carrots inside the can, you can put a label that says “Peas” but it doesn’t change what is inside the can. Being born again changes what is inside the can, and then you can put the appropriate label on the outside. That label will be “Saved”.

Paul continues to try and drive home this point. “Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.” If a Gentile were to keep the righteous requirement of the law through his conscience, would he not be justified, instead of the circumcised Jewish man who did not keep the law? The point is emphasized: having the law or having a ceremony isn’t enough. God requires righteousness. We’re judged only on one thing – did we meet God’s standard?  To do so requires complete innocence from sin. And unfortunately that person doesn’t exist in any population. We are all sinners.

Paul gets to the heart of the matter – it isn’t about what we do outwardly but the condition of our heart. It’s what is inside that determines how we live and respond to God’s law. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.” We’re going to stand before God and deal with His judgment. So we better prepare. Even if the world around us praises us for how we live and what we do, that won’t cut it. The evidence of our rightness with God is not contained in outward signs or works, and it is not assured because of our parentage. The evidence is found in the work of God in our heart which shows itself in fruit. “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.”

William Newell summarizes Romans 2 with “Seven Great Principles of God’s Judgment” that are worth noting:

  • God’s judgment is according to truth (Romans 2:2).
  • God’s judgment is according to accumulated guilt (Romans 2:5).
  • God’s judgment is according to works (Romans 2:6).
  • God’s judgment is without partiality (Romans 2:11).
  • God’s judgment is according to performance, not knowledge (Romans 2:13).
  • God’s judgment reaches the secrets of the heart (Romans 2:16).
  • God’s judgment is according to reality, not religious profession (Romans 2:17-29).

Romans 2:17-24

In Romans 2:17-24 Paul gets after the Jews about their assumptions. Every “boast” of the Jewish man in this passage concerns the possession of law. The Jewish people of Paul’s day were extremely proud and confident in the fact that God gave His holy law to them as a nation. They believed this confirmed their status as a specially chosen people, and thus insured their salvation.  Paul challenges that belief. Many Jews believed that possession of the law was all that was required, but having it does not justify anyone. It is only when the law is in us and controls our heart that it can justify us. And unfortunately for all mankind, that simply does not happen as all have sinned and fallen short, even the Jews.

It comes down to this principle: “You have the law, do you keep it? You can see how others break the law, do you see how you break it also?” That’s what Paul is asking the Jewish people of his day, and the question we must answer as well. It is somewhat rhetorical, because the answer is that no one keeps it. “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?”

Here is the truth we must address. God applies His law to both our actions and our attitudes. Sometimes we only want our attitudes evaluated, and sometimes only our actions. God will hold us accountable for both motives and actions. “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.” It is not what we say that matters, it is what we do and how we live out the law. And unfortunately, that will be the thing we stand before God to defend. And we’ll be guilty as charged….

Many of us are hypocrites that talk about obedience and living as Christ Followers in public, but we unfortunately fall way short of actually living up to God’s required standards. And that causes those around us to question why it matters at all. Paul reminds the Jew that God said in the Old Testament that the failure of the Jew to obey the law causes Gentiles to blaspheme God. “For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” We do damage to the name of God when we talk about how we follow Jesus, but live like we have no requirements at all. It is hypocrisy that shames the name and causes those around us to doubt it matters at all.

Romans 2:11-16

In Romans 2:11-16 Paul reminds us that God has one set of standards for all of us. There is no partiality, no matter race, creed, knowledge, location – it doesn’t matter. Some felt back in Paul’s day that Gentiles would be judged one way, and Jews another. But it is plain that isn’t the case, then or now. “For God shows no partiality.” Each of us will stand before God on our own and face the judgment of our lives compared to His standards. We’re going to come up short, which is why we have to have a saving relationship with the only solution to our sin problem – God’s answer which is Jesus Christ.

God’s not interested in whether we know what is right. He doesn’t care what our head knowledge is. He cares only about what is in our heart, and that is demonstrated by how we live and what we do. God’s righteous judgment is not withheld because someone has heard the law; it is only held back if someone actually does 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.“ Make no mistake about it, people will be condemned, not because they have the law or do not have the law, but because they have sinned. Sin is the problem whether someone knows the law or not.

Some argue that people who don’t know the law won’t be subject to it. You know, those people in a faraway land who have never heard the gospel story. But Paul explains why the Gentile can be condemned without the law. Their conscience (which is the work of the law written in their hearts) is enough to condemn them – or, theoretically this law on the heart is enough to justify them. “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.” It’s about the heart, and even those who have not ‘officially’ heard God’s law know it exists because of the world they live in.

People demonstrate that they understand things by the way they live. It is written on their hearts and our heart is what defines our actions. People who have never heard God’s word directly still have a moral compass they are accountable to – the conscience. “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.” On this day no man will escape God’s judgment by claiming ignorance of His written revelation. Violating God’s internal revelation is enough to condemn us all. We are all ultimately accountable to God.

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