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A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #7 The Religious Sinner Romans 2:17-29


Our Beliefs

Paul knew that among those in Rome who would vigorously agree with his first chapter, there would be legalistic Jews, proud of their heritage as God’s chosen people. But their agreement with his case would surely turn to anger as they realized that they were being included in the judgment, as equal members in the fallen human race. Possessing God’s law increased both privilege and responsibility. Because these Jews knew more, they were expected to do more. At first they thought they were Paul’s allies, but suddenly they were confronted by him.

For Paul, this was familiar territory. Throughout his ministry the antagonism from Jewish leaders had steadily grown:

Acts 13:42-52 (ESV) As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43  And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44  The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45  But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46  And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47  For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48  And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49  And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50  But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51  But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52  And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 14:1-4 (ESV) Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2  But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3  So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4  But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.

Acts 17:1-5 (ESV) Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4  And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5  But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.

In their eyes, Paul was a heretic for continuing to hold up Jesus as the Messiah, and they were insulted by his open offer of salvation to the Gentiles. Even among early Christians, there were struggles to understand that a person did not have to become Jewish in order to be accepted by God.

The first church wide council (Acts 15:1-35) addressed this question. Their answer focused on the relationship of Gentile converts to the Jewish laws. The council made no statement regarding the expected behavior of Jewish believers. But Paul held the view that being Jewish did not automatically mean God’s acceptance. By the time he wrote Romans, his approach was to confront the attitude even before it surfaced. His diatribe gains in intensity as he focuses on what he sees as a major barrier between Gentiles and Jews.

The religious sinner is a believer in God; he understands that religion is important, and he trusts in his religion. The religious sinner believes that because he does some of what God wants him to do that God is under obligation to approve of him.

The religious sinner Paul has under consideration is the Jew. The Jew had certain wonderful benefits others did not have. For example, he belonged to the nation of Israel and for 1,500 years this nation had been the chosen people of God. To the nation of Israel God had given a written law through Moses at Mount Sinai. They tended to believe that they were better than others and that their religion would save them.

What then is the problem with the religious sinner of Romans 2 and 3? The problem is that he trusts in his religion.

Trusting in Religion

Begin with Romans 2:17-18 (ESV) But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18  and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law.

The religious sinner is the man who has a Bible in his hand; he is instructed in the way of God. He takes pride in the fact that he knows the words of God. Paul says, Romans 2:19-20 (ESV) and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20  an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—

Not only does this man have a Bible in his hand, but he is a teacher of others.

But notice what Paul says next: Romans 2:21 (ESV) you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?

He has a Bible in his hand; he teaches other people the Word of God, but he breaks the Word of God. Even though he has a Bible, even though he teaches others, he is a sinner. That is what Paul wants all men to see. It does not matter if you are a rational man and reason God out of your thoughts, a reformed

sinner and try to be good, or a religious man and have a Bible in your hand and teach other people, you are imperfect. You are a sinner.

What is the problem with the religious man? He has a tendency to trust in his religion. Religion cannot save anyone. When one trusts in his religion, he is simply deluding himself. If the religious man kept the will of God perfectly he would not need the gospel. You say, “I have the Bible in my hand.” It does not matter. You say, “I teach others.” It does not matter. You are a sinner. You need Christ and the gospel.

Romans 2:23-24 (ESV) You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24  For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  

In the first century the Gentiles would look at the Jew. The Jew had the Word of God in his hand and was teaching others, but he broke the law. Through the breaking of the law, he dishonored God, and the Gentiles would see him living as a lawbreaker and blaspheme the name of God. The Gentiles turned away from God because of the activity of the religious man.

The religious man has a tendency to trust in his religion and live as he pleases. The religious man may say, “I go to church every Sunday.” I hope you go to church on Sunday, but going to church on Sunday does not make you a child of God. Practicing religion does not make you a child of God. Religion is not the savior of men; Christ is the Savior. The religious sinner is the man who trusts in his religion.

Trusting in Ceremony

The second truth Paul mentions regarding the religious sinner is he trusts in ceremony.

Romans 2:25 (ESV) For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

What can that mean to us living in the 21st century? For fifteen centuries the Jews were the chosen people of God, but when Jesus died on the cross Judaism was laid aside. Until the gospel came, circumcision was a religious practice that was very important to the Jews. It was a ceremony; it was a demonstration of the fact that they were God’s chosen people. Circumcision was profitable if they kept the law. But if one did not keep the law circumcision became uncircumcision. The religious sinner trusted in his ceremony. The New Testament teaches baptism in water. It is interesting that nearly every religious group practices something that it calls baptism.

Baptism  is  a  ceremony,  but  going  through  a ceremony is important only when it is done in obedience to Christ. For example, the New Testament teaches that baptism in water is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). It is a burial with Christ where the old man is planted together with Christ.

It is a resurrection with Christ to newness of life. The old man died to sin, was buried, and the new man was raised. But what does it profit a person to be immersed in water if there is no newness of life? It is not simply an immersion that makes baptism “baptism.” It is the purpose and result that make it biblical and right.

We may say with Paul that baptism is profitable. Jesus commanded it, remission of sins follows it, and we are buried with Christ and are raised with Him. But what profit is it if the will of God is not done? The will of God is what one is seeking to accomplish. True baptism occurs when a sincere person seeks to do God’s will as he is immersed.

The religious sinner trusts in religion. He trusts in religious ceremony. Paul says this man is a breaker of the law and is a sinner. He is a lost man.

A person can do some of what Christ wants us to do, but that does not mean he is right with God. A person may say, “Oh, but I am religious. I go to church. I’ve been baptized.” That is fine. But the question we are asking is this: “What does your practice of religious ceremony mean in your life on Monday? What difference does it make?”

A person has a tendency to believe, “I have been baptized and therefore it does not matter what I do.” How wrong can we be? The question is this: “Have we been converted to Christ?” That is the only hope. We have to be real and genuine. Being a religious person does not make one right with God.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #6 God’s Judgment of Sin – Romans 2:1-11


Romans 2:2 The Judgment Of God (yellow)

In this passage Paul is directly addressing the Jews. The connection of thought is this. In the foregoing passage Paul had painted a grim and terrible picture of the heathen world, a world which was under the condemnation of God. With every word of that condemnation the Jew thoroughly agreed. But he never for a moment dreamed that he was under a like condemnation. He thought that he occupied a privileged position. God might be the judge of the heathen, but he was the special protector of the Jews. Here Paul is pointing out forcibly to the Jew that he is just as much a sinner as the Gentile is and that when he is condemning the Gentile he is condemning himself. He will be judged, not on his racial heritage, but by the kind of life that he lives.

The Jews always considered themselves in a specially privileged position with God. “God,” they said, “loves Israel alone of all the nations of the earth.” “God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another.” “All Israelites will have part in the world to come.” “Abraham sits beside the gates of hell and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go through.” When Justin Martyr was arguing with the Jew about the position of the Jews in the Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew said, “They who are the seed of Abraham according to the flesh shall in any case, even if they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient towards God, share in the eternal Kingdom.” The writer of the Book of Wisdom comparing God’s attitude to Jews and Gentiles said: “These as a father, admonishing them, thou didst prove; but those as a stern king, condemning them, thou didst search out” (Wis 11:9). “While therefore thou dost chasten us, thou scourgest our enemies a thousand times more” (Wis 12:22). The Jew believed that everyone was destined for judgment except himself. It would not be any special goodness which kept him immune from the wrath of God, but simply the fact that he was a Jew.

It would not be an easy task to find the Jews guilty, since disobedience to God was one sin they did not want to confess. The Old Testament prophets were persecuted for indicting Israel for her sins, and Jesus was crucified for the same reason. Paul summoned four witnesses to prove the guilt of the Jewish nation.

The Gentiles (vv. 1-3). Certainly the Jews would applaud Paul’s condemnation of the Gentiles in Romans 1:18-32. In fact, Jewish national and religious pride encouraged them to despise the “Gentile dogs” and have nothing to do with them. Paul used this judgmental attitude to prove the guilt of the Jews; for the very things they condemned in the Gentiles, they themselves were practicing! They thought that they were free from judgment because they were God’s chosen people. But Paul affirmed that God’s election of the Jews made their responsibility and accountability even greater.

God’s judgment is according to truth. He does not have one standard for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. One who reads the list of sins in Romans 1:29-32 cannot escape the fact that each person is guilty of at least one of them. There are “sins of the flesh and of the spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1); there are “prodigal sons” and “elder brothers” (Luke 15:11-32). In condemning the Gentiles for their sins, the Jews were really condemning themselves. As the old saying puts it, “When you point your finger at somebody else, the other three are pointing at you.”

2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment.NIV Paul’s style, as mentioned above, is diatribal—words are placed in the mouth of an imagined person who asks questions or raises objections, only to be refuted.

The critic here is Jewish, for Paul is focusing primarily on Jews in his words you . . . have no excuse (see 2:17). Paul had criticized the horrible evil of the Gentiles, their sins of idolatry and homosexuality and their general lifestyle. This Jewish critic nodded in agreement as Paul exclaimed that “those who do such things deserve death” (1:32), because the critic assumes that he is free from such vices, and thus free from their well-deserved judgment. But then Paul says that he has no right to pass judgment, because he is just as guilty.

In whatever you judge another you condemn yourself.NKJV A person may feel self-righteous because he is not guilty of the sins for which he judges others. But no one is guiltless—all have sinned. By our very capacity to judge others we demonstrate that we are responsible to judge ourselves. To judge another is to presume that you have nothing to be judged in yourself—that attitude reveals a sinful and hardened heart (see 2:5).

You, the judge, are doing the very same things.NRSV The critic, and Jews in general, were not guiltless. They were doing the same things but needed to be reminded or made aware of it (as is often the case with the examples given of greed, gossip, and arrogance). Their attitude condemns others’ sins but somehow overlooks those sins in themselves (see Matthew 7:2-3).

JUDGING OTHERS

The verb for “do” is the same one used in 1:32—Paul’s accusation cannot be missed. Whenever we find ourselves feeling justifiably angry about someone’s sin, we should be careful. We need to speak out against sin, but we must do so with a spirit of humility. Often the sins we notice most clearly in others are the ones that have taken root in us. If we look closely at ourselves, we may find that we are committing the same sin. The unrighteous excuse themselves while condemning others. The truly righteous overlook faults in others but try to see their own faults.

Why is Paul going against the Jews here? He is anticipating the Jewish argument. Even though the Jews were probably a minority in the Roman church, they were growing. In addition, the Gentiles had heard of Paul and no doubt were wondering where he stood on this issue.

2:2 God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on the truth.NKJV Paul assumes that all his readers will agree with him regarding God’s judgment. Human judgment is based on prejudice and partial perception; God’s judgment is based on the truth—he judges on the basis of the facts about what we do. We only know in part, but God knows fully. Whereas our judgment of others is imperfect and partial, his is perfect and impartial.

The truth of God’s judgment was clearly demonstrated in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 31:15-22; Psalms 75:2-8; Isaiah 1:2-20; Zephaniah 1:14-18) and often reflected in the New Testament (see Matthew 12:36; John 12:44-50; 2 Corinthians 5:10; James 2:13; 2 Peter 3:3-9; Revelation 14:6-7). Not only is God capable of judging rightly; eventually he will judge the entire human race at the Day of Judgment (Matthew 11:24).

RIGHTEOUSNESS AND WICKEDNESS

It is God who passes judgment on righteousness and wickedness, not people. The book of Proverbs often compares the lifestyles of the wicked and the righteous and makes a strong case for living by God’s pattern.

Righteous Wicked Proverbs references
Outlook on life Hopeful Fearful 10:24
Response to life Covered with blessings Covered with violence 10:6
How they are seen by others Conduct is upright Conduct is devious 21:8
Quality of life Stand firm Swept away 10:25
Short-term results Walk securely Will be found out 10:9
Long-term results God protects them God destroys them 10:29
Eternal expectations Attain life Go to death 11:19
God’s opinion of them Delights in the good Detests the perverse 11:20

2:3 Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?NIV Seven times in the first three verses, Paul used various forms of the Greek word for judgment (krima). Though human beings pass judgments, their judgments are judged by God. When we stand condemned before God, we have no higher court of appeal.

This is the first of two rhetorical questions. Paul ridicules the idea that a person might escape God’s judgment by correctly analyzing the wrong in others. The very fact that we can see the sins in others leaves us with no excuse before God. Those Jews, who were guilty of the same sins for which God was condemning the Gentiles, would not escape God’s judgment. Their national heritage could do nothing to save them, even though many Jews thought their privilege of birth ensured entrance into God’s kingdom (Matthew 3:8-9). All people, Jews and Gentiles, have sinned, and all stand condemned before God. Paul repeats this theme over and over.

HOW CAN WE ESCAPE?

We cannot escape God’s righteous judgment by avoiding or resisting it. We find our only hope in submitting to his verdict. If God says we have sinned, we must agree. When we agree with his judgment, we obtain his mercy. When we agree that we are lost, we find a savior. We escape God’s judgment by accepting it and claiming God’s mercy and grace that wait for us. As a result, those who have experienced God’s forgiveness overlook the faults in others while they recognize their own faults. On the other hand, those who have not yet received forgiveness are prone to excuse themselves while condemning and blaming others. This last group of people have not escaped God’s judgment.

God’s blessing (vv. 4-11). Instead of giving the Jews special treatment from God, the blessings they received from Him gave them greater responsibility to obey Him and glorify Him. In His goodness, God had given Israel great material and spiritual riches: a wonderful land, a righteous Law, a temple and priesthood, God’s providential care, and many more blessings. God had patiently endured Israel’s many sins and rebellions, and had even sent them His Son to be their Messiah. Even after Israel crucified Christ, God gave the nation nearly forty more years of grace and withheld His judgment. It is not the judgment of God that leads men to repentance, but the goodness of God; but Israel did not repent.

In Romans 2:6-11, Paul was not teaching salvation by character or good deeds. He was explaining another basic principle of God’s judgment: God judges according to deeds, just as He judges according to truth. Paul was dealing here with the consistent actions of a person’s life, the total impact of his character and conduct. For example, David committed some terrible sins; but the total emphasis of his life was obedience to God. Judas confessed his sin and supplied the money for buying a cemetery for strangers; yet the total emphasis of his life was disobedience and unbelief.

True saving faith results in obedience and godly living, even though there may be occasional falls. When God measured the deeds of the Jews, He found them to be as wicked as those of the Gentiles. The fact that the Jews occasionally celebrated a feast or even regularly honored the Sabbath Day did not change the fact that their consistent daily life was one of disobedience to God. God’s blessings did not lead them to repentance.

(i) He told them bluntly that they were trading on the mercy of God. In Rom 2:4 he uses three great words. He asks them: “Are you treating with contempt the wealth of his kindness, and forbearance and patience?” Let us look at these three great words.

(a) Kindness (chrestotes, <G5544>). Of this Trench says: “It is a beautiful word, as it is the expression of a beautiful idea.” There are two words for good in Greek; there is agathos (<G18>) and there is chrestos (<G5543>). The difference between them is this. The goodness of a man who is agathos (<G18>) may well issue in rebuke and discipline and punishment; but the goodness of a man who is chrestos (<G5543>) is always essentially kind. Jesus was agathos (<G18>) when he drove the moneychangers and the sellers of doves from the Temple in the white heat of his anger. He was chrestos (<G5543>) when he treated with loving gentleness the sinning woman who anointed his feet and the woman taken in adultery. So Paul says, in effect, “You Jews are simply trying to take advantage of the great kindness of God.”

(b) Forbearance (anoche, <G463>). Anoche is the word for a truce. True, it means a cessation of hostility, but it is a cessation that has a limit. Paul, in effect, is saying to the Jews, “You think that you are safe because God’s judgment has not yet descended upon you. But what God is giving you is not carte blanche to sin; he is giving you the opportunity to repent and to amend your ways.” A man cannot sin forever with impunity.

(c) Patience (makrothumia, <G3115>). Makrothumia is characteristically a word which expresses patience with people. Chrysostom defined it as the characteristic of the man who has it in his power to avenge himself and deliberately does not use it. Paul is, in effect, saying to the Jews: “Do not think that the fact that God does not punish you is a sign that he cannot punish you. The fact that his punishment does not immediately follow sin is not a proof of his powerlessness; it is a proof of his patience. You owe your lives to the patience of God.”

One commentator has said that almost everyone has “a vague and undefined hope of impunity,” a kind of feeling that “this cannot happen to me.” The Jews went further than that; “they openly claimed exemption from the judgment of God.” They traded on his mercy, and there are many who to this day seek to do the same.

2:4 Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience?NIV Paul immediately follows his first rhetorical question with a second. While the first one emphasizes the unavoidability of God’s judgment, the next one emphasizes the vast spiritual benefits a person gives up by judging others. Paul wants his readers to understand that judging others shows contempt for God’s kindness, tolerance and patience. God demonstrates his kindness in giving us life and its fullness to enjoy; he is tolerant and patient as he bears our ingratitude and sin. He postpones punishment in order that his kindness will lead people to repentance (see 2 Peter 3:15). But Paul was concerned that these Jews, overconfident in their special status with God and unwilling to repent of sin, were showing contempt for God’s blessings. So Paul reminds them that God’s kindness is also meant to lead them to repentance, because all people need to repent!

AMAZING PATIENCE

It is easy to mistake God’s patience for approval of wrong living. self-evaluation is difficult, and it is even more difficult for us to expose our conduct to God and let him point out where we need to change, But as Christians we must pray constantly that God will show us our sins, so that he can remove them and heal us. Unfortunately we are more likely to be amazed at God’s patience with others than humbled at his patience with us.

2:5 Hard and impenitent heart.NRSV This kind of person has sat in self-righteous judgment of others for too long and has lived as described in verse 4—by showing contempt for all God has given (see also Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4). People receive blessings but stubbornly continue in sin, refusing to repent. It is difficult for self-righteous people to repent. Proverbs 26:12 says, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (niv).

Storing up wrath for yourself.NRSV Paul’s readers who boasted of their faith yet continued to sin were inviting retribution and ironically were contributing not to their benefit but to their own judgment when God’s wrath would be poured out upon them.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

We tend to expect punishment and consequences to follow immediately or closely behind sin. So we usually suspect that suffering is the result of some sin recently committed. Suffering is not always a consequence—see John 9 for a vivid example from Christ’s ministry. Passages like this make it clear that immediate punishment for sin would mean that humans would rarely live long enough to repent. Consequences occur frequently enough and intensely enough to work alongside God’s patience to bring us to repentance. It may be a popular lifestyle to “play now and pay later,” but when it comes to God’s judgment, the price is too high: eternal punishment. When we repent, we are given life, now and forever.

The day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.NIV Though we do not know the date of the day of God wrath, we do know that no one will escape that final encounter with our Creator, and that we are called to live with this day in mind. A summary of the biblical counsel on what our attitude ought to be is “the day of the Lord is near” (see Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 30:3; Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Though some are quick to point out that thousands of years have passed since these warnings were given, believers maintain that the warnings are valid. In the end, what matters most is not exactly when in history the day of God’s wrath arrives, but that the clock is ticking. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 niv). We do not know the day of the Lord, nor the day of our own death. We will treat both days with more respect if we call them “near.” On this day, the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.

2:6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”NIV God’s judgment will be impartial, and it will be according to what people have done. Final judgment will be based upon character. All people will be held accountable for the truth that was available to them and what they did with it. (See also Job 34:11; Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 17:10; 32:19; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12; 22:12.)

The moment when all doubt is removed will coincide with the moment when faith is no longer possible. What we have actually done in life will be the basis of God’s judgment. There will be no last-minute negotiations. See Ezekiel 33:30-33 for a prophecy against people who hedge at religion. When we know what God desires, we are responsible for how well we obey.

2:7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality.NIV This doing good is a result of new life in Christ. Real faith generates good works in a believer’s life. Persistence is a characteristic of the growing and progressing Christian (see Luke 8:15; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:3). We must persist in doing good and in believing in Christ (see John 6:28-29). Again Paul is emphasizing God’s impartial treatment of all his creatures. He is not contradicting his previous statement that salvation comes by faith alone (1:16-17). The gospel simply informs us about the proper sequence for doing good as a response to God’s grace rather than as a way of gaining God’s grace. Paul told the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” (Ephesians 2:8-10 niv).

LIVING OUR FAITH

We are not saved by good works, but when we commit our lives fully to God, we want to please him and do his will. As such, our good works are a grateful response to what God has done, not a prerequisite to earning his grace (see also 3:20). Think of what God has done for you. Then respond to God’s loving acts by trusting and obeying him fully, living out your faith.

He will give eternal life.NRSV Persistence and hope in God are rewarded by meeting the goal—glory, honor, and immortality in eternal life. In the end, people will receive what they really want. If we desire to be with God, he will gladly fulfill our wish; but if our inmost desire is to keep God at arm’s length, the distance will be preserved forever. Many people want it both ways: They think that eternal life might be nice as long as God doesn’t interfere with their present life. But we must choose. Will we persist in wanting our own way, or in wanting God’s way? Jesus himself defined the nature of eternal life in his prayer for believers: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3 niv).

2:8 For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil.NIV Paul still has in mind the self-confident, self-righteous person, who through his own self-seeking has actually turned away from the truth and who resisted the gospel, and is following his own evil path. This attitude of self-seeking can be illustrated in the actions of the worker who is adamantly insistent and protective of his own rights and benefits as an employee, while at the same time he has no concern for the welfare of the company for which he works or the quality of the product he makes. He sees no farther than his own well-being. Selfish interests frequently do lead to a rejection of the truth and a pattern of doing evil.

Wrath and fury.NRSV In the previous verse, eternal life is promised to those doing good. Here, God’s wrath and anger are promised to those who have turned from him, yet are claiming to have a special place with him. They will receive the wrath and anger that they thought would fall on others.

2:9 Anguish and distress for everyone who does evil.NRSV God’s impartiality and our behavior ensure the final res

ults. There will be suffering and affliction for those who reject God. In simple terms, Jews or Gentiles who do evil, even if they don’t perceive it that way, will receive the consequences of final judgment. We must recognize the absolutes of the human condition apart from God before we will take seriously God’s offer of salvation.

First for the Jew, then for the Gentile.NIV Just as the gospel and salvation came first for the Jew and then for the Gentile (1:16), so will judgment by God. Those self-righteous Jews who thought they were somehow protected from judgment because of their heritage will not only find that they will be judged; they will be first in line!

2:10 Glory, honor and peace to everyone who works what is good.NKJV In contrast to verse 9, Jews or Gentiles who do good (those who fulfill the law in Christ), no matter how ‘incomplete they may feel that goodness to be, will receive a reward. As with the consequences of evil, there may be immediate benefits of a right relationship with God, but the full measure of glory, honor and peace is for the future.

We might misread a phrase like who works what is good so that it becomes “who does the best he or she can.” But Paul was not comparing various human behaviors and creating a scale of good and evil. This passage describes God’s righteous judgment on those who have done what is good or evil. God’s perception penetrates what we perceive as gray areas. His view of us is crystal clear.

Some have suggested that Paul might have had a broader group in mind here than those whose faith in Christ generates good works. Added possibilities have been: (1) those faithful Jews and moral Gentiles who did good before Christ came; (2) those non-Christians who responded to the limited light given them; and (3) those who actually did good by their own will and effort (a group Paul will shortly prove has no members). Within the context, however, these possibilities seem secondary. Paul’s main point is that God’s judgment is based on truth and results, not on who we are, where we came from, our upbringing, or our intentions. The final question will be, What did you do with what you knew?

God’s Law (vv. 12-24). Paul’s statement in Romans 2:11, “For there is no respect of persons with God” would shock the Jew, for he considered himself deserving of special treatment because he was chosen by God. But Paul explained that the Jewish Law only made the guilt of Israel that much greater! God did not give the Law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the Law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:15). Wherever you go, you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong; and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” You find among all cultures a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.

The Jew boasted in the Law. He was different from his pagan neighbors who worshiped idols! But Paul made it clear that it was not the possession of the Law that counted, but the practice of the Law. The Jews looked on the Gentiles as blind, in the dark, foolish, immature, and ignorant! But if God found the “deprived” Gentiles guilty, how much more guilty were the “privileged” Jews! God not only judges according to truth (Rom. 2:2), and according to men’s deeds (Rom. 2:6); but He also judges “the secrets of men” (Rom. 2:16). He sees what is in the heart!

The Jewish people had a religion of outward action, not inward attitude. They may have been moral on the outside, but what about the heart? Our Lord’s indictment of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 illustrates the principle perfectly. God not only sees the deeds but He also sees the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It is possible for a Jew to be guilty of theft, adultery, and idolatry (Rom. 2:21-22) even if no one saw him commit these sins outwardly. In the Sermon on the Mount we are told that such sins can be committed in the heart.

Instead of glorifying God among the Gentiles, the Jews were dishonoring God; and Paul quoted Isaiah 52:5 to prove his point. The pagan Gentiles had daily contact with the Jews in business and other activities, and they were not fooled by the Jews’ devotion to the Law. The very Law that the Jews claimed to obey only indicted them!

Circumcision (vv. 25-29). This was the great mark of the covenant, and it had its beginning with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation (Gen. 17). To the Jews, the Gentiles were “uncircumcised dogs.” The tragedy is that the Jews depended on this physical mark instead of the spiritual reality it represented (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 9:26; Ezek. 44:9). A true Jew is one who has had an inward spiritual experience in the heart, and not merely an outward physical operation. People today make this same mistake with reference to baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or even church membership.

God judges according to “the secrets of the heart” (Rom. 2:16), so that He is not impressed with mere outward formalities. An obedient Gentile with no circumcision would be more acceptable than a disobedient Jew with circumcision. In fact, a disobedient Jew turns his circumcision into uncircumcision in God’s sight, for God looks at the heart. The Jews praised each other for their obedience to the Law, but the important thing is the “praise of God” and not the praise of men (Rom. 2:29). When you recall that the name “Jew” comes from “Judah” which means “praise,” this statement takes on new meaning (Gen. 29:35; 49:8).

2:11 God does not show favoritism.NIV God shows no favoritism for Jew over Gentile when it comes to judgment for sin, no matter what the Jews had come to assume or expect. This personally addresses those who adopt Israel’s mind-set that religious heritage guarantees salvation. This verse answers the most common perception on how God will judge. God is usually pictured as the deity who grades on the curve. In this scenario, everyone gets a goodness grade in comparison with everyone else. Somewhere in the middle of the system is the passing line. Everyone below the line fails, while everyone above passes.

Those holding this idea almost always express the hope that they are somehow just above the passing line, but they have no way of really knowing. They blatantly hope that God will show favoritism. Romans 2:11 obliterates that hope. There is no passing line. Instead, sin has created a moral chasm over which no one can leap. The gospel gives us a way to reach the other side. God offers us something far better than favoritism. He offers grace. Having Christian parents or attending the church of our ancestors does not guarantee one’s salvation. Salvation is given to individuals on the basis of personal faith in Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #5 God’s Judgment of the Reformed Sinner – Romans 2:1-6


Righteous Judgement

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul looked at the man whom we have called the rational sinner. He is the man who wants to reason God out of his thoughts. He does not want God to control his life.

He suppresses the truth. He ignores the light that God has given. When man accepts the light that God gives him, God will give him more light, but if he rejects the light God has given, he abides in darkness.

The rational sinner rejects the voice of conscience within. He rejects the evidence of the created world that says God is.

In chapter 2, Paul abruptly switches his attention to a new audience. He shapes his next thoughts in a style used widely at that time, called the diatribe.

In a diatribe, the writer verbally attacks and attempts to destroy the ideas of the opposition. The anticipated questions or objections of the opposition are expressed or noted and then answered or refuted. (Paul probably did not have an individual, but a character type in mind as he began his diatribe.)

There may have been a single destination for Paul’s letter, but he knew that his readers would be quite varied: Roman citizens, transplanted Jews, slaves of various types, other races of Gentiles, former Jewish converts, and unbelievers.

When Paul’s letter was read in the Roman church, no doubt many heads nodded as he condemned idol worship, homosexual practices, and violence. But what surprise his listeners must have felt when he turned on them and said, in effect, “You have no excuse. You are just as bad!”

Paul’s emphasis was that nobody is good enough to save himself or herself. If we want to avoid punishment and live eternally with Christ, we must depend totally on God’s grace, whether we have been murderers and molesters or have been honest and hardworking citizens.

Paul is not discussing whether some sins are worse than others. Any sin should cause us to depend on Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life. We have all sinned repeatedly; salvation comes only through faith in Christ.

Paul is referring to what I call the reformed sinner. The reformed sinner is the man who recognizes that God is and tries to live a good life by his own power. He is the man who tries to be a good citizen and a good family man. He congratulates himself because of his personal goodness. “After all,” he reasons, “I am a good fellow.”

In the absolute sense there is only one who is good. In the absolute sense, then, no man is good because no man is perfect. Before one congratulates himself because he is good, he needs to understand that he is imperfect, even though he has tried to be good. That imperfection is the very reason he needs the gospel.

Having painted in large strokes the fate of humankind apart from God, Paul abruptly switches his attention to a new audience. He shapes his next thoughts in a style used widely at that time, called the diatribe.

In a diatribe, the writer verbally attacks and attempts to destroy the ideas of the opposition. The anticipated questions or objections of the opposition are expressed or noted and then answered or refuted. Paul probably did not have an individual, but a character type in mind as he began his diatribe.

There may have been a single destination for Paul’s letter, but he knew that his readers would be quite varied: Roman citizens, transplanted Jews, slaves of various types, other races of Gentiles, former Jewish converts, and unbelievers.

When Paul’s letter was read in the Roman church, no doubt many heads nodded as he condemned idol worship, homosexual practices, and violence. But what surprise his listeners must have felt when he turned on them and said, in effect, “You have no excuse. You are just as bad!”

Paul’s emphasis was that nobody is good enough to save himself or herself. If we want to avoid punishment and live eternally with Christ, we must depend totally on God’s grace, whether we have been murderers and molesters or have been honest and hardworking citizens.

Paul is not discussing whether some sins are worse than others. Any sin should cause us to depend on Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life. We have all sinned repeatedly; salvation comes only through faith in Christ.

The critic here is Jewish, for Paul is focusing primarily on Jews in his words you . . . have no excuse (see Romans 2:17 (ESV) But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God.

Paul had criticized the horrible evil of the Gentiles, their sins of idolatry and homosexuality and their general lifestyle. This Jewish critic nodded in agreement as Paul exclaimed that “those who do such things deserve death” (1:32), because the critic assumes that he is free from such vices, and thus free from their well-deserved judgment.

But then Paul says that he has no right to pass judgment, because he is just as guilty.

Notice how Paul introduces chapter 2: Romans 2:1 (ESV) 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.

A person may feel self-righteous because he is not guilty of the ‘terrible’ sins for which he judges others. But no one is guiltless—all have sinned.

By our very capacity to judge others we demonstrate that we are responsible to judge ourselves. To judge another is to presume that you have nothing to be judged in yourself—that attitude reveals a sinful and hardened heart.

Romans 2:5 (ESV) 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.

Judgment According to Truth

The judgment of God rightly falls even upon the man who tries to be good.

Romans 2:2-3 (ESV) We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

Judgment is not according to man’s thoughts. A man reasons, “I am trying to be a good fellow, and in trying to be a good fellow, I am better than the one over there who is not trying at all to be good.” Granted.

But Paul wants every person to understand that whether he is trying to be good or not, he is in rebellion against God IF he is trying to save himself without God. Therefore, he will not escape the judgment of God which Paul says is according to truth. Judgment is according to reality.

What does this mean to me? I can think of all the reasons why God should accept me: I try to dress well; I try to provide a nice house for my family to live in; I treat people on my job right. I can convince myself that I am a good man. But the truth is the basis of judgment and not what I think about myself.

JUDGING OTHERS Paul’s accusation cannot be missed. Whenever we find ourselves feeling justifiably angry about someone’s sin, we should be careful. We need to speak out against sin, but we must do so with a spirit of humility.

Often the sins we notice most clearly in others are the ones that have taken root in us. If we look closely at ourselves, we may find that we are committing the same sin.

The unrighteous excuse themselves while condemning others. The truly righteous overlook faults in others but try to see their own faults.

HOW CAN WE ESCAPE? We cannot escape God’s righteous judgment by avoiding or resisting it. We find our only hope in submitting to his verdict.

If God says we have sinned, we must agree. When we agree with his judgment, we obtain his mercy. When we agree that we are lost, we find a savior. We escape God’s judgment by accepting it and claiming God’s mercy and grace that wait for us.

As a result, those who have experienced God’s forgiveness overlook the faults in others while they recognize their own faults. On the other hand, those who have not yet received forgiveness are prone to excuse themselves while condemning and blaming others. This last group of people have not escaped God’s judgment.

Notice what Paul says in 2:4: “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, . . .”

God has been good to you because God is longsuffering. Consider the last line of verse 4: “Not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

Yes, God has been good to you, but that is not a sign that God is pleased with you. The fact that God has been good to you should have led you to repentance, but if you continue to trust in your own goodness you have not repented.

Consequently, Paul says in verse 5, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

Here is man who may be very pleased with himself, but he is a sinner. God is not pleased with him. He may believe that God is going to accept him because he tries to be good, but God is going to judge him according to truth. The truth says that he is a sinner and the wages of sin is death.

The goodness of God should have led him to repentance, but it did not. He hardened his heart, and he is treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath at the righteous judgment of God. The truth is that we are not what we ought to be. We need the gospel.

You, the judge, are doing the very same things.NRSV The critic, and Jews in general, were not guiltless. They were doing the same things but needed to be reminded or made aware of it (as is often the case with the examples given of greed, gossip, and arrogance).

Men commit different sins, but there is no difference in the fact that all men sin. That is what Paul means when he says, “You judge another, but when you judge another, you condemn yourself.”

Man likes to think that he is doing very well. He likes to think that he is better than most other people. But the fact remains that he is imperfect.

We try to be good, but the good person is imperfect and needs the gospel as surely as does the rational sinner who lives as though God does not exist.

Judgment According to His Works. Paul mentions a second element of judgment. He says that God will judge “He will render to each one according to his works (deeds)” (2:6).

Are you ready to meet God upon the basis of your works? Think about your life. As I think about mine, I remember things in the past that are embarrassing. I do not want to meet God based upon my works.

But God will judge men according to their works. If you are going to face God upon the basis of your good life, then you will meet God upon the basis of imperfection. The judgment of God is according to deeds.

Judgment According to Impartiality At 2:11 Paul says, “For there is no partiality with God.” God is going to judge without partiality. It will not matter that you are an American and live in the 21st century.

The judgment of God will be without respect of persons. According to verse 8, Paul says, “If one does not obey the truth, but obeys unrighteousness, there is indignation and wrath.”

No matter who you are, you need the gospel. Until you obey the truth you are not ready to stand in judgment. God will not say, “You tried to be a good fellow; therefore you are accepted.”

Judgment According to Jesus Christ

He also says, “On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (2:16).

Jesus Christ, the One who is being rejected by the reformed sinner, is the One who is to judge all men. He is the One before whom all men must stand. Did you notice that Paul says He will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ?

The thoughts of men will be brought out of secret into the open at judgment. One can be the rational sinner and live in the vilest way. He is lost. Or, one can try to be a good man and live a good moral life, but he, too, is a sinner and lost.

Paul is showing us in the opening chapters of Romans that every man, no matter who he is, is in desperate need of the gospel.

He has referred to the man who lives without giving a thought to God and the man who tries to be good. He pictures both under the judgment or wrath of God.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #4 When God Lets Go – Romans 1:22-32


Why we need a spiritual practice - Holy Vacation Queen

1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools.NRSV Paul continues his description of the inevitable results of the denial of God by stating that even though thinking will become futile and hearts will be darkened, some people will still claim to be wise. Without answers based on the reality of God, people seek heroes among those who will boldly say there are no answers. Under such circumstances, it is seen as a sign of sophistication and intelligence to refuse to acknowledge God’s existence. But by biblical definition, anyone saying he or she cannot believe there is a God, or refusing to believe in God, is admitting to being a fool. The psalmist expressed it: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1 niv). The evidence of God’s existence is so plain and clear that to ignore it is totally foolish.

To some people, statements like these by Paul appear to be out of line because they appear to be intolerant of other religions and views. The objection is often voiced in a question: “Well, after all, the point is that people are naturally somewhat religious; so isn’t the most important thing not what religion you follow, but that you follow some religion?” The fallacy behind the question is that it still assumes that man is at the center, not God. The emphasis is not on believing what is true but on believing. Paul was speaking in a world that was inundated with gods. He would have been horrified to think that anyone would understand him to be saying that a little religion is a good thing! To Paul, even a lot of religion was bad if it was not true.

Christianity does not try (though some have tried in its name) to legislate people into being Christians. But while Christians know they cannot force anyone to believe, they are, with Paul, unashamed to claim that Jesus Christ is the answer. We may not coerce, but we must try to convince!

1:23 Exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.NRSV Whether they claim it or not, people are religious beings. By their very nature, they are bound to worship and serve something beyond themselves. It may be another idea of God, a person, a thing, or even some false notion that no God exists. Anyone who rejects the Creator will end up worshiping the creature. And how foolish that they turn their backs on the Creator in order to worship something created, something that can die, decay, and disappoint.

Images resembling a mortal human being.NRSV In other words, a human being may be worshiped instead of God. But God is immortal—incorruptible, imperishable; the images are mortal—liable to decay. Some of these images not only looked like humans; they were humans. Such was the case in ancient Rome, where some of the Caesars were worshiped as gods. In our (lay, modem paganism subtly worships its human images—certain people and their power. Paul shows how the scale of images descends from man to birds and animals and reptiles.NIV Whether the images were created by man out of wood, stone, or metal or are humans raised to the status of gods, they lacked the glory that belongs only to God. These manufactured gods might inspire fear or reverence, but they clearly do not deserve worship. And because: they were created by humans, they owe their existence to humans. This places people in control of their own gods. Faced with God’s glory, humans know who is in control. This God is not an invention of human thought or hands. He is the one who reveals himself to human beings in such a way that people realize they are, themselves, merely pale images of the majestic being that is God. He alone is to be worshiped.

How can intelligent people turn to idolatry? Idolatry begins when people reject what they know about God. Instead of looking to him as the Creator and sustainer of life, they see themselves as the center of the universe. They soon invent gods that are convenient projections of their own selfish plans and decrees. These gods may be wooden figures, or they may be things we desire—such as money, power, or comfort. They may even be misrepresentations of God himself—a result of making God in their image, instead of the reverse. The common denominator is this: Idolaters worship the things God made rather than God himself. It is a tendency that we must constantly watch for in ourselves.

IDOLATRY CHECK
Here are some questions to help you see if your attitudes are like idolatry.
·                  Who created you?
·                  Whom do you ultimately trust?
·                  To whom do you look for ultimate truth?
·                  To whom do you look for security and happiness?
·                  Who is in charge of your future?
·                  What do you think you can’t live without?
·                  Who do you think you can’t live without?
·                  What priority in your life is greater than God?
·                  What dream would you sacrifice everything to realize?
·                  Is God first place in your life?

1:24 God gave them over in the sinful desires.NIV The point that God gave them over is repeated twice (1:26, 28). God left those who spurned him to their own desires. Without his guidance, they degenerated into ruinous moral practices. As Paul’s thoughts unfold, he pictures God releasing people to sinful desires, “shameful lusts” (1:26) and “a depraved mind” (1:28). This rush into sinful patterns can be seen in societies as well as in individuals. When people and nations refuse to repent, sin takes over and draws people into a life where there is no sense of right and wrong. Without God’s remedy, his righteousness, the end is destruction. Because Paul’s purpose is to expound on the “righteousness from God” (1:17), he focuses on present, ongoing consequences of sin, rather than the ultimate results. Here and in the list to follow, Paul is essentially saying, “Look around! The evidences are everywhere that God, in his wrath, is allowing sinful nature to run its course. Humanity is in trouble!”

Sinful desires (epithumia) is not simply a term implying sexual desire. It is sometimes translated “lusts” (1:24 nrsv) and sometimes translated “coveting” (7:7). In the Greek Old Testament, epithumia is used in the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.

C. S. Lewis

(Exodus 20:17 niv). Sinful desires, then, cover a wide range of lusts. In verses 29-31 Paul continues to list the shocking consequences of human desire operating without godly control.

For the degrading of their bodies with one another.NIV Any kind of sexual behavior that deviates from that originally designed by God devalues the God-given use of our bodies.

God does not vindictively cast rebels into sin or stop giving love and instead dole out suffering and punishment. But if people persist in fleeing from God, he loves them enough to grant them their wish, though it is not his ultimate purpose. With the restraints removed, sometimes the consequences of rebellion will cause people to reconsider God.

Here Paul introduces the subject of sexual impurity. He returns to it in verses 26 and 27. The context indicates that he is referring in part to cultic prostitution and the fertility cults that made use of temple prostitutes in their rites. Throughout history, paganism has shown a remarkable capacity for substituting the pursuit of sexual pleasure for the pursuit of holiness. Rejection of God is often accompanied by deification of sex or reproduction. Paul, writing from Corinth, the home of the temple of Aphrodite, was surrounded by evidences of the horrible evil of such belief (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:21). Because people ignored their innate awareness of godly restraints, personal desire became the standard of behavior. Paul did not hesitate to point out the devastating effects of sin on the most personal aspects of human life. Without God’s righteousness, wrong rules.

Because sex is such a powerful and essential part of what it means to be human, it must be treated with great respect. Sexual desires are of such importance that the Bible gives them special attention and counsels more careful restraint and self-control than with any other desire. One of the clearest indicators of a society or person in rebellion against God is the rejection of God’s guidelines for the use of sex.

1:25 Exchanged the truth about God for a lie.NRSV Just as people exchanged the glory of God for lackluster images (1:23), they also traded what can be known about God for a deliberate distortion. This lie is the belief that something or someone is to be worshiped in place of the one true God. This is what will ultimately lead to the end of the world—people will follow and worship the man of lawlessness who will lead them to destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).

People tend to believe lies that reinforce their own selfish personal beliefs. Today more than ever we need to be careful about the input we allow to form our beliefs. With TV, music, movies, and the rest of the media often presenting sinful lifestyles and unwholesome values, we find ourselves constantly bombarded by attitudes and beliefs totally opposed to the Bible. Be careful about what you allow to form your opinions. The Bible is the only standard of truth. Evaluate all other opinions in light of its teachings.

Worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.NIV These people have completely turned their back on God and replaced him with other objects. And what they have decided about God will decide their character and lifestyle. Some people are extremely devoted to their self-made gods. It was to very religious people that Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (John 8:44 niv).

Who is forever praised. Amen.NIV Although many may refuse to acknowledge God’s existence, that doesn’t change the truth of his existence and the fact that he will indeed be forever praised. God’s worthiness to be praised is not affected by human beings’ rebellion or their poor choices. God will be praised forever, though there are many who, by their deliberate exchange of truth for lies, will not be present to participate.

1:26-27 For this reason.NKJV Paul has just finished describing in general terms what happens to people who do not acknowledge God’s law as the standard for moral behavior. They turn from their Maker and worship what has been made, sometimes including themselves.

There have always been those willing to believe that human desires are self-regulating. They do not believe that any action they enjoy could possibly be wrong. They believe that people would not really desire something unless it was good for them. Somehow the fact that every person has violated that principle escapes them. The more blatant examples of evil are considered exceptions rather than the rule. In so doing, they make every person an exception, for as Paul writes later, “All have sinned” (3:23). When our wants become our ruler and our desires our authority, we quickly become slaves to the next appealing offer.

God gave them over to shameful lusts. Unlike verse 24, where God is described as releasing people to pursue their sinful desires,

Paul is now speaking specifically about immoral relations. When the desire for the true God is rejected, other gods are raised up. When the desire for God is rejected, other desires take control. Why are shameful lusts the result? When people refuse God and his standards, when they are left to themselves as their own gods, nothing can stop them from seeking to fulfill their passions. Paul indicates that sexual passion, out of control, leads to shameful lusts and other destructive results (see 1:29-31). And yet, temptations can be useful to us even though they seem to cause us nothing but pain. They are useful because they can make us humble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us. All of the saints passed through times of temptation and tribulation, and they used them to make progress in the spiritual life. Those who did not deal with temptations successfully fell to the wayside.

Thomas à Kempis

Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones . . . The men also abandoned natural relations.NIV Not only was shameful lust the result, but perversions of sex became rampant. God’s plan for natural sexual relationships is his ideal for his creation. It is the height of foolishness to think that any sex act is acceptable as long as “no one gets hurt.”

Paul’s treatment of homosexual behavior falls in the middle of two other major areas that he presents as evidence of the “godlessness and wickedness of men,” (1:18). The first is sinful worship; the third is a whole list of personal and relational sins. It is important to note that Paul is using homosexual practices to indicate the extent to which sin has brought chaos into every area of life. He writes that as a result of shameful lusts, no person, relationship, or part of creation has been left untouched. (See 7:7ff. for more on lusts, and 8:18ff. for more on sin’s effect on creation.) There is no hint here of a hierarchy of sin, with pagan worship being at the bottom, followed by homosexual practice, followed by “lesser sins.” All sins grow out of human rebellion against God. The fact of sinfulness is a much more important discovery for a person to make than recognizing the particular acting out of that sinfulness. Repentance and restoration comes more quickly from the question, “What must I do to be saved?” than from the question, “Exactly how deeply have I sinned in comparison with any one else?”

Homosexuality (to exchange or abandon natural relations of sex) was as widespread in Paul’s day as it is in ours. Many pagan practices encouraged it. God is willing to receive anyone who comes to him in faith, and Christians should love and accept others no matter what their background. But homosexual behavior is strictly forbidden in Scripture (see Leviticus 18:22). Paul is writing this letter from Corinth, a city infamous for deviant sexual behaviors. According to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, some of the Corinthian believers may have been converted out of a homosexual lifestyle. Paul was able to say of them and many other sinners (i.e., adulterers, thieves, drunkards, the greedy), “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 niv).

Homosexuality is considered an acceptable practice by many in our world today—even by some churches. But society does not set the standard for God’s law. Many homosexuals believe that their desires are normal and that they have a right to express them. But God does not obligate nor encourage us to fulfill all of our desires (even normal ones). Desires that violate God’s laws must be controlled. God offers freedom from those sins through Jesus Christ and power to control our desires through the Holy Spirit.

Received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.NIV Sin has a penalty, and the punishment is in keeping with the offense. The natural result of a person’s sin pays that person back for what he or she has done. The exact consequences of sin are not predictable, but they are inevitable. These people cannot call themselves helpless victims; a sinful choice was made, and it carries its penalty. Unfortunately, the due penalty also has a way of spilling over into other lives. The connectedness of everything in creation makes it almost impossible to confine sinful penalties. Often a truly painful consequence is seeing how a sin we unleashed effects others.

A law broods over human existence, a law which is at the same time a divine act: Such as thou makest thy God, such wilt thou make thyself. – Godet

1:28 They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.NKJV Humans sat in judgment on God to decide whether he fit the qualifications of a God that would be to their liking; they decided he did not meet those qualifications and so dismissed him from their lives. They had the knowledge (they were not ignorant), but they did not want to use it.

In our own times we have seen a belittling of God as no more than a pale extension of our wishful thinking, someone made in our image. Yet those most vocal in condemning the authoritative Christian view of God have been busy at work creating people who think of themselves as gods. Paul’s discussion is not out of date. The same rebellion against God is alive in the human heart.

He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.NIV For the third time, Paul describes God’s action as “giving them over.” Each time, the action is introduced by recalling humanity’s rebellion against God.

Each expression serves as an outline point under Paul’s main theme, which is to explain the ways that the “wrath of God is being revealed” (1:18) in the lives of people. This last time, Paul introduces a host of behaviors which demonstrate that human behavior is a result of man’s way of thinking becoming depraved.

People do not turn away from God all at once; there is a progression. They may have started with some knowledge of God, but then they chose not to glorify him nor thank him. This led to questions and doubts that led them to no longer recognize God as God—they refused “to retain the knowledge of God” (niv). And when they chose to reject God, God allowed them to do it. Their minds became depraved, and they lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. When the conscience is perverted, there is little hope. To do what ought not to be done indicates that the people were doing things not just offensive to God, but also offensive by human standards.

God does not usually stop us from making choices against his will. He lets us declare our supposed independence from him, even though he knows that in time we will become slaves to our own rebellious choices—we will lose our freedom not to sin. Does life without God look like freedom to you? Look more closely. There is no worse slavery than slavery to sin.

1:29-31 Filled with . . . The term suggests a state of being filled to the point of overflowing. Once the mind of man had become depraved (1:28), it followed that the creative power of thought was turned to the pursuit of evil. Paul listed over twenty different ways in which the mind can be focused once it has turned away from God. (For similar lists, see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; and Colossians 3:5.) The following catalog may not be in any particular order, but it emphasizes the extent of the evidence against humanity. Who cannot find in himself more than one among these qualities (quoted from niv)?

Every kind of wickedness—The opposite of righteousness, the absence of justice.

Evil—What is sinister and vile.

Greed—Relentless urge to get more for oneself.

Depravity—A condition of moral evil.

Envy—Desire for something possessed by another.

Murder—Greed, envy, and strife, left unchecked, could lead even to killing another in order to obtain what is desired.

Strife—Competition, rivalry, bitter conflict.

Deceit—To trick or mislead by lying.

Malice—Doing evil despite the good that has been received.

Gossips—They create problems by rehashing idle talk or rumors concerning others’ private affairs.

Slanderers—Destroy another’s good reputation.

God-haters—Not only do they ignore God; some actively hate him and attempt to work against any of his influences.

Insolent—Arrogant behavior toward those who are not powerful enough to fight back. This particularly refers to a person’s attempt to shame another without mercy.

Arrogant and boastful—Making claims of superior intelligence or importance.

Invent ways of doing evil—Trying new kinds of perversions.

Disobey their parents—When God’s authority is tossed aside as worthless, parental authority cannot be far behind. How unfortunate that the parents, in many cases, had set the example. By ignoring God’s authority, they set the example for the children to ignore parental authority.

Senseless—Unable to discern spiritual and moral things.

Faithless—Not keeping one’s promises or doing one’s duties; unreliable, untrustworthy.

The principle of holiness leads to the exhortation, “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2). It is a very important consideration that we are consecrated and dedicated to God. It means that we will think, speak, meditate, and do all things with a view to God’s glory. John Calvin

Heartless—Unfeeling, unkind, harsh, cruel.

Ruthless—Without pity or compassion; merciless.

1:32 They know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die.NRSV In the previous verses Paul pointed out several different ways that God “gives people up” to pursue their desires. He was convinced that each person in rebellion against God perceives the final outcome of that rebellion. But even the finality of death is ignored by many.

How did they know of God’s death penalty? Human beings, created in God’s image, have a basic moral nature and a conscience. This truth is understood beyond religious circles. Psychologists, for example, say that the rare person who has no conscience has a serious personality disorder, one that is extremely difficult to treat. Most people instinctively know when they do wrong—but they may not care. Some people will even risk an early death for the freedom to indulge their desires now. I know it’s wrong, but I really want it,” or “I know it’s dangerous, but it’s worth the risk.” For such people, part of the “fun” is going against God’s law, the community’s moral standards, common sense, or their own sense of right and wrong. But deep down inside they know that sin deserves the death penalty (6:23).

MORAL ALTERNATIVES

Having rejected God and his standard, people turn to a variety of sources for authority to back up what they want to do. Here are some of the most common “moralities” vying for our attention:

Having rejected God and his standard, people turn to a variety of sources for authority to back up what they want to do. Here are some of the most common “moralities” vying for our attention:

  • Statistical morality. This approach depends on accepting the premise that the right thing to do is what most people are doing. Its motto is Everybody Is Doing It! Statistical morality makes extensive use of opinion polls, talk shows, and telephone surveys. The approach practically guarantees that a person can do just about anything he or she wants to do and claim personal morality.
  • Emotional morality. This approach relies heavily on feelings. What feels good is right, and what feels bad is wrong. The term that most accurately describes the spirit behind this “morality” is selfishness. Emotional morality rejects almost any action that involves personal sacrifice.
  • Situational morality. Also called make-it-up-as-you-go-along morality, situational morality relies on the belief that a person can figure out on the spot how they should behave, rather than having a decided standard of behavior in force in every situation. The worst experience for a situationalist is to be at the mercy of another situationalist.
  • Sensitive morality. This approach to morality accepts the idea that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong, only personal standards. Holders of this position believe in minding their own morality and not questioning or contradicting the behavior of others. Sensitive moralists never offend anyone. They believe that each person has a right to his or her personal morality and not even God should dare to interfere.

Continue to do these very things . . . approve of those who practice them.NIV Not only have they turned their backs on God and realized that their deeds deserve the ultimate penalty of death; they also are continuing in their sin and encouraging it in others. The fierce defense of certain lifestyles should not surprise us. People in rebellion against God have a lot at stake. Agreeing in any way with God’s analysis of their lives would require them to repent, to change. It is not unusual for us to reinforce our own choices, good or bad, by urging others to make the same choices. Even when we are not sure we have made the right choices, convincing others to do what we have done increases our sense of security. In response, God’s Word reminds us that gaining the whole world, or convincing many others that we are right, means nothing if our Creator says we are wrong. Claiming our way is right in the face of God’s disagreement places us in danger of losing our soul. Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25 niv).

The cause for the appalling condition of our world—the horrible perversions and the rampant evil—lies in people’s rebellion against God. Although knowledge of God is accessible, people turn their backs on it, close their minds to it, and go their own way, worshiping whatever they choose. With this stroke, Paul places the final touches on the dismal picture of man’s condition apart from God. From here, he will move on to deal with those who might use their knowledge of God as an excuse for missing his righteousness.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #3 — The Rational Sinner: God’s Anger at Willful Sin – Romans 1:18-32


Blog Post - Evangelical Syncretism: Seeker vs. Sinner

Man’s greatest need is not food, clothing, or shelter. The apostle Paul would say that man’s greatest need is Christ and the gospel. That is the reason he gave his life to a proclamation of the gospel of Christ.

In Romans 1:16, 17, he said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

Every single hour someone somewhere enters an operating room and undergoes surgery at a hospital. But one is not likely to undergo surgery unless first he is convinced he needs the surgery. So it is in the spiritual realm. One may have a tremendous need, but if he does not understand the need he probably will not apply the remedy.

We will now focus upon 1:18-21, where Paul gives attention to the ‘rational’ sinner. The rational sinner reasons or rationalizes God out of his thoughts. He does not want to think about God. To think about God would be to reprove his evil deeds.

At 1:18, immediately after discussing the good news and the gospel being the power of God unto salvation, Paul turns to the wrath of God. He says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, . . .” One response that man often makes is to reject the light that God has given.

In John 3 Jesus spoke of the light that God had shed upon man and how man rejects that light: For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil (John 3:17-19).

God has turned on the light in this world. Man has light at his disposal so that he may seek after and find God. The problem is, as Jesus points out in John 3, men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. Man rejects the light God has given.

If a man makes up his mind that he wants to know God, Jesus says he will know the teaching. Somehow, some way, when the sincere seeker of truth makes his search, God will bring him into contact with truth.

The problem is that the truth convicts and convinces men that they are in need of God. It convinces men that they are in rebellion against God.

The answer to rebellion is to say no to ourselves so that we can say yes to God.

That cuts across the grain of man’s pride, for in his pride he may not want to feel any need for God. Therefore, he may not want the truth. He may reject the light God has given; he may love the darkness because his deeds are evil. Verse 18 says he “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.” He holds down the truth.

HE REJECTS THE LIGHT FROM WITHIN.

What kind of light has God revealed to man? Romans 1 gives the answer. The apostle points out that man often rejects the light from within. God has given light within every man.

Romans 1:19 (NASB) “…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

God has placed within every human being a moral conscience. Man, therefore, is hopelessly religious. You and I do not decide whether to be religious or not.

A man may say, “I am not very religious.” He means that he may not participate in religious activities, per se. He is religious though. God made us incurably religious.

There is a longing within the hearts of all men for God. One may respond by saying, “I did not know that I had this longing within,” but it is there, nonetheless. A hunger which cannot be satisfied except by God exists in each man. Man tries to satisfy it in various ways.

Man knows that he is not happy, but he wants to be happy. There is a gnawing pain inside. He may feed upon pleasure; he may feed upon education; he may surround himself with wealth; he may strive to have power over other people.

What is he doing? He is seeking to satisfy that longing within. Of course, none of these can ever satisfy. Augustine said, “Thou has made us for Thyself, and we cannot rest until we rest in Thee.”

In Psalms 42:1, David said, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God.”

It is there. We can suppress it. We can deny it. We can ignore it. But it is there.

The rational sinner wants to put God out of his thoughts. He does not want God to control his life. He wants to do his own thing, go his own way.

The longing is there, but he is justly under the condemnation or wrath of God. He is rejecting the light that God has given, the light that says, “God is, and I am indebted to Him.”

Romans 1:18 (NASB) “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…

Why is God angry with sin? Because people have substituted the truth about him with a fantasy of their own imagination (1:25). They have suppressed the truth God naturally reveals to everyone in order to believe anything that supports their own self-centered lifestyles.

HE REJECTS THE LIGHT FROM WITHOUT.

Paul also shows that the rational sinner, in seeking to put God out of his thoughts, rejects the light of creation, or the light from without.

Verse 20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen.”

The paradox can’t be missed—God’s invisible qualities are clearly seen. How? God created the world with natural processes, with cause and effect. In the same way that observing a painting leads a person to conclude that there is an artist, so to observe the tremendous creation is to conclude that there is a supreme Creator, one with eternal power and divinity (He was here first, He had the power to create, He is not human!). This is part of the truth that unsaved people are suppressing.

God is not visible to the human eye. He is invisible. But the invisible things of Him have been made manifest. How? Paul says they are clearly seen by the things that are made.

He is referring to the created world. God made a world, and this world is a testimony, a visible testimony to the invisible God.

David said in Psalms 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament is declaring the work of His hands.”

Man, in his rationalism, can look at the world and say all this happened by accident. He says a big explosion occurred millions of years ago and the universe resulted. But in reaching that conclusion he is holding down or suppressing the truth about God.

The creative world declares the existence of God; it is evidence that God is. You and I are held responsible to accept that evidence and seek God.

The rational sinner who does not want to think about God rejects the light. He rejects the light within, his moral consciousness; he rejects the light without, the created world which proclaims the existence of God.

HE REJECTS THE LIGHT FROM ABOVE.

Of course, in our day we have additional evidence for God’s existence. God has spoken to man. His Word is revealed in the Bible. When one rejects the existence of God, he also is rejecting the light of God’s Word, the light from above.

The Bible is here. How are we to look upon it? Are we to consider it only as the product of a few feeble men who in their own human efforts wrote down this book that has no equal?

The evidence concerning the Bible, both internal evidence from the Bible itself and external evidence from outside the Bible, says the Bible is the Word of God.

You and I are called upon to accept that Word as a revelation from God. When we turn away from the Word we are rejecting the light. The rational sinner wants to put God out of his mind so he rejects the light God has given.

He overlooks that moral consciousness within; he bypasses the creative world which says God is, and he gives only a passing thought to the Bible as a revelation from God.

As a result of rejecting the light God’s wrath or judgment falls upon the rational sinner.

1:21 Although they knew God.NKJV Their denial of their own awareness of God is what left people without excuse. When Paul says that men knew God he is not describing a knowledge that could save them but a knowledge that simply recognized God’s existence. He was describing an awareness of God, that, if not suppressed would be nurtured by God.

   There are six judgments announced in Romans 1.

  1. First of all, Paul says, “Their foolish heart was darkened” (1:21). If one loves the darkness, God will allow him to walk in the darkness and never come to the light.
  2. Verse 22 gives the second judgment: “Professing themselves to be wise they became fools.” When one puts God out of his thoughts, he becomes a fool. “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God” (Psalms 14:1). One may even claim that God exists, but if he lives as though God does not, he is a fool.
  3. The third judgment of God is announced in verse 23: “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image.”

When man rejects God, he turns to idolatry. In ancient times man built his own gods. He made temples to his gods. 21st century man in the Western world is too sophisticated to bow before a god of stone or wood. But he has his gods.

His god may be himself, it may be his job, or it may be possessions. If you reject God for possessions, God will allow you to go on in your idolatry.

  1. The fourth judgment of God is seen at verse 24: “God gave them up to . . . the lusts of their own hearts.” God will allow you to be consumed by your lusts if you want to be.
  2. In the fifth place, in verse 26, He gave them up to immorality: “For this cause God gave them up to their vile affections.” He speaks in these verses about homosexuality and condemns it as worthy of the judgment of God. We can try to make sin respectable if we want, but God calls it what it is—sin. If one is determined to go on in immorality, God will permit it.
  3. Verse 28 is the sixth judgment of God. Romans 1:28 (ESV)
    28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  If you decide that you are going to reject God, that you are going to do as you please, God will give you up to do it. He will allow you to be consumed in your wickedness.

    DOWNWARD SPIRAL. Paul portrays the inevitable downward spiral into sin.

  • First people reject God
  • Next they make up their own ideas of what a god should be and do
  • Then they fall into sin—sexual sin, greed, hatred, envy, murder, fighting, lying, bitterness, gossip.
  • Finally they grow to hate God and encourage others to do so.

God does not cause this steady progression toward evil. Rather, when people reject him, He allows them to live as they choose.

God gives them up or commits them to experience the natural consequences of their sin.

Once caught in the downward spiral, no one can pull himself or herself out by themselves! Sinners must trust Christ alone to put them on the path of escape

Before you say there is no God, think seriously about the evidence for God’s existence.

Before you live as though God does not exist and has no claim upon your life, read carefully Romans 1, for it depicts the rational sinner, a description of many who are in the world today.

 

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #2 The Power of the Good News Romans 1:16-17


A quick look at any newspaper or passing glance at a weekly news magazine reminds us that in our world most news is bad and seems to be getting worse. What is happening on a national and worldwide scale is simply the magnification of what is happening on an individual level. As personal problems, animosities, and fears increase, so do their counterparts in society at large.

Human beings are in the hold of a terrifying power that grips them at the very core of their being. Left unchecked, it pushes them to self-destruction in one form or another. That power is sin, which is always bad news.

Sin is bad news in every dimension. Among its consequences are four inevitable byproducts that guarantee misery and sorrow for a world taken captive. First, sin has selfishness at its heart. The basic element of fallen human nature is exaltation of self, the ego. When Satan fell, he was asserting his own will above God’s, five times declaring, “I will…” (Isa. 14:13-14). Man fell by the same self-will, when Adam and Eve asserted their own understanding about right and wrong above God’s clear instruction (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-7).

By nature man is self-centered and inclined to have his own way. He will push his selfishness as far as circumstances and the tolerance of society will allow. When self-will is unbridled, man consumes everything and everyone around him in an insatiable quest to please himself. When friends, fellow workers, or a spouse cease to provide what is wanted, they are discarded like an old pair of shoes. Much of modern western society has been so imbued with the propriety of self-esteem and self-will that virtually every desire has come to be considered a right.

The ultimate goal in many lives today is little more than perpetual self-satisfaction. Every object, every idea, every circumstance, and every person is viewed in light of what it can contribute to one’s own purposes and welfare. Lust for wealth, possessions, fame, dominance, popularity, and physical fulfillment drives people to pervert everything they possess and everyone they know. Employment has become nothing more than a necessary evil to finance one’s indulgences. As is often noted, there is constant danger of loving things and using people rather than loving people and using things. When that temptation is succumbed to, stable and faithful personal relationships become impossible. A person engulfed in self-will and self-fulfillment becomes less and less capable of loving, because as his desire to possess grows, his desire to give withers. And when he forfeits selflessness for selfishness, he forfeits the source of true joy.

Selfish greed progressively alienates a person from everyone else, including those who are closest and dearest. The end result is loneliness and despair. Everything that is craved soon yields to the law of diminishing returns, and the more one has of it the less it satisfies.

Second, sin produces guilt, another form of bad news. No matter how convincingly one tries to justify selfishness, its inevitable abuse of things and other people cannot escape generating guilt.

Like physical pain, guilt is a God-given warning that something is wrong and needs correcting. When guilt is ignored or suppressed, it continues to grow and intensify and with it come anxiety, fear, sleeplessness, and countless other spiritual and physical afflictions. Many people try to overcome those afflictions by masking them with possessions, money, alcohol, drugs, sex, travel, and psychoanalysis. They try to assuage their guilt by blaming society, parents, a deprived childhood, environment, restrictive moral codes, and even God Himself. But the irresponsible notion of blaming other persons and things only aggravates the guilt and escalates the accompanying afflictions.

Third, sin produces meaninglessness, still another form of bad news and one that is endemic to modern times. Trapped in his own selfishness, the self-indulgent person has no sense of purpose or meaning. Life becomes an endless cycle of trying to fill a void that cannot be filled. The result is futility and despair. To questions such as, “Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is truth?” he finds no answers in the world but the lies of Satan, who is the author of lies and prince of the present world system (cf. John 8:44; 2 Cor. 4:4). In the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay in her poem “Lament,” he can only say “Life must go on; I forget just why.” Or, like the central character in one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s novels, he may say nihilistically, “I decided to kill myself to remove at least one superfluous life.”

A fourth element in sin’s chain of bad news is hopelessness, which is the companion of meaninglessness. The consumptively selfish person forfeits hope, both for this life and for the next. Although he may deny it, he senses that even death is not the end, and for the hopeless sinner death becomes therefore the ultimate bad news.

Millions of babies are born every day into a world filled with bad news. And because of the boundless selfishness that permeates modern society, millions of other babies are not allowed to enter the world at all. That tragedy alone has made the bad news of the modern world immeasurably worse.

The tidbits of seemingly good news are often merely a brief respite from the bad, and sometimes even what appears to be good news merely masks an evil. Someone once commented cynically that peace treaties merely provide time for everyone to reload!

In his Romans letter Paul speaks of the good news in many ways, each way emphasizing a uniquely beautiful facet of one spiritual gem. He calls it the blessed good news, the good news of salvation, the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s Son, and the good news of the grace of God. The letter begins (1:1) and ends (16:25-26) with the good news.

But the essence of Paul’s letter to the Romans is that there is good news that is truly good.

The Good News was promised by God and was not a new religion made up by Paul or anyone else. It was rooted in God’s promises in the Old Testament to his people through his prophets. The gospel that Paul preached was in perfect continuity with God’s earlier words in the Scriptures to his people, Israel. Both the Jews and Gentiles in the church of Rome needed to be reminded that the gospel is an ancient message of God’s plan for his creation. This was on Paul’s mind and is a recurring theme throughout the letter.

Even though the church in Rome consisted mostly of Gentiles and former converts to the Jewish faith, Paul reminded them all that in their acceptance of the gospel they were not casting off Moses and the law in order to embrace Christ. Rather, they were discovering and responding to the outworking of God’s eternal plan. The prophets in the Old Testament announced the coming fulfillment of God’s grace in Christ. The actual fulfillment of those prophetic statements confirmed God’s involvement all along. This direct statement by Paul anticipates an important teaching that he would develop later in this letter.

Whenever we think that God’s love for us depends on our behavior or spiritual success, we put ourselves in a hopeless situation because we can never be good enough to deserve God’s love. As Paul later explains in this letter, God’s love precedes everything. All of our attempts to earn his love will fail. That’s because perfect love would require a perfect effort, clearly beyond us. It is also true that when we think of God’s love as conditional, we unwittingly transform it into something much less than love.
Conditional love is an oxymoron. God’s love is unconditional. The first delightful surprise in the gospel is that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, nrsv). When you’re feeling spiritually dull or anxious, ask yourself, “Have I begun to think of God’s love as dependent on my effort?” Thank God for his unconditional, perfect love, and respond by living for him.

     Romans 1:15-17 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Paul now states the thesis of the epistle. These two verses express the theme of the book of Romans, and they contain the most life-transforming truth God has put into men’s hands. To understand and positively respond to this truth is to have one’s time and eternity completely altered. These words summarize the gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul then proceeds to unfold and explain throughout the remainder of the epistle. For that reason, our comments here will be somewhat brief and a more detailed discussion of these themes will come later in the study.

1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel. Verses 16 and 17 summarize the thrust of the rest of Paul’s letter and give the reason behind Paul’s missionary zeal. Paul was ready, even eager (1:15) to preach at Rome. And he was not ashamed of the gospel, even though the gospel was held in contempt by those who did not believe; even though those who preached it could face humiliation and suffering.

Paul was not intimidated by the intellect of Greece nor the power of Rome. When describing to the Corinthians the typical attitudes toward the gospel, Paul wrote, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” (1 Corinthians 1:23 nrsv). Paul was not ashamed, because he knew from experience that the gospel had the power to transform lives, so he was eager to take it to as many as would listen. This verse marks the beginning of Paul’s extended explanation of the gospel. Reading, understanding, and applying the gospel faithfully can also bring us to that point of being unashamed of what God has said and done.

One reason that the exuberance of those first days of knowing Christ tends to fade is because of the reception from other believers as well as from the unbelieving world. Becoming ashamed of the gospel is an attitude young Christians often learn from those who have been believers the longest. Faint praise, condescending responses, and averted eyes all combine to give the young believer the subtle but crushing hint that enthusiastic comments about what Christ has done for him or her need to be toned down. Paul was eager to speak and unashamed of his message. It was life to him, and he knew it would be life to others. In what ways do you sometimes seem to be ashamed of the gospel? What young or recent believers need you to rejoice with them in their new faith?

Many believers in Christ want to keep their faith a secret, carefully avoiding situations where they might be identified as a Christian. They are afraid of being embarrassed. These feelings are based on real though often exaggerated possibilities. They cause us to be silent when we ought to speak. They cause us to be anonymous Christians in most parts of our life. Shame grows when we think:

  • People will openly ridicule our faith.
  • Friends might desert us if they know we are Christians.
  • Christians have a reputation as poor examples or hypocrites.
  • Our faith is something private rather than public.
  • Our success or achievement is worth more to us than having others know we are Christians.

Whatever the superficial reasons for being ashamed of the gospel, they all arise from misunderstanding or forgetting the radical, eternal, and awesome nature of God’s message and what it tells us about him.

It is said that if a circle of white chalk is traced on the floor around a goose that it will not leave the circle for fear of crossing the white mark. In a similar way, the chalk marks of criticism, ridicule, tradition, and rejection prevent many believers from leaving the security of Christian fellowship to witness to the unsaved.

The so-called health and wealth gospel that has swept through much of the church today is not offensive to the world because it offers what the world wants. But that spurious gospel does not offer the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the false teaching of the Judaizers, it is “a different gospel,” that is, not the gospel at all but an ungodly distortion (Gal. 1:6-7). Jesus strongly condemned the motives of worldly success and comfort, and those who appeal to such motives play right into the hands of Satan.

A scribe once approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” Knowing the man was unwilling to give up his comforts in order to be a disciple, the Lord answered, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:19-20). Shortly after that, “another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father'” The phrase “bury my father” did not refer to a funeral service but was a colloquialism for awaiting the father’s death in order to receive the inheritance. Jesus therefore told the man, “Follow Me; and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (vv. 21-22).

Geoffrey Wilson wrote, “The unpopularity of a crucified Christ has prompted many to present a message which is more palatable to the unbeliever, but the removal of the offense of the cross always renders the message ineffective. An inoffensive gospel is also an inoperative gospel. Thus Christianity is wounded most in the house of its friends” (Romans: A Digest of Reformed Comment [Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1976], p. 24).

It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.NIV The Greek word for power (dynamis) is the source for our words dynamite and dynamic. Dynamite was not invented by Nobel until 1867, so it is obvious that Paul did not have that specific picture in mind. Instead, the inventor of the explosive took its name from the Greek. But the parallel is instructive. The gospel can be like spiritual dynamite. Under certain circumstances it has a devastating, even destructive effect, demolishing world views and traditions—paving the way for new construction. Placed inside a stone-hard heart that is resistant to God, it can shatter the barrier. God’s power in the gospel is not only explosive; it also overcomes evil. Dynamite must be carefully handled, but it is very effective when put to its proper use. Keeping dynamite under lock and key, hidden by those who know about it, may keep it from being misused, but it also prevents the dynamite from doing what it was designed to do. The dynamite of the gospel deserves to be respectfully treated, but effectively used! Furthermore, it must never be used as a weapon, but as a constructive power.

The gospel carries with it the omnipotence of God, whose power alone is sufficient to save men from sin and give them eternal life.

People have an innate desire to be changed. They want to look better, feel better; have more money, more power, more influence. The premise of all advertising is that people want to change in some way or another, and the job of the advertiser is to convince them that his product or service will add a desired dimension to their lives. Many people want to be changed inwardly in a way that will make them feel less guilty and more content, and a host of programs, philosophies, and religions promise to meet those desires. Many man-made schemes succeed in making people feel better about themselves, but the ideas promoted have no power to remove the sin that brings the feelings of guilt and discontent. Nor can those ideas make men right with God. In fact, the more successful such approaches are from their own standpoint, the more they drive people away from God and insulate them from His salvation.

Through Jeremiah, the Lord said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). It is not within man’s power to change his own nature. In rebuking the Sadducees who tried to entrap Him, Jesus said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). Only the power of God is able to overcome man’s sinful nature and impart spiritual life.

The Bible makes it clear that men cannot be spiritually changed or saved by good works, by the church, by ritual, or by any other human means. Men cannot be saved even by keeping God’s own law which was given to show men their helplessness to meet His standards in their own power. The law was not given to save men but to reveal their sin and thus to drive men to God’s saving grace.

Later in Romans, Paul declares man’s impotence and God’s power, saying, “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6), and, “What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin” (8:3). Affirming the same basic truth in different words, Peter wrote believers in Asia Minor: “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).

Paul reminded the church at Corinth that “the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18), and “we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (vv. 23-25). What to the world seems to be utter absurdity is in fact the power by which God transforms men from the realm of darkness to the realm of light, and delivers them from the power of death and gives them the right to be called the children of God (John 1:12).

Ancient pagans mocked Christianity not only because the idea of substitutionary atonement seemed ridiculous in itself but also because their mythical gods were apathetic, detached, and remote—totally indifferent to the welfare of men. The idea of a caring, redeeming, self-sacrificing God was beyond their comprehension. While excavating ancient ruins in Rome, archaeologists discovered a derisive painting depicting a slave bowing down before a cross with a jackass hanging on it. The caption reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

In the late second century this attitude still existed. A man named Celsus wrote a letter bitterly attacking Christianity. “Let no cultured person draw near, none wise, none sensible,” he said, “for all that kind of thing we count evil; but if any man is ignorant, if any is wanting in sense and culture, if any is a fool, let him come boldly [to Christianity]” (William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], p.21; cf. Origen’s Against Celsus). “Of the Christians,” he further wrote, “we see them in their own houses, wool dressers, cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons” (p.21). He compared Christians to a swarm of bats, to ants crawling out of their nests, to frogs holding a symposium around a swamp, and to worms cowering in the muck!

Not wanting to build on human wisdom or appeal to human understanding, Paul told the Corinthians that “when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Later in the letter Paul said, “The kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power” (4:20), the redeeming power of God.

Every believer, no matter how gifted and mature, has human limitations and weaknesses. Our minds, bodies, and perceptions are imperfect. Yet, incredibly God uses us as channels of His redeeming and sustaining power when we serve Him obediently.

Scripture certainly testifies to God’s glorious power (Ex. 15:6), His irresistible power (Deut. 32:39), His unsearchable power (Job 5:9), His mighty power (Job 9:4), His great power (Ps. 79:11), His incomparable power (Ps. 89:8), His strong power (Ps. 89:13), His everlasting power (Isa. 26:4), His effectual power (Isa. 43:13), and His sovereign power (Rom. 9:21). Jeremiah declared of God, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom” (Jer. 10:12), and through that prophet the Lord said of Himself, “I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm” (Jer. 27:5). The psalmist admonished, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:8-9). His is the power that can save.

The word dynamic also reminds us of another aspect of the gospel. While bringing spiritual life to a person, we cannot always predict the course it will take. Paul knew that Christians have the responsibility to proclaim the gospel whenever and wherever they can. Believers are not to be ashamed about its simplicity or universality—the gospel’s effectiveness can be entrusted to God. Until we are convinced that the gospel is dynamic and effective, we will tend to be ashamed to pass it on. What has the gospel done in you? If the gospel is a message you know, but not a power that has changed you, it will matter little what you do with it.

The only way to receive salvation is to believe in Christ. This offer is open to all people. The gospel is powerful because the power of God resides in it by nature. This power is not descriptive of how the gospel is effective, but a guarantee that it is effective. The gospel is the inherent power of God that gives salvation to all who accept it. Its power is demonstrated not only by accomplishing the salvation of a person, but also in its undiminished capacity to do this for everyone who believes. What then is salvation? It is the forgiveness of sins, but it goes even deeper—to a restoration to wholeness of all that sin has defaced or destroyed. And salvation can only happen when a person believes. Having made this point, Paul continues to expand on the effectiveness of the gospel in verse 17.

First for the Jew, then for the Gentile.NIV The Jews were given first invitation because they had been God’s special people for more than 2,000 years, ever since God chose Abraham and promised great blessings to his descendants (Genesis 12:1-3). God did not choose them because they deserved to be chosen (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 9:4-6), but because he wanted to show his love and mercy to them, teach them, and prepare them to welcome his Messiah into the world. He chose them not to play favorites, but so that they would tell the world about his plan of salvation. Being first, then, is simply a statement about the order of God’s plan, rather than an indication of relative value. Paul later makes the case in Romans 4 that when God chose Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, he was still a Gentile. God chose Abraham to bring into being a nation through which he would work to bring salvation to the world. That nation came to be the Jews. The entire plan has been an expression of God’s love.

For centuries Abraham’s descendants had been learning about God by obeying his laws, keeping his sacrifices and feasts, and living according to his moral principles. Often they forgot God’s promises and requirements and had to be disciplined; but still they had a precious heritage of belief in the one true God. Of all the people on earth, the Jews should have been the most ready to welcome the Messiah and to understand his mission and message—and some of them were. The disciples and Paul were faithful Jews who recognized in Jesus God’s most precious gift to the human race (see Luke 2:25, 36-38). The Jews were given the first opportunity to receive the Messiah during his ministry on earth (John 1:11) and during the days of the early church (Acts 1:8; 3:26). Although Paul was commissioned as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), even he followed this pattern. Whenever Paul went to a new city, he recognized his obligation to carry the gospel to the Jews first (Acts 13:45-46; 28:25, 28).

1:17 In it the righteousness of God is revealed.NRSV The gospel tells us how we, sinners as we are, can be declared righteous before God; and it tells how God, who is righteous, can vindicate sinful people. What then is righteousness? This is precisely what Paul explains in detail in this letter, especially for the benefit of the Gentiles in the church who would have been unfamiliar with the concept.

The phrase righteousness of God can mean “God’s righteousness” or “the righteousness God gives those who believe.” Paul had both definitions in mind. Righteousness is an aspect of God’s character, his standard of behavior, and a description of all that he wishes to give to us. The gospel shows how righteous God is in his plan for us to be saved, and also how we may be called righteous.

This righteousness from God is the righteousness he bestows on people; in other words, it is God’s provision for justifying sinners. The way for sinners to become righteous before God is revealed in the gospel. We could not know about this righteousness were it not for the gospel. Luther defined this as a “righteousness valid before God, which a man may possess through faith.” When God declares us righteous, we have been made right with him. (See also Isaiah 46:12-13; 61:10.)

A righteousness that is by faith.NIV Our righteousness begins because of God’s faithfulness to his promises; it moves on in our response of faith and is a continuing process through life. Thus it is by faith from first to last.NIV Faith—unconditional trust—is the appointed way of receiving God’s righteousness. Faith in what? Faith in the fact that Jesus Christ took our sins upon himself, taking the punishment we deserved, and in exchange making us righteous before God. By trusting in Christ, our relationship with God is made right both for now and for eternity.

The expression by faith from first to last translates what in Greek is literally “from faith to faith.” It is also possible to translate this as “through faith for faith” (nrsv).

From faith to faith seems to parallel “everyone who believes” in the previous verse. If so, the idea is “from faith to faith to faith to faith,” as if Paul were singling out the faith of each individual believer.

In this expression some have seen Paul’s description of the development of faith from beginning to maturity. Others think that Paul might be outlining the transmission of faith from the faithful proclaimer to the faithful responder. The thrust of the phrase, however, indicates that our relationship with God begins and exists by faith. When it comes to our relationship with God, we never initiate; we always respond. We love because he first loved us. Every obedience in the Christian life is based upon a simple trust that God has set us free in Christ to love, instead of leaving us hopelessly trapped in our feeble efforts to be righteous by our own strength.

As it is written: “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”NRSV Paul is quoting from Habakkuk 2:4 this quotation is used again in Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. Righteousness by faith was not a new idea—it is found in the writings of the prophets, with which the Jewish believers would be familiar. Even though Paul was taking pains to carry out his mission of carrying the gospel to the Gentiles, he was determined to hold up its connection with the plan and promise God had begun with the Jews. Paul quotes this verse and amplifies what he means by saying that faith is from first to last.

The one who is righteous will live by faith. There are two ways to understand this statement: (1) “the righteous by faith will live”—i.e., one’s faith in God makes him righteous before God, and as a result, he has eternal life or (2) “the righteous will live by faith”—i.e., those made right with God live their Christian lives by remaining faithful to God. In summary, this expression means Christians will live because of God’s faithfulness and because of their response of faith in God; as a result, they will have eternal life and experience fullness in life.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #1 – An Introduction


Daily Favor: State of God's Favor

As if proving that all roads did lead to Rome, the gospel born in Judea eventually made its way to the capital of the empire. It is not clear how soon the message about Christ actually arrived at Rome, but it produced results.

By the end of the second decade following Christ’s resurrection, there was an established group of Christians there. Several house-churches were probably meeting. Paul opens his letter to these Roman believers, most of whom he had never met, by explaining who he is and what his credentials are.

Almost immediately, he directs their attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knew that the resurrected Christ was the most important common denominator for him and the believers in Rome. From that common ground he introduces his plan to visit them and then plunges into one of the most detailed explanations of the Christian faith found in the Bible.

When Paul wrote to the Church at Rome he was writing to a Church with those founding he had nothing whatever to do and with which he had no personal contact at all.  That is why Romans, at first sight, seems so much more impersonal. Romans is the nearest approach to a systematic exposition of Paul’s own theological position, independent of any immediate set of circumstances.

It is as if Paul was writing his theological last will and testament, as if into Romans he was distilling the very essence of his faith and belief. Rome was the greatest city in the world, the capital of the greatest Empire the world had ever seen. Paul had never been there, and he did not know if he ever would be there.

Some have called Romans “prophylactic.” A prophylactic is something which guards against infection. Paul had seen too often what harm and trouble could be caused by wrong ideas, twisted notions, misguided conceptions of Christian faith and belief. He therefore wished to send to the Church in the city which was the center of the world a letter which would so build up the structure of their faith that, if infections should ever come to them, they might have in the true word of Christian doctrine a powerful and effective defense. He felt that the best protection against the infection of false teaching was the antiseptic of the truth.

THE OCCASION OF PAUL’S WRITING TO ROME

All his life Paul had been haunted by the thought of Rome. It had always been one of his dreams to preach there. When he is in Ephesus, he planning to go through Achaea and Macedonia again, and then comes a sentence obviously dropped straight from the heart, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21).

When he was up against things in Jerusalem, and the situation looked threatening and the end seemed near, he had one of those visions which always lifted up his heart. In that vision the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, Paul. For as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome” (Acts 23:11). In the very first chapter of this letter Paul’s desire to see Rome breaths out. “I long to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (Romans 1:11). “So, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Romans 1:15).

When he actually wrote the Letter to the Romans, the date was sometime in the year A.D. 58, and he was in Corinth.

A special question?

Suppose you had the power to change the world for the better. What would you choose to do? Would you eliminate war, crime, poverty, or ignorance? I want to tell you about one man who had such an opportunity to change the world for the better and what he chose to do.

The apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:15, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

Paul says, “If I could make the world a better place, I would choose to bring the gospel to the world.”

On the surface, that may seem to be a rather simple answer to the problems of the world; but it is the right answer. It is the right answer because it can radically change the world for the better.

·BECAUSE OF WHO HE HAD BEEN

Why did Paul make that statement? Why did Paul want to give the gospel to the world? Basically, there are three reasons. One of the reasons he announces in Romans 1 when he says, “I am [debtor] under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:14, 15).

Paul believed that he was in debt to the world. The reason for his debt was that he had previously been a blasphemer and a persecutor of Jesus’ church. When the followers of Christ were being put into prison or put to death, he gave his vote against them. But he had that historical meeting with Christ and came to see that He was not an imposter at all. Saul surrendered to the will of Christ and became a penitent believer in Christ (Acts 9)

A preacher came and told him, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

When Saul was thus obedient to Christ, he began to preach the gospel that he had once tried to destroy. Because Christ had been so gracious to him, he believed that he was indebted to every man who had not heard about Jesus. Paul, because he had been a blasphemer and a persecutor, thought of himself as the chief of sinners. He writes, therefore, to the Romans, and says, “I am debtor.”

LIABILITIES TURNED INTO ASSETS

In God’s plans, no part of our background or upbringing is wasted. As with Paul, parts of our past that seem like a liability can be used by God. It is a humbling experience to look back over life and see how God has been able to turn even the difficult situations into good. Our own past makes us a wiser mentor or more merciful counselor to others we meet along the way.

2.  BECAUSE OF WHO HE WAS

There is a second reason he wanted to bring the gospel to the world. He wanted the gospel to be preached because of who he was.

He was a servant of Jesus Christ (v. 1a). The word Paul used for servant would be meaningful to the Romans, because it is the word slave. There were an estimated 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. In loving devotion, Paul had enslaved himself to Christ, to be His servant and obey His will.

He was an apostle (v. 1b). This word means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. One of the requirements for an apostle was the experience of seeing the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1-2). Paul saw Christ when he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), and it was then that Christ called him to be His apostle to the Gentiles. Paul received from Christ divine revelations that he was to share with the churches.

He was a preacher of the Gospel (vv. 1c-4). When he was a Jewish rabbi, Paul was separated as a Pharisee to the laws and traditions of the Jews. But when he yielded to Christ, he was separated to the Gospel and its ministry. Gospel means “the Good News.” It is the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, and now is able to save all who trust Him (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It is “the Gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1) because it originates with God; it was not invented by man. It is “the Gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) because it centers in Christ, the Savior. Paul also calls it “the Gospel of His Son” (Rom. 1:9), which indicates that Jesus Christ is God! In Romans 16:25-26, Paul called it “my Gospel.” By this he meant the special emphasis he gave in his ministry to the doctrine of the church and the place of the Gentiles in the plan of God.

The Gospel is not a new message; it was promised in the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis 3:15. The Prophet Isaiah certainly preached the Gospel in passages such as Isaiah 1:18, and chapters 53 and 55. The salvation we enjoy today was promised by the prophets, though they did not fully understand all that they were preaching and writing.

1 Peter 1:10-12 (ESV) Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11  inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12  It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Jesus Christ is the center of the Gospel message. Paul identified Him as a man, a Jew, and the Son of God. He was born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25) into the family of David, which gave Him the right to David’s throne. He died for the sins of the world, and then was raised from the dead. It is this miraculous event of substitutionary death and victorious resurrection that constitutes the Gospel; and it was this Gospel that Paul preached.

He was a missionary to the Gentiles (vv. 5-7). In this setting apart Paul was aware of having received two things. In Rom 1:5 he tells us what these two things were.

(a) He had received grace. Grace always describes some gift which is absolutely free and absolutely unearned. In his pre-Christian days Paul had sought to earn glory in the eyes of men and merit in the sight of God by meticulous observance of the works of the law, and he had found no peace that way. Now he knew that what mattered was not what he could do, but what God had done. It has been put this way, “The law lays down what a man must do; the gospel lays down what God has done.” Paul now saw that salvation depended not on what man’s effort could do, but on what God’s love had done. All was of grace, free and undeserved.

(b) He had received a task. He was set apart to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul knew himself to be chosen not for special honor, but for special responsibility. He knew that God had set him apart, not for glory, but for toil. It may well be that there is a play on words here. Once Paul had been a Pharisee (Php 3:5). Pharisee may very well mean The Separated One. It may be that the Pharisees were so called because they had deliberately separated themselves from all ordinary people and would not even let the skirt of their robe brush against an ordinary man. They would have shuddered at the very thought of the offer of God being made to the Gentiles, who to them were “fuel for the fires of hell.” Once Paul had been like that. He had felt himself separated in such a way as to have nothing but contempt for all ordinary men. Now he knew himself to be separated in such a way that he must spend all his life to bring the news of God’s love to every man of every race. Christianity always separates us, but it separates us not for privilege and self-glory and pride, but for service and humility and love for all men.

There were probably several assemblies of believers in Rome and not just one church, since in Romans 16 Paul greets a number of “home church” groups (Rom. 16:5, 10-11, 14). We do not know for certain how these churches began, but it is likely that believers from Rome who were at Pentecost established the assemblies on their return to Rome (Acts 2:10).

There were both Jews and Gentiles in these fellowships, because Paul addresses both in this letter. 0ews: Rom. 2:17-29; 4:1; 7:1. Gentiles: Rom. 1:13; 11:13-24; 15:15-21.) The churches in Rome were not founded by Peter or any other apostle. If they had been, Paul would not have planned to visit Rome, because his policy was to minister only where no other apostle had gone (Rom. 15:20-21).

Paul’s special commission was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (the word nations means Gentiles), and this is why he was planning to go to Rome, the very capital of the empire. He was a preacher of the Gospel, and the Gospel was for all nations. In fact, Paul was anxious to go to Spain with the message of Christ (Rom. 15:28).

· BECAUSE OF WHAT THE GOSPEL IS.

There is a third reason. He wanted the gospel to be preached because of what the gospel is. He says, “Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). The gospel is “of God.” The gospel had its origin with God Himself.

God is. The world speaks of God’s existence. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; . . .” Psalms19:1 says. Every man has within himself a consciousness, a trait that is of God. God put it there. We can know that God is from the creation and our moral consciousness.

What if God had never spoken? We could know something about God, but we would not know how to please Him. But the good news is that God has spoken. His message is in the Bible. God has spoken in these last days unto us through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). God has spoken and we can know His will.

The second fact about the gospel he explains in 1:2: “Which He [God] promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” The gospel was in the mind of God from eternity. As the Old Testament unfolds its story, God begins to reveal the good news by His prophets. For example, in Genesis 3:15 the Bible promised that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent or Satan. This was a promise of the gospel. When God called a man by the name of Abram (Genesis 12) and told him that He would make of him a great nation, give that nation the land of Canaan in which to live, and through him all families of the earth would be blessed, He was promising the gospel.

When the prophet said, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our wellbeing fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5, 6), a promise through the prophets of the reality of the coming of the gospel was being made.

Here is fact number three about the gospel: He says, “Concerning His Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection. . . .” (1:3, 4). The gospel centers in a person, and that person is Christ. “Jesus” emphasizes His humanity. He was a man among men. “Christ” emphasizes His deity. He is the anointed  one  of  God.

The  Christ,  Jesus  of Nazareth, was the perfect combination of humanity and deity. Paul says He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. That is, He descended through the line of David, the greatest king in Israel. In the Old Testament, God promised David that long after his death. He would raise up one of his descendents to sit upon his throne (2 Samuel 7). The Messiah was to come through David.

But He was more than simply a man. Paul affirms that He was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection. No one can reasonably deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God if He, in fact, was raised from the dead. The evidence is that His tomb was empty. He was even seen after His resurrection. By the resurrection, He was proven to be the Son of God. No wonder Paul wanted to tell the good news of the gospel to everyone. It is God’s message. It concerns the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God. . . .” (1:16). The reason Paul wanted to tell the world about Christ was that the gospel was the power of God.

God has various kinds of power. He has creative power. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). He has sustaining power; He upholds this world by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:1-3). He has transforming power to bring a man into a proper relationship with Himself. That power is the gospel. The gospel is God’s drawing power. In John 12:32 Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” Like a mighty magnet the cross of Jesus Christ draws men to God. It is God’s saving power. Salvation meets man’s greatest need. The gospel is God’s keeping power. As man lives his life within the framework of the gospel, he is kept by the power of God to save. The gospel is the power of God.

Paul becomes more specific in 1:16 when he says the gospel is the power of God “for salvation.” Man is lost. He needs more than anything else to be saved. The gospel is the power of God to save. It is easy for a man to look at his own life and reach the conclusion, “I am a fairly good man.” But Paul tells us in 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No one is excluded; not the worst of men, or the best of men. Unless you have always been perfect every word, thought, and deed in your life, you need the gospel. The only answer to our sin problem is the gospel.

Paul goes further. He says the gospel is the power of God for salvation “to everyone” (1:16). No one is excluded. Everyone needs the gospel; everyone is included in the gospel. If the good news of Jesus Christ were for all men except me, it would not be good news to me. If it were for all men except Americans, it would not be good news for us. When God says “to everyone,” He settles it. It is for you; it is for me; it is for all.

He also says the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone “who believes” (1:16). Belief is man’s response to God. It is man’s link with God. Let us not make the mistake of think- ing that belief is simply the attitude which says, “Okay, it is true.” Biblical belief is not falling off a log. Biblical belief is a commitment to gospel truth. Believing the truth, I commit my very life to Jesus. It is not enough to say, “I am a sinner; Christ is the Savior.” Belief in Christ says, “Lord, I am in need.

You are the answer to that need. What will You have me do?” It is complete and absolute surrender to the will of Christ. Is it not tragic that many people have come to see that they are sinful and that Jesus is the answer to sin, but they have never surrendered? Consequently, the salvation that the gospel brings has never been theirs. Belief is a commitment to gospel truth.

When you open the New Testament and find the will of Christ for your life, what will you do with it? Perhaps it is not what you have always thought. Some will reject what Christ said. They will reject it upon the basis of “I think it should be done differently.” That is not faith at all. When the will of Christ conflicts with our will, we surrender our will to Him. That is biblical faith. Do we believe? This is the bottom line of Romans 1. It is all for naught unless we believe it.

Romans is gospel-centered

One of the “great themes” which the Book of Romans expounds and emphasizes is that of the gospel. Paul’s introduction and conclusion are dominated by the theme of the gospel. Everything in between them is an exposition of the gospel. There is no other book of the Bible which so fully expounds the gospel as Romans. If you would understand the gospel, go to Romans.

Have you believed this gospel? Do you recognize that you are among the “all” who are judged to be sinners, and who are destined for God’s wrath? Do you know that Jesus Christ died so that your punishment would be His, and so that His righteousness could be yours? Have you ceased trying to earn your own righteousness and received His righteousness by faith? That is the offer of the gospel, but it is an offer that you must receive.

(1) The gospel is never understood as fully by the Christian as it could and should be. We can never hear the gospel too often. We can never understand it too well.

(2) The gospel is constantly being distorted. In our own sin, we are inclined to distort it, both in its application to ourselves, and in our representation of it to others. The gospel as defined in Romans is a standard, against which we must constantly measure our own concept of the gospel. Romans is the perfect standard; ours is the imperfect.

(3) The gospel is not only that truth by which we are saved and that truth by which others are saved as we bear witness, it is also that truth which is the standard for our daily lives. Paul said to the Colossians, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).

Why is the gospel so important? Paul has already told us, at the beginning of his epistle. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,” and it “reveals the righteousness of God” (Romans 1:16-17). No wonder the gospel is so prominent in the Book of Romans.

Romans is God-centered

How often we make man the center of our “universe,” wanting to put God into orbit around us, waiting for Him to meet our needs and to make us happy and comfortable. It is God who is to be central and preeminent, not men. It is we who are to orient our lives to Him. When you read through the Book of Romans, you will be constantly reminded that it is God who is most prominently displayed here.

The character of God, in many of its facets, is displayed in Romans, such that Paul will pause to praise and adore Him for who He is (see Romans 8:31-39 and especially 11:33-36). There are many of the attributes of God described in this great Epistle, but none greater or more prominent than that of God’s righteousness.

I would like to suggest that the righteousness of God is that attribute of God’s character which makes His other attributes all the more glorious. Think of a God who is all-powerful, but who is not righteous and just. It is a horrifying thought. Power without righteousness is terrifying. Think of a God who is “loving” but who is not also righteous. This would be mere sentimentalism. A love rooted in justice is a marvelous thing. Think too of a merciful God, who was not also righteous.

The righteousness of God. What a marvelous truth. What comfort! What discomfort! May we see more and more of God’s righteousness in Romans, in the church, and in our own lives, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

 

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2021 in Romans

 

Uncommon Things We Believe #9 The Essential Nature of Baptism – Acts 2:36-39, Matthew 26:28, Romans 6:1-4


Acts 2:36-39 (NIV) “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  38  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

 Matthew 26:28 (NIV)  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Greek Word: εἰς  Transliteration: eis
Simply put, the religious world is divided over this one Greek word. Does it mean “because” or “in order to” be forgiven?

If it means “because” then someone is saved before they are baptized. If it means “in order to” it means that baptism is an act of faith that makes possible the forgiveness of sins.

The same word is used in the Acts 2 and Matthew 26 verses. IF one says we are baptized because we are already saved….does Jesus’ words also mean that we are already saved before He poured out His blood?

In baptism, one who believes that Jesus is the Christ, Lord, Savior, and Son of God (John 3:16; Acts 2:36) and has faith in His blood to forgive him of his sins (Romans 3:25) must commit himself to a new life (Romans 6:4) in order to be clothed with Jesus (Galatians 3:27) and be forgiven of his sins (Acts 2:38).

Thus, he is forgiven, is born again, and enters into the kingdom of God (John 3:5), the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), which is His church (Ephesians 1:22, 23).

 (Romans 6:1-4)  What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? {2} By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? {3} Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? {4} We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Does the water of baptism have the power to forgive sins? Is baptism only a symbol, an outward sign of an inward grace, that shows that one has been saved? Is it only a sign of dedication or an act that inducts people into a denomination?

Is baptism valid if the person being baptized neither knows the purpose and design of baptism nor understands the commitment expected of him? Is an empty ritual all that God requires of one who is seeking to be a child of God?

Has God ever required an act on the part of man involving His relationship with man devoid of a response from the heart and of an understanding of its purpose and meaning? Is one to commit himself to a new birth when he is being baptized? Must one accept baptism in the light of the meaning God has associated with it?

These questions should be answered if we are to understand what God requires of a person engaging in a physical act that has no meaning apart from the meaning God has associated with it. The only way to find the answers is to examine the Bible and let God speak for Himself.

We do not believe that baptism saves as a work that earns salvation. Romans 4:1-9 shows very clearly that we do not and cannot earn our salvation. Boasting is excluded in Christ (Rom. 3:27).

We do, however, believe that baptism saves as a work of faith that accesses salvation (Jas. 2:14-26). Naaman’s leprosy was cured by the power of God, but that power was accessed through dipping seven times in the Jordan River (II Kings 5:1-14). We believe baptism works in the same way. Belief does not earn, but it is a part of our accessing grace (Jn. 3:16).

Belief is a work (Jn. 6:28-29). Belief is part of a faithful response to God, as is repentance. The fact that God requires a response does not take away from grace.  If there were no human response required, all would be saved.

If baptism isn’t for the remission of sins…

Why did Simon Peter answer those looking to be forgiven by telling them to “… repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:36-38)?

Why did the Eunuch request baptism after having Jesus preached to him, even though he was on a lonely road? Why did he rejoice after baptism rather than belief? (Acts 8:35-39)?

Why was the jailer “immediately” baptized at midnight with only his family present (Acts 16:32-33)?

Why do we never find baptism deliberately delayed in the New Testament as it often is by denominations today?

Why was the repentant, believer Paul told to “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sin calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

Why were the Roman Christians asked to recall their baptism as the time when they had been raised to “… walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4)?

Why were those in the churches of Galatia told that they were sons of God through faith, “For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27)?

Why is baptism never put after salvation in a verse, but always before?

Why is a “washing” or “water” often associated with salvation (Acts 22:16; Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5; Jn. 3:5; I Pet. 3:20-21; I Cor. 6:11)?

Why does Peter say “…baptism now saves you…” (I Pet. 3:21)?

Why do we not hear from denominational pulpits Peter’s response to those wanting to be Christians?

Why do almost all conversions in Acts mention baptism while many of those accounts do not mention belief?

Why does the Bible say that we are saved “… not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).

Why are we never told to “believe in Christ”, but we are told to be “baptized into Christ” (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 6:3-4).

Why did Jesus say that “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved… ’’ (Mk. 16:16).

The Evidence Is Overwhelming.

Baptism is linked to salvation, forgiveness, newness of life, new birth, washing away sins, becoming a Christian, being clothed with Christ, being sons of God, being saved, being sanctified, regenerated, etc..

Baptism is never deliberately postponed. People are baptized in isolated circumstances and at unusual times. Belief alone is said not to save, while baptism is said to save in association with Jesus resurrection. Baptism is said to be the way “into” Christ.

Conclusion

Our “uncommon” belief is commonly found in the Scriptures. Baptism is for the remission of sins. Not in isolation, but in association with: the preaching of the Gospel, belief, repentance, confession, and most importantly the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

 

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2021 in Church, Doctrine

 

Uncommon Things We Believe #8 Instrumental Music Isn’t Authorized In the Worship of the Church Ephesians 5:18-20


(Ephesians 5:18-20)  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, {19} speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; {20} always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…”

“WHY DON’T YOU USE MUSIC IN YOUR WORSHIP?”

Heard that before? Here’s at least a beginning answer to that important question, which certainly sets us apart from much of the religious world.

We do use music, but we don’t use musical instruments to accompany our singing.

Early Christianity included two groups of people: Jews with a background of instrumental music and pagan Gentiles who also worshipped with musical instruments. Yet when the church was established in about 33 A.D., those early Christians worshipped without such instruments.
In fact, according to Dr. F.W Mattox, a scholar of early church history, musical instruments weren’t used until the 5th century, and organ music didn’t become part of Christian worship until the 8th century.

So it seems logical, considering our goal of restoring a New Testament type Christian worship, that acappella singing would fit that model. Besides, the only musical instrument God ever created is the human voice; man created all the rest. Perhaps the purest form of musical worship on earth is found in human voices.

First, Some Clarification.

We are not opposed to instrumental music in and of itself. The issue with us has to do with the worship of the church. Many among us are quite gifted in musical abilities and play a number of instruments.

We understand that instrumental music in worship was appropriate in Old Covenant worship. Our convictions deal with the nature of New Testament worship. The Old Testament specifically commands instrumental music in the worship of Israel:

(2 Chronicles 29:25)  He stationed the Levites in the temple of the LORD with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the LORD through his prophets.

We look for New Covenant authority for the worship of the church.

The Surprising Testimony Of History.

  1. The synagogue did not use instruments in the days of Jesus, or for 1,800 years thereafter; instruments were found only in temple worship—as commanded.
  2. There is no reference in the first 1000 years of church history to the acceptability of instrumental music and no example of its actual use.
  3. Greek speaking churches have continued to reject instrumental music in worship—Greek is the language of the New Testament.
  4. Vocal music was promoted in the early church.
  5. Ignatius (early 100’s) praised the harmony provided by joined voices.
  6. Justin Martyr (middle 100”s) spoke of God’s character being such as to deserve our words of praise.
  7. The Christianized Sibylline Oracles (100’s) extolled vocal music.
  8. Eusebius, the great church historian of the 300’s, mentions that it was the sound of Christian voices heard outside of Christian meeting places.
  9. Ambrose (late 300’s) wrote that the only time extraneous noise was absent from assemblies was when all were occupied with singing. He also spoke of how Christians sang songs and pagans played harps—if a Christian went back to such pagan ways he was said to have chosen death.

Instrumental music was rejected in the early church.

  1. Theodoret (400) said that “lifeless instruments” were “excluded from the singing in the churches, and simple singing is left.”
  2. Niceta (400) spoke to the point that the New Testament was the source of Christian worship and that it rejected instruments being used in worship.
  3. Chrysostom (late 300’s) Attributed instruments to dullness and Christian singing to enlightenment.
  4. Isidore (400’s) equated instrumental music to a state of childhood that characterized Old Testament worship.
  5. Pseudo-Clementine Writings (300’s) condemned instrumental music and classified it with drunkenness.
  6. Tertullian (about 200) condemned instrumental music in the worship of the church.
  7. Gregory of Nazianzus (mid 300’s) said, “Let us take up hymns instead of timbrels, psalmody instead of lewd dances, and songs of thankful acclamation instead  of theatrical clapping…”
  8. Arnobius (early 300’s) named virtually all the instruments known to his culture and forcefully stated that they had no place in Christian worship.
  9. The Canons of Basil (mid 300’s) equated instrumental music with the need for one to be excluded from the church.

Later church history.

  1. In 1250 Thomas Aquinas wrote that the church did not use instruments in worship.
  2. Zwingli rejected instruments in worship.
  3. Calvin spoke strongly against instrumental worship.
  4. Luther called the organ “an ensign of Baal.”
  5. Wesley said they were fine as long as they were “neither heard nor seen.”
  6. Spurgeon allowed no instruments where he preached.
  7. The term A cappella means “as done in the church.”

The Greek New Testament.

  1. In the first-century world, the Greek word psallo, the key word associated with music, had long sense come to mean “vocal music only.” This is a well documented reversal from Classical Greek. The first 400 years of church writings demonstrate this meaning without any doubt.
  2. In the Greek New Testament, when the worship of the church is associated with music, only singing is mentioned.
  3. The seven verses are (Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; I Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 5:13; Heb. 13:15).

(Acts 16:25)  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

(Romans 15:9)  so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”

(1 Corinthians 14:15)  So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.

(Ephesians 5:19)  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

(Colossians 3:16)  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

(Hebrews 13:15)  Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.

(James 5:13)  Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

  1. There are three New Testament verses that use Old Testament imagery when speaking of heaven and mention instruments (Rev. 5:8-9; 14:1-3; 15:2-3).

(Revelation 5:8-9)  And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. {9} And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

(Revelation 14:1-3)  Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. {2} And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. {3} And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

(Revelation 15:2-3)  And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God {3} and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.

  1. A metaphoric use is obvious in Revelation 14:1-3.

(Revelation 14:1-3)  Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. {2} And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. {3} And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

  1. A symbolic character is evident in Revelation 5:8-9; 15:2-3.

(Revelation 5:8-9)  And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. {9} And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

(Revelation 15:2-3)  And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God {3} and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.

Theological Considerations.

  1. The nature of Christian worship (Rom. 12:1-2; I Pet. 2:5; Jn. 4:24).

(John 4:24)  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

(Romans 12:1-2)  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. {2} Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(1 Peter 2:5)  you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

  1. Rational service over mere emotions or feelings.
  2. Spiritual sacrifices as opposed to the carnal methods of the Old Covenant.
  3. God determines the nature of acceptable worship, not man.
  4. We must come to God on His terms (Matt. 5:4; Jn. 4:19-24).

(Matthew 5:4)  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

(John 4:19-24)  “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. {20} Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” {21} Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. {22} You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. {23} Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. {24} God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

  1. Consider Cain and Able (Gen. 4:4-8; Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17).

(Genesis 4:4-8)  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, {5} but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. {6} Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? {7} If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” {8} Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

(Romans 10:17)  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

(Hebrews 11:4)  By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

  1. This is not on oversimplification—this is the heart of the issue.

ARGUMENTS FAVORING NON-USE OF INSTRUMENTS OF MUSIC IN WORSHIP

  1. AN ARUGMENT FROM HISTORY

Most feel that instrumental music has always been a part of worship because it has been around as long as they can remember. Rather like television, young people can not imagine a time without TV.

“Historical evidence shows that instrumental music was introduced into Christian worship centuries after the beginning of the church and must be rejected because it is a human innovation into N.T. Christianity” (Worship In Song, p.93, Jimmy Jividen).

Historical evidence affirms that instrumental music was not used in the early church.

  1. Was gradually introduced by the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. First used when Pope Vitalian introduced the instrument in churches in Western Europe about 660-670 A.D.
  3. Instruments were resisted at that time and was not widely used as late as 1250 A.D. during the time of Thomas Aquinas: “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.”

M.C. Kurfees in his book “Instrumental Music In The Worship” quotes dozens of historians which witness to the fact that the early church sang only in their worship services.

The basic opposition to instrumental music in worship is not grounded in historical evidence of human conduct.

  1. Historical evidence might not always give the complete picture.
  2. If we could establish that not one instrument was used from the 1st to the 21st centuries, that alone would not make it right or wrong.
  3. However, historical evidence argues strongly against the use of instruments of music in worship.
  4. This evidence serves to substantiate the biblical evidence that instruments were not used in worship.
  1. BECAUSE THAT IS THE WAY WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT, TRADITION!
  1. Because Churches of Christ have not used it makes it neither right or wrong.
  2. Tradition must not be the religious standards we look to in pleasing God.
  3. Neither do we reject something just because it is traditionally done, if it is the will of God.
  4. Both those who use and don’t use instruments do so because of tradition.
  5. Each has been reared in a fellowship that follows a certain practice.
  6. Each makes a personal decision about the right or wrong of it based on the practice of the fellowship of which they are a part.
  7. Therefore, human tradition is not a valid reason for accepting or rejecting instrumental music in worship.
  8. This is seeking truth from the wrong source.
  9. Many in the Lord’s Church can give no other reason for not using instruments than ” we just have always done it that way.”
  10. If what our fore fathers did is according to scriptures, we should do the same thing.
  11. Not because they did it, but because it is biblical.
  12. Traditions of men are neutral.
  13. Justification for religious practice can only come from Christ as revealed in Scripture.
  14. A major motivating principle of men in the Restoration Movement in the United States was rejection of human traditions.
  15. Their cry was “Let us speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible in silent.”
  16. Our faith must rest upon the word of God, not the traditions of our fathers.
  1. A CAPELLA IS THE BEST MUSIC!

Some say, “the best argument against instrumental music is good singing.” If one means by this that pleasing God is the best practice, this would be true.

However, this is not usually the point being made. Many try to justify instruments because of poor quality of singing.

Instruments cannot make up for improper singing as they constitute different actions. God is not interested in the quality of singing, but the quality of the heart producing the singing.

This line of reasoning could be carried on to the Lord’s Supper. Adding fried chicken would make the Lord’s Supper more enjoyable. Chicken is more attractive to outsiders than grape juice and unleavened bread.

An appeal to experience or taste is never a valid authority for religious practice. The criterion for good singing is not whether it pleases men or not, but does it please God?

  1. APOSTOLIC EXAMPLE!
  1. No question but apostolic example was singing without instruments in Christian worship.
  2. But, first must decide what is apostolic example and how apostolic example teaches.
  3. An example is an “action” taken by individuals or churches which has been recorded in the N.T.
  1. Not all examples recorded in the N.T. have Divine approval.
  2. There are bad examples such as Herod putting Peter in prison, Ananias & Sapphira lying to God and Peter refusing to eat with the Gentiles.
  3. There are neutral examples like Christians meeting on third floor of a building, preaching until midnight, going to the temple to pray, etc.
  4. There are examples which do not have the force of a command, but show reasonable and sensible ways churches and individuals functioned.
  5. Church at Antioch fasted, prayed and laid hands on Barnabas and Saul as they sent them out to preach the gospel (Acts 13:1ff).
  6. A special prayer meeting was held for Peter while he was in jail (Acts 12:12).
  1. The mere presence of an example does not mean that it is required nor the absence of an example mean that it is forbidden.
  1. If an action is recorded in the N.T. with obvious approval, it shows that such is right in such a circumstance.
  1. An approved apostolic example means that an action has apostolic sanction.
  1. It must be something that was witnessed with approval by an inspired apostolic person.
  1. As is true with the other three arguments against the use of instrumental music in worship, apostolic example alone does not prove the point one way or the other.
  1. The Christian concerned with doing the will of God and edifying his brethren should be concerned with two things:
  1. There is full and sufficient authority for worship in song, such is plain in the N.T. and this should be what we teach and practice.
  2. There is no N.T. authority for instrumental music in Christian worship.
  3. Such cannot be found by commands, examples or necessary inference.
  4. The question is not “Where does the Bible condemn it?”, but rather “Where does the Bible authorize it?”

CONCLUSION

  1. These four arguments are commonly used to reject instrumental music in Christian worship.
  2. Rejecting instruments in worship does not solely rest on these arguments.
  3. True, the cumulative evidence of these arguments would make its use highly questionable.
  4. We must go to the word of God for the real answer

What About Instruments in the Old Testament?

by Wes McAdams

As most people already know, I take the presently unpopular position that mechanical instruments have no place in Christian worship. However, every time I write on this subject someone inevitably asks, “What about the instruments in the Old Testament?” That is a great question. As the argument goes: If God authorized instruments under the Old Law, then without some kind of New Testament prohibition against them, why would anyone teach they are not allowed today? I believe if the average person understood the context in which instruments were authorized in the Old Testament, they would understand why they have no place in the church.

There are a few isolated instances of instrument playing about which we are not told if God approved (ex. 2 Samuel 6:5-8). But there are some who claim God only tolerated – and never authorized – instruments in the temple worship. They claim David alone was responsible for their introduction. Yes, the instruments of the temple were often called “the instruments of David,” but it is specifically stated that David had God’s authorization to implement the instruments in the temple worship:

“And [Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the Lord through his prophets” (2 Chronicles 29:25).

As you can see, it is made pretty clear that “the commandment was from the Lord.”

We often make blanket statements like, “God approved of instruments in the Old Testament.” It would actually be more accurate to say God approved of certaininstruments in the Old Testament. The commandment “from the Lord through his prophets” was that specific instruments be played in the temple worship. Whenever reformers, like King Hezekiah, restored temple worship to its intended state, they would go back to the “commandment” God gave David through the prophets.

Undoubtedly, there were other instruments in existence that could have been added to the worship, but they did not presume to add to the Lord’s command. To bring in an instrument that had not been commanded would have been sinful. It would have been like the “unauthorized fire” offered by Nadab and Abihu, for which they “died before the Lord” (Numbers 3:4).

Again, when people speak of Old Testament worship with instruments they seem to imply that anyone could have played an instrument to the Lord in worship. However, the truth is that only the Levites were authorized to be stationed in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, lyre, and trumpets.

People from other tribes – regardless of their musical ability or desire – were not authorized to play with the Levitical musicians. For someone else to have been so presumptuous would have been similar to King Uzziah’s burning of incense in the temple, for which he was struck with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16-23).

Amos, the shepherd turned prophet, was sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to rebuke and admonish them. Israel, in order to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem in Judah, built their own temples in Israel. These temples were not authorized places of worship and their priests were not Levites. Their lives and their worship were extremely paganistic. And although they still attempted to worship Jehovah God, they did so in an unauthorized fashion.

Amos was sent to tell them God was not pleased:

“Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen” (Amos 5:22-23).

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music” (Amos 6:4-5).

As we’ve already seen, David had been authorized to appoint Levites to play harps. However, Israel was not authorized to do what they were doing. As the New Living Translation puts it, these musicians of Israel “fancied themselves” to be like David. They were presumptuous enough to believe they could do whatever they wanted in worship and God would be pleased.

As you can see, God authorized only the Levites to worship with certain instruments and only in the temple worship. And surely we know that the temple and its worship were “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). In Christ, we are the temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), we are all priests (1 Peter 2:5), and we offer up – not the sound of clanging symbols or lifeless strings but – “a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15). Our hearts are the instruments we play (Ephesians 5:19).

God does not have to specifically prohibit the use of instruments in the church today anymore than He has to prohibit the burning of incense, the priestly robes, or any of the other parts of the temple worship. We understand that these things have passed away. A great number of notable theologians over the centuries have understood this and have opposed the use of mechanical instruments.

I believe John Calvin said it well,

Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists therefore, have foolishly borrowed, this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to him” (John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 33). 

  1. God Replaced the Physical with the Spiritual
  2. God Rebuked Unauthorized Music
  3. God Authorized Specific Musicians
  4. God Authorized Specific Instruments
  5. God Authorized Instruments
 
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Posted by on May 20, 2021 in Church, Doctrine

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #15 Life’s Final Exam – Ecclesiastes 12:9-14


Your Purpose Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

As we prepare to conclude our study in Ecclesiastes, we are going to be given a final exam. I want you to picture King Solomon at the front of the classroom, passing everyone a copy of the test. “Let’s test your wisdom,” he declares.

“Use a number two pencil, and keep your eyes on your own scroll. The test is going to cover all twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes. You’ll be asked about life, death, pleasure, suffering, food, work, money, poverty, wisdom, foolishness—pretty much everything ‘under the sun.’”

“That’s a lot of material,” you whisper in panic to the fellow in the next seat. “What if I don’t have a clue?” “Whenever you don’t know one, the probable answer is ‘vanity,’” your friend whispers back. “This works every time. When I’m stumped I just write, ‘Life is filled with such questions that can’t be answered. This too is vanity.’

Teacher likes that one.” You mutter, “I hope he was serious when he said that true wisdom is realizing how much we don’t know. If he sticks to that one, I’ll get an A.”

Interestingly, in Solomon’s final exam, he reverses the expected formula. For Solomon it is exam first, lessons later. In school, we study and then take an exam. Solomon claims that in the real world we face the exam, and then we study.495 In Eccl 12:9-14, the final six verses of the book, Solomon gives us two homework assignments to pass life’s exam.

1. Take God’s Word seriously (12:9-12).

In this first section, we will be reminded of the awesome power of God’s Word. Specifically, in 12:9-10 we discover the time, energy, and skill that went into the writing of Ecclesiastes. Solomon writes, “In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.” Some scholars believe that 12:9-14 are the words of an editor that came along after Solomon penned this great book. Yet, it is more likely that in these verses Solomon speaks in the third person.

Practically speaking, this is a simple way of boasting in God’s Word without coming across in an arrogant fashion. In 12:9-10, Solomon describes four activities of a wise sage. These activities are not just true of Solomon, but should be true of all Christian teachers and leaders. As you read through these activities, ask yourself how you can improve in each of these areas.

A wise person faithfully teaches people knowledge. Solomon “taught people knowledge.” He could do so because he was a “wise man.” He became “wise” by growing old and learning from his experiences. Nothing teaches like life. This is why we say to wise and mature twenty and thirty year olds, “You are wise beyond your years.” It’s because you can read all the books that you want, but life is the ultimate teacher. Solomon says that those who have lived long and experienced life now have a duty to impart the wisdom learned to the next generation.

The goal ought to be to keep future generations from making mistakes. So why is it that these groups never seem to cohabitate? Both parties can be guilty of pride and arrogance. The youth love to pretend that they don’t need help, despite the fact that their world is falling apart at the seams. The wise assume that the youth are just supposed to know how to do life. Furthermore, there are natural apprehensions and fears that keep the wise and young separate.

Many young folks are scared to approach an older, wiser person. Many older, wiser folks do not feel like they have anything to offer anyone. Today, these trends must change. If you are an older, wiser person, will you commit to be a mentor? If you are a young person, will you seek out those who can help you?

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a young pastor who rose to preach on Psalm 23. He gave it his best effort but never connected with the audience. Afterward, an old man got up to speak. He bowed his head, his hands quivering, and his body worn from years of hard work. Gripping the podium, he began to recite, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

As he finished the audience sat in deep silence, profoundly moved. When the young pastor asked the old man why his words had made such a difference, the old man said simply, “You know the psalm, I know the Shepherd.” The truth is some things are learned only through experience.496

1 Kgs 4:32 informs us that Solomon wrote thousands of proverbs. A proverb is an earthly saying containing heavenly truth. The word’s basic meaning is “to be straight” (cf. 1:15; 7:13). It’s distilled wisdom, a practical word for a complicated world. Proverbs are God’s “sound bites.”498 The term “proverbs” refers to the entire book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon did not merely share with people the first thing that came into his head. He thought before he spoke.

He spent time searching out what he was going to teach. This activity is part of the editing/compiling process, which took place over many years. This implies a labor of study. Solomon’s work is similar to a description of a scribe’s work in Ezra 7:10: study, practice, teach. If you are a leader or teacher, does this describe you? Do you take God’s Word seriously? Even if you don’t consider yourself a teacher or leader, as a Christian we are all to understand God’s Word for ourselves (Acts 17:11). How are you presently fulfilling your responsibility?

A wise person effectively communicates. Solomon “sought to find delightful words.” He had a sense of God’s presence and power, using them to communicate His will to others. Furthermore, he was on a quest to articulate God’s Word to others. It was not enough to have knowledge. It was not even enough to have it arranged intelligently. The Preacher also labored to speak in a pleasing manner. The NIV says that he picked “just the right words.”

He gave thought and effort to communicating in a way that would capture the attention of his readers. In your class or small group, do you seek to craft your words in a way that people can hear? Do you work hard at perfecting your speech and content? Or are you currently satisfied with your abilities? It has been said, “A teacher is someone who talks in other people’s sleep.” My prayer is that this is not true of any teacher or leader in our church. Even if you are not a formal teacher or leader, in your conversations do you seek to be an effective communicator? Is your speech gracious and seasoned with salt (Col 4:6)? Is it filled with grace and truth (John 1:14)?

A wise person correctly presents truth. Solomon “sought to write words of truth correctly.” He had a sense of God’s presence and power, using them to communicate His will to others. Furthermore, he was on a quest to communicate truth. We live in a relativistic age. People have bought into the idea that truth is relative. We hear that something might be “true” to one person but not true to another. The Bible knows nothing of such a concept. Truth IS.

A style of teaching means nothing without truth. A lie all dressed up in eloquence is still a lie. This tells me something important about the book of Ecclesiastes. In spite of its often dark and gloomy view, it is a book that teaches truth. It is written to give us a realistic view of life that, as a result, we might live for the Lord.

Think about it. Most cults do not outwardly reject God’s Word, but they offer new revelations that add to God’s Word. Most cults are begun by founders disenchanted with the existing church and its beliefs, so they formulate distinctive doctrines to give them a new identity. Individuals do the same. More than ever, people are viewing God’s Word like a buffet line in a restaurant, taking what they like—maybe a little bit of what is good for them—and leaving the rest for someone else. In effect, the diet a person receives is more a matter of what is palatable to them than what will truly nourish them.499

Yet, Vance Havner said, The Word of God is either absolute or obsolete.” Will you proclaim the truth regardless of the consequences? Will you refuse to compromise?

In 12:11-12, Solomon continues to describe how Ecclesiastes can be used in people’s lives. In 12:11 he writes, “The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given500 by one Shepherd.” Solomon states that the words of Ecclesiastes are powerful.501 He uses two memorable metaphors that refer to how Ecclesiastes stimulates us to action.502 “Goads” are long wooden rods with an iron point used for driving oxen and other animals.503 A goad is poked at the animal to make him move in the desired direction. It represents moral guidance and stimulus in human affairs.504

Nails were used by shepherds to fasten their tents. They are hammered to keep something in place. Goads are designed to motivate the sluggish and nails are intended to secure the drifting.505 The book of Ecclesiastes (and the whole of Scripture) accomplishes both of these purposes. It “afflicts the comfortable and it comforts the afflicted.” If you are comfortable with your life, God’s Word acts as a goad to move you out of your comfort zone. It pushes you to do those things you ought to do.506 If you are burdened and tossed to and fro by the winds of life, it provides a haven of stability.507

Ecclesiastes has this type of power because the book is “given by one Shepherd.” In the Old Testament, the title “shepherd” is often used of God.508 Solomon is saying that his words are given straight from God. This is a very strong argument for the inspiration of Ecclesiastes. It seems clear that Solomon went out of his way to emphasize this doctrine because he figured many would have problems with his book. Boy, was he ever right! Some have felt that this book should not have been canonized because of some of the seemingly contradictory verses that appear. But Solomon is clear that this book is from God and it can be trusted in its entirety.

This book has impacted me more than any other book I’ve studied. It has taught me more about contentment, the brevity of life, and priorities than any other book of the Bible.

Solomon concludes this section in 12:12 with these words: “But beyond this, my son,509 be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.”510 This is a favorite verse for high school and college students who are weary of study. But Solomon isn’t telling us not to love and appreciate books. If he was, I would be in deep trouble. The contrast is not between the study of canonical versus noncanonical wisdom but between failure to appreciate wisdom on the one hand and excessive zeal for study on the other.511

Solomon is warning us that we shouldn’t study other books to the exclusion of Scripture. Other books were given for our information, but the Bible was given for our transformation.512 I don’t read many secular works. It’s not that they’re bad; it’s that they’re just eye candy to me. Every time I start reading something outside the Bible, I think about what I am missing: words of eternal life. It’s like that commercial tagline: “I could’ve had a V8.” I could’ve been reading Ecclesiastes.513 I challenge you to make sure that you are consistently reading God’s Word and prioritizing God’s Word over other reading. Do you read the newspaper before you read the Bible? Do you check your email or your favorite web page instead of reading the Bible? We need to be careful not to put human writings above the divine Word of God.

[Why should we take God’s Word seriously? Because God’s Word is powerful and can make an eternal difference in the lives of people. The second homework assignment that Solomon gives is…]

2. Consider God’s judgment appropriately (12:13-14).514

In the final two verses, Solomon urges us to prepare for judgment day by fearing God and keeping His commands. These two verses summarize the book of Ecclesiastes and ultimately the whole of Scripture. In 12:13, the teacher writes these pointed words: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments,because this applies to every person.” To “fear God and keep His commands” are not suggestions or options—they are commands! Solomon commands you and me to fear Him and obey His commands. In other words, take God seriously and do what He says.515 But we need to look at this a little more carefully.

First, the phrase “fear God” is terribly misunderstood and rarely proclaimed; however, it is paramount throughout the Scriptures.516 The Bible speaks of our love to God, His name, His law, and His Word, a total of 88 times. This breaks down to 45 references in the Old and 43 references in the New Testament. The Bible speaks of our trusting in God, His name, and His Word, 91 times. This breaks down to 82 times in the Old and 9 times in the New Testament.517

When we come to the subject of the fear of God, the Bible speaks of it 278 times! I am referring to all of the places in Scripture where it speaks of men fearing God, His name, His Law, or His Word. In the Old Testament there are 235 references to the fear of God. In the New Testament there are 43 references to the fear of God, which, by the way, is the same number of references as man’s love to God.518 So whatever the phrase “fear God” means, it is everywhere throughout the Bible, therefore, it is critical for us to understand.

Typically, the “fear of God” is defined as “reverential awe.” There is truth to this definition as it pertains to God as Creator. God wants us to stand in awe of who He is and all that He is. But our definition of the fear of God must also encompass His judgment (see 12:14). This leads us to also include in our definition downright fear or terror. If you and I understand that our God is a consuming fire that is able to destroy both body and soul in hell and that as believers we will give an account of our lives to Jesus Christ,519 we will have some holy fear. But many of us do not fear God.

What do we fear? Among the top ten fears of parents are saving for retirement, dying before the children are grown, gas prices, the threat of terrorism, and traffic.520 It seems that we fear everything and everyone but God. This is sheer insanity!

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) once said, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”521 This is the way the believer should live.

In Prov 1:7 Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” In Isa 66:2b the Lord declares, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” The man or woman that God uses most powerfully is the one who expresses both awe and obedience. God longs for you and me to humble our hearts and prostrate our souls before Him. If you and I are to fear God properly, we must have a high view of God.

Many years ago, A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Second, to “keep His commandments” is to obey the Law.522 Fortunately for us, Jesus summed up the commandments into one central, basic command: “To love the Lord your God” and “your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:34-40). This is the chief end of humankind. This phrase literally reads, “because this is all of man” or “because this is the all of man.” The implication is that “this is the whole duty of man.”523

If you know me very well, you know that I am not a handyman. Honestly, I’m a complete moron when it comes to doing much of anything. Whenever I have to do anything, I can’t experiment or hope that I find my way. I have to follow the instructions. I am always so impressed with men who can just toss the directions and dive right into a project. Yet, I have seen such men confound themselves and have to return to the discarded directions. Similarly, God created life and He alone knows how it should be managed. He wrote the “instruction manual” and wise is the person who reads and obeys. “When all else fails, read the instructions!”

So why are we called to fear God and obey His commands? In 12:14 Solomon states, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden,524whether it is good or evil.”525Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) epitaph reads, “I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Apparently, Churchill did not understand the fear of God and the judgment that is awaiting him. The Bible teaches that there is an appointed day of judgment where we will have to give an account of our lives. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, God will hold us accountable for our thoughts, motives, words, and deeds.526 Everyone is answerable to God for everything, whether obvious or concealed, good or evil.

I find it mildly horrifying that even the hidden things will be judged. The implication is that the glory and reward we enjoy on earth and in eternity will depend on the lives we live here on earth. The natural and inevitable conclusion is that you and I had better live our lives appropriately in light of God’s judgment.

I know many people who struggle with questions of right and wrong—especially in those areas for which we have no explicit guidance in the Bible. They truly want to please the Lord, but worry about their daily decisions. Here’s a simple question that will replace many of the dos and don’ts: Can I do this to God’s glory? That is, if I do this, will it enhance God’s reputation in the world? Will those who watch me know that I know God, from my behavior? Or will I simply have to explain this away or apologize for it later.527

For years, the opening of ABC’s The Wide World of Sports illustrated “the agony of defeat” through the painful ending of an attempted ski jump. The skier appeared in good form as he headed down the slope, but then, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head-over-heels off the side of the jump and bounced off the supporting structure. What viewers didn’t know was that he chose to fall. Why?

As he explained later, the jump surface had become too fast, and midway down the ramp he realized that if he completed the jump, he would land on the level ground, beyond the safe landing zone, which could have been fatal. As it was, the skier suffered no more than a headache from the tumble. The fear of the slope, the fear of flying too high, and the fear of the fall led him to change course.529

In the same manner, a proper fear of God ought to lead to a course correction. For this passage and the entire book of Ecclesiastes teaches that the fear of God leads to life. A biblical fear of God will lead to life in this world and the world to come. If you think you have been enjoying life, but haven’t been fearing God, think again. The fear of God leads to life…and only the fear of God will lead to life. Today, is there an area of your life that the Lord wants to correct? Will you respond to His goads and nails? Will you rest in your Shepherd and trust that He alone can satisfy you?


495 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 301-302.

496 Ray Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living (Chicago: Moody, 1998),

292-293.

497 The verb “pondered” (azan) is only used here in the OT, but it comes from the same root that comes from “to give ear to.”

498 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 303.

499 Wayne Schmidt, Soul Management (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 216.

500 The verb “given” (nathan) is often used in Ecclesiastes to refer to God’s activity (cf. 1:13; 2:26; 3:10; 5:18, 19; 6:2; 8:15; 9:9; 12:7, 11).

501 Heb 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” In 2 Tim 3:16-17, Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

502 Goads are temporary; while nails are permanent.

503 The form darebonah (“goads”) is found only here.

504 Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs: New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman, 1993).

505 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Ecclesiastes: Total Life (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 124.

506 Wisdom Literature was to be a guide and discipline from God to challenge and encourage humans in this life and point them to the next.

507 Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).

508 See Gen 48:15; 49:24; Ps 23:1; 80:1; 95:7; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Ezek 34:11. Jewish tradition identifies “the one shepherd” with Moses (i.e., Targums, Rashi). However, Moses is never called shepherd, but he does carry the “rod of God” (shepherd’s staff). Moses also warned of not adding or taking away from God’s revealed truths (cf. Deut 4:2; 12:32).

509 In Israel’s Wisdom Tradition the teacher was called “father” and his male students “sons” (cf. Prov 1:8; 4:1).

510 The verbal “excessive” (lahag) is used twice in this verse: (1) making of many books; (2) excessivedevotion.

The noun is found only here in the OT. In Arabic it means “to be devoted,” “to be attached,” or “to apply oneself assiduously to something.” It is uncertain if (1) the writing; (2) compiling; or (3) study of books is the focus of the warning. The problem is that human wisdom is helpful, but not ultimate!

511 Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs

512 Ruth Bell Graham was once asked the best way to become wise. Her reply, “Read, read, read—but use the Bible as home base.” Quoted in Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 305.

513 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 199.

514 Some scholars argue that Eccl 12:13-14 was added by some late redactor wanting to make sure Ecclesiastes remained in the scriptural canon. Yet, there is no manuscript evidence to suggest that this alleged pious ending was dropped into place. All available manuscripts reflect the present ending, so the supposition of its being an addition must remain just that: a supposition. See Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997, c1996), 296.

515 To “fear God” is one of the major themes of wisdom literature in the OT:

  • Job 28:28: “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’”
  • Psalm 111:10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.”
  • Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

516 The admonition to “fear God” is a repeated theme (cf. Eccl 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13).

517 We shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that because it is mentioned so many times in the OT, that it is not really important today, we must understand that the NT assumes what the OT has already established. So, the NT assumes such virtues as trusting in God because it was clearly taught in the OT.

518 See David Fairchild, “Well-Driven Nails” (Eccl 12:9-14): http://www.kaleochurch.com/sermon/Well-driven-Nails.

519 Heb 12:29; Matt 10:28; 2 Cor 5:10.

520 “The Parenting Fear Factor”: http://www.sermonnews.com/MembersOnlyStory.asp?ID=1143. Data collected from Little Grad, the Saving for College Company.

521 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, Electronic Ed.

522 The terms “fear” and “commandments” appear together in Ps 112:1. Some question whether the phrase “keep His commands” is in keeping with Solomon’s theology. However, a review of Ecclesiastes reveals exhortations to obey the king’s commands (8:5a; cf. 8:2), which is akin to submitting to God. Furthermore, the motivation to obey the king (8:5b-6a) is the same motivation to fear God—impending judgment (12:14; cf. 3:15b, 17; 11:9c).

523 The Westminster Confession captures the same essence of this statement when it says, “This is the chief end of man.”

524 The verb “hidden” (alam) refers to intentional and unintentional sins (cf. Ps 19:12; 90:8; 139:23-24).

525 Glenn argues that this judgment only refers to earth and not eternity. Donald R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Scripture Press/Victor, 1985), 1006-7.

526 This anticipates Paul’s words in 2 Cor 5:10 where he writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

527 Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun, 306.

528http://www.coramdeofellowship.com.

529 Preaching Today citation: Jeff Arthurs, “Clearing the Debris,” PreachingToday.com.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 
 
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