Reflections From ROMANS 16: “THE GOSPEL OF GOD BEARS THE FRUIT OF OBEDIENCE FOR HIS NAMES SAKE”

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            Paul in this chapter rounds off his Gospel opus by first acknowledging the Gentile and Jewish fruit borne by the power of the holy resurrected Lord (vv.1-16, 21-24), secondly by warning converts to turn away from those preaching a contrary Gospel to his (vv.17-20), and lastly by offering an amazing benediction (vv.25-27).

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.  Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approvedin Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 GreetRufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.  22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.  23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]

Paul begins by acknowledging the fruit the Gospel bore through mentioning the names of both Jewish and Gentile men and women, some prominent others common, but all participants in one way or another with their gifts and talents in the Gospel work (i.e., the obedience of faith).  These were committed to Paul through being committed to Christ.

What is apparent to me is that real, named people in space time history demonstrated in differing capacities the genuineness of their profession by how they lived.  This life was fueled by a love for God which sometimes led to peril and other times brought about pleasure.  But regardless, this was a faith demonstrated through words and deeds and was worthy to be praised and mentioned.

This Gospel touches real people who Paul called, “fellow workers”, “fellow prisoners”, “who risked their own necks”, “in the Lord”, “my first convert in Asia”, “a choice man in the Lord”, etc.  What an honor to be named in this list, to be mentioned in this letter.  Often in Scripture when people’s names are mentioned we see accentuated their dark side, their shameful acts.  But here what’s being accentuated is Gospel fruit…please don’t miss this friend.  In a day with twisted, anemic, impotent views of what it means to be a Christian, this text accentuates that to be a real believer Gospel fruit must be evident or one is not real, period!

Moreover, this Gospel which produces fruit in space time history issues from the God who is there, the God of the Gospel who while justly wrathful is nevertheless benevolently merciful to those who through the preached Gospel are called, chosen and elect (Rom.9-11).

17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Secondly, Paul urges believers to guard the truth of the Gospel and the church through guarding the Gospel they received.  This requires knowing it, loving it, being convinced of its veracity, being vigilant for false gospels which would try to subvert the real Gospel delivered to them through the prophets and the apostles.  They are to do this command by turning away from false teachings.

In other places Paul is seen arguing forcefully against those who teach a contrary Gospel (e.g., Acts, Galatians) but here he commands the Roman church to turn away, not even engage them in debate.  Is he contradicting himself?  In order for a contradiction to be in order, there would have to be a text that commands to always turn away and never debate concerning the message but there isn’t.  Instead, there’s a time and place for everything as evidenced in the life of Christ, Peter, Paul, etc.  There’s a time to engage false teaching (Acts 17, 1 Pet.3:15, Jude 3) and there’s a time to refrain (Mt.10:14; Mk.6:11; Lk.9:5).  Paul is not just confident that the Roman church will obey him, but he wants to assure them that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”.  That is, this present struggle has a definite end which God in his wise timing will bring about.

25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.

             Lastly, Paul offers a benediction which in my estimation is up there with texts like (Num.6; Heb.13; 1 Tim.1, etc,) and offers a prayer on behalf of the Roman believers that God establish them evidenced by their being led to live an obedient faith.  Paul’s Gospel delivered through preaching Christ Jesus which is the revelation of the mystery previously hidden but now revealed through the prophetic Scriptures which are sourced in the eternal self-existent God, has now been made known to all the nations (not just to Israel) for the purpose of bringing eternal glory to the only wise God, revealed to us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son, the 2nd person of the Triune God.

What Paul is accentuating is that God has spoken through this gospel whose authenticity is sourced in God, reveals God, and thus produces the life of God in those who claim to know God.  To Him, Be the glory forever.  Amen!

(SDG)

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Reflections From ROMANS 15: “THE WEAK AND STRONG OUGHT TO LIVE FOR THE EDIFICATION OF THE OTHER”

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             Paul continues his thought from the previous chapter regarding the strong and the weak who are both accepted by God and therefore are to accept one another on issues not central to the Gospel (e.g., eating meat vs. vegetables) specifically addressed to the Jewish and Gentile believer.  We obey this command in obedience to (Rom.12:1-2) where our living holy is made possible by God’s mercies toward us.  Thus Paul commands:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”

So then, Paul exhorts the strong to live for the good of their weaker brother and not just live for themselves which he grounds on the example of what Christ previously accomplished.  Here, the apostle quotes Psalm 69:7-9 which reads:

Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face. I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons.  For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

The context of this psalm depicts in large measure Christ, the Son of God, the Most High, bearing the insults of friends and neighbors, relatives and siblings because of who he was and what he said.  This suffering he endured for God’s sake, so in the same way we are to emulate Jesus if we truly are the strong.  We ought to live in an understanding way with our weaker brothers who unjustly judge us and simultaneously think they are more acceptable before God than we.  We are to do this for God’s sake so that we may build up the body of Christ.

This depicts what it means for us to pick-up the cross, deny ourselves and follow Christ.  This is real suffering (Mt.5:10-12) and part of kingdom living.   To spur us on in the command he says:

“ For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

             Paul is reminding the reader here to consider the word of God and its content and to understand that its purpose is to edify us through hardship so that hope may arise.  Hope is a Scriptural word denoting a confident expectation of what God has spoken will come to pass.  He is the God who is present to meet our every need which includes the turmoil experienced by the soul when we are unjustly treated.  Christ knows this well by personal experience and will shepherd us safely through the storm.  Paul continues:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,

Instead of discord, Paul exhorts the reader to “grow-up” already and be of the same mind (i.e., I take to mean on things that are not essential to the gospel, don’t divide but rather build up one another, accept each other because God has accepted both weak and strong).  The purpose here is God’s glory.  Paul continues his point in verse 9-13:

and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.” 10 Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” 12 Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

             Paul now will switch his focus from giving commands to appealing to his apostolic authority as the means of grace through which God enabled him to preach this gospel which demands the abovementioned directives for the edification of the church:

14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”      

             Paul now backs his apostolic authority by appealing to the Gentile fruit produced through the word preached evidenced in their obedience of faith (i.e., in word and deed, they talked and the talk and walked the walk) because of the power of the Holy Spirit in the gospel proclamation.  This proclamation left no stone unturned:

17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.”

             Paul rounds off this section of biography with a plea for intercessory prayer that struggles on his behalf so that the enemies of the gospel may not subvert his service in Jerusalem and so that he may arrive in Rome in order to be refreshed and filled with joy by the saints there:

22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

             Paul cared for not only the spiritual needs of the saints but also for their daily sustenance evidenced in his ministerial fruit from Macedonia and Achaia.  These Gentile believers emulated their example who was Paul, the former enemy of the gospel and now its’ greatest proponent.  Amazing!

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 14: “HOW CAN BELIEVERS LIVE IN COMMUNITY WHEN OUR DIFFERENCES ARE SO DEAR TO US?”

ROMANS

For Paul, God’s mercies in the Gospel, is the source of transformation that propels how we live personally and corporately.  Be it before believers, the non-believing world or ruling authorities, the one thread holding righteous action together is our submission to the God of creation, the impetus of which is love for Him and our neighbor.

After addressing the delicate matter of submitting to rulers and what that entails contextually because God is ultimate and they are not, Paul ends chapter 13 with:  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  Immediately Paul follows this command that referred back to what was previously said to what now follows in chapter 14:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Paul seems to be addressing Jewish and Gentile relations and how to live within that milieu when disagreements arise as to what is or is not an essential to the Gospel, and how we are to live.  It seems clear that Paul leaves room for some kind of relativism for issues known as adiaphora from the Greek ἀδιάφορα “indifferent things”[1], things of which believers have disputed historically and have tended to make them “deal-breakers” concerning the faith.  This means that believers have broken fellowship over issues not central to the faith.

Now what does Paul mean in verse 1 by: “Now accept… but not for the purpose of passing judgment”?

The NIV reads, “Accept the one… without quarreling over disputable matters”, whereas

The ESV says, “As for the one… welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”  Still another rendering[2] says: “Receive the one…not (entering into) the judging of reasoned views”, while still another[3] source reads, “Welcome, but not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions”.

From these renditions of the text, Paul seems to be admonishing believers to accept one another even as God has accepted them (v.3) by not trying to “fix” the others views (i.e., their doctrine) about issues that are dear to them but still not central to the Gospel.  Rather than (i.e., a Gentile) having as a goal, the correction of his brother (i.e., a Jew’s) dietary views, Paul admonishes fellowship.  Instead of having a superiority complex toward those that don’t understand certain freedoms Christ purchased for them, Paul commands tender understanding rooted in love.   Consider the text:

One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”   

According to Paul the weak are those who can only eat vegetables because of their conscience, not because God in the Gospel demands it.  What the Gospel does demand however is walking in love with our neighbor, especially other believers.  This issue has to do with foods that are clean or unclean which Jesus declared to be clean (See Mk.7:1-13), for food never makes one clean or polluted before God, sin does, thus the need for the Gospel (Rom.1:18-32).  Note that both the weak and the strong are challenged by love’s demand for acceptance for God has accepted them.

This text among other things does not say that we are never to judge the actions of another to see whether or not they are sinful and thus contra to the Gospel (See: Mt.7; Rom.12), but rather it is pointing out that God accepts His people because of His Son while they still have issues they get wrongly.  Nevertheless, because they are not essential to the Gospel, a sort of relativism is permitted by the all-wise God and believers need to learn to walk wisely in such circumstances.  Paul develops the same argument:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 

The following is clear; first, because we are the Lord’s (weak and strong), our motives in how we live are to be God-centered—we are to live in light of His Lordship (vv.5-9); second, the issues at hand are foods and days (non-essentials to the Gospel) not blatant sin which is contradictory living under Christ’s Lordship (e.g., Rom.1:20-30: homosexual activity, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slander, haters of God, etc.); third, believers are never to separate because of non-essential issues (v.10); fourth, we are reminded that salvation is only found in Christ the Lord (vv.11-12; Phil.2:9-11) who not only rescued believers but will also be their judge.  Thus, because Christ has rescued and accepted every believer (servant), every believer is to do likewise for judgement awaits us all (God will judge His children’s works).  Lastly, an attitude of protection is to depict our interaction within the Christian community.  That is, we should be deeply concerned that our lives and freedoms (we can rightly enjoy in Christ) are not an occasion for hurting another believers’ walk with God. In light of the aforesaid, Paul says:

14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

To remove a stumbling block entails not partaking in what the weaker brother rejects (i.e., eating meat or worshiping on a specific day) and doing so is acceptable before God (v.18).  So God accepts both weak and strong in that which is not essential to the Gospel, believers are likewise to be accepting of one another (both weak and strong), and if the strong are not considerate of their weaker brother, that is unacceptable to God.

Paul’s concern here is the edification of the church rather than its destruction and warns against a cavalier attitude in these matters.  Walking in love with one another means that non-essential issues like diet and Days observed, are never to be the reason why we break fellowship.  Rather, we are called to live for the good of another through the Gospel realities so that Christ may be honored and the nations may be reached with such glorious news.

Are movies, drinking alcohol, dancing, music, home-schooling, political preference (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.) or a host of other things non-essential to the Gospel?  Yes, and yet our views concerning such matters often leads to unrighteousness that does not edify the church.  Are there gray areas in life?  Absolutely; so may we as lovers of God and neighbor ask for divine wisdom in these matters in order to live a life that’s honoring to God, the Church and the watching World, for our lives are not our own, Christ has purchased us through His blood which is why exhorts believers in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”            

 (SDG

[1] https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=adiaphora%20definition (Accessed 6/23/2016)

[2] D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, pg. 684

[3] Reinecker, pg.379

Reflections From ROMANS 13:3-14 “BEFORE RULERS, WHAT ARE BELIEVERS CALLED TO DEMONSTRATE?”

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In verses 1-2 Paul commands believers to submit to the governing authorities, not because they are ultimate but because God who is ultimate has placed them in said positions according to His all-wise counsel and purposes.

In the following verses Paul further explains this command of why we are to submit, who these in authority actually are, and as a result the way we are to live our lives in light of the consummation.  Paul starts by explaining the reason believers are to submit to rulers tying it to verse 1:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”    

Paul here implores believers to do the good (C.f., Rom.12:1-2) so that they need not fear rulers.  A great remedy for not fearing man, and especially those who are in authority, is to walk in God’s precepts.  Paul calls rulers, “a minister of God for your good” and they are “a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath” on evil doers.  Thus rulers bring a “”double-edged sword” ordained by God to keep order and peace through fear of lethal force.  He continues and says:

Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

Paul here appeals to wrath (we should fear) and to conscience (I take to mean: we should care about our witness) for why we are to be law-abiding citizens.  But is there ever a time when rebellion is warranted?  What do we do if a ruler calls what is good, evil, or conversely calls what is evil, good?  Throughout Christian history believers have differed on this issue.  We have Old Testament examples lauded by the Hebrews writer who actually disobeyed those in authority:

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict… 31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”    

             The king’s edict was disobeyed; Rahab lied to save these spies (she turned on her leaders).  How about Daniel’s three friends who defied the kings command to bow before the golden statue?  How about the apostles in the book of Acts who disobeyed the rulers command to stop preaching in the name of Jesus?  What of Corrie Ten Boom who hid Jews and lied about it, in order to save Jews from Nazi sure destruction?  How about the “Machine Gun Preacher” fighting off ruthless murderers in Africa in order to rescue and save orphans?

Some things are clearer than others granted, but all of us will give an account to God of how we lived in our time with the light given to us.  Nevertheless, what makes Paul’s command so weighty is that he will be eventually executed by the Roman Emperor of his day.  He continues in verses 6-10 calling believers to walk in love and thus fulfill the law:

For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

                        To love God and neighbor is what stirs the heart to obey Christ’s great commission to disciple the nations—nations which along with their rulers are even hostile to the message.  We are being commanded to do what Christ did—go to those who hate you and love them through sacrifice.  That’s powerful!  Paul not only considers this present time, but also appeals to the consummation as a motivator, or carrot of how we are to live and why:

11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.  

Here the apostle calls all believers to vigilance during their journey on earth.  He calls for strategies to be put in place so that our sinful inclinations don’t get the opportunity to manifest.  Opportunities to sin that numb the senses so that we don’t have to think about life’s perils under rulers like: carousing and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and sensuality, strife and jealousy.

It’s because of God’s mercies that Paul is calling believers to show this sin-riddled, broken and confused world the way of real love which comes from the Master alone.  It’s a call to be and do exactly the opposite of what the world commands.  It’s a call to love which will often require our lives in the process.  God, may Your people submit to the grace and power of the gospel that alone can propel us to action of this sort.

(SDG)

Summary of CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE GOD WHO TRIUMPHS [Pages 213-224]

 

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In this final chapter, Carson first explains what it means “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also” from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.6:21).  He explains that it means we are to choose our treasure, not guard our hearts. Here Jesus presupposes that our hearts will follow our treasure.

The term heart is that aspect of our being created in God’s image that contains what we think, cherish, and who we are.  It’s not merely our emotions.  The heart is that apparatus of the soul where we eat, drink, breath, sleep and dream of (x).

Our imagination lingers on those things we treasure most.  Unfortunately, good things become bad things when they keep our appetites only on the present state of affairs, at the expense of the new heaven/earth that are forthcoming.  This however does not happen in places like the Sudan/China where persecuted believers await the deliverance from said evils.

Moreover, unlike the Greek dualism of salvation—consisting of the flight of the soul from the earthly and transitory to the spiritual and eternal, the Biblical view is where—man is always placed on a redeemed earth, not a heavenly realm removed from earthly existence.[i]  The future of this earthly existence is specifically described in the book of Revelation.

Second, Carson explains the forthcoming New Jerusalem.  When the scriptures describe the New Jerusalem being built like a cube, we must understand that its’ symbol laden.  The only place a cube is found in all of scripture is the tabernacle—the Most Holy Place. This is where the Ark of the Covenant lay, the place of meeting with God—on the Day of Atonement.  This was the place where God manifested his glory when the blood of sacrifice was poured on it.

The New Jerusalem, the entire city is a cube which is a way of saying that we will forever be in the presence of God.  We will no longer need a mediating priest, neither a blood sacrifice, equivalent when the veil was rent in two after the crucifixion.  So not only is it described as a cube, but it’s also described in terms of negation—what is not there.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev.3-4)

Carson is of the view that the reason we speak of the New Jerusalem in terms of negation rather than in a positive description is because it’s easier to describe it negatively in light of the effects of the fall in our lives.  The negative description assures us there will be the absence of: tears, pain, mourning, death and nothing bad.  The positive side is incalculable pleasure.  We have yet to experience anything like this!

There are also many things missing from this city: the temple, sun and moon, impurity.  The reason for the temple missing is because God Himself will be there.  Here the heart of God is revealed for in a real sense we’re in His heart!

The sun and moon are lights no longer needed in light of Gods glory and the Lamb our lamp.  The ancients were given structured times through these two lights.  Moreover, they experienced much danger when night came—hence cities were closed at night for safety.  Thus when it comes to this city there will be no more danger, curse, sin or rebellion because God is in the midst.  Thus, an immaculate perfect moral state will obtain.  Such a thought is utterly foreign to any of our references to life.  And yet, an absolute God-centeredness will be the norm because that is the way it should be. This means that the culture in the new heavens and new earth will be infused with absolute shalom—whose measureless source is the God of heaven and earth.

When it comes to the best feature of the New Jerusalem, is the its’ peacefulness.  This peaceful habitation of the lion and the lamb will be amazing.  It’s the unfettered, unhindered beatific vision that will be most joyfully glorious.  It is the contemplation of the manifold perfections of our spectacular, unimaginable God.  Here, we see face to face and live for our sins have “been burned away”.

Third, Carson explains what means to live now in light of the new heaven and the new earth.  He points to the need that we understand that all I have is Christ; to live is Christ and to die is gain; God alone is our true heart’s desire; it is truly making it our aim to: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and you’re your strength. 

Friend, are you ready for the new heaven and the new earth?  I’d like to say yes honestly and truly.  I fear that this world and the cares of this life want to drag me down so often.  I want to be more vigilant, resting in His grace that empowers me to say no to ungodliness and embrace the holiness purchased for me to walk in by Christ’s blood.  Lord, help me thirst for the new heaven and earth and help me be the light that I am.  (SDG)

[i] Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT, pg. 368, © 1977 Eerdmans Publishing House]

Summary of CHAPTER TWELVE: THE GOD WHO GATHERS AND TRANSFORMS HIS PEOPLE [Pages 187-200]

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            In this chapter Carson first notes why scaling and measuring Christian commitment from nominalism to fanaticism is mischievous.  The reason is because the grace of God truly humbles us.  It is radically loving, forgiving, and generous.  That is because unlike other religions whose focus is on effort and moral improvement, such that the result is self-righteous, bigoted, over-confident, condescending people, Christianity is different when one is biblically faithful.

For Christianity underscores the fact of grace that transforms a Biblically faithful living out of the regenerated life where salvation is by grace, and is based on Christ’s work on our behalf, not on our own achievements.  This changes everything!  Even though true Christians have done awful things (e.g., Crusades, Slavery, etc.), it’s the very Christian message previously ignored that challenged and eventually toppled these enterprises.[1]  Christianity has often apologized for the Crusades but Islam has not.

Second, Carson considers the fact that something has to be ultimate.  If God is not ultimate then it will be the creature’s creation; be it the State, the Dictator, or any other idea. The reason for this is our “mannishness” which is designed to worship the Creator and when He is not then inevitably the image bearer concocts something to worship. 

            The gospel calls out people, gathers them together, and transforms them.  Thus, any so-called Christianity that does not incorporate the aforesaid reality into its vision, is not worthy of the name it carries.  For according to Ephesians 2:8-10 believers are saved by grace through faith in order to do the good works God prepared for them to walk in.  This means that new birth necessarily produces the fruit of the “new creation,” and while good works don’t secure our salvation, they attest to the genuineness of it.  Transformation must occur!

            Third, Carson considers whether or not one can be a biblically faithful Christian and separate themselves entirely from a local church.  He answers absolutely not and rightly so!  Consider Paul’s take in (Ephesians 2:11-22):

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

             The church is God’s household where we are being built up into a holy temple where Christ Jesus is the chief cornerstone.  In the Old Testament circumcision was the mark pointing to the one who belonged to the redeemed community.  In the New Testament baptism is the initiation one receives in order to join the ChurchThis is flows from the reality of new-birth in the early church.

In this community God speaks, sanctifies, transforms, and puts many into leadership positions.  The church is not a building, but rather the gathered people of God.  Thus, Biblically faithful churched people (while not perfectly) are the people of God who reflect His character among themselves and the world.

            Fourth, Carson speaks to the reasons for why Christians are moved to obey from a posture of gratitude for what Christ has done.    He points out that looking at things is utterly transforming because they force us to see that empty handed we came to the cross and filled with treasure we leave.  Where we once thirsted, now we are satisfied and this is apart from anything we do or bring, because it’s all based on what Christ has done and given to us—new creation! (Eph. 4:17-5:10)

            And while moral structures are definitely here, they are never nor ever can be the basis for gratitude when we see the gospel exemplified on Calvary’s cross.  We’ve been so deeply forgiven, how can we hold a grudge?  We’ve been given the Spirit securing our future inheritance how then can we be stingy and clinch to fleeting treasure? We are destined to be with Almighty God Forever!  Hence, everything changes!

            Fifth, Carson considers why greed is labeled idolatry.  The reason is because what you most want becomes your god.  It displaces God who is ultimate, it makes me long for that which is contingent, finite, and at the end of the day—what will fail me!  It’s the looking for our identity in someone or something other than God, that’s why it’s labeled greed.

            Sixth, Carson accentuates that for the Christian suffering is both a privilege and a sign of grace.  Suffering transforms our attitudes when we obey Jesus’ command to follow him, “take up your cross and follow me”.  This is stunning and too often utterly missed in the church.  Crucifixion was brutal, it was torture. (Mt. 16:24).  Death to self-interest is the point.  Though most of us will not be tortured for our faith, all of us face the issue of saying to God, “My will, not Yours’ be done, sorry–God”.  The scripture reveals that it’s been granted to us not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer on his behalf (Phil.1:29).

Both belief and suffering are equally gifts from God to us.  This is so counter-intuitive that unless it were so clear, I would today still miss it as I read these same words early in my Christianity and just glossed over them as impertinent to my situation.  Amy Carmichael and Jacob DeShazer have stories that depict a life of self-sacrifice where self-pity was not nurtured, but the transforming power that the gospel brings was exemplified.

            Seventh, Carson reflects on John Newton’s life and the lesson we can learn from him.  It goes something like, “that while I sin and do fall down, The Lord does lift me from the ground, And while I hate the sin I see, I’m not the man I used to be, For grace has given me new life, And when in death I close my eyes, Christ’s loving arms will be my prize.  That’s profound.

[1] I don’t think that all of the Crusaders were evil, but those who in their activity crossed the boundaries between what is clearly contra Christ’s teaching to hate what is evil and cling to that which is good.  See Rodney Starks book,  GOD’S BATTALIONS: The Case for the Crusades, © 2009 by Rodney Stark, Harper One, Harper Collins Publishing Company, New York, NY

Reflections From ROMANS 12:3-9 “TRUE LOVE IS TO MOVE OUR ACTIONS, NOT HYPOCRISY”

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            Acceptable worship before God comes from holy living and holy thinking.  Both the thought life and the life lived affect one another.  David in Psalm 51 after having repented for his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba said:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.  13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.” 

David understood that he would be able to impart God’s truth to sinners only after he was cleansed from sin, only after he was walking in holiness.  This aspect of the life of the mind and the heart is too easily dismissed by many and what results is a disjointed spirituality where the cognitive dissonance within paralyzes and distorts our living which does not glorify God.

Nevertheless, according to the Gospel and God’s activity believers are commanded now to live a certain way.  Paul’s command in (vv.1-2) gives the reason for why the following imperatives can be obeyed:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” 

Paul again is addressing the thought life and demonstrates its’ power: that it can be used either for self- exaltation (haughtiness) or as a means to honor God through sound judgment (sobriety).  This phrase “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” seems to refer back to Paul’s warning to the Gentiles regarding their view of the Jews in chapter 11.  It could also mean that the gospel message should contour and color our thought patterns as we relate to one another in Christ’s body for our position in this body is by grace alone.

Another observation here is that God chooses the measure of faith bestowed.  Again this is a gift for the body of Christ, not self-promotion.  This gift has the goal of serving and strengthening the people of God, not self-exaltation.  Sound judgment here thus seems to indicate an awareness of the gifts God has given each one of us without apology and without a superiority or inferiority complex.  The reason is because these come to us through God’s tender mercies and grace which cause our souls to rejoice in Him!

Paul continues and explains his command in verse 3:

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

I think it’s important to note that Paul commands the church in his apostolic role with the grace God had given to him (12:3) and now we are to exercise whatever gift God has given to us with the same grace God gave to Paul.  All of these gifts have certain functions the other lacks and needs to optimally perform (e.g., analogy of the body of Christ is relevant here).  Sound judgment (v.3) here regulates their use beginning with the attitude that one gift is not more important than the other.  And from that, each gift is to function according to its capacity.  We have much to learn here in the body of Christ.

Too often people tend to pit one gift against another considering it “superior” to the next.  For example, consider the debate raging within Christendom for the last two millennia regarding “faith and reason/heart and head”.   A lot of this issue is deeply misunderstood and thus not properly explicated because people don’t do a good job of coming to terms.  Nevertheless, some view that what certainly matters to God is our faith/heart (and it certainly does), rather than our reason/head (which is a false dichotomy).

Plainly stated, “Theology” is for the scholar, but for most of us we just need “to love Jesus” and not worry about deep thought.  The first eleven chapters of Romans obliterates that position for this letter was written to the Church, not to the scholarly elite, the purpose of which through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,  (Rom.1:5).

How can we obey what is not understood or how can we understand this gospel without thinking deeply?  We can’t!  The fact remains that part of loving God with the entire being includes the use of our minds and Paul is bringing that application to the fore of his argument.

What about the Martha types?  These are the ones in the body of Christ that do much of the “grunt work”, underappreciated and overlooked, except when the toilets are plugged or the dishes need to be cleaned, or the food needs to be cooked and then served.  I think the point is clear: each gift has its proper function and need according to the need of the moment.

Paul continues this thought with a command to love in a certain way:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”    

How can love truly be love, if hypocrisy is attached to it?  Perhaps Paul means that when love is demonstrated it does abhor what is evil and clings to what is good.  Implied here is that love (if real) flows from the base of truth rather than merely from the whim of feeling or emotion.  Perhaps, un-hypocritical love deals with the following verses that allow love to perform or express itself not just in word but also in our actions.  Consider the following verses:

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Notice here that the call of the Christian is to a life of humble obedience to Christ which is revealed in how others are treated.  These constitute the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Perhaps that’s what Paul means about un-hypocritical love.  At the end of the day, this kind of love looks to the infinite God for the reward rather than to finite human beings for accolades.  It’s definitely the love Christ manifested to us when he walked among us.

Perhaps, Paul is also referring back to the use of God’s gifts which are to be exercised humbly knowing that they come from God for His purposes and ends not ours.  That truth should curb our sinful inclinations for self-exaltation rather than the edification of another.  (SDG)         

Reflections From ROMANS 12:1-2 “GOD’S MERCIES GROUNDS HOLY LIVING & HOLY THINKING”

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In this chapter Paul makes an inference to the previous chapter specifically (“therefore”) and I think generally to the entirety of the book going back to Romans 1:1 where God chose Paul to be an apostle of the Gospel of Christ.  Paul starts with:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Many years ago I practiced praying these texts over myself and others.  They were and still are “go-to-prayers” for power to walk with God.  Paul now makes a break in this letter that can be missed but hurts the readers understanding when it occurs.

In his letters, Paul has a habit of going from the indicative to the imperative which means that he explains the revelation of the gospel first (indicative=facts) and secondly he gives the implications of the gospel (imperative=command) where believers are to live in accordance to that message.

A quick recap of Romans up to this point will be helpful.  Chapter 1&2 shows Paul being eager to preach the Gospel of Christ (God’s Son) because both Jew and Gentile are under God’s just wrath (1:1-2:29).  In chapter’s 3&4 Paul argues that the true Jew is not the one circumcised in the flesh but the one who has Abraham’s faith.  In chapter 5 the two Adam’s are compared where the 1st one brought death resulting from his rebellion, and the 2nd Adam (Christ) through his obedience and death brought life.

Then in chapter 6 we see that believers are dead to sin but alive to God because of Christ’s resurrection, yet in chapter 7 Paul considers the battle of sin within believers still fight, a battle that Christ alone can/does help us win.  In chapter 8 Paul then assures believers that in spite of this battle with sin, God’s condemnation passes over them—working in them to be more like Christ.

Finally, in chapters 9-11 Paul argues for the election of both Jew and Gentile alike (9), that this salvation and election is accomplished through the preached word of God (10), and finally that God has not rejected Israel, but has a plan for them to also be rescued (11).  The bow around these three chapters is the grandeur of God’s being which includes His wisdom and knowledge which are unsearchable.  The proper response to all of this is doxology—praise, worship and adoration.

It’s these gospel truths to which Paul is inferring when he now commands believers to live a certain way.  Here’s a powerful lesson in the proper use of authority to bless people rather than manipulating and controlling them for selfish means.  Paul grounds his “urging” or “appeal” on God’s mercies to vessels of mercy, which formerly were objects of wrath, to live and to think in a certain way.

Both living and thinking are to be impacted by Christ’s Gospel already revealed in this letter.  This mystery revealed must now be evidenced in how believers relate to each other and to the observant world (both enemies and the state.)  Unlike Monists who deny the reality of the physical realm by denying real distinctions and claiming they are mere illusion, or those who claim that the body is bad and the spirit is good (thus what one does in the body is inconsequential), the Gospel of Christ says no!  God says that, “My people are to be holy as I Am holy”:

 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”       

The sacrifices offered on the altar in the Old Testament, for example, were dead so they could not feel any pain of being burnt.  But here “somewhat like the Master” on Calvary’s cross, his followers are expected to in one degree or another suffer.  Minimally, when we are tempted to misuse our bodies (as in chapter 1:18-32 with illicit sexual acts) and we don’t succumb to it, we truly suffer hardship because of our love for God.  This is evidenced not only through a chaste life, but also by denying homosexual tendencies overall.

But our bodies also are involved with other degrading passions such as gossip with the tongue, murder with our hands, etc.  Our bodies house our soul and while they are decaying these bodies will one day be resurrected to immortality.   For Paul, the body is the tool believers are to use to honor God, but it’s just not our bodies, it’s also our minds which engage this worship:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”   

             Here, Paul not only affirms our bodies but also our minds (i.e., not the brain which is physical, but the mind which is an immaterial substance) as the means to worship God.  These two are gifts from God and should be used in accordance to their design.  An atheistic worldview denies any such notion of immateriality or spirit, this is called physicalism.  But according to God’s revelation such a view is an example of “suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness”.  The point here is that our thinking in light of the gospel must be disciplined so that foreign ideas to it are not adopted and thus dishonor God.  Instead, our thought life is to align with God’s thoughts as revealed in this letter of Romans.

One thing is certain in light of election (Chapters 9-11) all human pride is crushed, boasting before God is eliminated because only sovereign grace can rescue anyone from God’s wrath.  This means that any “works of the Law” righteousness people rely on in order to be acceptable before God will utterly disappoint because that foundation of “sand” can’t save from Holy wrath, but actually assures it on the participant.

Note that to prove or to know God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will our thinking must change, it must be transformed from the way this present evil age thinks.  The application here is massive.  The point is that our bodies and minds, what makes us image bearers, are included in the true worship of God (see Mt.22:34-40).  Thus, how we think and how we live demonstrates our understanding of reality in light of the gospel of Christ.  LORD, have mercy on us!  (SDG)          

Summary of CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE GOD WHO DECLARES THE GUILTY JUST [Pages 169-185]

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In this chapter Carson tackles the issue of how and why God can and does declare the guilty just.  It’s largely Paul’s argument in Romans 1-11 and is perhaps the most misunderstood aspects of the gospel transculturally.

First, Carson explains why it’s impossible to be acquitted with justice on the ground of the good things we do.   The reason is because we are all law breakers: those with the Book, and those without the Book.  All of us have broken even our own lesser standards.  It’s ridiculous for the murderer to appeal to his “good deeds” before the judge after he in fact has been properly convicted of committing the crime.  How much more before the judge of Creation?!  And yet, people tend to flock to this absurdity when it comes to eternal matters.

Second, the main theme of Romans 1:18-3:20 is precisely how everyone is justly guilty before God.  All are under judgement; all are guilty, because they have denied God the Creator.  They have thus become fools and Paul reminds us that there are none righteous, none who understands, none who seeks God, none who does good, not even one—their deeds and words condemn them, none who fears God.  Humanity is the core of all the evil there is, for in wanting to go our own way we have all disowned the God who is there, The One, who has made us.

Third, Carson explains several ways in which the Old Testament anticipates the arrival of Jesus.  There’s the sacrificial system of the blood of bulls and goats which testify to what was to come in the new covenant.  Here the high priest came with sacrifices into the holiest place on the Day of Atonement—all pointing to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  Then, there are the Ten Commandments which anticipate a day when murder and adultery will not only be prohibited but unthinkable in the new heavens and new earth.  And there’s also the anticipated day from the law when the righteousness of God would be revealed in Christ. 

Fourth, Carson considers how God’s righteousness is available to all people without racial distinction but on the basis of faith.   The reason it’s good news for the above mentioned caption to be true is because all are guilty before God, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  All means everyone under heaven’s sky, on earth’s dirt and in the oceans water.  Carson then explains three terms related to our salvation in Christ.

There’s righteousness, which is achieved through Christ’s redemption.  This redemption involves buying back from the slave market one who is indebted to another and has absolutely no possible means to pay for the debt.  A redeemer is one who purchases the one in debt and delivers him and his family from slavery to another.  Biblically, Jesus justifies us freely through faith by the redemption of his blood.  Thus, believers are justified before the God of heaven!

Then there’s the act of propitiation.  Propitiation is that sacrificial act whereby God becomes favorably disposed to us.  He is set over against us in wrath, but now by the sacrificial act of His son, He has become favorable toward us.

Another term is expiation, which is the act whereby God wipes out sin from the board, sin here is cancelled.  The object of expiation is sin, while the object of propitiation is God.   The text says that God propitiated God through the sacrifice of His son.  This is mind boggling in light of the fact that in the pagan world those offering sacrifices for propitiation to the gods were the worshippers.  Not so in the Bible, God propitiates God.  Thus, turning away of God’s wrath and the cancelling of sin are achieved by both expiation and propitiation.

 Fifth, Carson explains what is meant when Paul says that in the cross God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.  God’s holiness must be maintained.  Therefore He must punish sin which He did through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  He maintained Justice!  God’s love has been demonstrated by paying for our sins on the cross. He displayed Love!  Unlike so many understand today, in the Bible faith is related to truth.  If it’s not true, it’s worthless.

In the Bible, Faith doesn’t mean that which makes you feel good and is not subject to verification.  Rather, it deals with that which is stated and argued as actually occurring in space-time history.  Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 15 where he affirms that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead the first witnesses are all liars.  Again, if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are still in our sins.  Then if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead our faith is useless.  And that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are to be pitied more than anyone else.  Our lives are a joke precisely because we consider that which is false to be true.

Conversely, if the resurrection is actually true, then all others rejecting the truth of these claims are sadly under the wrath of God and the “joke” is on them.  That’s sobering, sad, and must cause our hearts to live under God as we endeavor to shine in this world for Christ.

Reflections From ROMANS 11:13-36 “THE GENTILES ARE TO WALK IN HUMILITY BEFORE THE JEWS LEST THEY TOO BE CUT OFF”

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            Paul goes from explaining the Jewish hardening of heart to warning the Gentile Christians he’s been called to reach to walk humbly before the Jews and God:

13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.

             Here, the apostle seems to continue explaining the hardness of Israel’s heart with the goal to achieve Gentile salvation.  He now glory’s in his ministry to the Gentiles wanting to magnify or placard its’ preciousness so that some Jews may be stirred by jealousy and come to salvation in Christ.  The reason Paul thinks in this manner is because if their rejection (the Jews) or stupor lead to gentile salvation, which is glorious, then their acceptance (i.e., reconciliation to God) is gloriously being raised from the dead (metaphor for salvation).

That’s my understanding but now verse 16 is a bit tricky.  The metaphor of bread and trees that follow seems to explain that the fruit or result of good bread is holy dough, and the reason that branches are holy is because the root also is.  Paul seems to be telling his Gentile converts that they owe their relationship to Christ in large measure to what God did in and through Israel.  He continues this argument:

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

It seems that the apostle is arguing for the respect that is rightly due to Jews because of God’s choice to use them as a light to the nations through which Messiah would arrive.   Moreover, Paul here also appears to be accentuating that salvation is of the Jews (e.g., Jesus and the woman at the well) and as such a proper appreciation for them should in their lives.

Unfortunately, church history is riddled and loaded with Jews being mistreated by the Christian (Gentile) Church and much of it is based on the arrogance Paul here denounces.  This arrogance as is often the case is based on ignorance, not knowledge.  Why this attitude towards Jews?  Human nature is such that often when one is privileged and another is not, the fortunate person brags and “rubs into another’s nose” that fact.  Ill feelings often arise and alienation between people takes place.  But such an attitude has no place in the lives of God’s redeemed people.  Undoubtedly Gentiles must have been made to feel inferior to Jews who kept kosher food laws and celebrated the festivals.

Now Gentiles (and Paul knows it) are in a similar place being in Christ to think of themselves as better than their Jewish counterparts who are apparently “not chosen” which utterly misses Paul’s point.  He continues and says:

19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.”              

Unbelief, broken off, faith and conceited are terms that refer to what Paul has already explained in Romans.  It’s because of unbelief that both Jew and Gentile alike are under God’s just wrath.  Broken off seems to metaphorically refer to those relying on law keeping to attain righteousness.  Faith contrarily is trusting in Christ’s righteousness alone to secure our peace before God.  Conceited  are those who boast in anything other than in Christ’s cross.

Paul is warning the Gentile believers to consider Israel’s past (the good and the bad) and walk humbly before God for if they don’t, God will deal with them as he did with the Jews.  Contextually it seems that arrogance and conceit mark the Gentile believer (a bad sign) and may indeed prove they are not in fact part of the remnant (chosen by God) even as so many Jews proved not to be.

The reason I say this and don’t believe it’s talking about one losing their salvation is in light of God’s kindness and choice—which is utterly up to Him, never up to us.  Paul continues:

22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

There’s no letting up in Paul, we demonstrate with our living whether or not we trust God in Christ.  To continue in His kindness I take to mean that we trust in Christ’s work alone to secure our salvation, while unbelief is to rely on law-keeping to secure salvation—it’s the means to attain a righteousness that’s acceptable before God.  Yet, recall that the purpose of the Law was to utterly show how sinful sin is by shining its’ light on it.  The Law can never make anyone righteous before God because that’s not its’ design.  Only Christ can make the unrighteous righteous.

I want to briefly mention the idea of bread and the root from this chapter.  According to Jesus, the things written in the Old Testament were in one way or another pointing to Him.  We know first that the manna God fed Israel in the wilderness was from heaven.  Jesus said that he was the true bread which comes down from heaven, “I am the bread of life”.  In this chapter I can see Paul playing off this Hebraic motif of bread and holiness, both of which bring life, both of which point to the resurrected Christ.

Another popular Old Testament motif is that of the “root”. The root sustains the “Tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, and the root is also used to speak of the coming Messiah’s Davidic lineage originating from the “root of Jesse”.  The idea of root is tied to that which brings “life” originating from the Holy One Israel.  The Holy One sent Messiah to rescue dead sinners from wrath.  Both lump and root are holy for they come from the Holy One of and this holiness is required to see the LORD according to the Hebrews account.  What’s the fruit of this holiness?  Not pride, arrogance, or conceit (which is Paul’s warning to the Gentile believer) but humility and gratitude for God’s kindness.  Paul proceeds:

24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?      25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”         28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

            I want to work backwards here with Paul’s argument to see if I can get at his point.  First, I take “gifts” and “calling” of God here to mean those God has sovereignly chosen to rescue in accordance to His promise to Abraham that he would be the father of faith for a multitude (that’s a lot of souls).  God has kept His word to Abraham through Christ’s redemptive work.

Second, the sad reality in Paul’s day was that Jews who rejected Christ as Messiah were enemies of the gospel, but why for “your sake”?  Perhaps to make it clear to the Gentiles the kindness and severity of God, moreover to highlight God’s mercy toward them which should and does work holiness, humility and gratitude in the recipient of said favor, not pride, conceit or arrogance in the soul.

Third, Paul wants the Gentiles to see this in light of Israel’s partial hardening of heart.  That is, this partial hardening has a purpose in God’s salvific design which is to bring into the fold every Gentile whom God has chosen from eternity past.  The point seems to be so that Gentiles don’t think themselves more “special” than Israel and thus fall into conceit and pride.  God has allotted a time to everything under heaven—this includes the time of Israel’s rescue for his names sake.  I want to note here when the text says, “all Israel will be saved” contextually means those whom God has chosen, the remnant.

Fourth, Paul argues from the lesser to the greater.  The lesser here is the “wild olive branch” which is the Gentile grafted into the greater “cultivated tree” which is Israel.  The point here is that if Gentiles can be rescued while being strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, the fathers and the covenant, how much more does the same mercy obtain for the Jews?  Paul continues emphasizing God’s mercy:

30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

             Paul here hearkens back to Romans 1:18-20 where all are justly condemned for the purpose of showing His mercy to all.  The “all” again contextually I take to mean the called, the chosen, the elect both Jew and Gentile alike, not every human being that’s ever lived (which is universalism: a view of salvation fraught with contradictions).  And the jealousy motif earlier in verse (14) is connected to a means God uses in order to save both Jew and Gentile.  This motif of jealousy is clear in the book of Acts where Paul after repeatedly being rejected by the Jews with his message determines only to minister to the Gentiles.

Paul buttons off this long argument with a doxology.  Overwhelmed with God’s knowledge, power and wisdom, he declares what Job came to understand when confronted by the living God Himself:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

             God’s election, choice and mercy are grounded in His being which the creature can barely began figure out, only perhaps to scratch the surface.  Because of this Paul can only declare the utter greatness of God comparable to nothing created, and as such, His ways supersede our abilities to understand.  What God has however revealed, has made known to us, is that this Gospel is the fulfillment of what Isaiah 40:11 said: Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Paul has argued for and laid out the Gospel indicatives (facts) that in Christ alone both Jew and Gentile alike are rescued from God’s just wrath through the righteousness of Jesus which is imputed to the believer (it’s an alien righteousness which is from God and never ourselves).  Now while this rescue is real it is nevertheless accompanied by a battle with sin which remains.  And lest anyone think they are something when they are nothing, Paul finishes accentuating God’s mercy with the emphasis on His being and attributes of knowledge and wisdom perhaps to aid the reader from pride and conceit.

The remainder of Romans will now focus on the Gospel imperatives (commands) which is the obedience of faith Paul mentioned in (1:5-6).