Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 13, The Same Faith Saves Jews And Gentiles

Paul has been explaining to us that it is our faith that saves us. Merely keeping the law (as if we could) without faith is meaningless. But faith naturally leads us to do what is pleasing in God's sight and, even when we fall short, faith leads us to God in sincere repentance so we can receive absolution.

Yesterday Paul told us that it was Abraham's faith, not his works, that was credited to him as righteousness. Lest anyone believe that only the biological descendants of Abraham can receive the righteousness that comes by faith, Paul is quick to point out to us today that everyone who believes is a descendant of Abraham. It is through Abraham that God said all nations would be blessed (Genesis 18:18, 22:18), and in this way God made it clear that He intended to include Gentiles in the family of faith.

First Paul explains to us the difference between wages and gifts so that we might understand that righteousness is not earned but is the gift of God. "Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness." (Romans 4:4-5) Even though Abraham had faith, his righteousness was a gift to him from God. He didn't earn righteousness by his faith; God graciously chose to credit him with righteousness because of his faith. God could have said, "Unless you can live a perfect life you cannot be righteous." But instead He said, "You can't live a perfect life, but because of your faith I will add righteousness to your account anyway." The Apostle Paul explains the difference between wages and gifts very succinctly in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Our faith is so small and weak sometimes, yet the Lord has chosen to look favorably on what faith we wretched beings are able to summon forth out of our frail hearts.

"David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.'" (Romans 4:6-8) David wrote these beautiful words in Psalm 32 when he speaks of harboring unconfessed sin in his heart, saying that for a time he kept silent while he became more and more troubled. Finally he could stand it no longer, and that is when he says, "Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.' And You forgave the guilt of my sin." (Psalm 32:5) We don't know what particular sins were troubling David at the time, but we've all tried to sweep sins under the rug and we've all tried to go about our business as if things aren't standing between us and the Lord. Even though David repented in faith, the forgiveness was the gift of God. The righteousness that was credited to him because of his faith was a gift. David didn't earn his forgiveness any more than you or I earn our forgiveness. It is the gift of God by the grace of God because of the love of God.

Now Paul makes it clear to his readers that the righteousness that comes by faith is not intended only for people of the same nation as Abraham and David. It is offered to all people. "Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!" (Romans 4:9-10) Abraham had not yet been given the sign of circumcision when God credited him with righteousness. Abraham lived in a time before the law was given, so he couldn't follow the law either, yet God credited him with righteousness. Paul makes it plain that God will also credit with righteousness those who have faith among the Gentile nations. The Gentiles weren't given the sign of circumcision and they weren't given the law, but the same righteousness that was credited to Abraham can be credited to them too.

"And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe and have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised." (Romans 4:11-12) The true children of Abraham are those who possess the same faith as Abraham. I am of Gentile heritage, but according to the Apostle Paul, I too can call Abraham my father. I know this because when Paul speaks to the Gentile believers in this letter, he refers to Abraham as "our father Abraham". Abraham might not claim as his descendants those who are only circumcised in the flesh but who have no faith in their hearts, but he will claim as his descendants (both Jew and Gentile) who possess the same type of faith in God that he had.

Bible scholar William Barclay explains this principle simply and beautifully, "Abraham is the father of every man in every age who takes God at His word as he did." And isn't this what faith really is: taking God at His word? Abraham believed what God told him. He didn't understand how God was going to bring all these things to pass, but he believed that He would. He wasn't able to envision the enormous scope of God's plan for humanity, but he believed God's plan was right. This is what faith is! It isn't merely believing God exists; it's believing what God says. It's trusting that God's plans are right, and being assured that He is good, and feeling confident that everything He says about Himself is true, and believing that everything He says about us is true, and resting in His promise that righteousness will be accredited to us for our faith.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 12, Justification By Faith

Paul explained to us in yesterday's passage that it is faith that makes us right with God. Some of his enemies apparently took this to mean he was speaking against the law, because he asks, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." (Romans 3:31) Paul's detractors are accusing him of saying that the law has no purpose and that men and women shouldn't be concerned with it since they can't perfectly keep it. But what Paul is saying is that faith fulfills the spirit of the law.

We could look at it like this. Suppose a person doesn't really have a heart for the Lord but wants to obtain salvation through keeping the law and through performing good works. This person spends every waking hour working toward these goals. Yet, because he is human, he falls short, and he has no faith to make up for what he lacks. Will he be justified in the sight of God without faith? Paul is saying no. But suppose a person loves the Lord and, because of that love, tries his best to honor the Lord by obeying His laws and commands. Yet, because he is human, he falls short. Unlike the first man, he has faith. He has the kind of faith King David had when he repented of his sins and realized nothing he could do could make up for them, the kind of faith David had when he prayed to the Lord, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin...Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity...Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:1-2, 7,9-10) The heart that has faith says, "Lord, do for me what I can't do for myself! Only You can make me clean!" The person who has faith is justified in the eyes of God.

We can perform all the works that are humanly possible, but without faith they are meaningless. There are many unbelievers who perform good works in this world. They do it for various reasons. Some do it because, even though they don't believe in God, they believe in showing mercy to their fellow man. Some do it for recognition. Some do it because it makes them feel better about themselves. But these good works can't justify them in the eyes of a God they refuse to acknowledge and serve. On the other hand, the person who has faith in God will naturally perform good works because of love for his fellow man. The person who has faith has been transformed on the inside and therefore looks more and more like Christ on the outside. The person who has faith isn't trusting in his works to save him but is trusting in the work of Christ to save him and, because he loves Christ, he wants to treat his fellow human beings the way Christ would treat them.

Paul is about to tell us that Abraham is an example of a person who was saved by faith. Abraham lived in a time before the law was given. He could not follow the law because he did not have the law. But he had faith, and his faith justified him in the eyes of God. He had faith, and that faith caused him to believe in and obey the Lord. So even though Abraham did not have the law, he obeyed the law in spirit, for the spirit of the law can be summed up like this, "Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

So now Paul asks, "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about---but not before God. What does Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" (Romans 4:1-3) He's quoting Genesis 15:6, the passage where God makes His covenant with Abraham. Paul asks his readers, "What does God's holy word say about Abraham's righteousness? Did he obtain it by works or by faith? If Abraham were a perfect man then maybe he could have bragged about his works, but he wasn't a perfect man. He didn't have perfection, but he had faith, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness."

Why does faith give us right standing in the eyes of God? The apostle Paul will later say in his letter to the Hebrews, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) It is impossible to please God without faith. Even if we perfectly performed everything required of us, without faith we would not be pleasing to God. The Lord Jesus agrees, saying that if we did all that we were required to do and nothing else we would be "unprofitable servants". (Luke 17:10) What type of servant is the master of the household most pleased with? Is it the one who performs his duties simply because it's his job? Or is it the one who performs all his duties and more because he loves and honors his master? The Lord is like the master of a household who looks on those who have faith in Him and says, "These are profitable servants! I am pleased with them! I will honor them because they have honored Me!"

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 11, Righteousness By Faith

The letter to the Romans leads its readers step by step to the gospel. It begins by presenting the existence of the one true God, then it declares that man has a tendency to turn away from God, then it convicts everyone of sin, then it explains that humans can't make themselves righteous through obeying rules or performing good works. At this point Paul's readers who have not yet converted to Christianity may well be in a panic. What can be done? Is there any way to be made right with a holy God? Is their case hopeless? Today Paul assures them it is not hopeless. The righteous God provided a way for mankind to have good standing with Him, and that way is through His Son: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Isn't this the same step by step method that leads everyone to Christ? First we must realize that there is a God. When we acknowledge His existence, we become aware of how holy He is and how different we are from Him. Then we come to the conclusion that we have sinned against Him. Our first thought is to try and offset our wicked deeds with good deeds, but then we have to admit that no matter how hard we try we are still going to mess up sometimes. How will we ever know if we've performed enough good works to outweigh the bad? We study the Scriptures for the answer only to learn that God doesn't weigh our deeds on a scale. This is not the path to righteousness. Righteousness depends not on works, but on faith. Good works will flow from a heart that is devoted to the Lord, but it is faith that saves.

Paul now provides the solution to his readers' dilemma. There is a way to be made right with God even though they fail to live up to His standards from time to time. "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24) When we concluded yesterday's study we found Paul saying that the law's job was to show us our sinfulness. How were the Old Testament saints made right with God, seeing they couldn't keep the law? Through faith. When a person realized he could never perfectly keep the law without sinning, he had to trust God to do the rest. He had to bring the proper atonement offerings in a spirit of repentance, and God accepted the blood of those offerings on behalf of the person who brought them. Now at last God has provided an atonement offering that is effective for all time. The blood of Christ is acceptable to God, and it is by our faith in Christ and in what He did that we obtain righteousness in the sight of God.

"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood---to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished---He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:25-26) God would have been just if He had destroyed us all, yet at the same time Paul tells us God would not be just if He had not provided for us a means of redemption. This is such a deep statement that we could spend an eternity studying it and never get to the bottom of its mystery, for I think it has to do with the unfathomable wisdom and mercy of God. God had the right to find us guilty (because we are guilty) and to sentence us to an eternity far from His loving presence. But since He is the lawgiver and it is His laws we have broken, this gives Him the sovereign authority to choose the method by which our debt to Him can be paid.

Since righteousness can never originate with us, we won't enter the gates of heaven proclaiming, "I got myself here! I worked hard and I made up for all my sins." I think when we enter the gates of heaven we will immediately fall to our knees and give all the glory and honor to the Lord who accomplished our salvation for us. Paul believes the same thing. "Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." (Romans 3:27-28)

Since no one can rightly claim he has made himself holy in the sight of God, this puts Jews and Gentiles on equal footing. None of us has the right to look down on someone else. If Jews were perfect, then maybe they'd have the right to look down on Gentiles. If Gentiles were perfect, then maybe they'd have the right to look down on Jews. If I had lived a perfect life, and my neighbor across the street had not, maybe I'd be justified in shaking my head in scorn over his shameful sinful state. But we are all sinners. Thankfully, though, the same God created us all and the same God offers redemption to us all. "Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith." (Romans 3:29-30)

Salvation is offered to every human being on the face of the earth. Our nationality doesn't matter. Our genealogy doesn't matter. Our past doesn't matter. The Lord doesn't harbor prejudice against anyone and He doesn't play favorites. Christ gave His life for all and, through Him, salvation is freely offered to all.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 10, No One Is Righteous

We've been studying the Apostle Paul's logical argument that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, have sinned and need a way to be made right with God. While the Jews have the advantage of possessing the law and the prophets and the promises, at the same time this is a disadvantage because, as Jesus said, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded." (Luke 12:48) While this may appear to give the Gentiles, who don't have the law, the advantage of claiming ignorance of God's requirements, this is actually a disadvantage because instead of communing with the one true God they have been bowing down to useless idols for thousands of years. So the conclusion Paul leads us to today is that one group really has no clear advantage over the other.

Every human being has made mistakes and has broken the laws of God. So what is the remedy for our failures? We must believe in and follow the One who is perfect. Paul is going to demonstrate for us today that works don't save our souls. Then in tomorrow's study he will naturally lead us to what does  save our souls: faith.

"What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin." (Romans 3:9) He cautions his readers, "If you are a Jew, don't look down on the Gentiles. And if you are a Gentile, don't look down on the Jews. We are all lawbreakers. That puts us on even footing."

Now he quotes the words of King David to back up his argument, "As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12) These quotes are from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. David was grieved by the corrupt spiritual state of mankind. He recognized that there was nothing in man capable of saving himself, so in both of these psalms he cried with a broken heart, "Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!" (Psalm 14:7a, Psalm 53:6a) David knew that only a holy God was capable of making human beings holy, so he longed for the day when the Lord Himself would fulfill the plan of salvation. In Paul's day the thing David longed for has been fulfilled: salvation has come out of Zion. The Lord Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, of the tribe of Judah, of the line of King David, has come and He has performed a work for man that man could never have performed for himself.

Paul goes on to quote several other passages of Scripture to prove his point that every human being has sinned. "'Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.' 'The poison of vipers is on their lips.' 'Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.' 'Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.' 'There is no fear of God before their eyes.'" (Romans 3:13-18) These quotes are from Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Isaiah 59:7-8, and Psalm 36:1.

The apostle sums up our passage of Scripture today by saying, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (Romans 3:19-20) If the law is unable to save then why was it given? If man is incapable of perfectly keeping the law then what use is it? The answer is that the law was given so man could realize his utter inability to live by it and so man would recognize his need for something more than the law to save his soul. The law's purpose was to lead unrighteous man to a righteous Redeemer.

The law, basically, condemns us. If salvation depends on perfectly keeping every point of the law, we are without hope. We can't do it. We can't keep our side of the bargain. If the law is a contract between God and man, then we have failed miserably in fulfilling the terms of the contract and God owes us nothing. We might as well throw our hands in the air and give up and say as Isaiah did when he saw the Lord, "Woe to me! I am undone!" (Isaiah 6:5) If the Lord had left us in that state we would all have been undone, but He says to us the same thing He said to Isaiah, "Your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for." (Isaiah 6:7b) How is our guilt taken away and our sin atoned for? By faith! By faith in the only One who ever kept the law, by faith in the One whose perfect works we trust, by God Himself who---in the person of Jesus Christ---obtained salvation for us!

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 9, The Special Blessing Of Being A Jew

The apostle has been saying that all human beings, both Jews and Gentiles, are sinners who need a Savior. He's been warning both groups that in the judgment God will make His rulings according to what is in a person's heart, not according to the person's nationality. So the question would naturally arise: What advantage is there in being a Jew? If all people are sinners, why is one nation any better off than another?

"What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God." (Romans 3:1-2) God chose the nation of Israel when He called Abraham out of Ur, "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'" (Genesis 12:1-3) In speaking to Abraham, God was speaking to a nation not yet born. In promising a territory to Abraham, God was promising it to Israel. In guaranteeing a blessing upon Abraham, God was making clear His intention to cause the nation of Israel to know Him in ways no people on earth had ever known Him. It is to these people God sent His word, His law, and His prophets. So Paul says, "Of course there is an advantage in being a Jew! The Jews have been given the opportunity to know the living God. They have been provided with His promises and His laws for living. This gives them a great advantage over the pagan Gentiles who for thousands of years have been serving false gods."

Abraham, though he lived in an idolatrous city, knew in his heart there was only one God. He longed to know and serve that God, so when God called, Abraham answered. "So Abram went, as the Lord told him." (Genesis 12:4a) This man was willing to leave behind everything he knew in order to know the God who created him. Yet not all his descendants had such faith, so Paul moves on to his next question. "What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness?" (Romans 3:3) Earlier in the week we discussed the fact that many of Paul's countrymen are trusting in their status as God's chosen people rather than trusting in God Himself. Because they have the precious promises of God, some have taken a lax attitude toward sin because they believe God would be breaking His word if He withdrew His blessing from them. But as we stated yesterday, they are not all Israel who are of Israel or, in other words, not everyone in the nation is faithful to God. Throughout the Old Testament we find that there is always a faithful segment of the nation and there is an unfaithful segment of the nation. Paul knows there are going to be people who will make the argument that God isn't keeping His word if He passes judgment on those of Israel who have not been faithful to Him, but this is not the case. The true Israel is made up of those in Israel who love the Lord. The real Jew is the man or woman who honors the Lord. It is to this faithful remnant that God's promises stand.

"Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: 'So that You may be proved right when You speak and prevail when You judge.'" (Romans 3:4) Paul quotes the words of King David from Psalm 51, the psalm David composed when he repented of his adultery with Bathsheba and when he mourned over having caused the death of Bathsheba's husband. King David was a descendant of Abraham, a Jew, a citizen of Israel, a member of the nation to whom God had made great promises. But did this exempt him from discipline? No, and David himself recognized this fact and said to the Lord, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are right in Your verdict and justified when You judge." (Psalm 51:3-4) God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with the sin he was trying so desperately to sweep under the rug. God presented His ruling in the case by sending Nathan to show David that he had despised the Lord's words and had done evil. Therefore, God also passed sentence, warning David that the sword would never depart from his house, and that from his own family trouble would come against him. (2 Samuel 12:7-12)

David wasn't exempt from God's judgment and discipline simply because he was a Jew. This didn't absolve him of personal responsibility. Paul's readers can easily understand that God had to discipline King David, not only for David's own sake, but for the sake of the nation. If God had not disciplined David, this would have given David's subjects an excuse for falling into sin. They could have said, "God turned a blind eye to David's adultery and murder. This is probably because David is of God's chosen nation and David is God's chosen leader of the nation. This means we too, who are of God's chosen nation, can sin with impunity. If David can sleep with another man's wife without consequences, then surely God won't mind if I look lustfully on my neighbor's wife. If David can take what isn't his, God will look the other way when I skim funds from my employer. If David can cause the death of an innocent man, surely God won't be concerned that I harbor hatred in my heart for my co-workers." David's actions could have resulted in both Jews and Gentiles feeling contempt for the Lord and for His laws. In judging David's sin and in sending discipline into his life, God showed the world that He will not tolerate the breaking of His laws by the ones who know His laws. Therefore, since it was to the Jews that God gave His laws, Paul wants his readers to understand that they bear a greater responsibility than the pagan Gentiles to do what is right.

The apostle must have known or sensed that some would put forth the argument that sin shines a spotlight on God's grace and mercy. "But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing His wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not!" (Romans 3:5-6a) Man fell from grace through sin, but God provided a way of atonement for sin. On that basis, some would ask, doesn't man's sin glorify God? Doesn't man's sin showcase the love and mercy of a God who is willing to accept repentance? This is a foolish argument, but we are never more aware of the mercy of God than when we have just confessed to Him a sin that has been troubling our souls.

Paul wants to know how anyone can justify sin based on the fact that God is merciful. He wants to know how God is supposed to judge the world (meaning the world outside of Israel) if He does not punish sin. Paul's countrymen expect God's wrath to fall on Gentiles who don't convert, yet some of them think God's wrath won't fall on a Jew who drifts away from the Lord. "If that were so, how could God judge the world?" (Romans 3:6b) He's saying something like, "If sin glorifies God, then the Gentiles have been glorifying Him for a long time. How would He be justified in judging them if their sin brings Him glory? Can't you see that your thinking on this subject is twisted? As I said earlier in my letter, God is going to judge each man and woman according to what they know about Him. So doesn't this put you in a position of greater responsibility than the Gentiles? God gave His laws to Israel, not to the Gentiles. Seeing that you are the receivers of His law and His promises, you are held to a higher standard. You bear more responsibility. You can't make the excuse that you didn't know what is expected of you. No, sin does not glorify God, and He is not pleased with it."

The apostle concludes with these ominous words, "Some might argue, 'If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases His glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?' Why not say---as some slanderously claim that we say---'Let us do evil that good may result'? Their condemnation is just." (Romans 3:7-8) It would appear that some of the enemies of the gospel have been slandering the apostles by claiming they are preaching a perpetual state of grace for the believer. While I do not believe a person can lose his salvation, the Bible clearly tells us that God disciplines His children. (Hebrews 12 contains a discussion on this matter.) King David belonged to the Lord but the Lord disciplined him for his sins. David didn't escape the consequences of his actions. Though he repented, his casual attitude toward sin and his prideful arrogance over being God's chosen king of Israel had already done damage to his family. David had set a bad example for his children, so the troubles that were about to come into his life were going to come from his own household.

Sin hurts us and it hurts those around us. God does not turn a blind eye to it---He can't because He is righteous. He wouldn't be a God worthy of our worship if He shrugged His shoulders at all the harm people cause each other and said, "Oh well, what can you do? People will be people." It is blasphemy to say that God won't judge sin and, because it is such horrible blasphemy against the name of a holy God, Paul warns that those who say such things deserve any condemnation that comes their way.

If you are a Jew, you have been richly blessed by being the recipients of God's word and His laws and His prophets and His promises. But this places a great deal of responsibility on you for the way you live. Likewise, if you are a Christian, you have a great deal of responsibility for living in a way that honors the name of Christ. All of us who know and cherish the word of God are blessed abundantly by it, but at the same time we are accountable for following what the word of God says.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 8, The State Of The Heart

In yesterday's study the apostle warned his readers that God judges by what is in the heart. Being a Jew, Paul knows that many of his own countrymen are trusting in their status as God's chosen people. Because the law and the prophets were given to them, some of them have developed the mindset that their place in heaven is guaranteed. But Paul points out today that the true Jew is the one who honors God in his heart and who tries to live by God's precepts. This is why he will make the statement in Chapter 9, "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel."

The same can be said today of the church. Not everyone who sits in church is a Christian. It's possible to show up for every service, to carry a Bible, to look the right way, to talk the right way, even to sing in the choir---and not be right with the Lord at heart. I ought to know. I grew up in the church, I heard the gospel every Sunday, I participated in Sunday school classes, I participated in Christmas programs, I knew how to talk the talk, I knew how to behave, I knew how to dress for the part---but I wasn't right with the Lord. I don't think anyone ever suspected, but God knew. It wasn't until I was twenty-two years old that I gave my heart to the Lord.

Paul issues a stern warning to anyone who is trusting in his status as a member of the nation of Israel rather than in the Lord to make him righteous. "Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth---you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" (Romans 2:17-24)

He says to the Jews, "It is not enough to have the law; you must obey the law." He could say the same to those who sit in church, "It is not enough to have a Bible; you must believe the gospel message contained within it, and you must belong to Jesus Christ." When a person claims to belong to the Lord, yet lives in a way that proves he does not, it gives unbelievers an opportunity to mock God. I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard unbelievers that they aren't about to set foot in church because there are so many hypocrites there. They know people who behave one way in church and another way in the community. It causes them to have a distaste for the church and, sadly, for Christ. When a non-Christian is aware that someone who professes to be a Christian is caught up in an adulterous relationship, or has been embezzling funds from his workplace, or has been swindling people in business deals, or has fallen prey to various addictions, it causes the unbeliever to scornfully say, "Why do these Christians think they are any better than I am? I've never cheated on my wife or stolen from my work or done drugs or cheated people out of their hard-earned money. I'm living a more moral life than some of these Christians. Why do I need to be in church? Why do I need Christ?" Just as not everyone who is of Israel is Israel, not everyone who attends Christian services is really a Christian.

Some of Paul's countrymen believe being of "the circumcision" protects them from the wrath of God, but he warns them this isn't the case. "Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you have not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they are circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker." (Romans 2:25-27)

He says, "Some of the Gentiles have succeeded where some of you have failed. Though they are not of 'the circumcision', though the law and the prophets weren't given to them, though they are not the children of Abraham and heirs to the promises God made to Abraham, they have obtained these things by being circumcised in their hearts. Their hearts are right with God and, just as Abraham's faith made him right with God, the faith of the Gentiles has made them right with God." Paul doesn't want either group looking down on the other. Both Jews and Gentiles have to be right with God in their hearts. If a Jew lives contrary to the Lord then he might as well not be a member of God's chosen nation. If a Gentile lives in obedience to the Lord it is as if he is one of God's chosen people.

"A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God." (Romans 2:28-29) The Lord's brother James, who became a leader of the church at Jerusalem, said something similar, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)

In Paul's day some of the teachers of the law knew the law inside and out and yet did a poor job of keeping it. There are those who can quote passages from all over the Bible and yet don't belong to Christ. We can put on a front and fool our fellow man into thinking we are someone we are not, but if we want the approval of a holy God we can't "play church". We have to really be the church. God doesn't care whether we carry a big Bible and attend services and wear nice dresses or fancy suits and quote Scripture from morning til night. God cares about the state of our hearts. If our hearts aren't right with Him, everything else is meaningless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 7, Storing Up Wrath

Paul is speaking about the refusal of some to repent and turn to God. He warns anyone who lives like this that they are storing up wrath for themselves. The beginning of the book of Romans is quite stern and it takes a harsh line against a lot of worldly things, but we have to keep in mind that Paul is not speaking to Jews who know the one true God and who have the law and the commandments. He is speaking to Gentiles who have made their own gods and their own rules. Up til now they have been serving false gods who require little of them and they have been living by rules made by man and not by God; in other words, rules that benefit man's carnal nature rather than rules that help the creature be more like his Creator. As we get deeper into the letter to the Romans we will find some of the most familiar and most beautiful verses of the New Testament, but here at the beginning the Apostle Paul intends to strike fear in the hearts of Gentiles who have so recently been serving nonexistent gods or who are still caught up in false religions.

He says to the ones who have been unwilling to receive the truth, "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed." (Romans 2:5) Some modern-day preachers and teachers have strayed from the truth, telling their listeners that a loving God will not judge sin, assuring them they don't have to worry about a day of wrath. But that is not Biblical. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament warn us of the judgment to come. Jesus Christ spoke of the judgment to come. It's true that God loves every human being who has ever existed or ever will exist, but it's also true that He is holy and must judge sin. On the radio the other morning I heard Dr. Adrian Rogers sum it up like this, (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't recall his exact words): "Some say a loving God can't judge sin. But a God who doesn't judge sin isn't a loving God."

Shouldn't God judge unrepentant murderers, thieves, swindlers, child molesters, rapists, and those who perpetrate other acts of cruelty and neglect and prejudice against their fellow man? Could we really say a God who shrugs His shoulders and ignores such things actually loves us? No, I don't believe we could. So we find that God's wrath against sin is a demonstration of His love, and we find that He has made a way for us to escape His wrath if we will have faith in His Son who made the only acceptable offering for our sin debt.

"God 'will repay each person according to what they have done'. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:6-11) Everything to do with God is "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile". Israel is the nation God chose to be His special people. Israel is the nation to whom He sent the law and the prophets. Israel is the nation to whom God made the promise of a Messiah and King. So naturally it is to the Jew first that the gospel was preached, and then to the Gentiles. But being a Jew does not exempt a person from wrath if he has rejected the Lord. God isn't concerned with a person's nationality or his status in this world: He's concerned with the state of a person's soul. Sin will be judged without partiality.

"All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law." (Romans 2:12) God is not going to judge anyone by what he does not know, but by what he does know. Those who know the law will be judged by whether they have kept the law. Now no one is perfect, and no one has ever kept every single point of the law except Jesus Christ, but a person can live in the spirit of keeping the law. A person can live with a constant awareness of God and His holiness, seeking to honor Him in all things and being willing to repent whenever he messes up. Those who do not know the law will be judged by the knowledge about God that has been made available to them. Remember in Chapter One when Paul said no one has an excuse for not believing in the existence of God, because the very creation testifies to the existence of a powerful and holy Creator? On that very basis alone the Gentiles are judged for not worshiping the Creator and for bowing down to images that look like created things. And now, as Paul is writing his letter, the gospel message is beginning to spread throughout the Gentile world, so that no one who hears it is without excuse for not believing it. An island native in some remote corner of the world who has never heard the name of the God of Israel, and who has never heard of Jesus Christ, and who has never heard of the Holy Spirit, will not be judged by what he does not know. But he will be judged for not recognizing and acknowledging that a God created everything, and that this God is much greater than everything He created, and that He alone is to be worshiped.

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares." (Romans 2:13-16) Hearing the law doesn't make a person righteous. Obeying the law does. Hearing the gospel doesn't make a person righteous. Believing the gospel does. I grew up in the church and I can't remember a time when I didn't know the gospel, but this didn't make me righteous. It was the giving of my heart and life to Jesus Christ at the age of twenty-two that is going to make me able to stand before a holy God someday and be told that my sins are forgiven.

Paul is telling his readers that some who know the law have failed to honor the law, but that some who don't know the law have succeeded in honoring it. This is why God's judgment is going to be fair. He is not going to judge you or me by whether or not we are of Jewish or Gentile heritage. He's going to judge us by our hearts. Do we love Him or not? Do we seek to honor Him or not? Does our conscience bother us when we sin or are we able to live however we please without a care in the world? Do we want to be made right with our Creator or are we satisfied by living at a much lower level than we were created to live?